Electric vehicles (EVs) are one of the most promising technologies for reducing emissions in global transportation, but the benefits they bring depend on the provenance of the power they run on. Today, too few EVs are powered by renewable energy. For them to be a truly green option, this has to change.

The EV revolution is upon us. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the number of electricity-powered passenger vehicles on the world’s roads could surpass 250 million by 2030, while the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that electric buses and other mass transit vehicles could number well over 10 million.

Because they have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, EVs emit no exhaust from a tailpipe, which means that, unlike traditional vehicles, they don’t pump carbon dioxide, ozone, and particulate pollution into the air we breathe.

This is important, because transport accounts for around one-fifth of global emissions, with road travel accounting for fully three-quarters of that amount. The majority of this comes from passenger vehicles – cars and buses – which contribute 45.1%. The other 29.4% comes from trucks carrying freight.

Moreover, this number is only set to increase, as population growth and demographic shifts drive ever more demand for road travel – not to mention the rise in e-commerce pushing up the need for freight and last-mile delivery.

With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that air pollution causes one in every nine deaths worldwide, transforming our global transportation matrix to one run by EVs would all but guarantee a safer and greener future for everyone – or would it?

Dirty power

EVs need anywhere between 24 and 50kWh of electricity to travel 100 miles, and this electricity comes from the grid. With a US Department of Energy study showing that increased electrification will boost national consumption by as much as 38% by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles, in some cases, EVs could result in substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or even help extend the life of fossil fuels, if charged primarily with fossil fuel-generated power.

In fact, a recent study by China’s Tsinghua University found that EVs charged in China – where a majority of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants – contribute two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals versus gas-engine cars. 

Essentially, unless the electricity that powers EVs is clean, EVs can never be a fully green option.

With the vast number of EVs that are projected to come online in the coming years, it is crucial that both users and utilities find a way to charge them with renewable energy sources. Indeed, EVs might be the key to linking the renewable power and low-carbon transport sectors, for the good of everyone.

Making EVs the largest renewable buyers

By 2030, the amount of electricity needed to power all the EVs will be a whopping 640TWh. To put that into perspective, the over 300 global corporations that have signed the RE100 pledge to go 100% renewable purchase in aggregate around 220TWh a year – or just over a third of that amount. 

This creates a major opportunity to position EVs as one of the biggest buyers of renewable electricity globally. Not only that but the electricity needs of EVs could be harnessed to drive the roll-out of more renewable capacity around the world.

The model already exists: corporate procurement of renewable energy via bilateral power purchase agreements (PPAs) has created significant voluntary demand for new renewable energy projects worldwide. Last year, corporations purchased a record 23.7 GW of clean energy, up from 20.1GW in 2019 and 13.6GW in 2018, according to new research published by BloombergNEF (BNEF) – and this came in spite of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing global recession.

Through PPAs, EV original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), charge point operators, electric mobility service providers, and the growing number of companies that are committing to switching their vehicle fleets over to EVs can both develop seamless green solutions for the future, as well as facilitate the development of new renewable energy projects – which will, in turn, bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement targets.

Not just the electricity they run on

It isn’t only the juice that powers the vehicles’ batteries that’s important. Half of the lifecycle emissions from the lithium batteries in EVs come from the electricity used to assemble and manufacture them, which means that the electricity mix at OEM facilities is also a key part of the equation. A recent study by IVL, the Swedish environmental institute, found that lithium batteries produced in regions with a zero-carbon grid had emissions of 61kg of CO2 equivalent per kWh of battery capacity (CO2e/kWh). This figure more than doubles – to 146kg – when the electricity used in battery manufacture comes from fossil fuel.  

The climate benefit of EVs, therefore, doesn’t just depend on how green the electricity used to charge their battery is, but also on the carbon intensity of the electricity used to make that battery – creating yet another imperative for EV manufacturers to switch to renewable energy. 

A stable grid

The rise in the adoption of EVs can also drive the growth of renewable energy in other ways. Private cars spend 95% of their time parked, and energy planners are looking at ways to utilize this dead time to solve one of the biggest problems for scaling up renewable grids: stability.

“EVs at scale can create vast electricity storage capacity,” says Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre. “Smart charging, which both charges vehicles and supports the grid, unlocks a virtuous circle in which renewable energy makes transport cleaner and EVs support larger shares of renewables.”

The technology to make this happen is still in its infancy – so far, the Nissan Leaf is the only mass-production EV on the market that enables vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging. However, at Atlas we’re pleased to see more OEMs starting to consider this capability: for example, Hyundai, Kia, and Lucid all plan to include it in future vehicles.

With good planning and the right infrastructure, EVs can reduce emissions, replace polluting vehicles, and boost the roll-out of renewable energy infrastructure, and, when parked up and plugged in, act as battery banks, stabilizing electric grids powered by renewable solar energy. For renewable energy providers such as Atlas, this gives us the opportunity to provide ever-increasing amounts of clean electricity to a growing number of industrial sectors.

A driver of electrification 

As governments around the world unveil plans to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles, it won’t be too long until electric vehicles are the mainstay of both public and private transportation. From privately-owned electric cars to commercial taxi fleets and self-driving electric buses, EVs are fast redefining the market. 

What’s really exciting about this is what it means for overall electricity demand. IEA projections show that global electricity demand will grow by more than a third by 2040, mainly due to the adoption of EVs, which will take the electricity demand for transport from pretty much nothing to 4,000 TWh a year. This raises electricity’s share in total final energy consumption from 19% in 2018 to 31% in 2040, overtaking oil and leaving coal in the dust. 

At Atlas, we see this as an unprecedented opportunity to decarbonize the energy matrix. As EVs drive electrification, ensuring that this energy comes from renewable sources will take us another step closer to slashing power sector CO2 emissions and ensuring a more sustainable future.

EVs are here to stay, but for them to be truly a green option for the future of transportation, it is vital that we don’t miss the chance to link them with renewable energy. At Atlas, our bilateral PPA structure means that we can assist OEMs, charging infrastructure providers, and battery manufacturers in ensuring that EVs are a real green proposition, end to end. 

As a non-polluting and clean resource, renewable energy is key to a sustainable future. But beyond its environmental impacts, renewable energy can also contribute to social development, inclusion, diversity, and equity around the world.

In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. To achieve goal number seven: ‘Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy’, countries must increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. But this is not the only way in which renewable energy will contribute to a better, more inclusive future for humankind.

INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT

By now, it’s common knowledge that the energy transition – from fossil fuels to renewables – will have a strong positive impact on GDP. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s latest Global Renewables Outlook, transforming the energy system could add a massive US$98tn to the world’s GDP – or the equivalent of two times the combined market capitalization of the entire US stock market.

But GDP growth only captures the economic gains, and renewable energy brings a lot more to the table. The deployment of renewable energy helps to diversify a country’s skill base, boost its industrial growth and support broad developmental priorities – as well as fostering positive environmental and health outcomes thanks to lower emissions and reduced pressure on ecosystems.

A FAIR SHOT

Around the world, under-resourced communities bear the brunt of climate change and emissions. In the US for example, the majority of Black neighborhoods experience higher levels of air pollution from fossil fuel electricity than majority-white neighborhoods, according to research by the American Lung Association

In addition, low-income families spend about three times more of their income on energy costs than other households, with Black, Hispanic, multifamily, and renter households particularly impacted.

