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.
Well, the good news, as I survey the neighborhood on the day after is that we survived. Boston had its moments with more than a quarter million homes without power, but it is nothing compared to the reality of New York City and environs. We were relatively lucky on this one.
As I write this I am surveying articles about flooding in lower Manhattan and a curious story in the Wall Street Journal has me thinking. The NYSE was closed yesterday for the storm and today it will be closed again according to the story but curiously, the exchange is denying there has been any damage to the trading floor as in,
We stress that, as of now, there has been no damage to the NYSE Euronext NYC headquarters that would impair trading floor operations,” exchange officials said in a notice to traders.
Perhaps the data centers where all the clearing goes on were not as fortunate? The article goes on to discuss contingency plans. Whatever.
Maybe the exchange has done a bang-up job of contingency planning for just such an event or maybe it was looking forward to the complete melting of the ice caps. Whatever happened, and for whatever reason, the exchange is not operating today. Hurricane Sandy has provided a vivid demonstration to many powerful interests of the greater power of nature and it has reminded us that no one is immune to nature’s fury.
All this comes at a time when Americans are believing more in the assertion of global warming by scientists. A new report published in October by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication had the following findings, published in the LA Times,
— Those who believe global warming is happening are more certain than those who do not. Over half of Americans who believe global warming is happening (57%) say they are “very” (30%) or “extremely sure” (27%).
— For the first time since 2008, more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities. The proportion of Americans who say it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment has declined to 30%.
— A growing number of Americans believe global warming is already harming people both at home and abroad. Four in 10 say people around the world are being harmed right now by climate change, while 36% say global warming is currently harming people in the United States.
Interestingly, the 57% who said they believed in global warming is a rebound number. It was as high as 71% in 2008 just before the financial meltdown.
If there is a silver lining to any of this, and you might need to have a pretty tough exterior to say or believe this, it might be a changed attitude in the ranks of the Masters of the Universe especially the climate change deniers who would have much to say about taking effective action because it costs money.
There are two ways to take such effective action. One is to build a dyke around your property and insulate yourself from the worst effects of another once in a century storm. The other is to take systemic action to cure or at least mitigate the worst effects of climate change for the planet.
Now that Wall Street is closed for another day, just as a precaution you see, perhaps powerful people will take a moment to reflect on their positions.
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.