Monday, August 11, 2008

Getting 'Er Done

Well, now, here's a bit of good news: Wal-Mart and the other big box stores are starting to go solar. From the NY Times:

In recent months, chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl’s, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale. One reason they are racing is to beat a Dec. 31 deadline to gain tax advantages for these projects. ...

Analysts are not sure how much power the rooftop projects could ultimately produce, but they say it could be enough to help shave total electricity demand. In many communities, stores are among the biggest energy users. Depending on location and weather, the solar panels generate 10 to 40 percent of the power a store needs.

While the federal and state tax advantages are the clear drivers of this sudden push to renewable energy, the stores are smart enough to cash in on the sudden interest in renewables because of burgeoning oil prices and climate change worries. It's becoming hip to be green, and the stores have finally figured that out.

Now solar energy is still not cheap, and the boom in solar panels has driven the cost up, as the article makes clear, but even so, given economies of scale and the generous tax breaks involved, it still makes sense for the stores to make this kind of move and to make it now. If the stores want to brag about "leading the way to a healthier planet," I won't mind at all.

The trick, however, is to keep those tax incentives in place, and that's in jeopardy in Washington, DC, because the renewal of that incentive has somehow (!) been tied to the off-shore drilling bill.

It also would help enormously if the feds would make a clear commitment to the development of the kind of fuel cells that would store the solar energy for use at night and on cloudy days. A recent breakthrough at MIT certainly looks to make that possible at a much lower cost than at present (via The Sideshow).

At any rate, it was nice to start the week off with some good news.

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