Big companies turn to renewables

Big companies turn to renewables
08 Jul 2016Archived News Climate Change Matters

This article was originally published by Footprint

Corporate interest in renewables is skyrocketing, consultancy Energetics has told Footprint.

Energetics was established with a focus on energy efficiency and until three years ago that's largely what captured the attention of its client base of large corporates and government agencies.

But two of the company's principal consultants, Andrew Tipping and Leigh Rostron, have told Footprint that interest in renewable energy has grown to the extent that a third or more of its clients have sought advice on how to incorporate it into their operations.

"We think 30% to 40% of our client base - across government, commercial, transport, mining, retail - are looking at renewables very seriously," Tipping said.

They say there has also been a shift in who is steering renewables projects within businesses.

Previously, responsibility often lay with a sustainability manager, who would advocate for renewables and lead the implementation of a demonstration project.

Now, the task of integrating renewables tends to sit within the portfolio of an organisation's energy manager, who is looking for a major reduction in power bills as well as co-benefits such as increased energy security, they said.

"It is much more about the business case and the economics now, rather than doing something which may be more tokenistic," Tipping said.

Instead of installing "a few kilowatts on site for a glossy photo", companies are looking at options that will make a substantial difference to their operations, he said.

Six drivers

Tipping and Rostron say there are six drivers for the dramatic shift.
One is the increased volatility in the cost of energy.

Another factor is the rising price of the large-scale renewable energy certificates that businesses can create from mid-sized systems (usually greater than 100kW), which Rostron noted were trading at under $35 a few years ago and are now sitting above $80.

Companies can either sell the certificates they create, self-supply them back to their retailer who will in turn discount their energy bills, or surrender them to help meet corporate sustainability and carbon-neutral claims, he said.

The other factors driving the growing corporate interest include a drop in the cost of finance, falling technology costs, increased pressure from investors and some heavy-duty marketing from solar manufacturers and solar installers, Tipping and Rostron said.

"We've got a lot of clients coming to us and saying, 'I've got these 10 offers, what do I do?'," Tipping said.

Their advice is that companies should methodically approach what is "a fairly complex decision".

Care needs to be taken with the feasibility studies, technology assessments, contracting, procurement and financing, they advised.

Limited in-house expertise

Making the right decisions is made more complicated by two factors, Rostron added.
Firstly, while companies tend to have plenty of in-house expertise on energy efficiency, that is often not the case with renewables.

The skill shortfall can make it challenging to decide on a correct system size (for both current and future needs), evaluate contracting models, manage procurement and determine how the install and ongoing supply risk should be allocated, he said.

Secondly, potential providers of systems and services can have different levels of maturity in terms of their ability to deliver what a company is seeking, he said.

Align with business strategy

The first step for companies seeking to incorporate renewable energy into their operations is "to think about what their business strategy is", Tipping said.
"If they want to do on-site generation, does that fit with their business plans? Have they got long-term assets that it makes sense to deploy renewable energy on?"

They also need to think about their level of aspiration, he said.

"Do they want to go out and target 100%? Do they want to target 20%? It depends on their level of ambition."

Tipping and Rostron say companies should firstly assess their business portfolio for on-site generation opportunities before considering off-site strategies.

In doing so, they need to consider whether a solar system can be installed, how it should be connected and how it should operate with other equipment, while companies with multiple sites need to establish where they should focus their efforts, they said.

Once companies have implemented on-site generating capacity, they can consider off-site options such as signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) for renewable energy with an energy retailer or directly with the operator of a large-scale project, they said.

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