This blogpost was published on September 27, 2017 by the International Policy Digest
NOT merely because they are combined worth over $1 trillion dollars did I find myself thinking the other day about where the big 5 tech companies are in the development of clean energy technologies. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft need to lead America into the next technological evolution: clean energy.
They certainly have the capital (plenty of it sitting idle may I add-in fact $430 billion by recent counts). They definitely have the talent-the “don’t poach” policies have shown that talent is perhaps their greatest asset. The understanding of the world’s future needs and the alpha-leadership are there. What is the missing catalyst? Why aren’t they doing more?
Now to be quite fair, a good amount of progress has been made: Google owns wind farms in Kansas, Apple apparently sources 85% of all their data centers with renewable energy. Meanwhile facebook recently built a clean-energy powered data center in Denmark.
But in many ways these cases just make business sense: both for the marketing (or, with a more negative connotation: greenwashing) or to plan effectively. Indeed data centers are ideal places for renewable energy because they are not human consumers firing up their kitchens all at exactly 7pm on Tuesday night. Yet data centers continue to rely on baseload power coming from nuclear, coal, or natural gas in many cases.
Either way, powering data centers with renewable energy, supporting the Paris agreement, or even owning wind farms in Texas and Kansas (Google) is simply not enough. I’m not saying they’re not doing anything for the planet, they certainly are. Zuckerberg and Gates teaming up to promise climate technology funding on the sidelines of the Paris agreement was a welcome step.
But this is simply not enough. Especially considering the resources and political power they have at hand. The tech companies have the money. They have the talent. They have the innovative will. They have the spirit. Americans, Europeans, Asians rely on Silicon Valley to radically change technological landscapes; to dramatically alter what we presently conceive as possible.
In every sense, the beacon of hope for a clean energy future lies in the innovativeness these big 5 companies can commit to (albeit with the help from thousands of technology manufacturers in Asia).
If the Big 5 don’t begin to develop clean energy technologies who else will? Certainly we can count on China to do it. Followed closely by South Korea. Do not forget about Japan who currently holds half the world’s solar energy patents. Also the Scandinavians have the highest patents per capita in clean technologies. This is to be expected.
How many patents do the big 5 tech companies hold in clean technologies? Not too many. What is more, most of these patents appear to be “blocking” or “trolling patents”, not typically your indicator of real innovation.
Perhaps it is worth asking, in the ever so popular conspiracy-theory manner, are these tech companies secretly developing clean energy technologies under the radar? Is the competition so vicious they are choosing not to file patents in fear of other companies ripping off their innovations?
I find this hard to believe. If they were indeed developing clean energy they would be inclined to “greenwash”, or show how green they truly are. None of the Big 5 have “leaked” anything besides electric car development-which, it must pointed out, does nothing at this point for cutting carbon emissions because we still use the same fossil fuel energy to produce our electricity.
I implore Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to respond to my question, which is borrowed from Radiohead:
“Where do we go from here?
The words are coming out all weird
Where are you now when I need you?”