The last week saw three big announcements from major corporate players, each ratcheting up ambition on clean energy.
- Bank of America pledged to power its operations with 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.
- Apple pledged to push its suppliers to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
- General Motors pledged to power its operations with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
GM’s announcement may be the most notable of these. The biggest U.S. automaker said that every one of its 350 operations around the globe will run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
When a historically conservative company like GM vows to do away with fossil fuels, people notice — and not just to point out that many of its products will, of course, continue to run on gas.
Those climate conscious will welcome these announcements, but GM and other blue-chip companies aren’t making pledges as much as they’re making predictions about what’s to come.
Per-megawatt prices for wind and solar are in free fall. Wind is currently the cheapest source of power in the United States. Photovoltaic solar is well on its way to becoming the cheapest power in many countries. By 2050 renewables, will likely be the most affordable and abundant source of energy available.
Companies’ embrace of clean energy reflects the prudent analysis of some of corporate America’s sharpest minds. As prices drop, companies are snatching up renewable energy — Google, Facebook, Wells Fargo, and even News Corp, parent company of Fox News. Apple is generating so much solar energy that it is selling power back to the grid.
One point of uncertainty is where many of these companies will source their power. In GM’s press release, it listed “landfill gas” as a possible source of renewable energy. (As long as humans produce trash, and that trash decomposes into methane, we can burn that methane to generate power.) In all likelihood, the automaker will largely rely on wind, solar and energy efficiency.
Former GM CEO Charles Wilson, who served as Secretary of Defense under Dwight Eisenhower, once said, “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” (Wilson is often misquoted as saying “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”) The quote (or misquote) is dredged up every now and again to lambast the cozy relationship between corporate America and the federal government, but today it may hold some truth.
GM is already saving $5 million a year by using renewable energy — mostly wind and solar. It has even gotten creative, deploying used Chevy Volt batteries to extend the supply of clean power to its Enterprise Data Center. The automaker wants as much cheap energy as it can find, and the upshot is cleaner air for everyone else.
As big corporate players buy into wind and solar, they are combating the carbon crisis in three important ways:
- They are reducing the release of planet-warming greenhouse gasses.
- They are driving down prices for renewables by helping wind and solar manufactures reach economies of scale needed to further suppress costs.
- They are normalizing clean energy. Once thought of as “alternative energy,” wind and solar are becoming the first choice for companies who want to cut energy costs and guard against volatility in the price of fossil fuels.
A new report from the International Energy Agency finds energy systems are undergoing a “broad reorientation” toward clean energy. These announcements will be just the latest examples.
This post has been updated.