Renewable Energy in Silicon Valley Based Companies

The recent political debates on climate change and greenhouse gas effects is what motivated me to write this post. Specifically, I know San Fransisco and other Bay area cities have dedicated efforts to the importance of turning to cleaner sources of energy, despite White House decisions. Considering this, I wanted to look closer into the efforts made by different companies (in particular a few that we will be visiting in March) to turn toward renewable energy and the resulting effects these changes have had.

Google

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In 2017, Google transitioned to 100% renewable energy for all operations worldwide. This includes energy required to power data centers and offices both domestically and abroad. Google data centers are already 50% more efficient than the industry average, however almost an unconceivable amount of energy is required to power the two largest search engines in the world (Google itself, and Youtube).

Google is proud to be the leading corporate buyer of renewable power, with contracts reaching 2.6 gigawatts of solar and wind energy. They were one of the first major U.S. companies to sign a contract to directly purchase renewable energy; this initial agreement was with a wind farm in Iowa. As shown below, in recent years, the cost of wind and solar energies have decreased by 66 and 85 percent, respectively. This trend indicates that renewable energy will become a much cheaper power source option long-term.low-costs-solar-wind-drop

Google also heads 20 renewable energy projects worldwide to support communities from North Carolina to Chile and Sweden.

Apple

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Apple is another company who in the recent decade has been able to decrease their carbon footprint at a large scale. As mapped out in their 2017 Environmental Progress Report, 96% of energy used by Apple facilities worldwide is from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, and solar. The next move for Apple is to help their suppliers bring 4 gigawatts of clean power for online uses by 2020. Ultimately, Apple also aims to be powered 100% by renewable sources worldwide (which they have already achieved in 24 countries).

Salesforce

While not quite 100% renewable like Google, this is arguably the next step for Salesforce in their clean energy transition. In 2015, the company promised to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but achieved this 33 years ahead of schedule in April 2017. They also signed purchase agreements for wind power from Texas and West Virginia.

In August 2017, Salesforce announced in this blog post that “two office towers [at the] global headquarters in San Francisco are now sourcing 100% renewable energy.” The company also works with CleanPowerSF toward clean energy efforts for San Francisco. 

Facebook

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Facebook has set the goal to be 50% powered by renewable energy by 2018, with a long term goal of 100% (I’m seeing a trend here). Their approach involves efficient data centers, sustainable workspaces, and adding more clean energy to the grid. As a company with 2 billion users worldwide, clean energy efforts will have profound effects. An interesting statistic Facebook displays on their sustainability website is that “for an entire year of one person’s Facebook use, our carbon footprint is less than the impact of making one pot of tea.”

Uber

For Uber’s environmental efforts, I was most interested in looking into their goals to promote sustainable transportation and widespread electric vehicle use. In April 2017 in Portland, Oregon, Uber launched its first Electric Vehicle Program, which partners with Drive Oregon to create incentive for electric vehicle adoption. Uber aims to add more EV drivers to their ride sharing service, and to educate the public on the benefits of electric transportation. They also incentivize passengers to utilize “UberPool” (to carpool with other passengers) with cheaper rates than typical a UberX ride.

My Thoughts

A couple years ago, my family installed solar panels on the roof of our San Diego home. Despite the obvious long-term cost savings (especially with all the guaranteed California sun), the initial cost was enough to make us question our decision and heavily weigh our options. Much of the initial resistance to renewable energy sources in general stems from resistance to turn from a current lower cost alternative to a more renewable source of power. These switching costs of cleaner energy are easier to handle for larger companies with deeper pockets, like Google, despite the benefits and saved costs in the long-run.

Though I believe some of the renewable energy efforts by large corporations are not driven by environmental effects (but rather competition and publicity), the results are the same no matter the motivator. I foresee the influence of these major corporations having a profound domino effect. Companies are now racing one another to be the “greenest,” using the “cleanest” energy, and in my opinion, that competition is good for everyone.

