Author: Erin Craig

Erin heads up our consulting business as the vice president of our energy and climate practice.

(Part 3) Pathways to a Successful Renewable Energy Aggregation

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Incorporating Diversity into Renewable Energy Procurement

In our first two posts in our Pathways to a Successful Aggregation blog series, we’ve discussed various ways to convene a renewable energy aggregation buying group and how to build an effective aggregation team. In this third and final post of the series, we’ll explore the role that diversity can play in a renewable energy procurement once you have your team of buyers in place.

Companies engaging in long-term purchasing arrangements for renewable energy supply are committing themselves to a long-term relationship with a new supplier. These renewable energy purchases represent a significant financial commitment to that supplier — the project developer. With this in mind, contracting for renewable energy represents an ideal platform for buyers to assert a preference for suppliers who are aligned with their own environmental, social, and governance goals. Indeed in some cases, the team executing the energy purchase is also responsible for Scope 3 or sustainable purchasing goals; these procurements allow the sustainability team to “walk the walk”.

When soliciting offers for a renewable energy project, it’s both common and encouraging to see buyers infuse the RFP with specific criteria concerning the project’s environmental profile. It’s far less common, and certainly more revealing as a differentiator, to apply environmental and social criteria to the supplier. We tackled this in a recent aggregated procurement, which included several buyers with goals and programs around sustainable procurement and doing business with diverse suppliers.

Smaller Buyers, Larger Influence

In an aggregation, the individual purchasers are often seeking comparatively small renewable contracts. On their own, these companies may feel as if — or even be told by their advisors or prospective vendors that — their purchase is not large enough to warrant special treatment or unique considerations such as incorporating diversity disclosures into their RFPs. (As an aside, we’d advise these smaller buyers to find a different advisor or a different supplier…) In any case, joining an aggregation makes these smaller buyers far more interesting to their potential suppliers. This provides the perfect opportunity to communicate and emphasize the larger context of environmental performance and social change that many sustainability teams are aiming to achieve.

Diversity & ESG Criteria

In support of our forward-thinking clients, we’ve incorporated a variety of environmental, social, and governance criteria into recent project RFPs, in addition to criteria related to the project’s environmental and social performance. The information provided by bidders makes up part of our qualitative supplier scorecard, a companion to our quantitative project analysis. Our goal is not to be comprehensive, but rather to ask focused “indicator” questions which give us a solid sense of whether the supplier is working toward a broader vision of a sustainable future.

Examples of such questions include:

  • Diversity: Is the supplier certified as a small, minority-owned, women-owned, or disabled veteran-owned business? What proportion of the company’s staff are women, and what proportion are people of color? What proportion of its governing body are women or people of color? 
  • Sustainability programs: Does the vendor publish a sustainability report? Does the vendor calculate and publicly report its GHG emissions? (The positive response rate on this question is shockingly low!)
  • Local benefits: What are they doing to benefit the local community, beyond job creation? How do they show up as a sustainable and responsible neighbor? 

We’ve been encouraged by how many of our customers are not only on board with including such questions in the evaluation criteria for our project procurements, but who also actively engage in understanding and evaluating vendor responses.

In 3Degrees’ recent aggregated renewable energy procurements, these ESG criteria haven’t overruled price and other terms in our final project selection.  However, they have influenced our decisions on short-listing projects for deeper consideration, and we have chosen to give certain suppliers with strong performance in these areas an opportunity to re-bid their project terms so as to provide the most competitive offer possible.  Equally important, we hope we’ve sent a clear and consistent message to all bidders that our clients would prefer to do business with companies who are working toward a sustainable future across multiple dimensions.

In our view, there’s simply no excuse for companies who are doing business in renewable energy to be complacent in their own sustainable performance.

This is especially true for those who hope to become long-term partners with corporate sustainability leaders. We applaud those developers already on the journey, and hope they are joined by many others very soon.

(Part 2) Pathways to a Successful Renewable Energy Aggregation

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Building an Effective Renewable Energy Aggregation Team

Last month, in the first post for our renewable energy aggregation blog series, we discussed how companies interested in convening an aggregation can get started.  Here, we talk about the follow-up question that immediately arises: what kinds of companies make good aggregation teammates? In particular, clients ask “Do we need a large buyer alongside us?  Or actually, do we even want one?”

The short answer is that there are lots of ways to build a great aggregation team. There isn’t any one prescription or “must have.” Nonetheless, there are a number of factors which can make an aggregation team more effective for its participants.  In this article — the second in our series — we take a deeper look at who’s around the table and what makes for a great aggregated procurement team.

