Is mainstream corporate America jumping on the clean energy bandwagon?

It’s no secret that renewable energy is becoming cheaper, and while we’ve seen companies like Google and Microsoft investing in utility-scale renewables, what about mainstream corporate America? Are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon or are they dragging their feet? As a data analyst at EDF Climate Corps, I turned to the numbers for answers. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. An analysis from our recently release report: Scaling Success: Recent Trends in Organizational Energy Management, says it all.

For almost a decade, EDF Climate Corps has been partnering with business to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency through our graduate fellowship program.

As I followed the numbers, a new clean energy trend stood out: over the last 5 years, clean and renewable energy projects have grown five-fold, with 1/3 of our partner organizations working on at least one clean energy project in 2015. Companies have been using their EDF Climellen_blog_box3-finalate Corps fellows to decipher the complex landscape of technologies, policies, procurement strategies, and financing options for renewable energy. As we tally the results for our 2016 fellowship program, we expect the focus on clean energy to continue to grow, and don’t plan on it stopping anytime soon.

Following the money

But why have we observed this recent uptake in clean energy projects? It seems to be “all about the Benjamins.” Our data shows that fellows are increasingly able to build a solid business case for clean energy projects. In just 2 years, the average payback for clean energy projects decreased dramatically from around 4 years to under 2 years and we’ve seen a surge in positive Net Present Value (NPV) clean energy projects. This tell us that clean energy projects are becoming increasingly cost competitive – a mirror image of industry trendsfig9_es_blog.

Which brings us back to our initial question – are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon? Yes, mainstream corporate America IS adopting clean and renewable energy- and they are doing it cost-effectively. The winds of change are blowing in the right direction (and hopefully through a wind turbine!) and our EDF Climate Corps fellows are proving that investment in renewables makes good business sense. However, there are still challenges to getting clean energy adoption at scale. Many renewable energy projects with large returns also require large upfront capital investments, and although the projects may have a positive NPV, some still fall outside the required payback period for corporations. We’ve seen that lack of funding and competing internal priorities are still major barriers to implementation.

How companies can continue to drive forward

And so, a new question emerges – what should companies be doing to drive clean energy projects internally? First, corporate leadership should set targets for renewable energy procurement and benchmark against their peers. Second, energy managers should pilot clean energy projects to demonstrate their viability. These pilots can serve as proof points for future projects and larger-scale investments. While navigating the complex clean energy alphabet soup (PV, PPAs, RECs, RPS, ITC, etc.) can be tough, especially given the nuances in state level policy and regulations, partnering with a third-party organization (such as a program like EDF Climate Corps, another NGO or a vendor) is a great way to accelerate your clean energy projects. You just may find that making the business case for clean and renewable energy isn’t as hard as you thought.

I invite you to learn more about what 8 years of EDF Climate Corps data tells us about trends in energy management and clean energy by reading our Scaling Success report.

 

 

 

 

 

Companies know reducing their carbon footprints makes good business sense—and that’s why they support the Clean Power Plan

Companies across the country are tackling climate change in their individual portfolios—reducing their carbon footprints by harnessing cost-effective investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. These companies are taking actions all across our nation, driving major investment in low-carbon energy resources at the local level through individual projects and investments.

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Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

These leading companies want well designed national-scale policy that complements their own efforts to mitigate climate change. The Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, is a crucial opportunity to align national policy with this increasing demand for low-carbon energy. The rule provides investment certainty, while incorporating a flexible framework that ensures that its pollution reduction targets can be met in the most cost-effective manner available.

 That’s why major innovators like Google, Microsoft, and Apple—companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans across the country—are reducing their contributions to carbon pollution and supporting the Clean Power Plan. As a Google official put it, with the Clean Power Plan it’s possible to drive “innovation and growth while tackling climate change.”

 There is robust demand for clean energy solutions

Each year, EDF Climate Corps works with approximately 100 large organizations to lower energy costs and reduce carbon footprints through strategic energy management. Since 2008, we have deployed over 700 Climate Corps fellows to leading organizations to build the business case for investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, identifying cost effective ways for companies to save money while mitigating climate change.

A recent analysis of our work demonstrates several interesting trends in emissions management, many of which can be advanced by implementation of the Clean Power Plan. We are seeing companies embrace energy efficiency and deploy it at scale. Companies are taking responsibility for their environmental impact and are investing in broad solutions. For example, the report describes how Comcast identified ways to cost effectively eliminate more than 6,000 metric tons of annual carbon pollution by scaling its investments in energy efficiency over three years.

