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Apple is now completely powered by renewable energy. Err... really?!?!

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Technology giant Apple has announced that it is now completely run on renewable energy following a major ‘environmental push’ across its business.

Apple claims that every part of its global operations (across 43 different countries), from shops, offices to data centres are now powered exclusively by clean energy sources. In addition, Apple is encouraging its suppliers to do the same thing, with 23 manufacturing partners committing themselves to becoming 100% renewable powered.
Apple claims that every part of its global operations across 43 different countries are now powered exclusively by clean energy sources.
(Image via Apple).

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, has been driving the ‘greening’ of the company since beginning his tenure at the helm of the business in 2011, saying:

“We’re committed to leaving the world better than we found it. After years of hard work, we’re proud to have reached this significant milestone. We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”
Apple is also currently supporting 25 operational renewable energy projects across the globe.
(Image via Apple).

Apple is currently supporting the development of renewable energy projects across the globe. A statement on their website says that ‘Apple create or develops, with utilities, new regional renewable energy projects that would not otherwise exist. These projects represent a diverse range of energy sources, including solar arrays and wind farms as well as emerging technologies like biogas fuel cells, micro-hydro generation systems and energy storage technologies.’

At present the company is supporting 25 operational renewable energy projects around the world, totalling 626 megawatts of generation capacity, with 286 megawatts of solar PV generation coming online in 2017, its most ever in one year. It also has 15 more projects in construction. Once built, over 1.4 gigawatts of clean renewable energy generation will be spread across 11 countries.
Apple also makes the claim that ‘since 2014, all of (its) data centres have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy. And since 2011, all of Apple’s renewable energy projects have reduced greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by 54 percent from its facilities worldwide and prevented nearly 2.1 million metric tons of CO2e from entering the atmosphere.’

Such efforts are to be welcomed, particularly in a world in which governments are striving to reduce emissions and ensure clean environments. But how credible are companies’ claims to be running on 100% renewable energy?
How credible are companies' claims to be running on 100% renewable energy?
(Image via Apple).

Can companies really be 100% powered by renewable energy?

The truth is that the ‘100% powered by renewable energy’ claim relies on a sleight of hand. Why? Because companies that make this claim remain connected to the main electricity grid. 

By being connected to the grid, they are making use of energy that is predominantly generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power (data from the US Energy Information Administration indicates that as much as 85% of the energy on the electricity grid comes from these sources).

Yes, some of the energy in the electricity grid does come from renewable sources however it remains a very small percentage. In 2016, about 1% of US electricity generation was from solar energy (source EIA). For wind power this number creeps up to 6% (source EIA).

Even if the amount of renewable energy being fed into the grid were to drastically increase it would still be impossible to claim that you are 100% renewable powered. The reason being that once electric power is on the grid, there is no distinction between power that is renewable and power that is from conventional sources. As a result, it is impossible to select ‘what kind’ of energy that you draw from the grid. When you are connected to the grid, you are using electricity from a mix of hundreds of power plants using different generation technologies- both renewable and conventional.

Companies such as Apple get around this problem by purchasing what is known as Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which are a tradable commodity that guarantee the cleanliness of an energy source. In this sense, Apple is purchasing clean energy. But is it 100% powered by renewables?
When a company is connected to an electricity grid it cannot choose 'what kind' of energy it wishes to receive- be it renewable or conventional.
(Image via Apple).

So, why not make the grid reliant on 100% renewable energy sources?

If we cannot discern between renewable and conventionally sourced power once it’s on the grid, clean energy advocates may suggest simply making the grid 100% reliant on renewable energy sources. But is this actually possible? Or desirable?

The prospect of converting to entirely renewable energy sources may initially seem desirable from an environmental perspective. Dig into the details as to what this would entail, and it quickly becomes a less than attractive proposition. Matt Ridley, a leading energy commentator, detailed the technological (and practical) pitfalls of renewable energy in a piece for The Wall Street Journal:

“The two fundamental problems that renewables face are that they take up too much space and produce too little energy… To run the U.S. economy entirely on wind would require a wind farm the size of Texas, California and New Mexico combined- backed up by gas on windless days. To power it on wood would require a forest covering two-thirds of the U.S., heavily and continually harvested.”

A 100% renewable powered grid then is not a practical possibility… at least until there is some form of radical technological revolution in renewable energy generation.

So, the next time you see a company claiming to be 100% powered by renewable energy consider the argument above and don’t simply accept such claims at face value…
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Apple is now completely powered by renewable energy. Err... really?!?! - Time to read 5 min
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