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What Will It Take to Power a Business With 100 Percent Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy at The Laurels Farm.  (Image:  Mat Fascione via   geograph/ CC BY-SA 2.0)
Renewable energy at The Laurels Farm. (Image: Mat Fascione via geograph/ CC BY-SA 2.0)

Like any company, HP faces challenges from competitors. However, the company has set a challenge for itself by joining RE100, a public commitment to using renewable energy. HP’s first step — having 40 percent renewable electricity by 2020.

Worldwide, companies and nonprofits are setting deadlines for their conversion to sustainable energy, and HP is a recent addition to the RE100 initiative. The average member of the organization is halfway to the goal, while some have completed the switch. The transformation is increasingly accessible as more options become available.

Getting the picture

Part of reducing a company’s carbon footprint involves cutting back overall energy usage. The business assesses current energy consumption, which leads to less waste and greater efficiency.

As they lower energy needs, businesses look for sources of 100 percent renewable electrical energy. Options include:

  • Biomass: dairy manure, garbage, and other materials from nature
  • Geothermal: uses the earth’s heat for energy
  • Solar: converts solar radiation to energy
  • Water: traditionally, the largest renewable resource in the U.S.
  • Wind: faces the problem of an irregular energy source

How will this energy be generated? Some companies run their energy facilities, either on business sites or at other locations they own. Businesses also contract out to suppliers on the energy market, such as green electrical utility companies.

Cutting back

One of the first steps toward sustainability is assessing current usage. Through this, companies get ideas for modifying practices and making capital improvements. Immediate adjustments could include:

  • Switching off lights at night
  • Upgrading to more efficient lighting
  • Turning off equipment when not in use
  • Installing insulating shades
  • Replacing outdated heating and cooling equipment

Some companies have the ability to conduct their own assessments of energy usage. The federal Energy Star program provides guidelines and strategies for business owners and managers.

Alternately, a professional commercial building energy auditor evaluates all components at a business site, including systems, equipment, and conditions. They then make recommendations for increasing efficiency.

Building green

Many businesses interested in full sustainability make significant modifications to their infrastructure to facilitate change. For instance, installing solar panels on company buildings provides free energy — eventually. The turnaround is usually only a couple years.

The cost of solar panels can be prohibitive for smaller companies. Even larger corporations who have the funds won’t see an investment return for years. An alternative — solar-service providers that offer rent-to-buy programs.

With this option, a provider installs solar panels at a company’s site. While the provider is responsible for maintenance, the customer pays rent and buys discounted electricity.

However, solar power isn’t feasible for everyone. Some businesses look to wind power to meet energy needs. In certain areas, wind turbines can be set up on company property — either on or off-site — to generate clean energy.

To afford these alternative energy options, companies might be able to take advantage of federal grants, loans, and financing programs to help defray the costs of switching to greener pastures.

Buying green

In regions that have green utility companies, businesses can choose to purchase electricity that comes from renewable sources. Price and availability vary across locations.

Another possibility is purchasing renewable energy credits, or RECs. A company that still uses fossil fuels buys RECs, which guarantee the production of an equal amount of sustainable energy. These companies are not reducing their own carbon footprints, but some see RECs as a movement in the right direction.

A third option is a power purchase agreement (PPA). With these, a company locks in a price for renewable energy with a provider. The contract can last for years.

A PPA gets a company involved in sustainability quickly. The agreement provides a consistent price for energy, no matter what happens in the renewable marketplace.

Making improvements

When companies run on 100 percent renewable energy, they’re helping themselves, other energy users, and the environment:

  • Once businesses cut energy consumption and have sustainable sources, their energy costs decrease.
  • Companies receive public relations benefits from their efforts to help the environment.
  • Reliance on the erratic — and finite — fossil fuel market decreases.
  • Producing 1kW/hr of solar energy keeps 300lbs of carbon out of the atmosphere because 150lbs of coal will stay in the ground.
  • Carbon emissions lead to public health concerns.
  • Global warming is accelerated by greenhouse gas emissions, so cutbacks are an environmental necessity.
  • As more and more companies adopt renewable energy, the demand will increase. The green energy market will grow and become more stable, which improves the system for all users.

In the RE100 program, HP has joined the sustainability efforts of companies such as Ikea, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Microsoft, Nike, and Starbucks. As of 2016, about 13 percent of HP’s energy sources were renewable.

HP’s next step toward their big 100 — investing $2 million toward water and energy conservation. Companies that move toward sustainability will have a significant impact on global energy resources. The private sector eats up about 50 percent of the world’s electricity, so the greener, the better.

 

Megan  Megan Ray Nichols enjoys blogging about the environment. If you enjoyed this piece about renewable energy visit her page.

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