Stepping UP in 2021: #3 Sustainable electricity and corporates’ critical solar role


The market for corporate clean energy purchases – primarily solar and wind – skyrocketed to a record 23.7 GW in 2020, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF). Development over the past year has been particularly impressive, given the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing recessions. This underlines the increased appetite for sustainability in the business, consumer, and political realms with the falling costs of renewable electricity.

According to Kyle Harrison, BNEF senior associate, this upward trajectory continues in 2021. “Through April, companies have announced 7.2 GW of clean energy PPAs, ahead of the 4.2 GW signed in 2020,” he told pv magazine.

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Corporates’ critical solar role: Since 2008, Apple, Google, Amazon, and others have led the charge in corporate procurement of renewables. Their action has meant the US has been the world’s largest market since 2008, with 11.9 GW of corporate power purchase agreements announced in 2020. However, other markets are beginning to pick up the pace.

RE100 and the corporate renewable electricity boom: In 2020, corporate renewables purchases hit a record 23.7 GW. Much of this growth has been led by a non-profit global initiative, RE100, which is headed by the Climate Group and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Launched in 2014, 316 companies from more than 175 markets have now committed to buying 100% renewable electricity. As part of the UP Initiative, pv magazine spoke to Mariana Daykova, senior manager of renewable energy at CDP and its interim RE100 lead, about the progress that has been made and what’s in the cards going forward.

BNEF’s bullish outlook for corporate clean energy procurement: Corporate clean energy procurement continues to set new watermarks. In 2020, companies announced a record 25 GW of clean energy PPAs throughout the world, marking the fifth consecutive year of growth. Kyle Harrison, head of sustainability research at BloombergNEF, addresses key questions about the long-term outlook for corporate procurement.

Achieving game changing growth: Corporate purchases of green electricity are at an all-time high. Pressure from companies, new entrants, and favorable legislative changes have combined to push the market further. Consequently, the business model landscape is evolving. As part of the UP Initiative quarterly theme on sustainable electricity supply, pv magazine has compiled a brief overview of the main models available (see table) and provided a more in-depth look into two of the most prominent: energy certificates and power purchase agreements.

The global expansion of clean energy access: Once a U.S.-centric phenomenon, corporations are now able to purchase clean energy at cost-competitive rates and at a large scale in most markets around the world. Power markets are being amended to allow for power purchase agreements, while alternative mechanisms like certificates and retail programs are near-universal. Kyle Harrison, head of sustainability research at BloombergNEF, discusses the growth in corporate clean energy procurement globally.

Supporting the corporate renewable electricity market: Corporate clean electricity purchases are finally taking off in many European markets, thanks to a number of renewable energy law reforms. Spain and Italy, in particular, are seeing growing numbers of transactions. However, is enough being done to support the corporate market? Hannah Hunt, impact director at RE-Source – a European alliance of stakeholders representing clean energy buyers and suppliers – looks at the forces driving change and asks which policy and regulatory reforms are critical to unlocking European corporate sourcing potential.

Trends in sustainable debt: While sustainable debt issuance has historically been dominated by the Europe, Middle East and Africa region and mostly driven by green bonds from the energy and financial sectors, it has diversified in recent years and is now a global market with a huge range of issuers, thanks to the variety of instruments that have been created since 2007. Maia Godemer, BloombergNEF (BNEF) research associate, discusses this growth and its implications.

Corporate acceleration: With solar declared the cheapest form of power in history, and wind prices following a similar trajectory, corporate energy users are buying renewable power and investing in new capacity at scale. But more companies need to step up. Governments around the world must remove policy barriers and open new markets to competition from renewables if we are to reach the scale of investment needed to achieve a 1.5-degree world, according to Sam Kimmins, the head of RE100.

Different shades of green: Most long-term power delivery contracts with renewable energy systems involve the delivery of electricity through the public grid via off-site power purchase agreements. This leads to a key question: “How do I as a customer know when and if I am really using renewable electricity, and how can I prove that?” Simon Göß and Michael Claußner from Energy Brainpool GmbH & Co. KG, a European market research firm focused on energy trading, address these questions. They note how the development of green hydrogen is an opportunity to create more flexible power markets by fostering the adoption of renewables.

24/7 heaven: It’s what Google calls its “biggest sustainability moonshot yet” – 24/7 hourly matching – a new granular phase of renewable energy sourcing. The pursuit of 24/7 moves beyond buying enough renewable energy to match annual consumption, to matching consumption every hour of every day. Some say 24/7 matching could push up the price of renewables, but others say 24/7 is the only way to drive home decarbonization, minimize greenwashing, and create a truly net-zero energy system.

In January 2022, pv magazine will publish a white paper on corporate purchases of clean electricity. Watch out for more on this in the coming weeks! In the meantime, check out the coverage from our UP Initiative Q1 theme: Agri-PV from Dec. 27 and Q2 theme: Workers’ rights . The Q4 theme: Urban solar, will publish on Dec. 30.

In Q1 2022, we will turn our attention to the rise of e-mobility and how it can complement the renewable energy transition. Specifically, we will examine the role electric vehicles, trains, and two- and three-wheelers can play in greening the electricity grid.

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