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GLOBALOUTLOOK RENEWABLES


Big techcomesclean H


AS SOME OF THE BIGGEST CORPORATE BUYERS OF RENEWABLES, TECH GIANTS HOLD IMMENSE POWER. SETH O’FARRELL REPORTS


aving pioneered corporate power-purchase agreements (CPPAs) for wind and solar


throughout the 2010s, the tech giants have cometo dominate the energy of tomorrow, mirroring the power of utility companies. Amazon, Google and Facebook


feature in the top five US corporate buyers of renewable energy in 2020, according to data from the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance – the other two being McDonald’s and Verizon. “Five years ago, all of the power


purchasing and all of the demand was coming fromlarge utilities. Today, corporates are driving demand and sending amessage to the energy industry that the grid needs to change, and your customers want this,” says Amanda Peterson Corio, head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia-Pacific data centre energy at Google. The biggest buyer of clean


energy, Amazon, announced it will purchase power from14 new renew- able energy projects in the US, Canada, Finland and Spain in June,


bringing its 100% renewables target forward to 2025. The other four can already claim to power their opera- tions on 100% clean energy. Big tech companies nowhold sig-


nificant sway over grid infrastruc- ture and local economic develop- ment as offtakers of renewable energy in the US, Europe and Asia. As the energy transition steps up its commitment to battery storage, many see the efforts of somebig tech companies to champion hourly matching schemes as frontrunners for the decade to come. But how much of this is virtue-signalling and what do their commitments really mean for the electricity grid?


Broadmovement Ed Crooks, vice chair for the Americas at Wood Mackenzie, says that there is a “very broad move- ment” among the leading big tech companies to support renewable energy, and to contract for wind and solar projects to power their operations. “It is absolutely not ‘greenwash- ing’,” he says, rejecting the idea that


theirmoves areempty gestures designed solely to burnish their envi- ronmental, social and corporate gov- ernance credentials. “It’swhat inves- tors want, it’swhat their customers want, it’s what their staff want,” he says. “And they’re not doing it qui- etly. They want their support for renewable energy to be visible.” Mr Crooks also underscores that


their data centres have a “very sub- stantial carbon footprint”, which would be even greater if they ran solely on electricity from coal-fired power plants. Microsoft’s Brian Janous, general


manager of energy and renewables (see page 11), says that the need to decarbonise is clear, given that big tech is one of the only industries whose thirst for energy is growing, while others’ consumption in the developed world is flatlining. As of 2020, the big five tech com-


panies procured 7.2GWof renewable capacity, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, accounting for nearly 30% of all renewable CPPAs. An Amazon spokesperson told


Big spender: Amazon is now a major investor in renewable energy 38 www.fDiIntelligence.com August/September 2021


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