6 Ways Utilities Are Meeting Corporate Demand for Renewable Energy
By Letha Tawney, Celina Bonugli and Daniel Melling
Utilities are breaking away from traditional electricity products to offer customers access to large-scale renewable energy. Until very recently, utilities did not differentiate the sort of power they offered customers. With very few exceptions, everyone shared in the cost and used electricity from the same fleet of power generating stations.
But over the past four years, even regulated U.S. utilities have begun to offer new, large-scale renewable energy options to customers. World Resources Institute data shows that across ten U.S. states, utilities now offer 13 green tariffs—programs that let customers purchase large-scale renewable energy over the grid.
We take a closer look at the trends and motivations that have made utilities important players in the rapid scale up of renewable energy to serve corporate buyers in the U.S.
1. Why are utilities stepping up?
In markets where wind and solar power have become cost competitive, utilities have more economic incentives to add renewable energy. Renewable resources just offer a great low price for the next 20 years—without the risks of fossil fuel price spikes.
Utility leaders overwhelmingly anticipate substantial solar and wind power growth in the next ten years, according to
Utility Dive's 2017 survey of the sector. Among utility executives, 71 percent say utility scale wind will increase moderately or significantly over the next ten years and 82 percent predict the same for utility scale solar.
Recently, Pat Vincent-Collawn, CEO of PNM Resources announced a plan to eliminate coal by 2031 and move toward renewables and natural gas, calling it "the best, most economical path to a strong energy future for New Mexico." WEC Energy Group CEO Allen Leverett told shareholders in May 2017 that the company is exploring solar, "probably the biggest change we've seen in last five years is solar and the cost of solar. The technology curve really has fallen fast in terms of improvement in cost."
Mid-American, a Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary, has talked about their extensive investments in wind in the same way—as an effective way to keep prices low for customers. The company also used their wind investments to serve the renewable energy requirements of major data centers, such as Facebook and Google, in their service territory.
2. How big is the demand for renewable energy on the grid?
Through RE100, 90 companies have committed to 100 percent renewable power. Clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets are now the norm for Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies. World Wildlife Fund and Ceres' Power Forward 3.0 report shows that almost half of the Fortune 500 and a majority of the Fortune 100 now have climate and energy targets.
Companies with renewable energy commitments can
only go so far with on-site solar and efficiency. To meet the most ambitious targets, like a 100 percent renewable energy goal, companies have to tap into the grid and are turning to their utility to provide solutions.
Big businesses have communicated their needs to U.S. utilities. Sixty-five companies have signed on to the Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles, which tell utilities and other suppliers what industry-leading, multinational companies are looking for when buying renewable energy from the grid.
And utilities are listening. Utilities without green tariffs or state mandates are still considering new renewable energy options to attract businesses. Describing a new wind project, Appalachian Power's new president Chris Beam
told the Charleston Gazette Mail, "at the end of the day, West Virginia may not require us to be clean, but our customers are […] we have to be mindful of what our customers want."
3. How are utilities stepping up?
To meet customer demand for renewable energy, traditional utilities have now created 13 green tariff options across 10 states. In the six months since the last update to World Resources Institute's issue brief, Emerging Green Tariffs in U.S. Regulated Electricity Markets, utilities have added three more green tariffs options—including the first offered by a public power company, Nebraska's Omaha Public Power District.
States with renewable energy options are more competitive when attracting high-growth corporate business. When Omaha Public Power District announced a new green tariff to supply a Facebook data center, Tim Burke, Omaha Public Power District's president and CEO, told the Omaha World-Herald, "we have several customers right now that are putting together potential expansion projects and will utilize that (new) rate to grow."
4. What is the impact of green tariffs on the grid?
Who is using these tariffs? To date, customers have contracted for approximately 900 MW of new renewable energy under five of the tariffs. This is approximately enough electricity to power 160,000 average American homes a year. This spring, utilities and customers are negotiating hundreds more megawatts of additional purchases.
5. How can customers keep up with these new options?
World Resources Institute's interactive U.S. Renewable Energy Map: A Guide For Corporate Buyers shows all the green tariffs that utilities offer across the nation. The map also details one-on-one special contracts that customers have signed with utilities. These special contracts show a utility is willing to explore options, even if they haven't gone as far as creating a new tariff.
6. What's next?
Today green tariffs are a small part of the overall U.S. renewable energy market—reflecting their pilot status. But the programs create a runway for renewables at a time when demand is only increasing, not just from businesses, but also cities, universities, hospitals and smaller companies.
Innovative partnerships will continue to emerge between utilities and their customers as both grapple with the rapidly changing electricity sector. Green tariffs are only three years old, but with increasing demand, interest in renewables by utilities and the continued fall in renewable energy prices, green tariffs look like they're here to stay.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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