Integrated electricity is new frontier of climate leadership

The Climate Group

Forward-thinking businesses should seize the opportunity to become providers and facilitators of clean electricity.

Some weeks ago, headlines celebrated that it's now cheaper to build new wind and solar projects to generate power in the US than to keep running 209 out of its 210 coal-powered plants. At the same time, BloombergNEF's analysis showed that for the first time in history, global investment in renewables had caught up with fossil fuels, at US$1.1tr.

Similarly, the trajectory of electric vehicles (EVs) is looking promising, with the number of electric cars growing year-on-year.

These are two important indicators that the world is transitioning to a net zero future, at least in terms of electricity. We've come a long way.

But we still have plenty to do. Despite the clear economic case for the net zero transition, we're facing a messy, uphill struggle through the noise of delay tactics and misinformation. We need to move a lot faster in scaling up market-ready technologies.

A new frontier we're facing is rethinking how consumers and businesses can use already available electricity solutions in a way that's fit for a 2050 world.

It's not just about replacing fossil fuel technology such as gas power stations and petrol and diesel cars with green equivalents, although that's fundamental. We need to think more broadly to ensure that our future renewable electricity system not just complements, but fully transforms the centralised fossil-based system.

Taken in isolation, many green technologies already make business sense. For example, switching commercial fleets to EVs can significantly reduce running costs. Similarly, companies are finding competitive advantage in switching to renewable electricity and energy efficient buildings.

But the real step change is when we start using these technologies together. A building that draws on the battery storage of electric cars plugged into its car park chargers could balance the variable input from a rooftop solar plant, or enable companies to sell electricity back to the grid at peak times. Similarly, at a city or grid scale, we can integrate the vast storage capacity of electric car-fleets with demand management and electricity production.

The first step in this journey is a mindset shift, with businesses moving from being consumers of electricity, to being provider, consumer and facilitator, all in one.

Many businesses have already started on this journey. Climate Group's RE100 members are responsible for 64TWh of renewable electricity coming from PPAs, alongside an additional 36TWh coming from direct contracts with suppliers. As early as 2016, RE100 member Ikea made a public commitment to become a net exporter of electricity by 2020. This trend is taking on greater sophistication as companies such as Google seek to achieve 100 per cent clean energy 24 hours a day.

Smart businesses are recognising that real benefits are available once they expand their thinking beyond their own immediate businesses, to their supply chain, surrounding communities, and even their competitors. This is not just paramount for businesses who see themselves as green, but for all - it's the future.

In the initiative Integrate To Zero Climate Group is working alongside businesses and regulators to understand and show how we can reach high levels of energy integration. What are the technologies and solutions, what do businesses, policymakers and citizens stand to gain, and how do we overcome what's standing in our way?

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