SOUTHAMPTON, England, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- IKEA stores in Britain this week began selling rooftop solar panel systems, giving the industry a boost after rounds of feed-in tariff cuts and freezes.
The Swedish retail giant confirmed Monday it would roll out the systems at 17 of its stores in Britain in coming months in partnership with Chinese panel-maker Hanergy Solar U.K. after conducting a trial run this summer at an outlet in Southampton, England.
Believed to be the first time photovoltaic energy systems have been made available through a mass-market retailer, IKEA's move comes a year after feed-in tariffs paid to British panel owners were slashed from 69 cents per kilowatt to their current 23 cents.
IKEA announced the consumer rollout after using solar panels extensively to help power its own facilities. Under its corporate sustainability program, the retailer has installed more than 250,000 panels at its stores worldwide and is aiming to produce as much energy as it consumes by 2020.
The price of a standard 3.36-kilowatt PV system for a semi-detached home would run about $10,800, including value-added tax, with 15-percent discounts available under IKEA's family loyalty program, the British online journal BusinessGreen.com reported.
"We know that our customers want to live more sustainably and we hope working with Hanergy to make solar panels affordable and easily available helps them do just that," Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainability for IKEA U.K. and Ireland, said in a statement.
"We want to make a greener, more sustainable way of life attractive and easy for as many people as possible, so in addition to our collaboration with Hanergy, we're dedicated to expanding our range of sustainable products that help customers save energy, water and sort waste fourfold by 2020."
"Our collaboration with IKEA has the right ingredients to become a significant step forward for the renewable energy industry," added Hanergy co-Chief Executive Officer Toby Ferenczi. "Both Hanergy and IKEA are convinced that we have the best package for customers on the market to allow homeowners across the U.K. to profit from energy independence."
Steve Howard, IKEA's sustainability chief, told The Wall Street Journal despite likely low profit margins, the retailer wants to build PV systems into "a real business."
They're becoming easier to sell thanks to the volatility of energy prices, he said, adding, "You don't have to care about the environment and climate change, you can just care about the finances."
After a surge of PV panel-buying when Britain first introduced its feed-in tariff scheme, the number of homes installing rooftop systems has dropped as the FIT has gone down. The British Solar Trade Association says the solar market is currently installing about 100,000 solar systems per year -- far below the projected 300,000.
"The biggest challenge facing the market is the perception about rates of return," Ferenczi told BusinessGreen. "I know people who think the feed-in tariff has been scrapped all together."
In its ads for the new systems, IKEA says a typical homeowner could expect an annual FIT return of $1,300 at the current rate of 23 cents per kilowatt.