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Why Tech Companies Want a Piece Of The Renewables Pie

Renewable energy investment is gaining momentum at Mach speeds and tech companies want a piece of the pie. On the global scale, record-breaking investment in renewable energy reached $285.9bn in 2015, according to the latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Based on Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) data and analysis, the UNEP report states that installed capacity also broke global records in 2015, reaching 134 GW of renewables – up from 106 GW in 2014.

There’s “Plenty of Potential” for Renewable Energy Tech Companies

Around the world, analysts are monitoring the impending revolution in renewable energy markets. Morgan Stanley, focusing lately on Australia, states that “the broader energy market in Australia still underestimates what’s about to hit them.”

Reporting on Australia’s economic future for 2016 and beyond, Morgan Stanley predicts that one million Australian homes will install energy storage systems over the coming four years.

In the coming 20 years, the report indicates, residential rooftop solar and battery storage will more than double. Morgan Stanley is optimistic that Australia’s economic infrastructure will evolve to accommodate renewable energy market expansion. It states that the future offers “plenty of potential for energy, infrastructure, financial and technology players across the spectrum.”

“The Energy War is Truly Underway Around the World”

Darryn Van Hout, CEO of Australian Solar Quotes*, is keeping a close watch on the exciting renewables expansion. With over ten years experience in the energy industry, Darryn sees challenges ahead for businesses adapting to the new energy economy.

Citing Accenture‘s recent report, The New Energy Consumer: Thriving in the Energy Ecosystem, Van Hout agrees that the energy market is “going through a reinvention that will forge the way to future prosperity in an environment where consumers can and will choose to move completely off the grid and take more control of their energy choices.”

“The energy war is truly underway around the world,” explains Van Hout, “and there’s one word on everyone’s lips: storage, or more specifically, the solar-plus-storage revolution.” He believes that renewable energy tech companies are uniquely poised to win this war, especially along the primary frontlines of battery storage, electric cars, and electricity retailing.

Clearly, the swirling, merging war of renewable energy is nowhere more mesmerizing than among leading tech companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple.

All Renewable Energy Roads Lead to Tesla’s Gigafactory

As Van Hout notes, energy storage is the new currency of the renewables realm. Elon Musk is the uncontested king of storage, blessed with marketing prowess that grows exponentially as the realm under his throne expands. At the heart of this empire, Musk wants to ensure that all renewable energy roads lead to the Tesla Gigafactory, the “machine that builds the machines.”

Located on a 3,000-acre lot of land in Nevada, the Gigafactory itself currently occupies over 5.5 million square feet – the equivalent of 126 acres. All this space and more to come is solely dedicated to supplying the coming demand for energy storage systems.

Not only supplying the batteries for Tesla’s spectacularly popular electric vehicles, the Gigafactory also produces top-of-the-line solar energy storage systems for commercial and residential markets.

Exploring sustainable energy markets on every avenue with remarkable passion, Musk is driving Tesla expansion from EVs into autonomous vehicles, and energy storage systems into one-stop solar shopping, and even into eventual grid services.

Musk envisions, “You’d walk into the Tesla store and say: ‘I’d like a great solar solution with a battery and an electric car,’ and in five minutes you’re done.” He continues, “It’s completely painless, seamless, easy and that’s what the customer wants.”

Google Has Already Mapped the Renewables Expansion

Well on its way in the renewables expansion, Google has already mapped most of the roads–including the road to self-driving electric vehicles. And, with the recent announcement of $22 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for EVs and sustainable transportation technologies, investor attention is only just beginning to warm up.

Sustainable transportation technology is a lucrative Google keyword. Since 2009, Google reports, its fleet of 55 autonomous cars has driven over 1.4 million miles on California’s SF Bay Area roads, as well as roads around Austin, Texas. Simulations, according to Google, are now racking up 3 million miles a day.

Well in the lead, Google is dedicated to reaching its 100 percent renewable energy goal. In fact, Google is now the world’s largest non-utility customer of renewable energy. With over 15 contracts signed to date, Google’s purchases top 2 GW of clean energy, equivalent to taking a million gas guzzling cars off the road.

“We’re buying clean electricity directly from wind and solar farms around the world through Power Purchase Agreements (or PPAs),” explains Google, “and we’re additionally working with our utility partners to make more renewable energy available to us and others through renewable energy tariffs and bilateral contracts.”

It looks like a very short ride to get from Google Cars to electricity retailing, doesn’t it?

Apple Quietly Expands Into Electricity Retailing

Completing the current triumvirate of reigning tech companies, Apple is a perennial prize-winner, and always full of surprises. The company’s electric car project is currently in development and Apple is lately expressing interest in electric charging stations “for refueling their future EV.”

More importantly, ‘Apple Energy LLC,’ the company’s new renewable energy subsidiary, was quietly formed to sell excess electricity generated at its solar farms. With a goal to go 100 percent renewable, Apple needs to offset ‘net-metered’ grid electricity used during evenings and cloudy days. To do this, Apple will now ‘trade’ excess energy generated during sunny days. Apple’s solar power investments include 130 MW in California, 50 MW in Arizona, and 20 MW of installed capacity in Nevada.

Suggesting that Apple may have even bigger goals, however, filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) indicate that Apple “plans to sell electricity across the whole of the US.” Explaining its case to the FERC, Apple notes that it “meets the legal criteria for selling electricity at market rates because it is not a major player in the energy business and thus has no power to influence electricity prices.”

Darryn Van Hout notes, “It’s now only a matter of time until the shift in the way that we buy, store and consume electricity will be available.” It may well turn out that electricity retailing will be the Tech companies’ favorite slice of the renewables pie.

[News Flash!!! The FERC just approved Apple’s application to start selling electricity at market rates. GTM Research analyst Colin Smith explains, “If they’re buying power at 10 cents per kilowatt hour and wholesale power prices happen to move up to 15 cents, they can actually sell power directly and pocket the difference. This turns them much more into an independent power producer and really enables them to work the energy markets more freely.”]

Telecom Companies Want a Piece of the Pie, too

In Australia, Darryn sees telecommunications companies nudging their way to the dessert table. With plenty of money, millions of consumers, and significant market influence, Australian telecom company Telstra is planning to launch home solar-plus-storage solutions.

Cynthia Whelan, Telstra’s head of new business, explains, “Telstra is looking at the opportunities to help customers monitor and manage many different aspects of the home, including energy.” She adds, “We see energy as relevant to our ‘connected home’ strategy, where more and more machines are connected in what is called the internet of things.”

Van Hout predicts that “other large telcos will follow suit when the adoption of solar-plus-storage increases, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

“The Next Huge Boom in the Solar Industry is Imminent”

The renewable energy pie is sitting in a quickly ripening market. In alignment with the rapid growth of solar storage solutions, energy consumer empowerment is changing the power dynamics behind traditional utility company dictatorships. Darryn Van Hout notes that “demand for self-sufficiency in energy consumption is high.”

Voting with their pocketbooks, purchasers are starting to split the renewables pie into fair shares for all kinds of consumers.

Splitting the renewables pie will require similar fair sharing between renewable energy suppliers and tech companies. The traditional relationship between consumers, businesses, and technology may serve as a useful guide. As a leading consumer care organization, Australian Solar Quotes has been on the front lines, helping protect consumers from unfair electricity prices driven by the Australian utility companies.

CEO Darryn Van Hout (Twitter: @DarrynVanHout) sees himself as a sustainability ambassador, “with a keen interest in the solar energy sector in particular.” Optimistic about the renewable energy future, Darryn says, “the next huge boom in the solar industry is imminent.”

*This post has been generously supported by Australian Solar Quotes.

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