In today’s current era of renewable energy targets, action is not just limited to political entities such as the federal government, states or individual cities. In fact, many corporations are getting in on the act by promoting corporate sustainability programs or contracting directly with renewable energy developers to build solar and wind farms specifically for their company. As the solar and wind industries continue to grow, corporate renewable procurement and targets will play a substantial role in driving renewable energy to greater and greater heights.
Why renewables? Large companies use a lot of electricity
Major companies have long had corporate social responsibility or sustainability programs. However, the push to contract directly for renewable energy is decidedly a new phenomenon. In many cases, the primary reason to do so is one key realization for today’s largest companies: growth means increased electricity use.
Many of the largest companies in the world–from Amazon to Apple to Google to Facebook–grow by increasing the amount of data centers they have to power their networks. These data centers consume massive amounts of electricity, leaving corporations with a dilemma: how can a company continue to grow and still meet stated sustainability targets?
The quick answer: powering the new data centers with renewable resources.
Three methods of accessing renewable energy
For corporations, there are three key ways to fulfill sustainability targets. First, companies like Apple have taken steps to install solar panels at their headquarters to produce as much clean energy as possible on-site. Another great example of this approach is Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, where the plan is to ultimately be able to run the entire facility off of clean solar energy produced (and stored) on-site.
The second approach is to buy renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are a method of tracking the actual amount of electricity produced from renewable energy resources. By buying RECs, companies can effectively offset their own electricity consumption by purchasing an equivalent amount of electricity produced by renewable resources. Many of the 322 companies with 100% clean energy targets take this, or a similar, approach. In this case, while a company may be paying for enough RECs to cover 100% of their electricity needs, the actual electricity that the company consumes is still powered by their regular utility or grid, and not directly from renewable resources.
The third approach is to contract directly with renewable resource developers to build a solar or wind farm explicitly for your company. The best resources for tracking these types of deals are the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)’s Business Renewables Center and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). According to BNEF, corporate renewable procurements were about 11.9 gigawatts (GW, or million kilowatts) of renewable capacity in 2020, a dip from the 14.1 gigawatts procured in 2019. RMI has a goal of helping corporations procure 60 GW of renewable energy by 2030.
Case studies: tech companies walking the talk
There are a number of large companies leading the way for corporate renewable procurement:
Worldwide, Google was very clearly the first company out of the gate to procure renewable energy. By 2016, Google had already procured more than 2.5 gigawatts of combined wind and solar power, more than double the procurements of the next closest company. In 2017, Google became one of the first large companies to reach 100 percent renewable energy and they have continued to meet this goal each consecutive year. Overall, Google has purchased power from over 50 renewable energy projects, with a combined capacity of 5.5 GW.
In 2020, Facebook reached its goal for 100 percent renewable energy. By the end of 2020, the company’s global portfolio included 5.9 GW total capacity over 60 global wind and solar projects. In 2020 alone, Facebook added over 2.8 GW of renewable energy capacity. In 2021, the company plans to add solar-plus-storage projects, which includes 180 MW of storage capacity across three states. Learn more about Facebook’s efforts on their sustainability page, which demonstrates their performance on energy and water consumption as well as carbon emissions.
Another company that’s reached 100 percent renewable energy is Apple, which it accomplished in 2018. By 2030, the company also plans for every one of its products to be carbon neutral. In March 2021, Apple became closer to this goal, announcing that over 110 suppliers were moving to 100 percent renewable energy for Apple production, totaling 8 GW of clean energy. Apple is also constructing one of the largest battery projects in the US, which is set to store enough energy to power over 7,000 homes for one day. This grid-scale energy storage project will support Apple’s 130-megawatt solar farm which provides all of its renewable energy in California.
Finally, Amazon plans to power all of their operations with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and reach carbon neutrality by 2040. Globally, Amazon procures about 10 GW of renewable energy from 232 renewable energy projects. The company also has 147 on-site solar systems and purchases energy from 85 utility-scale solar and wind projects. Amazon was one of the earliest movers in terms of corporate renewable procurement, procuring the most renewable capacity of any company in 2016 and the second most in 2015. Learn more about Amazon’s efforts on their sustainability page.
Power your own consumption with solar
Following the lead of these sustainability-committed companies, you too can cover all of your electricity needs with renewable energy. The easiest way to do so is to install solar panels on your property. Check out EnergySage’s free Solar Calculator to see how much you can save from solar. Ready to invest? Register for the EnergySage Marketplace to receive up to seven free solar quotes from local, pre-screened solar companies.