Cleaner, cheaper renewable energy can not only stabilize these families’ energy bills but also clean up the air they breathe, helping to close the gaps between the haves and the have-nots in our communities.

“Solar can provide long-term financial relief to families struggling with high and unpredictable energy costs, living-wage jobs in an industry where the workforce has increased 168% over the past seven years, and a source of clean, local energy sited in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by traditional power generation” – the Solar Energy Industries Association

The growth of renewable energy also provides an unprecedented opportunity to address the challenge of unemployment in low-income communities. A recent study by the Brookings Institution shows that not only is employment in low-carbon energy fields better-paid than average jobs, but that it’s also accessible to workers who haven’t attained a college education, with clean energy workers at the lower end of the income spectrum in the US earning US$5 to US$10 more per hour than they would in other jobs. 

There is a place for everyone in the renewables industry, although there’s still work to be done: as is the case in many skilled trades, the gender balance of workers in the sector still skews heavily toward men. At Atlas, we see this as an opportunity to broaden the labor pool in the long run. A few of the actions we’ve taken include insisting that there is at least one female candidate in every recruitment shortlist, while our People team (traditionally known as Human Resources) provides regional staff with training to recognize unconscious bias, focusing on gender distinction as well as focusing on improving benefits to facilitate female reintegration to work after motherhood, as well as parental co-responsibility.

Out in the field, we’ve also developed a Female Workforce Program that aims to improve local women’s access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. This vocational program aims to upskill hundreds of women from nearby communities into qualified positions, both in our own operational supply chains and within other industries in our area of influence.

BEYOND THE SOCIAL LICENSE

Renewable energy projects are often built in rural and remote locations, which means that as well as being clean and green, they also have the opportunity to be at the forefront of best practice human rights and social impact due diligence. Solid guidelines – like the IFC Performance Standards and the Equator Principles – already exist to assist renewable project developers in implementing best practice procedures for stakeholder engagement.

Renewables development paves the way for environmentally and socially responsible companies to shine. When developers work hand in hand with local communities to ensure renewable energy projects will be good neighbors, the multiplier effect is immense – and we saw this first hand at our Guajiro plant in Mexico. Instead of parachuting in with a generic corporate social responsibility program, we sat down with the local communities to understand their needs, and co-created plans that would provide a shared purpose for everyone’s benefit. For Guajiro, this meant prioritizing local suppliers for services needed during the construction, which created a circular economy effect, creating significant economic opportunities in the community. We also partnered with The Pale Blue Dot, a Mexican organization that promotes the use of technology in schools and community centers. The implementation of this program gave 699 students from nearby communities internet access and an educational platform, helping to reduce the educational gap and promote digital literacy. 

Gaining a social license to operate goes beyond getting the permissions to build reliable energy infrastructure. Making a positive impact on local partners gives a project legitimacy, credibility, and trust – which means that more and more communities will welcome the development of renewable sites, for the benefit of all.

A JUST AND FAIR ENERGY TRANSITION

The rise of renewable energy brings clear socio-economic benefits, from greater workforce diversity, social inclusion, and better community health outcomes, and an increasing number of stakeholders want to see this potential reached to its fullest extent. In recent years, we’ve seen how project financiers now look at community engagement and outcomes when considering funding a project, while large corporations entering into long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) are keen to find developers who are in alignment with their diversity and inclusion values. 

We know that clean, renewable, sustainable energy is the future. As the energy transition gathers pace, we believe it’s time for the conversation to shift from a sole focus on economic and environmental aspects towards maximizing the social benefits that renewable energy can bring to bear.

Once upon a time, a company’s success was judged solely by its financial performance. But profits alone don’t paint the full picture of how well a firm is doing. As companies begin to respond to multiple stakeholders, sustainable leadership, which takes into account environment, society, and long-term development objectives, has become vital.

The global response to the Covid-19 crisis demonstrates the importance of people, the planet, and transparency in business decisions. As world leaders focus on policy and economic actions to help reset the economy, inclusive capitalism, an equitable recovery, and a greener future are now front and center.

For companies, this means it’s time to take a closer look at corporate sustainability strategies. 

“We must rethink what we mean by ‘capital’ in its many iterations, whether financial, environmental, social, or human. Today’s consumers increasingly expect companies to contribute to social welfare and the common good,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in December 2019 at the launch of the new Davos manifesto for a better kind of capitalism.

At that time, there was no indication of the tumultuous events that were about to rock the global economy to its core. However, a year and a half on, corporate leaders are beginning a journey of continuous improvement, shifting policies to make sustainability and social inclusion central to how they function.

STAKEHOLDER CAPITALISM

The corporate world has always been characterized by competition, with CEOs under pressure to prioritize profits and revenue at the expense of other variables. However, corporate leaders are now beginning to recognize that companies are not just profit-seeking entities, but also an important part of the social and environmental fabric.

In January this year, 60 business leaders, including the CEOs of Dow, Unilever, Nestlé, PayPal, Reliance Industries, and Sony, made a public commitment to the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, a set of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures released by the World Economic Forum and its International Business Council (IBC) in September 2020, that measure long-term non-financial value creation for all stakeholders.

Signing his company up to the metrics, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce said: “Today is another step forward in the growing impact of stakeholder capitalism. It’s not just about words, but about companies setting clear metrics, measuring our progress, and holding ourselves accountable. Only then we can provide long-term growth for our shareholders, build trust with all stakeholders, and truly improve the state of the world.”

Acknowledging that growth and productivity alone are not enough, without addressing inequality and the environment, the metrics include disclosures centered around four pillars: people, planet, prosperity, and principles of governance, and include areas such as greenhouse gas emissions, pay equality, and board diversity, among others.

AN ESG LENS

The climate conversation has been ongoing for some time, but over the past year, we have seen an increase in urgency, as wildfires and extreme weather events have highlighted the connection between our actions and the environment. Covid-19 also brought into focus how we depend on one another for our health. Meanwhile, as social justice and racial equality dominated discourse in the United States and beyond, we also saw the impact of doing too little to address inequities in our society.

The upheaval brought about by the events of 2020 offers an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how we do things, and the impetus for companies to lead on this has never been stronger.

SUSTAINABILITY WITHIN AS WELL AS OUTSIDE

It isn’t just companies’ impact on the world around them that matters. As quarantine and confinement orders kept the majority of the world’s workforce to their homes, business leaders also began to recognize the need to build a more resilient workforce, prioritizing wellbeing. 

At Atlas Renewable Energy, we have seen how this year has given us a unique opportunity to drive conversations around diversity and inclusion while taking into account the complex challenges of keeping a remote workforce together during a pandemic. 

As corporate citizens, we can make all the environmental, social, and governance pledges in the world, but without empathetic leadership that enables a diverse workplace, we will never make the necessary progress. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we need to drive a more inclusive, cohesive, and sustainable workforce to build back better in 2021 and beyond.

