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In recent years, many of the world’s biggest corporations, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, have pledged to power their businesses with increasing amounts of renewable energy in order to reduce their carbon footprints and contribute to efforts to address climate change. Such efforts have had an encouraging impact on US power sector decarbonization, with a material and increasing share of US wind and solar deployments now driven by the procurement preferences of corporate customers. The vast majority of corporate procurement of renewable energy has been secured via power purchase agreements (PPAs).
Going forward, a wider universe of companies is expected to look to such PPA agreements as a means of contributing to a low-carbon future, raising the question of how substantial these initiatives might be in supporting the overall transition to zero-carbon electricity. Indeed, a number of positive underlying trends are likely to facilitate continued growth in the corporate renewables PPA market. For example, electricity demand in the technology sector continues to grow rapidly, while renewables PPA penetration in the commercial and industrial sectors more broadly remains low, with room to grow. Additionally, expectations of continued declines in the costs of solar and wind technologies are likely to facilitate more procurement. Lastly, US companies are facing increased pressure from customers, employees, and institutional investors to improve their greenhouse gas emissions profiles.
At the same time, certain factors may constrain the size of the PPA market, such as market regulations that limit the feasibility of PPAs in certain regions and the need for renewable PPA prices to be competitive relative to wholesale power prices. Scale and creditworthiness requirements can also limit the universe of potential corporate buyers, and the financial risks brought about when signing long-term contracts may further deter some market participants. Finally, companies increasingly have alternative emission reduction mechanisms at their disposal, such as renewables energy credits (RECs), carbon offsets, and green tariff programs.
This student-led paper, from the Power Sector and Renewables Research Initiative at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, explores the drivers influencing the renewables PPA market and assesses whether these procurement initiatives by nonutility corporations are likely to continue growing in the United States at a rapid enough pace to support power sector deep decarbonization goals. The analysis finds that while robust private sector participation in recent years has been encouraging, the potential market size going forward may be smaller than previously projected, highlighting the need for comprehensive policy frameworks to support power sector decarbonization.
More specifically, the findings are as follows:
On June 1, 2023, Dr. Melissa Lott, Director of Research and Senior Research Scholar, testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on electric reliability in the United States.
To achieve the Paris Agreement goals, the global buildings sector must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and all new buildings must be net-zero carbon starting in 2030.