America’s Top Companies Are Using Solar and Storage to Meet Their Climate Goals
Thursday, Dec 01 2022
A commercial solar project for Duke Realty in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Solar Landscape.
A sea change is taking place in the world of corporate sustainability. Customers expect more from their favorite companies, companies expect more from their suppliers, and corporate rivals are competing not only on the products they offer but on the boldness of their environmental goals.
The Solar Means Business 2022 report, released on Nov. 29, by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), identifies the companies leading on solar and energy storage adoption in the United States. The report provides a window into how America’s businesses, large and small, are tackling their clean energy goals in 2022.
Let’s break down this year’s top trends.
The Goals Are Bigger…
The bar is rising for corporate climate goals. Eighteen of the top 25 companies ranked in this year’s report are pursuing 100% renewable energy or carbon neutral goals. Some of the leading companies are already achieving their targets. For example, this year’s top solar adopter Meta has powered its global operations with 100% renewable energy since 2020 and is now working toward a net zero emission value chain by 2030.
The shift toward bigger and bolder climate goals largely occurred in just the past few years. Several factors are driving this trend. One, both customers and employees of companies are demanding more. When making a decision on whether to buy a product, 75% of U.S. adults care about a company’s impact on the environment, and nearly 70% of employees say they are more likely to accept a job with an organization they see as more environmentally sustainable.
Additionally, the economics for renewables are rapidly improving, with solar prices declining 53% over the past 10 years. Solar and storage solutions help companies cut their carbon emissions and boost their bottom line.
… And Companies Are Going Bigger to Meet Them
The scale of solar adoption found in this year’s report is astronomically larger than in the 2020 edition. Meta dramatically increased its installed solar capacity from 177 megawatts (MW) in early 2019 to 3.6 GW today and now has the largest corporate solar portfolio in the United States. In 2019, Microsoft’s solar capacity could power about 8,500 homes per year. Now it has enough installed solar capacity to power more than 64,000 households, a 665% increase.
Overall, nearly 19 gigawatts of U.S. commercial solar has been installed through June 2022, which is equivalent to nearly 14% of all solar capacity in the United States. More than half of that capacity was installed in just the past two years.
Climate advocates today are increasingly scrutinizing “greenwashing,” which is when organizations say all the right things on sustainability without the actions to back it up. While there’s always more work to do, the leading companies in this report are putting big numbers behind their commitments, with more than 20 million metric tons of carbon offset by commercial solar projects.
Off-Site Installations Surge
A few years ago, the term “commercial solar” conjured up images of solar panels on warehouses and big box store roofs. While that’s still a significant part of the industry, off-site commercial solar arrays now account for 55% of all commercial solar use. More than 70% of that off-site capacity was brought online in the past two and a half years.
Tech companies are climbing the ranks, constituting four out of the top five corporate solar adopters in this year’s report. With massive data centers to power, these companies are looking to procure large amounts of solar, utilizing both on-site and increasingly off-site solar PV systems to provide their energy needs.
Building off-site solar projects has enabled companies to build at unprecedented scales. While large-scale solar in the United States used to be strictly reserved for utilities, in 2021, nearly a quarter of all solar projects over 1 megawatt feature one or more commercial buyers.
Storage is a Growing Part of the Equation
In California, the percentage of newly installed on-site commercial systems paired with storage has increased from 0.5% in 2015 to nearly 4% through the first half of 2022.
The role of energy storage in meeting corporate climate goals will only continue to grow. For companies to power their facilities with 100% renewable energy around the clock, they will need to include storage along with their solar and wind facilities.
This is especially true for companies like Google that have 24/7 clean energy goals, which means that facilities are powered by renewables 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By contrast, 100% renewable targets are defined by a company’s average annual use of renewable energy. Google is planning to create one of the largest corporate solar and storage facilities at a data center outside of Las Vegas as part of its 24/7 clean energy efforts.
The Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA’s) inclusion of a standalone energy storage credit will likely help more companies to develop energy storage projects in the coming years.
We’re Just Getting Started
As companies aim higher on their sustainability goals and look to build a carbon-free energy future, they’re increasingly turning to solar and storage to meet their needs. SEIA anticipates that commercial solar installations will double again over the next three years and be further buffeted by the IRA.
With 27 GW of corporate solar under development or construction, projects with commercial offtakers now represent one-third of the total contracted solar pipeline.
One thing that’s certain: corporate solar adoption won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Here are the sustainability targets and goals for the top 25 commercial solar users as of November 29, 2022:
- Meta: Achieve net zero emissions across its value chain by 2030 (announced 2021). Achieved 100% renewables in 2020.
- Amazon: Achieve 100% power operations with renewables by 2025 (announced April 2022).
- Apple: Achieve 100% carbon neutral for supply chain and products by 2030 (announced July 2020). 100% clean energy achieved in 2018.
- Walmart: Power facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2035. Achieve net-zero emissions across global operations by 2040 (announced Sept. 2020).
- Microsoft: Achieve carbon negative by 2030. Achieve 100% renewable energy for operations by 2025 (announced Jan 2020).
- Target: Achieve 100% renewable energy for operations by 2030 (announced 2019). Reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50% by 2030.
- Cargill: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in operations by 10% by 2025, and reduce emissions from extended supply chain by 30% per ton of product by 2030.
- Kaiser Permanente: Become "carbon net positive" and reduce water usage by 25% per square foot of buildings, by 2025. Achieved 100% carbon neutral in 2020.
- Anheuser-Busch: Achieve 100% renewable electricity and reduce CO2 emissions by 25% across value chain by 2025. Achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
- Evraz North America: Reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and utilize 75% of methane emitted in the process of degassing carried out during coal mining by 2030.
- Digital Realty: Reduce Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 68% per square foot, and reduce Scope 3 emissions by 24% per square foot by 2030.
- Switch: Reduce total waste by 30% by 2030. Achieved net-zero Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions in 2021.
- Prologis: Achieve 100% carbon neutral construction, install 1 GW of solar to buildings, and reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gases by 21% by 2025.
- Starbucks: Reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by half by 2030.
- Google: Achieve net-zero emissions across operations and value chain by 2030.
- Allianz: Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
- Intel: Achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2040 and 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
- Home Depot: Achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030.
- Fifth Third Bank: Achieve a 10-year, $100 billion environmental and social finance target through 2030.
- T-Mobile: Achieved 100% renewable electricity by 2021, and reduced scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 2021.
- Davita: Reduce carbon emission by 50% and achieve 100% renewable energy by 2025.
- Lineage Logistics: Achieve carbon net zero by 2040.
- L3Harris Technologies: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, reduce water use by 20%, and achieve 75% solid waste diversion by 2030.
- Solvay: Reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 30% by 2030, and achieve carbon neutral by 2050.
- Corning: Reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2028, and reduce relevant Scope 3 emissions by 17.5% by 2028.