Experienced vs. Inexperienced Buyers

Not surprisingly, it can be helpful to have companies who have taken part in previous energy transactions alongside those who are new to the process. Perhaps less obviously, the benefits flow in both directions. For example, experienced buyers may lend credence to the aggregated procurement simply by being part of it; their participation can be helpful to new buyers’ securing internal approval to join the effort.  By contrast, the ability to draw in less-experienced companies can create an industry leadership role for the experienced buyer; or may enable the experienced buyer to facilitate bona fide emission reductions in its value chain.

More practically, throughout the transaction process, we find that all companies bring relevant experience and insight to the table – it’s not limited to or exclusively created by a company’s previous experience with a similar transaction type.  Larger company representatives learn about the particular challenges and sensitivities of smaller companies and what drives their decision making; small companies lean on their larger counterpart’s specialized expertise in accounting, finance, and legal nuances to complement their own.

On the flip side, experienced buyers may sacrifice speed-to-completion when participating in an aggregation, as compared to an effort to more simply replicate an earlier transaction success. First-time buyers might find experienced buyers comparatively inflexible around agreement terms which have become “standard” in their organization. The benefits of aggregation – for example, the ability to build a portfolio of smaller or more geographically diverse renewable energy supply projects – should be weighed against such challenges.

Offtake Amount Flexibility

Offtake quantity is another area where it’s helpful for an aggregation team to have some amount of flexibility and/or a diverse set of needs.  An aggregation begins with companies seeking enough renewable energy to contribute in a meaningful way to the financial viability of a new project – so the total amount is certainly relevant.  But the amounts required by each participant, and any flexibility in those amounts, can also help aggregation teams secure good projects and terms. In any procurement, there is some degree of chicken-and-egg – you don’t know how much you’ll want (if any) until there’s a bona fide offer with key terms settled, and developers don’t want to put bona fide offers on the table until they know how large an offtake is at stake, how many contracts it will require, and with whom. Having buyers with some flexibility in their needs allows everyone to make adjustments as the process moves along, based on the specifics at hand.

In our aggregated work to date, we’ve had companies increase and decrease their offtake amounts over the course of the project.  We’ve had companies emerge unexpectedly as “anchor tenants” because the procurement resulted in unexpectedly interesting opportunities.  We’ve had companies who’ve stepped aside as their renewable supply strategy matured in other directions. Having team members with flexibility in their offtake requirements is helpful in creating a process that’s forgiving and nimble.

Credit Worthiness

Creating a “financeable” purchase agreement is a critical factor in any renewable energy supply arrangement that seeks to bring new projects to the grid. Offtaker creditworthiness is a key consideration.

Project equity and debt providers need to be satisfied that an offtake agreement will be fulfilled in all its particulars across its term before they agree to finance a project. Most commonly, they look to offtaker long-term debt ratings as a key indicator of sufficiency for offtake finance.  However, many corporate offtakers don’t present as exemplary, highly-rated counterparties. They may be privately held without public financials; they may be debt-free and hence unrated; they may be large and stable but carry a relatively unfavorable credit rating due to macro issues in their industry; they may be newly constituted, or they may have steadfast corporate views of their viability as a transaction partner which differ from that of their counterparty.

We have yet to serve a client whose creditworthiness presented an insurmountable issue to completing a procurement, but we have served clients whose needs were thorny and took time to navigate.  An aggregation team will benefit from having some companies whose financial standing is straightforward and uncomplicated sitting at the table.

 While the good credit of one company does not compensate for the poor credit of another, developers are more willing to work through thorny issues with a particular offtaker if that effort unlocks a large offtake from an aggregated team.  By contrast, a developer may be less favorably inclined to work through thorny issues with four or five offtakers, each relatively small, and each presenting different needs for exceptions or extensive diligence. This reluctance may take the form of fewer project offers, or less favorable commercial terms.

Large Buyer – Yes or No?

Now we have come full circle to our original question:  Do renewable energy aggregations need a large buyer (also known as an “anchor tenant”)? As stated at the beginning of the article, the answer is “no” – large buyers are not critical to a successful aggregation.

That said, there are advantages to having a large offtaker.  Large offtakes can bring price advantages and other negotiating leverage. Worthy of mention is the power dynamic which a large offtaker may create. If smaller buyers feel they need to defer to the large offtaker in decisions on projects or terms, it may cause a less-perfect result for that buyer. That too, is part of the equation: if a small buyer has limited decision authority on a team due to the presence of a larger offtaker, that small buyer has a less complicated package to bring to their internal stakeholders for approval – for some buyers, this lack of flexibility can increase speed and enhance the likelihood of reaching a successful conclusion.

