COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - European companies bought a record amount of wind power capacity last year, as energy-hungry businesses like aluminum producers and IT giants look for greener ways to drive their machinery and data centers.
As wind power becomes competitive on price with conventional energy in many countries, big companies have rushed to secure renewable energy to manage costs and reduce their carbon emissions, while boosting their image with customers.
New wind deals through so-called corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) were signed in Europe last year for 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, up from 1.3 GW in 2017, according to new data from industry body WindEurope.
Some companies have turned their support for wind power into a marketing opportunity, with the world’s top brewer AB InBev running an advert during American Football’s Super Bowl to say its Budweiser beer is made by using 100 percent renewable energy - to a backing track of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in The Wind”.
Wind power PPAs signed by companies in Europe have now reached a total capacity of 5 GW, almost the same as Denmark’s total wind energy capacity, WindEurope said.
In 2018, the biggest buyers of wind power in Europe were aluminum producers Norsk Hydro and Alcoa, which both signed big deals to buy power from farms in Norway and Sweden.
In July, Hydro signed the world’s longest corporate PPA - for 29 years - with Green Investment Group (GIG), a unit of Australian investment bank Macquarie.
The PPA market was traditionally driven by the IT sector to power data centers, but other industries have since joined in.
Carmaker Mercedes-Benz announced its first PPA deals in Poland and Germany in 2018, with the latter set to power its electric vehicle and battery manufacturing.
While companies are interested in buying renewable power to reduce their carbon emissions and manage volatile energy costs, wind firms are looking at new ways to secure income as the subsidies that have underpinned the industry taper off.
In the United States, companies like Alphabet’s Google, Facebook and Walmart have already developed a mature market for corporate PPAs.
Corporate and other non-utility customers signed nearly 40 percent of capacity contracted in the United States in the third quarter, according to data from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
(GRAPHIC: European wind PPAs by year - tmsnrt.rs/2B369Vl)
(GRAPHIC: New European wind PPAs by sector - tmsnrt.rs/2B99lik)
Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Mark Potter