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A bright Idea - Ikea's Solar Panels

Jun 1, 2011

IKEA has a well-deserved reputation as one of the Greenest Employers in Canada for its long standing partnership with Tree Canada, green parking policies, mandatory environmental training programs and sustainable procurement guidelines. And now, thanks to a project involving Aecon Buildings, it can add clean, sustainable solar power to its resume.

IKEA owns and operates what is considered to be the largest rooftop solar panel network in Ontario under the province’s Feed-in-Tariff program.

Installed on three of the company’s stores in the Greater Toronto Area, the 3,790 solar panels will generate more than 900,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year – enough to power about 100 homes.

From the far reaches of the parking lot, IKEA’s huge 330,000 square foot store in Etobicoke, the largest in Canada, looks much as it always did. But if you flew over the store in the past few months, you might just catch the sun glinting off the polished array of newly installed solar panels on the roof.

The Swedish home furnishing giant is the first retailer in Canada to own and operate a rooftop solar panel network. The panels generate more than 900,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year (about 750 kilowatts at peak generation on a sunny day), enough to power about 100 homes. The power is fed back into the Ontario energy grid under the province's Feed-in Tariff Program.

AMP Solar Group developed the IKEA installation and Aecon Buildings was the general contractor for the project.

“AMP Solar designed the system and handled all the procurement,” explains Jim Field, Aecon Buildings’ director of Programs and Tenant Improvement. “Our job was to manage the project, working with the subcontractors, overseeing site health and safety, co-ordinating logistics with the IKEA managers, and supervising the installation.”

Made by Sanyo, the solar panels used on the IKEA project are highly efficient, converting about 18 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. Each panel is about four feet long, three feet high and two-inches wide and weighs about 20 kilograms. The panels are installed on an aluminum rack ballasted on the roof and carefully aligned to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.

The photovoltaic cells in the panels, made of ultrathin layers of silicone, convert the sunlight into electricity. The electrical power is collected and fed to an inverter, which converts the direct current generated by the panels to the alternating current used in the electric grid.

“The panels are extremely delicate. They are also expensive - about $500 each," notes Fredrick Bodmer, Aecon Buildings' project manager. “But our subcontractor and own crews did a great job installing the panels safe and secure.”        

Work on the project started in October 2010 and by the end of the year, Aecon Buildings had installed all 3,790 solar panels.

This was not Aecon Building’s first rooftop solar panel installation (its first project, and the first in Ontario, was for Towcon Holdings in Cambridge in January 2010) but it was its largest project to date and Jim Field confidently expects to see an increasing number of installations in the future.

“Ontario’s Green Energy Act has certainly helped energize the market,” he notes. “Through the Feed-in-Tariff program, the Ontario Power Authority pays a significant premium for electricity generated by small producers from renewable resources. IKEA’s $4.6 million investment in solar power should generate a healthy return of about 15 percent a year.”

But it’s not just the economics that are appealing, Field adds. Architects, contractors and developers are all moving to green sustainable construction and adding renewable sources of power to a building contributes to LEED certification, which as the benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings is becoming a prerequisite for commercial and retail construction.

“The rooftop solar installations solidify IKEA’s longstanding commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability,” says Kerri Molinaro, the president of IKEA Canada. “We are proud to be a partner in generating clean, renewable power that will feed into the communities IKEA operates in the Greater Toronto Area.”

IKEA plans to install rooftop solar panels on more than 150 stores around the world.