Photo courtesy of Walmart. Solar panels atop a Walmart and Sam’s Club in Chino California.
This week we saw dozens of major companies join the ranks of those already focused on choosing their own advanced energy future. Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Johnson & Johnson, AEE member Siemens, and others joined ranks with Apple and Google to commit to go 100% renewable.
This announcement is part of a larger trend of big power customers choosing advanced energy. As of 2014, 60% of Fortune 100 companies and 43% of companies in the Fortune 500 had set greenhouse gas reduction and/or clean energy targets. That said, this announcement is notable for a few reasons.
First, the number of multinational corporations now pledged for 100% renewable energy is impressive. CleanTechnica reports that 36 major companies - several of which are also Fortune 500 companies - from around the world have taken the RE100 pledge, organized by The Climate Group.
Second, Fortune Magazine points out that this announcement “sends a message to utilities and clean energy project developers that they are willing to be customers.” Indeed, on the same day, nine other big-name companies – Amazon, DuPont, Equinix, Etsy, Intuit, Microsoft, Sealed Air, Starbucks, and Starwood (owner of the Westin and Sheraton hotel chains) – signed on to the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, which would make it easier for corporations to directly contract for this advanced energy, supporting development of new generating capacity, bring the total number of corporate signers to 43.
Right now, it’s not that easy. In many parts of the country, it is difficult if not impossible for a buyer to enter into a contract to purchase electricity directly from a renewable energy facility. “Utilities becoming more customer centric” is one of Utility Dive's top 10 trends in the electrical system, published this week. The new normal for utilities might change their role from electricity provider to a “trusted energy advisor” for homeowners, and, in the case of larger companies, a partner in managing challenging energy needs. AEE sees the rules governing electricity sales that prevent willing buyers and sellers from entering into a transaction as market failure, and is working to take down this regulatory barrier. AEE’s Access to Renewables (A2R) campaign is focused on opportunities to change policy in states around the country and unleash this unmet demand.
Just as important, these companies are being business-like in their procurement of advanced energy, emphasizing the economics, not just the environmental benefits.
In a webinar hosted by AEE earlier this year, David Ozment, Walmart’s director of energy, told us that the company was on the path to be supplied 100% by renewable energy. Walmart’s onsite solar is financed almost entirely through short-term power purchase agreements (PPAs), often lasting only 10 or 15 years. Ozment pointed out that the shorter-term contracts “do a better job of matching the life expectancy” of Walmart’s rooftops. Walmart also invests in both onsite and large-scale wind projects, fuel cells (provided by Bloom Energy, an AEE member company), and battery storage technologies, as well as company-wide energy efficiency measures to limit the amount of energy needed from the grid.
Slides from AEE’s Webinar, “Not Taking 'No' For An Answer: How Microsoft and Walmart Overcame Barriers and Got the Renewable Energy They Wanted.”
“At Walmart we do have this mentality of everyday low cost, everyday low prices for our customers,” said Ozment. For a company as large as Walmart, energy is a top operating expense. Walmart has aggressive renewable energy goals, but for them to be truly sustainable over the long term, says Ozment, “they also have to make good business sense.”
Click below to view AEE’s Webinar, “Not Taking 'No' For An Answer: How Microsoft and Walmart Overcame Barriers and Got the Renewable Energy They Wanted.”