Views from the intersection of technology, the environment and business.
Author: Heather Clancy
Heather’s articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. She is editorial director for GreenBiz.com, and was the launch editor of FORTUNE Data Sheet, a daily dose of enterprise technology news.
It probably won’t surprise you to discover that many of the companies investing in on-site solar technology—rather than waiting around for their local utility to start selling clean power—are either retailers or real estate investment firms. The Solar Energy Industries Association keeps tabs on this with an annual ranking.
Most of the names on that list are pretty familiar, such as Target (No. 1) and Walmart (a close No. 2). Others, not so much.
Over the past several months, I’ve interviewed two of those “others” — industrial warehouse giant Prologis, which is third on the list (its total capacity is now smaller than when I wrote my story), and luxury mall operator General Growth Properties (GGP), which is ninth.
One thing that struck me most about my chat with GGP was the simple fact that it was the chief operating officer who handled the interview. Believe me, these investments were considered carefully — right now about 20 of the company’s malls sport solar panels, and another 30 projects or so are in the pipeline.
The states where they are located are diverse: although the company began experimenting first in New Jersey and Hawaii, mainly because that’s where the financial case was strongest to begin.
Every single one of them is metered carefully, using software that keeps tabs on electricity consumption down to the outlet. For me, this intention to detail is another indication that many of the investments that businesses are making in solar and wind energy are predicated as much on their economic practicality as they are driven by an interest in doing the right thing. Slowly but surely.
What discourages homeowners from investing in solar power generation technology? Cost is certainly the most obvious obstacle, but there’s also a certain snobbery involved. Seriously, most solar panels aren’t all the aesthetically pleasing. No matter how much my contractor-husband appreciates the idea of clean energy, he winces when he sees them.
The good news: Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial billionaire behind both electric vehicle company Tesla and clean energy installer SolarCity, hopes to change that perception with a new SolarCity product that embeds the generation technology right into the roof tiles. The not-so-good news: Musk conveniently neglected to mention when his so-called solar roof will be available.
Solar roofs (aka “building integrated photovoltaic” technologies) aren’t a new idea: more high-profile new buildings are including BIPV features such as the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, California; and the flagship Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square, which includes PV panels that are integrated into the roof design. But there’s something to be said for brand recognition, something that both SolarCity and Tesla have managed to generate.
Doing some Friday afternoon story-boarding when I came across an article proclaiming that three-quarters of all Internet use will be mobile by 2017. (That’s next year, folks. I know, it caught me by surprise, too.)
Which got me wondering how true that prediction really can be. While I certainly spend a big chunk of my personal “screen time” on either my smartphone or e-whatever, my husband is in the basement right now streaming a movie using my broadband connection. I would be willing to bet that at least half of my neighborhood is doing the same thing. (We’re a very sleepy town, I admit.)
The data in question, which comes from a media agency, Zenith, was collected to support the case for mobile advertising within the apps used most frequently on mobile devices — social networks and navigation software (aka maps) among them. While I certainly agree with that focus, there’s no way that I’m going to convince my husband that he should stare at a teeny-tiny tablet to watch one of the action flicks that he prefers. Nor do I believe that my binge-watching friends are putting their eyes to strain.
Given the bandwidth-hogging nature of streaming video and the couch-potato tendencies of binge-watchers, I really wonder how accurate that three-quarters number can be.