Intel, Microsoft, Kohl’s lead EPA's green power ranking

What do tech giants Apple, Google, Intel and Microsoft, retailers Kohl's, Whole Foods and Wal-Mart, the U.S. Energy and Veteran Affairs Departments, and the cities of Houston and Washington, D.C. have in common? According to recently updated data in the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership, they are the most prolific users of renewable energy in the United States.

Open to all domestically operating organizations, with the exception of utilities and other energy suppliers, the EPA's voluntary program aims to boost green power consumption in an effort to counteract or even reduce the negative ecological side effects associated with conventional sources of electricity.

While not comprehensive, more than 1,400 organizations do participate in the program, collectively buying billions of kilowatt-hours of green power a year.

Based on eligible green power products — including renewable energy certificates, green-power purchases and on-site generation — the program regularly updates several rankings across public and private sectors.

Tech giants rise

The National Top 100 highlights the top users of green power across all sectors in the program. The updated overall ranking reveals some interesting trends over the past year. Among these, it shows that tech companies clearly have positioned themselves at the top, now occupying the top two spots and five of the highest 15 in the January 2014 update, compared to just three in January 2013.

Intel Corp. remains solidly at No. 1, consuming more than 3.1 billion kilowatt-hours of green energy a year. By covering 100 percent of its total electricity use with renewable energy, Intel also sits atop the program's elite 100 percent club.

The chipmaker currently uses about a billion kilowatt-hours more green power per year than its next-closest competitor, Microsoft Corp. But the gap is closing. Over the past year, Microsoft jumped Kohl's Department Stores to become the No. 2 renewable energy consumer in the latest overall ranking by using more than 1.9 billion kilowatt-hours per year, or 80 percent of its total electricity use. That compares to 1.12 billion kilowatt-hours, or 46 percent of its electricity demand, a year earlier.

And that's no knock on Kohl's, which remains the leading retailer in the program — just ahead of Whole Foods Market and Wal-Mart Stores. Kohl's covers 105 percent of its electricity use with approximately 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy.

Among program participants, only Intel, Microsoft and Kohl's currently consume more than 1 billion kilowatt-hours of green power per year.

Google, which recently joined the program, debuted in the Top 100 ranking at No. 6, covering 32 percent of its power use with about 737 million kilowatt-hours of annual green energy purchases. Apple Inc., another recent addition, weighed in at No. 11, consuming 537.5 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, or 85 percent of its total electricity demand.

Apple also is the third-largest user of on-site renewable energy in the program, with more than 100 million kilowatt-hours generated mostly by solar and biogas facilities installed at its data centers. The No. 1 on-site generator in the program is Wal-Mart, with approximately 175 million kilowatt-hours of on-site green power use through its wind, biogas and rooftop solar resources.

Public sector performers

The highest rungs of the EPA's top rankings aren't all tech and retail. The public sector also features some rising stars. 

The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, leapfrogged 10 spots over the past year to arrive at No. 7 in the updated Top 100 ranking. The agency more than doubled its green power use to nearly 700 million kilowatt-hours in the past year. The Department of Veterans Affairs, at No. 16 overall, elevated its use of green power by 100 percent over the past year to 400 million kilowatt-hours. Not surprisingly, the EPA itself covers all of its annual electricity demand with renewable energy, consuming about 266 million kilowatt-hours.

Interestingly, the city of Houston — considered by many to be the oil capital of the world — actually is the greenest city in the EPA program and is No. 9 in the overall ranking. In the past year, Houston boosted its annual renewable energy consumption to nearly 623 million kilowatt-hours, almost 50 percent of its usage, up from 438 million kilowatt-hours, or 35 percent, a year ago. 

With that, Houston passed Washington, D.C, the second-largest municipal green power user in the program, over the last year. However, D.C. covers 100 percent of its yearly power use with about 534 million kilowatt-hours of green power. Austin is another top-ranking Texas municipality in the EPA's 100-percent club.

Green collegiate spirit

American colleges and universities also have gotten into the renewable energy spirit. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania has established a veritable green power dynasty, seizing the top spot among participating colleges and universities for the sixth consecutive year. Pennsylvania is using about 200 million kilowatt-hours per year, nearly half of its demand.

But competition is getting fiercer, with the University of Oklahoma racing by a handful of schools over the past year en route to raising its annual renewable energy use to 154 million kilowatt-hours as of January 2014, or 85 percent of its total electricity demand. That's up from just 56 percent a year earlier.

Carnegie Mellon University, with its 116 million kilowatt-hours of annual green power use, covers 100 percent of its power demand. Others academic institutions covering all of their electricity needs with renewable energy include Georgetown University, Drexel University, Western Washington University and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Solar photo by photokup via Shutterstock