Until recently, investors have looked askance at “corporate sustainability” efforts, viewing them as more public relations than investment, and environmental advocates sometimes seeing them as less than sincere (“greenwashing”). But more and more, corporate investment in advanced energy is going straight to the bottom line. Case in point: the deal announced this week between two AEE members – Verizon and SunPower.
Verizon announced that it would invest $40 million in solar projects at its facilities in five states. This comes on top of $140 million spent on renewable energy over the past two years. The wireless giant will soon have more than 25 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity across all its facilities, making the company an advanced energy leader among telecom companies. SunPower will design, manufacture, and install the new projects.
Verizon’s investment is all about providing facilities with reliable savings that can be passed on to consumers, according to James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer. “It’s not just about going green. It’s about driving shareholder value; it’s about building redundancy.” Advanced energy, he said, is “good for all.”
UBS, the world’s largest private bank, agrees. The bank sent out a briefing paper to clients and investors this week, predicting that the future of energy lies in advanced energy technologies. By 2025, the bank says, solar energy, combined with electric vehicles and battery storage, will lead to a shift in the global energy market away from central power plants. Worldwide, “solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology […] Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then, a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car.”
The race for energy storage is certainly on. The energy storage market is wide open, and features a number of companies with advanced battery technology in different forms, from Tesla Motors, to SunPower, to Lockheed Martin, which just acquired flow-battery start-up Sun Catalytix. “If I could boost this nation’s electricity production by 40 percent without having to build one power plant, that means the unit cost of electricity is going to fall and the amount of pollution is going to fall. Who’s not going to cheer about that?” said Donald Sadoway, inventor of the liquid-metal battery being commercialized by AEE member company Ambri.
The global economy has experienced a shift like that before, one with which companies like Verizon are intimately familiar. Check out our feature “Toward a New Power Platform: Lessons from Telecom,” written by Reed Hundt, former head of the Federal Communications Commission.