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IKEA Builds Sustainability, Energy Savings

Large retail stores – the same ones that will be flooded with customers this coming holiday weekend – are leading the way in solar energy and energy storage. IKEA, one of those retail giants, is adding fuel cells and batteries to several stores this year, hoping that the solar, fuel cell, and battery technologies will work together to cut energy usage and costs.

ikea fuel cell

One of the most consequential advances in the campaign to support the deeply related goals of renewable and energy efficiency sector is that big companies have bought-in — and in a big way.

The evidence is clear. The Solar Energy Industries Association last month issued its fifth annual report tracking business use. Total adoption, the report says, has risen from 300MW in 2012 top more than 1GW this year. The report, which covers the biggest retail players, says that Target, which an installed base of 147.5MW, has unseated Walmart (145MW), as the largest user of solar. Walmart had worn the crown for the past four years. Rounding off the list of top finishers are Prologis (108MW), Apple (94MW) and Costco (51 MW), Kohl’s (50MW), Macy’s (39MW), General Growth Properties (30MW) and Hartz Mountain and Bed, Bath and Beyond (both at 23MW).

Solar power of course is a very potent tool, and the aggressive uptake by big businesses is a good thing. It has a big challenge, however: Solar is inconsistent. When it rains, the energy does not pour. Nor does it flow at night. Of course, solar increasingly is being paired with storage, which could alleviate that challenge.

But there are other ways to push renewable energy and decentralized energy, and IKEA is going down that road as well. The company is deploying fuel cells, which avoid the inconsistency challenge altogether. It announced this week that it has installed biogas-power fuel cell systems from Bloom Energy at its stores in Costa Mesa and Covina, CA. Plans also were announced for fuel cell installations at outlets in East Palo Alto, which is in the San Francisco area, San Diego and in New Haven, CT. The fuel cells, the company says, will supplement solar arrays on each of the stores.

Thus, those stores have both constant and variable sources of renewable, non-grid and decentralized energy. IKEA spokesperson Joe Roth, in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today, said that the fuel cells have the potential to cut costs by 20 percent to 40 percent when they are fully up and running.

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