WASHINGTON--Not content to be the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores is out to harness the sun--and will use government money to do it. The Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer has received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Energy to help outfit a store in City of Industry, Calif., with solar panels. Electricity generated by the panels will be used to power shopping carts for disabled people, store equipment and possibly a van to ferry shoppers between the parking lot and the store. The panels would be installed in the store vestibule's roofing, according to a notice in the Federal Register announcing the grant. Energy Department officials said the participation of Wal-Mart could be an enormous step toward widespread commercial use of solar power. The DOE hopes that experiments, such as the City of Industry store, will improve solar technology to the point where other businesses will be willing to use it. "This would really be a breakthrough" if Wal-Mart finds a way to use solar power in a cost-effective manner, said Robert Annan, director of the DOE's Office of Solar Energy Conversion, in a telephone interview Tuesday. Currently, solar energy costs about 25 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 8 cents for electricity sold by utilities, he added. With Wal-Mart as a partner, "the potential [for solar energy] is unlimited as far as I'm concerned," said Robert Martin, project manager in the DOE's Golden (Colo.) Field Office, which reviewed the retailer's proposal. Equipping the store, which will open this fall, with solar technology will cost $234,400, according to the Federal Register notice. In addition to the DOE grant, Southern California Edison, a utility, and the California Energy Commission, a state government agency, are helping to pay for and conduct the experiment.
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