Apple fronts clean energy fund to invest $300 million in China

Apple, Clean Energy, Sunseap, Supply Chain
Apple
Sunseap, a clean energy provider, manages 32 megawatts of solar panels on more than 800 rooftops in Singapore.

Over the past three years, Apple has inspired 23 of its manufacturing partners to commit to powering their operations entirely with renewable energy. Its aim: bolster its own leadership and collectively add at least 4 gigawatts of solar and wind capacity by 2020. 

So far, that participation has taken several forms, primarily in the form of policy influence and negotiating might. For example, Apple helped mammoth component builder Jabil orchestrate a relatively rare wind power purchase agreement.

Now, Apple plans to invest more directly in projects intended to benefit its supply chain through a $300 million fund that could add still another gigawatt of renewable power in China over the next four years.

To be clear, Apple isn’t putting up all of that money. That pool so far includes investments from DWS Group, a Deutsche Bank subsidiary that will manage the fund, as well as from companies that hope to benefit from the power. Apple declined to discuss what each partner in this effort has contributed from a financial perspective.

However, so far, 10 of Apple’s partners (nine of them among the 100 percent pledgers referenced earlier) have opted to participate. They include aluminum enclosure maker Catcher Technology, iPad assembler Compal Electronics, packaging supplier Golden Arrow, Jabil, accessory company Luxshare-ICT, iPhone assemblers Pegatron and Wistron, materials maker Solvay, and antenna and enclosure manufacturer Sunway Communication. Glassmaker Corning Inc. also has stepped up to put skin in the game.

"We’re thrilled so many of our suppliers are participating in the fund and hope this model can be replicated globally to help businesses of all sizes make a significant positive impact on our planet," said Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives for Apple, in a statement about the next program.

DWS will play the lead role in vetting and suggesting projects for the fund to back. It is hoped that by pooling the funds, more of the smaller companies within Apple’s supply chain will gain access to clean power sources.

As of April, Apple reported that it had helped develop at least 485 megawatts of wind and solar projects in six Chinese provinces. So far, its clean energy program — launched  back in 2015 — has inspired additions of at least 3 GW worldwide. The aim is to top 4 GW by 2020. Once operational, these projects will help Apple and its supply chain eliminate about 4.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Apple officially met its own 100 percent renewable milestone this spring, meaning that it procures enough clean electricity to cover what's consumed by its retail stores, data centers and work facilities around the world. It doesn't disclose how much of that amount is directly consumed by its operations, versus energy that it is adding to the grid in locations where it doesn't have a physical presence.

Where could this clean energy funding program crop up next?

Apple isn’t talking, but as the company’s aim is to support "localized solutions," the list of suppliers that have so far pledged to the 100 percent renewable electricity goal have manufacturing footprints that extend into France, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the United States and Vietnam.