Sam’s Club shoppers consider solar rooftops

Discounts and deals on residential solar installations are now being touted by nine outlets of Sam’s Club, the Wal-Mart-owned bulk retail chain, CNET reports. Several of its Southern California stores have installed info kiosks that offer solar deals through two companies, Borrego Solar and BP Solar. These kiosks are part of larger home-efficiency centers that Sam’s Club is rolling out to help its thrifty shoppers save money on their electricity bills. They include efficient lightbulbs and water-conserving toilets.

The interesting thing about this endeavor by Sam’s Club – the most vivid embodiment of both American consumption and American thrift – is that it signals a more aggressive push into the residential solar market. Rather than hoping that early adopters drive the trend (or focusing on commercial customers, whose larger-scale projects offer greater profits), these solar companies are reaching out to the most mainstream of shoppers.

Home Depot beat the mega-supermarket with a similar solar endorsement in its stores in 2006, offering customers access to solar services and the opportunity to sign up for free consultations, also through BP Solar. Sure, targeting the folks most likely to put up drywall or throw together a new sunroom on a slow weekend makes commercial sense. But it’s almost too obvious—who’s going to win over the rest of us lazy louts? Apparently Sam’s Club is stepping up to fill that void, at least for those of us who live in Southern California and have access to the state’s generous solar rebates. 

The other interesting thing about this (admittedly, rather tiny) development is how it appears in light of a fascinating new report published in the journal Energy Policy (sub. rqd.). According to Solve Climate, the report claims that the recent rise in greenhouse gas emissions in China can be directly tied to the growth in cheap exports for foreign markets – while household emissions in China are actually decreasing. Curiously enough, the growth in China’s GHG emissions exactly matches its growth in exports. One-third of the country’s emissions are attributable to production for the export market in 2005 (up from 21 percent in 2002). In 1987, exports could be blamed for 12 percent of China’s total emissions. As for exports as a percentage of GDP: in 2005, exports accounted for 33 percent of its gross domestic product, up from 12 percent in 1987.

The bulk of those exports end up in the United States, making the U.S. responsible for a significant chunk of China’s carbon footprint. So while it’s nice that casual shoppers will gain exposure to residential solar systems and have all the information they need served up in a handy little kiosk, it’s not so nice that the very same stores they’re shopping in are partly responsible for the greenhouse gases spewing out on the other side of the Pacific.


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