Power Line: Inside the $6 billion market where people buy the right to call energy clean, and rooftop solar's new pitch
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My mom is visiting me in NYC this weekend. Because why wouldn't you want to travel to the nation's most populous city amidst a virus outbreak when you live in rural Iowa. (I'll be delighted to see her.)
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Notch that back a bit, and that's basically how rooftop solar companies are now pitching themselves - as a way to keep the power on if the grid goes down.
- Top companies like Sunrun and Sunnova upsell customers big batteries as add-ons to solar arrays with language like "protect your family from power outages."
- Following California's PG&E shutoffs last fall, Sunrun published a report that showed how its customers who lost grid power were able to keep the lights on for up to five or six days straight.
That new marketing approach seems to be working.
- In recent earnings calls, rooftop solar companies say battery add-ons are becoming big business.
- Solar installations that included batteries doubled between 2017 and 2019, according to a new report by the solar marketplace EnergySage.
The takeaway: Buying solar for your home was once about sourcing green energy or cutting costs, but now it's largely about energy security.
(Meanwhile, here I am sizzling in a century-old NYC building, with no control over the oil-based radiator that seems hellbent on steaming me out with deafening bangs. Solar sounds pretty good.)
It's tough to write a scintillating headline when the topic of the story is something called "renewable energy certificates," or RECs. But I assure you: it's one worth getting to know. So as my editor likes to joke, let's get REC'd.
What the heck is a REC? It's a receipt that proves 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy was created somewhere. (1 MWh is a little more than what the avg. American household uses every month.)
Why do they exist? Once electrons enter the grid, they are indistinguishable from one another - no matter what kind of power plant produced them. RECs are the only way to track the generation of clean energy.
What's the business angle? Here's where things get wild. Wild, I tell you!
- RECs are an entirely separate commodity from the energy associated with them, and they are often sold separately.
- The price of a REC varies from pennies to more than $400.
- If you source clean energy but don't have the RECs associated with it then that energy isn't technically considered renewable.
Who's buying and selling them? You can find that and much more bizarre REC industry insights in my story.
How does an oil giant stay relevant as the world tries to cut ties with fossil fuels? It partners with startups. Loads of them.
We caught up with Shell's Lene Hviid, who runs the energy giant's in-house incubator program called GameChanger.
- The program has worked with 1,500 inventors since 2017, and many of them are developing clean-energy technologies, she said.
- "If you look at the energy transition and you are a supertanker that has to change, you need help from a lot of companies around you to make it happen," she told me.
Where is Shell placing its bets?
- On technologies that are obviously relevant for a company rooted in oil and gas, such as carbon capture and utilization and hydrogen gas.
- FYI 1: While carbon capture technologies are gaining a ton of attention, experts and analysts I've talked to say they're way overhyped.
- FYI 2: Shell has announced plans to build the world's largest "green hydrogen" plant. Here's a primer on the green hydrogen industry.
- On a wide range of other technologies that Hviid says will undoubtedly be a part of the future energy economy, such as long-duration energy storage and something called distributed energy resource (DER) management.
- FY1 3: DER management is one of the fastest-growing clean-energy industries. You can learn about it here.
Finally, here are this week's top updates
- The US Senate will soon consider a hefty package of energy legislation, which is "Congress' best bet to make a dent in federal clean energy policy under the Trump administration," Utility Dive reports.
- Tesla and the utility PG&E are developing what officials are calling the largest battery farm in the world in Northern California, NBC reports.
- The Italian energy giant Eni has pledged to cut its emission by 80% by 2050.
- General Electric, one of the world's largest wind turbine manufacturers, says its renewable energy unit is taking a hit from coronavirus, per Recharge.
We're monitoring the virus's impact on the clean-energy industry. If you have tips, please pass them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's it! Have a great weekend.
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