Corporations purchased a record 23.7 GW of clean energy globally in 2020, with the U.S. market maintaining its lead and new markets propelling growth, according to a new report from BloombergNEF (BNEF).
The 2020 figure is up slightly from 20.1 GW in 2019 and more than 10 GW above the 13.6 GW seen in 2018. In the report, BNEF noted the 2020 increase came despite a year devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a global recession, and uncertainty about U.S. energy policy ahead of the presidential election.
“To not only maintain, but grow, the clean energy procurement market under these conditions is a testament to how high sustainability is on many corporations’ agendas,” said Kyle Harrison, BNEF senior associate and lead author of the report.
BNEF found in its 1H 2021 Corporate Energy Market Outlook that clean energy contracts were signed by more than 130 companies in sectors ranging from oil and gas to big tech.
Although the U.S. was once again the largest market, it was less dominant than in previous years. Companies announced 11.9 GW of corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) in the U.S. in 2020, down from 14.1 GW in 2019. According to BNEF, this represented the first year-over-year drop since 2016. The first half of 2020, coinciding with the start of the pandemic, was particularly subdued, with companies announcing just 4.3 GW of corporate PPAs in the U.S. during that period.
Latin America also had a down year, with corporate PPA volumes dropping from 2 GW in 2019 to 1.5 GW in 2020. The region was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. However, BNEF said companies in Brazil signed a record of nearly 1.06 GW of PPAs in 2020, as many continued to migrate to the country’s free market, where they can sign bilateral clean energy contracts directly with developers.
Once the main draw for corporate procurement in the Latin American region, Mexico saw deal volumes all but dissipate. BNEF claimed this is because the current administration continues to undermine the country’s clean energy sector.
While the U.S. and Latin America slipped back, other corporate procurement markets stepped up.
Corporate PPA volumes in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region nearly tripled, from 2.6 GW in 2019 to a record 7.2 GW in 2020. In Spain, companies announced contracts to purchase no less than 4.2 GW of clean energy, up from 300 MW the previous year.
BNEF said solar and wind projects in Spain yield some of the cheapest and most competitive prices in Europe, thanks to strong natural resources and a large pool of experienced developers. Companies like Total and Anheuser Busch are orchestrating “cross-border virtual PPAs” in Spain, buying clean energy in the country to offset their load elsewhere in Europe.
Corporations also purchased record clean energy volumes in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, announcing contracts for 2.9 GW of solar and wind. Taiwan established itself as a major corporate clean energy market in 2020, with companies signing PPAs totaling 1.25 GW. BNEF said Taiwan’s market should be supported by a new policy that requires companies with an annual load above 5 MW to buy clean power. Also, the island has a high concentration of large manufacturers, many of which are feeling pressure from their customers to decarbonize.
South Korea is expected to be the next major corporate procurement market in Asia. Policymakers revised the country’s Electric Utility Act in the beginning of 2021, creating a PPA mechanism and a green tariff program with Korea Electric Power Corp. The revision will also allow companies to purchase unbundled certificates and retire them against sustainability commitments. According to BNEF, South Korean companies face similar supply-chain pressures to those in Taiwan.
Jonas Rooze, lead sustainability analyst at BNEF, said, “More than ever before, corporations have access to affordable clean energy at a global scale. Companies no longer have an excuse for falling behind on setting and working towards a clean energy target.”
BNEF found that Amazon was the leading buyer of clean energy in 2020, announcing 35 separate clean energy PPAs in 2020, totaling 5.1 GW. The company has now purchased over 7.5 GW of clean energy to date, vaulting it ahead of Google (6.6 GW) and Facebook (5.9 GW) as the world’s largest clean energy buyer. French oil major Total (3 GW), TSMC (1.2 GW) and U.S. telecom Verizon (1 GW) were the next largest corporate buyers of clean energy in 2020.
BNEF said the flow of new companies making clean energy commitments is another indicator of how much more the market can grow. 65 new companies joined the RE100 in 2020, pledging to offset 100% of their electricity consumption with clean energy. BNEF forecast that the 285 RE100 members will collectively need to purchase an additional 269 TWh of clean electricity in 2030 to meet their RE100 goals. Should this shortfall be met exclusively with offsite PPAs, it would catalyze an estimated 93 GW of new, incremental solar and wind build.
“Investor interest in sustainability is sky high, with inflows to sustainability-focused funds growing 300% between 2019 and 2020,” explained Harrison. “Companies in all sectors, including hard-to-abate ones like oil and gas and mining, are feeling the pressure to purchase clean energy and decarbonize. This group is only just scratching the surface on the amount of clean energy build it can catalyze.”
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