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.

Even as the Covid-19 pandemic drove the global economy into a recession, 2020 was a good year for renewable energy as an asset class. With new tailwinds promising to bolster the sector, we believe that 2021 will see an even greater upswing of interest from the capital markets.

Despite numerous headwinds, the global economy continued its transition toward renewable energy in 2020, with a record amount of new installed capacity around the world. The health of the sector stood in sharp contrast to both infrastructure and fossil fuels, and the subsequent flight to quality translated into floods of capital as installations continued to rise in spite of the economic and social disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, low-carbon investments – which cover renewable power and other technologies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels – increased by 9% in 2020, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). And this upward trend looks set to continue. According to a recent survey by Octopus Capital, global institutional investors plan to increase their allocation to green energy from 4.2% of their overall portfolio to 8.3% in the next five years, and 10.8% in the next decade. 

AN ATTRACTIVE OPTION

One of the key drivers behind this is the surging demand for clean energy amid political pressure to meet the ambitious objectives of the Paris Agreement, an international climate commitment to keep the global temperature increases below 2%. According to Goldman Sachs, meeting those commitments will require up to US$30tn in clean-energy infrastructure investments by 2040 alone. The investment bank expects this clear growth trajectory to push spending for renewable power projects above spending on upstream oil and gas this year – the first time in history that this has been the case.

PREDICTABLE, STABLE, AND COMPETITIVE

But beyond growing demand for renewables, there are numerous other factors at play that are driving greater numbers of investors to enter the sector. The first is its stability. 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.

The Octopus Capital poll, which covered investors from across the globe with combined total assets of US$6.9tn, found that more than half of respondents view the predictability of green energy as a reason to capitalize on the market. Historically, and as was best illustrated with the unprecedented day in 2020 when the oil price turned negative, prices of fossil fuels, and by extension, fossil fuel-based electricity, have been wildly volatile. 

The cost of renewables, meanwhile, has become increasingly competitive with fossil fuels, as new technologies including bifacial solar panels and trackers are helping improve efficiency. Consequently, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from solar has plummeted from US$359 in 2009 to an average of US$40 a decade later – an 89% drop. According to Marcel Alers, UNDP head of energy, “It is now cheaper to go solar  than to build new coal power plants in most countries, and solar is now  the cheapest electricity in history.”

Investors are also being drawn in by the promise of outsized government spending and tax breaks for green projects, as economies worldwide seek to return to growth. For example, upon taking office, newly-elected US President Joe Biden unveiled a US$2tn clean energy investment plan, aiming for 100% clean electricity by 2035. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union’s Green Deal includes US$572 billion earmarked for spending on green projects, among them renewable energy generation. 

RISK VERSUS REWARD

Another factor is the risk involved in fossil fuels versus renewables. A recent study by the University of Oxford’s Institute for Energy Studies asked institutional investors including asset managers, hedge funds, and private equity investors in the US and Europe what the minimum hurdle rate they would require to invest in different energy projects, and found that investors are now expecting higher risks in oil and gas projects in comparison to solar and wind projects. 

Indeed, for 2021, Goldman Sachs puts the hurdle rate for today’s fossil fuel projects at up to 20%, versus just 3-5% for renewables, demonstrating not only that issues such as the potential for stranded fossil fuel assets have become a key concern, but also that renewable energy is no longer seen as a fringe bet, but rather a mainstream asset class.

The macroeconomic outlook also favors renewables. As governments continue to implement Covid-related financial packages, interest rates are set to stay lower for longer. Meanwhile, stalled economic expansion has resulted in a general scarcity of high-yielding investment opportunities, leaving investors seeking out long-term, low-risk investment – which renewable projects, and solar in particular – offer in spades.

As a result, half of the investors surveyed by Octopus Capital said they expect renewable energy to generate market-beating net annual returns of 5-10% over the next 12 months, and fully 80% saying they plan to increase allocations in this sector over the next three to five years.

In Latin America, we are seeing a similar trend play out as investors seek out opportunities in renewables to meet their quest for yield. In particular, projects with revenue opportunities that are contracted for longer periods of time, and for a greater proportion of generating capacity, are becoming increasingly attractive.

GOING GREEN HAS BECOME AN IMPERATIVE

The near-inevitability of carbon pricing as well as growing pressure on firms to report on climate risk have also seen investors begin to refine their portfolios in order to avoid future losses, shifting away from fossil fuels, both upstream oil and coal, and replacing these with green plays. 

According to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, from January through November 2020 investors in mutual funds and ETFs invested US$288bn globally in sustainable assets, a 96% increase over the whole of 2019. In his recent 2021 letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, the firm’s chairman, and CEO announced the firm would now implement a “heightened-scrutiny model” in its active portfolios as a framework for managing holdings that pose significant climate risk, including flagging holdings for a potential exit.  