There is not just one way to be successful in convening an aggregated procurement.

Aggregation is a viable option for many companies and varieties of teaming. I am inspired by the interest in renewable energy aggregation and look forward to bringing additional teams to the finish line. 

(Part 1) Pathways to a Successful Renewable Energy Aggregation

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Convening the participants

By now, the concept of renewable energy aggregation is well-known due, in part, to recent high-profile projects being featured in the headlines. The topic has also become a favorite at industry conferences, popping up in numerous conversations such as the panel I recently participated in at GreenBiz titled, Renewable Project Aggregation: How Does it Work?

The benefits of participating in a joint procurement are many.  Aggregating companies’ renewable supply requirements enables companies with small needs to participate in high-impact, direct relationships with renewable projects; it enables companies with large loads to cost-effectively pursue a wide variety of renewable supply strategies – for example, to maximize local impact whenever possible.

Perhaps most importantly — and here is where aggregation differs from contracting independently for a small slice of a project — joint procurements can enhance business relationships, achieve broader corporate goals, enable mutual learning, and speed the stakeholder engagement and acceptance processes inside all participating organizations. It can even be fun!

Aggregation: when multiple companies come together into a single renewable energy procurement to reduce transaction costs and create economies of scale.

If my customer conversations are more or less the norm, many organizations like the idea of participating in an aggregation but don’t know how to get started. This blog series, Pathways to a Successful Renewable Energy Aggregation, will explore several aspects of aggregation and offer insights into how to make the most of this unique renewable energy supply option.

This first post will address… oh so appropriately… getting started.

There are several ways a group of like-minded buyers can come together to execute a joint procurement.  Common among them is a convener.  A convener is a champion from one organization – and it could be any variety of people – who decides it’s time to take the first few steps.  As noted below, the convener need not be an experienced buyer nor a service professional, nor even someone really sure that they want to sign a PPA.  Just someone who likes making things happen.

Scope 3 Emissions Initiative

Are you thinking hard about a science-based target?  Or staring one in the face, pondering how to tackle the scope 3 requirement?  Maybe you simply know well enough that electricity used by your suppliers (upstream) or required by your products for customer use (downstream) is a significant part of your overall climate footprint and would prefer not to sit idly by?

Convening a renewable energy aggregation project is a great way to help your suppliers or customers take action at minimal cost in either time or money for your organization. In this model, a convening Champion partners with a service provider to assemble a buying group.

The Champion’s role is to identify business partners whose electricity use is important to the Champion’s footprint, and select a subset with geographically aligned electricity use in an appropriate region. The most critical role is to invite and encourage these companies to join a renewable aggregation alongside other partners.  The Champion organization need not even participate in the procurement, though doing so certainly demonstrates mutual commitment.

A service provider is key to this model so that invited participants can seek information and guidance from a third party – not their business partner. Having a service provider also brings experience and expertise to the table so the Champion company need not play the role of expert advisor to their suppliers.  If the Champion company selects a service provider in advance, it speeds the process of grouping interested parties into a procurement team.

For companies with scope 3 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, customer or supplier participation in renewable energy aggregation can play an important role in achieving those goals.

Small Buyer Convenes a Team

In the first model, the convening company may be a large electricity user.  Many aggregation discussions assume there must be a large company in every group, shepherding the others along or paving the way for the smaller buyers.  But aggregations are especially beneficial for smaller buyers, and small buyers can also play the convening role.

As the convener, the small buyer decides what renewable energy supply they’d like to pursue.  For example, would you like to limit the geography of any transaction based on your load? Do you have a timing requirement for your project?  With some preliminary boundaries set, it is easier to find potential partners.

A small buyer can identify partners through independent work – call colleagues, attend conferences and educational events, ask the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Alliance (REBA) for help. Or, you can ask a service provider to identify partners for you. If you plan to use a service provider in any case, bringing them on to help identify partners is a great way to get started. And if you plan to use a service provider’s procurement services, they can establish a team for you at no cost.

In both of these scenarios, the convening buyer is forging the path for the aggregation, raising their hand to signal they’re ready to move forward and defining the criteria that will make the procurement a win.

