World-Changing Clean Energy Ideas Begin Here: Microsoft – Clean Energy Disruptor
As the world gathers in Bonn, Germany for the UN Climate Change Conference – we are inspired by local ‘disrupters’ that are embracing a low carbon economy.
Remember when the only way anyone could see Game of Thrones was to go through the local cable company. Everything seemed to radically change when content providers like HBO were able to bypass cable and go to customers directly. Now it seems Microsoft is leading a similar disruptive change --- this one focused on buying and selling clean energy as well as making it work better.
Microsoft is one of many multinational companies that long ago recognized the importance of leading the charge for a low-carbon future. One of their guiding principles is to “invest beyond carbon neutrality to reduce emissions and accelerate local and global good”.
Technology companies (including Microsoft, Facebook and Google) have been at the forefront of the renewables drive because of rising energy demand from the data centers which is at the heart of their businesses. But the speed that at which Microsoft and other companies are disrupting the renewable market is truly amazing.
In July, Microsoft altogether bypassed Puget Sound Energy (PSE), getting an agreement to directly secure carbon-free power on wholesale markets. Essentially, Microsoft is now a utility; but ‘their’ electricity will continue to be delivered through PSE transmission lines, supplying 80 percent of Microsoft’s Puget Sound power demand while also doing their fair share to pay for the transmission and other PSE costs. To date Microsoft has been PSE’s largest customer.
Equally astonishingly, last month, Microsoft struck a deal with General Electric to buy all the electricity for the next 15 years from a new wind farm in Ireland to power its cloud computing service; it will also acquire an Irish energy supply license as part of the deal, allowing it to sell surplus electricity into the country’s power grid. There’s even more to this disruptive equation - these turbines will also have a battery storage pack so that any excess power generated can be used when needed. According to Microsoft this is the first example of batteries integrated with wind turbines in Europe.
This is part of Microsoft’s strategy to both directly purchase the cleanest power while also taking the lead in tackling some of the clean energy barriers that exist. In other words, they’re not only ‘cutting cable’ (i.e., utilities) to get their energy – but they’re making sure that their energy works better. (And they just keep adding more renewable energy to their portfolio, announcing earlier this month this month their second European ‘local’ wind project in the Netherlands near a data center.)
Microsoft isn’t alone. As the cost of renewable power falls, which allows companies to reduce their carbon footprints and meet corporate commitments to tackle climate change, other companies are jumping in. According to the Business Renewables Center in Colorado, so far this year, purchase agreements for 2 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity in the US and Mexico have been announced. That’s like bringing on two nuclear power plants. Commitment to renewable energy by big businesses continues to accelerate: Facebook recently announced plans for a new US data center supplied by dedicated solar power and 100 multinational companies have committed to make their electricity supplies renewable.
This is an incredible, positive feedback loop – especially astonishing given the federal machinations trying to keep the US locked into fossil fuels. According to the Climate Group, companies that embrace renewable energy deliver on emission reduction goals while also influencing the market and policy. They suggest there’s another upside, “it can help manage fluctuating energy costs, improve reputation and provide energy security.” In other words, it really supports business bottom line and resilience.
It’s clear that world needs to shift to renewables because they represent our best hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change – and we’re now seeing the economic case for technologies is growing, too. Washington state can only continue to benefit by businesses like Microsoft that are both leading the charge and inventing the low carbon future.
Lisa McCrummen is a strategic communications consultant.