WARNING SIGNS FROM THE ENERGY INDUSTRY

The consequences of overlooking the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits are plain to see. The oil and gas industry, for example, which has long run solely on financial performance, is now losing its social license to operate around the world. If energy companies – and indeed any large company with an outsized impact on people and the planet – are to survive, they must adapt to new realities. Business as usual will not be an option for anyone for much longer. 

“If economic recovery defaults to a reboot of pre-COVID-19 activities, societies will have missed an important window of opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and greener growth path,” said chief economists surveyed by the World Economic Forum last year.

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP

As more and more corporations around the world start to look beyond immediate, short-term gains, sustainable leadership is becoming the key to future success. However, sustainable leadership is not a purely values-driven play. It’s having the skills to do more with less, driving greater productivity by creating more equitable, inclusive workplaces, communities, and business ecosystems.

What do NASA, the Chilean Science Academy, the Canadian Society of Zoologists, and Bill Gates all have in common?

They all hold the position that climate change has been caused by human activity and that it is a serious threat, along with the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists.

The debate over whether or not climate change is happening is over. But while climate change is inevitable, our response to it isn’t.

At Atlas Renewable Energy, we believe that climate change represents the biggest threat facing humankind today, and immediate action is required to overturn this alarming trend. At the same time, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the emerging opportunity to right the course. Here’s why.

INNOVATIONS LARGE AND SMALL ARE HELPING US TO MITIGATE DANGERS AND TRANSFORM OUR SOCIETY AND THE ECONOMY

In recent years, the physical signs of climate change have gathered speed at a worrying rate. According to the UN, 2019 was the second warmest year since records began, putting our planet on a course to reach temperatures not seen in millions of years.

Today, climate change is affecting the lives and livelihoods of people across every continent. From severe weather events to shifts in seasons and rising sea levels, no one can escape the dramatic impacts of our heating planet. 

51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are being added into the atmosphere every year, and if we are to stop climate change in its tracks, this number has to be brought down to zero.

The events of 2020 brought into sharp focus just how vulnerable our societies and economies are, and there is now an upwelling of support for business models to be built around principles based on solidarity, responsibility, and cooperation. From reducing waste in supply chains to halting deforestation or cutting manufacturing emissions, there are many positive signs that a transition towards a more sustainable future is possible.

In his book, titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates call for an “energy miracle”, which he believes will enable the decoupling of economic development from environmental degradation.

He calls for an increase in the use of renewables versus fossil fuels (which would account for roughly 27% of the reduction needed in emissions), a change in how we manufacture our goods (31%), a rethink of the way we grow our food (18%), an overhaul of travel and transportation (16%), and a new approach to heating and cooling (6%).

Innovations are already happening: for example, the transition away from greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels to clean energy has become a reality around the world, with astonishing reductions in the prices of renewable energy, battery storage, remote sensing monitoring, and smart grids, while new financial structures have enabled the private sector to take greening their energy consumption into their own hands. 

One example of this is American material science giant Dow. Like most industrial companies, Dow has long sought to reduce the environmental and cost implications of its energy-intensive activities. Its leading position as a supplier of chemicals, plastics, synthetic fibers, and agricultural products also means it’s one of the world’s largest industrial energy consumers.

In the past, Dow utilized grid power and fossil fuels to power its plants but has started to rethink its energy portfolio, setting itself a hard target to meet 750 MW of its power demand with renewables by 2025, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

To help achieve this ambitious goal, Dow partnered with Atlas to provide clean energy to its Aratu complex in Brazil, the largest Dow manufacturing facility in the country.

This groundbreaking agreement not only avoids approximately 35,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year – the equivalent of taking around 36,800 cars off of the streets of São Paulo – but it lays the foundation for the rest of the chemicals industry to harness the benefits of renewable energy to achieve climate change mitigation goals.

EVEN DURING A PANDEMIC, THE CLIMATE CRISIS REMAINED TOP OF MIND

The Dow agreement was signed in the midst of the turbulence and upheaval of 2020, and it isn’t an outlier. Even though companies continued to struggle with the lingering impacts of movement restrictions, supply chain disruptions, and slumping demand caused by the pandemic, they continued to prioritize sustainability and environmental performance. 

In May 2020, 155 companies — with a combined market capitalization of over $2.4 trillion —signed a statement urging governments around the world to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with current climate science. 

In July, Microsoft along with AP Moeller-Maersk, Danone, Mercedes-Benz, Natura & Co., Nike, Starbucks, Unilever, and Wipro created the Transform to Net Zero initiative, with the tech firm committing to develop a portfolio of 500 megawatts of solar energy projects in under-resourced communities in the US. 

Meanwhile, Google pledged in September to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030, while Apple’s newly-launched Supplier Clean Energy Program has seen 71 manufacturing partners in 17 countries commit to 100% renewable energy for the tech giant’s production as it commits to transitioning the electricity used across its entire manufacturing supply chain to clean sources by 2030.

According to recent Gallup polls, individuals’ concern about climate change has increased over the past year, demonstrating that there’s more public support for taking big steps to stop climate change than ever before. 

Already, every nation on earth has adopted the Paris Agreement, which contains a commitment to limit global warming to below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Since then, governments and companies around the world have set ambitious goals for reducing emissions. After being postponed for a year due to the pandemic, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, will be held in November, and with 70 countries already committed to net-zero carbon emissions, it represents the best opportunity in years to make progress. 

CLIMATE OFFENDERS ARE FACING THE ISSUE

With sweeping policy changes across the globe, a bold political response to the climate crisis is underway. Huge investments into clean energy sector jobs and infrastructure to decarbonize the economy are expected from the United States, China, and beyond, while subsidies for polluting fuels are being stripped away. 

Sustainability is no longer an add-on, and alarms are now being sounded over the potential financial and economic ramifications if progress isn’t speeded up.

A recent report from Cambridge University found that losses from climate-related hazards are already at around US$180bn per year, and will continue to rise unless investors, lenders, insurers, and policymakers undertake significant risk management efforts. 

As public and political goodwill towards polluters fades, there has been an explosion of climate litigation launched against fossil-fuel intensive, or “carbon major” corporations in an effort to hold them accountable for greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s clear that only by reducing energy emissions are companies going to be able to minimize their carbon footprint, and this is something more and more business leaders are beginning to think seriously about.

THE GREEN PREMIUM IS REACHING A TIPPING POINT

One of the most well-worn arguments against greening the economy is the cost. Bill Gates refers to this as the green premium – essentially the difference in cost between a product that involves emitting carbon and an alternative that doesn’t. 

With new renewable energy now being more affordable than existing fossil fuels in the majority of cases, the green premium is no longer a barrier, as Gates explains.

Even in the most complicated markets, we are seeing demand from corporate customers, who want to know how to access affordable clean energy and lock in pricing stability for the long term. While there’s still more to be done globally to jump over the green premium hurdle, the indications are that renewable energy has already gone a long way towards overcoming it.  

WE CAN’T AFFORD TO BE COMPLACENT

Although we believe there’s room for optimism, there is no possible way we can downplay the existential threat of a climate disaster. But what we do see are a series of climate-positive actions coming out of the public and private sectors, which we believe need to be scaled up rapidly to change the trajectory of emissions levels in the atmosphere.

