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.)

Our healthcare team has been busy covering the novel coronavirus. Sign up for the newsletter Dispensed to follow their coverage.

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The apocalypse is a better time than ever to go solar

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.

That new marketing approach seems to be working. The takeaway: Buying solar for your home was once about sourcing green energy or cutting costs, but now it's largely about energy security. Advertisement

(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.)

A look inside an opaque $6 billion industry that challenges the very idea of renewable energy

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.

Q&A: Advertisement

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! Advertisement

Who's buying and selling them? You can find that and much more bizarre REC industry insights in my story.

Lene Hviid Shell GameChanger

We talked to the woman at Shell in charge of hunting down breakthrough energy startups

How does an oil giant stay relevant as the world tries to cut ties with fossil fuels? It partners with startups. Loads of them. Advertisement

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?

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 energy@businessinsider.com. Advertisement

That's it! Have a great weekend.

- Benji

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