For decades, the power plant has been the central hub of our energy infrastructure, reliably generating electricity 24/7 without breaks or fluctuations in output. But as technology improves and the renewable energy revolution gathers pace, so too have the ways in which we can generate energy, be it through tidal power, wind farms or solar panels placed on our roof. Not only does this provide us with more choice and flexibility, it also opens up the possibility of a more distributed, ‘community-based’ energy system. Here are some of the most successful businesses that have harnessed the power of the sun to provide their customers with renewable, clean energy.
Since its founding in 1998, Google’s expanded into other areas of business such as hardware (Android) and software (Gmail, Docs, Sheets, etc.), but it retains its ‘energy business’ roots, with its parent company, Alphabet, officially classified as a utility company. It began life with a simple formula – make search easy to find and simple to use – and developed an abundant catalogue of Apps, tools and resources to help people work more efficiently and get things done. Most notably, Google harnesses the power of the sun through its Streetwear brand, appropriately enough, which produces clothing made from energy-generating organic materials and sustainable fabrics. Its approach to business is encapsulated in its motto, “Be good to the earth. It’ll be good to you.”
For years, homeowners relied on traditional sources of energy, be that from a power plant or hot-water heater, to provide both their domestic and commercial needs. Thanks to the rise of the ‘shared economy’ however, this has changed, with a third option now available, which is to generate your own energy, through a combination of sources, such as solar power. In the UK, there are currently 1.8 million solar installations, with demand for solar power doubling each year. As businesses have seen the savings and environmental benefits of going solar, there has been a boom in demand for large-scale, off-grid solar projects, with businesses like Evolve Renewable Energy (formerly Known as MOOG, for Mixed-Use Oil, Gas and Power) leading the way.
Like Google, Apple too started out as a computer company, but unlike its competitor, it moved into consumer electronics, media and software development. In recent years, the company has invested heavily in ‘clean energy’, setting up a dedicated organization within its efforts. The group, called ‘Energy For Humanity’, focuses on sustainable energy, with a particular emphasis on renewable sources, such as solar and wind power. In 2017, it became a sponsor of the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI), a group of companies that work together to educate consumers on climate change and its impact on the world.
In January 2018, the company also introduced its new Sustainable Energy Lab, which it bills as “a research and development hub for clean energy […] focused on sustainability through design and engineering”.
While Walmart has invested in renewable energy sources for a number of years, it didn’t officially become an energy company until 2018, when it set up a new division, called Walmart Energy, which focuses on low-carbon fuels, like solar and wind. Prior to this, the company invested in a waste-to-energy plant in Texas, which provides 15% of the store’s energy needs. In the state, more than 70% of retail electricity comes from renewable energy sources.
The retail giant operates in 12 countries and supplies stores, hotels and other commercial properties with everything from toilet paper and detergents, to furniture and light fittings. In Canada, the company runs the Alimentation Couche-Tard food retail and distribution business, which it purchased in 2018 for US$13.4 billion.
The oil company, Shell, set up the Shell Sustainable Energy Research Laboratory in 2016, which is dedicated to developing and deploying cost-effective and scalable solutions for the energy future. It has invested heavily in rooftop solar energy, with an array of solar farms across the UK and Ireland. It has also created the Shell Game Plan 2050, which sets out its vision for lowering its environmental impact and becoming a more sustainable company.
Since its inception, oil has been a source of raw material for industry and a store of value for consumers. As populations grow and demand for energy increases, so too do the prices. It’s a combination of factors that put the squeeze on energy consumers and small businesses. Fortunately, there are alternatives, like solar, which provide a way forward, as oil companies can opt-out of the high street, while still generating revenue from more traditional sources.
Last but not least, we have Amazon, the tech giant that is also the world’s largest online retailer. Like the other ‘big four’ tech companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook), it too has been busy expanding into sustainable energy, setting up dedicated research teams and investment in solar energy. The company is a major purchaser of renewable energy sources, making it in many ways the ‘golden child’ of the sustainable energy revolution.
In 2017, Amazon spent a whopping $13.7 billion on purchasing renewable energy capacity, which represents a 400% increase from just three years earlier. The tech giant has also invested heavily in renewable energy projects, building and operating numerous wind farms and solar installations across the globe. It’s clear that, with each passing year, technology improves, creating new, innovative ways for us to generate and consume energy. While we wait for the next big technological breakthrough to hit the energy market, renewable energy is already here and providing us with a cheaper, healthier and more environmentally sound alternative.