America’s technology corporate giants have led the corporate renewables procurement trend, but two of the biggest names in tech just reached a new mark: Apple and Google are now both 100% powered by renewable energy.
That means the company behind the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad as well as the website that’s synonymous with Internet searches are now wholly powered by wind, solar, or another non-fossil fuel.
But these two tech giants aren’t alone – they’re leading an international trend among the world’s corporations to invest in renewable energy projects and sign long-term contracts for clean electricity from utilities. This trend is opening up new markets for renewable energy, leading corporate suppliers to decarbonize, and saving money on corporate bottom lines – and it isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Getting to 100% Through Rapid Renewable Energy Growth
Google announced its accomplishment in early April, when 2017 energy use accounting confirmed the company had purchased more electricity from wind and solar projects than it had used in all operations worldwide, including its offices and 15 electricity-hungry data centers.
“For every kilowatt-hour of electricity we consumed, we purchased a kilowatt-hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm that was built specifically for Google,” said Google Senior Vice President Urs Hölzle. “This makes us the first public Cloud, and company of our size, to have achieved this feat.”
Google’s renewable energy supplies started with its first corporate wind energy contract in 2010, grew from 44% of total supply in 2015 to 57% in 2016, and reached 100% last year. This rapid growth has created enormous demand for new renewable energy projects – Google’s contracts to purchase 3 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar electricity have generated more than $3 billion in new capital investment – and it buys the most renewable energy of any corporate purchaser worldwide.
Google’s 3 GW of renewable energy comes from 26 projects across the world, and it has created an outsized impact in the United States – around 2.4 GW of new U.S. wind and solar generation are directly attributable to Google’s power purchase agreements (PPAs), according to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center (BRC) deal tracker.
Not to be outdone, Apple announced a week later that its global facilities across 43 countries – all retail stores, offices, data centers, and co-located facilities – are now powered with 100% renewable energy. Like Google, Apple’s renewable energy supplies have grown rapidly from 16% in 2010 to 96% in 2016, and its data centers have been at 100% renewables since 2014.
The company now has 626 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy generation capacity online across 25 projects worldwide, added 286 MW of solar energy capacity in 2017 – the most it has added in any one year – and has 15 projects under construction.
When all existing and pending projects are online, Apple will have 1.4 GW of renewable energy capacity spread across 11 countries. “We want to put new, clean power on the grid so that we’re not sucking up all the clean energy that’s there,” said Apple VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives Lisa Jackson in an interview with Fast Company.
The World’s Biggest Companies Can’t Get Enough Renewable Energy
Google and Apple are part of a much larger corporate trend to reduce their costs and carbon through renewable energy purchases. More than 130 of the world’s largest companies – from Anheuser-Busch InBev, to General Motors, to IKEA, to NIKE, and Wal-Mart – have committed to be 100% supplied by renewable energy through the RE100 initiative.
Renewable energy makes financial sense for corporations. Matching large-scale predictable electricity demand from facilities to long-term predictable renewable energy PPAs helps companies lock in renewable energy costs cheaper than fossil fuels while reducing financial risk from power prices that vary with commodity price swings. “It gives them stability into what they’re paying for their energy prices but it also gives them the potential to save money in the longer term,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Kyle Harrison said in 2017.
This economic equation makes even more sense for big tech companies like Google and Apple, since they maintain a large number of data centers, which consume an ever-growing amount of electricity. Google estimates a typical search requires as much power as a 60-watt light bulb uses in 17 seconds, while data centers worldwide represent an estimated 2% of the globe’s energy demand, and data traffic more than doubles every four years.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that tech giants like Apple and Facebook led the way to a record 5.4 GW of corporate renewable energy procurement worldwide in 2017 (with 2.8 GW in the U.S.), up from 4.3 GW in 2016, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Corporations have signed nearly 19 GW worth of renewable energy contracts since 2008, and 76% of that total has happened since 2015.
But while large corporations may have led the way in renewable energy procurement so far, smaller companies are getting help tapping clean power from initiatives like the BRC and Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance. These groups are helping pool demand from smaller companies, connect potential corporate customers to renewable electricity suppliers, identify best practices, and help utilities understand corporate energy needs.
Corporate Demand For Renewable Energy Cleans The Supply Chain, Opens New Markets
Google and Apple have trailblazed the way to 100% corporate renewables, and they’re positioned to expand corporate renewable energy supplies even further. Both companies tout future plans to keep buying additional wind and solar to power their growing operations, and both are exploring additional ways to power their businesses with renewables.
Apple’s 100% announcement contained a key pivot to encourage its manufacturing partners to power all their Apple-related production with 100% renewables. So far, 23 of 200 suppliers have made the commitment, with 85 additional suppliers registering for Apple’s online platform that helps identify commercial viable renewable energy solutions worldwide, on the way to Apple’s 2020 goal of 4GW worth of renewable energy across its supply chain.
And while Google has not yet extended its 100% renewables commitment to its supply chain like Apple, it recently established a benchmark for 90% of its product suppliers to set emissions reduction goals.
The tech giants’ electricity demand and preference for renewable energy is also leading utilities to launch renewables-only programs, or to build new wind or solar projects. Apple has led utilities in states including Nevada and Arizona to launch new renewable energy programs, while Google has helped open up Georgia’s market to solar energy and published a white paper outlining its renewable energy procurement lessons learned.
“In regions where we can’t yet buy renewables, we’ll keep working on ways to help open the market,” said Google’s Hölzle.
By Silvio Marcacci, Communications Director at Energy Innovation, where he leads all public relations and communications efforts.