You can feel a little better about buying IKEA’s assemble-it-yourself furniture, the names of which sound like a list of Abba’s performers. In fall 2011, folks in the Denver area can make a run to nearby Centennial and stock up on Billys, Effectivs, Duktigs, and gooseberry jam, with a pit stop for $1 coffee. While you fill that shopping bag, you will bask in a heating (cooling in summer 2012) system that will run on geothermal technology.
IKEA is often the target of criticism, from its murky corporate structure—is it a non-profit or holding company, or both?—to missing bolts and screws that are only discovered upon arriving home . . . to the questionable sourcing behind those snappy shelves and kitchen fixtures. But the happy yellow and blue big box has made improvements: IKEA is phasing out flame retardants in its furniture, has invested in solar start-ups, and will source more organic cotton for its textiles. Some scoff at the efforts, but like other large retailers, IKEA realizes that the company must adapt to changing consumer preferences. And the Centennial store is one more step.
IKEA worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to construct this geothermal system under the store’s parking garage. As deep as 500 feet beneath the garage, 130 pipes, each five and a half inches in diameter, will shoot liquid, which will bring up cold or warm air upon its return to the surface. The challenge of such as system is to send the liquid down to where the temperature is cooler than the earth’s surface–and then haul the air up it to keep temperatures cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. 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%–a big plus in regions with high humidity.
The store will not run entire on the geothermal system, particularly on those hot summer days that will send locals to the Rockies for a refreshing hike. But the store should maintain a comfortable temperature most of the time. NREL and IKEA are looking to the Centennial store as a test laboratory: if the projects succeeds and reduces energy costs, such an operation could be installed at different stores in North America.
Geothermal energy projects are catching on, and increased 46% in 2009 from the previous year. The technology much potential in the American West: about 3100 megawatts of capacity were built, with another 6400 megawatts slated for construction in the coming months. The upfront costs are high—IKEA will not divulge its investment—but expect more announcements similar to this one in the coming decade.