Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency, Energy Storage, Industrial, Commercial, Distributed Generation, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables - October 9, 2017 - By Amy Poszywak
At Intel, an 'all of the above' approach to clean energy
A Smart Energy Decisions exclusive
Talk of an "all of the above" energy policy has been a common refrain among politicians and utility executives for some time. At Intel Corp., however, it has become the unspoken philosophy to adapting to climate change.
With roots in the early 2000s as the global technology company began to explore the integration of renewables and other clean energy technologies into its energy management strategy, Intel philosophy has evolved into a mission to explore and deploy a wide range of solutions to help reduce its own emissions and help others looking to do the same. From its use of smart LED lighting, to purchasing renewable energy credits, to a broad adoption of onsite, clean generation projects, Intel aims to have a diversified array of solutions, all working in tandem.
Intel has installed more than 70 onsite generation projects globally, using 14 different clean technology applications. Of that number, 24 are onsite solar PV systems, including the two largest privately owned solar carport facilities in the U.S. — one in Arizona, one in California — that together generate more than 15 MW of power and cover nearly 6,500 parking spaces.
Marty Sedler, Intel's director of global utilities and infrastructure, refers to this as a portfolio approach: Similar to investing in a mutual fund as opposed to a single stock, diversifying its approach to energy creates "a sound structure with lots of pillars," he recently told Smart Energy Decisions.
"We're not looking for the answer, we're looking for all of the answers," Sedler said. "By looking for all of the answers, we are not risking our strategy or our success."
Sedler says Intel's portfolio approach has evolved as the company built out its use of renewable energy through the U.S. EPA's Green Power Partnership. In 2008, Intel became the largest purchaser of green power in the country as verified by the program. It still holds that top spot, purchasing more than 3.8 billion kWh of renewable energy to cover 100% of their U.S. load through a combination of renewable energy credits, onsite and offsite projects in addition to utility-supplied clean energy. Intel buys an additional, nearly 1 billion kWh for supply outside the U.S.
Those efforts work alongside Intel's sharp focus on conservation, including energy efficiency technologies and building design; all of its new construction is built to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Gold certification or higher. Combined, Sedler says all of it comes together in a way that fills in the gaps, or limitations, of any one technology or strategy. It also lends itself to innovation, thinking outside the box, being open to taking risks and assuming a leadership role in moving the needle.
The road is a familiar one for technology companies, where innovation, science and boundary-pushing are embedded in an organization's DNA, making trial and error and adoption of new systems more feasible. Companies like Microsoft and Google have been digging deeply into advanced energy management strategies and technology in recent years, and Intel is no exception.
"Being a tech company, being innovative and liking to play with the chemistry, we're willing to try new things," Sedler said. "We're told to pick some new concepts every year that maybe aren't commercially complete today, but have strong potential, and try them out on a smaller scale to see if they work and learn from them. We experiment with them and find out how they work with other technologies and determine if they can be built out and scaled up."
One example is piloting the installation of wind turbines on cooling towers associated with Intel's manufacturing and other operations. While wind resources vary by region, Sedler said Intel has cooling towers all over the world, so the idea of generating electricity from their waste, or the resource waste from other parts of its operations, makes sense.
"If we have these cooling towers everywhere, or waste streams, or whatever it may be, and we figure out how to draw energy from those, and you have 1,000 of them on your sites across the world … they're all small, but they're all additive, so that may become part of the portfolio," he said.
Testing these types of technologies also helps the broader market if they prove successful and can be scaled, Sedler added. They also help Intel as it works toward meeting its broader corporate sustainability goals, which include empowering others to use Intel technology to reduce their own environmental impact.
"The way I think about leadership, it isn't just doing the biggest and best thing," Sedler said. "It's influencing others to join with you, and together, you lead a revolution or find a solution to a problem. Instead of 'look what I did,' it's more like 'look what we can do, here are some examples that you can use,' and trying to gather the coalitions or the groups to go do things."
Another key element of Intel's approach: A thoughtful consideration of the appropriate balance of consideration for renewable energy versus carbon reduction and the environment.
"It's a natural thing to say 'renewable energy helps improve carbon footprint, which helps the environment,'" Sedler said. "That is absolutely true, but renewable energy is not the only thing that improves carbon footprint and helps the environment."
In India, for example, the company's out of the box thinking led to the deployment of the first fuel cells in the country, which are now being used to help power an Intel campus in Bangalore, India. Getting the solution up and running took years, requiring a collaborative effort between Intel, the government and its local utility to build out the natural gas infrastructure to feed the fuel cells. The solution has lowered emissions from the campus by 70% as it transitioned Intel's power supply away from being generated almost entirely by low-quality coal and diesel fuel.
"The power reliability is terrible, the power goes off between five and seven days a week, so you're constantly in outages, which means you have to backup your site with diesel generators, and that's not exactly environmentally friend, either," Sedler said of the situation prior to deploying fuel cells. "So the carbon footprint is really bad, the reliability is bad, the quality is bad."
As space constraints limited solar potential and wind was not an economic option for the site, the fuel cells are providing the primary power source for the campus, though Intel also derives some power from a 500 kW rooftop solar installation and solar hot water heating. The campus now has approximately 2.5 MW of fuel cells providing close to 20 million kWh annually for three buildings — the equivalent of the site’s base load — with plans to add a fourth building and an additional fuel cell in the works.
"It's important to look at all the different applications and finding what works where you are," he said. "So this is not renewable energy, but it is absolutely greener, and it is a carbon solution."
With the natural gas infrastructure in place, Sedler said he expects more fuel cell projects to follow in India; Intel has given dozens of tours to companies interested in deploying the solution for their own facilities. The local utility has been supportive, as well, understanding that project helps mitigate its reliability issues while offering a cleaner source of power.
"They know that from an economic perspective, their unreliable power supply hurts the country's growth. But now they have a solution to offer for cleaner and more reliable power," he said. "So the solution helps a lot of people and is absolutely the team approach. So Intel didn't do that, we all did it."
That team approach, as noted by Sedler and many other industry-leading corporate energy executives, is exactly what is required to move the globe forward to address climate change.
"There are a lot of big companies out there, but none of us can solve the [climate change] problem by ourselves. We're a gnat," he said. "It does take a huge grouping around the world, of everyone really coming together to really drive success. What we want to do is influence."