arms race
Image credit: Samson on Unsplash

According to at least one Google top executive, the new colosseum for major corporates is renewable energy.

Cheaper wind and solar, two major contributors to corporate carbon reduction, are fuelling a “clean energy arms race” to secure renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs), said top Google executive Fabien Vieau, EMEA principal for data centre energy and location strategy.

“A decade ago renewable energy procurement was confined to a few tech companies,” Vieau told the RE-Source industry conference in Amsterdam. “Now people recognise the business case.

“What’s happening these days, it’s a competition, it’s a clean energy arms race. Who’s going to purchase the biggest amount of renewable energy. This is good for business, it’s good for the planet so we should enjoy this.”

Vieau made the statement less than a month after CEO Sundar Pichai announced the purchase on the company’s blog, calling the 1.6GW procurement the “biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in history” marking an important milestone in fulfilling the tech giant’s ambition to have 24/7 clean energy supplies to its data centres.

The purchase portfolio included agreements with solar, wind, and hybrid projects, with Vieau noting that combinations of the two technologies and the inclusion of storage are set to become common as the clean energy market develops.

For a developers perspective, Thierry Kalfon, managing director of the global renewables division of French energy giant Engie, named corporate renewable PPAs as an “unstoppable” force in the energy sector.

Of the 9GW of new renewable energy Engie plans to build between 2018 and 2021, 4-5GW will operate under corporate PPAs, said Kalfon. Engie recently signed PPAs with both Google and Microsoft.

“We are contributing to…this arms race,” he added.

Colin Spain, EMEA renewables lead at Facebook, which has also made a significant investment in renewables, said corporations can offer a degree of flexibility not possible in government-led processes.

“We see government auctions in Europe now that are two years from high-level design to detailed design. If you’d gone with a corporate PPA the asset would have been built at that stage,” said Spain.

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According to organisers, corporate PPA’s will play a vital role in helping the EU achieve its targeted carbon reductions, and a 32% renewable energy share by 2030, and whilst the region is trailing in the wake of corporate purchase successes in the US, the 7.5GW of PPAs signed over the last five years and 1.6GW so far in 2019 in Europe are still noteworthy.