Recently we have witnessed a huge growth in the number of companies that have gone solar. IKEA, Apple and Ebay have all completed several large-scale solar installations, with more on the way. In fact, EarthTechling reported that in just the past month IKEA has unveiled solar projects in Florida, Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. This is a strong sign that solar is gaining traction in the commercial world. NREL explained why in a 2008 report, saying that rooftop solar projects such as those on warehouses and data centers have significant advantages since "there is little to no cost associated with land, and the system is deployed at the point of use, which minimizes transmission and distribution requirements and losses."
Today, July 26, IKEA powered up its newest solar power system in Draper, Utah. The Swedish company contracted with a contractor to install 1,015 kW of solar power. This is IKEA's twenty-sixth solar power project in the U.S. and the largest solar installation in Utah. The solar array covers 180,500 square feet and consists of over four thousand panels. However IKEA is still not satisfied. It plans to install solar panels at 13 other locations. Remarkably, MarketWatch reports that this would make "the eventual U.S. solar presence of IKEA nearly 89% with a total generation of 38 MW." IKEA has long had a strong commitment to renewable energy. Tony Williams, the store manager in Draper, said "We at IKEA believe in the never-ending job of striving to improve the sustainability of our day-to-day business."
IKEA isn't the only large company that has become invested in solar technology. Apple and eBay currently operate several solar arrays around the country. The two companies' solar plants are mainly used to power their data centers. This is important since "data centers now consume about 1.3% of all global electricity" according to a Clean Technica news article. They also need to be reliably powered since crashes are not particularly good for online businesses. eBay's solar projects include a 650kW installation in San Jose, a 100kW array in Denver and a 665kW solar array on the roof of its Utah data center. Meanwhile, Apply has made a commitment to using only renewable energy sources to power its data centers by 2013. The company currently has two solar installations in North Carolina that produce 84 million kWh annually. Much like IKEA, Apple and eBay's decision to pursue solar generation stems partially from their business philosophy. John Donahoe, President and CEO of eBay, said "We believe the future of commerce can be greener ... Running our data centers primarily on reliable, renewable energy, we intend to shape a future for commerce that is more environmentally sustainable at its core."
An interesting aspect of these new solar installations is the way in which solar panels are combined with other renewable energy technologies. For example, the 650kw installation in eBay's San Jose Headquarters is complemented by a 500 kW Bloom fuel cell installation. Combining the two systems allows for reduced intermittency and greater system flexibility. Fuel cells can be used both as a source of energy storage and production in these setups.
The growth of commercial solar installations in data centers, servers and retail stores is an important development in the solar energy landscape. Generally, when thinking about solar energy we focus on distributed home solar panel installations and large utility projects. With IKEA's initiative into U.S. solar power production, it is clear that companies with the resources and will to commit to a renewable energy model can make a huge difference.