Cheap Renewable Energy from Tech Titans Blazes Trail for Little Guys

Google's recent announcement about its “100% renewable” goal follows similar claims by Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and other tech giants about reducing their reliance on fossil fuel for their power-hungry supply chains.

Their push towards renewable energy for their energy needs largely reflects how prices are plummeting for solar and wind power. The good news is that as many of the world’s largest tech companies jump onboard, the benefits are set to trickle down to medium- and small-sized enterprises, as power grid providers race to provide renewable energy at more affordable prices.

The 100% hype

Google plans to offset 100% of its electricity purchases of fossil fuel energy by increasing its purchases of electricity from renewable energy sources in 2017.

“I’m thrilled to announce that in 2017 Google will reach 100% renewable energy for our global operations — including both our data centers and offices,” Urs Holzle, senior vice president, technical infrastructure for Google, wrote in a recent blogpost.

Despite Holzle’s claims in his blog post that Google is “set to reach 100% renewable energy,” Google will not source 100% of its energy needs from renewable sources due to the nature of power grids. Google will still have to rely on non-renewable power sources for some of its locations when a renewable source is unavailable.

Instead, and more specifically, Google has pledged to purchase a unit of renewable energy available on power grids for every unit of fossil fuel electricity its datacenters, offices, and other facilities consume worldwide.

Big tech follows

Despite the misleading wording, Google’s goal represents an ambitious target.

Apple says the electricity used by its supply chain for raw materials and components for product assembly represented its biggest source of CO2 emissions. To offset that, Apple said last year it has begun to help its suppliers to reduce their energy consumption and to invest in more fossil-fuel free energy sources.

Like Google, Apple claims it has a “100% goal,” and said 93% of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2015.

Microsoft recently announced its “biggest wind energy purchase to date,” by agreeing to purchase 237 megawatts of wind energy for two U.S. suppliers, for a total of investment in 500 megawatts in the United States. Microsoft also says it is seeking to boost its purchases of solar and hydroelectric energy sources for the power it consumes from local grid providers.

Facebook said Ireland’s famous wind blowing through the green land will serve as the source of power for its new data center in in Clonee, Ireland. Facebook claims it will be powered by 100% renewable energy, thanks to Ireland’s robust wind resources when the datacenter begins operation as early as this year. The investment will help the company to reach its “goal of powering 50% of our infrastructure with clean and renewable energy by the end of 2018,” Facebook said in a blog post.

Trickle down

Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other world tech leaders’ push to adopt renewable energy sources serves as a good example of how smaller companies can follow. Prices are plummeting, serving as an incentive for smaller companies to buy increments of renewable power from grids for their supply chains and other operations.

Google, for example, noted how plummeting prices for certain renewable energy sources helped to prompt its push for renewables. Prices during the past six years for wind and solar power fell 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Prices should also continue to fall, Google said.

Solar and wind power should become the cheapest sources of power for most of the world after 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

As more wind and solar farms are built, construction prices should also fall. The medium price to build a large solar farm fell by five to 12% in 2015, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

By 2040, zero-emission energy sources will make up 60% of installed capacity. Wind and solar will account for 64% of the 8.6TW of new power generating capacity added worldwide over the next 25 years, and for almost 60% of $11.4 trillion invested, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

As the world’s largest technology companies continue their push towards 100% renewables, smaller firms may not be able to afford purchasing alternative energy to the extent the tech behemoths do in the near term. But smaller enterprises will increasingly be able to afford power from renewable sources, and in the future, will likely even be able to save costs by using alternative energy to power their supply chains. 

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