Why Intel, NRG and Prologis believe in onsite clean energy

Every month, at least one massive company announces an equally massive power purchase agreement that enables it to source at least a portion of its electricity from renewable energy resources such as solar and wind. Among the latest to trumpet that achievement: the biggest U.S. bank, JPMorgan Chase, which locked in a 20-year contract for a 100-megawatt wind farm in Texas as part of its new 100 percent renewable energy (by 2020) pledge.

But long before PPAs became the strategy-du-jour for expanding corporate clean power portfolios, investments in on-site renewables — ranging from rooftop solar to fuel cells to small wind turbines — were the “thing” for companies seeking to reduce their dependence on coal-generated electricity.

Actually, these installations are still very much a thing, despite the very real challenges associated with making them happen such as dicey relationships with building owners, the age and structure of office buildings or warehouses and (of course) the money needed to make them happen.

Consider that retailer Target is aiming to install solar photovoltaic technology on 500 buildings by 2020 — it currently ranks as the leading non-residential user of onsite solar, with roughly 300 installations by the end of 2016, according to an ongoing tally kept by the Solar Energy Industry Association. (Rival Walmart is No. 2, but only slightly, followed by real estate investment trust Prologis, which has made solar energy part of its long-term development strategy.)

According to the SEIA metrics, through the third quarter of 2016, American companies had invested in more than 1 gigawatt of onsite solar (and that doesn’t count other generating sources). The impact of those installation amounts to a reduction of about 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Many projects considered in this data set are not net-metered, meaning that they’re meant mostly for…

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