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What are your thoughts on Big Tech Companies Striving to use more green power?

Breanna Perkins's picture
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I recently read an article about the strives that large tech companies are making to use more renewable energy and it sparked some interest. I think its extrememly important that these companies work to use more green power, but what are your thoughts? You can read the article here: Why Big Tech Companies Are After Big Energy Solutions

 

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I wrote an article just today about Google's green energy strategy that addressed some of the items in this thread. The Electric industry has been a hotbed of competing approaches since its inception. Hopefully no animals will be injured by this skirmish over renewables. Google has written a nice overview of why they are motivated to purchase Green Power, so the answers to "why a business would buy green power" are there for anyone to read.

I want to focus this response on where change is needed most in order to enable and empower electricity buyers and sellers to take control over their own destiny and, in the process, bring change to the way the "evolving system" is operated for reliability and economic goals.

"Freedom to choose" could be the tag line for the changes we see occurring all around the electric industry today. Buyers want to have control over the type of fuels used to produce the energy they consume. Sellers of electricity want to build profitable businesses that can compete, and win.  And there are many other parties with their own self-interest goals and objectives that would like to influence how power is produced and consumed. A new set of policies and regulations are needed that factor in the needs of buyers, sellers and other interested parties to produce a consensus approach that the majority of interested parties can live with.

Factors such as fuel mix, base load, and integration of various technologies, each with their own set of constraints and dependencies, are operational matters that need to be managed. But these are not the most significant challenges for today's electric system - these can be handled with proper engineering and operations. What is needed most is an open, transparent and fair forum to create guiding principles and agree on standards for business practices that a rough consensus of interested parties can agree to which can become regulations that help drive the industry down a more productive and collegial path.

 

“Green energy” is a monumental blight on the environment, chewing up vast amounts of land while being a clear a present danger to both humans and animals alike. The basis for “green energy” is religious dogma and “feel-good” tripe from the left.

Big Tech should focus on the wise and efficient use of energy to achieve cost effective products. While they are at it, stop spying on everybody.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 2, 2019

Michael, try as they might, the anchors at FOX News can't make the usefulness of renewable energy a political issue. Plenty of lefties agree that renewables chew up vast amounts of land, that much of it is based on religious dogma, and that pervasive spying is a serious threat to personal freedoms.

That solar panels present "a clear and present danger to both humans and animals alike": you and Tucker Carlson might be alone on that one.

In the last five years wind and solar have become much cheaper than fossil or nuclear generation.  How much is a plant-by-plant question.  Large corporate buyers of green power are jump-starting most of the regional markets which penalize wind and solar because they reward capacity - an artifact of a passing age that needs to be corrected.  Soon enough, everyone ought to be able to rely on their suppliers to handle the blending of renewables with natural gas, for lower rates and increasingly reliable supply.

Exactly how renewables fit into the grid is dependent on state by state policies.  There are some regional differences, but generally either wind or solar or both are a LOT cheaper than the median wholesale price.  But that price is the blended product that serves load. 

When you have thousands or tens of thousands of MW's of wind or solar the resource is a lot more like a fossil plant than generally believed.  There is no need for massive investments in storage or transmission at this time.  What there is a need for is more rapid adoption of wind and solar, and careful expansion of cost-effective efficiency.  We still don't have enough wind to know for example whether it is cheaper to build excess wind in the wind belt and transmission to the states with less good wind, or to just build the wind in the less good states and take the slightly lower performance without the transmission costs.  Some transmission will be important, especially if increased load from data centers, electric vehicles and air to air heat pumps (now cheaper than natural gas furnaces) are to be met as fast as the industries expect to build those things.  But it will be more for the purpose of balancing load than for the purpose of transporting large quantities of energy. 

I believe we need to aim at 60% more generation than we have today by 2040.  It won't be exactly that, but if we aim at that we can adjust as we go along.  That means 144% of today's generation needs to be coming from new wind and solar, less whatever efficiency improvements we do and however many nuclear plants last past 2040.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 2, 2019

 

"There are some regional differences, but generally either wind or solar or both are a LOT cheaper than the median wholesale price.  But that price is the blended product that serves load."

That's one way to look at it, Ned, but nobody wants wind or solar alone. Lights, TV, computers, etc. would turn on and off unpredictably.

Though water is a LOT cheaper than beer, the store charges me $9/sixpack because that price is for the blended product that tastes so good.

