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Why Cisco, Why Solar, Why Now

In the past year, Cisco has significantly ramped up its use of renewable energy with a focus on solar.  We’ve been sharing these activities in press releases, blog posts, videos and our annual CSR report, but we haven’t talked about why – and these reasons are deeper than just a commitment to the environment.

Here’s a short summary of some of our recent activities with renewable energy:

  • Signed an agreement with NRG Renew LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG), to purchase the output of a 20 MW solar energy facility located in Blythe, California for our San Jose headquarters and surrounding Bay Area locations
  • Completed 4 on-site solar projects at our sites in Texas, Massachusetts, and Bangalore, India taking our total solar production capacity over 2 MW (see photos below)
  • Launched a solar discount program for employees and contractors, along with their friends and family, to simplify and reduce the cost of installing solar panels on their homes leading to over 50 installations totaling over 250 kW in less than 1 year
  • Joined the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles supporting the increase in accessibility to renewable energy along with many of our peers in the technology industry
Free standing solar PV array in the parking area of Cisco's campus in Boxborough, MA

Free standing solar PV array in the parking area of Cisco’s campus in Boxborough, Massachusetts

Solar PV array on top of Cisco’s data center in Allen, Texas

Why have we undertaken these activities?  Certainly, each of these actions are helping bring more renewable power on line, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving us toward a better environment.  But any company, in any industry, can make the same claim.  To be authentic, it has to hold a special significance related to why Cisco exists.

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Cisco’s People Going Solar at Home

The people of Cisco in the United States and Canada can now buy or lease solar power for their homes at a discount, thanks to an initiative between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Geostellar, an online marketer of solar systems.

The program uses bulk buying power to give employees, families, and friends access to solar power for their homes at a flat rate that is on average 35% lower than the national average and roughly 50% less expensive than the average electric utility rates. By providing both purchase and financing options, and a variety of panel choices, participants can select a system which meets their individual needs.  Kimberly-Clark, 3M, National Geographic, as well as other companies and cities are also participating.

The offer will be available to over 100,000 people of the participating companies; if just 1% of them choose to power their homes with solar, more than 74,500 metric tons of carbon emissions would be avoided each year – the equivalent of taking more than 15,000 cars off the road, according to a World Wildlife Fund press release.

Ali Ahmed's new solar installation in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ali Ahmed’s new solar installation in Cleveland, Ohio

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Cisco is Picking up Speed with Solar

Did you know that every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year? Or that solar energy produces little to no greenhouse gasses? Clearly, solar power has the potential to reduce our reliance on other forms of energy, but how do we harness it?

Cisco is taking up the challenge in a number of ways:

1. We recently installed a 264-kilowatt roof-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) system at our data center in Richardson, Texas. (Solar PV systems convert sunlight into electricity and can be used to power just about anything that uses electricity from homes and businesses to cars and of course, IT equipment!). This particular system will produce approximately 370,000 kilowatt hours annually, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 30 U.S. homes.

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The Impact of Distributed Generation

Distributed generation is getting increasing attention for impact on the electric utility industry.  DG has been the subject of a number of high profile articles in Business Week, the Wall St. Journal and several online business and industry news sites.  The Business Week article was particularly provocative, leading with the title, “Why the U.S. Power Grid’s Days Are Numbered“.

Residential DG, primarily solar, remains relatively sparse in the U.S. compared to Europe, especially Germany.  Commercial/Industrial DG is getting greater penetration with large initiatives such as Walmart installing solar on the top of every store, and low-priced natural gas leading industrial customers to generate their own power.  Although circumstances differ, the September 17, 2013, WSJ article, “In Post-Tsunami Japan, Homeowners Pull Away From Grid”, describes how Japanese homeowners could foreshadow even more disruption.  While residential fuel cells are not presently economical, higher volume production and deployment in Japan could certainly change that.  Low cost fuel cells could enable every customer with natural gas service to make the economic analysis about when or whether it’s worth turning to self generation. Read More »

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Here Comes the Sun

When I was a kid, one of my neighbors had a solar radiometer.  It’s a glass bulb about the size of a baseball, with diamond-shaped panels connected to a spindle.   The panels, black on one side and silver on the other, would turn on the spindle when exposed to light.

I enjoyed experimenting with the gizmo, edging it in and out of the sunbeam that shone through a window and onto their kitchen table.  How close to the light did the radiometer need to be for the panels to move? What if I shaded it with a piece of cardboard?  How fast would the spindle turn if I put the radiometer fully in the light? Read More »

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