Though Americans can already buy solar panels at Home Depot and Lowes, customers in the UK are just getting the opportunity as IKEA, the Swedish flat-pack furniture store, will start stocking the panels in all British stores over the next 10 months.
This is such a great step towards mainstreaming the renewable energy market. The biggest barrier to widespread usage—besides political attitudes—is definitely price point and accessibility. It’s a large investment upfront, hence the government subsidies, but if it’s being moved into the brick-and-mortar versions of huge consumer retail stores, it’s a positive step.
The technology itself is underutilized, with solar power making up only .22 percent of energy used, according to the Institute for Energy research. Other challenges include efficiency of the panels, which is currently hovering in the low 20s for most designs. This is projected to increase by .7 percent every year, according to GTM Research.
IKEA is charging $9, 200 (5,700 pounds) for a Hanergy 3.36 kilowatt system for a semi-detached home. One complaint about solar is that they can be expensive to install after purchasing the panels, but IKEA includes installation, maintenance and energy monitoring as part of the deal. According to IKEA, the investment can be paid off in seven years—for the average homeowner—and the homeowner can sell any extra energy back to the government. They estimate the solar panels will cut energy bills by 50 percent.
This particular retailer, in addition to being the store-of-choice for post-college kids everywhere, is also a big believer in putting your money where your mouth is. In 2012, the company described plans to use a combination of rooftop solar panels and wind energy to achieve energy independence by 2020. The company will also replace 1.2 million incandescent with LEDs. Previously the company has stopped using plastic bags and stopped selling incandescent bulbs as “green” measures. The company has also invested in building wind farms abroad. Obviously, this is a tough challenge, but clearly it’s a company that believes in the future of alternative energy.