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As Federal Government Retreats from Dealing with Climate Change, Corporate America Moving Forward Anyway

Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy

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Corporate, America, Climate Change
The blades of wind turbines catch the breeze at the Saddleback Ridge wind farm in Carthage, Maine, March 19, 2019.. VOA

As the federal government retreats from dealing with climate change, major parts of corporate America are moving forward anyway.

Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro power. In some cases, they’re pushing harder than those local authorities are ready to go.

One place to see this happening is Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The brains of the internet are housed here in anonymous office parks. Warehouse-sized buildings filled with row upon row of computers process clicks, taps and swipes from around the globe.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro power.   VOA

Northern Virginia is home to more of these data centers than anywhere else in the world, according to real estate firm JLL.  Each building draws an average of 30 megawatts of electricity, roughly equivalent to 7,500 homes, according to Stan Blackwell, head of economic development at Dominion Energy, the region’s electric power company.

The region topped 1 gigawatt of capacity recently, according to real estate brokers CBRE. And another roughly 140 megawatts of data center demand has hooked up to the grid each year for the last several years, Blackwell said.

“The industry as a whole is the fastest growing segment in our territory,” he added.

Tech wants clean power

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The companies behind those power-hungry buildings include some of the biggest names in tech: Facebook, Amazon and Google.

These companies have plans to get all their power from renewable sources. Google says it’s there already.

“It’s important that what we build leaves a positive legacy, that we don’t build it on the back of fossil fuels, but rather, we build it on the back of the next generation of energy technology of wind and hydro and solar,” said Brian Janous, lead energy manager for Microsoft, another major data center customer in Northern Virginia. Microsoft is aiming for 70% renewable energy by 2023.

So when Dominion submitted plans last year to meet demand growth with natural gas-fired power, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and seven other companies wrote to the state regulator to demand less gas and more renewables.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
As the federal government retreats from dealing with climate change, major parts of corporate America are moving forward anyway. Pixabay

“Dominion Energy … fails to fully take into account the energy preferences of the data center industry — by limiting the amount of competitively procured solar energy, neglecting to consider energy storage as a cost-effective and beneficial energy resource, and continuing to plan for the development of additional natural gas infrastructure,” the letter said.

Blackwell says a mix of power sources is best to ensure a reliable supply. And Dominion has worked with tech companies before to get solar power on the grid.

Driving change

Facebook approached Dominion several years ago about building solar capacity to power a new data center.

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“Regulation required you to build the lowest cost source of generation,” Blackwell said. “Solar resources in that case were slightly above that, and so they agreed to make up that difference.”

Facebook helped modify state regulations so Dominion could sell the company power from several solar farms and build several more, Blackwell says.

“Facebook drove that change and that new tariff and we’re very happy with it,” he added.

But the cost of wind and solar have plunged in just the last few years. In many cases they are now the cheapest option. Data center companies now say they have an economic case for renewables as well as a climate argument.

“We just don’t really see why utilities should be talking about building new fossil fuel plants that realistically may only have a useful life of a few years before their costs are significantly undercut by wind and solar paired with storage,” Janous said.

Regulators ultimately approved Dominion’s plan. But the company is required to include cost estimates for solar power plus battery storage in its next planning update.

Corporate commitments

Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have set at least one climate or clean energy target, according to a 2017 report.

Even in states where fighting climate change is not a priority, local authorities are finding that companies are demanding renewable energy.

“Our first solar decision in the state of Alabama was based solely on the Walmart decision to come in and use solar power,” Alabama Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden told a recent coal industry conference.

Outside of Walmart, the state still has negligible amounts of solar power on the grid, and has no policies to encourage renewables.

But Oden says from retail to manufacturing, states are often finding that if they want to recruit major industries, offering renewable energy is a must.

“You’re seeing some of this demand, especially in these car companies that we’re dealing with, like Toyota and Mazda, and Honda and Hyundai, they all have … (a certain amount of) alternative energy in their production. And so, whatever we do to recruit these, we have to offer (it).” (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s how Carbon Footprint Can be Reduced in India

Carbon footprint in India can be reduced by 20%

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Carbon global warming

BY VISHAL GULATI

The report focuses on the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the two most carbon-intensive products — passenger cars and residential buildings.

Producing and using materials more efficiently to build passenger cars and residential homes could cut carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions between 2016 and 2060 by up to 25 gigaton across the Group of Seven (G7) member states, the International Resource Panel (IRP) finds in a summary for policymakers released here on Wednesday.

This is more than double the annual emissions from all the world’s coal-fuelled power plants.

The IRP finds that emissions from the production of materials like metals, wood, minerals and plastics more than doubled over the 20-year period to 2015, accounting for almost one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon products cars
Majority of carbon-intensive products are used in manufacturing cars. Pixabay

It warns that without boosting material efficiency, it will be almost impossible and substantially more expensive to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius — the more ambitious of the two Paris climate targets.

The IRP Summary for Policymakers, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, prepared at the request of the G7, is the first comprehensive scientific analysis estimating total cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in homes and cars that can be achieved through material efficiency.

Together, the construction and manufacturing sectors are responsible for an estimated 80 per cent of emissions generated by the first use of materials.

Using strategies and technologies that already exist, G7 countries could save up to 170 million tons of carbon emissions from residential homes in 2050.

India could save 270 million tons, and China could save 350 million tons in 2050 in this same sector.

If we look at the full lifecycle of cars, material efficiency strategies could help G7 countries, China and India reduce GHG emissions by up to 450 million tons each in 2050. These reductions can help countries stay within their carbon budget.

Extending the lifetime of products, reusing components, substituting or using less material, and making more intensive use of materials by, for example, ride-sharing, are all strategies that G7 countries could implement today to tackle global warming.

“Climate mitigation efforts have traditionally focused on enhancing energy efficiency and accelerating the transition to renewables. While this is still key, this report shows that material efficiency can also deliver big gains,” UN Environment Executive Director Inger Andersen said.

The IRP finds that the carbon footprint of the production of materials for cars could be cut by up to 70 per cent in G7 countries, and 60 per cent in China and 50 per cent in India in 2050.

The largest emission savings from passenger vehicles come from a change in how people use cars, like car-pooling and car-sharing, and a move away from large SUVs.

Greenhouse gases carbon
The construction and manufacturing sectors are responsible for an estimated 80 per cent of emissions generated by the first use of materials. Pixabay

The report also shows that greenhouse gas emissions from the production of materials for residential buildings in the G7, China and India could be reduced between 50 and 80 per cent in 2050 with greater material efficiency.

The most promising strategies include more intensive use of space e.g. reducing demand for floor space, switching out concrete and masonry for sustainably produced wood, improving recycling, and building lighter homes using less carbon-intensive steel, cement and glass.

Reducing demand for floor space in the G7 by up to 20 per cent could lower greenhouse gas emissions from the production of materials by up to 73 per cent in 2050.

Shared homes, smaller units, and downsizing when children move out lead to these big reductions.

The cuts revealed by the report are on top of emission savings generated by the decarbonisation of electricity supply, the electrification of home energy use, and the shift towards electric and hybrid vehicles.

Many of these emission reductions will only be possible if countries create enabling policy environments and incentives, the report says.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres wants countries to increase the ambition of their climate targets at the ongoing UN climate change negotiations (COP25) that entered its final stage in this Spanish capital.

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The IRP report urges policymakers to integrate material efficiency into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to set higher emission reduction targets that will limit the damage from global warming.

Currently, only Japan, India, China, and Turkey mention resource efficiency, resources management, material efficiency, circular economy or consumption side instruments as explicit mitigation measures in their NDCs. (IANS)