Microsoft is on a solar shopping spree

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From pv magazine USA.

More often than not, talk about renewable energy mandates and goals focuses years down the line. Whether company ambitions or the renewable energy directives of states, generation goals can be a decade off and it is rare to see any party in hot pursuit of renewables acquisition with an imminent deadline looming.

Enter Microsoft, which on Tuesday night announced it had closed a 20-year power purchase agreement for the energy generated by First Solar’s 150 MWac Sun Streams 2 solar plant. The plant, expected to be completed in 2021, will become a key part of Microsoft’s ambition of having renewable energy supply 60% of the electricity used by its data centers by the start of next year.

It is yet another instance of big corporate solar procurement, however, the fact Microsoft is the buyer adds a wrinkle. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Means Business report last year, showed Microsoft – unlike other tech giants – was not in the top 10. In fact, the company has no tracked projects on the interactive map included in the study. Microsoft has chosen to invest in wind. The company has a portfolio of more than 1.2 GW of power generation capacity in six states and three continents, spearheaded by three wind projects in Texas, Illinois and Kansas which boast almost 500 MW of capacity.

Solar on the way

While solar has not been the focus, it is still present in Microsoft’s generation portfolio, or at least it will be. The company will get an immediate 150 MW in 2021 when Sun Streams 2 enters operation. Even bigger was the power purchase agreement signed with sPower for the 315 MW to be generated by the planned Pleinmont 1 and 2 projects in Virginia. Those represent the biggest portion of the 500 MW installation planned for Spotsylvania county.

With Microsoft also contracting for the power from another 20 MW solar project in Virginia, it has made a significant investment in PV. That commitment just hasn’t shown up yet because none of the projects are finished.

When the projects are completed, over the next two years, they’ll bring Microsoft’s solar portfolio to 485 MW, almost 100 MW more than the 393 MW procured to date by Apple, which leads all corporations in installed and contracted PV capacity.

What that all means is Microsoft’s 60% by 2020 plan is a procurement rather than on-line date. While wind will make up a considerable portion of the figure, Microsoft is also including the expected generation from solar within its goal, even though the projects in question will not all be on-line until 2021 at the earliest.

By Tim Sylvia