Certified green investments in line with standards such as the Green Bond Principles and Green Loan Principles are also taking hold within the market. At Atlas, we have implemented our Green Finance Framework in our recently announced projects, and we are seeing a growing trend in the number of investors who seek to participate in green finance instruments, including bonds and loans.

Accordingly, as investors take stock of the extent to which climate risk is investment risk, renewables projects have become an attractive alternative for infrastructure and energy investors alike.  

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Against all odds, the global shift to renewables continued apace last year, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. Given all the growth ahead, we believe that renewable energy offers the potential for market-beating returns in the months and years to come, and we expect to see no shortage of interest from investors looking for stable, predictable investments that align with their ESG-related goals.

In recent years, renewable energy has undergone a dramatic decrease in cost and is now more competitive than fossil fuels in many markets. In 2021, we believe that this decline, combined with sweeping policy changes across the globe and a renewed corporate focus on sustainability in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, will lead to a massive global growth opportunity in renewable energy. Here’s why.

THE US RETURNS TO PARIS

One of the immediate priorities for the newly inaugurated Biden-Harris administration is swift action on climate change. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order to rejoin the Paris Agreement, as part of a plan for the US to hit zero emissions by 2050. The agreement, which the former administration officially withdrew from in 2020, aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions through the year 2050. 

According to a recent note by Jahnavi Nadipi, a Platts Analytics North American power markets analyst, the US will need as much as 238GW more solar and wind power to meet the agreement’s targets – more than double its current installed capacity. To meet this, President Biden has put in place an ambitious investment target of $2 trillion in clean energy infrastructure over the next four years, boosting the near-term outlook for the renewables sector.

CHINA PLANS TO DOUBLE GLOBAL RENEWABLES CAPACITY

At the end of 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping set out concrete plans to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions for the first time. The country plans to achieve 1.2 TW of renewables capacity by 2030 – an amount equal to the current global total installed solar and wind capacity. The China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA), the country’s main solar industry group, says it expects to see 70-90GW of new solar added each year up to 2025.

THE WORLD AIMS FOR NET ZERO

Beyond the world’s two largest economies, a wave of commitments from other Paris Agreement signatories, including Canada, India, the European Union, Japan, South Africa, and South Korea, have put the Agreement’s 1.5°C goals within striking distance for the first time, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). In a clear signal to financiers, investors, manufacturers, and project developers, governments are now seeking a faster expansion of renewable power sources in order to meet these tighter targets.

AUCTIONS UNDERWAY IN LATIN AMERICA

The recent pace of clean energy growth in Latin America shows no sign of abating. The Colombian government will offer 5,000 MW of capacity in its third renewable energy auction in the first quarter of this year, taking it from less than 50 MW of installed renewables in 2018 to more than 2.8GW by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, in May, Chile will launch an auction for 2.31 TWh of renewables and storage.

RENEWABLE DEALMAKING PICKS UP

The increased political impetus to meet ambitious climate targets hasn’t passed energy companies and utilities by, and many spent 2020 shifting their focus to sustainability-focused business. In Latin America, Atlas Renewable Energy signed a total of 660MW in corporate PPAs – a record figure, making us the top developer in the region by contracted volume for 2020, according to Bloomberg. 

In March, we signed the largest-ever solar energy purchase and sale contract in Brazil with mining conglomerate Anglo American, helping it achieve its strategy to use 100% renewable energy for its operations in Brazil as of 2022. In June, we signed a 15-year agreement with material science giant Dow to provide it with clean energy from our 187MWp Jacaranda solar project, located in the municipality of Juazeiro in Bahia State, Brazil. The plant will generate 440GWh per year, which is enough to supply power to a city of over 750,000 inhabitants, enabling Dow to get closer to its renewable energy sourcing goals. 

This is a global trend. In the US, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy shelved their joint Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, while Dominion has sold its gas transmission and storage business and announced a series of additions to its solar portfolio. Meanwhile, French oil major Total’s energy transition strategy continues apace, with the acquisition of a 20% stake in India’s Adani Green Energy, the world’s biggest solar developer. 

INVESTORS FLOCK TO CLEAN ENERGY

2020 saw global stock markets roiled by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the clean energy industry held firm, with the S&P Global Clean Energy Index notching up an impressive 135.4% increase over the year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), shares in renewable equipment makers and project developers outperformed most major stock market indices over 2020, while the value of shares in solar firms has more than doubled since December 2019. With Goldman Sachs announcing its expectation that renewable power will become the largest area of expenditure in the energy sector in 2021, surpassing upstream oil and gas for the first time, we expect this trend to accelerate, as major investors seek to capitalize on the upswing in demand.

