No longer reserved for tech giants such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, financial instruments such as synthetic power purchase agreements (PPAs) are becoming popular among smaller to mid-sized corporations as a tool to reduce energy cost volatility while meeting clean energy goals. In what began as a movement to limit corporate carbon footprints and which initially took the form of the purchase of renewable energy credits, more and more companies are procuring renewable energy through the purchase of solar and wind power. Last year, 43 companies spanning 10 different countries contracted roughly 5.4 gigawatts of clean energy – significantly surpassing global annual volume in 2016 and beating the prior record set in 2015. [source: BNEF}

Corporate buyers procure renewables, in large part, through synthetic PPAs with terms of 10 to 20 years, akin in length to more traditional, physical PPAs. These synthetic deals are often structured as contracts for differences whereby: (1) the parties set a strike price, (2) the power producer sells power into the market rather than directly to the corporate counterparty and (3) the price at which the power sells into the market is settled against the strike price. If the sale price in the market is higher than the strike price, the corporate counterparty realizes the positive difference, while the power producer is protected from the downside if the power sells in the market at a price lower than the strike price. These contracts for differences often, but do not necessarily, include the sale of renewable energy credits and allow corporations to effectively purchase renewable energy far away from where the companies may have demand for physically delivered power.

2018 is shaping up to be another banner year for these deals. The Business Renewables Center tracks publicly reported corporate procurement in the United States. Year-to-date, BRC is reporting 21 U.S. deals totaling approximately 2.04 gigawatts, which puts 2018 on course to set a new record for U.S. annual corporate procurement.

BRC’s tracker also evidences a steady expansion of the companies participating in this market. Technology companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook were early drivers and remain among the top corporate users of renewable energy in the world. But the market is rapidly diversifying as more businesses seek predictable clean energy costs.

To some extent, this diversification is the natural evolution of a maturing marketplace. But there are three important drivers further fueling that growth:

  • The U.S. announcement of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement has spurred hundreds of companies to ratchet up their clean energy goals, including through initiatives such as We Are Still In. The RE100, a coalition of companies committed to go 100% renewable, now touts 131 partner companies – more than doubling the number in the last two years. As more and more companies set increasingly robust sustainability goals, additional business are employing offsite corporate procurement as a strategy to reduce emissions and source clean energy.
  • Increasingly, in regulated markets, utilities are stepping up to provide green tariffs that allow corporate customers to source renewable energy directly from projects in the same service territory. While synthetic PPAs are well-suited for deregulated wholesale electricity markets, corporate customers have demanded greater clean energy sourcing options from vertically integrated utilities. Since the first green tariff was proposed in 2013 by NV Energy, the World Resources Institute now reports 21 green tariffs across 15 states either in place or under negotiation.
  • New deal structures are emerging to open the market up to smaller corporate purchasers. During the last 18 months, we have seen several innovative structures to enable greater participation by companies that themselves may not have appetite for the entire offtake of a project. Structuring options include syndication of the PPA to a purchaser’s suppliers and partners, as well as a consortium approach that allows otherwise unrelated parties to aggregate their renewable energy demand while preserving the simplicity of a single counterparty to the PPA.

No longer just the domain of tech giants seeking to green their enormous energy consumption, the corporate renewable energy market has grown dramatically in recent years. With 2018 U.S. deal volume on track to be the highest ever, the maturing market is fast expanding to new participants, including smaller consumers and increasingly those in vertically integrated territories.