Wind vs. Solar: Why Solar May Represent the Next Era for Corporate Buying

Companies that use sustainable power sources are no longer viewed as progressive outliers. In 2017, organizations that aren’t making the effort to ramp up sustainable power efforts are falling behind the times. It’s no longer enough to initiate once-a-year earth day campaigns, or growth hack alternatives to corporate waste — that time has come and gone, and organizations now need to step up and enact real progress by switching to sustainable power sources. Although some believe that the pressure on corporations may loosen under the Trump administration, corporations still have to answer to a public that is growing increasingly concerned with how the brands they engage with consume energy.

Thanks to initiatives like RE100, which has attracted organizations ranging from Apple to Johnson & Johnson, every organization, large or small, across every vertical, is feeling the pressure to go green. But simply making the pledge to transition practices to sustainable energy practices is not enough. Business leaders are expected to affect immediate progress, and to achieve these high goals, many are turning to two specific sources of renewable power: wind and solar. According to the World Economic Forum, in late 2016 more than 30 countries achieved solar parity with fossil fuels; meaning that the price of adding a new solar generator is cheaper than adding a new fossil fuel source. This achievement ushers in an era of renewable energy in which sources are not only seen as necessary alternatives, but also cost-effective solutions. 

Why Wind is Leading the Charge

Although both solar and wind power receive the most media attention as alternative and abundant energy sources, wind has long been seen as the favorite among corporations. In 2015, corporations purchased 2,000 MW of wind power, a dramatic uptick from the 500 MW in 2013. Organizations including Google, Amazon, and Dow Chemical are all contributing to this growth in choosing wind over solar. Additionally, Facebook’s impending Ft. Worth data center will run on a 200-MW wind farm. Both wind and solar farms give global organizations the opportunity to generate massive amounts of power in one area – which, for many of the Fortune 500 companies comprising the RE100 list, is a significant benefit. Rather than building smaller energy structures in every operational area, they can leverage wind farms to drive power.

Although not cheap to implement, wind power systems historically are less costly than solar power systems, however this trend could be on the brink of changing for good, as it was widely reported in 2016 that solar systems were more economically efficient than wind systems. Furthermore, since the 1980s, the U.S. has been heavily invested in developing and implementing wind-based systems, while solar initiatives have taken longer to catch on.

Why Solar Represents the Next Era

Within the next decade, solar power is even likely to fall to half the cost of traditional fuel sources.

Wind is still largely seen as a more powerful and consistent source of energy, plus the fact that wind turbines emit less carbon dioxide is also a win for wind. But many see solar power leading the charge in the next wave of clean energy for organizations large and small. Historically the development and installation of solar panels was a high financial burden, but the cost of contracting solar power is steadily decreasing. Many individuals who have already taken the steps to outfit their homes in solar panels have had to swallow bills ranging from $20,000-$50,000. Organizations on the other hand, enjoy a significant federal (and likely) state tax break, making the purchasing and installation of the power system significantly more feasibly. Within the next decade, solar power is even likely to fall to half the cost of traditional fuel sources.

Additionally, wind turbines are decidedly more controversial than their solar counterparts as they take up significant space and can be seen for miles; solar panels are more unassuming, and thus less disruptive to urban and rural landscapes. Unlike wind turbines, solar power can be sourced from anywhere, including urban areas. No corporation can expect to stick a wind turbine in the middle of Times Square, but building solar-paneled offices in densely populated areas is already a reality. Because of the scalable size of solar solutions, smaller organizations that can’t purchase wind farms have a greater chance at joining their larger counterparts in the sustainability movement. 

Today’s major corporations have the responsibility of not only reducing their impact, but paving the way for smaller companies and individual entities to follow suit. The wind and solar systems they’re testing and implementing will ultimately lead to solutions that any organization, regardless of location or budget, should be able to implement. As the cost of renewable energy continues to decrease, companies have less of a reason to run from this responsibility. Companies are also up against a public growing increasingly concerned about the corporate practices of the brands they engage with. Young people, as demonstrated by their support and engagement through the 2016 Presidential campaign, are especially attuned to the impending dangers resistance to clean energy poses. Consumers can and will revoke any support or brand loyalty for brands that drag their feet on transitioning to clean energy.

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AJ Agrawal is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and management consultant. A frequent traveler, he writes about the marketing lessons he’s picked up while traveling the world. His work has appeared on Fortune, Fast Company, Forbes, and several other publications. Follow AJ on Twitter at @ajagrawal24

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