Amazon’s investments in renewable energy have slowed over the past few years, while other tech companies have renewed their commitments to a renewable energy future. In 2014, Amazon joined several other tech giants in committing to powering its operations with renewable energy. Amidst criticism over work culture, Amazon’s failure to commit green energy doesn’t seem to be doing its public image any favors.
Amazon’s broken promise
Since 2016, Amazon has failed to announce any new renewable energy investments. Worse yet, Amazon has abandoned some of its investments in wind farms while pursuing involvement with oil and gas companies. It appears as though Amazon has once again put up a facade of corporate social responsibility. Jeff Bezos has publicly cracked open a champagne bottle on a wind farm and joined Bill Gates’s multi-billion dollar renewable investment fund.
But, in terms of energy, what has Amazon been up to lately?
Turns out, Amazon hasn’t been doing the renewable energy industry any favors. On the other hand, oil and gas are having a field day. Amazon has partnered with BP, Shell, Halliburton, and other oil and natural gas companies to provide them with data services.
In several executive presentations, Amazon has made it clear that they are looking to further expand their services into the technologically advancing oil and gas industries. Of course, Amazon’s ultimate goal is to drive profits, but in doing so, Amazon seems to have abandoned its promise to promote green energy.
Tech Trends in Oil and Gas
Amazon and other tech companies have been providing oil companies with new data-based technology to increase drilling and oil-well-finding efficiency. Increase the profitability of outdated oil drilling processes represents huge value, and the market is taking note. Microsoft and Google have also followed in Amazon’s footsteps by making deals with oil and gas companies.
It’s hard to say whether providing oil companies with efficient technology will have a meaningful impact on climate change. However, if oil and gas become more profitable, it could be bad news for renewable energy. With so much money to be made in the oil and gas industry, will any tech companies be willing to resist the allure?
Other Companies Doing Good
Luckily, there’s some good news for renewable energy. Apple has persuaded one of its manufacturing partners, Foxconn, to use clean energy. Foxconn now joins a list of over a dozen other Apple suppliers who have committed to using renewable energy. Manufacturing accounts for about 74% of Apple’s carbon footprint so the Foxconn agreement is a huge step in the right direction. Apple plans for their supply chain to use green energy to cover five gigawatts of their energy needs.
While many tech giants are pushing into oil and gas, renewable energy investments are still skyrocketing. Companies like Apple and Google are still growing renewable energy usage, and increased investor pressure will drive this trend going forward. Nowadays, some investors look for more than just profits. They want to see companies generate profit in sustainable ways.
Numerous investment funds have opened ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) branches that only invest in socially responsible companies. Hopefully, pressure from investors will dissuade companies like Amazon from pushing further into the oil and gas industries.
How Switching to Renewables Impacts Policy In the West: A Quick Look Back and a Bright Look Forward
Since World War II, the United States has been an economic and military leader. But more generally, the United States has always been a resource-rich country. As the demands of consumers grew with technology, some Western countries started to realize that they didn’t have adequate resources. Cue renewables, but first, let’s take a look back at history.
A brief look back at history
These demands led to the beginning of the fossil fuel resource wars of the 20th and 21st century. One of the earliest and most striking examples occurred in 1951. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1950 on a platform of nationalizing the British-owned Iranian oil industry. Mossadegh’s platform of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry was a threat to both British interests and the rest of the Western world.
In a joint operation between Britain’s MI6 and the United States’ CIA, dissent was nurtured in Iran. Ultimately, this led to Mossadegh’s overthrow in 1951. This relatively early example of Western interference in fossil fuels is only the tip of the iceberg. Political, economic and military interference in the Middle East, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa would ensue.
As interference continued, the United States began protecting Western pipelines and shipping routes across many other locations around the globe.
Renewables pave the way for exciting developments in energy
The rapidly declining cost and increased accessibility of energy storage create a huge opportunity. Whether solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or any other abundant method are the means for energy generation, the concern of maintaining baseload power becomes less of a concern.
When we are able to store enough energy to meet all the needs of our energy economies on both micro and macro scales, the need for fossil fuels in our energy economy becomes minimal to none. Clearly, the impact of renewables could be massive. The other concern is the fossil fuel demand for plastics. Research and developments are continuing in this space from a variety of diffferent organic and lab-based materials.
As the need for fossil fuels decline, the need for global protectionism and intervention by current fossil fuel consumers lessens. The economic interests of those parties lessens as well, leading to a reduced need to protect fossil fuel-based pipelines and shipping routes.
