Corporations Lead in 100 Percent Renewables

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

This November, Microsoft contracted for a massive 237 MW of wind power in Kansas and Wyoming. Most new electricity generation in the U.S. is from wind and solar, with much of the electricity being purchased by major corporations, like Microsoft. These corporations are committed to be carbon neutral and to secure 100 percent of their electricity from renewables (RE). Microsoft contracted for the power not from utilities but from financial and energy giants, Allianz and Black Hills Energy.

These new wind power contracts were made after the election of Donald Trump. Microsoft’s Wyoming wind power is located in the nation’s leading coal producing state.Like these two Microsoft contracts, most wind power is generated in red states.

Over 76 GW of wind power is generating electricity in 40 U.S. states. Over 32 GW of solar installed capacity delivers electricity to business, government and home users in 38 U.S. states. Recently solar has grown 40 percent annually. Corporate buyers have contracted and announced solar projects to double the total installed solar.

Energy Strategy of Major Corporations

I recently heard from energy and sustainability executives of a number of corporate leaders including Microsoft, Alphabet (Google’s parent corporation), Citicorp, Facebook, Walmart and Nike when they presented at the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) Finance West Conference.

Corporate renewable energy procurement is now a major driver of solar and wind growth in the U.S., far bigger than retail. At record pace, corporations have been signing power purchase agreements (PPA), leases, aggregated energy contracts and energy certificates. Corporate success is inspiring similar RE procurement by local governments, hospitals and universities.

Google is now so energy efficient, that your use of their search and other apps requires less energy in a month than driving a car one mile. Google has been carbon-neutral since 2007. Kate Brandt with Google explained that machine learning has enabled Google to be 40 percent more energy efficient, as over 100 aspects of data center energy are optimized and require less air conditioning. Google takes a systems approach to energy efficiency, redesigning servers and data centers every 12 to 18 months.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is the world’s biggest corporate user of clean energy. Alphabet has gone beyond its own needs and invested $2.5 billion in large-scale solar and wind with combined renewable energy capacity of 3.7 GW. Nest, an Alphabet company, will help 50,000 homeowners in L.A. lower utility bills by reducing demand for electricity and aggregating demand response.

Nike is committed to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. Cyrus Wadia, Vice President, Sustainable Business & Innovation explained that they are on track to double their business with half the impact on carbon and water. Sixty percent of Nike’s impact is materials; better chemistry is the key. Nike owns no factories, but works closely with suppliers from cotton growers, chemical and material suppliers, assembly plants, to distribution and retail. It is lowering water and carbon use by promoting renewables, helping with improved farming, and reducing manufacturing waste to zero. Since Nike sells one billion products annually, its decarbonization has a huge impact.

Walmart is my mother’s favorite store. My wife refuses to shop there. Love them, or hate them, you cannot ignore their impact. Walmart is a global retailer operating 11,532 stores in 28 countries. Walmart is committed to sourcing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. The company aims to use 7,000 GWh of renewable energy globally by the end of 2020 in a mix of rooftop solar and contracted renewable energy. Walmart currently has 142 MW of installed solar photovoltaic (PV), plus 17 energy storage projects in California. Walmart deploys both lithium battery and thermal storage, including freezing water at night to reduce air conditioning demands during the day.

Will Trump stop solar and wind growth?

Will this be the end of solar and wind energy growth in the U.S.? President-elect Donald Trump campaigned to revitalize coal and end energy subsidies, at least for renewables. His team wants to shutdown the EPA, strip regulations that protect our water and air, and make it open season on government land.

As the leaders of all major nations convened at COP 22 to discuss how they were moving ahead with their Paris climate commitments, Trump threw ice water, cold as a melting glacier, over the entire assembly by declaring that he will find a way to withdraw the U.S. from the internationally ratified agreement.

More solar and wind are being installed than coal and natural gas. The fossil fuel industry is striking back. It is claimed that renewables are taking jobs, yet solar, wind, and energy-efficient buildings have created millions of jobs. It is claimed that Democrats try to pick winners and instead of letting the market work, yet coal, oil and gas get five times the global subsidies of renewables; including health care costs from emissions and water pollution, a GW of fossil fuel gets subsidized twenty times a GW of renewables.

The coal and gas industries claim that there is not enough land on the planet to meet our energy needs with wind and solar. In fact, only one percent of the earth’s land would be needed to meet all energy needs with renewables. In the case of solar on rooftops and parking structures, no added land is needed; much wind is on farmland. Renewables are attacked as intermittent, yet with smart grid, software and storage, RE can be delivered as predictably as electricity from central power plants.

Despite these attacks from powerful oil and gas producers and from coal powered utilities, solar and wind may keep growing in the U.S. and will certainly grow in the rest of the world. Most Republicans want lower taxes and less regulation. Both parties want job growth. Adding new wind and solar power is less expensive than new coal and natural gas power. For this reason, many feel that continued growth of wind and solar is unstoppable.

Yet, they have had down years in the recent past. Without financing, big projects are delayed or killed. A recession, tax incentive removals, or federal land-use policies under a new Secretary of Interior could make 2017 a down year.

Uncertain Future

Sun Power CEO, Tom Werner, in his latest earnings conference stated, “We have decided to lower our 2017 forecast for this business and size our operating expenses commensurately.” In other words, cut costs and make layoffs. First Solar, U.S. leader in thin-film solar manufacturing also lowered forecasts, slashed employment 27 percent, while making a big bet on new S6 manufacturing that will start in 2018. Short-term, solar manufacturers are in for a rough ride.

In the long run, solar and wind power are certain winners. They drive down energy cost and emissions, while coal and gas drive them up. Major corporations will continue to be the leading force in adding solar, wind, and energy efficiency. Corporate leaders are committed to be carbon-neutral and use 100 percent renewables. They manage to thrive in a world of government complexity and would welcome the right kind of reduced regulation. Solar and wind are their least expensive form of energy. Renewables are great for the triple bottom line of people, profits, and planet.

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