How to ‘green’ your energy supply

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Courtesy of Energy Institute (EI)

Organisations can become more sustainable by saving energy on site, and they can also make moves to ensure that the energy they import comes from more sustainable sources. Marc Height looks at some of the options.

Companies like Apple and Google do a good job of making renewable energy sound cool. Their highprofile and well publicised renewable power ventures will no doubt go some way towards getting consumers on side and more open to buying into the ethos of a particular brand and their methods of business.

Apple’s recent investments into renewable energy are not trivial. According to the company’s figures, it powers 75%of its corporate facilities worldwide from renewable energy, up from 35% in 2010. Its goal is to reach 100% – a target which it boasts it has already reached at all of its data centres. The spur to move towards a more sustainable way of operating will have no doubt been influenced by a damning Greenpeace report in 2012 which accused the organisation of relying too much on coal power for its data centres.

Apple’s renewable power is provided by a mix of on-site generation and renewable energy procurement from the grid. The company built the largest end user-owned photovoltaic array, as well as a fuel cell park, to power its Maiden data centre.

Google, on the other hand, powers less of its operations directly from on-site renewables, but it, like Apple, uses power purchase agreements (PPAs) to buy green power from specific renewable facilities near the centres of demand. The company also invests into large-scale renewable energy projects.

Renewable energy purchasing methods

Companies such as these are increasingly becoming important drivers of demand for renewable energy worldwide. The 2012 Global Corporate Renewable Energy Index (CREX) fromBloomberg New Energy Finance looks at the drivers for these companies investing in renewables; the different means of acquiring this energy and the trends in these types of investment.

A run-through of the different methods of acquiring green energy can be seen in the box opposite. Of the number of ways that firms can obtain their renewable energy, the report finds that direct investment is the most popular, with some form of renewable energy certificate scheme – where a certificate is bought to prove that electricity has been generated by a renewable source elsewhere – being the second most favoured.

Looking more closely at the CREX figures reveals that, while the direct investment route might be the most popular in terms of actual renewable capacity, this is by a small collection of large industrial users. A much larger number of smaller firms prefer to purchase renewable energy certificates. This is also true for companies that have operations spread out over geographically diverse areas. This approach makes sense – it is the most convenient for this type of organisation.

The research suggests that smaller organisations, that are likely to buy certificates or place themselves on a green tariff, do so more for brand reputation and factor the ease of implementation into account. The larger organisations are more likely to invest directly or buy PPAs for security of supply reasons.

Buying green grid power

Looking specifically at purchasing green power from the grid, there are a number of ways that companies can go about doing this. Most energy suppliers offer some form of green tariff. How they go about getting and providing that green power to consumers differs from tariff to tariff.

One approach is that taken by SmartestEnergy, a UK company that offers renewable business tariffs, taking energy from lots of smaller independent suppliers and aggregating this supply to power larger industrial and commercial organisations. It offers a range of PPAs to the generators, and it also trades renewable energy certificates, in the form of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) and Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs).

Research from SmartestEnergy shows that the independent renewable power sector in the UK is growing rapidly. According to the company’s energy entrepreneurs report 2013, in 2012 the amount of commercial-scale independent generation projects in Great Britain increased by 24%, to make a total of over 2,000 projects. The UK’s feed-in tariff was the spur behind of much of this growth.

The biggest growth was seen on farmbased schemes according to the company, with onshore wind accounting for the bulk of the farm-energy projects (63%). Wind is also by far the most popular generating technology for all independent projects in terms of capacity. Communitybased schemes are also growing in popularity according to the figures, and are likely to continue to do so given the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s recent interest in promoting community energy schemes.

The report says that independent commercial-scale renewables projects account for around 12% of all renewable generation capacity in Great Britain – around 4.7 GW.

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