Large Buyer Drives a Bus

Of course, a large buyer can lead a procurement alongside smaller buyers, acting as an anchor tenant or as a mentor/process leader.  For the large buyer, this process looks a lot like the second option – define the procurement boundaries, then seek partners to fill out a team.  For smaller buyers, making your interest known to service providers, industry groups, and companies in your area may help you get a seat on this bus – but if speed and certainty are desirable, starting your own aggregation is a surer way.

Renewable energy aggregation can provide significant benefits to companies. And while getting a buyer’s group started might seem like an overwhelming prospect, I hope this guidance is helpful.  Aggregated procurement can be a viable option for a wide range of energy buyers, and we’re excited to see it take off. Need help? Call us! We’d love to talk.

Erin Craig speaks about pathways to getting started with renewable energy aggregation:

Stay tuned for the next topic in this blog series: Anchor Tenant or No Anchor Tenant?

A Conversation with Two Sustainability Innovators: Switch and Kaiser Permanente

Smart Energy Decisions Erin Craig

In the photo (L to R): Erin Craig – 3Degrees, Ramé Hemstreet – Kaiser Permanente, Sam Castor – Switch


Earlier this month, I moderated a panel on Innovative Approaches to Pursuing Sustainability Goals at the Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Summit in Houston, TX.  Given the need for urgent action on climate change, I was encouraged by the presence of so many corporate leaders in the energy space, many of whom were there to receive awards for their forward-thinking initiatives in energy, sustainability, and facility management.  

The guests on the panel were from Switch and Kaiser, two companies that highlight the different paths organizations may pursue to achieve their sustainability goals. Sam Castor, EVP of Policy & Deputy General Counsel for Switch, and Ramé Hemstreet, VP of Operations, National Facilities Services and Chief Energy Officer for Kaiser Permanente, were at the event because their respective companies were being recognized for their superior sustainability efforts. Switch and Kaiser Permanente’s initiatives offer two strong examples of how companies are approaching their goals to become carbon neutral.

Switch

Growth of the internet of absolutely everything has created an unprecedented demand for data centers. In fact, researchers believe the internet will consume 20% of the world’s power by 2025; managing the environmental footprint associated with these data centers is no small feat. Switch shared insights about how they are creating a sustainable technology ecosystem through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable power, and storage solutions.

Long before it was fashionable to be green, Switch recognized efficiency innovation was key to internet sustainability. Switch was the first multi-tenant colocation operator in the world to receive all A grades in sustainability from Greenpeace in their 2017 Clicking Clean Report. The company now has over 600 patented and patent pending claims to technologies supporting this purpose. Switch was also the first data center provider to be 100% renewably powered by local, purpose-built renewable projects. Today, Switch designs, builds, and operates some of the world’s most efficient and sustainable data centers.

Switch received a Smart Energy Decisions Innovation Award for their widely acclaimed energy efficiency program, which uses a suite of energy-efficient technologies that evolve with each new data center. In 2017, Switch implemented their technologies in Grand Rapids, MI. The “Switch Pyramid” is their first retrofit and includes hot and cold aisle containment to isolate server heat and concentrate server densities, as well as other key features that significantly reduce the facility’s power use and energy footprint. Additionally, Switch’s facilities in Northern Nevada include technologies designed for cold weather efficiency, and those in Michigan include new accommodations for humidity and wind.

As impressive as these energy efficiency efforts are, Switch’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop there. As Sam shared with us, the company is making significant progress with its innovative Gigawatt 1 initiative in Nevada, which will be the single largest solar portfolio project in the United States and produce some of the lowest priced solar power in the world. Switch has a goal of being carbon neutral by next year. Data runs the planet and Switch wants to ensure that it does not ruin the planet.

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare system and has a corporate sustainability goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.  The company recognizes that one of the most effective ways to protect the health of the more than 68 million people in the communities it serves is by ensuring healthy environmental conditions. By investing in renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral, Kaiser Permanente is helping to prevent climate-related illness for people worldwide.

In September 2018, the company executed a virtual power purchase agreement for 181 MW of clean energy, enabling the construction of utility scale solar and wind farms and one of the country’s largest battery energy storage systems. In conjunction with earlier VPPAs and on-site solar generation, this solar plus wind plus battery project is the largest of its kind in North America and will provide enough clean, renewable energy to achieve 100% renewable electricity for all of Kaiser Permanente’s 36 hospitals and 400 medical office buildings in California.  

The project’s large battery energy storage system is paired with solar in California and wind in nearby Arizona, demonstrating the degree to which the company is proactively deploying new technologies to help operationalize a combination which makes the promise of a multi-faceted, highly-renewable grid one step closer to reality. This unique project is a great example of the kind of visionary thinking that’s critical to help to accelerate technology adoption and bring new renewable energy onto the grid.

