The movement toward renewable energy sources is one of the most pressing concerns of our time. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), we must decarbonize our power sources at four times our current pace if we're to see a noticeable decrease in emissions by 2040.
Without an effort to rely on renewable energy—power sources that are clean, emission-free, and naturally replenished—the harmful emissions that our current fossil-fuel-based power sources create will only continue to grow. Reducing these emissions is critical to reducing carbon levels and slowing the effects of climate change.
Significant progress in the growth of renewable energy requires investment in the industries that develop these technologies, from solar and wind power to hydropower, biofuels, and geothermal energy.
Here are some of the top companies helping to fuel the low carbon transition by creating and providing renewable energy right now. This list is based primarily on Thomson Reuters' most recent (2017) Top 100 Energy Leaders list, which includes a specific section focused on renewable energy companies. Thomson Reuters' rankings focused on a combination of key business metrics, risk exposure, innovation, and environmental and social factors. We have included a few additional companies that stood out over the last few years, as well.
First Solar is headquartered in Arizona with offices worldwide that generate renewable energy. It has large solar plants on six continents and active projects throughout the globe.
The firm uses photovoltaic (PV) technology to deliver solar energy in a way that leaves the smallest carbon footprint of any method of solar power—half that of conventional solar panels. This process is designed to require the least amount of energy inputs to produce solar energy.
First Solar's expanded footprint in the United States reflects over $1 billion in investments and created as many as 500 new jobs as of 2019.
Canadian Solar is a global energy provider specializing in solar power. The company has averaged over $3 billion in annual revenue since 2015, making it one of the world's largest solar power companies.
With 17 manufacturing facilities in Asia and the Americas, Canadian Solar has delivered more than 40 gigawatts (GW) of solar modules to customers worldwide. The company website features a number of successful global projects installing solar panels in various capacities throughout the world.
A GW is equivalent to one billion watts of power most often used for large power plants or power grids.
Vestas Wind Systems
Vestas Wind Systems is a renewable power firm that began in 1898. The company is headquartered in Denmark with operations in several countries. A seller of wind turbines, Vestas has the largest market share in the field. As of 2019, Vestas' installed wind capacity was more than 117 GW, or over 17% of the entire global wind capacity.
Based in Mannheim, Germany, CropEnergies is a leading producer of ethanol and other biofuels, which are "renewable" in the sense that they come from corn or other plant life. Their "clean" rating is not as high as that of wind or solar, as the ethanol is burned by vehicles, but it does burn much more cleanly than fossil fuels.
The company produces bioethanol from renewable raw materials and raw alcohol from wheat, maize, barley, or triticale as well as from sugar syrups. With production facilities in Belgium, the United Kingdom, and France, CropEnergies produces 1.3 million cubic meters of bioenergy annually.
Headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Electrobras is the largest electric utility company in Latin America and one of the largest companies in the world. With 92% of its power generated with low-carbon emissions, that makes for a significant amount of low-carbon power use. Its chief form of power is hydropower, which supplies most of its overall output of more than 45,000 MW.
The company operates interconnections in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, transmitting energy across South America.
Hanergy Thin Film Power Group
Headquartered in Beijing, this versatile power firm is known for the technology in its name: thin-film power. This technology is in the realm of solar power—thin-film solar cells are produced by placing ultrathin layers of PV film on plastic or metal.
Hanergy has been applying this technology to solar panels since 2009. Before that, it was a hydropower company.
Its thin and light panels are very versatile and can be used in a variety of different ways, including in vehicles, aerospace, and agricultural applications. In fact, Hanergy partnered with Tesla Motors to develop PV supercharge stations in several cities in China.
In its 2019 market analysis and forecast, the IEA reports that renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50% between 2019 and 2024, with solar PV accounting for the largest share of this growth.
Motech is the world's largest manufacturer of PV cells for solar energy. Headquartered in Taiwan, the company engages in a wide range of research, development, and manufacturing of solar products and services, ranging from PV cells and modules to PV power systems.
The company has won several awards over the past few years, such as the 2019 Taiwan Excellent PV Award for its Silicon Photovoltaic Module Qualified Product Model. Its goal is to be a global leader in delivering quality products and services in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry.
Pacific Ethanol is a leading producer and seller of low-carbon renewable fuels and high-quality alcohol products in the United States. It was founded by Bill Jones, former Secretary of State of California.
The company owns and operates seven production facilities in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Illinois. Together, the plants produce 450 million gallons of ethanol and over 2 million tons of ethanol co-products annually.
This Florida utility giant has been steadily growing its green energy business for years and now stands as one of the largest producers of wind and solar power in the world. The company has 21,900 MW of capacity throughout the U.S. and Canada.
NextEra also ranks in Fortune's top 25 companies for innovation and impact across the globe.
The Bottom Line
The renewable energy field too often has been saddled with skepticism and pessimism, and its growth has slowed in some countries because of unfavorable government policy. However, these companies show how profitable—and sustainable—renewable energy can be in helping to save the planet. They, along with many other growing companies, will play an integral role in creating a new energy economy.