McDonald's Begins Its Solar Journey


Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Joining other business giants like Amazon and Google, McDonald’s has taken an important step in its solar journey by launching its first net-zero restaurant. The restaurant, located at the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, is a step toward the company’s science-based target of reducing emissions with the Paris Agreement in perspective.

The restaurant building employs 1066 rooftop PV panels along with walls made of photovoltaic glass. It also has a series of solar-powered streetlights and other energy efficiency measures such as passive ventilation. The massive 8024 square foot building is 100% solar-powered and will generate 600,000 kWh of emission-free energy annually. While this is a pilot project, McDonald’s aims to integrate solar power in the rest of its stores slowly.

How the Emission-Free Building Was Born

mcdonald’s new net-zero restaurant building

McDonald’s Unveils Net Zero Energy-Designed Restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort (source – McDonald’s)

The building, located at Florida’s Walt Disney World resort, was designed by Ross Barney Architects based in Chicago, and Florida-based architectural-cum-engineering firm CPH.

A total of 1066 rooftop solar panels will generate about 600,000 kWh of energy every year. Besides that, 192 photovoltaic glass panels were incorporated in the walls to add to the solar generation. A 1500 square foot outdoor seating area employs ‘Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)’ by having a shed made of solar panels that generate up to 70,000 kWh of energy annually. A series of solar lights in the restaurant’s parking area adds up to the solar power produced and used.

But solar isn’t the only thing that allows the restaurant to cut down its emissions. A large, living wall covered with native plants keeps the space cool. A passive ventilation system with automatic louver windows helps regulate the temperature and humidity.

Next year, the restaurant will be trying to receive the ‘Zero Energy’ certification from the International Living Future Institute.

Chasing the Net-Zero Mark

In the spring of 2018, McDonald’s became the first restaurant company to set a science-based target to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They announced a target of reducing the emissions from its restaurants and offices by 36% from a 2015 base year by 2030.

With this climate target, the company hopes to prevent 150 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere by 2030. This would be the equivalent of taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for a complete year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for ten years.

By setting this target, McDonald’s aims to fulfill three important goals in the Paris agreement:

  • Goal 7 – Affordable and clean energy (specifically targets 7.2 and 7.3).
  • Goal 13 – Climate action (specifically target 13.2).
  • Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals (specifically targets 17.16 and 17.17).

The new zero energy restaurant, opened at the Walt Disney World resort, is one major step toward their 2030 target.

While the restaurant is undoubtedly an important step towards the 2030 target, it is not the first step, and not even the largest. In 2018, the company opened its then flagship restaurant in Chicago with solar panels. The massive 19,000 sq. ft. building had a variety of eco-friendly features, from a thousand solar panels to trees and natural lighting through 27-foot tall windows.

In 2019, McDonald’s invested in large scale renewable plants. These plants, including both solar and wind, generate enough power for about 2500 McDonald’s restaurants. The plants will prevent a staggering 700,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from going into the atmosphere.

According to the company website, it has also made substantial progress in the European market towards reducing emissions. Almost a dozen countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and UK/Ireland are close to sourcing all their energy through renewable sources.

It will be interesting to see how McDonald’s will replicate the energy efficiency measures across the tens of thousands of their restaurant buildings worldwide.

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