Why clean innovation makes business sense

Microsoft clean innovation panel

Left to right: Bob Perciasepe, President, C2ES; Seth Roberts, Global Director, Energy & Climate Change, The Dow Chemical Company; Michelle Patron, Director, Sustainability Policy, Microsoft; Peter Fuller, Vice President, Market & Regulatory Policy, NRG Energy; Paul Steffes, CEO and President, Steffes Corporation. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Companies have discovered that finding innovative ways to procure, generate, and store energy not only helps them meet their emissions goals, but also reduces energy costs.

That’s why the private sector is leading the charge to invest in clean technology as companies seek to engage suppliers through supply chains, increase competitiveness, gain access to new markets, and diversify to prepare for long-term decarbonization.

Reducing energy use at data centers has become a priority for Microsoft, as the company continues to expand its operations. Michelle Patron, Microsoft’s director of sustainability policy recently told an event co-sponsored with C2ES that the company considers this both a responsibility and opportunity.

Microsoft is using cloud computing and advanced analytics to meet its goal of procuring 50 percent of its data center energy from solar, wind, and hydropower by 2018, and 60 percent by the early 2020s. By using sensors to accurately collect and process real-time energy use data, Microsoft has reduced energy consumption by 15 percent in 125 buildings across its 88-acre Redmond, Washington, campus. The advanced data collection has also saved the company $10 million a year on energy.

Microsoft is also showing leadership in the drive to obtain more energy from renewable sources. A recent agreement with Seattle-area utility Puget Sound Energy (PSE) allows Microsoft to directly procure renewable energy in the region, rather than buying energy from PSE, which generates most of its power from fossil fuels. In return, Microsoft has committed to buying more renewable energy than required under Washington state’s current renewable portfolio standard. To make the deal beneficial for all ratepayers, Microsoft paid a $24 million transition fee that will be distributed back to PSE customers. The company will also continue to make payments to PSE’s energy efficiency and low-income assistance programs.

The Dow Chemical Company is also a leader in procuring renewable energy. Seth Roberts, the company’s global director for energy and climate change, told the gathering that the company has committed to supplying its Texas facilities with 350 MW of wind energy—equivalent to the electricity needed to power nearly 50,000 homes. Roberts pointed out that this would have not been possible a decade ago, when renewable energy prices were not competitive with fossil-fuels and natural gas in Texas.

On the production side, Roberts said the company is making insulation that goes into lighter, fuel-efficient cars. It’s also providing reverse osmosis technologies for water purification that use 30 percent less energy than other filtration technologies.

Peter Fuller, NRG Energy’s vice president of market and regulatory policy, said his company is making a significant investment in carbon capture, use and storage at the 240 MW Petra Nova project near Houston. As the world’s largest carbon capture project at an existing power plant, the facility captures more than 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and sequesters 1.6 million tons of CO2 annually.

Fuller said NRG is on track to meet its science-based goals of 50 percent reduction of absolute emissions from 2014 levels by 2030, and 90 percent reduction by 2050. The company had already reduced its emissions 36 percent by 2016.

Steffes Corporation, a North Dakota based manufacturer of residential and commercial electric thermal storage equipment, serves more than 200 electric utilities across the United States and Canada. “Thermal energy storage is an extremely efficient and cost-effective way of storing energy and managing the grid of the future,” said CEO and president Paul Steffes.

The company’s devices include ceramic storage units that can store 15 to 500 kilowatts of energy. Steffes uses tools such as Microsoft Azure to process big data in real time for more predictable energy regulation and greater integration of renewables, saving consumers money, reducing emissions, and contributing to a cleaner grid.

While climate change is one of the most pressing global problems, these companies have demonstrated that it also presents to them an opportunity to be a part of the solution by investing in clean technology that is good for business as well.

Video: Why Clean Innovation Makes Business Sense
July 19, 2017 at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center