Looking for signs that renewable energy is gaining real traction? We present IKEA.

Back in the day, every single solar installation from the purveyor of cheap and cheerful home furnishings was news. Now, IKEA solarizing a store is as common as, well, a birch veneer bookshelf. That’s got to be a sign of progress.

Already this month, the retailer has unveiled solar power arrays in FloridaVirginiaTexasMichiganand, most recently, Pennsylvania. That flourish of installations brings the company’s U.S. total to 22 completed solar projects. (Update: Make that 23. A few hours after this story went up, Ikea announced the completion of another system, just over 1 megawatt, in Georgia.)

But what really demands emphasis here – it’s the reason we’re writing this little love note to our Swedish friends – is the gigantic amount of generating capacity that IKEA’s solarizing adds up to. This is real energy being produced by IKEA; the company isn’t buying renewable energy credits of sometimes dubious value to give itself a green sheen.

Consider: When it finishes the 16 additional U.S. projects that are now under way, IKEA will have 38 megawatts of generating capacity on its rooftops, the company says. To put that in perspective, the largest U.S. utility-scale PV plant east of the Mississippi is the Long Island Solar Farm, with a generating capacity of 32 MW.

What IKEA demonstrates is the immense solar-generating capacity available on commercial rooftops. And remember, there are distinct advantages to going solar this way versus pursuing the big utility-scale power plant model.

As the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in a 2008 report [PDF], “By deploying photovoltaics on building rooftops, there is little to no cost associated with land, and the system is deployed at the point of use, which minimizes transmission and distribution requirements and losses.”

The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes the vast possibilities on commercial rooftops – that’s why it’s backing Project Amp with a $1.4 billion loan guarantee. That project aims to put around 750 MW of PV on existing rooftops owned and management by Prologis – amounting to about 80 percent of the total PV that was installed in the United States as of 2010. While the government is helping out by backing loans for Project Amp, at least a billion dollars more is being poured into the program from private sources, with NRG joining Prologis as an investor.

Some of the Prologis facilities offering the possibility for mind-bogglingly big solar installations; last fall, a distribution center in Rialto, Calif., was blanketed with an 8.6- MW rooftop PVsystem, covering 1.2 million square feet.

IKEA can’t quite match that, but its installations are plenty big. In fact, the company’s array at its Canton, Mich., store is the biggest single solar installation in that state, at 977.6-kilowatts. The company also said its new 813-kW system at a store in Houston, combined with systems already in place in Frisco and Round Rock, makes it the largest solar owner in the state of Texas.

That’s right, by the way: owner. IKEA has chosen to eschew lease and power-purchase agreements that offer cheaper upfront costs for solar installations, and instead is financing its solar expansion on its own.

As a company spokesman told Greenbiz.com’s Leslie Gueverra: “We own our land and we own our buildings, and we want to own the systems on our roofs — we don’t host them and we don’t lease them. We think it’s a big difference regarding the extent of our commitment to renewable energy and sustainability.”

—Pete Danko

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.

Comments

  1. Tavi
    South Florida
    August 2, 2012, 2:14 pm

    A Swedish company investing in alternative energy in US….. What’s wrong with this picture? A LOT.
    Thousands of American companies (AKA :”THE JOB CREATORS” Yeah,…) could do just the same and create a lots of jobs here and save money in the long run.
    But they don’t. Simply because they don’t really care. And they don’t care because they are run by greedy, stupid, arogant SOBs.