If we have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we will have to completely embrace renewable energy. The reason why is simple: Renewable energy produces little or no greenhouse gas emissions.
Electricity production is over a third of U.S. GHG emissions, and the majority of those emissions are caused by coal-fired power plants, which produce about 25 percent of the nation’s emissions. While coal emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (C02E/kWh), wind emits just 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of C02E/kWh and solar only 0.07 to 0.20.
The Environmental Protection Agency launched the Green Power Partnership (GPP) in 2001 to increase the use of renewable energy among American companies. It a voluntary program which encourages organizations to use renewables.
The GPP produces a National Top 100 list of the largest renewable energy users within its participants. And the combined renewable energy use of the top 100 partners is almost 30 billion kilowatt-hours a year, representing over 83 percent of the renewable energy commitments made by all GPP partners.
America’s top five renewable energy companies
Looking at the top five companies on the GPP’s National Top 100 list proves the U.S. can widely adopt renewable energy. And it shows that business can continue to lead the way in renewable energy use regardless of who is in the White House.
The tech company that bills itself as the world leader in silicon innovation is in the GPP’s top spot for the eighth consecutive year. The company buys over 3.4 billion kWh a year of renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated from wind, solar, geothermal, low-impact hydropower and biomass projects from third-party certified sources. The company’s REC purchases are equivalent of removing over 455,000 cars from the road every year, or avoiding the amount of electricity needed to power over 327,000 average American homes annually.
Intel also has 58 wind micro-turbines perched on top of its worldwide headquarters in Santa Clara, California. It is one of the largest operating rooftop wind micro-turbine arrays in the world. Each of the turbines is between six and seven feet tall, weighing about 30 pounds. Each micro-turbine can produce about 65 kWh of power a year.
One of the largest technology and software companies in the country, Microsoft purchased over 1.3 billion kWh of renewable energy annually in recent years. As a result of its use of renewables, combined with energy-efficiency measures and investments in carbon-reduction projects, the company met its goal to reduce carbon emissions by at least 30 percent per unit of revenue below a 2007 baseline.
Microsoft has been 100 percent powered by renewable energy through its REC purchases, power purchase agreements (PPAs) and on-site energy since 2014. Here are some highlights of Microsoft’s use of renewables:
- In 2013, the company signed a 20-year agreement to buy 100 percent of the output of the Keechi Wind project, a 110-megawatt wind farm in Keechi, Texas.
- In 2014, the company bought 175 MW of wind energy from the Pilot Hill wind project in Illinois. The project generates more than enough electricity to power its Chicago data center and 70,000 Illinois houses.
- Microsoft installed a rooftop solar array at its Silicon Valley campus in 2006, which generates 480 kilowatts at peak capacity.
3. Kohl’s department stores
The company with over 1,160 department stores in 49 states entered select stores into a PPA with SunEdison for a 20-year term in 2007.
As a result, the solar power systems provide about 40 percent of each store’s power. As of December 2015, the company had 163 solar power systems in 15 states.
The largest solar panel system is installed at its E-Fulfillment Center 3 in Edgewood, Maryland. It features 8,360 solar panels which generate over 3 kWh of energy a year, enough to supply 317 homes annually.
Kohl’s also invests in wind power. In 2011, it installed wind turbines on two locations. One of those was at its distribution center in Findlay, Ohio, where wind turbines generate 40,000 kWh a year.
4. Cisco Systems
Cisco purchased over 1.2 billion kWh of renewables globally in 2016, which represent about 100 percent of its total U.S. electricity use.
Cisco achieved the milestone through on-site renewable power, green power contracts with utilities, offsite power opportunities, and RECs.
From 2012 to 2016, the company increased its total on-site solar photovoltaic (PC) capacity from 200 KW to 2.7 MW. And those solar power systems produce on average 1.7 million kWh of power, which avoid over 1,200 metric ton of carbon equivalent annually over the projected 25-year life of the systems.
As of April 2016, Google signed 15 long-term agreements for over 2,000 MW of wind and solar energy, which is enough to power about 670,000 homes.
The company has committed almost $2.5 billion to renewable energy projects, representing a total capacity of over 3.7 gigawatts. That’s enough to power 1 million homes. And Google uses renewable energy to power over 35 percent of its operations.
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