Could 2015 Be the Tipping Point for U.S. Renewables?

 

2014 was an extraordinary year for renewable growth and global climate change awareness. As the impacts of climate change—including record temperatures that have resulted in flooding, drought, superstorms, and loss of life and property—continue to grow internationally, sensitivity to controlling greenhouse gas emissions is on the rise. Climate change deniers are increasingly viewed in the public eye as pariahs or buffoons, and public opinion in the U.S. is on the upswing in favor of climate action.

The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City drew nearly 500,000 participants, with an additional 500,000 or so protesting in joint political marches around the world. While we waited on any global action to emerge from the September U.N. Climate Summit that immediately followed the march, President Obama quietly brokered a record climate change deal with China with a target to reduce U.S. emissions by as much as 28% over a 2005 baseline.

In the final hours of the 2014 sitting Congress, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) was renewed for 2014. While many felt that this lame duck approval was something of a stab in the back for wind power development, it provided another year of crucial tax incentives to new growth wind projects started before the credits expired on December 31. And yesterday (1/6/15), the White House announced that the President will veto Keystone XL if it passes.

While there is progressive climate movement on multiple fronts, the quieter revolution is taking place in America’s board rooms. Many Titanic-size energy consumer including Google, WalMart, and Microsoft, among others, have made public commitments to derive large percentages of power from renewable sources, while others have divested themselves of fossil fuel based investments or joined the RE100.

2014 saw record-breaking growth in renewables driven primarily by growing demand from these large-scale commercial buyers (as well as residential homeowners and state-led renewable portfolio standards). Consider U.S. solar, for example. In 2014, the solar industry literally doubled, increasing its total wattage to .4% of the total grid, up more than 600 times from its meager 0% share in 2008. More than 143,000 Americans are now employed by the solar industry, up 20% from 2012.

The result of this demand is the realized dream of all of us in the industry: grid-parity between so-called brown and green power. For the first time, the cost of wind and solar are equal to conventional fossil fuel sources, and in some markets, are actually surpassing oil & gas. A driving factor behind this shift is the rise of long-term power purchase agreements, where buyers are able to enter into 10-20 year contracts directly with renewable energy providers in order to benefit from price stability and the proceeds from sales of renewable energy credits (RECs).

In 2014, 11 companies announced their partnerships with renewable projects across the U.S. These buyers include Google, Mars, Walmart, Yahoo, IKEA, and Apple. Collectively, these organizations stand to realize billions of dollars in energy savings over the course of their power purchase agreement, while simultaneously fulfilling their commitments to green power. Without a doubt, large-scale buying is the future of commercial renewables, and has the potential to drive continued growth in the industry as well as influencing public and political opinion.

What that means is that 2015 could very well be the climate tipping point, a gratifying moment we’ve been working towards at Renewable Choice since 2001.

Interested in learning more about the portfolio of renewable energy possibilities for your business, including power purchase agreements? Contact us today .

By | 2016-01-07T10:45:24+00:00 January 8th, 2015|Environmental Blog|

About the Author:

Amy brings 20 years’ experience in leadership and organizations to her work in sustainability communications for Renewable Choice. She earned her M.Ed. at Colorado State University.