IKEA Digs Deep for Energy Efficiency


Every time I pass a Best Buy, Wal-Mart or Target, I can almost see a pulsing blue aura hovering around the mammoth plex; or rather, an anti-halo that screams: “This facility couldn’t give a rat’s ass what it eats. Enjoy your rolling blackouts this season.” And inside, I hear the hum: A diffuse but powerful white noise surrounding me like a florescent radioactive soundtrack. This, I think, is the sound of energy consumption.

I would never have expected any of these shops to own up to the issue and take some (expensive) steps to deal with retail energy crime. But IKEA may be stepping to the plate.

The often mysterious Swedish (or is it Dutch) superstore has been making a bunch of noise regarding green corporate responsibility in recent years, from investment (IKEA GeenTech venture capital) to sourcing and sustainability. And though the store certainly has its critics, the shop is digging deep to find out ways to deal with facility energy usage. To that, witness its geothermal energy heating and cooling plans for its new Centennial, Colorado (near Denver) store scheduled to open next fall.

IKEA worked with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to design and build the geothermal system, which will be buried under the store’s parking garage. Way under. Like 500 feet-ish under (that’s down, down, a football field down and then down some more), where some 130 pipes will pump liquid that will cool and be brought back to the surface to heat or cool the facility, depending on the season.

Explains Triple Pundit: “When warm air at the surface is passed over the cool pipes, the air gets cooler. When the air is cooler than the liquid, it is warmed as it passes over the pipes.  Meanwhile, the geothermal technology helps to maintain a building’s relative humidity at 50%.”

When it’s super hot or cold outside, the system won’t be able to do the job by itself, but most of the time it’ll be able to take care of business.


IKEA says the system may serve as a model for future stores. NREL Senior Geothermal Analyst Erin Anderson (above, on-site) adds: “The IKEA/NREL project could be the benchmark for a credible standard for geothermal installation in large-scale retail stores nationwide”¦ We’re trying to collect data on how it actually performs, which could prove invaluable to future projects. By collecting actual live data on the performance of systems, you have better insight on what needs to be improved. We’ll be able to say with confidence, ‘if you do it this way, it will work this well.'”

At the end of the day, it’s not like your next trip to IKEA will be “hum-free” or that the halo will be any less toxic – much less saintly. It’s positive, though, that these things aren’t going wholly unnoticed. Whether it’s good consciousness or just good PR for the big box shops to show some energy manners, a reduced footprint is a reduced footprint. Let’s hope some more shops dig deep for some answers, as well.

Images: Håkan Dahlström and Pat Corkery

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.