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U.S. Wind Power Gets a Boost from Startups, T-Mobile and … Big Oil

2017 marks the dividing line. This is the year U.S. companies must decide whether they will make and keep sustainability initiatives outside of any federal mandate to do so. With the current administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and weakening of the EPA, a governmental push towards environmental sustainability is virtually nonexistent.

In fact, the government’s push is going the opposite direction. As part of a budgetary overhaul, recently the Interior Department ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to stop studying how mountaintop coal mining affects human health.

Out of all the ways to generate electricity, coal is the most polluting. About 30 percent of the world’s electricity came from coal in 2013. In exchange, coal contributed 46 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. And coal mining creates methane: When it comes to climate change, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Even if NASEM now can’t prove mountaintop coal mining hurts people, we already know that coal mining and coal power contribute to climate change, which adversely affects public health in a variety of ways.

Clean Coal?

As the Washington Post recently pointed out, there is a way to clean coal, through a process called carbon capture and storage (CCS). The process and technology are fairly new, and expensive — more expensive than wind power, natural gas from fracking, and solar energy. That’s probably why many companies that don’t depend on income from coal are investing in sustainable solutions: It saves them money, and it makes money.

When it comes to supporting renewable energy, companies primarily exist in one of two complementary camps: They are either consumers or creators. Here’s a look at ongoing business initiatives on either side.

T-Mobile: Committed to Wind Energy

In partnership with Schneider Electric, T-Mobile is realizing the extent to which cheap wind energy can impact the bottom line. The mobile carrier has agreed to harvest 160 megawatts of wind power from the Red Dirt wind project in Oklahoma, which is one of the state’s largest wind farms. This marks the largest wind power agreement of all time by a wireless carrier. The company will use wind to power its operations across the country, including retail stores, call centers and cellular network.

The deal was brokered by Schneider Electric, which has an Energy & Sustainability Services division that helps companies identify smart renewable energy opportunities. The deal is smart not only because it’s environmentally friendly, but because it saves T-Mobile money. As the Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis shows, wind energy is incredibly cheap, even without government subsidies, and is far cheaper than coal:

Investing in wind energy isn’t the only way T-Mobile is saving money on power. Every Wi-Fi connection now works like a T-Mobile tower, meaning that when a customer uses Wi-Fi to call or text, the company doesn’t have to send a cellular signal from a tower. The less cellular data a customer uses, the less power T-Mobile has to use to generate the signal. Combined with the wind energy investment, this move will also save T-Mobile money.

Big Oil

At the same time as T-Mobile is getting excited about clean energy investment, so is another unlikely candidate: big oil.

“In the energy industry, small companies have quite a lot of disruptive power,” says Geert van de Wouw, managing director of Shell Technology Ventures. “We always have to look over our shoulder to make sure that we stay ahead of the game.”

Among Shell’s investments is Kite Power Systems, which, as the name implies, harnesses kites and wind currents to generate energy.

Startups are proliferating in the clean energy market. Here’s a look at several that are making waves in the wind energy category.

Deepwater Wind and Semtive: Taking Off with Tesla, Tiny Turbines

While it’s cheap, generating power from wind faces several issues: A great deal of wind power goes to waste; reaching peak efficiency and storing the power generated requires an advanced, widely adopted battery solution; and the huge turbines kill birds.

Tesla is already working with an Australian wind farm to provide battery storage with its Powerpack batteries. Now, Deepwater Wind, the company that pioneered the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, is vying to use Tesla batteries for wind power storage. Tesla’s Powerpack batteries would allow Deepwater to store wind power generated from its new offshore wind farm near Massachusetts until the grid needs it. This would create a precedent and a way forward for wind farms across the nation, making wind even more competitive against traditional sources of electricity. If we can store all the power from wind in batteries, a power source such as coal would be rendered obsolete.

But wind farms are not without their critics. In California, biologists and activists cite the Altamont Pass wind farm as the cause of at least 5,000 bird deaths per year. Silicon Valley startup Semtive has a solution to this problem: smaller turbines. While regular turbines only work with wind speeds of 30mph or higher, Semtive’s tiny turbines begin generating power at 10mph. You can stop them with your hand, and the company claims they’re safe for wildlife. One of Semtive’s medium-sized turbines can charge an electric car, and generate 100 percent of the energy for people who consume less than $150 worth of electricity per month.

The Coming Upheaval

Although President Trump continues to fight to bring back coal mining jobs by removing regulations, it might not be enough. In the end, the cheapness and cleanness of renewable energy solutions such as wind power will benefit any company’s bottom line.


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