More and more corporations are also demonstrating a significant interest in zero-carbon energy. Over 80 companies, including General Motors, P&G and Walmart, have made bold and public commitments to use 100% renewable energy in their operations.

Mainstream companies are embracing the economic opportunity and societal imperative to clean up their emissions profiles, and are willing to invest in zero-carbon energy resources. In fact, in 2015, one in three Climate Corps host organizations worked with a fellow to build the business case for investment in clean energy.

Leading companies are taking individual action and supporting national scale policy solutions

By greening the nation’s power supply, we can mitigate climate change by harnessing a transition and an evolution that has already begun.

But companies are increasingly recognizing that they need to do even more than just mitigate their own pollution and procure clean energy to supply their needs. They need to advocate for smart policies too.

This is why over 100 companies, including DuPont, General Mills and Starbucks have urged “swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan” and why Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe and others are standing up to defend the Clean Power Plan in court.

The Clean Power Plan establishes common sense national targets for reducing carbon pollution

The Clean Power Plan is an important component of a cost-effective, strategic approach to tackling climate change. It will complement and harness individual efforts to address climate change by companies across the country.

But don’t take my word for it—major businesses that are supporting the Clean Power Plan said so themselves.

Take Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. In their amicus brief filed in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

By limiting emissions of carbon dioxide from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, the Plan will help address climate change by reinforcing current trends that are making renewable energy supplies more robust, more reliable, and more affordable. Tech Amici welcome these developments. (Tech Amici brief at 2-3.)

Or IKEA, Mars, Adobe, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. In their submission in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

The Amici Companies have a salient interest in the development of sound policy and economically responsible environmental regulations because, as electricity consumers and purchasers, planning strategically and financially for their energy resources needs is critical to business success. (Consumer Brands Amici brief at 3.)

The way forward

Through public commitments to clean energy and through their collaborations with EDF, we know that major companies want access to clean, affordable, low-carbon energy.

It’s time we tackle climate change with federal climate policy that reflects and harnesses these powerful trends.

 

Energy Management Then and Now: What You Need to Know About the Latest Trends

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

In 2008, EDF launched Climate Corps, an innovative graduate fellowship program committed to jump-starting investment in corporate energy efficiency.

Now, after almost a decade of embedding over 700 fellows inside large organizations across all sectors—public, private and non-profit—we’ve taken a step back to survey the broader landscape.

What did we find? Energy management today looks very different than when we started out. As large organizations have shifted to take on more sophisticated approaches, significant advancements in management strategies have emerged.

And for those of you toiling away on a daily basis in the complicated world of energy management, we’re pleased to offer you a mile-high view of how your efforts fit into a larger picture of progress.

In our new report, Scaling Success: Recent Trends in Organizational Energy Management, we examine the efforts of more than 350 large organizations over eight years. Through careful analysis of over 3,000 energy project recommendations, we have identified five key trends:

  1. Energy efficiency was just the beginning. Companies have become more strategic and sophisticated about energy management over the years. Equipment upgrades and retrofits have paved the way for higher-level energy analyses and plans, integration of clean energy technologies and more.
  1. Organizations are turning one win into many. By scaling up energy efficiency projects to be multi-site and multi-facility, companies have clearly moved past the “pilot” or “one-off” stage and are now deploying efficiency measures at scale.
  1. Companies face front-loaded costs, but are realizing greater ROIs on energy projects. The days of the low-cost/no-cost energy efficiency improvement may be over. Projects now require substantial upfront capital investments, but these projects deliver more value.
  1. Energy projects now pack more environmental bang for the buck. As technologies have improved and companies have become more strategic about how they direct spending, investments in energy efficiency are providing significantly more greenhouse gas reductions per dollar spent than they did eight years ago.
  1. Strategic energy management is still hard work. Despite progress made over the years, corporations, municipalities and other large institutions still face significant barriers to project implementation.

To distill it down even further: strategic energy management has evolved from a one-off initiative into an organizational imperative. Despite the barriers, companies are scaling up their efficiency efforts, integrating clean energy more regularly and using data to drive their smart energy strategies.

If you’ve been a part of this evolution (or revolution?), congratulations! If you haven’t, now is the time to take advantage of all these lessons learned and get on board.

