Microsoft just formed a strategic alliance with a major solar manufacturer to try to promote better clean energy policies. The deal comes amid supply shortages and allegations of labor abuses that are making it increasingly difficult to deploy solar power across the United States.
The program is Qcells heavy solar energy to provide more than 2.5 gigawatts of solar energy and related services for developers working with Microsoft. That’s enough to power some 400,000 homes, according to Microsoft, which hailed the partnership as “a first of its kind.”
Supply Chain Problems and Labor Abuse Allegations Make It Difficult to Deploy Solar Energy Across the U.S.
The company aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by “more than half” by 2030 and curb the remaining pollution by trying to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Microsoft also has a renewable energy commitment for 2030 – which cannot be met unless it can encourage more solar and wind energy to come online.
Since 2012, Microsoft has technically purchased enough clean energy to match its electricity consumption. But this does not mean that the company’s activities are actually running on updates all the time. There isn’t enough solar and wind connected to the electricity grid yet, with renewables making up 20 percent of America’s electricity mix.
Microsoft has entered into “power purchase agreements” with energy providers to develop new solar and wind projects. The goal is that, by the end of the decade, Microsoft will be able to get all of its energy supply “from the carbon resources on the grids where we operate.”
To make things difficult, the solar industry faces large supply chains – especially in the United States. The solar industry is concentrated in China, which produces about 80 percent of the world’s solar power. This concentration has made the solar supply chain more vulnerable, the most recent being allegations of forced labor in China’s autonomous Uyghur region of Xinjiang. The Reuters news agency reported that the United States blocked the shipment of more than 1,000 units of solar energy between June and October last year after banning imports from Xinjiang. Those trade barriers have slowed solar development in the United States.
Microsoft seems to be trying to avoid this problem by partnering with South Korea’s Qcells. Earlier this month, Qcells announced that it will spend more than $2.5 billion to build a “complete solar supply chain … from raw materials to finished panels” in the United States. It plans to build a new factory in Georgia, where it also operates what it says is the largest solar power plant in the Western Hemisphere.
“As one of the largest buyers of renewable energy in the world, this project will help bring more solar energy to the grid, faster,” said Microsoft vice president and CEO Brad Smith in a statement yesterday.
Microsoft could certainly use more clean energy on the grid as it tries to reduce pollution. The company’s natural gas emissions increased by about 2.5 million tons in fiscal 2021 compared to the previous year with increased sales of devices and cloud services, according to its previous sustainability report. – after that.