The experts are right on climate change, but the direst predictions don’t have to become an inevitability. The policy, market, and technological changes can be put in place for the transition to a zero-emissions world. All we have to do is make it happen.

Thanks to competitive prices, technological advances and excellent financial and fiscal support, solar energy is at its most attractive yet. The time to make the switch from conventional energy to clean energy is now. Here’s why.

SOLAR: THE US’s TOP ENERGY RESOURCE

There is the same amount of energy in just 18 days of sunshine on Earth as there is in all of the planet’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas – and the US is blessed with exceptionally high photovoltaic power potential compared to other nations in the northern hemisphere.

While the sunny southwest states of California, Arizona, and Nevada have the greatest solar energy potential, outputs can be increased with specialized tracking mechanisms that allow panels to follow the sun and collect light at an optimal angle, which means a system set up as far north as Portland, Maine can generate 85% of what it would in Los Angeles. 

Averaged over the entire country, a square meter collects the approximate solar energy equivalent of nearly a barrel of oil per year. Harnessing just a small proportion of this – around 0.6%  of the nation’s total land area – could power the entire country with environmentally and economically attractive electricity. 

SOLAR COSTS ARE AT THEIR LOWEST EVER

Unlike oil, which is seeing lifting costs increase as fields mature and much of the potential is already exhausted, the cost for producing solar energy has become increasingly competitive. Since 2010, the cost to install utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power has plummeted by 82%, meaning it now costs less to build a new solar PV plant than it does to keep many existing coal plants in operation.

This also translates to lower electricity prices: research from the US Department of Energy (DOE) shows the solar industry achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target three years early, in 2017, making it competitive with conventionally generated electricity even without subsidies.

TECH ADVANCES MEAN MORE FOR LESS

As solar has become more popular, there are now more installation experts, more producers of components, and more consumers, as well as decreasing material costs, which means economies of scale. In addition to this, clever engineering tricks have now pushed the efficiency of solar installations close to their theoretical maximum. Bifacial panels, which catch solar rays from both sides, as well as electronics that enable the panel to track the sun as it moves through the daytime sky, mean that it’s now possible to capture almost all of the available sunshine.

SOLAR PPA PRICES ARE AT THEIR LOWEST…

Another factor which has made solar as attractive as it is today is access to financing options and business models which make it even more affordable. The most exciting of these are power purchase agreements (PPA), long-term contracts under which a business agrees to purchase electricity directly from an energy generator. 

According to research carried out by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar PV prices based on competitive procurement could average US$0.039/kWh for projects commissioned in 2021, down 42% compared to 2019 and more than one-fifth less than coal-fired plants. 

In the US, PPA prices are now at their lowest yet, but as demand begins to outstrip supply, companies that act quickly will lock in savings ahead of their competitors.

… AND TOP US BRANDS ARE GETTING IN ON THE ACT

As a result of these historically low prices, corporate solar purchases have surged across the US, which is now the world leader in corporate PPAs for solar, representing over 60% of the global market. Today, 220 companies operating in the United States are already procuring renewables or plan to do so.

While in the past, tech companies like Google and Apple have led the way in solar procurement in the US, entering PPAs is no longer the sole preserve of firms with large data center operations. Today, we’re seeing manufacturers, retailers, and even oil and gas majors getting in on the action. 

It isn’t just the cost savings that America’s major corporations are looking for. As shareholders and investors set decarbonization targets, demonstrating leadership in clean energy development has become central to corporate strategy, and investing in large off-site installations via PPAs has become a key way to demonstrate a company’s green credentials. 

RENEWABLES ARE THE WAY OUT OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS…

Renewable energy systems don’t produce air pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions, which is why the American Lung Association advocates for switching away from fossil fuels to renewables to power the country. For example, the electricity generated at on-site and off-site commercial solar installations in the US alone offsets more than 8.9 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to taking 1.9 million cars off the road or planting 147 million trees. 

And Americans want to see more of this: after countless wildfires, hurricanes, and heatwaves in 2020 that scientists say are caused directly by climate change, the majority of Americans of all demographics say they are in favor of the bold action to combat global warming laid out by President Biden, which includes transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2035.

… AND SOLAR ASSETS PERFORM WELL IN A CRISIS

We recently saw how a massive, historic winter storm buckled Texas’ independent power grid. Data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) shows that the blackouts were primarily caused by a huge drop in thermal generation as coal piles froze and nuclear reactors were taken offline. Solar, meanwhile, produced 1,000MW more power than the grid operator expected – even under cloudy skies due to the storms. 

Thanks to new technology, solar can also help restart the grid if it goes down. In the past, following a blackout, grid operators have been forced to first turn on a conventional energy source, like a coal or natural gas plant to set the beat of the grid, before they can add other energy sources, like solar. New “grid-forming” controls on solar inverters, which are being funded by the US Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), enable solar inverters to form voltage and frequency levels like traditional generators, which means reliability and stability, even in a 100% renewable grid.

THE US REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FAVORS SOLAR

In the US, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows for a 26% tax credit on solar systems. This important federal policy mechanism supports and incentivizes the growth of solar energy in the nation – in fact, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, since the ITC was enacted in 2006, the US solar industry has grown by more than 10,000%. 

But all good things come to an end, and the solar ITC is set to start phasing down after 2023, meaning that projects that begin construction in the next two years will achieve a better dollar-for-dollar reduction than those set to start from 2023 onwards – another reason for companies to get into solar now and lock in the best savings they possibly can.

SOLAR INTEREST REMAINS HIGH DESPITE COVID-19…

Despite shelter-in-place orders and movement restrictions, most utility-scale solar construction was deemed essential. As a result, according to the SEIA, large corporations across the US reported few delays in their projects, and what’s more, they don’t expect any changes to their renewable energy goals or timelines. 

By their very nature, renewable energy project sites lend themselves well to social distancing: even the smallest of our solar farms are measured in the hundreds of acres, and at Atlas, we’ve set industry-leading standards to keep people safe from Covid-19, ensuring the sustainability of our projects for many years to come – no matter what’s on the horizon.

…AND SOLAR CREATES MUCH-NEEDED JOBS TO DRIVE ECONOMIC RECOVERY

Renewable energy generation will play a transformational role in the economy post-Covid-19. As the US economy looks to bounce back from the pandemic, getting Americans back into work is a major priority. In the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, solar employment in the US increased 44%, five times faster than job growth in the overall US economy. Solar employment is also inclusive of all Americans: women make up 26% of the solar workforce, while people from minority backgrounds make up 34%. What’s more, almost one in 10 solar workers are military veterans, according to the latest National Solar Jobs Census.  

Today, the solar industry in the US provides 250,000 Americans with well-paying jobs, and as the sector expands thanks to the fast-declining cost of technologies and its increased popularity, this number will only get higher. 

THE TIME TO TRANSITION IS NOW

Solar is no longer a futuristic, expensive power source. Today, solar is more affordable, better and more reliable than traditional fossil fuels. Shifting to solar can create much-needed jobs, help clean up America’s air, and enable companies to meet profitability, environmental and performance targets. 

The time to make the transition to solar is now. At Atlas Renewable Energy, we develop, build and operate large-scale renewable energy projects as a trusted partner for large energy consumers across numerous markets. Contact us to learn more about how your company can take advantage of all that solar has to offer today.  

