Microsoft has long been an environmentally-conscious company. In fact, it declared itself a carbon-neutral company as early as 2012.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced four new initiatives that would help it become a more sustainable company. These initiatives range from the more fundamental steps,
Building sustainable campuses and data centers.
To begin, Microsoft is looking to build 17 more buildings that won’t run on fossil fuels and will be instead run on 100% carbon-free electricity. Additionally, Microsoft hopes to decrease carbon levels associated with construction by some 15%.
Augmenting its efforts to build more sustainable campuses, Microsoft is looking to power its data centers with renewable energy as much as possible.
Taking More Data-Driven Approaches To Research
In 2017, Microsoft launched AI for Earth, an initiative that allows people working on sustainability issues to gain deeper, more numerically-backed insights into how the environment is changing.
Microsoft is also hosting large governmental datasets on its cloud-computing platform, Azure. These datasets contain satellite imagery, among other insights, and with Microsofts APIs, can be analyzed.
Besides the government, Microsoft also seems to be working with the people. Having given out some 230 grants to people tackling climate change, Microsoft is inspiring everyone to go out and tackle these problems.
Helping Its Customers Be More Sustainable
Aside from becoming a more sustainable company itself, Microsoft is also helping its clients become more environmentally-friendly. For instance, it’s helping Ecolab improve its water conservation efforts with Azure, IoT, and AI.
The scope of Azure’s applications seems endless.
Advocating for Policy Change
Microsoft has also joined the Climate Leadership Council, a policy institute composed of business leaders, economists, and environmental leaders. As leaders in the public and private sector continue to find ways to collaborate towards solving problems in sustainability.
Microsoft is joining companies like Apple, Tesla, and Nespresso in becoming more environmentally sustainable. But like any other initiative, it’ll be imperative to see if the results are what Microsoft expect.
Hyundai launches car with a solar charging system in a push for sustainability
Just Friday, Hyundai announced the launch of its first car with a solar roof charging system, which would be first introduced to the newest Sonata Hybrid. Promising to roll out the technology to other cars in the future, the company’s move is its first of many.
Fundamentally, introducing the solar roof should help improve fuel efficiency, boost electric power, and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. According to the company’s announcement, its silicon panels would allow for between 30 and 60 percent of the car’s battery to be charged through solar.
The impact? Apparently, six hours of daily charging could add over extra 800 miles to the car’s travel distance. To the consumer, that means convenience and saving a whole lot on gasoline.
For now, Hyundai is looking to have its solar roof play a supporting role in powering its cars. Its long term goal is to make powering cars with fossil fuels an obsolete concept, the company alludes. Its new Sonata Hybrid is a small step in the right direction.
Because the Sonata Hybrid does still run partially on gasoline, it does still emit the same greenhouse gases as conventional passenger vehicles. However, it is (and will be) far more fuel-efficient. On average, hybrid cars emit greenhouse gases in a quantity of over 30% less compared to their gasoline-run counterparts.
But the debate over whether electricity is actually cleaner than gasoline still remains. Currently, over 45% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal-powered plants. Hyundai is going in the right direction, but still, there are many challenges ahead.
Environmental concerns motivate millions to opt for plant-based meat
Burgers have long been a staple for Americans. However, as the beef industry tops emissions charts, several fast-food chains have presented consumers with plant-based alternatives. And surprisingly, consumers are loving it.
Plant-Based Meat Surges in Popularity
From January 2019 to May 2019, American consumers purchased 228 million plant-based burgers, per market research firm, The NPD Group. The figure shows a 10% surge in sales for the plant-based food industry from the following year. Considering the actual meat industry only rose 2% during the same time frame, that’s quite an impressive leap.
Research by the team also revealed this increase in sales wasn’t due to vegetarians flocking to these popular restaurants. Rather, 95% of consumers who purchased a plant-based burger also bought a product with beef in it that same year.
NPD says the increased popularity of meatless burgers is associated with the increase in plant-based alternatives. More specifically, Darren Seifer, an analyst at the firm, explains that plant-based burgers give consumers a chance to get involved. By consume plant-based burgers instead of their beef counterparts, consumers are choosing a significantly less environmentally-harmful option.
“Plant-based burgers allow consumers to substitute without sacrifice. They get the ‘burger’ experience while assuaging their need for more protein and social concerns,” Seifer said. “With that said, U.S. consumers have not given up on beef burgers, but are willing to mix things up every now and then.”
Startups Compete in the Billion-Dollar Plant-Based Meat Industry
Currently, the vegan food industry is worth a whopping $4.5 billion. On the other hand, the plant-based meat industry rakes in approximately $800 million.
Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat currently act as the main suppliers of plant-based meat in the restaurant industry. With the help of food engineers and scientists, Impossible Burger offers consumers a soy protein and coconut oil patty, whereas Beyond Meat sells a pea-based protein patty.
The emerging popularity and demand for meatless burgers even came as a shock to the manufacturers themselves. After a 50% surge in sales growth following the launch of its 2.0 burger, Impossible Burger even struggled with a burger shortage. To meet unprecedented demand, the company had to triple its weekly production.
