Making sizeable contributions towards a more sustainable world has been incorporated into the agendas of large multinationals.
Companies such as Google and Microsoft have long been powering their data centres with renewable energy, and the former has committed to achieving 100% renewables for all its power needs. In 2016, Microsoft also announced it was experimenting with underwater data centres to reduce the energy consumed when cooling the facility.
Apple and Amazon have made similar commitments. For instance, in 2015, both signed long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) for wind and solar power, in addition to several other measures to make their operations more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
Apple’s engagement with solar power
In 2015, Apple acquired a solar farm in Monterey County, California, for $850m under a 25-year PPA. The farm gave them a 130MW energy capacity and was built in partnership with First Solar, an Arizona-based company that offers photovoltaic (PV) solutions.
“Apple is leading the way in addressing climate change by showing how large companies can serve their operations with 100% clean, renewable energy,” said Joe Kishkill, Chief Commercial Officer for First Solar. “Apple's commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California.”
More recently, Apple has moved further in their efforts towards sustainability. In 2016, Apple received permission to go into energy retail by selling the surplus energy produced in the Monterey County solar farm. According to the company, this can help power around 60,000 homes in California. Apple has also expanded these operations, selling energy generated in their other farms in California and Nevada.
In 2017, the company signed two power purchase agreements in Oregon; one for a wind power project and one for a solar power plant. In addition, according to Apple’s most recent Environmental Responsibility Report, it has been steadily reducing its carbon footprint over the years and increasing its reliance on renewable energy. 96% of the power used to power its global facilities came from renewable sources, with their ultimate goal being to reach 100%. Apple has also set goals to end the need to mine materials altogether and to establish a fully closed-loop supply chain, reusing and recycling old materials for the processing and manufacturing of new products.
Amazon investing in wind power
Amazon’s PPA for wind power was set up for 13 years for the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge), developed by Pattern Energy Group in Benton County, Indiana. The facility has an energy capacity of 150MW.
Like Apple, Amazon has also made a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for its global infrastructure footprint in November 2014. The PPA was seen an important step toward that goal. The energy helps power both current and future Amazon Cloud data centres.
The measures seem to be paying off: in 2016, Amazon exceeded its goal of 40% of renewable energy by the end of the year and a new goal was set up to achieve 50% of renewables by the end of 2017. The company has not yet announced if it has reached the 2017 target. Additionally, Amazon is interested in drastically improving energy efficiency, which will certainly play a big part in reducing its carbon footprint.
Subsequently, the company has also announced its intention to install solar panels at its warehouses and distribution centres in several countries by 2020, as well as having invested in wind and solar farms in numerous locations across the United States. In January 2018, it has completed installation of 3,200 solar panels in one of its logistics centres in Italy.
As the world’s largest corporations undertake such projects, a trend is emerging of large, energy-intensive technology companies and data centre operators effectively funding renewables development. These multinationals are setting an example for smaller and medium-sized companies too, which can likewise take on the ethical responsibility to reduce their environmental impact to the maximum by making serious commitments to invest in renewable energy generation, improve energy efficiency and reduce generated waste.