US President Joe Biden’s two-day climate summit, held online on April 22-23, saw 40 global leaders make a series of commitments aimed at increasing cooperation to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Over eight sessions, heads of state and government, as well as leaders and representatives from international organizations, subnational governments, and indigenous communities spoke of the need for unprecedented global collaboration and ambition to meet the moment.

While the summit saw political decision-makers discuss the future of climate action, there are key opportunities for businesses and investors as well.

Major emitters up the ante on carbon neutrality

Recognizing that the status quo is no longer viable, leaders attending the climate summit vowed to take bolder climate action. The US submitted its new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), with a target to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

China indicated that it will strengthen the control of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, strictly control coal-fired power generation projects, and phase down coal consumption. The European Union is putting into law a target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and a net zero target by 2050. Brazil committed to achieve net zero by 2050 as well as end illegal deforestation by 2030. These countries were joined by pledges from India, Japan, Canada, South Africa and Argentina, among others.

These unprecedented commitments indicate that pressure is set to increase on corporations to take emissions reduction seriously. To stay ahead of the game, large energy users, from chemicals manufacturers to textiles producers and industrial firms, will need to make a decisive shift to tackling the key CO2 emissions elements in their business – or risk falling behind. 

An investment opportunity

During a special session with US climate envoy John Kerry, leaders from government, international organizations, and multilateral and private financial institutions noted the need to leverage large sums of private capital for sustainable projects. 

Plans such as the Biden Administration’s US$2tn clean energy investment plan, aiming for 100% clean electricity by 2035, and the European Union’s Green Deal, which includes US$572bn earmarked for spending on green projects, among them renewable energy generation, were reinforced during the talks, which will provide a boost to investors, who are increasingly being drawn in by outsized government spending and tax breaks for green projects. 

In renewable energy in particular, we are already seeing an increase in investors entering the sector, and this isn’t only a result of public sector initiatives. In fact, we’re hearing that the stability of renewables is one of the biggest reasons driving the decision to invest. Traditional energy producers rarely enter pricing contracts that span decades. Renewables producers, on the other hand, can, thanks to the inexhaustibility of their energy sources.

Time’s up for fossil fuels

Transitioning away from fossil fuels was a major focus of the summit. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described hundreds of start-ups working to improve crucial battery storage for solar, wind and other renewable energy. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen renewed the country’s pledge to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. Others spoke of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that have kept polluting energy sources artificially cheap for some time. On the flip side, in his closing speech President Biden urged world leaders to ramp up their investment in clean energy. 

Taken together, indications are clear that the current price divergence between renewables and fossil fuels – whereby renewables become more affordable and fossil fuels are priced out – looks set to continue. To lock in energy price stability, we’re already seeing several companies around the world start to take a close look at their energy strategy, and the possibilities made available through innovative financial structures such as corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs).

New business opportunities for low-carbon energy and transportation infrastructure

Launched during the event, the US Trade and Development Agency’s (USTDA) Global Partnership for Climate Smart Infrastructure will aim to drive the adoption of transformational technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support resiliency to climate change, around the world.

In practice, this will mean public and private investment into projects such as energy storage and utility-scale solar and wind projects, as well as energy-efficient transportation technologies that reduce energy and water use.

Since the launch, grants have already been awarded to projects and suppliers in Thailand, Cameroon, Brazil and India, and the USTDA has released a Global Climate Partnership webpage to connect companies with the latest information on the business opportunities associated with this initiative, as well as requests for proposals.

For businesses, climate smart activities and profit now go hand-in-hand. But for companies that aren’t directly involved in the sectors targeted by the USTDA, there are still ways to piggyback on the benefits. 

Take renewable energy development, for example. Through the power purchase agreement (PPA) structure, corporate energy consumers can take advantage of better strategic energy sourcing decisions. We believe bilateral power purchase agreements for renewable energy are a vital tool in building resilient, climate smart businesses, and numerous international companies have been early movers in this respect – from Anglo American to multinational companies such as  Dow.

Leaders emphasize the need for private sector help

Although the summit focused on country-level targets, participants stressed the need for involvement from the business community.

Fortunately, the private sector has already shown it is ready and willing to take action. Ahead of the summit, 408 businesses and investors, ranging from SMEs to large multinationals, signed an open letter indicating their support for “a highly ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target, or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pursuant to the Paris Agreement, in pursuit of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.” 

The global community still has a lot of work ahead of it, and it is hoped that all countries will commit to further climate action at the COP26 conference due to be held in Glasgow this November. However, at Atlas, we believe that businesses can start to harness the momentum of the Biden climate summit now to boost their own long-term strategies and set a trajectory towards net-zero.

As Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, said at the summit: “This is a herculean task, because this is nothing short of complete transformation of the way we do business.”

In recent years, reducing carbon emissions at the pace necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change has emerged as a key challenge for policymakers around the world. While there are several approaches, one – carbon pricing – is gaining in popularity, and the indicators show that it will soon be widespread.

WHAT IS CARBON PRICING?

In short, carbon pricing is a means by which carbon pollution is given a cost that is then passed on to CO2 emitters through a tax or fee. It’s a simple economic principle: making something more expensive discourages its use. The idea behind carbon pricing is, at its heart, to give companies a financial incentive to lower their emissions.

The most basic form of carbon pricing is a carbon tax, which is a fixed levy per ton of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) on the amount of carbon dioxide produced. Other initiatives include emissions trading systems (ETSs), which create a market in tax credits so that emitters can trade emission units with non-emitters. Meanwhile, offset mechanisms allow emitters to avoid carbon tax if they make parallel efforts to remove carbon elsewhere from the environment.

For its proponents, carbon pricing is the most efficient approach to cut emissions, as it immediately encourages cutbacks on any activity that emits carbon, and forces innovation of less-polluting alternatives. Set at the right level, a carbon tax on energy would quickly create an economic preference for natural gas, for example, over oil and coal, and for renewable energy over fossil fuels, thus driving forward the clean energy transition around the world.

That isn’t to say that everyone agrees with the concept. In many countries, from the United States to Australia and beyond, carbon tax proposals have been met with opposition. However, the number of jurisdictions that are putting a price on carbon, either via a carbon tax or through an ETS, is growing. Today, 46 countries and 32 subnational jurisdictions have implemented carbon pricing initiatives, up from 42 countries and 25 subnational jurisdictions in 2017. These include most of Europe, China, Canada, and South Africa, as well as the U.S. state of California.

The Latin American perspective

In Latin America, carbon pricing initiatives are currently in their infancy. As we see in the following graph, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia already have carbon tax schemes underway, but they put a fairly modest price on each tCO2e of carbon – lower than Canada’s and South Africa’s and a fraction of the US$40-80 per tCO2e called for by the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices to cost-effectively reduce emissions in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

Because current climate change mitigation plans both in the region and globally still don’t add up to the emission-reduction levels needed to keep the global temperature increase below 2˚C, we believe that more and more governments will start to implement carbon pricing in the upcoming years and carbon taxes will most likely increase.

