Target’s solar-powered carports in a California store could be an eco-friendly model

Target has added carport awnings with solar panels to power one of its California stores with renewable energy. The retailer said it would test the approach and may expand it to other locations.

Target

Target has rolled out one of the most visible displays of its efforts to become a greener company: massive carports topped with solar panels that will power a California big box store.

The panels, located above the parking lot, will generate enough renewable energy to power the entire store, from its refrigeration to heating and air conditioning, according to the retail chain. And the towering structures outside provide a striking visual clue to the eco-friendly efforts taking place inside the store.

In aisles with items like milk, ice cream and frozen pizza, refrigerators and freezers will use natural refrigerant to reduce emissions. All the lighting in the sales areas has been replaced by LEDs, and back outside, customers arriving by electric car can recharge them in the car park.

The Target location in Vista, Calif., about 40 miles north of San Diego, has become the company’s most enduring store — and could become a national model for the retailer. Target the solar panels previously installed on the roof of the location, which power part of the store.

John Conlin, senior vice president of Target properties, said the renovation makes the location the company’s first net-zero energy store. The chain expects the solar panels to produce 10% more energy than the store needs, which it will send back to the local power grid.

“This is a big step for us in terms of how we test and learn from sustainability innovations,” Conlin said.

Conlin, who oversees store renovations and the construction of new facilities, said the features could eventually be added to other locations in the chain. The company currently maintains solar panels on about 25% of its approximately 1,900 stores.

Target has said it wants to source 100% energy from renewable options by 2030 and plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

Last week, it launched a new Target Zero icon that it will use to highlight products in-store and online that are designed to be refillable, reusable or compostable.

At the Vista store, Conlin said, customers will see explanations of behind-the-scenes green features that will inform them of the company’s shift to natural refrigerant.

A Target spokesperson said the company would receive a one-time federal tax credit under the project.

For employees and customers, car shelters will have an additional purpose: to cover sweltering or inclement weather days for its Drive Up curbside pickup service, one of the company’s key growth drivers. company for its e-commerce business over the past two years.

Environmental organizations have urged big box stores and grocery stores to add more solar panels to their locations, saying the companies could dramatically boost the country’s renewable energy supply due to their huge square footage. .

A January report by two nonprofits, the Environment America Research and Policy Center and the Frontier Group, estimated that with rooftop solar panels, retailers could generate enough clean electricity to power more of 7.9 million American households. That would be roughly equivalent to taking more than 11.3 million cars off the road, advocacy groups said.

Johanna Neumann, senior director of the Environment America Research and Policy Center, said too many retailers are committing to buying more renewable energy without taking the leap to become clean energy producers with rooftop solar panels. She called the disconnect “a huge missed opportunity”.

“It’s so obvious,” she said. “Some retailers understand this value and are leading the way, but we’re only scratching the surface.”

The nonprofit has pushed for more tax breaks that encourage installation, but Neumann said she’d like to see retailers step in, even in states where solar panels require a bigger investment.

Home Depot has solar panels in more than 70 of its stores. Lowe’s services roof panels at four sites. Both home improvement retailers told CNBC they plan to install more panels in the near future.

Walmart says it has implemented more than 550 renewable energy projects, but did not say how many involve rooftop solar. In a statement, the company said it aims to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2035 – and estimates it is at 36% today.

Some restaurants are also pushing solar panels to help meet their sustainability goals. Salad spot Sweetgreen and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King are among the chains that have unveiled new restaurant designs that include solar panels. And McDonald’s has opened a location at Walt Disney World Resort that runs entirely on solar power from the roof and glass panels.

—CNBC Amelie Lucas contributed to this story.