550,000 solar panels. 1 million panels planned by 2016. Thirteen wind farms. You might be thinking we're talking about a fair-sized utility. But no. The company with all this renewable energy capacity is actually Ikea. The flatpack giant is becoming a renewable power house.
Ikea wants to generate all its own energy, and its distribution centers and stores are ideal places for solar systems, according to chief sustainability officer Steve Howard. "You can turn a fallow roof into a fertile economic asset," he says. In 10 states, Ikea now has the largest single rooftop installations.
Such is Ikea's advance, it's no longer impressed with traditional energy producers. Howard thinks their days are numbered. "I had a Chinese energy company present to us recently about their portfolio," he says. "I whispered to my colleague 'we're a bigger than them and we're a home furnishing company.'"
Most of the biggest corporate users of solar are retailers. According to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, six of the top 10 in U.S. are big-box chains. Walmart has the highest installed base, with 89.43 megawatts and 215 sites. It's followed by Costco (47.06) and Kohl's (44.72), with Apple (40.73) and Ikea (35.08) next.
1. Walmart: 89 megawatts
2. Costco: 47 megawatts
3. Kohl's: 45 megawatts
4. Apple: 41 megawatts
5. Ikea: 35 megawatts
6. Macy's: 21 megawatts
7. Johnson & Johnson: 17 megawatts
8. McGraw Hill: 14 megawatts
9. Staples: 13 megawatts
10. Campbell's: 12 megawatts
Overall, the top 25 companies had installed 445 MW at 950 different facilities by last August, SEIA says. That's up from 300 MW at 730 sites the year before. Much of that was due to the falling cost of generation. The completed installation price has decreased 30% since early 2011, the report says.
Ikea has the largest percentage of its sites with solar (89%) and its network spans the highest number of states (20). Howard says in places like California it no longer needs incentives from government to make investments worthwhile. And he expects the economics to become yet more favorable, as the cost of solar falls and the price of traditional power goes up. Ikea expects increases of 30% to 40% over the next 10 years.
"People talk about renewables as 'alternative,' but that does it a disservice," he says. "Think rationally about how you're going to generate energy now. Are you going to dig up dinosaur food and burn it, and create local pollution, and ship it around, and cause catastrophic climate change? Or, are you going to produce clean energy that's free after construction? It's not difficult to decide. This is just sensible, mainstream energy."
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