2018 was a difficult year to find good news when it came to climate change - globally carbon emissions hit an all-time high, a President rolling back policies that would reduce carbon emissions & threatening to cut subsidies for clean energy, and unprecedented wildfires devastated communities.
The scale of the challenge ahead is daunting and needs a global response (that must eventually include the US Government) but it's promising to see the seismic shift that is quietly taking place behind the scenes - renewable energy is not only weathering these storms, it is thriving.
Last year, US companies signed contracts for more than 6400 MW of renewable energy - an all-time record and more than double the amount companies purchased in 2017. Once dominated by silicon valley tech companies, the list of corporate renewable energy buyers represents a growing diversity of industries and geographies - including Lowe's (North Carolina based Home Improvement Superstore Chain) and Brown Forman (the 150 year old Kentucky based maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey)
Even Exxon, the multinational oil and gas giant, signed a major deal for wind and solar energy to power its facilities in Texas!
In other sectors, entire industries are moving. In telecom, where electricity consumption accounts for a large share of the industry's carbon emissions, renewable energy is quickly becoming the norm: T-Mobile led the way with its commitment to 100% renewable energy and the much larger AT&T followed suit by signing several deals worth approximately 1,000 megawatts of power in 2018 — enough to make it the second largest corporate renewable energy buyer across all sectors.
More than anything, clean energy just makes good economic sense. According to financial advisory and asset management company Lazard's "Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018" analysis, utility-scale wind has dropped in cost by 69% over the last 9 years, and utility-scale solar has dropped by 88% in that same time period. As a result, the cost of electricity from both wind and solar is now "at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation."
Put more simply, clean energy is now cheaper than the dirty stuff.
Building on the foundation of these ever-more-favorable clean energy economics and the resulting increases in corporate clean energy uptake, 2019 has the potential to be a game changer:
- Climate change is already imposing very real costs on communities, businesses and our financial system. The call for action is starting to grow louder and more urgent.
- Trends toward lower clean energy prices are irreversible. As renewable energy technologies continue to improve and the industry continues to scale up, renewables will inevitably win out in every marketplace.
- In the short run, 2019 is the final year before tax credits for wind and solar in the US begin to ramp down - the impending phase-out is likely to create a sense of urgency to get more big clean energy deals done this year.
So, the resilience of the clean energy industry (and private sector leadership) is providing good reasons to be encouraged as we look ahead, even in the face of challenging climate politics.
Here at Hyperion Executive Search, we live and breathe everything renewable energy & clean technology and have a truly global presence – if we can support you as you build your teams or provide information on your specific market, please get in touch.
While the Trump Administration prepares to exit the Paris Climate Agreement, across the country, the "We Are Still In" coalition — more than 3,600 cities, states, companies, colleges and universities, faith communities and other institutions across the U.S., collectively representing 154 million people and $9.46 trillion in GDP — have publicly committed to the Paris Agreement, and they’re backing up that commitment with action.