IKEA to Feature in Houston’s 2012 Solar Tour

(by Violeta Archer – HREG Secretary 2012)

For those who have been wondering about the flurry of activity happening over at IKEA lately, we confirm it is indeed very exciting. We had heard about the store’s solar energy system installation in late 2011, and in May we – members from the Houston Renewable Energy Group, the City of Houston, the Electrical Vehicle Association, and the Houston Green Scene – were granted our request for a preview.

In traditional IKEA fashion, we were greeted at the door by smiling staff who led us past a bus load of cheerful tourists through the stairwell to the building’s roof. The rooftop location with its windy conditions and panoramic views of the surrounding neighborhood and city line beyond could have caused vertigo were it not for the vast surface area to ground our bearings. The sensation of being atop of the world’s leading contemporary furnishings retailer was sheer euphoria! Then, the sight of precisely aligned racks with intermittent mechanical units on 116,000 square feet (about three acres) was simply surreal. During our visit, the panels were still stacked on one side, but we could still imagine the impact they would have on the store’s operations.

According to the Houston store’s Marketing Manager, Kim Castillo, the system consists of 4000 poly crystalline silicon panels which are expected to off-set a notable amount of the store’s energy consumption. The savings will be significant, especially considering that all 44 facilities (stores and distribution centers) in the U.S. are on track to install photovoltaic systems per a 10-year plan. Currently, 33 buildings have made or are making the investment as their turn for renovation comes up or with newly constructed stores since 2010. Sister stores in Frisco and Round Rock, Texas, for example, will be installing 1 MW and 1.8 MW photovoltaic systems in Q2 2012 and Q3 2012, respectively. While the Round Rock store will be IKEA’s largest photovoltaic system installed in Texas, the southwest distribution center in Tejon, California will be the largest in the country with its 1.8 million square feet roof space.

Transitioning to renewable energy solutions to mitigate IKEA’s energy costs is neither a recent marketing scheme nor a tactic to appeal to customers for greater market share. In fact, these renewable energy investments are right in line with the Swedish tradition of self-sufficiency and the company’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint worldwide, which makes up one, albeit important, piece of their overall, long-term global sustainability strategy.

For the benefit of many who may not know IKEA’s sustainability initiatives achieved thus far and to place these renewable energy investments in context, here is a reminder:

In August 2010, all incandescent lighting fixtures were phased out from buildings and product lines.

Innovative solutions featuring solar powered lamps with LED technology (particularly the SUNNAN) were introduced in 2009. As a major retailer, this greatly aids with the commercialization and awareness of renewable energy-based products to market.

In December 2010, the company gifted all U.S. employees mountain bicycles to encourage sustainable means of transportation and a healthy lifestyle. A total of 12,400 bicycles were distributed during the holiday season.

The use of plastic bags were eliminated and replaced with the iconic large blue bag for shopping and continuous re-use.

The company recycles 84% of store-generated waste.

71% of IKEA’s products are recyclable or have a recycled material content or both.

All wood products are made from sustainably harvested forests certified by the Forest Steward Council (FSC).

The company has historically invested in cleantech technologies and startups before it became a mainstream practice. The UK distribution center’s parking lot, for example, features a geothermal system for heating and cooling needs.

IKEA is a long time partner with UNICEF, through its Social Initiative Program, to educate children and women across 500 villages in eastern India. This program improved working conditions, eradicated child labor practices and produced marketable textile designs which became subsequently available as wall hangings in all stores worldwide.

When given GHG emissions guidelines, they are on record for exceeding requirements.

The company maintains a list of restricted toxic substances that all suppliers must adhere to. With 1600 suppliers in 55 countries and 10,000 product lines, the company is helping set new safety standards in product design.

Clearly, sustainability is very much ingrained within the company’s culture and structured as a two-way street. Ms. Castillo explained that the process is simultaneously bottom-up and top-down, where instead of having a designated sustainability manager, there is an environmental committee that assesses opportunities as a team. The decision to have a solar energy system for their store was unanimously embraced by everyone and reflects a growing Houston constituency for the implementation of more renewable energy solutions.

In terms of system cost, the company took advantage of unprecedented lowered market price points in 2011 to purchase their system outright. Consequently, no subsidies or financial lease plans were necessary.

IKEA’s fix-mounted photovoltaic system will be available for public viewing during Houston’s annual Solar Tour event in October – a tour surely not to be missed!

Total power installed: 750 kW
Number of panels: 4,000
Technology: c-Si
Inclination / Orientation: average 12° due south
Software application: Amtek
Manufacturer: REC
Inverters: Solaron
Installer: REC