On-site power delivers a jolt to US utilities


Which companies generate the most power from on-site renewable resources in the US? In absolute terms, some very large entities indeed – Wal-Mart Stores, the US Department of Energy, Apple, BMW Manufacturing, and Coca-Cola Refreshments – take the first five places in a league table drawn up by the US Environmental Protection Agency from companies within its Green Power Partnership. Wal-Mart stores generate more than 100 GWh per year from biogas, solar and wind power installations; while Coca-Cola generates nearly half of that, from biogas-to-power plants. But Wal-Mart’s on-site generation represents just 1% of its total power needs; Coca-Cola generates just 6%.

Higher proportions of total power use are to be found further down the table. In fourteenth place lies the mainly agricultural County of Yolo, in Northern California, that somehow generates one-and-a-half times its own electricity requirements from a series of solar power plants totalling 7 MW of capacity. And, in 19th place, the Encina Wastewater Authority in Southern California generates more than two-thirds of its electricity requirements from its own waste biogases.


The EPA has recently honoured Apple; the County of Santa Clara in California; health care provider Kaiser Permanente; and the Chattanooga, Tennessee car assembly plant operated by Volkswagen Group of America, for their use of on-site power generation. Apple uses a combination of large solar PV arrays and biogas-to-power plants to supply 16% of the electricity requirements of its US data centres and other facilities. The County of Santa Clara, Kaiser Permanente and Volkswagen Chattanooga all rely on PV to supply towards 10% of their electricity needs. 

The EPA list ignores those public and private sector organisations that use gas-fired on-site CHP schemes, preferring to highlight the role played by on-site renewables. Put both of these generation sources – fossil and renewables – together, though, and a picture emerges of US businesses staring to see the sense of on-site energy generation as a way to cut energy costs and insulate against supply interruptions.

Separate from the EPA Green Power Partnership, a recent Wall Street Journal report describes on-site wind and biogas schemes for a dairy in Pennsylvania and a food distribution centre in California. Meanwhile, home furnishings retailer IKEA plans to incorporate geothermal technology into the heating and cooling systems of the store it is building outside Kansas City. The company says it either owns or operates more than 130 wind turbines and has installed more than 30,000 solar panels for its European operations.

Flat-packed or otherwise, on-site power is making moves.

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