LARGE ENERGY USERS GO GREEN

Commitments by major corporates to reduce their emissions have trickled in over recent years, but 2020 saw market leaders convert promises into action – driving up demand for further renewable capacity. 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.

RECORD INCREASES IN PROJECTS COMING ONLINE

During the height of the pandemic, when overall power demand sank, renewable power’s share of the grid surged, and this trend is set to continue. According to the IEA, almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 was renewable, with just 10% powered by gas and coal, putting green electricity on track to become the largest power source by 2025, displacing coal. In the US, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest inventory of electricity generators, developers, and power plant owners shows 39.7 GW of new electricity generating capacity will start commercial operation in 2021, with solar accounting for the largest share of new capacity at 39%, followed by wind at 31%.

COVID RECOVERY MONEY HEADS TO RENEWABLES

Despite the pandemic and consequent global recession, decarbonization plans continued through 2020, demonstrating the acceptance of the need for climate action no matter the economic backdrop. With Covid-19 stimulus money now on the table, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) says that supporting low carbon investment and renewables generation capacity could generate a US$10.2tn investment opportunity, create 213 million jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4bn tons by 2030.

FUELING THE NEW NORMAL – NO GOING BACK

Taken together, all of these trends indicate a strong 2021 – and beyond – for the renewables sector. As the global economy charts, a path toward a new normal, clean energy can power a green recovery that leaves no-one behind. And with increased demand, a favorable regulatory framework, and rising investor appetite for green projects, we believe that the outlook for the industry is brighter than ever before.

Across Latin America, companies have woken to the need for embedding sustainability into what they do. But, as the climate change clock keeps ticking, we’re seeing business leaders start to ask how to tackle this issue on a larger and more impactful scale, and we believe that this conversation is one that’s worth having.

The latest World Economic Outlook, published in October by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), shows that we’re at a pivotal moment in history. At the current rate, global temperatures will increase “well above the safe levels agreed to in The Paris Agreement, raising the risk of catastrophic damage for the planet”, it remarks and adds that the window for attaining net-zero emissions by 2050 is rapidly closing. The time for action is now.

Companies make and ship almost everything we buy, use, and throw away, and therefore play an outsized role in global emissions. In recent years, we’ve seen businesses around our region start to look seriously at sustainability, and the buy-in from employees and consumers alike has been encouraging.

However, we believe that unless companies make a decisive shift to tackling the key CO2 emissions elements in their business, the majority of their efforts will not make enough of a difference.

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES BEYOND THE OFFICE

In recent years, we’ve seen how going green has become an integral part of day-to-day office life, as companies around the region have put in place policies from installing energy-saving light bulbs in buildings to promoting the use of alternatives to single-use plastic. The paperless office idea has taken root, and recycling containers are now in most professional workplaces. Meanwhile, a growing number of firms are pushing the use of sustainable building materials, such as recycled furniture and carpets made from recycled materials, in their offices. We’re also seeing companies start to demand greener manufacturing practices from their suppliers, too, while others have started to promote the safe disposal of the products they make.

These steps are obviously positive. Companies adopt green practices create positive brand associations among consumers and boost the morale of employees who believe in what their company is doing. But do they make a real difference?

LATIN AMERICAN COMPANIES WANT TO DO BETTER

Each year, the S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment assesses sustainability practices across 124 actively participating companies from Latin America. For the third consecutive year, businesses in the region have increased their participation in the CSA, from 38% of those invited in 2018 to 46% in 2019, which proves a growing number are willing to address and improve their sustainability performance. In fact, the participation rate for Latin America is above the global participation rate, demonstrating that there’s a real trend underway for companies to do better.

The progress they’re making, however, is slow. The S&P assessment looks at a number of sustainability dimensions, but on the environment and climate strategy, Latin American companies are well below the global average, showing that although they’re actively seeking to cut down on emissions, there’s still more they could be doing.

ENERGY MATTERS

From an emissions standpoint, Latin America is different from many other global regions, as the bulk of its greenhouse gas production is from land use and agriculture, rather than from energy. However, this is set to change quickly, as economic growth and its rising middle class are expected to drive up energy demand to at least 80% higher than present-day levels by 2040, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, leading to total emissions caused by power generation reaching approximately 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) per year.

In order to offset that, you would need to switch 76 billion incandescent lamps over to LEDs or recycle 680 million tons of waste. As a result, the small-scale initiatives being carried out in offices in an attempt to go green are just a drop in the ocean.

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.

