Swedish retailer IKEA has already established itself as a solar power leader in the U.S., and now it seems intent on leading the charge into the electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure of the future. The company has just announced plans to install 24 Blink EV charging stations at eight U.S. locations, which will almost double its tally of nine locations two years ago. When the project is completed by the end of this summer, IKEA will have a total of 55 charging stations at 17 locations, including 16 retail stores and its U.S. corporate headquarters in Conshohocken, PA.
The numbers tell only part of the story, though. IKEA's EV charging station project belongs to a national public-private initiative supported by the Energy Department. Called The EV Project, it has enlisted corporate sustainability leaders like IKEA to accelerate the development of a widespread, convenient and easily accessible EV charging infrastructure throughout the U.S.
The new initiative will bring stations to several states that are not particularly known for their receptiveness to alternative energy and EV technology, at least not as a matter of winning widespread support for sustainability-related public policy. That includes Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois.
That's significant because IKEA has designed its charging station program to raise awareness about the convenience of EV charging among all of its customers as well as to serve the relatively few who own EVs. Although the number of charging stations is relatively modest, they are and will be located in premium parking positions where foot traffic is at its peak, guaranteeing high visibility.
In that context, it's worth noting that the number of gasoline stations in the U.S. has been plummeting over the past generation while the number of public EV charging locations has been soaring. If that trend continues, the allure of convenient EV charging at retail stores could play a key role in getting hesitant car buyers to test drive a plug-in EV.
By generating renewable energy, businesses can secure their own sites from grid disruptions while also contributing to community and regional grid stability during peak use periods, and helping to improve community health by reducing reliance on local conventional power plants.
IKEA also demonstrates how a solar-savvy business can put its expertise to work in disaster relief. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, IKEA has been helping New Jersey towns install solar panels at their community centers, many of which serve as emergency shelters, to help prepare for future natural disasters and grid disruptions.
Along similar lines, IKEA's participation in the aforementioned EV Project demonstrates how new energy technology, in the form of electric vehicles, can provide companies with the opportunity to advance long-term public policies that serve the common welfare.
The possibility of becoming a net supplier of energy to the grid rather than a producer is also a real one, and IKEA is anticipating just that scenario for its U.S. business.
That brings us back around to the EV charging stations again. For EVs to make sense in terms of overall greenhouse gas emission reduction, they need to be charged off the conventional U.S. grid mix, which currently includes a substantial amount of coal-derived electricity. That problem goes away for businesses like IKEA, which have the potential to combine on-site solar power with their EV charging stations.
The EV Project, as a matter of fact, got its start as part of the President's job-creating Recovery Act of 2009.
TriplePundit caught up with The EV Project last summer, when we noted that it was spearheading an initiative to provide EV owners in Pennsylvania and Georgia with free EV charging stations.
More than an EV incentive program, The EV Project is designed to collect data on early adopters of EV technology across different regions of the U.S., with the aim of identifying the most efficient models for commercial and public charging stations.
As a result, businesses that want to jump on the EV charging station bandwagon in the future won't have to reinvent the wheel, they can avail themselves of the knowledge base created by The EV Project.
The EV Project was created through an initial Energy Department grant of $99.8 million to energy tech leader, ECOtality.
Other partners in The EV Project, in addition to IKEA, are GM and Nissan through their Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf EV models as well as EV charging station leader Blink along with 60 other stakeholders in the public and private sectors.
[Image: Blink charging stations courtesy of IKEA]
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.