Ned Ford's picture
Ned Ford on Mar 5, 2019

Bob, you missed my point about 10,000 MW's of wind or solar functioning more like fossil plants than a single turbine or panel.  Storage is already cheap enough to enable 100% renewables at a lower cost than we pay for electricity today, but the need will be much smaller than most people assume. 

I have done an analysis of actual wind generation in MISO in 2017, where 17,225 MW's of wind operated and MISO reported the output per hour for the entire year.  Comparing this to the hourly consumption I found that wind will produce 50% of total electricity with a mere 0.7% of electricity being produced when consumption didn't exist.  70% of total consumption can be met with wind, with about 8% of generation occurring above load.  That's a pretty amazingly good fit.  Wind prices today are low enough that this could be managed by curtailing wind generation and still lower total electricity costs to all customers by about 15 - 20%. 

But I also expect there will be rapid development of "dispatchable load".  Think about the present development of utility controls for electric vehicle charging, and add about a thousand different technological uses for electricity that can benefit from a modest discount in return for letting the utility control the time of use. 

The idea of intermittent service from renewables is just a failure to understand how the markets are developing.   Iowa got 43% of its electricity from wind in 2017.  No flickering lights.  And in a state with virtually no hydropower, no solar, no storage, and until a couple of years ago nearly no natural gas generation.

Iowa has better wind than most states, but where they are today is the result of prices that are available to nearly all states today.  You appear not to understand climate science or the threat to civilization and sustainable life on this planet.  I don't think you need to in order to understand that renewables are cheaper than fossil or nuclear generation, but we do have an imperative to build about 60% more generation than we have today by 2040, all of the old and all of the new as renewable.   The technology is here, the economics are here and will get even better, and the time is past the point of urgency.  We just need speed.

 

 

I think this is an area where the profit motive and the social goal for sustainability are well aligned.  All this power consumption is expensive and that alone motivates companies to look for ways to conserve and operate more efficiently.  Efficient operations can include rooftop solar generation to reduce building heat load while generating power onsite with reduced delivery and transformer losses.  

Here in Brazil we already a quite green: hydro, wind and solar make for almost 80% of the power matrix. 

So when you lock a power deal it is basically about green energy. Thermal power plants are only used to complement the power generation - actually when the hydro reservoirs are not "high" enough.

Sustainability is now seen as a measurable asset for publicly traded companies with compensation for senior executives commensurate with the effort to show how green an organization is becoming. Whether big tech, an energy company, a bank, or a manufacturer, shareholders are holding directors and executives to a new standard that looks at a company's carbon emission reductions as a measure of leadership performance.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 13, 2019

Len, how is sustainability a measurable asset? The term itself is nothing but a pillow of feelgood nothingness: unverifiable, unauditable, unenforceable. Effort expended by senior management "to show how green their organization is becoming" might be measurable, based on focus group opinion surveys, but of course that has nothing to do with its carbon emissions or anything else that matters.

If "hype prepared by a company's marketing department claiming it has reduced carbon emissions by XX% in the last year" is the new standard, that's a pretty low bar.

Green power has become competitive! It means that selecting green power as opposed to other sources is a good and sound business. Plain and simple.

It is for sure a step in the right direction and will set an example for other industries to follow. Would be nice if the big players in financial markets would follow these companies fast since most of the transactions on the financial markets are processed by data centers as well nowadays.

Noteworthy is that even oil-majors and some mining companies start to use or explore the possibility to use renewable electricity to improve their current operations where possible in order to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and add to their bottom line.

 

 

I tend to take a much longer view than most corporate cultures would tolerate.  So if I ran a company with the expectation that it might be around in a hundred years, I would be thinking about the really long-term supply of energy.  

And then I conclude that a hundred years from now it's far more likely that the wind will be blowing and the sun will be shining more reliably than any prediction I might make about the the nuclear and fossil supply chains, costs, politics and other side-effects.  Of course that's a bet that wind turbines and solar panels will be more economically available than the fossil or nuclear equivalents, and I'm okay with that bet.  With nuclear and fossils, you have to bet on the engineering and the fuel.  With renewables, it's just an engineering problem and that sounds like a lower risk.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 1, 2019

With renewables, it's just an engineering problem and that sounds like a lower risk.

No Carl, with renewables it's an energy density problem.

Say we were to plant a strawberry farm in the Sahara Desert. Plenty of sunshine, but very little rain. So we set about finding ways to collect rain; how to prevent evaporation. We build a timed micro-watering system. But in the end, if we send all of our collected water to one corner of our farm it might yield a basket or two of strawberries. The rest of our farm looks a lot less like a farm than the desert around it.