The commitment to renewable energy shown by the companies I’ve researched above shows the importance of making the switch. All of these companies have at some point been successful disruptors in innovation, so following their lead in the renewable energy market seems like a good approach to saving money and helping the environment long term.

If you’re interested in looking into global efforts to turn toward renewable energy, here is an interesting article: 8 Incredible Renewable Energy Projects that Launched in 2017

Sources: Silicon Valley and Renewable Energy, Environment.Google, Apple Environment, Sustainability.FB, Salesforce Blog, Uber’s EVS

Have any of you heard of interesting renewable energy efforts in Silicon Valley or otherwise? Share in comments!

8 thoughts on “Renewable Energy in Silicon Valley Based Companies

  1. I think this is a very important issue that you covered and you did it very well! It is great to see these giant tech companies making the switch to renewable energy and I agree with your point that this may inspire smaller companies to use renewable energy as well. Also, I liked that statistic you mentioned about Facebook because I never considered that scrolling through my timeline is actually leaving a carbon footprint. While the impact of a single user doesn’t seem so significant, the impact of Facebook’s vast network may adversely affect the environment.

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  2. I definitely agree with Max that you did a great job on this! I think the topic connects well to Kipp’s post on social responsibility among the companies that we’ll discuss. I still can’t believe that Google is 100% renewable and that others like Facebook are close – that’s a truly impressive achievement given their size.

    I also think that Elon Musk’s work with Tesla and solar panels will improve transitions throughout the industry. Not only will it make alternative energy less expensive, but more popular and commonplace as well. These approaches to powering our vehicles and homes have never been particularly “cool,” but I’m excited to see so many notable entities looking to change that!

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  3. Great post Camille! I do think it will be interesting to see how tech companies tackle the renewable energy problem. It’s really integral for their remaining to be viewed as “good guys” in the business landscape, I think. If they begin to suck too many of the power resources, I think there will be public backlash, so it’s great that they’re getting out ahead of it.

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  4. This is such a cool topic! Great choice and execution! I think it is really important for tech companies who have so much social, political, and economic influence to set the example of clean energy being desirable.
    One interesting problem facing the tech world is the large amount of energy consumed in implementing blockchain technology. I read this article (https://www.wired.com/story/the-sunny-optimism-of-clean-energy-shines-through-techs-gloom/) about a possible solution: a cool device called DareHenry that harnesses the excess heat from blockchain computing to heat buildings.

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  5. I love seeing environmental issues being tackled, so I really loved your post! This was especially relevant after watching Tim Cook’s speech at MIT. He had to make a decision between pleasing shareholders and doing what he thought was right. More companies should consider the societal benefit of their actions and concern themselves just a little less with profits (very idealistic, I know, but it’s worth a shot).

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  6. Hey Camille, nice post! I really enjoyed reading about the specifics of the different companies we are visiting in March. I think your comment about the tech companies having a “domino effect” is really powerful, as they are the forces that have such a profound impact on our society, influencing so many people’s lives each day. While competition can be looked at in this regard as the companies acting out of personal interest, I agree that the more companies compete the more our society will be positively affected.

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  7. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed your post Camille. Along with it being a nice breakdown of many of the major tech players, you could really tell from your analysis which of these companies really see their companies as models of energy change. What I would like to learn more about is whether any of these companies (many sitting in cash up to their eyeballs) have any social ventures that are active in bringing about this energy change. These type of involvements would show me that the company’s willing to invest in making this kind of energy available for all (instead of just wealthy tech companies).

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  8. What a unique post! Sustainability is personally very important to me, so I loved this. What’s so interesting is that these large platform companies don’t have to worry about the manufacturing, packaging, and shipping environmental effects associated with product-based companies. Yet as a society, we often don’t consider the environmental cost of computing power. I’m glad to see that these big players are pushing for more sustainable energy usage. I hope that as the private industry (and government?) invests in clean energy, costs will drop enough to make the upfront investment of sustainable ventures feasible for companies with less deep pockets.

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