More and more retail chains are embracing renewable energy in a bid to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Examples include Wal-Mart installing close to 5300 solar panels at its Apple Valley distribution center in California and Green Depot making their stores LEED-certified. Now IKEA has joined the renewable retail ranks by announcing that a store near Centennial in Denver will be powered by geothermal energy. Thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Denver IKEA store will be the first IKEA store in the United States to be built with geothermal heating and cooling, saving both energy and money.

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Douglas Wolfe, IKEA project construction manager for the store, said that he expected the site to be open in the fall of 2011. The project will see 130 holes dug 500 feet deep into the ground, where the temperature is 55 degrees all year round. The holes will be situated under the store’s parking garage, which will be below the store. When operational, the geothermal pumps will use 25 percent to 50 percent less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems and could potentially save thousands of dollars each year.

Although geothermal power has not seen the publicity that wind and solar energy receives, the tech has seen something of a resurgence in recent months with the Environmental Protection Agency stating that geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy consumption (and corresponding emissions) by up to 72 percent compared to traditional electric resistance heating and standard air-conditioning equipment.

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Denver is known for its harsh winters, but it is hoped that the geothermal pumps will set a standard for retail stores in less temperate states. The depth of 500ft for the holes was chosen because the temperature beneath the earth’s surface is suprisingly moderate. This has been noticed by miners in the state before and is due to thermal inertia — the propensity for soil to heat up or cool down much slower than air or water. Using thermal heat has is a practice that has been around for centuries, and some archaeologists even believe that primitive man chose deeper caves as shelter due to their warmth.

The geothermal heating and cooling system “is something that globally IKEA has been considering for a number of years,” Wolfe added. “We’re very excited about working with NREL. The partnership has turned out to be very beneficial for both of us. It is providing both of us with useful information about operating such programs.” Seeing the information in real time “will allow us to determine and manage the efficiency of the geothermal system in Centennial” as well as planning for “future operations at this location as well as at other IKEA stores.

In the American West, geothermal projects are catching on and increased 46% in 2009 from the previous year. Then, about 3100 megawatts of capacity were built, with another 6400 megawatts slated for construction in the coming months.