IKEA has positioned itself as a global leader in the field of sustainability, and with a target of being completely energy independent by 2020, it’s hard to argue with their commitment to the cause. Recently, the Swedish furniture giant unveiled plans to generate solar power to run its Australian stores and warehouses – and potentially feed excess power back into the grid.

The ambitious 2020 target is no small task, particularly when you consider the sheer size of the organisation – IKEA operates 303 stores in 26 countries and employs approximately 135,000 people.

In May, it was announced that IKEA Australia would work with Canadian Solar to install 3.6MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of seven IKEA sites across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The panels will power the seven sites (a mix of stores and warehouses), and they are grid connected, so that any excess energy can be fed back into the National Electricity Market (NEM) for use where it is needed.

The PV panels to be installed will generate enough clean energy to offset approximately 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, which will assist considerably in IKEA’s global energy independence goal.

IKEA Australia selected Canadian Solar after a competitive tender process, with a range of factors – including quality of the panels, price, and ability to integrate with the grid – key factors in the decision-making process.

IKEA Australia Sustainability Manager Richard Wilson said that following the tender process, the organisation felt comfortable that Canadian Solar was the company to provide a total turnkey solution on time, and in line with the various challenges that connecting a PV system of this size to the grid entails.

Shawn Qu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Solar, agrees that the grid integration aspects of this particular project were challenging. “The IKEA project involved hefty undertakings of grid-connection negotiation,” he noted.

“Our organisation prides itself in not only producing the world’s best PV products, but also a dynamic expertise-driven projects team. Fully equipped with an advanced understanding of Australian grid codes, and backed by years of experience, our local team was able to effectively execute, despite the complexity of the projects.”

Canadian Solar’s Australian Manager Daniel Ruoss echoed these sentiments.“IKEA Australia could see the work we had done on grid integration on previous projects, such as the Windsor Riverview Shopping Centre in New South Wales, and at the Mega Lifescience Factory in Pakenham, Victoria,” said Mr Ruoss. “Our experience in dealing with grid integration, which can be an often challenging process and speaking the same language as the DNSPs, was a critical part of what set us apart from our competitors.”

Installing solar systems onto the roofs of IKEA Australia’s stores and warehouses is a considerable undertaking, with each site having its own complexities and issues to consider. Canadian Solar’s product and installation offering fit well with IKEA’s vision for an efficient, reliable high quality product together with a competitive offer, expert knowledge and experience.

The panels

The project is Canadian Solar’s largest commercial PV project rollout to date globally and emphasises the company’s ability to provide solutions that reduce the complexities and costs of solar system installation.

Canadian Solar’s professional engineering design was critical to the development of the project systems, which feature state-of-the-art products, such as the Quartech-Next Generation PV panels.

The Quartech PV panels have raised module efficiency to a new standard in the solar industry. They feature four busbar cell technology, which results in higher power output, higher system reliability, improved module conversion efficiency, reduced cell series resistance and reduced stress between cell interconnectors. Overall they offer excellent performance, superior reliability and enhanced value.

A unique opportunity

The IKEA project presents the National Electricity Market, and Australia’s electricity generators, distributors and retailers with a unique opportunity.

“Some of our roofs have the capacity for significantly more panels, which could produce even more electricity, which could then be fed into the grid as a regular source of renewable energy,” said Mr Wilson.

It’s certainly a unique, and novel, way for businesses and utilities to capitalise on the real estate available on their roofs, particularly when their stores and warehouses are located close to points of the grid where security of supply can be an issue.

There’s no doubt that IKEA Australia is a leader in this area, both in Australia and globally, but there is a very real possibility that other companies may too follow its lead, and look into large scale solar projects as a means of powering their own operations, while also feeding excess energy into the grid.

Mr Wilson thinks there is certainly scope for utilities to consider whether the grid’s dimensions might need expanding. “We have to look at innovative solutions,” said Mr Wilson. “Hopefully IKEA can play a small part in bringing these ideas to the fore.”

Thinking beyond solar

While the organisation may now have more than 550,000 solar panels in operation around the world, it has also invested heavily in wind turbines in order to meet their energy independence targets.

In 2013, IKEA globally committed to owning and operating 137 wind turbines around the world. In Northern Ireland for example, the electricity generated from the turbines directly powers a store, and in other parts of the world, electricity from the turbines is used to offset energy used by stores which are not completely run by solar power.

“Globally, IKEA has been investing in wind energy, most recently with a new wind facility in Illinois, US,” said Mr Wilson. “When it comes online in 2015 it will be our largest single renewable energy investment to date. The 49 turbines are expected to generate enough energy for 165 per cent of IKEA operations in the US.”

With such a strong wind market in Australia, and considering the fact that Australia has lofty targets of its own for wind generation by 2020 (see article on page 14), this could open another potential generating opportunity for IKEA Australia.

Managing demand

With such lofty targets for energy independence, IKEA Australia has also had to consider ways it can be efficient with the energy that it does use, to reduce the overall tally it must generate or offset.

Demand management has had a large role to play in this process. Globally the organisation has looked at the times at which certain functions are performed to ensure they are done so in an energy efficient manner – for example, car park cleaning at store locations across Australia now takes place in daylight hours, rather than overnight or early in the morning, when lights would be required for visibility.

The organisation has also ensured that for each store there is a thorough understanding of the building management system, and steps that can be taken to ensure the efficient use of energy – for example, air conditioning is utilised at outside of peak demand times.

A bold vision

Globally, IKEA has a long-term approach to sustainability, and Mr Wilson confirms the organisation is well on the way to reaching its lofty 2020 target.

“It’s an ambitious target, but at IKEA, we believe it’s possible to transform our business by creating the opportunity to reduce emissions and avoid rising energy costs. This means challenging the old ways and embracing the new, being bold and committed.”

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