Though it's also more likely rain will continue to fall in the Sahara Desert than any prediction you could make about the nuclear supply chain, there is no amount you could spend, no technology you could buy to make a strawberry farm there more than a waste of time and money. For the purpose of fighting climate change, just like renewable electricity.

Carl Popolo's picture
Carl Popolo on Mar 3, 2019

Well if you have to build a strawberry farm in the Sahara, I still think your energy density problem is just an engineering problem.  In the same way DC grids went AC for better distribution and transmission so that factories didn't need to be near rivers.  I would still trust that it gets solved as a technical problem well before any chance that policy and economics will bring a pipeline to your farm or build a nuclear plant nearby.

I can lower the risk by removing the volatility of the fuel.  I can still decide to optimize the energy density problem in the short term by, say, not building my farm in the Sahara.  Because I can get sun anywhere.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 8, 2019

Carl, you can't get reliable sun anywhere. The Sahara Desert might be one of the few places in the world where you can - and that's only during the day.

I will go out on a limb, and state categorically: even with the best engineering and 100% efficiency, it's impossible to generate a gallon of water from a few ounces.

To understand the foundation upon which a company is built, do not look at the company itself, but rather through the company to its customers. Any company is just a machine to make money for its investors. But without the support of their customers, they are out of business.

Many of the companies that are investing heavily in renewable energy provide services for young, technologically sophisticated clients. These are smart enough to know that (1) our society is threatened by climate change, and (2) they and their children are the ones that will need to deal with this threat. Thus they insist that their serving entities help with this issue ASAP. The executives of these companies know this.

-John

Hi,

Big Tech organizations definitely need to use more green power and they are striving to do so. But they’re typically not powering directly the energy consumption in their facilities with renewable energy. They are rather matching what they consume with amounts of purchased renewable energy.

Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google have all entered into some sort of contracts to purchase more renewable energy from utilities and 3rd parties around the world.  In short, for a portion (or sometimes all) of the kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed, it buys a kilowatt-hour from wind or solar farm.  For example, Google said last year that it has contracted to purchase 3 gigawatts of output from renewable energy projects.  While they are consuming 2.3 GW for their datacenters and office complexes, they are still (genuinely) saying: “it’s not yet possible to power a company of our scale by 100% renewable energy”. 

Nevertheless, these purchases do have a positive impact. It’s helping spur development of clean energy projects, encouraging other companies to follow suit.  But they surely need to continue to work to reduce their overall consumption.  

Just a year ago, Data Economy outlined “Alarming new research suggests that failure to source renewable energy could make data centres one of the biggest polluters in just seven years” (for reference: data-economy.com/data-centres-world-will-consume-1-5-earths-power-2025/).  This was confirmed by the chairman of SNIA's board of directors in Data Center Dynamics which concluded that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector predicts to use 20% of all the world’s electricity by 2025 and emit up to 5.5% of all carbon emissions. (for reference: datacenterdynamics.com/power-consumption-data-centers-global-problem/).

Last year, Datacenters sector had already increased to more than 3% of the world’s energy (doubling in less than 5 years to more than 420 terawatts) and it is also already responsible for 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions.  

Thus, this sector needs to improve its efficiency, reducing its consumption and not only rely on replacing “regular" or "brown” kWh with "green" kWh.  Adding Green power to their portfolio is indeed a good step but both sides of the energy equation (consumption & production) have to be taken care of and improved.

Kyle Knoebel's picture
Kyle Knoebel on Feb 11, 2019

This is a great answer Stephane, and your point about data centers is especially interesting when you look at the types of companies that are the largest today.

For example, in 2000 the largest company in the US by revenue was GM, and now it is Apple. This change shows how industry is evolving in the new century, as well as highlights the importance of data and data centers and their ever-growing energy usage.

If these companies want to seriously counteract their energy usage, they must first build data centers as energy-efficiently as possible (consumption side). What is the best technology, in your opinion, to lower the energy consumption of data centers?

  

Stephane Bilodeau's picture
Stephane Bilodeau on Feb 12, 2019

Hi Kyle,

There is no single technology that can do everything.  It's a mix of technologies that is required. 

Indeed, more efficient IT hardware and proper software management are to be considered from the start.  But cooling and ventilation are also important items in the energy equation.  Better Feed-Forward or Predictive Controls, as well as Energy storage, can each have a substantial impact on the consumption (kWh) and on the peak management (kW) sides of the energy bills.  

In short, good integration of diverse solutions typically allows for more flexibility, resilience and lower operating costs.

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