Transforming utility customer service: How Walmart is driving change

Utility customers are becoming increasingly more concerned about climate change, its societal repercussions, and how it impacts their businesses. As a result, many commercial & industrial (C&I) customers are developing, publicizing, and executing on corporate sustainability goals. This series of articles seeks to explore how utilities are helping customers meet sustainability goals and facilitate a transition to a low-carbon future.

Walmart’s engagements are a prime example of utilities and C&I customers working together to adopt a broader approach to meet sustainability goals. Walmart’s core strategies to reduce energy intensity and emissions include scaling renewable energy, improving energy efficiency in facilities, and encouraging suppliers to avoid energy-related emissions by reducing demand and transitioning to energy sources that are renewable and emit little to no carbon. To meet aggressive environmental and climate targets while keeping prices low for its customers, the company is proactively partnering with utilities and pushing policies with state regulators across the US

Bringing Renewable Energy to Scale

Walmart has set a goal to power 50% of its operations with renewable energy by 2025 with three core objectives:

  • Developing and installing new renewable energy projects at scale
  • Driving down the cost of renewable energy
  • Securing cost-effective, stable renewable energy pricing that meets or beats utility power pricing

In terms of onsite installations, Walmart is also developing large corporate procurements and has more than 360 stores with onsite generation, including storage, to help contain costs and enhance resiliency.

On the Road

While national infrastructure does not yet support an electrified heavy-duty fleet, Walmart continues to evaluate the deployment curve and push efficiency, process and system improvements, and advanced technologies and equipment. A pilot test is underway to integrate electric yard trucks in distribution centers. If the results are positive, the team will potentially broaden integration to additional sites.

Walmart also continues to make progress in its efforts to increase the availability of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at its stores and clubs, with 323 EV chargers available across 42 states.

Partnership with Utilities

Sustainability initiatives of this scope benefit from a dynamic relationship between utilities and engaged corporate customers like Walmart. On one hand, utilities are well-positioned to help confront the challenges associated with implementing aggressive conservation and sustainability goals and on the other Walmart is uniquely positioned to drive change and work collaboratively with utilities to establish policies and practices that will benefit the company as well as the communities it serves.

“The first step for utilities to help large customers achieve their own renewable energy goals is actually broader and more comprehensive than simply crafting a tariff,” said Walmart Director of Energy Services Steve Chriss. “It is to establish a customer-centric culture within their customer service and regulatory operations. Utilities who have successfully implemented renewable energy programs have largely disposed of the notion of “ratepayers,” who exist in a one-way relationship simply to provide cost recovery for investments and operating costs, and embraced “customers” and “partners” and the dialog necessary to help those customers meet their needs and goals in a constructive manner.”

Two examples of programs Walmart has spearheaded that have benefitted broader communities and expanded access to renewable energy:

  • Georgia Power worked with Walmart to establish the Commercial & Industrial Renewable Energy Development Initiative (C&I REDI), which provides a carve out for large C&I customers to take on higher responsibility and incremental costs for renewables and receive incremental benefits. Walmart’s strong day-to-day relationship with Georgia Power and other stakeholders allowed for frank and open discussion on program and rate structures and helped establish the best program possible.
  • In March 2020, Florida Power & Light announced “SolarTogether,” a program Walmart and large C&I customers helped initiate to drive greater access to renewable energy. The program is the largest shared solar offering in the country and includes an allocated portion of its solar capacity to low-income and commercial customers. SolarTogether allows subscribers to offset up to 100% of their electricity use with emissions-free energy.

Walmart is a first mover in addressing climate change and is actively working with utilities to sell through sustainability – from supply chain to store operations and the communities it serves. While the depth and breadth of the engagements this international retailer has successfully initiated may seem daunting, there are many teachable moments and opportunities that can be leveraged by both utilities and customers.

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Michael Goldman is a Director on the Energy Efficiency team at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. He is a frequent contributor to conferences and articles on distributed energy resources and their impact on the evolving grid.

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