Integrated voluntary renewable products will help utilities go carbon-free faster, in partnership with customers.
The 2020s must be a decade of energy transformation like no other. This moment offers an opportunity for future-focused utilities — those pursuing aggressive decarbonization goals and deeper customer connections — to fully activate voluntary renewable energy products as an essential tool to advance and achieve their most pressing goals. To get there, leaders need to learn from the past and change the way they think about the voluntary market.
A crucial lesson from ten years of renewable energy expansion
Utilities have been responding to the growth and evolution of renewable energy for decades. From where I sit, some of the biggest threats to utilities have come from changes spurred by renewable energy, and some of the biggest utility advancements have come from responding to those changes.
In the last decade, we witnessed growth in the amount and variety of voluntary renewables available to end customers, alongside growing demand for renewable energy. We also saw non-utility players come forward to meet that demand, bringing a wide array of products from rooftop solar and VPPAs to community choice aggregation and API-enabled bill consolidators with add-on products. All told, utility customers across every segment have more renewable energy choices than ever before.
Amid this expansion of options, utilities have made significant progress in countering intermediation threats and responding to customer demand for renewable energy by developing their own innovative voluntary products. Leading utilities have developed robust green power and community solar programs, a wide array of green tariff approaches, and more.
These programs offer vast potential: to improve customer satisfaction, contribute to the clean energy transition, build internal innovation capabilities, and create a more equitable future for all. But the typical utility approach to voluntary products has limited that potential. These products are often designed on a one-off basis reactive to distinct customer demands, and without much consideration for how they can advance longer-term strategies. Voluntary renewable energy products can have a far greater impact when they are developed with a comprehensive approach.
Advancing utility clean energy with strategic voluntary products
After a decade of renewable energy advancement, it’s time for utilities to activate voluntary products as a strategic part of their decarbonization strategy.
This work has already begun. We work with utilities who use their voluntary programs to lower the cost of reaching 100% decarbonization targets for their region. They build new assets backed by demand from voluntary customers. They partner with residential, corporate, and municipal customers who want their own sustainability goals to enable equitable transformation for their region. These utilities have a head start, and others should follow their leadership.
With voluntary products integrated into their broader decarbonization strategies, utilities will also be better prepared to deploy new products that support emerging system needs related to distributed energy resources and electrifying transportation. While the path to more comprehensive and integrated voluntary programs requires new thinking, history shows us that it’s worth it, and now is the time to start.