Ikea Solar and EV Charging

by Ben N on May 17, 2018

Yesterday was the Grand Opening of the Ikea Store in Oak Creek!

Was I there for flat pack furniture or meatballs? Nope! Although I did try the meatballs… I was there to show support for their EV Charging stations, and nearly 5,000 solar panels on the roof of the store!

This store is not particularly close to my house. In fact, it’s too far away to drive to AND return on a single charge of our Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car. Fortunately the store features three Electric Car charging stations! After hitting the road and getting close, police directed traffic from the interstate to the store. In the giant parking lot, neon-green clad lot attendants directed vehicles to the parking spaces.

IMG_8921I asked a parking attendant if he knew where the EV Charging stations were. He didn’t know, but said he’d at least try to find out for me. We parked to get out of traffic. I started unloading my wheelchair. A few minutes later, the attendant was back and told me that the stations were right up in front, next to a giant red letter E on a post. I rolled up that direction, and my wife moved the car. Unfortunately, there were cars parked at odd angles up front to intentionally block traffic from going that way. Blocking an otherwise easily accessible EV space, was parked a van, which was clearly NOT electric. Using our car’s narrow width and sharp turning radius, we squeezed past the other vehicles to make it into one of the two unoccupied spaces.

The charging stations are the Blink brand-name. Unfortunately, I’ve had bad experiences before with that brand. Some people joke that they are well-named, as they are always “on the blink”! When getting ready to plug in my car, the first thing I spotted on the display was “PILOT SIGNAL ERROR”. Uh oh. That can’t be a good sign. I’d never seen that on a public EVSE before! When I picked up the charge cord, I could feel that the end of the connector was filled with water from rain the night before. I shook it out and pressed the reset button. With that, the standard welcome logo came up on the screen.

IMG_8910Many charging stations require that you have some sort of a membership. This often includes you having a card or key fob which you swipe at the machine. For Blink, I use an app on my phone. I pulled out my smart phone and opened the app. It defaults to a map interface, and you simply select the location you are at. Unfortunately, these charging stations weren’t on the map yet! Oh well, you can always go the the web page, punch in some credit card information (whether or not you have to pay to use the station) and get a code to enter in the charging station. Alter a few minutes of one-handed typing, squinting, and punching-in the secret code, I was rewarded with a message saying “UNABLE TO CHARGE AT THIS TIME”.

Well, I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I had a similar experience once with another Blink brand EVSE. At that time, I called the 1-800 number and spoke with a real live human. It turned out that there was a problem with the wireless modem on the machine, and since it couldn’t communicate, it simply prevented charging. This was despite the fact that that particular machine even happened to be free to use! So, my best guess was just that although the EV Charging Stations are installed and powered up at Ikea, that the modems aren’t running yet. I MAY have been able to charge there if I had the RFID membership card, but I really can’t say for sure.

The roof of the Ikea is COVERED with solar panels. I mean COVERED! There’s nearly 5,000 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. In fact, I had done some subcontracting work for the solar company that installed the panels. I ended up working a few days on the project. Most of that work was in February, in the cold and dark. Anything we touched was wet from the snow and slush, so all the crew at that time was wearing work-coats, insulated cover-alls, and rubber gloves OVER their winter gloves. Whoever said that working in Renewable Energy was glamorous!? Most of my work ended up being loading and unloading the crane, in the process of getting thousands of solar panels, equipment racks, and concrete blocks to the roof. The building was actually designed with specific locations on the roof for loads to be dropped for the solar installation.

cq-oak-creek-1From the roof, there’s a great view of the Oak Creek Fossil Fuel Plant. It powers the electricity for most of south-eastern Wisconsin, and does so by burning 6,000 tons of coal per day. Unfortunately, construction site regulations prohibited photography from the Ikea rooftop. I would have LOVED to get photos of the solar panels and the power plant from up there. Standing on the corner of the roof, I would have had a perfect photograph of the solar panels, the Ikea sign, and Power Plant all together in one nicely framed photo!

Back to yesterday, I was happy that it was 70 degrees and sunny. Perfect day for a Grand Opening! We headed inside and met up with a friend and her daughter, and started our way through the store.

One of the first things I did was look up. My eyes followed the support columns and beams, and I imagined the place on the outside of the building where the construction crane was setting down tons of solar panels.

The other thing that was odd was that there weren’t any big signs, photos, posters or anything else promoting the fact that there was solar on the roof! From the ground, you can’t see the solar at all! The average attendee had NO IDEA the place was one of the largest solar installations in the state. Some people might think “solar is ugly” but the fact is, much of the time it’s INVISIBLE!

It’s amazingly common for U.S. companies to “green-wash” – Use Eco-Friendly initiatives to OVERLY promote how good they are for the planet. Not so with Ikea. I took a look at their web page, and they REALLY are doing some good work with how they source their materials, how they deal with waste, and how they deal with ecological matters overall as a company. I gotta say, I was impressed! Also at the store were plenty of bike racks, Eco-Friendly preferred parking, and a bus-stop.

So, maybe not TOO many people know about the solar on the roof, and I was disappointed that the EV Charging Stations weren’t actually fully operational, but I still had a great time getting to see the store on its very first day! And I did enjoy the meatballs…

On the way back home, we topped off at a DC Quick Charger. Once home, we plugged into our own garage solar panels to get a bit of a charge before leaving for an evening event. Total mileage for the day was 113 miles on a car designed to go 62, and most of that was solar powered. We saved more than four gallons of gasoline versus an average US car.

Do you know of solar installations that folks should know about? Let’s applaud when companies are doing good. Write a letter, let the store manager know, and check in on PlugShare.

I’m glad to see new, large solar installations, and even get to help install them. Let’s all do what we can!

I know that it helps keep me Charged-Up!
Until next time,
-Ben

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bruce A Johnson May 17, 2018 at 1:22 pm

A few weeks back here in Madison was the 25th Anniversary of the Great Butter Fire. One of the large refrigeration units at Central Storage and Warehouse went up in flames, and tons upon tons of butter, meat, and other foods went up with it. There was grease and butter and all sorts of stuff flowing down Starkweather Creek towards Lake Monona. It took a week to burn out – quite memorable from my home a mile away. Why do I mention this? Because the very same CS&W now has a 2,904-panel, 741-kilowatt solar system. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, hold onto your hard hats, because all those panels only supply 20% of their usage! Cold storage is an energy-intense business. Good on Ikea for jumping in with both feet, but sad on Ikea for not bragging it up as much as possible.

2 mdad hdad May 24, 2018 at 12:02 am

Glad to see you are getting better Ben. Here in the UK all destination chargers are untethered and require you to plug in your own cable, usually supplied with your vehicle. The chargers have a type 2 socket so using your own lead you can plug in either a type 1 or type 2 EV. This has the advantage of the lead never being damaged or wet and the lead is locked to the charger and vehicle until the rfid card used to start the charge is shown to the charger to release your cable.

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