MAKING THE GRADE

Since many companies have already done as much as they can to reduce their overall energy usage, switching to renewable energy presents the best and most far-reaching way of cutting emissions without compromising on performance and adding significant cost reductions. While figuring out how to harness the power of renewable energy to achieve emissions reduction goals may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that business leaders don’t need to become experts in energy sourcing in order to do so.

At Atlas Renewable Energy, we’re starting to hear from a growing number of firms who are committed to making a real difference to their carbon footprint. It’s not just the usual suspects in the most-polluting industries, either: companies in every sector across Latin America, from retail and manufacturing to heavy industry and beyond, know they need to do more on sustainability. The region still has a long way to go, but we think the tide is turning, as more business leaders wake up to the need to take real action on corporate sustainability. Is your company ready to take the next step?

At Atlas Renewable Energy, we recently signed a renewable power purchase agreement with the Brazilian subsidiary of the American material science giant Dow. This landmark deal lays the framework for chemical companies across Latin America to meet their environmental objectives while lowering energy costs at the same time. In this article, we take a closer look at what makes this project so innovative.

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 as renewable energy has become more competitive and available in recent years, it 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, the company has 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 Latin American chemicals industry to harness the benefits of renewable energy to achieve climate change mitigation goals while locking in stable energy prices for the long term.

CREATING EFFICIENCIES

Under the 15-year power purchase agreement, we will provide Dow with clean energy from our 187MWp Jacaranda solar project, located in the municipality of Juazeiro in Bahia State. The plant will generate 440GWh per year, which is enough to supply power to a city of over 750,000 inhabitants, enabling Dow to get closer to its renewable energy sourcing goals.

One of the key issues with solar power is intermittency – the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. Because Dow needs all-day power, Atlas will swap energy from Jacaranda with other renewable energy providers to guarantee a full-cycle supply. Essentially, by packaging up our solar power with additional renewable sources that are available on the market, we’ve made it possible for Dow to meet all of its energy needs with renewables – not just its daytime needs. This is the first time that this has been done in Brazil and opens opportunities for companies who may have been dissuaded from using renewables because of their electricity demand profile.

As a large energy user, electricity accounts for a huge proportion of Dow’s fixed costs, and even the tiniest increase can have an enormous impact on its bottom line. To tackle this, Atlas built in a series of efficiency-boosting measures.

The first is the bifacial modules used in the plant, which can deliver a power generation gain of up to 9% over equivalent mono facial panels, cutting down on land use for the same amount of electricity. Second, the project is being connected to Atlas’ digital substation, which enhances controllability and reliability while optimizing costs. But the efficiency doesn’t stop there: we also implemented a unique US dollar financing structure that created a natural currency hedge.

SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE

In selecting a partner to help it achieve its aims, Dow was looking for a like-minded company with similar values. That’s why, aside from clean energy and favorable pricing as part of the Atlas Green Finance Framework – our commitment to developing projects that protect and preserve the environment – we also incorporated our signature social engagement. At the Jacaranda plant, we are offering opportunities to the local community that promote diversity and inclusion within the construction’s hiring process. To do this – and to get this right – we have brought in NGOs and local authorities to help us provide training in specialized fields to local women, and we’re incentivizing our local contractors to prioritize people from minority backgrounds in their hiring processes.

A TRUSTED AND CAPABLE PARTNER

Achieving all of this during the turbulence and upheaval that 2020 has brought to the world was no mean feat. We’ve worked hard to ensure the health and safety of workers on our sites because we know how important renewable energy is to the recovery of Latin America’s economy post-Covid19. As a result, our operational capabilities, our execution, and our closing speed have remained optimal.

We’ve been able to do all of this because we’re not new to this. We already have four projects operating in Brazil and several more across the region. All of them have been delivered on time and on budget, and this has boosted our reputation among lenders and partners alike. Because of this, in spite of the tough economic and financial backdrop, we’re in the privileged position of being able to negotiate favorable funding conditions – which translates to cost savings that we can pass on to our customers.

THE BEGINNING OF A TREND

In Latin America, renewable energy is already as affordable as – if not cheaper than – traditional sources. This Corporate Power Purchase Agreement, which leverages financial, operational, and technological innovation, makes it possible for large energy consumers in the chemical industry and beyond to make a huge step towards achieving their carbon emission reduction goals while gaining real visibility over their long-term energy costs.

We’re seeing an increasing number of inquiries from these kinds of companies, and we continue to find competitive solutions for them. The mining industry has already got on board – from the Atlas’ Casablanca plant, which will supply clean energy to mining giant Anglo American in Brazil, to our Javiera plant in Chile, which already powers a copper mine. Our agreement with Dow shows just how much we can achieve when two leaders in their respective fields get together. We believe it paves the way now for the chemical industry to join the green energy revolution – all around the region.