Cloud Titans Were the Largest Buyers of Renewable Energy in 2021

Feb. 11, 2022
The top cloud computing companies accelerated their purchases of renewable energy last year accounting for more than half of all corporate clean energy power purchase agreements in 2021. The data confirms that data center operators are stepping up their sustainability efforts.

Hyperscale computing companies accelerated their purchases of renewable energy in 2021, accounting for more than half of clean energy power purchases, according to new data from BloombergNEF. Amazon, Microsoft, Meta were the three largest buyers of solar and wind power, outdistancing all other corporate buyers.

Cloud computing has emerged as a surprising force for the commercialization of renewable energy at Internet scale. This usually happens through utility-scale power purchase agreements (PPAs), with hyperscale operators buying the output of generators of solar and wind power, bringing new renewable energy onto the grids supporting their data centers.

The 2021 data affirms a trend we highlighted at DCF last year: As the world confronts the growing urgency of the climate crisis, top cloud computing companies are stepping up their sustainability efforts. Although data center builders are already the largest adopters of green energy, the recent storms and heat waves are prompting a renewed sense of purpose on climate. That’s now reflected in the numbers.

“The clean energy portfolios of big tech companies now rival those of the world’s biggest utilities,” said Helen Dewhurst, Senior Associate at BNEF. “Big tech faces mounting pressure from investors to decarbonize and this is reflected in the steep increase in clean energy volumes purchased. The PPAs inked in previous years pale in comparison to the portfolios announced in 2021.”

  • Amazon was the biggest buyer globally, purchasing a total of 6.2 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy through 44 offsite PPAs in nine countries. This was the second strzight year that Amazon has been the largest corporate clean energy purchasers, and brings its total clean energy PPA capacity to 13.9GW. The company now has 274 renewable energy projects around the globe, including 169 on-site solar power systems.
  • Microsoft was the next largest among corporations, at 6.15 GW of solar and wind power purchased. Microsoft’s commitments include a new long-term energy agreement with energy company AES, enabling the tech giant to power its data centers located in Virginia with round-the-clock renewable energy.
  • Meta/Facebook was next 2.2 GW of renewables, focused primarily on solar energy to bring its total to more than 8 GWs of solar and wind purchased through PPAs, according to BloombergNEF.
  • Google was the sixth-largest buyer with 638 megawatts of power purchase agreements. Google previously held the corporate clean energy crown, but BloombergNEF noted that Google has “turned its attention more to sourcing 24/7 carbon-free power through methods outside of PPAs.”  That includes moving IT workloads between its data centers to boost its use of renewable energy, shifting the data processing for YouTube videos to locations where green power is plentiful- an approach that creates powerful new opportunities to build climate-aware cloud applications.

Here’s a BloombergNEF chart of the clean energy leaders for 2021.

Corporations Boost Renewable Buying

On the broader landscape, corporations bought a record 31.1 gigawatts of clean energy through PPAs, in 2021, up nearly 24% from the previous year’s record of 25.1GW according to BloombergNEF. Total signed volumes were equivalent to more than 10% of all the renewable energy capacity added globally last year, showing the impact corporate sustainability pledges are having on clean energy build.

“It is no longer a matter of whether corporate clean energy procurement will grow each year, it’s a matter of how much,” said Kyle Harrison, Head of Sustainability Research at BNEF. “More corporations are making new sustainability commitments, costs for renewables are plummeting and regulators around the world are slowly coming around to the fact that clean energy might be a silver bullet in the decarbonization of the private sector.”

Corporate sustainability commitments are a driving force behind the record-breaking clean energy purchases. Some 67 companies set an RE100 target in 2021, pledging to offset 100% of their electricity demand with clean energy, bringing the campaign to 355 members across 25 countries. These companies collectively consume 363TWh of electricity annually based on their latest filings – exceeding the U.K.’s entire power generation for the same year.

About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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