The Future of Internet Power: How Tech Companies Are Leading on Renewables

May 22, 2015
  • Ryan Schuchard

    Former Associate Director, Climate Change, BSR

Last week, members of BSR’s Future of Internet Power initiative gathered with 70 other international companies to explore strategies for using and expanding the supply of renewable energy. The event, the Corporate Renewables Partnership Forum, was co-hosted by BSR, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), World Resources Institute (WRI), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in San Francisco.

We discussed the critical role that internet companies are playing in the expansion of the market for renewable energy. As major power users—data centers alone use around 2 percent of electricity in the United States—tech leaders such as Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay, HP, and are making some of the biggest waves among all companies driving new sources of renewable power onto the grid.

Even Greenpeace, which is known for administering harsh critique, has recently credited the internet sector with significantly driving renewable power in several markets and causing utilities to shift investments toward renewable energy to meet this new demand.

This leadership on renewable energy demonstrates that:

  1. Bold climate and renewables action is good for business. U.S. climate policymakers and negotiators should note that the major power-using companies building our modern technology infrastructure are the same ones using renewables to save money, hedge prices, and ensure energy resilience. These companies have dispelled the myth that renewable energy has to cost more, and they know that stronger climate policies will bolster their investments and be good for the economy. However, while solar and wind have made great strides, renewable sources make up only 21 percent of electricity generated globally and 13 percent in the United States, so there is a long way to go.
  2. Tech companies want to do business in places that support aggressive renewables deployment. As data traffic is expected to grow more than 20 percent annually through 2018, high-tech companies are expanding across the United States and globally with new data centers and supporting infrastructure. In the United States, economic development commissions and governor’s offices should note that helping companies access higher levels of cost-competitive, scalable renewable power that is additional to business-as-usual will make their locations more attractive to the many technology companies considering siting options.
  3. Leaders are going forward with whoever is ready now. Regulators and utilities should note that technology companies would like to work with existing providers, but they are not going to wait around for renewables to come on line, or accept options from utilities that aren’t compelling. This explains why nearly 25 percent of wind power deals in 2014 went to companies and other non-utility entities.

BSR’s Future of Internet Power aims to increase the use and supply of renewables in the technology sector, specifically with data centers and internet companies. Members include Adobe, eBay, Etsy, Facebook, HP,, and Symantec. A lot has changed since we started in 2012.

Now companies in the information communications and technology sector increasingly expect their suppliers, and data-center service providers in particular, to take active steps to use renewable power. Leaders are also looking for opportunities to aggregate demand with others, and there are opportunities for alliances with retail, financial services, healthcare, and energy companies that also use data services.

And many of BSR’s partner organizations have developed resources for companies. The Buyer’s Principles for Renewable Energy, led by WWF and WRI, are driving change in utilities and among policymakers, opening the door for customer-utility collaboration, such as utility leadership forums and discussions with the Edison Electric Institute and utility regulators. The Business Renewables Center, led by RMI, provides assistance with transactions. Finally, RE100, led by the Climate Group, helps amplify the message to U.S. and international policymakers that renewable energy is good for business.

BSR’s Future of Internet Power initiative is about to kick off its third year of activities, building on the last two years of research, including our "Intelligent Low-Carbon Power Sourcing for Data Centers" report and a recent guide to data centers and renewables (available by request). Starting in June, we will begin a program of work focused on integrating renewables procurement practices more fully into business units and partnerships. Planned work products include a renewables guide for siting and procurement negotiators, a best-practices framework for data center services (e.g., co-los) suppliers, and an analysis of opportunities for demand aggregation.

To learn more about getting involved with Future of Internet Power, please contact Ryan Schuchard.

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