Originally published on RMI Outlet.
By David Labrador
Clean Edge, a research and consulting firm focused on providing market insights on the cleantech sector, recently released a new benchmarking index of corporations that take the lead in clean energy. The list of Corporate Clean Energy Leaders includes more than a dozen members of RMI’s Business Renewables Center (BRC), who make up nearly half Clean Edge’s inaugural list. The member-based BRC streamlines and accelerates corporate procurement of large-scale wind and solar energy. In fact, Clean Edge listed membership in the BRC as one of six criteria used to rank large corporations and determine which are clean energy leaders.
A Barometer Of Innovation, Best Practices, and Leadership
Clean Edge measures and ranks all 50 states in its U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index and, starting four years ago, also tracks the cleantech activities of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas. This year, Clean Edge added corporations to the list of entities it tracks, and plans to update the rankings twice per year. “We are proud that our members’ and partners’ names are becoming synonymous with corporate renewable energy leadership,” says Stephen Abbott, a senior associate at RMI and central member of the BRC team.
The criteria Clean Edge used to rank corporations included: using 25 percent or more of renewable electricity in their current electricity mix, ranking among the top 25 corporations for solar PV use, mobilizing investments of at least $25 billion in clean-energy/cleantech deployment, adhering to the goal of getting 100 percent of their total electricity from renewables (like members of the RE100), signing on to the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, and membership in the BRC.
Companies needed to meet at least two of the criteria and reach minimum-score requirements. Eligibility included U.S.-listed companies on the NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX exchanges with market caps of at least $1 billion.
How BRC Members Lead
The BRC certainly believes its members, which number more than 80, are indeed corporate clean energy leaders. Their recognition from Clean Edge—and BRC’s inclusion as a criterion—is a strong testament to that and a powerful affirmation for the BRC, which publicly launched just over one year ago. “We’re grateful to be recognized—along with our member companies—for playing a role in this corporate renewable energy revolution,” says Lily Donge, a principal with RMI’s electricity practice and leader of the BRC.
That revolution has been gaining major momentum. 2015 obliterated the record for corporate renewables procurement with 3.44 GW of contracted capacity; nearly triple the old record, set the year before. Eighty-six percent of that contracted capacity and 85 percent of the deals were the work of BRC-affiliated companies. Several of the BRC members Clean Edge recognized were first-time buyers who signed their first big deal last year. In fact, first-timers dominated the 2015 market, accounting for two-thirds of contracted capacity. And bringing more first-time buyers to the table will be an essential part of sustaining corporate renewables’ impressive recent growth.
Big Data Leads the Way
Google initially, then Facebook and a handful of others pioneered the corporate renewable power purchase agreement (PPA). The BRC formed to streamline and accelerate the process for others, so that more and bigger wind and solar PPAs would happen easier and faster. Microsoft, another of the first pioneers, racked up 285 MW of wind-power PPAs in the past two years. By early 2016, the market had blossomed to 26 companies… and growing.
It is no accident that the earliest companies in this space are computing giants: data centers can use a great deal of electricity, much of which is now carbon neutral. Another data center company is BRC member Equinix, ranked in the top four by Clean Edge, which started buying renewable power last year but entered with a bang by procuring 330 MW of energy to help set the annual record. Salesforce, one of three founding members of the BRC on Clean Edge’s leaders list (along with BD and General Motors), has signed for 64 MW of wind power since November 2015. Clean Edge ranked Salesforce among the top 10 on the Corporate Clean Energy Leaders list.
Leadership Doesn’t Happen Overnight
BRC member Steelcase, the world’s largest manufacturer of office furniture, ranked in the top 12 of Clean Edge’s leaders and started to make its energy use sustainable 15 years ago. Steelcase began buying renewable energy credits then, and two years ago had put enough in place to offset 100 percent of its energy use. But Steelcase is going further, and signed its first renewable PPA this year, for 25 MW of wind power.
Another new entrant to the renewable PPA market, which has long been a leader in sustainable power, is BRC member Cisco Systems. The storied networking company has appropriately worked for years to network distributed generation like rooftop solar into the electric grids of utilities. Last year, Cisco procured its first 20 MW of renewable energy.
More Than Just Clean Electricity
Other BRC members on Clean Edge’s list of leaders are notable for their efforts beyond clean energy. All the companies on Clean Edge’s list of Corporate Clean Energy Leaders work for sustainability in many ways. Two have distinguished themselves for transforming the heart of their business model to be more sustainable.
BRC member FedEx famously operates global fleets of vans, trucks, and airplanes to speed delivery of packages. For years, it has been powering its combustion engines with less-carbon-intensive natural gas and biofuels, and transitioning their fleets to hybrid and electric vehicles (EV).
Meanwhile, BRC member General Motors contracted its first 64 MW of renewable power last year but, more importantly, is transforming how its own cars are powered—and driven. GM unveiled its game-changing EV, the Chevy Bolt, early this year. It is the first production EV to deliver a range of 200 miles on a single charge at a price of about $30,000 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit). Also this year, GM announced a $500 million investment in the ride-sharing service Lyft to form the centerpiece of a partnership to develop a national fleet of self-driving cars.
Clean Edge next plans to update its Corporate Clean Energy Leaders list in July. In the meantime, the BRC and its members continue to advance the corporate renewables market.
Photo courtesy of Asian Development Bank via Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Reprinted with permission.
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