Corporations have started to recognize the value of having a flexible, low-carbon energy strategy. Hundreds of companies have made ambitious commitments to purchase renewables and green their operations in the coming years -- the challenge is figuring out how.

To that end, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and its Business Renewables Center (BRC) launched a new software platform today that helps buyers and renewable energy developers find economically attractive locations to build clean energy projects in deregulated electricity markets across the U.S.

The platform uses publicly available data from market operators, a levelized cost of energy calculation and a proprietary algorithm to model hypothetical project revenue. The software can produce an estimated value calculation for approximately 4,300 grid connection points, across all seven U.S. independent system operators and 39 states. The tool will be available to the BRC’s more than 200 members.

“In 65 percent of the U.S., it’s possible to source wind and solar directly, but much like real estate, these renewable energy deals hinge on location, location, location,” said Hervé Touati, managing director at RMI. “At the Business Renewables Center, we are working to educate business leaders with insights on economic value that help buyers and developers build better projects in ideal locations.”

RMI experts and business leaders will hold several in-depth discussions on how to tap into the corporate clean energy market at Grid Edge World Forum, taking place June 27-29 in San Jose. On the first day of the conference, an entire track is dedicated to corporate energy procurements, with a close look at designing new products and services for C&I customers, analytics and controls, and creating tailored projects to suit a variety of company needs.

GTM recently spoke with Stephen Abbott, manager at RMI and project lead on the new market analysis platform, to find out why now is a critical time for corporate clean energy procurements and what attendees can expect from RMI at Grid Edge World Forum.

GTM: What is the Business Renewables Center? What is the organization's role and its main goals?

Abbott: The BRC is a member-based organization within the Rocky Mountain Institute that streamlines and accelerates corporate purchasing of off-site renewable energy. Our goal is to enable 60 gigawatts of corporate procurement by 2030. In pursuit of this goal, we do 3 things.

  1. Generate awareness: Many companies still do not understand the opportunities that off-site renewables present. The BRC works to generate awareness in the mainstream business community by providing research and best practices while sharing success stories from our current members.
  2. Build a community: As a membership organization, BRC brings together a combination of market players ranging from the early pioneers in this space to those who are just starting to explore renewables for their company. Our members include potential buyers, project developers and third-party service providers such as law firms, consulting firms, brokers, financiers and accountants.
  3. Provide education, analysis and transaction support: Based on member feedback, BRC is creating products focused on providing education and market analysis, and helping companies find and understand project opportunities. Our products include software tools, written primers and boot-camp-style training events.

GTM: Since BRC launched in 2015, how has the conversation around corporate clean energy procurement changed? What would you say is the most significant development?

Abbott: The early movers in the corporate procurement space were primarily technology companies with large data centers. More recently, we are seeing increased participation from other industries like heavy manufacturing, consumer products and the automotive sector. Moreover, companies are increasingly demanding more renewable energy options and are speaking out publicly about the benefits of clean energy. As one example, companies like Switch, Apple and MGM have helped create new opportunities for renewable energy procurement in Nevada, a traditionally regulated state, and we’ve heard of similar discussions being held at the state level around the country.

GTM: What clean energy technologies are C&I players most interested in? Are renewables the primary focus? Or are C&I players expressing interest in a broader suite of technologies?

Abbott: By and large, C&I players are less interested in specific technologies and more focused on the environmental impact that they can achieve. Whether solar, wind, hydro or biomass, companies want to drive change, show leadership and contribute to local communities. That said, some companies are increasingly interested in the potential of energy storage to both reduce their demand charges on-site and improve the economics of their off-site transactions.

GTM: How big of an opportunity do you think corporate customers represent for grid edge technology providers?

Abbott: Significant. Roughly half of the Fortune 500 companies have set aggressive sustainability targets, and many will need help from both established companies and innovative startups to achieve those goals. Utilities can capture more market share by aggressively developing new programs and tariffs that offer large organizations the renewable energy options we know they want. Emerging industries such as energy storage, electric vehicles and others could provide much-needed solutions as companies look to reduce demand charges, optimize off-site contracts, or minimize emissions from vehicle fleets. 

GTM: BRC is hosting an entire conference track at Grid Edge World Forum dedicated to the C&I sector. What's one thing attendees will be able to take away from these sessions?

Abbott: Large companies and universities have directly enabled over 9 gigawatts of renewable energy in the last few years, and their purchasing power and influence have the capacity to drive real change. Companies like Walmart are using their influence to move entire supply chains over to renewable energy. But these organizations need help. In particular, they need market-based, scalable solutions to achieve their goals. If the energy community can provide these solutions, then private industry will be in a position to lead in the ongoing energy transformation. At Grid Edge World Forum, we'll discuss what these solutions might be.