Ikea made a big stir early this fall when it announced plans to sell flat-packed solar arrays in Great Britain. Earlier this year, however, the company announced a much more ambitious goal—to make inexpensive flat-packed, solar-powered refugee shelters. Already the master of flat-packing has shipped its Refugee Housing Units (RHUs) to Ethiopia and Syria where refugees are now living in more stable shelters than before.
The solar panels on the shelters are small, but they provide both light and a USB port for charging devices. Overall, the shelters represent an evolution over the current refugee tents that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) usually uses. “The tents have not much evolved over the years,” said Olivier Pierre Delarue with UNHCR. Refugees, he said, spend roughly 12 years in a camp and the tents that UNHCR offers the refugees typically only last a few months because of harsh conditions.
The RHU uses a steel frame and plastic panels that adopt Ikea’s easy assemble philosophy. “It is designed this way to be easy to transport and deploy in the field,” explained Johann Karlsson with the Ikea Foundation’s Refugee Housing Unit. The new shelter also offers more insulation than the tents can as well as more privacy for those living in them. The ability to use the solar panel to power a light at night or electronic devices can help the refugees live a better life, so children can read at night or adults can cook food more easily.
The shelters are still in prototype stages and cost about $7,000, but according to a Spiegel article earlier this month, “once they go into large-scale production, designers are aiming for a price of $1,000.” Thus far, the Ikea Foundation has donated about $4.8 million to the project.
Ikea has been doing far more solar power as well. In the U.S. alone, it has solar installed on nearly 90 percent of its 44 facilities totaling more than 35 megawatts of solar modules, and the company plans to expand it to 38 megawatts of modules. In the U.S. it’s the fifth largest corporate user of solar power and it plans to add more. Most recently, Ikea announced that it was more than doubling the amount of solar power on its Boston area store. By 2015, the company plans to invest $1.8 billion in renewable energy across the world.
Ikea may also help more homeowners go solar. Late last month, the home furnishing company announced that it will sell solar arrays in Great Britain for about $9,200, having partnered with Hanergy in the U.K. to sell and install the 3.3 kilowatt arrays. Depending on how that rollout works, Ikea is considering offering PV arrays in other countries as well. It could help do for solar power what Walmart’s pushing of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) did for lighting in the U.S.—create change.