The energy economy is critical
This leads to foreign policy driven by mutual economic interests that don’t include fossil fuels. The energy economy is essential. Without it, everything stops. And the current opportunity that it presents leads us to a future that is not only more equitable to our environment, but also more sustainable in the long term.
This leads us to the end of the fossil fuel resource war, opening up economic opportunity in new and exciting ways in a distributed energy economy.
How will solar energy hold up against Hurricane Dorian?
As Hurricane Dorian wreaks havoc across Florida, electrical grids across the state will go down. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, between 7 and 10 million people lost power in the middle of a brutally hot summer. When traditional energy grids go down, people can often turn to solar-powered generators for power. However, will the solar panels powering 380,000 homes in Florida be able to withstand a hurricane?
Solar power during Hurricane Irma
Based on past disasters, probably yes. During Hurricane Irma, most solar panels survived the disaster with minimal damages. Florida’s largest utility, NextEra Energy Inc., only had around 400 out of their 1 million panels damaged over the course of the storm. Most utilities recognize that Florida is disaster-prone and purposefully build solar panels to be incredibly sturdy.
Both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Dorian were rated as category 5 hurricanes, so we can expect solar panels to do just fine. However, most utilities are still taking down or bolting down their panels just to be safe.
Can solar disaster-proof our energy grid?
After Irma, some homeowners were even able to immediately continue using solar-powered generators and solar-storage. As blackouts grow increasingly common with climate change, solar-powered backup systems could become increasingly popular. The resilience of solar panels only adds to the narrative that solar panels are often a cost-saving addition to a home.
The Bahamian government is also planning to increase reliance on renewable energies, which may reduce their vulnerability to blackouts. Directly after Hurricane Dorian struck, the Bahamas suffered constant blackouts. Luckily, the Bahamas plan to produce 30% of the country’s electricity through renewable sources by 2030. Hopefully, a more diversified energy portfolio will help the country prevent blackouts.
Climate change poses a serious threat to power grids
It’s common knowledge that the oil and natural gas industries are bad for the environment, but the fact that oil and gas threaten electricity supply is much more counterintuitive. Climate change and the resulting extreme weather are a growing cause of blackouts, and as “dirty” energies contribute to climate change, they also indirectly threaten the stability of the power grids they supply.
Blackouts become a rapidly-growing threat
While it may seem far fetched that climate change has caused significant increases in outages, there has been a huge rise in blackouts over the past decade. A report by Climate Central finds that from the mid-1980s to 2012, blackout rates increased tenfold. From 2003 to 2014, an estimated 147 million people were affected by weather-related blackouts.
Storms, tornadoes, and extreme heat all cause blackouts, and climate change only increase the frequency of these events. As global warming continues to raise temperatures, blackouts will become more and more frequent.
Heatwaves make electric grids unusable
Today, heat waves are a serious threat to energy security. Yesterday, one of the largest electric grids in Texas declared an energy conservation emergency as temperatures rose above 100 degrees. As residents scrambled to use air conditioning, electricity demand spiked across Texas. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas suggested that residents reduce energy demand from 3 to 7 pm to prevent blackouts.
Similar energy emergencies could happen all across hot arid regions of the U.S. A study from UCLA’s Institute of Energy and Sustainability found that climate change could cause sweeping blackouts in LA. The combination of a growing population and rising temperatures could easily increase air conditioner use and trigger power grid shutdowns.
Blackouts during extreme heat can be incredibly dangerous as people struggle to cool their homes. In the 1995 Chicago heat wave, an estimated 739 people died due to extreme temperatures and power failures.
Detroit takes a stand to improve power grid security
In Michigan, the state with the most weather-related power outages, citizens are advocating for change. An estimated 800,000 Michigan residents suffer from weather-related blackouts every year and outages are expected to become more frequent.
Detroit has taken steps towards improving power grid security. Utility DTE Energy proposed a $4.2 billion dollar plan to modernize Detroit’s energy grid and make it more resilient to weather-related disasters. However, some argue against fixes that fail to target the root of the problem.
Instead, many activists in Detroit are advocating for the expansion of solar energy. Using solar panels to create community-based micro-grids would allow communities to continue using power during blackouts. Decentralizing the energy supply could also make utility bills cheaper and reduce citizens’ reliance on large utility companies. On a larger scale, solar energy would also slow climate change and the resulting extreme weather effects.
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