HP, Intel, GM and Walmart demand changes to renewable energy industry

They and other big companies say longer-term contracts for energy from utilities can drive down prices

Frustrated by a lack of renewable energy and a purchasing system that's too complicated, a dozen major US companies have joined an initiative to force the government and utilities to change.

Marty Spitzer, director of U.S. Climate and Renewable Energy Policy for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said there is plenty of renewable energy demand from U.S. corporations, but there is not anywhere near enough supply. Additionally, setting up contracts for renewable energy is complex, time consuming and typically not achievable at the scale large corporations want.

"They want everyone in the utilities market to know they have significant...renewable energy goals and they're here for the long run," Spitzer said. "This isn't a passing fad."

solar panels
Solar panels from SolarCity being installed on a Walmart in Arizona (Image: SolarCity).

Along with the WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI), the corporations have signed a pact supporting six principles to clearly identify what's needed when purchasing renewable energy.

The initial companies include Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, Sprint and Walmart.

During a conference call yesterday with the media, officials from the corporations outlined the principles they want the energy industry to adopt to increase renewable energy use:

  • Greater choice in procurement options
  • More access to cost competitive options
  • Longer- and variable-term contracts
  • Access to new projects that reduce emissions
  • Streamlined third-party financing
  • Increased purchasing options with utilities

"It seems very simple, but there are a lot of moving parts," said David Ozment, senior director of Global Renewable Energy for Walmart. "Going forward with these principles lets everyone know what our concerns are and some of the mechanical issues that need to be fixed."

Walmart, like other corporations in the group, is boosting its use of renewable energy because it can now be cost competitive with traditional energy sources.

In April, Walmart stated it wanted to someday get 100% of its energy requirements from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, biofuels and hydroelectric. "We would like to drive the procurement of seven billion kilowatt hours globally by the end of 2020," Ozment said.

"The energy of the future or grid of the future is going to be a lot difference than it is today."

One of the complaints from corporate representatives on the conference call is that the energy industry often acts as if the only goal is to offer more renewable energy credits (REC).

RECs are non-tangible energy commodities established by the federal government as a way to prove that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy resource. RECs can be traded between companies to enable them to achieve government renewable energy goals.

"In our work with utilities, this is news to a lot of them," said Amy Hargroves, director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability for Sprint.

Instead, the corporations want the government and utilities to know that renewable energy could help companies save money as availability increases. Those cost savings could be passed to customers.

"What we're talking about is a pretty significant change in how the energy industry works today. There are so many barriers because things haven't been done this way before," Hargroves said. "So what we're trying to do is get the companies that have been involved in this and have lessens to share and then act as an accelerator."

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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