CORPORATE SUPPORT

Although carbon pricing has a direct, negative impact on corporate polluters’ profits, an ever-increasing number of companies are calling for it, as growing pressure from investors and consumers drives them to start taking emissions reduction seriously.

In the US, the Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of chief executive officers from more than 200 leading companies, has endorsed market mechanisms, including carbon pricing, to advance action on climate change. Even oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP have called for carbon taxes to be implemented, while Spanish multinational Repsol has gone so far as to establish its own internal carbon pricing of US$25 per tCO2e for new investments, going up to US$40 per tCO2e from 2025 onwards.

In fact, around the world, about 1,600 companies currently use internal carbon pricing to prioritize low-carbon investments and prepare for future regulation, or anticipate doing so within two years, according to a survey carried out by the Carbon Disclosure Project, an international non-profit organization. In many cases, they are using the proceeds to fund emissions reduction efforts: Microsoft, for example, uses the revenue from its internal carbon fee to fund renewable energy and is aiming to hit 100% renewable energy usage by 2025.

In June 2020, Bernard Looney, the CEO of BP, more than doubled his company’s carbon price forecast to $100 for the year 2030, stating that he believes countries around the world will ramp up the aggressive transition away from fossil fuels toward cleaner alternatives by the end of the decade.

Therefore, for those companies who don’t already have their own internal carbon pricing initiatives, or who haven’t taken into account the likely impact of carbon taxes on their bottom line, it is clear that it’s time to take action.

THE COST OF CARBON PRICING

As the world’s largest emitter, the energy sector is the most impacted by carbon pricing. We’re already starting to see the commercial failure of thermal energy generation as a result. Most recently, a planned 450MW expansion of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state-owned thermal power plant – financed by a €614 million loan approved by China Eximbank – was described by the European Union’s Energy Community Secretariat as an “economic disaster”, since it was planned against a carbon price of €7 per tCO2e, whereas the current price in the EU is €25. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not an EU member state and does not yet apply carbon pricing. However, the European Commission is now preparing a carbon border tax, which will apply to the Western Balkans as well, thus making the financial success of the plant untenable.

However, it is not just utility companies and power producers that will be impacted by a price on carbon. Any price increase related to power generation will inevitably be passed downstream to customers, raising prices that businesses – and households – ultimately pay.  

The impact on large energy users

For energy-intensive industries, this presents a dual-threat. Chemicals manufacturers, textiles producers, and large industrial firms will not only be paying an additional tax based on their own emissions but will also be paying higher energy costs, as their electricity providers hike up prices to cover their own carbon taxes. According to a recent study by EY, the estimated impact of a carbon tax on overall industry production costs at a carbon price of US$25 per tCO2e will be an increase of 1.1%, with the bulk of this – 0.7% – made up by indirect costs, ie higher energy input prices.

Historically, studies have found that when the cost of energy comprises a larger fraction of the cost of production, companies find new ways to reduce energy costs, and this time will be no different. So far, 284 global brands, from ING to Unilever, AB Inbev, and the Kellogg Company have taken the step towards accelerating the transition to zero-carbon energy by committing to obtaining 100% of their power from renewable sources.

These companies can see what is coming over the horizon and are taking steps to reposition themselves. We believe this is a sensible decision: as the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s power plant shows, waiting until carbon pricing is implemented in their home nation may be too late, as decisions taken by other jurisdictions can very easily have a cross-border impact. 

BE PREPARED

While initial conversations around carbon pricing framed it as simply a regulatory imposition, it has become clear that not only are corporations behind the idea of reducing carbon emissions but so, too, are the general public. In a recent international survey of over 10,000 consumers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US, fully two-thirds of consumers said they wanted to see carbon labeling on products. 

As consumers around the world become more informed about the carbon footprint of the products they buy, and start to vote with their wallets, this isn’t a trend to be ignored. Fortunately, solutions to reducing reliance on fossil fuels are at hand. One example is through the power purchase agreement (PPA) structure, which means that corporate energy consumers can take advantage of better strategic energy sourcing decisions with the assistance of a knowledgeable and capable partner. This is the perfect opportunity to reduce the near-inevitable risk of carbon pricing initiatives on large energy users’ bottom lines. What’s more, in many markets, there are immediate cost savings to be had already, thanks to the competitive pricing of renewable energy. 

Carbon pricing, in our view, is inevitable, but fortunately, there are many ways companies can prepare to ensure they’re ready when the time comes.

On International Women’s Day and every day, Atlas Renewable Energy places diversity and inclusion at the forefront.

At Atlas Renewable Energy, we want to lead our sector in terms of gender balance, diversity, and inclusion (D&I). We’re pushing to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, and change attitudes – in our industry, our offices, and in the communities where we operate. We understand that to make a difference we need to go beyond awareness raising to addressing the issues from a more tangible perspective. Although there is still much to be done, here we present some of the initiatives we have developed to contribute toward equal opportunities.

CREATING CHANGE FROM WITHIN

When we launched in early 2017, we were immediately aware that we had key imbalances in regard to gender, with a small percentage of women and even less representation in the technical, managerial, and decision-making levels. And the problem wasn’t ours alone: across the wider renewable energy sector as a whole, women make up only a small percentage of the workforce. According to a study conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2019, women represent only 32% of full-time employees of the renewable energy workforce globally.

We believe that the fact that we operate in a male-dominated industry is no excuse. So we set about creating an internal culture that embraced inclusiveness and diversity right from the start, and we began to look for ways to transform our company into one that could be characterized by equality.

Our first step was to make our recruitment process more inclusive. We insisted that there should be at least one female candidate in every recruitment shortlist and that the overall candidate pool should be as diverse as possible. To avoid any kind of hiring bias, we asked our recruiters to present us with blind resumes, which mask not only the gender of candidates, but also their age, ethnicity, and location. 

Atlas Renewable Energy corporate employees working in the Santiago, Chile, office.

Our efforts have paid off: today, our corporate total headcount is 40% female, versus just 11% four years ago.

BREAKING DOWN STRUCTURAL BARRIERS

But simply getting more women into the company isn’t enough. In order to be truly gender-responsive, we implemented a series of measures to create a corporate culture based on equal opportunities, non-discrimination, and respect for diversity.

These include our unconscious bias training and D&I immersion program, which is provided to all staff members and focuses not only on gender distinctions but also seeks to challenge prejudiced ways of thinking that could unfairly influence decisions.

We also looked at the structural barriers preventing greater female participation in the workforce. The linkage between family responsibilities and decreased female labor force participation has been well-documented, and as job-protected maternity leave entitlements have been proven to keep women in work, we looked at international best practices and put in place maternity leave of six months at full salary. This initiative has been implemented in all countries in which Atlas is present, going in many cases further than what local regulations would require.

To avoid creating a bias against hiring women as a result, we also extended one month of parental leave to men – compared to the minimum paid paternity leave of five to eight days in many of the markets in which we operate.

Furthermore, in order to ensure we take into account all types of families, we also implemented adoption leave for our employees. 

Another structural barrier is around childcare. We don’t believe women or men should have to choose between caring for their children or prioritizing their own careers, so we implemented a monthly childcare allowance for children up to age three, which enables team members who choose to return to the workforce after having or adopting a child to do so.