Either way, we invite you to learn more about our key takeaways, read our full report and keep moving forward on accelerating your clean energy projects.

5 Energy Trends Driving Climate Progress in 2015

Tech installing solar panels

John Rae

What a difference a year can make. Even before the last weeks tick away, 2015 stands out as a remarkable and dynamic year for climate and energy in the United States.

Read on for five bold trends that are beginning to reshape our economy – and our national discourse on climate change.

1. Investments in renewables soar

I admit it: For years, I thought renewable energy was more hype than reality. I’m happy to report that recent data proves me wrong.

In just five years, solar panel prices have fallen 80 percent, and solar capacity installed worldwide grew more than six-fold. The overall cost of solar per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, plummeted 50 percent.

For the first time in history, energy from the sun is as cheap as traditional energy in states such as Arizona, California and Texas.

The proof is in the pudding. Apple, for example, recently signed an $848-million power agreement with a solar provider – bypassing the electric grid. A deal of this magnitude shows where solar is today, and where it is headed. Read more

Leadership + Collaboration = Impact: The Equation That Will Lead to Climate Solutions

Hand of a student pointing at green chalk board2015 has been an exciting year for action on climate and energy management. In the EDF Climate Corps network, there is a strong feeling of momentum, as company after company steps up to answer the call on climate action and demonstrates concrete ways that they are greening their energy programs. Looking around at last week’s Energy Solutions Exchange (ESE), which brought together 150 people from top organizations to share stories and insights, I was struck by all of the connections and interactions taking place in the room.

But if I learned anything from this year’s event, it’s that in order to continue this momentum and create lasting impact, we need to form a new equation: leadership + collaboration = impact. Leadership and collaboration are essential as there is a limit to how far we can get by ourselves – to get the big stuff done, we have to work together.

Companies are leading, but they need to talk about it more

I learned from our dynamic speakers that organizations are doing amazing things in energy management: like pioneering microgrid installations, scoping out solar PPA agreements, and scaling LED and VFD retrofits across their operations, yet many more are doing things that we don’t even know about.  To truly lead in this space, we need companies to start talking about their concrete energy solutions. Read more

Want Climate Action? Time to Pick Up Your Megaphones

victoriaExperts are saying 2015 may turn out to be the hottest year on record. But thankfully, as my colleague Tom Murray predicted earlier this year, 2015 is also shaping up to be a year for action – by businesses and governments alike – to bend the curve on the emissions that cause climate change.

This year, the Obama administration introduced important new regulations to cut GHG emissions from the electric power, oil and gas and transportation sectors. And businesses are standing behind them. Investors representing $1.5 trillion in managed assets supported federal limits on methane emissions. PepsiCo, Ben & Jerry’s and other companies called for stronger fuel economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks. And 365 companies and investors wrote to state governors urging timely implementation of the Clean Power Plan, our nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

four-people-speaking-megaphonesA watershed moment for climate action is approaching in December, when the United States and other nations gather in Paris for the COP21 climate negotiations. A strong agreement in Paris could put the world on a path towards greenhouse gas reductions that science tells us are necessary for a stable climate. Business leadership will be critical, both to embolden the negotiators to reach a strong deal, and to ensure that the U.S. delivers on the commitments made in Paris.

Amplifying business support for climate action

Right now, there is a wealth of opportunities for businesses to voice their support for a strong outcome in Paris, and showcase their own efforts to cut climate pollution. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) recently organized a webinar to present those opportunities and clarify how companies can get involved. Read more

Denver Housing Authority Sets Bar for Municipalities Nationwide

To many, it may seem that pursuing environmental sustainability would fall relatively low on a municipal housing authority’s goals.  After all, providing moderate and low-income families with clean, stable homes in the face of uncertain federal subsidies and increasing taxpayer scrutiny is challenge enough.

North Lincoln Homes - PV SystemsThe Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (DHA), therefore, deserves praise for its innovative solar power program that not only provides renewable energy, but creates revenue for the housing authority, creates green jobs in the region, and saves taxpayers’ money – all the while reflecting the spirit of the federal Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, which looks to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. DHA serves as a model for municipalities across the country.

