Tech giant Microsoft signs largest corporate solar agreement in the US

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23 March 2018

NEW YORKMicrosoft has announced the single largest corporate purchase of solar power ever seen in the US, signing an agreement with sPower to add 315 MW of electricity via two solar projects in Virginia.

Microsoft has been powered by 100% renewable electricity since 2014. In 2015, the tech giant joined RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, now bringing together 130 ambitious companies committed to sourcing entirely renewable power.

In 2016, Microsoft set further ambitious targets to source clean electricity for its datacenters directly from local sources of energy; 50% by the end of 2018 and 60% by early 2020.

Raising the company’s total renewable energy portfolio to 1.2GW, the new agreement with sPower puts Microsoft firmly on track to meet these goals, whilst simultaneously supporting the growth of the solar industry in Virginia.

Sam Kimmins, Head of RE100, The Climate Group said: “Huge congratulations to Microsoft on a great achievement. This is powerful leadership from a RE100 pioneer – bringing new solar capacity onto the grid will both benefit their business strategy and accelerate a market shift to renewables.

He added, “This project is a clear illustration of how supportive policy environments enable corporate renewable electricity off-takers to invest at scale, driving competitiveness and speeding up the transition to a zero emissions economy.”

Harnessing the power of the sun

When fully operational, the Pleinmont I and II projects will consist of more than 750,000 solar panels spread across more than 2,000 acres, producing approximately 715,00 MWh per year. They are part of a larger 500 MW solar project, the biggest solar development in Virginia.

On signing the agreement, Brad Smith, President, Microsoft, said: “This project means more than just gigawatts, because our commitment is broader than transforming our own operations; it’s also about helping others access more renewable energy.”

As costs of wind and solar power fall rapidly and approach grid parity, businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of investing in renewable electricity to source both their own energy needs and facilitate more clean power coming onto the grid.

A recent RE100 Progress and Insights Report reveals the rise of corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) as a method for such procurement, with the use of PPAs increasing fourfold amongst RE100 members in one year.

Governments and businesses working together

Recent research for the RE100 initiative shows the greatest increase in PPAs is seen in regions where legislative frameworks are most favorable, notably the US, Mexico, the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.

With Virginia being a signatory of the Under2 Coalition, a global network of sub-national governments committed to climate action for which The Climate Group acts as Secretariat, the state has expanded significant efforts to cut emissions and drive clean energy investment. Working with Microsoft to facilitate new solar capacity entering onto the grid is part of this process.

“When companies like Microsoft invest in Virginia solar, they opt for clean and reliable energy as well as new jobs in the energy economy we are working hard to build”, said Governor Ralph Northam.

“I am proud that Microsoft is expanding its commitment to solar energy in Virginia, and I look forward to building upon this victory for clean energy and the jobs that come with it.”

by Katrine Tilgaard Petersen

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