As businesses start self-generating electricity, utilities need to be careful

The technology world is also following suit. Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) are both making big strides in reducing their dependence on big utility companies.

Apple is currently getting 16% of the energy it needs from solar panels and fuel cells that run on biogas. More impressively, Apple has said its data center in Maiden, N.C., makes 100% of the energy it consumes.

Google has installed big solar panels on its Californian complex, and most recently announced it would begin buying all the power being generated at the Happy Hereford wind farm that is currently under construction in Texas.

The wind farm will start producing energy next year and Google plans to sell that electricity in Oklahoma, where it has a data center. The company’s energy subsidiary can’t transmit the power directly to the data center, but the data center’s local energy utility may buy some electricity from the wholesale market. Google also gets credit for selling green energy to the grid, which it then can use to offset its carbon footprint.

Google’s recent move gives it more or less its own utility, and while it has not expressed plans to become a true utility company, it is definitely moving in that direction. Google also has a $168 million investment in a solar thermal power plant in California, which is nearing completion. Google is slowly but surely becoming a force in the power market.

Utility companies are going to need to get more involved in the on-site generation market. Edison International (EIX) is paving the way for the entire industry. The company recently purchased SoCore Energy, which is a Chicago-based developer of rooftop solar projects. The company’s CEO said that the move was in reaction to power production becoming “more decentralized.”

Today, the nation is still heavily reliant on utility companies for their energy needs, but that dependence is shrinking little by little, and unless big utilities expand their business models and get more entrenched in on-site generation, the future is not looking too bright.  

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