Telecom giant Verizon (s VZ) is expected to announce on Tuesday that it plans to spend $100 million on clean power projects, including installing solar panels and fuel cells at 19 locations to help power its buildings and network infrastructure. Verizon’s Chief Sustainability Officer James Gowen plans to make the announcement at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference on Tuesday.
Verizon plans to buy fuel cells from ClearEdge Power and solar panels from SunPower (s SPWRA). The amount of power from the solar panels and fuel cells, which will be installed across seven states, will be 70 million kilowatt hours of electricity. That’s enough to power 6,000 homes per year.
Fuel cells look like industrial refrigerators, and they use a chemical reaction to produce electricity and heat. They are filled with large stacks that are lined with catalysts (a metal, sometimes platinum), and a fuel (commonly natural gas) is inserted in one side and runs over the stack. Electricity and heat flow out the other side. The benefits of fuel cells are that the electricity can be created on site where it is used, and if the fuel used is biogas, then the electricity is also free of carbon emissions.
Verizon has been using a small amount of solar and fuel cell technology for awhile, but this move represents the company’s largest commitment to clean power projects to date. Verizon is looking to cut its carbon emissions footprint substantially by 2020.
Gowen told me in an interview that this initiative is being driven both by the desire to add energy resiliency to Verizon’s facilities as well as the company’s sustainability goals. During superstorm Sandy, a fuel cell installation that Verizon had in Long Island that powered a switching station (using fuel cells from UTC Power, which was acquired by ClearEdge Power) never went down. Gowen said he wanted that type of off-grid resiliency through out Verizon’s facilities.
All of the solar panel installations in 2013 will be pretty large ones. For example, Verizon is putting solar panels on the roof of a data center in New Jersey, as well as on the ground next to the data center. The return on investment for the combined clean power projects is supposed to be around ten years, said Gowen.
Deploying clean power technologies — both solar panels and fuel cells — at data centers is a growing trend for internet and telecom companies in the U.S. Apple (a AAPL), Google (s GOOG), eBay, and Microsoft (s MSFT) are all deploying clean power at data centers to help add off grid resiliency, as well as lower carbon emissions.
Apple is building its own solar panel farms and fuel cell farms at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Google has spent over a $1 billion investing in clean power projects and recently started working with Duke Energy on a clean power initiative in North Carolina. AT&T (s T) has large fuel cell farms powering its operations in California and Connecticut, using technology from Bloom Energy.
In a call last week, ClearEdge Power’s CEO David Wright called Verizon’s commitment to clean power technology “a stake in the ground for other technology companies.”