As the U.S. solar market matures, procurement of large-scale solar is moving beyond renewable energy mandates to other drivers, voluntary utility procurement and contracts signed under the auspices of PURPA, a federal law mandating such purchases from independent power producers. However, corporate procurement has also emerged as a major driver.
According to the latest figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), corporations in the United States signed 2.8 GW of power contracts for wind and solar in 2017, more than half the global total of 5.4 GW.
The large majority of this was wind, with only around 500 MW of solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed. However, it included Apple’s 200 MW contract for the output of the Techren Solar Project.
Technically, Apple signed the PPA with Nevada’s NV Energy, which has been offering “green tariff” options for technology companies, likely to avoid these severing their ties with the utility the way that some casinos have. BNEF notes that the Techren PPA is the largest signed to date in the United States between a corporation and a utility.
BNEF also notes that such activity continues, despite inexpensive electricity and what it describes as a “tumultuous political climate”, including pending tariffs through the Section 201 trade case. “The lack of clarity on the severity of this tariff means developers cannot accurately price PPAs with corporations and other offtakers in the meantime,” warns the organization.
One reason that such activity may continue unabated is the rise of corporate commitments to procure 100% renewable energy. BNEF notes that 35 new companies signed on to the “RE100” pledge last year, bringing the total number to 119. For these companies clean energy represents not only cheap power at stable prices, but part of their branding and marketing.
BNEF notes that the RE100 companies consumed 159 terawatt-hours of electricity globally in 2016, nearly as much as the nation of Sweden.
Update: This article was modified at 11:14 AM EST on January 22 to include the volume of solar PPAs signed, and subsequent analysis.