Forbes 50: How Your Favorite Brands Use Solar Power

You might be surprised at how many of the fattest conglomerates in the world claim to care about solar power and renewable energy. And given that most are oil, gas or bank firms, they all have some connection to the solar industry. Below are the Top 20 Forbes companies and a quick description of how they succeed, or epically fail, for that matter, at incorporating solar power into their business model. And then we’ll complete the top 50 with a few highlights of those companies that excel above their peers. Solar Hall of Shame, here we come…

1. General Electric

general electricThe clear winner of the 2009 Forbes Global 2000 is General Electric, one of our oldest surviving corporate conglomerates. GE employs 323,000 people worldwide and has nearly $800 billion in assets, but its environmental record over that 100+ years is not as rosy as its ability to grow. GE is also in the top 5 polluters in the U.S. (based on year 2000 stats). Now that the green revolution is picking up speed, GE has jumped on the bandwagon. In 2005, they initiated the “Ecomagination” program to develop new energy and efficiency technologies, including solar energy. GE invested roughly $900 million in renewable energy alone, including the sale and manufacture of complete solar electric systems for the commercial, residential and utility sectors.

Royal Dutch Shell2. Royal Dutch Shell

Officially the largest oil and gas company in the world, Shell is the last of the corporate oil and gas giants on the list. It was also one of the most diversified of the group, but most attempts to integrate Shell’s energy portfolio have dissolved without long-term success. In 2006, Shell sold the entirety of its solar energy operations—roughly 80 megawatts’ worth—to German solar giant SolarWorld. Shell’s energy diversity at this point revolves around hydrogen, biofuels, carbon capture, compressed natural gas, and its original claims to fame: oil, gas and chemicals.

toyota3. Toyota

Toyota’s got an obvious winner on the energy efficiency front: its hybrid Prius, complete with optional solar ventilation for the newest model. Toyota is the hands-down leader in fuel efficiency and sustainability in the mainstream auto industry. But rooftop solar panels on the Prius is not the extent of Toyota’s reach into renewable energy. In 2009, Toyota commissioned the world’s first solar-powered car carrier to transport its own cars, as well as its Lexus and Scion brands. The second-largest single-roof solar power installation in North America sits atop Toyota’s North American Parts Center in Ontario, California. Several of Toyota’s buildings, including the first auto dealer in the nation to receive the honor, are LEED certified.

exxonmobil4. ExxonMobil.

The largest publicly traded international energy company in the world, ExxonMobil is also the least popular. Its contemporaries, BP, Shell, Chevron, et al, have all at least ostensibly embraced alternative energy sources, but ExxonMobil remains distant. The company does list climate change and energy efficiency as important “twin challenges of our time,” but appears not to be all motivated by them. They do point to ongoing opportunities to increase energy efficiency at their plants by 15-20 percent, but no long-term plans. Solar energy gets a shout-out as a potential long-term solution after 2030.

bp5. British Petroleum

BP is one of the Big Seven oil companies, but also a longtime leader in the solar industry. Its BP Solar arm has gained its own individual identity, manufacturing and installing solar panels around the world. BP Solar is not only one of the top solar manufacturers in the world, but also one of the top commercial users of solar energy.

hsbc holdings6. HSBC Holdings

“The World’s Local Bank,” as it cleverly says on the website of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (based in Great Britain), HSBC has developed a policy for lending to socially and environmentally sensitive sectors to restrict or encourage investment in certain areas or to certain companies depending on the environmental characteristics of the situation. Tricky, I know. HSBC apparently has no direct involvement in the solar industry outside of possible financing agreements.

AT&T7. AT&T

AT&T is a household name in the United States and one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. But any solar energy future for AT&T is still undetermined. In 2008, a 1-megawatt solar PV array was installed on a facility in San Ramon, California. That, plus an agreement to buy wind energy in Austin, Texas, constitutes the whole of AT&T’s foray into alternative energy.

wal-mart8. Wal-Mart

It’s hard to find a more controversial and well-known company in the U.S. It’s both wildly popular and widely criticized. Wal-Mart is the largest grocery chain in the United States, with 1.3 million workers in the U.S. alone. And yet on average, Wal-Mart workers make 25 percent less in wages than competing grocery store workers. Wal-Mart is also on the Global Exchange list of 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers. Perhaps in an effort to clear its tarnished name, Wal-Mart has set remarkable goals toward sustainability and renewable energy implementation at its stores. A few years ago, the company vowed to someday supply 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. In California, Wal-Mart already has 18 solar arrays in place on its stores, with 10-20 more planned for the coming year. These arrays will power 20-30 percent of each location’s electrical needs. If only they cared about humans as much as the planet…

chevron9. Chevron.

