Walking the Talk

Big corporates get serious about reducing their carbon footprint

 There is a growing global movement towards corporate sourcing of renewables as companies opt for green energy to meet their power requirements and ultimately transition to zero carbon. This trend has continued even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic as green economic recovery assumes centrestage in many countries. Companies across all major sectors, including services, manufacturing, food and beverage, retail, materials, infrastructure, apparel, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, hospitality and transportation services are switching to greener power sources.

The corporate sourcing of renewables was also on the agenda of the recent Leaders Summit on Climate convened by US President Joe Biden. The summit saw participation from 40 world leaders. The US will join the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT), along with co-founders Sweden and India. LeadIT convenes countries and companies committed to speeding up technological innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in energy-intensive sectors and accelerate the progress to net-zero emissions by 2050.

This migration from dirty fossil fuel-based grid power to renewables is driven by the significant decline in solar and wind power prices over the past few years. Solar and wind power are now among the cheapest power sources in many countries, costing less than coal and gas-based power. In fact, a 2020 IRENA report shows that more than half of the renewable energy capacity added in 2019 achieved lower costs than the cheapest new coal-based power plants. In fact, grid power from utilities is quite expensive, especially for countries such as India where commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers have to pay exorbitantly high power tariffs to make up for subsidies to agricultural consumers. Meanwhile, corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) are being offered at attractive tariffs across all major renewable markets worldwide, with specialised business models and a favourable policy environment, encouraging both developers and corporates to opt for green power. What’s more, the C&I space represents a huge market with a significant untapped potential, owing to its growing energy demand. Thus, with attractive cost economics and an opportunity to reduce grid dependency-related risks, more and more companies are opting for renewable power.

Another interesting trend is an enhanced focus on the sustainability practices among corporates. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware and are opting for products and services that have been promoted by more environmentally conscious companies. Even investors and lenders want to be associated with corporates that have green strategies in place. In fact, financing institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have publicly stated their aim to divest from coal and other fossil fuels. Even shareholders are now requesting corporates to redouble their efforts to source renewable electricity. These dual factors – the pressure from consumers and investors to be more sustainable, and the obvious cost benefits – have led to a massive global move towards renewables, with companies aiming to become completely carbon free and fully renewable energy based in a few years.

By the end of 2020, over 300 companies had joined the RE100 initiative, which brings together corporates that are committed to 100 per cent renewable power. It is led by the international non-profit, The Climate Group, in partnership with CDP. Big names such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are a part of this alliance. Meanwhile, in 2019, Amazon and Global Optimism co-founded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach the Paris Agreement 10 years early and be net-zero carbon by 2040. The pledge now has 53 signatories, including IBM, Unilever, Verizon, Microsoft and Best Buy.

Renewable Watch explores the renewable energy plans of eight such large multinational corporations, highlighting the progress made by them and their recent investments in this space, with a special focus on developments in India…

Apple

As early as April 2018, Apple, the global tech company responsible for iPhones, iPads and Macbooks among other innovations, announced that it had achieved 100 per cent renewable electricity for powering its global facilities comprising retail stores, offices and data centres across 43 countries including the US, the UK, China and India. It plans to become 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2030 by helping its manufacturing partners reduce their carbon footprint under its Supplier Clean Energy Programme. If successful, this would mean that by 2030, every Apple device sold will have a net-zero climate impact. According to a March 2021 announcement by the company, 110 of its manufacturing partners, including those in India, have nearly 8 GW of planned clean energy set to come online by 2030. These suppliers have, in fact, committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy to manufacture Apple’s products by 2030.

In addition, Apple has been investing in clean energy projects across the globe. So far, the company has issued three green bonds, worth $1.5 billion in 2016, $1 billion in 2017 and $2.2 billion in 2019. In fact, according to a recent announcement, its $4.7 billion green bond spend, of which more than half has been allocated, is helping generate 1.2 GW of renewable energy. The company funded 17 renewable power projects in 2020, with a total capacity of 350 MW. These recent projects include a set of two onshore wind turbines in Denmark, a 180-acre 270 MW solar power site near its data centre in Nevada, a 112 MW PPA with a wind farm near Chicago, and a 165 MW solar power development project with three other companies in Virginia. In addition, it is constructing a large grid-scale 240 MWh battery project, California Flats, to support its 130 MW solar farm. Apple Park, Apple’s second campus built in Cupertino, California, which opened in 2017, is powered almost entirely by renewable energy and has a 17 MW rooftop solar plant.

