Microsoft has entered into strategic partnerships with leading solar panel manufacturers to achieve our clean energy goals. The deal comes amid growing difficulty deploying solar energy across the United States due to supply chain issues and alleged labor exploitation.
The plan is for solar energy heavyweight Qcells to offer more than 2.5 gigawatts of solar panels and related services to developers working with Microsoft. According to Microsoft, that’s enough power to power about 400,000 homes.
Deploying solar energy across the United States is becoming increasingly difficult due to supply chain problems and alleged labor exploitation.
Since 2012, Microsoft has technically purchased enough clean energy for its electricity usage. However, this does not mean that the company’s operations are actually always running on renewable energy. There are still not enough solar and wind power connected to the grid, and renewables make up only 20% of the US electricity mix.
Microsoft enters into “power purchase agreements” with energy suppliers to accelerate the development of new solar and wind projects. The goal is to ensure that by the end of the decade, Microsoft can obtain its entire energy supply “from the zero-carbon resources of the grid we operate on.”
To make matters worse, the solar industry faces major supply chain challenges, especially in the US. Solar manufacturing is concentrated in China, which supplies about 80% of the world’s solar panels. That concentration makes solar power supply chains more vulnerable to bottlenecks, a major recent culprit being accusations of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The US blocked shipments of more than 1,000 solar energy components from June to October last year after banning imports from Xinjiang. Reuters Report. These trade barriers have significantly slowed US solar installations.
Microsoft appears to be trying to avoid this bottleneck by working with South Korea-based Qcells. Earlier this month, Qcells announced it would spend more than $2.5 billion to build a “complete solar power supply chain from raw materials to finished panels” in the United States. It plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Georgia, which operates the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere.
“As one of the world’s largest buyers of renewable energy, this work will help us get more solar energy into the grid, faster,” Microsoft vice president and president Brad Smith said in a press release yesterday.
As Microsoft struggles to reduce climate pollution, it can certainly use more clean energy off the grid. According to its latest sustainability report, the company’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by around 2.5 million tonnes compared to the previous year in fiscal 2021, driven by increases in device sales and cloud services.