Big business nails down most of the attention for buying huge megawatts of renewable energy, but practically anyone who gets an electricity bill can order up renewables on a more modest scale. In effect, the consumer choice option lets people substitute 100% wind and/or solar power for their utility company’s normal grid mix.
Consumer choice is becoming a powerful accelerant for the renewable energy trend. As somewhat of a stealth trend, it also provides yet another point of pushback against President* Trump’s efforts to prop up uneconomical coal power plants (and nuclear, too — but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).
Yes, Consumers Want More Renewable Energy
One good example of the strength of the consumer choice movement is CleanChoice Energy, which reached out to CleanTechnica last week to draw attention to its #2 slot in the “energy tech” category of Deloitte’s new Technology Fast 500 report.
As its name suggests, the report ranks the 500 fastest growing companies across the technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy tech fields. Among other eligibility requirements, companies must be headquartered in North America. The rankings are based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2013 to 2016.
CleanChoice grew 1,196% during the period of the survey, earning it a respectable #113 slot slot in the ranking overall.
Since its inception in 2013, CleanChoice can lay claim to providing more than 1.75 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity to customers in 8 states and Washington, D.C.
The company also has big plans for the future. Earlier this year it began offering a community solar option and a new small business service. Solar fans can now dip into a new 100% solar option, too.
Until recently, one obstacle to consumer choice was the relatively high cost of wind and solar compared to conventional sources.
Wind and solar costs have been sinking rapidly in recent years. Unfortunately, that trend has overlapped the shale gas boom, which brought a flood of cheap natural gas into the market. That has crimped the ability of renewable energy to compete on cost.
The cost bottleneck is finally beginning to swing open. Despite President Trump’s promises to coal miners, coal power plants are continuing to shut down — and not all of them are being replaced by natural gas.
As for the future, CleanChoice’s rapid pivot into community solar and other energy services signals that the consumer choice model is adapting to competition from other quarters.
Utilities are growing their renewable energy portfolios, which means that consumers could have less incentive to seek wind or solar from a third party.
Growth in the community solar sector is also creating new competition for the consumer choice model.
Another area of competition for consumer choice is the steep drop in the cost of rooftop solar panels.
In that regard, it’s worth noting that the only company to beat CleanChoice in the Fast 500 energy tech field was the residential and commercial PV service provider Momentum Solar, which clocked in at #1 with a growth rate of 5,343%.
That’s not all bad news for consumer choice companies. Low-cost rooftop solar could actually help incentivize more ratepayers to dip into consumer choice.
When CleanChoice first launched under the Ethical Electric name, the company made it clear that rooftop solar would be part of its business model:
“We are one of the few energy suppliers that accepts customers using net metering, as we want to support solar power. In fact, we help our members get rooftop solar through partnerships with leading solar installers, like Sungevity. We are happy to power our members homes with the wind and the sun.”
Even with energy storage, the typical rooftop solar installation may not provide for 100% of a property’s electricity use. Rooftop customers can make up those incremental hours through a consumer choice plan without seeing much, if any, dent in their rooftop solar savings.
Meanwhile, Back In Baseload Country…
Another development that could help incentivize consumer choice is suggested by a recent study from Washington State University.
The study indicated that electricity customers are willing to change the way they use electricity, based on the availability of renewable energy in the grid mix at different times of the day.
Some interesting possibilities arise once utility customers can access information about the contribution of fossil fuels (and for that matter nuclear energy) to their lives and businesses.
Widespread use of the information, for example, could bump up against the Trump administration’s plans for supporting outdated coal and nuclear power plants.
Another possibility is that utility customers may prefer not to worry about what time of day they’re running the dishwasher or plugging in their EV, and simply make the switch to a 100% renewable energy plan.
WSU is developing an app for that, so stay tuned.
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Image (screenshot) via CleanChoice Energy