Big tech drives solar to near-record year

Source: By Avery Ellfeldt, E&E News Reporter • Posted: Friday, July 26, 2019

Apple, Amazon and Target have the most installed solar capacity of all U.S. corporations, according to a Solar Energy Industries Association report released today.

The SEIA analysis also found that 2018 was the second-largest year for commercial solar installations, with 1,444 megawatts installed.

Walmart; Switch, a data center company; and Google follow the front-runners in the rankings. The report charts 35,000 projects across the country that generate 7,000 megawatts of solar capacity annually.

“Corporate procurement has been and will continue to be an increasing portion of the market,” said SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. And while tech giants are taking the lead, there are thousands of smaller companies joining the trend, as well, she added.

SEIA reported that there are 7,000 MW of installed commercial solar. Apple made the top of the list with 393 MW installed. Amazon trailed with 329 MW, and Target came in third at 242 MW. While flocks of powerful corporations are investing in more solar installations, the report also says the size of the systems themselves have increased dramatically.

Hopper said that in 2014, companies began to invest in off-site installations for the first time. This meant that companies were no longer limited to facility roofs for installation but instead could leverage third-party leases and power-purchase agreements to expand their portfolios off-site.

Hopper attributed the recent burst of corporate solar projects to the maturing market that is making projects less costly and more efficient.

“Just like any kind of product, the more you produce it, the better you get at producing it,” she added.

The costs of installing on-site solar systems have fallen 63% in 10 years, according to the report, which has accelerated the build-out of these projects. And as banks get more comfortable with solar and grow to understand that the projects are “performing as promised,” financier costs go down, too, Hopper said.

Corporate “100% renewable” claims, including by technology companies like Apple, have faced criticism from some analysts who say they don’t fully represent the electricity mix of businesses (Greenwire, April 20, 2018).

Gary Cook, a Greenpeace corporate campaigner who focuses on IT companies, said that tech companies like Apple and Amazon run energy-intensive data centers and have publicly committed to ambitious renewable goals. He added that tech companies could also have a lot to gain when it comes to the reputational benefits of robust renewable portfolios.

“All companies have a mix of motivations,” Cook said.