According to a report published in February 2021 by Lancaster University and Small World Consulting, the Information & Technology (IT) sector directly accounts for 1.8% to 2.8% of global greenhouse gas emission. This is a similar percentage to the aviation industry. The combination of their size and the ambitious climate goals, including the pledge of 100% renewable energy, have turned big tech companies into the biggest corporate buyers of green energy. According to the Financial Times, four of the six largest buyers of green energy are technology companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
The large impact big tech companies have on the market for green energy is illustrated by Amazon’s recent investment in a new European offshore wind farm, located just under 20 kilometres off the coast of the Netherlands. The tech company co-invests in this project together with Shell and Eneco. Part of the investment will also be devoted to research in energy storage technologies, which is an important piece in the puzzle of making the electricity grid 100% renewable.
Currently, companies buy wind and solar energy from the same electricity grid that powers their facilities. However, this does not imply that the energy they purchased is also used for its operations. This means that matching the yearly consumption of energy with the acquisition of renewable energy is different from constantly locally powering every facility with carbon-free electricity, especially since renewable sources provide electricity periodically. Presently, carbon-based energy sources compensate for periods of minimal green energy productions. Adding more renewable energy to the system will not solve this issue; however, storing storage will.
Green hydrogen is a very promising storing technique, yet its development is still in the beginning phase. Therefore, this investment in the wind farm is not the only big step in making Amazon more sustainable, but could, especially if its rivals follow, also be a big step in making the entire electricity 100% renewable.
For more news on sustainability gains in the technology sector, have a look at the Policy Brief report titled Responsible digital transformation - the bridge between digital and circular economy policies on the ATI website. For more information on advanced technologies in Europe, explore the ATI project website.