University City

IKEA unveils solar roof

Home furnishings retailer IKEA wasn't content with having just a reputation for furniture designs with clean lines.

Now it plans sleek, well-placed arrangements that will make its rooftops the envy of its neighbors.

Workers will begin installing more than 4,200 solar panels on the Charlotte store's nearly three-acre roof in March. The system is scheduled to be working in early summer.

The electricity generated - estimates are that it will be enough to power 114 homes for a year - will be used inside the store.

IKEA also will add solar systems at its eight other stores, at a distribution center in the South and at five Midwestern stores.

"It's a positive benefit to the environment, a positive benefit to the stores and the cost of operations, and it's a very straightforward process, much more than we originally envisioned it could be," said spokesman Joseph Roth.

Roth said the move is unique for a retailer because IKEA plans to own and operate its systems and use the power it generates to reduce its stores' need to purchase electric power from other, less environmentally sound sources, such as coal-fired steam plants.

A more typical arrangement might be to lease the roof to a third party and have that company install and control the system.

The company launched its solar program about two years ago at a store in Tempe, Ariz. Savings there led to installations at other stores.

In some locations, demand for purchased electricity has been cut by one-third or more.

Now IKEA has converted or has plans to equip about 85 percent of its 44 U.S. locations with solar systems.

"Once we found out how straightforward and productive that process was and how useful the technology proved to be, we decided to roll them out across the country," Roth said. "We've been able to do so without interfering with the customer shopping experience."