Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mall Mart and alternative energy? Hunh?

Normally you don't think of a big corporation like Wall Mart doing something nice like supporting alternative energy systems in a big way. But, well, here we are.

Wal-Mart Deploys Solar, Wind, Sustainable Design (by Jesse Broehl, Editor,, July 22, 2005) with further information on Wall Mart's site

The article focuses on the solar and wind energy aspects of the design, but Wall Mart did a lot more than that. For example, rather than impervious pavement covering the parking lot and walkways, they are using pervious materials. Pervious materials allow rainwater to soak through into the ground, which they say decreases runoff problems, but I suppose it also helps the health of the ground underneath the parking lots.

Another topic they're addressing is the heat island effect. This is one of those fairly obvious things that took scientists awhile to study. Basically urban areas are hotter (in summer anyway) than rural areas, and it's because urban areas tend to have large expanses of dark colored objects. For example large parking lots, and dark colored rooftops. Additionally you have few trees and other plantlife. This combines to amplify the heat in urban areas. There's several ways of addressing this, such as light colored rooftops. Wall Mart is claiming this decreases their cooling costs, because their building is not in a heat zone.

They've also built a rainwater collection pond, and arranged several facets of the site design to channel rainwater to that pond. The pond then provides wildlife habitat, and the water is also used for irrigation. The net result is less dependance on city water.

A very interesting thing to me is the presence of two wind turbines, and nearly 100 kilowatt capacity of solar panels.

One wind turbine is a large (50 kilowatt) design by Bergey Windpower that's prominently displayed in the center of the parking lot, and can be seen for miles around. It's a new design that's supposed to provide power even in low wind conditions. The other is a small unit attached to the big sign, providing the power required to run the sign.

The solar installation is covering their garden center, and is also designed to allow some light to filter through so that the garden center doesn't require added lighting.

This is an interesting and positive trend. Wall Mart is doing this as a special experiment, and working with NASA to record all sorts of data. However if it works out as expected, one can expect new big box stores to be built in a similar way. Especially as Wall Mart is sharing the data with the public, the result will be that other corporate interests can look at the data themselves and use it in their decisions around how to build new buildings.