American Wind Week: Creating a sustainable future with renewable energy

 |   Brian Janous – General Manager of Energy & Sustainability, Microsoft

We started our renewable energy journey in earnest with our first power purchase agreement in 2013 – Keechi wind farm, a 110 MW project in a quiet, rural county west of Dallas. Already wind energy was a growing force in Texas, with 12,000 MW online in 2013.

In the past five years, Texas has nearly doubled that generation, growing to 22,000MW of wind generation capacity, fueled in no small part by corporate demand from companies like Microsoft. We, too, have grown – from 110 MW in 2013, we now have a global portfolio of more than 1.2 gigawatts of renewable energy, and more than half of that is from wind.

This American Wind Week, we are celebrating the progress that’s been made across the nation in the past several years. This is a win-win-win story, as new wind projects generate clean power and new jobs and economic growth in communities from coast to coast, and every state in between, all while lowering the carbon footprint of the U.S. But there’s still much to be done. While some forecasts indicate that renewable energy could power 80% of the U.S. by 2050, as of today only 17% of the U.S.’s energy needs are currently met by renewables.

How do we close the gap between potential and production? This is a question we’ve been increasingly focused on as our portfolio has grown. Microsoft is a large energy consumer, a result of our growing cloud business and the increasingly digitized, connected world that relies on it. As a result, we’ve set corporate commitments to grow the percentage of renewable energy powering those operations. We’re well on our way to reaching our 60 percent target ahead of the 2020 goal.

This progress is important – but insufficient. Even as we and other large technology companies march towards 100 percent targets, our energy loads are still only less than one percent of total energy consumption in the world.

That means we need to do more than just buy renewable energy to get from potential to production. That is why our goal is larger than transforming our operations. We’re focused on how we can help transform energy markets and green the grids. That means where we buy matters. Our first deal was in Texas, a booming wind market. Since then, we’ve expanded both wind and solar purchases into less likely markets, like Ireland and Virginia. We have operations there, which gives us a seat at the table and a stake in the future greening of the market. It also means how we buy matters. We’ve created new deal structures that lower risk and/or lower costs for others to participate in the market. Finally, it means that we care deeply about energy transformation beyond procurement. We use our R&D, technology and operations to test new solutions, like integrated energy storage batteries in wind turbines, grid-integrated batteries and software and AI-enabled autonomous grids for utilities serving more renewable loads.

This regionalized strategy, focused on opening access to markets and enabling a transformation of grids, is where the future lies, for our business, sustainability and the economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine technicians and solar panel installers are the nation’s two fastest growing jobs in 2017. There are over 105,000 Americans working in wind power, and as wind becomes a more ubiquitous source of power it is expected to grow past its current bench marker of supplying over 6% of the U.S.’s electricity. The clean air benefits and the industry jobs make wind power an $8 billion dollar industry, and it has nowhere to go but up from here. Since 2009, there has been a 65% reduction in the cost of wind power, giving businesses added financial incentive to invest in wind power and setting the industry up to continue to grow.

We’re excited about the future of wind in the U.S. and around the globe. Learn more about our five-year journey in Illinois, Kansas, Wyoming, Ireland and the Netherlands, and stay tuned for updates on where the wind is blowing us next here at the Green Blog.