Andrea Davis of the DHA’s Real Estate Department and Chris Jedd, portfolio energy manager, showed the creativity and sheer will to make a lofty renewable energy goal affordable, manageable and successful, while providing their communities with empowerment, economic opportunity, and a vibrant living environment. Read more

EDF Climate Corps Proves its ROI for Private Equity Firms

As summer officially gets underway, the 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellows are already off to the races seeking out energy and cost-saving opportunities for some of the world’s largest companies and organizations. Among those participating, we are pleased to place 13 fellows with private equity firms and their portfolio companies, the largest such cohort in a single summer, besting last year’s record of 12 fellows. This brings the grand total up to 57 EDF Climate Corps fellows who have worked in the private equity sector (including with portfolio companies) to date.

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

Since 2008, EDF has worked with the private equity sector to drive environmental results, beginning with a partnership with KKR & Co. L.P., and later with The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital Partners. Resulting from this work was a suite of free tools designed to help firms identify and manage environment, social and governance (ESG) issues. EDF Climate Corps offers private equity firms a powerful resource that continues to deliver environmental benefits alongside real financial returns.

This year, as in past years, we continue to see a diverse range of participating companies and projects:

  • In 2015, we welcome new hosts Guitar Center, NBTY (vitamin/food supplement supplier), Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (medical equipment manufacturer), Pharmaceutical Product Development, and Gelson's Markets (a grocery chain in southern California).
  • Among returning companies, we’re excited to welcome back Floor & Décor, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Avaya, and Caesars Entertainment, the last of which was featured in episode 7 of the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously (now available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime), which profiled the efforts of EDF Climate Corps.
  • HCA Healthcare will also be returning, marking the company’s sixth straight year of participation.
  • KKR & Co. L.P., Carlyle Group, and Hellman & Friedman will have fellows working at the firm level this year.

The work that these fellows will engage in this summer ranges from energy benchmarking and efficiency upgrades to demand response assessments and green revolving loan fund design. We’ve written previously about the myriad ways that fellows can add value both at private equity firms and portfolio companies and we’re excited to see new stories unfold this summer. Watch this space as well as our Climate Corps-specific blog, where fellows across a variety of sectors will share their experiences and accomplishments.

The Role of Buildings in a Low-Carbon Future

Zpryme talked with Ellen Bell, Senior Specialist, Environmental Defense Fund, for her thoughts on the role of buildings in a low-carbon future, the rise of microgrids, and how graduate students in EDF’s Climate Corps program get her excited about energy.

ZP: What do you look forward to the most in your business day?

ellen_bell287x377Bell: We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.

ZP: How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

Bell: The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

ZP: What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Bell: Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

ZP: Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Bell: Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

ZP: What individuals (i.e. thought leaders) get you excited about energy?

Bell: Personally I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Ellen Bell will be speaking at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23 in Chicago. To learn more about the ETS@chicago and all of its speakers, please visit ets-chicago.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

This post originally appeared on Zpryme's Energy Thought Summit blog.

Bringing The Pope’s Climate Encyclical to Life, a Church at a Time

Last week’s papal encyclical on climate change galvanized those of us who already see responsible stewardship for the earth as both a moral mandate and business imperative. In the 184-page document, Pope Francis calls for a sweeping overhaul of political, economic and individual practices to halt the degradation of the environment and protect our planet for the long term.

The pope's sweeping vision is sure to prompt churches, people of faith and a whole range of organizations to rethink their actions with regard to use of energy, water and other natural resources. But already, religious organizations have been working quietly and steadily to effectively manage their environmental impact, in keeping with the established theological tradition of moral economic development and use of resources.

(Credit: Sacred Heart)

(Credit: Sacred Heart)

Take Gene Murphy of Prescott, Ariz., as a prime example of someone sitting at the intersection of religion, sustainability and business. As the business manager for the Sacred Heart Parish in the Diocese of Phoenix, Gene has developed scalable solutions for his church and school that could and should be replicated across all churches, schools and relevant organizations.

The church performed a clean energy retrofit covering lighting, windows, waste and solar power that dramatically reduced their utility spending from $94,500 a year to $37,000, or $157 in daily savings and transformed the 32,000 square foot school into a near net-zero building. The solar project alone reduces more than 230,000 lbs of CO₂ per year, and the building is now lit with 97 percent LED lights. Gene is already drafting a template for similar organizations to use in analyzing their opportunities in light of new technologies, regulations and methodologies.

At EDF, we see Gene and the Sacred Heart Parish as a real-life example of the kind of pragmatic stewardship the pope is calling for, and we got on the phone with him to get some deeper insights into the parish's transformation. Read more