Peer Exchange: Solar Projects in the Hospitality and Retail, Food Service, and Grocery Sectors

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Aug 18, 2022

Better Buildings partners from the retail, food service, and grocery (RFSG) and hospitality sectors came together in a recent peer exchange to share lessons learned on solar projects and overcoming common challenges such as fostering internal buy-in and coordinating across franchisees.

Better Buildings partners including Starbucks Coffee Company, The Wendy’s Company, Ulta Beauty, Qurate Retail Group, Hilton, Marriott, and Travel + Leisure, shared their experiences deploying decision-making processes, selecting financing vehicles, and strategizing across timelines for solar projects.

Making the Call: Deciding on Solar Project Structure

With various solar project structures in today’s market, it can be challenging for organizations to determine the best fit. Jenny Heeter, a Senior Energy Analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), showcased evaluation methods that organizations can leverage when deciding between off-site versus on-site solar projects.

Both off-site and on-site approaches pose benefits and challenges. Off-site solar is a popular option that ensures organizations avoid disruptions to the customer and guest experience due to construction. However, organizations looking to increase energy independence and reap additional cost savings may consider on-site solar projects. Find out if on-site solar might be a good fit for your organization’s buildings with our On-Site Solar Decision Guide.

On-site solar panels installed at the Wyndham Limetree Resort in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Photo courtesy of Travel + Leisure Co., a Better Buildings hospitality partner

Finding Project Financing

Financing solar projects can be one of the most challenging and time-intensive steps for organizations. Partners shared their experiences outsourcing work to experts in the field, such as financial organizations that offer energy-as-a-service.

RFSG partners also shared strategies in selecting on-site solar financing options by choosing profitable locations with an ideal payback period of under five years. Projects with longer payback periods than five years tend to be rejected and face hurdles related to internal stakeholder buy-in.

Making the financial case for solar is critical to stakeholder buy-in. For example, one partner forged a collaborative relationship with their local homeowners’ association (HOA), as the HOA’s approval of all on-site solar projects was required. This partner strategically engaged with the HOA by providing a strong financial case for their solar projects, consisting primarily of power purchase agreements (PPAs), to ensure project approval. This partnership was crucial in the successful financing and implementation of the partner’s solar projects. 

Overcoming Site Challenges and Barriers

Some RFSG partners noted that certain leases prohibit the installation of on-site solar, limiting their project pathways. Additionally, partners noted that some building owners may be less incentivized to install on-site solar if there is an upcoming roof renovation or if the roof is in poor condition. However, one partner suggested overcoming this challenge by coupling the timing of a roof renovation with an on-site solar project.

Many hospitality and RFSG partners that participated in the peer exchange are leaders in decarbonization by integrating solar energy into their portfolios despite the range of challenges. Learn more about these renewable energy successes: 


Find more resources in the Renewable Energy Resource Hub on the Better Buildings Solution Center or contact the Renewables Integration Technology Research Team.