The 2015 Paris Climate Conference COP 21 opened on Monday in Paris and will see delegates from 190 countries work to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. Sustainability will be one of the keywords of this big event. Renewable energies such as solar power and energy efficient technology including LED lighting are among the most important solutions to global warming.
Unfortunately, until now, when talking about business, the environment is never the first concern. But when sustainability becomes a help more than a must, delivering not just more sustainable energy but also financial benefits, both business and the environment can benefit. Finally, some of the world’s biggest brands and promising startups have understood this point.
US tech giant Apple recently invested US$848 million in a solar photovoltaic plant in Monterey County, in order to power almost all of its offices and retail stores in the state of California. The project will result in significant energy cost savings for the company. As CEO Tim Cook told investors: "We are doing this because it's right to do it, but you may also be interested to know that it's good financially, because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy which would last over 25 years, and there's quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy.”
In June this year, Amazon announced an 80MW, US$150 million solar project in Virginia. The solar farm will be the largest solar installation in Virginia and will be used to power the data centers of the company in the state. The project is in line with Amazon’s goal of using 40% renewable energy sources by the end of 2016 and 100% in the long term. The company announced that the electricity produced by the farm will light up the equivalent of 15,000 US homes each year. One of the reasons behind this investment is a decline in costs in the renewables sector (from about US$0.15 per kWh a decade ago to about US$0.05 today).
It’s not only solar that can benefit businesses. Catching up with the same trend of moving towards sustainability, Walmart has announced a global transition to LED lighting this year, with the purpose of lighting up its stores all over the world. This project reflects the company’s goal to reduce the power it uses per square foot of floor space by 20% before the year 2020. According to Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart: "LEDs have become an integral part of our energy-efficiency model for our stores and play a key role in achieving our overall sustainability goals. Just as important, the energy cost savings coming from these innovations will help us maintain the low prices our customers depend on us to provide."
This combination of sustainable energy solutions and business does not belong to only big brands. In London lies an ambitious startup company called Powervault which specializes in storage batteries that collect power generated by residential solar panels and discharges it around the home when needed. The 150kg battery unit is about the size of a washing machine, and stores 2-4 kWh, which is enough energy to power a television for between 14-28 hours. Savings from the device are said to be an estimated 15% off a consumer’s electricity bills.
Emerging markets are a part of this movement as well. One interesting example is Vortex Engineering, an Indian startup that provides automated teller machines (ATMs) and associated services for banks. For its products, the company has chosen solar power. The ATMs use the same amount of energy as a conventional light bulb, and can operate without air conditioning up to a temperature of 50°C. They emit at least 18,500 kg fewer CO2 emissions each year, when compared to conventional ATMs. On this initiative, Kannan Lakshminarayan, co-founder and chief technology officer at Vortex Engineering, stated: “Our ATM is a customized solution to rural India’s unique problems where power is scarce, accessibility is poor, crisp notes are rare and the language and dialects vary.”
As awareness of the issue grows, more examples are being added to this list. Some of the largest companies in the US, including Walmart, Coca-Cola and Google, have signed up to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing to reduce their carbon footprints. Although many of the commitments under the pledge were not new, the White House stated that the news showed the private sector to be “committed to stepping up and doing its part in taking on this global challenge”.
Meanwhile, on the opening day of the climate change summit in Paris, world business leaders including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and other high-profile entrepreneurs pledged to spark a “new economic revolution” based around clean energy after launching a new investment drive for renewables. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, made up of more than 25 investors from 10 countries will mainly invest in early-stage clean energy companies across a range of sectors. The business world is finally taking sustainable energy solutions seriously.