Oct. 3 - IKEA, the world's biggest furniture retailer, is to sell solar panels at its British stores. It's the first time the Swedish firm has offered the product, and marks an attempt to tap growth in the heavily subsidised green energy market. Joanna Partridge asks whether the decision marks a turning point for the domestic solar power industry.
IKEA's been furnishing British homes for 25 years, now it wants to kit out roofs too. It's teamed up with Chinese solar power firm Hanergy to sell solar panels in its UK stores. Toby Ferenczi is Co-CEO of Hanergy Solar UK. SOUNDBITE: Toby Ferenczi, Co-Chief Executive, Hanergy Solar UK, saying (English): "In the same way that IKEA sells bedrooms and kitchens, we want solar panels to become an everyday part of the home." It's a first for the world's biggest furniture retailer. And as the cost of solar panels has come down in recent years, it's now more affordable for homeowners. PTC Unlike IKEA's famous flatpack furniture, customers can't just walk out of the store with a solar panel under their arm. Instead, they'll have to wait around 4 weeks from ordering the system, to seeing it installed on their roof. Installation of the German-made panels and maintenance is included in the package. SOUNDBITE: Toby Ferenczi, Co-Chief Executive, Hanergy Solar UK, saying (English): "This is the most important part, the Hanergy thin film, next generation solar panel. This is the inverter which takes energy from the solar panels and converts it into electricity which can be used in your home. This is the energy metre which records how much energy the solar panels have produced and then this is an online portal which all of our customers get, which allows them to see how much energy they're producing and how much energy they're consuming." The average cost of one of the solar systems is £5,700. As Britain offers subsidies to encourage the takeup of renewables, customers should be able to break even in 7 years, but can also use financing to make the purchase. Selling solar panels seems a logical step for IKEA. It's had them on its store, warehouse and factory roofs for some time - there are 5000 on top of the Southampton shop. The firm owns several wind farms and plans to shift to renewable energy by 2020. Joanna Yarrow is IKEA UK's Head of Sustainability. SOUNDBITE: Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainability, IKEA UK, saying (English): "We want to move that on, not just from our own operations in sustainability, but actually to offer solutions to customers, to make it easier, accessible and affordable for them to live a more sustainable life at home." Britain's solar market is small compared with other European countries like Germany and Spain. But installations are growing says Ben Warren from Ernst and Young. SOUNDBITE: Ben Warren, Partner in charge of environmental finance, Ernst and Young, saying (English): "The UK presents an interesting market opportunity. One it's a market that's got a stable regulatory framework and a government that hasn't, unlike some other European countries gone back on policy in a retroactive way, and secondly the opportunity for growth of the solar sector in the UK is very strong." IKEA says it's already had a lot of customer interest. Feed-in tariffs in Britain are guaranteed for 20 years, making solar more attractive, even on days when the sun isn't shining.