For big corporations, buying renewable energy is harder than it should be. That’s why Facebook and Microsoft are inviting collaboration with utilities to break down market barriers. These iconic brands are among 60 companies, and over 50 leading project developers and service providers, participating in the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) network.
REBA is a coalition of four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that is working with this diverse network of companies to add 60 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy to the U.S. grid by 2025.
“We all know we have a long way to go,” Brian Janous, director of energy strategy at Microsoft, told reporters in announcing the alliance on May 12. “We really believe the only way we're going to get there is through collaboration across industries with customers and utilities, and that collaboration is critical for improving the availability and affordability of clean power."
REBA’s cooperative approach links the expertise of NGOs with the buying power and drive of corporate renewable energy buyers, spurring a transformed energy marketplace more quickly and effectively than either group could do alone. By identifying barriers to buying renewable energy and developing solutions that meet rapidly growing corporate demand, REBA aims to make the entire grid more sustainable.
"We’re doing this not just to green our own supply - it’s really to help green the grid," said Bill Weihl, Facebook’s director of sustainability. " … We recognize that we can move faster and get a lot more done, both for our own supply and for the grid as a whole, by collaborating with others."
Growing Corporate Demand Is Changing the Status Quo
Companies that are committed to buying renewable energy have already changed the electricity market in the United States. Last year, businesses agreed to purchase more than 3 gigawatts of renewable energy, three times 2014’s total contracts. The extension of the renewable energy tax credits over the winter bodes well for purchases in 2016.
"As the price of wind and solar continue to fall, the economic benefits of renewables will only get better," said Michael Polsky, president and CEO of Invenergy. Polsky, a member of the WRI board of directors, noted that increased demand for renewable energy promotes innovation, the development of new technologies and advances in equipment to spur efficiency, Polsky said.
The changes are rippling beyond new contracts. In the past, utilities decided how to power companies, but now companies want to be active partners in determining how the electricity they pay for will be generated. That said, companies still face significant obstacles to getting the cost-effective, renewable power they want at the scale they need. They may lack the expertise and staff to understand their options and navigate complicated energy markets, or they may be operating in markets that don’t have good options to start with.
Collaborating with Utilities
In addition to making power purchase agreements simpler, REBA initiative fosters collaboration with utilities so companies can create new renewable energy options.
For example, in Virginia, Microsoft partnered with the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power, and the state to bring new renewable energy to the grid through a new 20 megawatt solar project. Microsoft, which has renewable energy goals, will buy the renewable energy certificates from the project. The software giant’s commitment made the project more financially feasible for the utility and allows Dominion to build a significant solar farm at no cost to other ratepayers.
“This is really what REBA is all about. It’s about bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, which includes customers, utilities and renewable energy developers,” Janous said.
REBA strives for solutions that better meet the needs of companies and local electricity customers. Effective public-private partnerships like this are developed when both sides come to the table.
“At Dominion Virginia Power, we appreciate the efforts of REBA and deem their partnership invaluable in helping us respond to the renewable needs of our customers,” said Becky Merritt, Dominion’s vice president of customer service. “Their transparent discussion forums have enabled win-win renewable solutions, which is exactly what we are all striving for.”
By simplifying access to resources and peers, REBA helps companies pursue renewable energy more efficiently and enables electricity buyers and sellers to develop solutions together.
REBA is built on the expertise of the tailored energy initiatives of four NGOs: World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund’s Renewable Energy Buyers Principles, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center, and BSR’s (Business for Social Responsibility) Future of Internet Power. Companies participate in the initiatives that best match their goals and approach and the NGO’s work together to ensure a cohesive and impactful strategy.
In a complex energy market, starting these discussions and connecting with the right people and resources can be very time-consuming. Finding a network if like-minded organizations streamlines the process of meeting the ambitious renewable energy targets many companies are setting.
REBA connects policymakers, suppliers and customers to change electricity systems with renewables. Learn more about how REBA supports ambitious corporate buyers at REBuyers.org and at Facebook.com/REBuyersAlliance.