Chevron is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have blatant environmental abuses, and on the other, Chevron Energy Solutions, which recently installed a 1.2-MW solar electric system in downtown Los Angeles. This is a company that was also named by Global Exchange as one of the 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers on the planet for environment and human rights abuses, but then again, Fast Company magazine named Chevron Energy Solutions (not its parent company, mind you) as one of the “Most Innovative Clean Energy Companies” in the world. Still, the vast proportion of Chevron’s revenue and profit comes through its oil and gas operations, and it’s hard to support such a paradoxical group.

banco santander10. Banco Santander

Banco Santander Central Hispano, a newcomer to the Forbes top 10, is nothing short of a banking cartel. In the last 10 years, Banco Santander has been swallowing up banks throughout Europe and is now the largest bank dealing in Euros. Last Spring, the bank created a venture capital firm with the sole purpose of investing in renewable energy. In 2006, Banco Santander signed a historic deal with BP Solar to build as many as 278 PV solar plants throughout Spain with a total capacity of up to 25 MW.

total11. Total

No, it’s not the nutritious, delicious brand of cereal. Total is the fifth oil and gas company on the list. It formed in France and makes an avid commitment to new energy sources, including solar. So far, Total’s involvement in the solar industry has manifested through two partially owned subsidiaries: Tenesol (with EDF Group - #27), which designs, installs and maintains solar panels, and Photovoltech, a recent joint-venture with GDF SUEZ (#17) that manufactures high-performance PV solar cells.

icbc12. ICBC

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the largest in its country and one of China’s “Big Four” state-owned banks, including CCB-#23 and Bank of China-#30. In terms of market value, ICBC is the largest bank in the world. According to their website, in just the first half of 2009, the bank had already lent RMB 400 billion ($58.5 billion) to support what they call “environment protective industries,” including alternative energy development.

gazprom13. Gazprom

Gazprom is what you might call corporate fallout from the end of the Cold War. When the Russian Ministry of Gas Industry turned itself into a corporation in 1989, Gazprom was born. Today, it’s the largest company in Russia and the second largest natural gas extractor in the world. Gazprom, of course, claims an environmental statement that includes careful extraction and transmission of its product, as well as at least ostentatious moves toward energy conservation, but has little to do with solar power. Like Jupiter, Gazprom is simply a gas giant.

petrochina14. PetroChina.

On the company website, oil conglomerate PetroChina boasts climate change awareness, having signed onto some key international agreements, such as the UN’s Global Compact, as well as helping to implement China’s National Climate Change Programme (always interesting to see leaders of the world’s most polluting industries working on climate change plans). But PetroChina has little to do with environmental responsibility. For example, they recently agreed to invest in harvesting oil sands in Canada. These sands are widely regarded as some of the dirtiest oil deposits on Earth, where there’s not a lot of oil to give, but certainly a whole lot of environmental risks.

volkswagen15. Volkswagen

Volkswagen is in many ways a cult hero among international automakers. Its Beetle was (and is) ultimate predecessor to today’s compact car. Together with the company’s infamous road-tripping van, it has long provided Volkswagen with an air of “greenness.” Nowadays, when getting green is finally serious in the auto industry, Volkswagen is not so much about solar, as can be expected from an auto company, but rightly focuses more on fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. Drivers can expect to find the first in a new line of VW plug-in hybrids at their local VW dealership soon. The small van will have 12 on-board batteries to carry the car 62 miles on a single charge—not so hot—but a hydrogen fuel cell will also tag along to increase that range to roughly 220 miles, with the added help of roof-mounted solar panels.

JP Morgan Chase16. JP Morgan Chase

One of the world’s largest and most notorious financial institutions, JP Morgan Chase has been connected to the violence in Darfur, war profiteering in Iraq, South African apartheid, and business ethics violations, among other allegations. But when it comes to renewable energy, criticism for our nation’s second largest bank dissolves. In 2008, JP Morgan bought a British carbon offset company to increase investments in solar and renewable energy. The company has also made it more difficult for new coal projects to get financing and in 2005, adopted a “sustainability commitment,” which included integrating environmental and social responsibility into the bank’s credit analysis and decision process regarding potential lending.