Next up for Kaiser Permanente? Ramé shared that they’re tackling their scope 1 emissions (direct greenhouse gas emissions that occur from sources owned by the company) and are interested in investing in the creation of new emission reduction projects that generate carbon offsets and catalyze industry change.

At 3Degrees, we work with organizations who are at all stages of their sustainability journey. It’s always especially inspiring to partner with companies like Switch and Kaiser Permanente who are setting such a strong example of sustainability and renewable energy leadership.

 

Reflections and Inspiration from Climate Week NYC

Last week, I attended Climate Week NYC in the company of hundreds of climate concerned leaders from around the world.  I was happy to be part of it; if my only way to gauge progress on climate action was by tracking political news, by following social media trends or by reading the latest scientific research, I suspect I’d spend my days in a haze of semi-depression.

But I don’t!  After years of supporting customers as they frame and drive their sustainability agendas, I have a very different perspective. I’m not downcast at all actually: I feel more inspired and motivated and hopeful than ever before.  At Climate Week NYC, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel addressing “Solutions for a 100% Clean Energy Transition”, alongside fellow sustainability thought leaders Dan Bryant, SVP, Global Public Policy and Government Affairs at Walmart, and Chelsea Mozen, Sustainability Lead at Etsy, and moderated by Samantha Smith, Director of Just Transition Centre.  These effective and purposeful people inspired me right there on the spot, and I shared several additional reasons for my optimism.

IT’S NOT A MATTER OF “IF”, IT’S A MATTER OF “HOW FAST”

Organizations all over the world are stepping up in the quest to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Just before our panel took the stage, Mike Peirce, Corporate Partnerships Director for The Climate Group, shared that it took 40 years to achieve one terawatt of renewable energy… but we expect it to take only five years to get to the next terawatt. The pace of renewable energy development – just one indicator – is remarkable and accelerating.  That momentum, and the commitment and desire to succeed which drives it, was palpable last week in New York.

THERE’S A PATH FOR EVERYONE

As we tell our clients, there is a path to renewable energy adoption for every company but those paths will not all look the same. If an organization is ready to implement a renewable energy strategy, then I am 100% certain they can achieve ambitious emission reductions. There will be at least one solution available somewhere along the continuum; from onsite renewable energy to aggregated PPAs or VPPAs, from utility green tariffs to competitive retail energy….there is truly something for everyone.

Exhibit A: my two fellow Climate Week NYC panelists, Walmart and Etsy, both members of the RE100 initiative led by The Climate Group as the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has set an aggressive renewable electricity goal within their corporate context of delivering consistently low prices to their customers. To date, 26% of Walmart’s global operations are powered by renewable electricity, with a target of 50% by 2025.1  On the other end of the spectrum, e-commerce website Etsy is proudly embracing its role as the smallest player in the largest renewable energy aggregation to date, together with Apple, Akamai and Swiss Re. Two completely different organizations, with vastly different budgets and corporate goals – but both making a meaningful impact with their approach to renewable energy solutions.

Our conference room was filled with attendees representing highly diverse organizations. And, as I shared during the panel, the most critical question to start with is “What is your why?”  What are the driving forces behind sustainability at your company? Cost savings? Brand value? Corporate ethos?  Investors or advocates? Because once you understand your “why”, you can build an implementation strategy that amplifies your responsiveness to your particular driving forces.

THE BUSINESS CASE IS THERE

Several themes surfaced repeatedly at the conference, but perhaps one of the most prominent was the business case for renewable energy. Put simply: more organizations across the globe are embracing renewable energy solutions because they make good business sense. 

It makes financial sense, as renewable energy continues its march toward cost parity with fossil fuels all over the world.  It makes sense for job creation; the renewable energy sector now employs over 10 million people worldwide.2 And it makes sense for the harder-to-measure, yet highly valuable, metric of stakeholder engagement. During our session, both of my fellow panelists cited examples of how their companies’ sustainability strategies directly impacted this metric in the form of new employee recruitment and morale (Walmart) and internal employee engagement and enthusiasm (Etsy).

So, despite the fact that it was a dark and stormy day in New York during our Climate Week NYC panel, all of these reasons are why I felt bright and optimistic about the direction we are headed in our quest to achieve a 100% clean energy transition.  I truly believe that it’s not a matter of if we’ll get there, it’s a matter of when and how fast.  

1 RE100 Progress and Insights Report 2018
2 IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs 2018 Annual Review