A Q&A showcasing Facebook’s renewable energy journey and overall commitment to sustainability featuring Urvi Parekh, Facebook’s Head of Renewable Energy.
Learn more about 2019’s largest energy buyers through REBA’s Deal Tracker.
Congratulations on a huge year of announcing renewable energy projects! How many MW did you announce this year, and can you put it into context of your company’s overall goals?
We are so excited to have been named the top buyer of renewable energy in 2019. Facebook announced nearly 1.7 gigawatts (GW) of new contracts in 2019. Globally, we now have more than 4,600 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects under contract, and most of these projects will be operating by the end of 2020. We’ve had to scale rapidly to meet our goal of supporting all of our operations with 100% renewable energy in 2020.
What was your biggest challenge in 2019 and how did you overcome it?
In 2018, we set an aggressive goal to support our global operations with 100% renewable energy in 2020. That meant that, in 2019, we had to focus on finding renewable energy projects that would fit our needs, our timeline, and would be located on the same grids as our data centers – all while making sure we were staying ahead of the company’s rapid growth. We made our first direct investment in a renewable energy project in 2019, with our participation in a Texas solar project, and that was an exciting opportunity to explore how we could use that as a pathway to helping to meet our 100% renewable energy goal. We have been lucky to find the right partners in our target locations and are happy to say we are on track to meet our goal.
What was the most unexpected moment during procurement?
In 2019, one of the biggest surprises was seeing how, in many markets, renewable energy became the lowest-cost new energy source. This was faster and more wide-reaching than we had expected and is a testament to how quickly renewable installations are growing, especially compared to other generations. We also saw cost-effective renewable energy projects available in more states than ever before, which is helping us meet our goals to grow renewable energy on the same grids as our data centers.
Looking forward, what does the future of clean energy procurement look like for your company?
While we are on track to meet our goal of 100% renewable energy this year, we know the work continues. We look forward to not only continuing to add renewables to our portfolio to keep up with our growing load, but also working with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) and others to see what comes next. Facebook is committed to continuing to help strengthen renewable energy markets around the world and supporting the clean energy transition.
What advice do you have for other companies who may just be getting started on their clean energy journey?
At Facebook, we believe that our renewable energy goals make good business sense. For companies that are new to this, it’s first important to make sure you understand the business case for your company and to make sure you engage a wide group of internal stakeholders early and often to make sure that everyone agrees with your value proposition. And second, don’t give up. It takes time and hard work to help everyone around you overcome preconceptions about renewable energy that aren’t necessarily true. Many may believe renewable energy is too expensive or unreliable, when today, the opposite is true.
How important is the implementation of renewable energy for your respective industry?
We are proud to be an industry leader in the use of renewable energy to support our facilities. We believe Facebook, as well as others in our industry, have an important role to play in expanding the use of renewables as our businesses expand. We know that it’s not only good for business, but good for the environment. By confronting the challenge of climate change with renewable purchasing, we’re able to truly move the market in an important positive direction. For us, achieving this is a testament to technology’s power to be a positive force in the world.
Is there an overlooked component of sustainability that should be prioritized in the future?
Historically, there have been a lot of preconceptions about renewable energy, and many don’t realize all of the benefits that come with it. Beyond renewable energy helping reduce emissions and fight climate change, other major benefits that are often overlooked are the job creation and economic development associated with building new renewable energy projects. We have found that because we focus on building new renewable energy projects in the same state or on the same electrical grid where our data centers are located, there are many additional construction and operations jobs being created in those regions. Another positive impact has been that our renewable energy procurement has helped us save more than a billion gallons of water when compared with sourcing energy from the standard utility energy mix.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
It’s exciting to see how the renewable energy market is growing, particularly in the U.S. – and we are proud of the work we have done to help make corporate buyers one of the key drivers of that growth. It’s inspiring to work with groups like REBA and watch more and more companies recognize the value of renewable energy to their businesses. And it’s great to see local partners who are open to finding innovative solutions to increase the renewables in their community. We’ve watched utilities see the business opportunity they’re missing and adopt new options for giving customers new renewable energy. It’s also exciting to be part of a company that’s creating products used by billions of people and that matches that growth with a commitment to making renewable energy and sustainable growth a requirement for how we do it.
If there were one key sustainability leader you could partner with, who would it be and what would you work on?
We have loved to see the diversity of companies, from all sectors, joining REBA, and it’s one of the reasons we’re so involved in the organization. Through REBA or otherwise, we are open to partnering with anyone who is innovating to bring new, cost-effective renewable energy projects to the grid. We are proud of how many different partners we have worked with, in both regulated and deregulated markets, to expand the ways companies source renewable energy. We will continue to look for opportunities to move the industry forward and further the growth of renewable energy on the grid.