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Renewable Electricity Use by the U.S. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industry

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From the Executive Summary: 

This paper seeks to fill those gaps by examining trends in renewable electricity use by the ICT industry. Our analysis examines renewable electricity use by 113 ICT companies in the United States using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Green Power Partnership and the Carbon Disclosure Project Worldwide (CDP). The 113 ICT companies examined collectively consumed more than 59 million MWh of electricity in 2014, which represents 1.5% of the total U.S. electricity consumption. Of the 59 million MWh, 14% (8.3 million MWh) was sourced from voluntary renewable electricity. Companies are using a mix of power purchase agreements (PPAs), on-site generation, utility green power products, and renewable energy certificates (RECs). The potential demand for renewable electricity by the ICT sector could grow substantially as financial and social incentives encourage a larger share of ICT companies to purchase renewable electricity and prompt companies already purchasing to increase their commitments.

The potential for expanded renewable deployment will be driven by a combination of 1) underlying electricity growth rates by ICT companies, and 2) the extent to which ICT companies currently not procuring renewables begin to take action, especially companies without a customer-facing business (e.g. co-location providers).

By 2020, the group of 113 companies in our sample could procure 18.5 million MWh to more than 37 million MWh of renewable electricity, representing 31% and 48% renewable electricity use on an industry average basis, respectively, depending on the increase in renewable percentages and underlying growth in electricity consumption. Our High Case scenario represents electricity growth rates of 4% annually with potential average renewable procurement of 48%. Our Low Case represents flat electricity growth with potential average vi This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications. renewable procurement of 31%.1 Companies outside of our scope of 113 reporting companies may also begin purchasing renewables, which would contribute to larger renewable use by the ICT sector.

As more and more ICT companies publicly report their environmental and energy performance metrics and goals, a greater understanding of the industry’s overall impact on U.S. and global electricity consumption is being revealed. Given the scale of electricity use by ICT companies, renewable electricity procurement across all levels of the industry could be a significant market driver for renewable development in the United States.

This paper is intended to aggregate existing ICT industry data and research to provide an initial look at electricity use, current and future renewable electricity acquisition, as well as serve as a benchmark for future growth and trends in ICT industry renewable electricity consumption.