Amazon

Online retail giant Amazon now claims to be the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy globally, with 206 projects around the world. This includes 71 utility-scale wind and solar projects and 135 rooftop solar installations on facilities and stores worldwide. With roughly 8.5 GW of installed renewable energy capacity globally, the company is on the path to achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025. Its recent project announcements include nine new utility-scale wind and solar energy projects in the US, Canada, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Prior to that, it announced 26 new utility-scale wind and solar energy projects totalling 3.4 GW spread across Australia, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the US. All these initiatives will help advance Amazon’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions across its businesses by 2040 as a part of The Climate Pledge.

In India, Amazon began installing solar arrays on buildings in 2017, and has nearly 12 MW of installed capacity as of December 2020. These projects are spread across eight fulfillment centres and five sortation centres located in Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai. The company has donated solar energy systems to over 40 government schools across India and set up a mini planetarium in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra. Further, it aims to add 10,000 electric delivery vehicles to its existing fleet by 2025, comprising locally manufactured three-wheelers and four-wheelers.

Facebook

Social media leader Facebook recently announced that its operations are now supported by 100 per cent renewable energy. Further, the tech company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 per cent over the past three years and has also set a goal to reach net-zero emissions for its value chain in 2030. Facebook is reportedly the third largest corporate buyer of renewable energy globally. It has renewable power procurement contracts in place for more than 6 GW of wind and solar power projects. These 63 projects are spread across five countries – the US, Ireland, Norway, Singapore and India. All these projects are built to offset the intensive energy use by the company’s data centres and are thus located on the same grids.

Facebook signed contracts for 1 GW of renewable power capacity in 2020 alone. More recently, in April 2021, the company signed its first renewable PPAs in India with CleanMax. As a part of the agreement, CleanMax will own and operate a 32 MW wind power project located in Karnataka. Meanwhile, Facebook will buy power off the grid using carbon credits. The company is also working with CleanMax on a large portfolio of wind and solar projects to support its operations in India.

Google

Google has long been a trendsetter in clean energy procurement, becoming the first company to match 100 per cent of its global electricity use with renewable energy purchases in 2017. The company has succeeded in achieving this milestone every year since then, and now aims to run entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030. To achieve this, it will have to move beyond the industry norm of offsetting carbon emissions through renewables, and directly procure green power for its operations.

Google is one of the largest corporate procurers of renewable power in the world, with contracts in place for 50 renewable energy projects for a total capacity of 5.5 GW spread worldwide. It has been financing the construction of new renewable energy projects for some time now. In 2019, the company announced a large renewable purchase of 1,600 MW with 18 new energy deals. This includes 92 MW from Engie’s Norther offshore wind farm in the North Sea off Belgium. The rest of the capacity is divided between Europe (793 MW) and the US (720 MW). Apart from this, 125 MW is coming up in Chile. In 2020, the company started operations at its first offshore wind project in the North Sea and began procuring power from a solar project in the Antofagasta region of Chile. Recently, it signed contracts to procure renewables integrated with energy storage on an hourly basis in order to decarbonise the power supply to its data centres in Virginia. Going forward, Google plans to build 5 GW of new carbon-free energy across its key geographies by 2030 to enable a complete shift to renewables.

