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North Sea seaweed farming. Image credit: Amazon

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Amazon Boosts Its Sustainability Credentials With Record Renewable Energy Purchases (Plus Offshore Wind Seaweed Farming!)

Amazon is putting muscle behind its sustainability intentions with investments in renewable energy and seaweed farming.

Amazon may not seem like the poster child for sustainable business practices. It gathers consumer goods from all around the world, assembles them in massive warehouses, and then distributes them with tens of thousands of vehicles. The carbon emissions associated with all that manufacturing and transportation must be substantial. Nevertheless, the company is a major consumer of renewable energy and is promoting ways to reduce global emissions with programs like cultivating seaweed in the areas between wind turbines in the North Sea.

New Renewable Energy Record

In a recent press release, Amazon announced that it added 8.3 GW of renewable energy to its portfolio in 2022, thanks to 133 new projects in 11 countries. With the new additions, Amazon now has access to more than 20 GW of zero emissions electricity — enough to power 5.3 million US homes. Of course, that electricity doesn’t actually power any US homes, but that number does give us an idea about how energy intensive the company’s operations — including Amazon Web Services data centers, Amazon fulfillment centers, and physical stores  — truly are. All that electricity comes from 401 projects comprised of 164 wind and solar farms and 237 rooftop solar projects on Amazon facilities in 22 countries.

Thanks to the combined output of all those facilities, Amazon set a new corporate record for the most renewable energy announced by a single company in one year. It remains the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy — a position it has held since 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Amazon’s continued investment in renewable energy helps to accelerate growth in new regions through innovative deal structures, technologies, and cloud solutions, the company says.

These purchases also bring Amazon closer to powering its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 — five years ahead of its original 2030 target. Once operational, Amazon’s global renewable energy projects are expected to generate 56,881 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of clean energy each year.

“As we continue to launch new renewable energy projects around the world, we’re pleased to be on track to power our operations with 100% renewable energy, five years ahead of our original target. With 133 projects in 11 countries announced in 2022, Amazon had another record year,” said Adam Selipsky, CEO of AWS. “These projects highlight the diversity of our renewable energy sources and showcase our ability to bring new technologies to new markets and further reduce the impacts of climate change.”

Amazon isn’t slowing down on renewable energy. It says it has 25 more clean energy projects scheduled for 2023 in Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom that will add another 372 megawatts (MW) of capacity. It will continue to add to its portfolio of offshore wind projects by investing in two new offshore wind projects in Europe that total 280 MW of capacity. Another four projects in Arizona, California, and Texas will contribute an additional 918 MW of renewable energy.

Last year, Amazon added a third 200 MW wind and solar hybrid project to its portfolio in India. Renewable hybrid energy systems can play a key role in helping India accelerate the decarbonization of power generation and lowering the cost of electricity in the medium term. Such hybrid energy systems combine two technologies with different generation profiles, which reduces variability in renewable generation and improves grid stability. In Indonesia, Amazon invested in its first renewable energy projects, securing a first of its kind agreement for corporations to access additional utility scale solar projects. In Japan, Amazon added three on-site solar projects and a new 38 MW utility-scale solar project.

Rapidly scaling renewable energy is one of the most effective strategies to fight climate change, the company says. To ensure renewable energy purchases have the greatest impact on emissions reductions, Amazon recently led the creation of the new Emissions First coalition, which is designed to modernize the world’s leading carbon-accounting standard and help reduce carbon from global electricity grids as quickly and in the most cost effective way possible.

“Amazon’s clean energy portfolio doesn’t just top the corporate charts — it is now among the leading utilities globally, as well,” said Kyle Harrison, head of sustainability research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The fact that it announced a new annual record of clean energy in a year mired by a global energy crisis, supply chain bottlenecks and high interest rates speaks to its forward planning and expertise in navigating power markets and executing long term contracts.”

Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge in 2019, committing to reach net-zero carbon by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. The Pledge now has nearly 400 signatories, including Best Buy, IBM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Siemens, Unilever, Verizon, and Visa. It is a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040 by building a community of companies, organizations, individuals, and partners working together to address the climate crisis and solve the challenges of decarbonizing our economy.

Amazon Supports Seaweed Farming

There’s more to building a sustainable planet than renewable energy. One promising idea is cultivating the growth of seaweed, which is an excellent way to sequester carbon. The problem is, massive seaweed beds can interfere with shipping, so Amazon is investing in a new idea. There is no commercial ship traffic between the offshore wind turbines in the North Sea, a little known fact that Amazon is leveraging to promote seaweed farming.

According to OffshoreWind.biz, Amazon’s North Sea Farm 1 will be located in a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. It is designed to test and improve methods of seaweed farming while researching the potential of seaweed to sequester carbon. It also can greatly reduce methane emissions from cows when used as animal feed. By locating the farm in previously empty spaces between turbines, the project will be able to expand seaweed cultivation in the otherwise heavily used North Sea. There are about 1 million hectares in those unoccupied spaces. If they all were populated with seaweed farms, they would be able to sequester millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The project is managed by a consortium of scientific researchers and partners from the seaweed industry led by North Sea Farmers and is expected to become operational by the end of this year. The consortium hopes that North Sea Farm 1 will evolve into a blueprint for offshore seaweed farming the world over. The farm is scheduled to be installed and seeded in the autumn of this year, with the first harvest — about 6,000 kg of seaweed — expected in the spring of 2024.

Amazon is contributing €1.5 million to create this first of its kind seaweed farm and to support a year’s worth of scientific research into carbon reduction through seaweed farming. The funding comes from its $100 million [US] Right Now Climate Fund, which has committed €20 million to projects across Europe to enhance biodiversity and conserve, restore and improve nature in communities where Amazon operates.

North Sea Farm 1 and others like it will provide an opportunity to create jobs through the farming and production of seaweed based products. “Seaweed could be a key tool in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, yet it’s currently farmed at a relatively small scale in Europe,” said Zak Watts, Director EU Sustainability at Amazon. ”We’re delighted to fund this project to help us reach a greater understanding of its ability to help fight climate change.”

North Sea Farmers (NSF) has championed the seaweed sector in Europe since 2014. It will work with a consortium of European organizations that are involved in the seaweed production supply chain. This includes researchers Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Deltares and Silvestrum Climate Associates, seaweed extract manufacturers Algaia, and marine contractors Van Oord.

Eef Brouwers, the manager of farming and technology at NSF, says, ”Potentially, up to 85,000 full time jobs could be created in the European seaweed sector by replicating North Sea Farm 1 across the North Sea and re-purposing the space between wind farms. These jobs would not only be in the farming process but also in the production and sales of seaweed based products.”

Jobs and carbon sequestration — a match made in heaven.

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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