In an unmistakable sign of the times, Salesforce announced today that it bought 40 megawatts of a new West Virginia wind farm’s output. Somehow I missed their pledge to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or to eventually power 100 percent of global operations with renewable energy. But leave it to them to find new ways to get into the news and to be hyper relevant in the process.
This provides an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects, energy and the environment. It’s worth noting that the farm is still under construction but that it should be operational in about a year. Moreover the agreement calls for Salesforce to purchase 125,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, more than the company will use in 2015.
It’s also worth saying that we don’t have a true national grid for electric power but that most of the power generated will be fed into the grid supporting the majority of Salesforce’s datacenter load. In such a situation it’s possible that some electricity will be sent elsewhere and that Salesforce would receive an equal amount of power from elsewhere. No big deal but if you’re thinking long term, a national grid really needs to be on the agenda.
Also worth noting is that Sonoma Valley is home to a public company (Calpine) that generates power from geothermal vents in the earth’s surface. Most of that power goes to San Francisco to the tune of supporting well over half of the city’s needs. So it turns out San Francisco is a rather green place to begin with.
I think the real news and benefit of today’s announcement is that by signing a 12-year contract Salesforce is providing demand that makes it easier for investors to put up the considerable funds needed to build out such a project. The press release from Salesforce says as much. According to Hervé Touati, a managing director at nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute and head of the Business Renewables Center (BRC), “2015 has proven a record-setting year, with more than 3 gigawatts of wind and solar transactions signed by corporate buyers, compared to 1.2 gigawatts in 2014.”
Nonetheless only 20 corporations have gotten busy in this space according to the release so there’s ample opportunity for others to pioneer in this important effort too. That’s how a cleaner environment and global warming abatement are going to happen and I hope 2016 sees a lot of announcements like this.
Marc Benioff’s Facebook page says that Salesforce.com is a rising leader in the effort to get carbon out of business. I didn’t know there was such a survey or report but I am glad there is.
Getting carbon out of your business processes is hugely important. While most people will view this as an anti-pollution idea and good corporate citizenship — and it is — it has an even more serious driver and consequence. As important as carbon abatement and climate change limitation is, it is secondary to the idea that the planet is running out of fossil fuels like petroleum and coal. Why secondary? Because without the affordable fuel to grow food and bring it to market (just to name one idea) you’ll die in a food riot long before the planet heats up enough to threaten your grandkids existence.
You might like to think that the earth has a limitless supply of fossil fuels but for that to be true the earth itself would need to be limitless. Of course nothing is limitless though some things are so big that they appear to be. In fact, the earth was endowed by about 2.5 trillion barrels of crude oil which we began tapping in earnest in the 1850’s at Titusvill, PA to be precise. Since then we’ve discovered all kinds of uses for petroleum as fuel and as raw material for numerous materials from rubber and plastic to paint and pharmaceuticals.
But we’re running out of the stuff. Estimates from petroleum geologists and others in the industry are that the planet now contains about 910 billion barrels of crude and it’s in harder to reach places of extreme weather or ocean depths. Oil and therefor transportation will never be as cheap again as they are today. Check that, transportation that is not tied to fossil fuel has a chance of being this cheap again but that will require a massive investment in infrastructure and I doubt anyone has the stomach for that — yet.
So that leaves it to the business community to fend for itself. Taking carbon out of your business processes is not simply good environmentalism but smart business. If you can find ways to visit customers over an IP connection or replace the visit with a video you are taking carbon out of that process. That’s where this report fits in and why it’s so important. The tech sector is about to be called on to pull our collective chestnuts out of a big fire and those who lead this process stand to make a lot of money. Google, Cisco and Salesforce are all at the top of this stack and your company ought to be trying too.