Large-scale rooftop solar arrays can sometimes pop up in a diverse — and sometimes unexpected — number of places.
In 2012, New Jersey unveiled its largest roof-bound photovoltaic array, a 9-megawatt capacity behemoth installed atop an electricity-guzzling refrigerated warehouse at the Gloucester Marine Terminal. (A Toys “R” Us distribution center previously held the title.)
Virginia’s most powerful rooftop solar power plant, capable of offsetting 918 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, graces a public high school in the town of Chesapeake.
Consisting of 26,000 individual PV panels, the largest roof-mounted array in the entire United States can be found on the southern end of Las Vegas Strip atop the newly expanded convention center at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
And in a handful of states — including, most recently, Washington — the largest single rooftop solar arrays have been installed atop a retail destination that shoppers flock to when in need of frozen meatballs, a six-pack of champagne flutes and a new mattress.
That’s right, IKEA.
The affordable home design emporium recently announced that its under-construction Seattle-area store will boast the largest rooftop solar array in the Evergreen State at a total of 244,504 square feet. According to company, the 1.18-MW system, to be installed by REC Solar, will be comprised of 3,420 individual PV panels. The estimated amount of electricity produced annually (1,319,000 kWh) atop the boxy blue edifice will be equivalent as the same amount of electricity needed to power 137 homes for a year while preventing 927 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
An early IKEA outpost gets a green redo
To be clear, Sweden-borne IKEA first opened up shop in the city of Renton, located roughly 11 miles southeast of Seattle, in 1994 within an old aerospace electronics warehouse. (Boeing is famously the city’s top employer). IKEA Seattle was the 13th store opened in the United States — a huge to-do as evidenced by this news article published at the time — by the beloved retailer and the first IKEA store I ever stepped foot in. (Please, don’t ask me to remember what I bought, but it probably involved scented candles.)
Currently, IKEA, as the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, operates 41 stateside retail stores with a modest handful more on the way — just a small fraction of the nearly 400 locations worldwide.
Due to open in 2017, the new two-story outpost in Renton, complete with solar panel-clad roof, will be located where the existing store’s parking lot is located. The new store will be more akin to IKEAs built within the last decade or so, given that the company now primarily builds from the ground-up in lieu of repurposing existing structures as it did with its Renton store over 20 years ago.
“We are excited to further our sustainability commitment with solar panels on this relocated Seattle-area store,” IKEA Seattle store manager Diedre Goodchild says in a press release. “Installing Washington’s largest rooftop array advances our vision of creating a better everyday life for the many.”
It’s unclear where the current title-holder of Washington’s largest rooftop solar array is located.
A big (box) push toward energy independence
Here’s the thing: the fact that IKEA, a pioneer in the banishment of throwaway shopping bags and inefficient light bulbs, is topping a new store with solar panels isn’t exactly huge news. It’s essentially a given.
The company has been investing heavily in renewable energy, in both the U.S. and Europe, for some time now as part of its $2.15 billion push to achieve complete energy independence by the year 2020. The rooftop installation in Renton will mark IKEA’s 44th solar project in the U.S. and boost the percentage of American locations boasting solar arrays to an impressive 90 percent. The first solar project at an American IKEA store was at the retailer’s Tempe, Arizona, location in 2010.
All of these in-store — or atop-store, rather — solar arrays combined make for a total capacity of 40 MW, making IKEA one of the top-ranking companies in America when it comes to on-site installed solar capacity. Only much-larger domestic retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s, Target and Costco rank higher.
Globally, the style-forward purveyor of inexpensive table lamps and even more inexpensive coffee tables, has installed over 700,000 individual solar panels.
Washington is in good company
While the presence of roof-mounted solar panels at IKEA stores is de rigueur — it would be exceedingly odd if a new IKEA store opened without them — the fact that a single retail store will boast the largest photovoltaic array in a state is a remarkable feat. But then again, IKEA, which sells its wares out of big box stores on steroids, has the available rooftop real estate (the new IKEA Seattle will be just shy of 400,000-square-feet) and the drive to do it.
Just as a remarkable is the fact that this isn’t the first time a new IKEA store has opened with the largest rooftop solar array in a certain state. A soon-to-open IKEA outpost in Memphis will be home to the largest rooftop solar array in Tennessee. When IKEA St. Louis opened for business last year, so did the largest roof-mounted solar array — a 1.28-MW system with 4,085 panels — in the entire state of Missouri. The story is much the same in Michigan.
And while the new-ish IKEA Miami store isn’t home to the largest rooftop solar array in the entire Sunshine State, it is the largest such installation in all of South Florida. When combined with arrays at the retailer’s other stores in Tampa, Orlando, and Sunrise, IKEA emerges as the largest non-utility solar owner in Florida.
With almost all American IKEA stores and distribution centers currently — or soon-to-be — boasting roof-mounted solar arrays, one single question remains: which IKEA stores aren't powered by the sun?