GDF Suez17. GDF SUEZ

French utility company-turned-global conglomerate, GDF SUEZ and is now the second largest retail electricity provider in the United States. Along with Total (#11), GDF SUEZ shares subsidiary Photovoltech, a PV module maker in Belgium. Photovoltech is a relatively recent acquisition and marks GDF SUEZ’s first real step into the solar manufacturing sector, although they do own Iberdrola, which operates (or is waiting to build and operate) some solar power plants here in the U.S. and abroad.

eni18. ENI

ENI is an “integrated energy company,” which, in this case, means an oil and gas company looking to improve its image and increase its appeal to today’s more green-minded stakeholders. As far as solar energy goes, in early 2008, ENI and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began a research partnership into advanced solar technologies - funding to the tune of $50 million over five years.

berkshire hathaway.jpg19. Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire Hathaway is quite the conglomerate. Based in Omaha, Nebraska and founded by Warren Buffet, still partial owner and world’s second richest man, Berkshire Hathaway owns a slew of famous brands and companies ranging from retail products to the insurance industry, including GEICO, Fruit of the Loom, See’s Candies and more. Despite dozens of subsidiaries, Berkshire Hathaway has little apparent connection to the solar industry. One subsidiary and the nation’s largest homebuilder, Clayton Homes, however, has developed the i-House, allegedly the nation’s first affordable, green manufactured home to utilize solar energy design.

vodafone20. Vodafone

Vodafone is a leading international telecommunications firm based in the United Kingdom. On a sustainability level, Vodafone plans to cut all company emissions 50 percent by 2020 based on 2006 levels. In terms of renewable energy, Vodafone is currently “exploring” potential solar and wind energy operations.

21. Mitsubishi Financial (Japan) 22. Procter & Gamble (USA) 23. CCB-China Construction Bank (China)

verizon24. Verizon Communications (USA)

Not stellar in the solar field, but does use solar power to provide energy to remote cell towers, delivering signals to its remote customers. There are also solar panels installed on Verizon’s central office in Tampa, Florida.

25. Petrobras-Petroleo Brasil (Brazil) 26. Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (Japan)

edf27. EDF Group

EDF Group is partial owner of Tenesol, a leading producer of photovoltaic panels. EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), yet another half-owned subsidiary, has been active in all sectors of the solar industry for nearly 20 years. In 2008 EDF EN switched on France’s largest solar plant in the city of Narbonne. EDF EN has the ultimate goal of reaching 2000 MW of solar energy throughout Europe and North America.

ibm28. IBM

IBM cannot be ignored a mover and shaker in the United States, and last year IBM scientists reached a breakthrough in “concentrating photovoltaics” (CPV) by using a large lens to concentrate a record 230 watts of solar energy onto a one centimeter square solar cell, creating 70 watts of usable electricity in the process.

29. BNP Paribas (France) 30. Bank of China (China) 31. Telefonica (Spain) installed a 3 MW solar array on its Madrid headquarters. 32. Nestle (Switzerland) 33. Sinopec-China Petroleum (China) 34. Credit Agricole (France)

siemens35. Siemens (Germany)

Once a powerful force in the solar industry, Siemens Solar was sold to Royal Dutch Shell (#2) in 2002. Today Siemens does make steam turbines for use in solar thermal plants as well as photovoltaic inverters for use in electric systems.

hp36. Hewlett-Packard (USA)

HP is certainly a corporate leader when it comes to sustainability, recycling and conservation. On the solar front, in 2007 HP hired SunPower to build and operate a solar PV array on HP’s San Diego facility. A similar deal in Ireland, this one involving wind power, will result in 90 percent of the company’s energy usage in that country will have renewable origins.

37. Intesa Sanpaolo (Italy) 38. Bank of America 39. Honda Motors (Japan) 40. BBVA-Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (Spain) 41. ArcelorMittal (Luxembourg)

johnson & johnson42. Johnson & Johnson (USA)

Johnson & Johnson is the largest corporate user of on site solar power with over 3.5 megawatts of sunny energy collected at various sites under J&J ownership.

enel43. ENEL (Italy)

ENEL is a large utility company that has at least one current solar distinction worth mentioning. In addition to a solar array on its headquarters in Italy, ENEL has inked a deal with Sharp to create 1 gigawatt of solar power per year.

44. UniCredit Group (Italy) 45. Generali Group (Italy) 46. France Telecom (France)

samsung47. Samsung Electronics (South Korea)

Samsung, a traditional microchip maker, is new to the mass production of solar cells but already has the noteworthy goal of topping the solar cell market by 2015.

deutsche bank48. Deutsche Bank (Germany)

It’s not just a PGA golf championship, it is the German bank that is funding the Solar Impulse project to fly a solar plane around the world.

microsoft49. Microsoft (USA)

The quintessential computer company has added a little solar power to Silicon Valley, in the form of a 480 kW solar PV system on the roof of one of its data centers. The move has helped the facility cope with regular summer blackouts in the region.

Pfizer50. Pfizer (USA)

This pharmaceuticals giant is no friend to those of us without health care and it brings up the end of the line in our abridged version of the Forbes Global 2000. Pfizer executives were recently forced to pay a record $2.3 billion in fines for fraudulent drug marketing (not the first time), but apparently they haven’t been completely lying about working to halt climate change. In 2007 Pfizer was one of 68 companies, and the only pharmaceutical company, to be named to the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI), a non-profit coalition of global investors.

Posted on September 16 in Solar News by .

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