Microsoft hopes to push clean energy grids with a new strategy for purchasing renewable energy. The tech behemoth is now concentrating on making a local impact in the communities in which it operates.
Since 2012, the company has purchased enough renewable energy to power its operations around the world. However, Microsoft does not rely entirely on renewable energy. All of those clean energy purchases may or may not be connected to the same electricity grids that the company is connected to.
Clean energy purchases are not always connected to the same electricity grids that the company is. That could change if Microsoft achieves its new goal. It wants to ensure that its clean energy purchases are feeding into the local grids where it operates by 2030. The move is part of a larger push in technology and environmental advocacy to ensure that big energy guzzlers help phase out dirty fossil fuels wherever they work.
“[In 2012], we were like kids playing with big chunky wooden blocks. “The tools and resources we had were somewhat rudimentary,” says Brian Janous, Microsoft’s general manager of energy. But, as Janous points out, those building blocks are changing. The company has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030, which means it intends to capture and store more CO2 than it emits. The carbon removal technology required to achieve that goal does not yet exist at scale, but Microsoft is investing in its development.
Using less electricity in the first place will be critical to Microsoft’s climate goals. As part of that effort, the company has attempted to make its servers more energy-efficient by submerging them in the ocean and in liquid baths.
When it came to using renewable energy, Microsoft and other companies with climate change goals were limited by the amount of renewable energy electricity grids could provide. Renewable energy still accounts for only about 20% of the electricity mix in the United States. As a result, companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook frequently rely on Renewable Energy Credits to demonstrate that they are diverting funds to renewable projects elsewhere, thereby offsetting some of their greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need zero carbon resources generated every hour of every day.”
Moving forward, that will not be sufficient for Microsoft to meet its new climate target. To obtain enough locally generated renewable energy, the company is beginning to modify its power purchase agreements in order to demand more from its energy suppliers. “What we’re moving toward is a model in which we really work with our providers to say, ‘Look, we have this goal, and we’re making it public.’ “We need zero carbon resources generated every hour of every day,” Janous tells The Verge.
Microsoft is now one of the world’s largest corporate buyers of renewable energy, but it is not alone in emphasizing local impact. In March, Adobe, Google, Hewlett Packard, and several environmental groups wrote to the Biden administration, urging them to support policies that promote “higher-impact electricity procurement.” That is a similar model of sourcing renewable energy from nearby sources 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Google set a goal last year to run entirely on clean electricity by 2030. On a larger scale, President Biden has set a goal of having US electricity grids run entirely on clean energy by 2035.