Experimental Ikea PV Installation Returns Important Lessons



A host of permitting and installation snags delayed Ikea’s experimental 200-kilowatt photovoltaic array, which includes four makes of modules and 24 inverters, for almost a year. Photo: Ikea

For 10 months, from June 2010 until April, an assembled and wired experimental 200-kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) array basked in the sun atop Ikea’s location in Brooklyn, N.Y. All was normal, except Ikea hadn’t flipped the switch.

“Everything was on the roof and ready to roll,” said Mike Baker, the store manager. “It was just a matter of linking the system up to the building, and then going through certification and commissioning.” A number of factors put pause to Ikea going live on its unique rooftop system, which comprised four different makes of modules and 24 inverters.

First, the original installer went under mid-installation, leaving the Sweden-based furniture retailer scrambling to complete the electrical work. Then Ikea was entangled in the permitting processes required by Consolidated Edison, New York City’s utility. At the time, six different applications and 17 steps were necessary to get a system authorized (see “Reforming Permitting, One Jurisdiction at a Time,”) and a year-long commissioning lag was not uncommon in ConEd’s service area. Internal affairs complicated matters further — the Brooklyn store was one of four Ikea sites worldwide selected for PV pilot testing, and the company needed to create new corporate processes.

In the end, Ikea was able to find a replacement contractor, Solar Energy Systems (solaresystems.com), to tie up loose ends. And there were no hard feelings with ConEdison, despite the longer-than-usual permitting timeframe. “ConEdison was actually a very good partner with Ikea,” said Mark Gasper, Ikea’s U.S. energy manager. “Solar PV installations on the commercial scale are still relatively new in many areas, and we simply chalk this up to a learning experience when dealing with the authorities having jurisdiction.”

“[At the Brooklyn site] I think we learned that when installing solar projects of this magnitude on buildings as large and unique as Ikea stores, it is essential to have realistic expectations with regard to timing, process and potential obstacles,” Gasper added.

The pilot locations have begun to produce valuable data, which is being collected and assessed in partnership with Loughborough University’s Center for Renewable Energy Systems Technology. At the Brooklyn store, UniSolar amorphous thin-film modules share the roof with poly- and mono-crystalline silicon modules from Yingli, Suntech and Sanyo. Because Ikea has more than 320 stores in 38 countries, the concept was to measure different modules’ performance relative to environmental conditions. Gasper said it’s too early to pick winners, but that the pilot program data will eventually help guide technology selections at other locations.

System Accomplished focuses on unique design or installation problems and how they were solved. If you have solved a difficult installation problem, we want to hear about it. Email smasia@solartoday.org.

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