Overshadowed by Google’s jump into the renewable energy business on Tuesday was Hewlett-Packard’s more modest move to go green by installing a 1-megawatt solar array at its San Diego facility, buying wind power for its Ireland operations and subsidizing employees’ home solar systems.
In Silicon Valley these days putting a whopping solar array up on your roof is akin to having the coolest corporate jet or your CEO back-ordered for a Tesla Roadster. Google (GOOG), of course, has the biggest, a 1.6-megawatt monster that covers buildings and carports at the Googleplex in Mountain View. Not to be outdone, Applied Materials (AMAT) is planning an even larger solar system for its headquarters in neighboring Santa Clara.
But there’s more at stake here than green bragging rights. Companies like HP (HPQ) are realizing that tapping renewable energy can also be good for the bottom line. Take HP’s solar array in San Diego, for instance. The 5,000-panel system carries no capital costs for HP as the array will be financed and operated by a third-party affiliated with solar cell maker SunPower (SPWR). The Silicon Valley company will install the array and perform maintenance for 15 years while HP purchases the electricity produced by the solar system at a guaranteed below-market rate. That gives the company a hedge against rising energy costs. (HP thinks it’ll save $750,000 over 15 years.) HP also retains ownership of any potentially marketable renewable energy credits associated with the array while the financier can take advantage of California’s solar subsidies.
SunPower wasn’t disclosing the identity of that financier when Green Wombat inquired on Tuesday, but this morning the company announced a $200 million deal with Morgan Stanley (MS) to provide financing for solar installations and power purchase agreements like the one HP signed. SunPower and Morgan Stanley have formed a jointly owned holding company to finance SunPower’s solar systems for customers, with the Wall Street firm kicking in up to $190 million and SunPower putting up as much as $10 million.
In Ireland, HP will buy a year’s worth of clean electricity generated by Airtricity’s European wind farms, saving the company an estimated $40,000 in 2008. Electricity generated by Airtricity’s wind farms is fed into Ireland’s national power grid rather than directly to HP facilities. But the additional power generated by the wind farms, as well as the solar electricity eventually produced by the San Diego array, will eliminate tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
Last, SunPower will give HP employees a $2,000 rebate if they install the company’s residential solar systems, with HP providing another $2,000. That’s on top of state rebates under the California Solar Initiative program.