Businesses don't usually go solar just because they want to help reduce their carbon footprint or just because they're looking to save money. Ultimately, the reason is often more complex, based on what's known as a triple bottom line strategy: maximizing benefits for people, planet and profit.
Factors in deciding to go solar
If your enterprise relies on a large amount of computing power to stay in business, you may find yourself wondering about solar. Data centers use vast amounts of power—across the country, they consume 3% of the nation's power supply, or roughly 70 billion kilowatt-hours. For an average data center, the cost of electricity alone will make up about one-third of a server farm's operating costs.
One way to save on the cost of powering that infrastructure is to generate the power yourself. By doing so, you'll be following in the footsteps of Apple, Google and Facebook. Although these companies point towards corporate responsibility as their reason for going solar, they stand to make back a large chunk of their costs. Apple alone has locked in an electricity cost that is (and will remain) far lower than the average price of electricity in the state of California. Their long-term savings on energy costs will be immense.
Apart from cost savings, offsetting carbon emissions is another reason why businesses go solar. Maybe your campus is located in a suburb, far from public transit. Your employees might commute long hours to get to work, burning an average of 4000 kilograms of carbon per person per year. In that case, you may believe it's your corporate social responsibility to offset this carbon by powering your building with renewables.
Understanding the triple bottom line strategy
Your business might still not check all of the boxes above—if your company doesn't have outstanding electricity requirements or a large carbon footprint, is there still a reason for you to go solar? Let's look at some of the other reasons why businesses go solar when they operate under a less conventional business model.
One interesting illustration of the triple bottom line strategy comes from a surprising data point: the uptick in small family farms turning toward solar energy.
Take a minute and imagine you're a farmer. Farming has never been known as an easy job—making a profit growing food requires an enormous investment in equipment and time. Factors out of your control might ruin a crop. Depending on crop yields and expenses, you might not even clear $250 per acre.
All over the country, farmers are realizing that converting their fields to solar farms makes a great deal of sense from a triple bottom line perspective. Both people and the planet get the benefit of solar energy, without much in the way of net drawbacks. When a farm goes solar, it doesn't make any great dent in the food supply, as many crops—including 85% of all corn—aren't intended for human consumption.
Lastly, there's profit. Solar providers can pay around $800 per acre to lease farmland for solar development. Going solar means that farms make more money, allowing them to employ more people. The surrounding communities get solar energy, and a commensurate amount of carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels stay in the ground. Agricultural solar farms check all three boxes of the triple bottom line.
Imagining the benefits of solar power for business
Whether a business is trying to save on the massive electricity costs of running a data center or make a profit more reliable than weather-dependent crop yields, it seems like there's no place where solar isn't a good solution.
These examples provide an encouraging lesson: While investing in solar remains a complex process, it's no longer a risky one. The benefits are abundant enough for business leaders to build a compelling case for going solar—whether they own a giant software company, a small family-owned farm or just about any type of business in between.