Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Corporate buyers for renewable energy are fueling the growth of the wind and solar industry and revolutionizing what it means to “go green.” But as 100% renewable targets are achieved, what’s next?
All across the country, states, cities , and corporations [2,3] are making bold 100% renewable energy commitments. RE100, a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, now has 174 members. While many commitments are still decades in the future, others are surprisingly near term, and some have already been achieved. The trend is most evident in the tech sector, where power hungry data centers are fueling renewable energy development. In 2017 Google officially sourced all of its electricity demand from renewables, bringing the list of RE100 members who reached their 100% goal to 20 .
What seemed idealistic and purely aspirational only a few years ago is now very much achievable and becoming increasingly commonplace. These industry pioneers deserve recognition and significant praise.
Corporate buyers are clearly leading the charge in renewable energy investment. According to BloombergNEF, 13.4GW of clean energy contracts were signed by 121 corporations in 21 different countries in 2018 (up from 6.1GW in 2017)  . As the wind PTC and solar ITC begin to sunset, I suspect corporate activity will continue to dominate renewable investment in the early 2020s, yet they remain a bit of a mystery to grid planners.
But before we go further, what does it mean to be 100% renewable? There is 100% renewable from an energy standpoint, which is an average over a period of time, typically a year. And there is 100% renewable from a power standpoint, which is at a given point in time. The challenges associated with these two are quite different. Most of these renewable contracts are structured so that the annual generation from the projects offset an equal amount of annual load consumed by the corporate buyer (see article by Urs Holzle of Google).
It may seem like reaching 100% renewable is the end-zone, but it may be just the beginning. There is a growing recognition that renewable procurement should go beyond an annual average matching. To date, there has been little regard given to the timing and location of the renewable energy.
So what comes next? Can we, as an industry, go further? The operational and location-specific aspects of renewable integration are becoming increasingly important. What will it take to transition from an average approach to 100% renewable energy, to 24/7 renewable energy? Is this a reasonable request?
I believe it is, and I suspect it is critical for a healthy and sustainable renewable energy industry that will usher us into the 2020s. I believe we can - and should - take the same principles we developed over the past decade for utility-planning and apply them to the corporate perspective. I’ll revisit this topic later with one approach to these questions. In the meantime, let us know what you think.