The lion’s share of debate about the progress of renewable energy is missing an important dimension. It seems that the media, banks and NGOs largely value the worth of each renewable source by their rate of adoption at the national and international level. These measurements seem to rely on macro-economic indicators or on agreements such as that made last week by the U.S. and China. However, the efforts of private corporations to go green, while not wholly unnoticed, do not seem to weigh in. It would make no sense in most other industries to measure their health purely by public efforts. In fact, many renewable energy developers today are seeking to change their industry’s reputation as being dependent on government subsidies and costly to the taxpayer with little return. One way to fight this reputation is to show concrete evidence of global corporations going renewable. This week has given plenty of evidence of just that, with IKEA, Google and Amazon all making real commitments.
Back in March, IKEA acquired the Hoopeston wind farm in Illinois, which is set to produce more than enough energy to power all its stores and distribution stores in the country. 65% more. But this energy will not be sent to IKEA’s stores, instead, the Swedish retailer will sell it off as part of a strategy to offset its entire consumption by 2020. This week, an ever bigger announcement came. IKEA has purchased a 165MW wind farm in Cameron County, Texas, marking “the single largest renewable energy investment made by the IKEA Group globally to date.” IKEA goes on to say that it will invest $1.9 billion in renewables by the end of 2015.
Where IKEA is investing in renewables to offset its energy usage, Google and Amazon are doing so for a far more practical reason: data centers have incredibly high energy consumption and renewable projects can be a good way to reduce that burden. To power its new 600 million euro data center at Eemshaven in the Netherlands, Google has agreed to buy a wind farm being built by Eneco near Eemshaven. The 19-turbine 62MW wind farm will power the data center from day one, and comes on the heels of Google buying two other wind farms in Sweden to provide for its data center in Finland.
Other tech and retail leaders are making forays in the same direction, albeit with less emphasis. After being slammed on Greenpeace’s ranking of the green track records of IT leaders, Amazon seems to want to become more sustainable. Amazon Web Services, responsible for cloud computing, stated that it was taking a “long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.” Unlike Google and IKEA, though, Amazon has not stated any outright investments it is planning on making. It will likely take years for Amazon to become fully renewable, but even doing so for its cloud computing needs would be a major achievement, given how the likes of Pinterest, Netflix and Spotify rely on Amazon’s cloud.
On the negative side of the equation, Walmart is slipping backwards, having used renewables for 3 percent of its energy needs in 2013, as opposed to 4 percent in 2011. Although long identifying itself in its corporate branding as a green leader, a new think tank has revealed that Walmart is relying on coal for 40% of its energy needs in the U.S. This is a particularly damning accusation since Walmart’s stores use more power than Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont combined, according to the report. Walmart immediately rebutted the report, saying it gets 24 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources—and that it would “expand its renewable energy projects and procurement to reach 7 billion kilowatt-hours of wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas globally by 2020, up from 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours today.”
Whether companies are making quantifiable commitments to renewables or are fudging the statistics to look sustainable, it is becoming increasingly nonsensical to weigh up the value of renewable energy sources through public investment alone.
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By. James Stafford of Oilprice.com