With solar deal, Apple raises the bar yet again for corporate climate leadership

by David Pomerantz

February 10, 2015

In the last three years, more and more companies have committed to power their operations with 100% renewable energy. Technology companies have led the way, helped along by a nudge from Greenpeace and its supporters, as companies like Apple, Box, Facebook, Google, Rackspace, Salesforce, and most recently Amazon.com have committed to power their data centers with 100% renewable energy.

Thats a trend worth celebrating. Especially given the current absence of congressional climate and clean energy leadership, companies have a greater obligation than ever to set the course toward 100% renewable energy. But the urgency of the climate crisis demands that companies and governments not only set the right goal, but that they move with the utmost haste to achieve it. In that regard, one company has opened up a wide gap between itself and everyone else, and that company is Apple.

Apple committed to 100% renewable energy in 2012, and since that time, no company has moved with either the speed or integrity that Apple has to achieve its goal, culminating most recently in CEO Tim Cooks announcement today of a massive solar energy deal that the company made in California.

Apple is investing $850 million in a power purchase agreement for 130 MW of electricity, enough to power 50,000 California homes, and enough to power its California data center, brand new headquarters, and all of its retail stores in the state.

Even by Apples standards, that is a truly outsized deal for solar power, and the largest commercial purchase of solar power ever, according to First Solar, which is developing the farm.

Cook noted that the deal, aside from being the right thing to do, was also simply good business, as it would offer the company significant savings over the rising costs of coal and gas-fueled brown power.

While others companies which have committed to 100% renewable energy still deserve credit for pointing their respective ships at the correct compass heading, theyd be well served to pay close attention to Cooks statement today that “We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed,” he said. “The time for action is now.”

Amazon.com, for instance, committed to power its rapidly growing and electricity-hungry data center division with 100% renewable energy in November of last year. In January, the company made its first deal for renewable energy, agreeing to a long-term purchase of wind energy for a new installation in Indiana. Both were great steps. But Amazon still has yet to offer any transparent information about its energy footprint, as Apple has. And while Apple is matching every new facility it builds with an investment in an equal or greater amount of renewable energy in the same location, Amazon continues to build data centers in coal and gas-fueled territory with no plan for how it will procure renewable energy to meet its growing demand.

Microsoft has made two purchases for wind energy, one in Texas and one in Illinois, and even developed an innovative internal carbon fee to pay for it all. Again, all of those moves are praiseworthy. But those two deals are not nearly enough to keep up with the breakneck pace at which the company is currently growing its cloud operations and the associated data centers, many of which are powered by coal, gas and nuclear power. Microsoft has yet to offer a company-wide commitment to 100% renewable energy, instead relying on a carbon neutrality pledge from 2012 that has mainly been a vehicle for the company to buy unbundled renewable energy credits and carbon offsets. Those credits are a fine way for the company to buy some green PR, but they have a minimal impact on actually bringing more new renewable energy online in the locations where Microsoft uses electricity. Apple, in contrast, has eschewed paper solutions to a physical problem, instead prioritizing bringing real renewable energy online across its footprint, and at pace with its growth. Microsofts laudable wind energy purchases notwithstanding, the pressing physics of climate change demand that the company move faster as does the high bar set by its rivals in Cupertino.

Apple is setting the pace for the industry for what it means not only to commit to 100% renewable energy, but to move aggressively to achieve that goal. If youre on Twitter, add your voice here by calling on other CEOs to follow Tim Cooks lead and redouble their efforts to move toward 100% renewable energy.

And STAY TUNED: well be updating our analysis of major internet companies energy choices in April of this year.

David Pomerantz

By David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is a former Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace USA, based in San Francisco. He helps lead Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100% renewable energy.

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