Restaurants Adopting Plant-Based Meat Rapidly
Currently, Impossible Burger patties are available at over 9,000 restaurants, including White Castle, Red Robin, and Burger King. Its primary competitor, Beyond Meat, serves several other popular chains, including Del Taco, Carl Jr.’s, and Tim Horton’s. In total, the two companies serve their plant-based patties in over 20,000 locations across the United States.
“I can’t believe how many people are going crazy over it,” Tricia Scanlon, a bartender at Red Robin, told The New York Times. “A lot of people have been asking for it, people that are vegetarians or vegans. Everybody who lives that lifestyle absolutely loves it.”
Consumers Actually Want Plant-Based Options
Rob Leclerc, a co-founder of food-tech startup AgFunder, said restaurants are listening to consumer feedback more than ever before. Evidently, the numbers show that adopting more plant-based options is exactly what consumers want.
For instance, after the introduction of Burger King’s Impossible Burger, it has been greener in more than just one way. In a test market for their new plant-based menu items, the burger joint reported foot traffic rose by 18.5%.
“I think we’re talking about a consumer who has certain demands and — if unmet by McDonald’s —are willing to go to a smaller franchise that focuses on those demands specifically,” Leclerc said.
While adding plant-based burgers to the menu is a win for the environment, it’s won’t solve the world’s climate crisis. What’s clear is that everyone needs to make sacrifices in order to mitigate the serious ramifications of climate change. And the burden can’t just lay on everyday people — major corporations also need to get involved.
So, although plant-based meat won’t completely eliminate meat production and consumption, the space is growing quickly. As more fast-food restaurants join the fight, reducing carbon emissions on a large scale is becoming less far-fetched than it once seemed.
Sunnova approaches profitability ahead of its IPO. Investors should pay attention.
In mid-June, there were rumors that residential solar unicorn Sunnova planned to IPO. On June 27th, the company confirmed the rumors by submitting a pre-IPO prospectus to the SEC. As Sunnova becomes the first residential solar company to IPO in years, investor interest is piqued. But as the space tapers off, the company’s future is unclear.
Major roadblocks could bar the company from both a successful IPO and in the long run, growth opportunities that its competitors took advantage of in different times. At the same time, Sunnova’s (relatively) unique business model may help it overcome its challenges. Either way, investors should pay attention to the company as it approaches its initial public offering.
Sunnova Lacks Geographical and Installation Diversity
As Sunnova continues its mission to bring ubiquity to residential solar, what it needs is geographic diversity. That is, it needs consumers from at least around the United States to truly make residential solar more popular.
Currently, over half of its installations are in California and New Jersey, serving 26% and 29% of its units to the respective states. An additional 14% of its installations have been made in Puerto Rico. Though an interesting choice granted Puerto Rico ups its renewable energy efforts, the territory makes it true that over two-thirds of Sunnova’s installations have been done in just three regions.
Hence, it’s no surprise that Sunnova has only penetrated 3% of the national residential solar market. State-specifically, the company has reached 15% of the California market and 5% of the New Jersey market.
But Sunnova’s lack of diversity isn’t just geographic; it does over half of its installations with one installer, namely Trinity Solar. Though these issues are widely considered pain-points for Sunnova, the company believes they corroborate its high growth potential. The question is, how fast can Sunnova reach a critical mass of customers nationally before its prime competitor, Sunrun, eclipses it entirely.
Sunnova Not Yet Profitable, But It’s Getting There
Beyond its geographical and installation diversity qualms, Sunnova has a more fundamental problem common to unicorn companies these days: it isn’t profitable. For at least 9 of the last 10 quarters, the company has reported operating losses ahead of its IPO.
Though its cash woes are a cause for concern, Sunrun’s economic situation isn’t unique to the solar industry either. And it’s not the end all be all either. Actually, it’s quite common for companies in the space to reinvest earnings in growth in lieu of immediate profitability.
After all, Vivint, one of Sunnova’s publically-traded competitors, isn’t profitable either. Sunrun, on the other hand, is. The question that investors must ask is, as it relates to the level of risk they’re willing to take on, when will Sunnova’s chance at profitability come?
Positive Potential for Sunnova
The reason investors could potentially be optimistic about an upcoming Sunnova IPO is the company’s unique positioning as it comes to loans. Since 2018, loans have been the residential solar space’s primary financing method. And Sunnova’s offerings in power-purchase agreements and loan options for consumers give it an advantage here.
In part, its financing position has allowed the company to increase revenue and reduce net loss. As Sunnova continues to have a much lower overhead compared to Sunrun and Vivint, it is on track to continue reducing net loss. This means profitability might not be too far away.
With risks and challenges ahead, Sunnova’s IPO performance is largely in the air. Though the residential solar industry boomed between 2012 and 2015, 2019 isn’t quite the same, as the space tapered off. Will Sunnova be able to get ahead of the curve in the next boom? Who knows, but either way, investors should pay attention.
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