Facebook invests in large-scale solar project

Facebook's energy mix currently consists of around 75% wind and solar 

 The company announced late last week that it had made a multi-million-dollar investment in the Prospero Solar Project in Texas – a 379MW facility which is expected to be completed in 2020.

The 4,600-acre facility is being backed by a total of $416m of private investment. Facebook has not disclosed how much of this sum it will raise itself, but the company is currently the sole tax equity investor in the project.

Facebook is widely regarded as one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy in the US, having bought 2.6GW of the 8.5GW sold to North American corporates last year. However, it has previously sourced clean power solely through onsite arrays and power purchase agreements (PPAs), having never owned a majority stake in an external renewable energy asset.

“We hope such investments can be a new avenue of meaningfully engaging with projects, which might be easier for some companies than a long-term PPA, thereby unlocking new options for more organizations to meet their goals and grow the market,” Facebook’s energy strategy manager Peter Freed said.

The first corporate PPA to be signed for the solar farm, which is being developed by Longroad Energy, is Shell Energy North America. The deal signed by the energy giant will last for 12 years and see Shell “share” the “attributes” created by the project with Facebook.

Clean energy leadership

The move from Facebook comes as the company is striving to source 100% renewable power for its direct operations by 2020 – a target it set itself last year after reaching its 2018 clean power aims one year early.

Since it first moved to purchase renewable power in 2013, Facebook has signed contracts for solar and wind projects with a combined capacity of more than 3GW. They are all on the same grid as the company’s data centres across Europe and the US. Overall, Facebook is meeting around 75% of its energy consumption with renewables at present.

Facebook is notably a member of the Climate Group’s RE100 initiative and is currently building a new data centre in Ireland which will run on 100% wind power, after committing to support its data centre operations with energy generated using its own renewable installations.

Outside of its own operations, Facebook has a long history in lobbying for policymakers and other businesses to help spur the low-carbon transition in the power sector. Last year, the company co-signed a declaration calling on governments to set enabling policies that incentivise and increase opportunities to source renewable electricity through onsite installations. Convened by the Renewable Energy Directive, the document was signed by 99 other companies, including the likes of Ikea, Nike, Microsoft and Dow Chemical Company.

Sarah George

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