When building diversity and inclusion policies, we believe that it is vital that they are consistent across the board. So, no matter whether our employees are based in Chile, Mexico, Brazil, or in the U.S., our structure remains the same to ensure that our commitment to equality is clear everywhere.  

WOMEN CANNOT BE WHAT THEY CANNOT SEE

The next part of our journey is around enabling Atlas’ female employees to advance in their professional and personal growth. To build on this, we have put in place a talent and mentoring program  to support their personal and professional growth, ensuring that we create a strong pipeline of female leaders for the future.

GOING BEYOND OUR OFFICES TO MAKE  A POSITIVE IMPACT IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES

Participants of the Female Workforce Program “We Are All Part of the Same Energy” in Maria Elena, Antofagasta Region, Chile.

Because of our geographical footprint and the impact we can make in the communities where we operate, we are in a strong position to mobilize our own contractors and work with local communities to promote similar values in female representation, and so we have embarked on a diversity and inclusion journey through an ambitious female workforce program, in partnership with local institutions and governments.

Under the name ‘We are all part of the same energy’, the program aims to improve local women’s access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities by leveraging the economic development potential of the areas in which we are building renewable energy projects in order to create jobs.

So far, we are well on the way to upskilling at least 700 women from nearby communities into our assets currently under construction in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. Using market studies, we identify skill gaps and job opportunities and then design our training to meet those needs. We then work to include a proportion of the women trained either into our own supply chains and mobilize our contractors to prioritize their inclusion in their hiring process or facilitate linkages with other industries in our area of influence.

It isn’t only gender equality that we are addressing in our markets. In many cases, we will be a neighbor to local communities for decades, so we have also implemented additional inclusion policies to ensure that everyone has access to the opportunities our projects can provide. We operate across diverse markets, and as a result, we are cognizant of the need to tailor our approach to the societal backdrop of the area in which we operate in order to have the greatest impact.

For example, at our Jacarandá project in Brazil, our hiring policies have been structured to ensure that at least 35% of the total workforce is made up of people of color, who are often excluded from employment opportunities because of racial discrimination. To date, 74% of the women and 79% of the men currently  employed at Jacarandá are of Afro-Brazilian descent, and overall, 56 women are employed in the construction of this project, accounting for fully 15% of the total workforce.  

Graduates of the Female Workforce Program “We Are All Part of the Same Energy” working in our Jacaranda Solar Plant in Juazeiro, State of Bahia, Brazil.

Meanwhile, as of the beginning of March, we have hired 95 women in our project in Sol de Desierto in Chile, representing 14% of the total workforce, and in Mexico, we have set up a training program to equip close to 300 women with a variety of skills, which we intend to replicate in Lar do Sol – Casablanca, an Atlas solar plant in Minas Gerais, Brazil.

A SYSTEMIC VIEW

At Atlas, our goal is to continue moving forward to become a benchmark in equality for our sector, and for the wider infrastructure and energy industries. 

Although the progress we have made so far is significant, there is still much work to be done. But by acknowledging the gaps and looking for tangible solutions, we aim to build a more equitable future, that allows everyone, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, age, background, or ability, to access equal opportunities.

The Biden administration aims to transform the United States into a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. We take a look at what this means for the renewables sector.

“At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide” – President Joe Biden.

Upon taking office on January 20, President Joe Biden immediately got to work on his campaign pledge to shift the US towards a green future. Signing a series of executive orders, he ordered federal agencies to procure carbon-free energy, drive the development of clean energy technologies, and speed up clean energy generation and transmission projects. His administration wants to eliminate pollution from fossil fuel in the power sector by 2035 and from the wider US economy by 2050 and intends to spend US$2tn over four years to make that happen.

The climate plan proposed by Biden is set to result in significant changes in energy policy in the US. Here’s what to expect.

NO MORE ASSISTANCE TO FOSSIL FUEL DEVELOPMENT

The heavily fossil fuel powered grid generates 28% of US emissions, and the new president seeks to get this to zero, fast, by pausing oil and gas leasing on federal land and targeting subsidies for those industries as well as establishing aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations, which will likely drive up costs for already marginal US oil and gas drilling operations.

PRICING CARBON OUT OF THE MARKET

In a written statement to Senate Finance Committee members’ questions, Janet Yellen, President Biden’s nominee to run the Treasury Department, said: “We cannot solve the climate crisis without effective carbon pricing. The president supports an enforcement mechanism that requires polluters to bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting.”  A national carbon tax is expected to be implemented within the US, creating a direct negative impact on corporate polluters’ bottom line, and resulting in clean renewable energy becoming more competitive than traditional fuels. 

A RETHINK OF TRADE POLICY

In 2018, the Trump administration imposed a four-year, 30% tariff on imported solar panels, which prevented the deployment of 10.5 gigawatts of solar that would otherwise have been built, according to analysis from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry’s largest trade group. It has called upon President Biden to remove these tariffs, to help bring down prices in order to achieve its goal of providing 20% of US electricity by 2030, up from just 3% currently. While the new US administration is yet to make a move in this regard, pressure from US industry bodies is growing, and it’s likely that President Joe Biden will look to review the solar import tariffs in short order.

NEW INCENTIVES FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY

Extensions to existing tax credits for renewable energy are expected as the US government seeks to make its plan operational. As part of former President Trump’s Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, the expiry of the production tax credit (PTC) for wind and certain other renewable energy technologies was pushed out a further year, to the end of 2021, while the phasing down of the investment tax credit (ITC), which is applicable to solar and certain other renewable energy projects, was frozen for two years.

As these credits remain vital for the development of the renewable energy industry and the continued potential for growth in the US as it seeks to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, further fiscal incentives can be expected, with the potential for refundable credits being able to be leveraged in financing structures for renewable energy investments.

THE NUMBERS ADD UP…

Beyond policy implications, the practicalities of greening the grid of the world’s largest economy in just 15 years make this no mean feat: developers of renewable capacity will have to triple their installation pace from 2020’s rate immediately in order to hit Biden’s goal, according to a study from the University of California at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. 

However, the researchers found that the continued decrease in the price of both solar and wind energy will mean that removing around 90% of the grid’s emissions by 2035 would lower wholesale electricity prices 10%, while improved battery storage will ensure the reliability of the US’ new, cleaner grid. In effect, President Biden’s plan is both financially and economically viable.

… FOR AN IMMINENT ENVIRONMENTAL INFRASTRUCTURE BOOM

Beyond academic research, capital market activity also indicates that positive sentiment is building behind President Biden’s plan. In the week before the president’s inauguration, alternative energy funds saw an inflow of US$4bn, according to Lipper data, as investors bet on a bright outlook for renewable energy firms. To put this into perspective, for the full year 2020, total inflows were just US$17.1bn.

AMBITIOUS PLANS

The scope and reach of the new administration’s clean energy agenda is certainly ambitious, but we believe that it demonstrates an alignment between the government and growing numbers of influential, globally recognized US companies, who have committed to 100% renewable power as part of the RE100 initiative. These companies, which include Apple, American Express, Facebook, General Motors, and Google, have already signed PPAs for renewable energy in numerous countries, inspiring many others to follow suit

Until now, however, the US was cited by RE100 members as a “challenging market” for corporate sourcing due to “a lack of leadership by the federal government”. With the Biden administration’s new climate policy, this is likely to change, and we expect to see a surge in demand from corporations across numerous industry verticals – from retail to manufacturing, heavy industry, and beyond.

