Solar energy offers a cheap, renewable source of electricity that could reduce and, eventually, eliminate our need for greenhouse gas-emitting power generation plants. But solar farms as they are currently envisioned come at a cost: acres and acres of land that could otherwise be used for food production or rewilding, creating biodiverse wildernesses that preserve nature and function as carbon sinks. But why choose between saving biodiversity and stopping global warming when a third option exists, one (and sometimes two) floors up?
The United States’ obsession with Big Box stores—the Walmarts, Targets, Ikeas, and Home Depots that are as much consumption-as-entertainment as bulk buying opportunities—provides some 109,000 acres of prime, solar-panel-ready rooftop real estate, according to a 2016 calculation by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That’s enough to produce more than 50 million megawatt hours of electricity a year—and power 5.2 million households—assuming 477 megawatt hours per year, per acre for utility scale photovoltaics.
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