Companies Have Bought More Clean Energy Than Ever This Year, and It's Only August

By Brian Kahn on at

America's government is firmly controlled by fossil fuel interests that have turned climate action into a pipe dream. Thankfully, a scrappy band of multi-billion dollar corporations are keeping the renewable energy revolution alive.

Plucky upstarts like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are part of a group of nearly 60 companies making major investments in renewable energy. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center, they’ve already set an annual record for renewable energy procurements this year with four months still to go in 2018.

Companies have made deals to fund 3.86 gigawatts of renewable power in the US, enough energy to power nearly 2 million homes. The previous record was set in 2015 when large corporations procured 3.12 gigawatts of renewable energy.

The analysis is based on public records like power purchase agreements according to Alex Klonick, an associate at the Business Renewable Center. That means most of the projects aren’t completed yet, but they’ve been signed off on and are in the works.

“That being said, there is a wide mix of situations,” he told Earther. “Some deals add capacity to an already built or in construction project, others repower and add capacity to older offline projects. The scalable nature of renewables allows the flexibility in bringing new renewables onto the grid.”

Given the tech nature of many of the companies on the list, the power will go toward the copious needs of keeping data centres cool. Thus it’s perhaps no surprise Facebook is the clear leader in 2018. The social network signed off on a gigawatt of renewable energy, the first company to make that type of investment in a year.

Graphic: Business Renewables Center

As with all things corporate, this isn’t some kumbaya-around-the-campfire thing. It’s about money and keeping employees and customers happy.

On the money front, renewables have never cost less. Earlier this summer, a solar farm in the state of Nevada set a record for the cheapest solar project in the US. Many states are forging ahead with onshore wind energy as prices drop, and offshore wind may finally be having a moment, too. The prices are only expected to keep dropping, making renewables ever more attractive.

Companies are also trying to retain employees and keeping customers happy. Klonick said these groups are placing ever more pressure on companies to not be evil (at least when it comes to energy, the jury’s out on other fronts).

The record-setting renewable purchases are objectively good news. But here’s where I must temper it a bit. Companies still have a long road ahead to clean up their energy act.

Apple, for example, announced it runs on 100 per cent renewable energy in April. But that announcement belies that their supply chain continues to be a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. Ditto for a company like Amazon. And while tech and communications currently use three to five per cent of the world’s electricity, that could rise to 20 per cent by 2025 as more of the world ignores the sound advice to just log off.