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Wal-Mart pairs with SolarCity to put panels on stores in California, Arizona

September 20, 2010 | 11:50 am

Solar_Power_Generating_SystemsShopping for discounts at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is about to become even more of a sunny activity.

The world’s largest retailer is pairing with SolarCity Corp., the country’s market leader in solar installations, to add panels to 20 to 30 stores in California and Arizona.

That’s in addition to the 31 Wal-Mart locations, all in California or Hawaii, that already have solar rigged up. That leaves, according to some estimates, more than 8,000 Wal-Mart facilities to go.

The project is one of Foster City-based SolarCity’s most substantial to date. Installations are already in progress in Mountain View, Stockton, Yuba City, Marina and San Leandro and will eventually result in 500 jobs for the company.

The panels will fulfill up to 30% of each location’s total energy needs, producing up to 22.5 million kilowatt-hours each year, enough to power more than 1,750 homes or the equivalent of removing 3,000 vehicles from the road.

Wal-Mart will be testing out thin film technology that uses lighter and cheaper panels. The copper indium gallium selenide and cadmium telluride panels will use less raw material than traditional crystalline panels.

The technology will be more efficient at converting sunlight coming through fog or smog, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which partnered with Wal-Mart. The semiconductors are just 1 micron thick –- compared with the 40- to 120-micron diameter of human hair.

The product is funded in part by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., which has provided financing to SolarCity in the past. National Bank of Arizona and government incentives also helped fill the pot.

--Tiffany Hsu

Photos: Solar panels on the Mountain View Wal-Mart store. Credit: Wal-Mart