How the tech giants are fueling a solar revolution

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by Dan Dobbs, Contributor

From the way we shop to the way we socialize, the internet affects nearly everything we do these days. This dramatic change in our way of life has been fueled by a handful of large tech companies, companies that are increasingly going all in on solar.

Whether driven by the economics in solar’s favor or pressure from climate change-minded investors and customers, tech companies are one-upping each other in their investments in solar and other types of renewable energy.

Earlier this summer, the Solar Energy Industries Association released its annual Solar Means Business report, finding that Apple, Amazon, Switch (which operates data centers) and Google were among the top 10 purchasers of solar power last year.

How are these tech giants switching to solar? A few examples:

  • Apple, the leading solar purchaser in the country met its goal for 100% renewable energy operations in 2018. It works with its suppliers to help them achieve renewable energy as part of its 2020 goal to bring 4 gigawatts of new clean energy into its supply chain. To achieve these goals, Apple relies on a variety of structures, from utility-scale solar projects to equity investments in solar projects abroad.
  • Facebook recently added three gigawatts of new solar and wind energy as part of its commitment to powering its operations by 100% renewable energy by the end of 2020. Right now it is building one of the largest solar farms in the United States. In 2018, Facebook inked the most renewable energy contracts among corporations.
  • Google met its goal of 100% renewable energy for its global operations in 2017, meeting the goal again in 2018. While it met these goals primarily through Power Purchase Agreements for solar and wind projects, the company has started to partner directly with utility companies. The company recently partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority to purchase the output of new solar farms to fuel its data centers – the company’s biggest solar investment yet.

Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, T-Mobile, AT&T, Google and Apple, account for more than half of the renewable power purchases, but these tech giants aren’t alone when it comes to corporations investing in solar. According to Greenbiz, the past quarter set a new record for corporate renewable energy procurements.

Increasingly, companies are also noticing the benefits of the expanding solar and storage market. Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California is controlled by a microgrid with battery storage, and Microsoft engineers are testing battery storage at the company’s data centers.

Adding to its appeal, states are increasingly offering incentives for businesses that add solar and storage to their electricity-generating portfolios. Programs like MA SMART in Massachusetts, the SGIP program in California and the VDER structure in New York are increasingly making solar and storage a smart decision for businesses.

While storage by itself doesn’t generate enough revenue for corporations, combining it with solar gives business owners access to the investment tax credit and on-site generation capabilities in the event of an outage. Both options save companies money and improve businesses’ profit margins.

Beyond Silicon Valley, other companies are following in their footsteps, and not just large corporations.

In fact, smaller companies are beginning to join larger companies in acquiring solar energy. Last year, Apple teamed up with Akamai, Etsy and Swiss Re to develop two new wind and solar energy farms in Illinois and Virginia. The agreement gives the smaller companies access to major renewable projects while allowing the larger companies to meet their renewable and climate goals.

At Standard Solar, we’re helping companies of all sizes take the plunge with solar, from installation to financing to operations & maintenance. For example, we’ve helped companies like DANAC and Smith Cairns reduce their carbon footprint by installing rooftop and carport arrays to meet their energy needs, and continue to manage the operations of a large system we installed for Purdue, Inc. We’re always exploring new partnerships to help companies meet their energy needs, from ideas to execution.

Just as tech companies have changed the way we live and the way we do business, they’re also changing the way corporations use energy. There’s no question that solar energy will continue to be the preferred source of energy for companies large and small.


About the Author: As Standard Solar’s EVP of Structured Finance, Dan is focused on meeting the needs of Standard Solar’s customers with cost-effective solar energy and launching new product offerings, including solar+energy storage and stand-alone energy storage services. He began his solar career at SunEdison, where he held various positions in finance, marketing and product management before leaving to co-found Solar Grid Storage. Dobbs holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Technology & Policy and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT.

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