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

Illustration for article titled Companies Have Bought More Clean Energy Than Ever This Year, and It's Only August
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Our government is firmly controlled by fossil fuel interests that have turned federal 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, Microsoft, and AT&T are part of a group fo 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 U.S., 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 centers 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. AT&T was the second biggest player, jumping on the renewables bandwagon for the first time to announce contracts for 820 megawatts of clean energy.

Illustration for article titled Companies Have Bought More Clean Energy Than Ever This Year, and It's Only August
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 Nevada solar farm set a record for the cheapest solar project in the U.S. Red states are plowing 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 percent 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 percent of the world’s electricity, that could rise to 20 percent by 2025 as more of the world ignores the sound advice to just log off.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


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Let’s assume corporation still suck. While we’re at it, let’s assume Amory Lovins’ nonprofit RMI was established to take money from corporations to tell us dumb emo enviros who are to the left of Rachel Carson that corporations are green people, too. Lovins was trying to sell a bunch of us dumb chemical engineers on the hydrogen economy back in the 1990s.

Anywho, let’s see how we’re doing as of April 2018. This is the energy consumed by source in terms of BTUs for even Steven comparative purposes. This is energy for all sectors of the economy. Graphs from

This is energy consumption of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables for running America’s economy. On an annual basis (for 2017) here’s the breakdown in percent. Bottom line: we’re still at 80% fossil fuel

Coal: 14%

Natural Gas: 29%

Petroleum: 37%

Nuclear: 8.6%

Hydro: 2.9%

Solar: 0.9%

Wind: 2.4%

Biomass: 5.0%

Wind and solar get most of the renewable attention, but biomass still plugs along. Biomass consumption is chiefly ethanol from field corn. Of course there’s problems with growing Roundup ready GMO corn and no till farming (see Maddies post on Red Tide), but hey. There’s always Red Tide Energy LLC as an offshoot of Exxon Algae. The important point to remember is biomass essentially recycles carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and land - rather than emitting carbon sequestered for millions of years underground. So there’s that.

Renewables consumptions by source: like it or not, biomass kicked in nicely after the 2005 energy plan. Ethanol makes up about 10% of the gallon of gasoline consumed.

Most of the green and clean tech media folks ignore biology because biology is hard. And you gotta assume the National Corn Growers Association don’t need no help from those slick Silicon Valley/Rocky Mountain types. Except of course Climate Corporation for farming optimization may do good. Bayer, the new owner of Climate Corp will need better PR as Roundup becomes a legal and image problem for them.