Companies become a major force in the clean energy market as purchases double

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New figures from BloombergNEF (BNEF) show that corporations bought a record amount of 13.4GW of clean energy through power purchase agreements (PPAs) in 2018, well over double the previous record of 6.1GW set in 2017.

The research firm’s latest Corporate Energy Market Outlook, reveals that 121 companies in 21 different countries signed up to buy renewable energy last year. More than 60% of those purchases were in the US, where PPAs to buy 8.5GW of power were signed, almost three times 2017’s figure. However, there are signs that the sector is ready to expand rapidly in other markets as well, according to Forbes.

The amount of power bought by companies puts them alongside utilities as the biggest buyers of clean electricity. This is a major change in the structure of the market, said Jonas Rooze, head of corporate sustainability for BNEF.

Facebook was by far the biggest individual buyer, procuring 2.6GW of capacity, more than three times the amount purchased by the next biggest company, AT&T. Tech companies use a huge amount of power to run their data centres, which is why they are the biggest purchasers of clean energy and have made the running in the corporate procurement sector.

For the first time, an oil major signed a clean energy PPA for its own operations, buying 575MW of solar and wind in Texas.

Another notable development has been the emergence of smaller energy buyers aggregating their energy demands to enable them to sign PPAs with large clean energy projects – these buyers made up 31% of US demand. These firms are aggregating their electricity demand to reap the economies of scale from larger solar and wind projects. In many cases, they benefit from partnering with a bigger, more experienced buyer – known as an anchor tenant – who can offer a stronger balance sheet and expertise on accounting and legal nuances when signing a PPA.

Kyle Harrison, a corporate sustainability analyst for BNEF and lead author of the report, said: “The aggregation model has heralded in a new generation of corporate clean energy buyers. These companies no longer need to tackle the complexities of clean energy procurement alone. They can share risks associated with credit and energy market volatility with their peers.”

There were also record volumes in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, with corporations doubling their clean energy purchases from 2017’s 1.1GW to 2.3GW. The Nordics were once again the hot spot for activity, with companies attracted to strong wind resources and credit support from government bodies, BNEF said. Aluminium producers Norsk Hydro and Alcoa were the biggest buyers in Europe in 2018, but the region also saw activity from the tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google.

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