It isn’t only corporate America that supports the energy transition: 90% of Americans, regardless of political beliefs, support solar, according to research done by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). 

The Biden administration’s climate and energy goals are bold, but the American Clean Power Association (ACP), a newly formed trade group, has stated that the renewable power industry is ready to help the country meet them, and at Atlas Renewable Energy, we are adding our voice to that of our colleagues in the US. 

Since 2017, we have developed, built, and operated large-scale renewable energy projects that have enabled the energy transition across Latin America. We were the first to implement a solar private PPA in Chile some eight years ago, and we’ve since continued to advance the adoption of renewable energy by large energy consumers. With one of the largest solar asset bases in the region, we signed a record 660MW in corporate PPAs in 2020, making us Latin America’s top developer in the region by contracted volume, according to Bloomberg. We’re already a trusted partner for US multinationals like Dow and Anglo American, and we look forward to supporting a growing number of companies to lower their CO2 emissions for a greener future across the region.

Around the world, consumer behavior is undergoing a dramatic change. Purchasing has become a political act, with those brands that seek to make the world a better place being rewarded by growing sales and increased customer loyalty. In this focus on Latin America, we look at how, as the region’s population seeks to buy the change they want to see for the future, companies must improve on sustainability and environmental issues – or risk losing out.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE GREEN CONSUMER

In recent years, shoppers worldwide have begun to understand that their purchasing power can make change happen. Consumers are calling for businesses to put their values on display, and rewarding those who align with their values.

This is a paradigm shift from the consumer activism of yesteryear when brand boycotts were a means of applying pressure on big firms. In a recent report by research firm Weber Shandwick on this changing landscape, it was found that 83% of consumers now prefer positive activism – showing support for companies by buying from them, rather than avoiding those whose practices they disagree with.

In today’s hyperconnected world, where purchasing decisions are influenced as much by social media as by advertising, the impact of consumer support on a brand’s reputation is immense. And while consumer activism takes many forms, it is increasingly a companies’ environmental and sustainability performance that shoppers are honing in on, with consumer insights company Nielsen calculating a near-50% jump in sustainable product sales in 2021, as compared to 2014. 

LATIN AMERICA TAKES THE LEAD

In its 2019 report, Nielsen found Latin America to be ahead of the global curve when it comes to sustainable consumption. Fully 85% of Latin American consumers said that they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment – versus just 73% globally.

While the majority of consumer efforts are still focused on tangible gains – such as selecting products with recyclable or less packaging, a growing trend has emerged with consumers seeking out companies who go even further

In 2018, Colombian food company Tosh became the country’s first major brand to become certified as carbon neutral, offsetting 17,000 tons of CO2 each year and overhauling its branding to demonstrate its sustainability credentials to customers. Meanwhile, Brazil’s largest cosmetics multinational, Natura, strictly controls and monitors all carbon emissions relating to its packaging, logistics, production, and transport processes. And a few years ago Chile became the home of the world’s first carbon-neutral wine.

This focus on carbon neutrality is also starting to filter through to corporate energy consumption. In the face of consumer pressure to go green and reduce their impact on the environment, multinational consumer goods brands and manufacturers that have set up bases in Latin America must change their approach and rethink where they source their electricity needs from.

This is the beginning of an unstoppable transformation. Consumers no longer simply want sustainable products – they want the companies they are buying from to be sustainable all the way through their corporate operations. In fact, this trend is even more evident in Latin America than in other global regions, largely because the impact of climate change is already making itself felt – from melting Andean glaciers to extreme weather events. When asked by LAPOP’s AmericasBarometer how serious a problem climate change is in their country, 75% of South Americans and 82% of Mexicans and Central Americans characterized it as “very serious” – compared to just 40% in the United States and Canada.

This is also a generational shift – the latest Global Sustainable Shoppers Report carried out by Nielsen showed that 85% of Latin American millennials (those born in the 1980s and early 1990s) are concerned about how sustainable companies’ production processes are, versus 72% of their parent’s generation, the baby boomers. And if the upswing in climate activism we have seen from generation Z so far is anything to go by, this trend will only continue.

THE EVENTS OF 2020 ACCELERATED THE TREND

There is, of course, another factor driving increased consumer consciousness around sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated unequivocally the relationship between humans and the natural world, as well as the degree to which everyone on earth is interconnected. As a result, for consumers, the sustainability agenda has taken on new importance. 

A recent survey by consulting firm BCG found that nine-tenths of consumer respondents said that they were equally or more concerned about environmental issues in the wake of the virus outbreak, and nearly 95% said they believed their personal actions could help reduce unsustainable waste, tackle climate change, and protect wildlife and biodiversity. Almost a third said that this belief had strengthened as a result of the crisis.

However, as companies continue to struggle with the lingering impacts of movement restrictions, supply chain disruptions, and slumping demand caused by the pandemic, prioritizing sustainability and environmental performance is, for many, last on the list.

We believe that would be a mistake. Consumer pressure isn’t going away – it’s only increasing. Companies that sideline their efforts now are likely storing up risks for the future, while those that choose to re-engage with sustainability initiatives will gain a distinct competitive advantage.

RENEWABLE ENERGY – A SOLID STRATEGY

A pragmatic way to achieve the kind of sustainability that consumers increasingly expect is to look at what can garner the greatest impact on carbon emissions. For the vast majority of companies, that’s their energy consumption, which is why, right across the region, a growing number of firms are shifting to renewables, and civil society is stepping up to support them.

Indeed, companies in Latin America are at a comparative advantage versus many of their counterparts around the world. Ample renewable resources along with an enabling regulatory framework in many countries have paved the way for more and more corporate energy users to go green. 

This growing interest has driven a surge in the number of corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy, with 2019 witnessing a threefold increase in deals signed. A tailor-made contract between a corporate off-taker and a power producer, renewable PPAs allow companies to purchase or generate enough renewable energy to match 100 percent or more of their electricity use over the course of the year, allowing them to ensure the very basis of their operations is sustainable. 

Our team, for example, was the first to implement a solar private PPA in Chile some eight years ago, and we’ve since replicated this success in Brazil and Mexico. In 2020, Atlas Renewable Energy signed over 660MW in corporate PPAs in Latin America, making us the top developer in the region by contracted volume, according to Bloomberg. As companies adjust to new consumer demands, we’re seeing an increasing number of inquiries by business leaders asking how they can harness renewable energy to meet their ESG objectives. The numbers are clear: According to a recent study by Stanford University which looked at the impact on companies’ carbon emissions by switching to renewables, a 100% solar strategy would reduce annual carbon emissions by as much as 119% of a company’s carbon footprint – leading to a huge leap forward in its environmental performance. 

The new green consumer of today doesn’t just want to know the origins of what they buy, or how it’s packaged. They want to see real commitments by companies that they are doing everything they can to minimize their impact on the environment. Sustainability is no longer an add-on, and we believe that a solid energy strategy with renewables at its core should be a foundational pillar of a companies’ efforts to respond to consumer demands.