AT&T expands corporate solar capacity with help from SunEdison

The project -- part of the carrier's stepped-up renewable energy push -- offers an example of how businesses can offset energy costs by offering corporate real estate for installations.

Telecommunications carrier AT&T is working with utility company SunEdison to activate up to 2 megawatts of solar capacity in California by the end of the second quarter of 2011. The deal is part of AT&T's program to aggressively step up its solar investments moving forward.

The first site under the deal with SunEdison is being activated on a rooftop in San Diego. The other sites will be located in Dunnigan, Commerce, Mojave, Santa Ana and West Sacramento.

The size of the San Diego solar photovoltaic array is 296 kilowatts, which the company hopes will produce about 420,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in its first year. For translation purposes, the installation will generate enough electricity in the first 20 years of its lifetime to power 720 U.S. homes.

The deal between AT&T and SunEdison is a power purchase agreement. Under the alliance, SunEdison is responsible for construction, monitoring and management of the solar technology. AT&T will, in turn, buy the energy at a price set by the two organizations. Says AT&T's director of energy, John Schinter: "We are continually seeking opportunities to add renewable energy resources to power our business operations, and this agreement provides more sustainable solutions for our energy needs in California."

The San Diego project is part of AT&T national Solar Initiative, one of its renewable energy plays. Last year, AT&T was below a large-scale solar power plant installation in Secaucus, N.J., that will generate up to 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. It also has installed 3,700 panels on its facility in San Ramon, Calif., representing another 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year. Wind power, meanwhile, contributes approximately 10 percent of the carrier's electricity needs in Austin.

AT&T has gotten a lot more serious about its energy efficiency in the past 24 months. According to the company's sustainability reporting web site, it set out in 2009 to reduce its energy intensity -- defined as the amount of energy it uses in proportion to the data carried on its network -- by 15 percent. It already has beat that goal, cutting intensity by 28.8 percent from 2008 to 2009, and it will continue to benchmark energy closely. The company is two years into a data center efficiency project that is intended to cut 96.4 million kilowatt hours per year, which translates into deferred carbon dioxide emissions of 69,231 metric tons annually.

Another big initiative involves the company's fleet. So far, AT&T has deployed 2,000 vehicles using alternative fuels and 1,500 vehicles using compressed natural gas. In March 2009, the company said it would spend $565 million to replace more than 15,000 fleet vehicles by the end of 2018. In all, AT&T has 75,900 vehicles on the road. Its initiative should save more than 49 million gallons of gasoline and cut emissions by 211,000 metric tons.

Incidentally, I just posted an item sharing some research on the impact of green fleet initiatives .

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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