Tech giants spark record surge in sales of renewable energy

Amount of clean energy bought by companies triples in two years, with Google biggest buyer

A man cleans the photovoltaic solar panels at the Benban Solar Park, the world’s largest solar power plant, in Aswan, Egypt

The world’s biggest tech companies fuelled a record surge in the amount of renewable energy sold directly to global corporations last year, according to new figures.

The amount of clean energy from renewable energy developers bought by companies has tripled in the past two years, driven by a growing corporate appetite for sustainable energy.

Tech giants including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have emerged as the biggest buyers of renewable energy to help power their data centres.

BloombergNEF found that global corporations have purchased enough clean energy in the past 12 years to eclipse the entire energy capacity of countries such as Vietnam or Poland.

Tech firms bought almost a quarter of the renewable energy sold to global companies last year, according to the report.

The largest buyer is Google, which last year revealed plans for the biggest renewable energy deal in corporate history. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, said the clean energy deal would include 18 separate agreements to supply Google with electricity from wind and solar projects across the world.

The search engine’s green energy portfolio will grow by 40%, giving the company access to an extra 1.6 gigawatts of clean electricity – the equivalent capacity of a million solar rooftops, the company said.

BloombergNEF found that 100 companies in 23 countries struck deals to buy 19.5GW of renewable energy last year, up 40% from the record set the year before.

The so-called power purchase agreements (PPAs) are likely to have cost between $20bn and $30bn (£15bn to £23bn), making up about 10% of the world’s total renewable energy investments in 2019.

The market for PPAs has grown rapidly in North America, where most such purchases are made, but a growing number of deals were struck in Europe and Latin America.

Kyle Harrison, the lead author of the report, said: “The clean energy portfolios of some of the largest corporate buyers rival those of the world’s biggest utilities. These companies are facing mounting pressure from investors to decarbonise.”

In 2019 alone, nearly 400 companies committed to set evidence-based climate targets, more than doubling the total number of firms with these goals. Sixty-three companies vowed to buy enough clean energy to meet 100% of their energy demand.

These sustainability commitments are expected to fuel clean energy investments of almost $100bn over the next decade to build 105GW of new solar and wind power plants globally, said BNEF.

Harrison said these sustainability commitments would “ensure that clean energy procurement from corporations continues to thrive” but that support from policymakers and investors would be key to meeting their growing appetite for clean energy.

“The ball is in the court of utilities, policymakers and investors. They will need to meet these buyers in the middle, especially in nascent markets for corporate procurement,” he said.

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