IKEA

Swedish furniture company IKEA aims to become climate positive by 2030 by reducing more GHG emissions than it emits through science-based targets. Further, it plans to power its stores, warehouses and shopping centres entirely through renewable energy by 2025, and also provide zero-emission home deliveries. The Ingka Group, which owns the majority of IKEA stores worldwide, has invested Euro 2.5 billion in renewable energy since 2009. It has an installed capacity of 1.7 GW as of April 2021, comprising both wind and solar projects. Recently, Ingka Investments announced its plans to acquire a 49 per cent stake in eight solar PV parks with a total power capacity of 160 MW in south-west Russia. Once operational, these solar parks will be able to supply electricity to all the 17 IKEA stores in Russia. In addition, IKEA has set up a 1.35 MW solar carport at one of its locations in Maryland. It plans to build seven other similar projects with a total capacity of 7 MW at other stores across Maryland and California, in partnership with New York-based Distributed Solar Development. The company has also announced its intention of sourcing renewable energy for its stores in India.

Microsoft

Microsoft is committed to shifting to 100 per cent renewable energy supply at its buildings and data centres by 2025 and ultimately become carbon negative by 2030. To pursue this goal, the company has been taking a host of initiatives in the clean energy space. In July 2020, it partnered with Sol Systems, a renewable energy developer and investor, for 500 MW of renewable energy, which includes investments in communities disproportionately affected by environmental challenges. Prior to this partnership, Microsoft had procured approximately 1.9 GW of renewable energy. Further, in September 2020, BP and Microsoft signed a framework agreement for renewable energy projects, as a part of which BP will supply renewable energy for powering Microsoft’s data centres across the US, Europe and Latin America. The company has also been innovating in the hydrogen space and was successful in powering a row of data centre servers using hydrogen fuel cells for 48 consecutive hours in 2020. In India, the company signed its first renewable energy deal in Bengaluru in 2018 to purchase 3 MW of solar-powered energy from Atria Energy to help power its new office. Further, the company has launched the Climate Innovation Fund to invest $1 billion over the next four years in new technologies and expand access to capital for carbon reduction and removal.

Unilever

British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company Unilever has a target to source 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and has committed to net-zero emissions from all its products, from sourcing to point of sale, by 2039. As of January 2020, all Unilever factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres worldwide are powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity through a combination of corporate PPAs, green electricity tariffs, renewable electricity certificates as well as onsite renewables. Moreover, the company generates its own power with on-site solar installations at Unilever facilities in 23 countries, including its Nashik and Chiplun factories in India.

The company aims to switch from fossil fuel burning boilers to renewables to meet its heating requirements. In India, for instance, only three of its sites are still using coal and even these will soon migrate to biomass boilers for heat. The company is also engaged in a hydrogen pilot in partnership with Progressive Energy at its Port Sunlight site in the UK.

Walmart

Global retailer Walmart is committed to sourcing 100 per cent of its electricity through renewable energy sources by 2035. In 2020, the company met an estimated 36 per cent of its electricity needs globally through renewable sources. Further, as of end-2020, the company had more than 550 onsite and offsite projects in operation or under development in eight countries. More than 3 GW of new renewable energy capacity has been connected to the grid since 2008 through Walmart’s initiative.

Recently, in collaboration with ENGIE North America, more than 500 MW across three new wind projects were brought online in Texas, South Dakota and Oklahoma to supply renewable energy to hundreds of company stores, clubs and distribution centres. In September 2020, Walmart entered into a collaboration with Schneider Electric under the Gigaton PPA initiative to educate Walmart suppliers in the US about renewable energy purchases. In India, the company has installed rooftop solar systems at more than 17 of its best price stores. The company now aims to decarbonise all its stores worldwide and achieve zero emissions across its operations by 2040.

Conclusion

The ambitious clean energy uptake plans of companies that are common household names are setting an example for other companies to incorporate renewables in their daily operations. The renewable energy initiatives taken by these corporates bode well for the entire sector since they provide a promising business opportunity for project developers and manufacturers alike. Although there have been hiccups along the way, especially in terms of regulatory complexities and market upheavals in some regions, these are temporary blips and are unlikely to deter uptake in the long term. Going forward, the local governments on their part can create an enabling policy environment to facilitate the adoption of clean energy by fast-growing corporates with high demand. Net, net, with the right business models and market dynamics in play, the greening of corporates will receive a significant impetus in India as well as globally.

By Khushboo Goyal

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