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Corporate Renewable Energy Goals Stimulate Solar, Wind Demand, and Business Models

Adam Wilson — May 4, 2017

Large retailers, data centers, manufacturers, and even government facilities are among the growing number of entities shifting away from the standard electricity model where utilities decide the generation source and technology for consumers. As the costs of wind and solar energy continue to decline, owners of these energy-intensive buildings are taking advantage to meet their renewable energy goals. The combination of these two factors has led to the manifestation of corporate procurement as a major driver in the deployment of renewable energy, forcing utilities to continuously adapt to meet a wide range of consumer needs.

Leading companies such as Microsoft and Google paved the way early on for renewable energy procurement, but more and more companies are joining in. Notably, the online retail giant Amazon is building (and has built) wind and solar farms in North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana as part of its goal to achieve 100% renewable energy usage. Worldwide, nearly 20 GW of corporate renewable energy procurement contracts have been signed to date, with 240 Fortune 500 companies now having set renewable energy goals.

Achieving Renewable Energy Goals

Making things more interesting are the growing number of methods companies use to meet their formidable renewable energy targets:

  • Physical power purchase agreements (PPAs) were the preferred method for many years; a third-party developer would install, own, and operate a solar PV system (often onsite) and sell that energy to a company at a fixed price.
  • Financial or virtual PPAs are becoming more common. A utility or independent renewable developer sells power from wind or solar into the wholesale energy market at an agreed upon price via a third party (in this case, the companies looking to fulfill renewable energy targets). The company gets credit for bringing renewable energy to the grid and can count this toward its goals without directly sourcing its energy from renewables. Amazon’s 80 MW solar farm in Virginia operates under this structure through a deal with Dominion Energy.
  • Utility tariffs or green tariffs are agreements between a company and utility to purchase renewable energy from a specific facility in the utility’s service territory instead of negotiating a PPA directly with the developer. Google and Duke Energy announced a partnership under this arrangement.
  • Exiting the utility entirely is another method, though it is uncommon. Companies that are able to exit can separate from the utility entirely and purchase energy from private providers. MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts recently announced their plans to part ways with the local utility, NV Energy.

Favorable Future for Aggressive Movers

Looking ahead, it’s still to be determined if any one procurement method will emerge as the preferred path to meeting renewable energy goals, and it is unclear how utilities will respond. The demand doesn’t seem to be waning: Google, a leader in procured renewable energy, announced a plan to be 100% renewable powered on a real-time basis. To meet these bold targets, companies will need to continue to be creative in coming up with arrangements that work for both sides. Competitors are becoming more aggressive in this expanding space, and the evolution of this nuanced renewable energy application will be one to watch for the foreseeable future.

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