Renewable Energy Forum/Winter Edition Wrap-Up - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Industrial, Solar, Sourcing Renewables, Wind  -  December 22, 2021

Renewable Energy Forum/Winter Edition Wrap-Up

Let the trumpets – and tubas and drums – sound! Smart Energy Decisions opened its 8th Renewable Energy Forum with the Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps serenading attendees with “Happy” to celebrate the return to live events. From December 6-8, attendees at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, CA, joined in educational sessions, one-to-one meetings between buyers and suppliers, and networking events, bringing the community back together in person for the first time in two years to explore “Collaborating for a Net Zero Future.”

“The excitement of being together again, coupled with a pent-up demand for renewable energy projects, made this our most successful event yet,” said John Failla, Founder and Editorial Director of Smart Energy Decisions. “With more than 450 meetings between buyers and suppliers completed and countless additional networking opportunities, we are proud to play a role in facilitating renewable sourcing projects and an exchange of knowledge and best practices among our buyers and sponsors”

Buyer-only pre-conference workshops included “Optimizing Your Site with Solar, Storage, and Grid Services, sponsored by SunPower, and “5 Steps to Priming Your Organization for RE Success, sponsored by CustomerFirst Renewables.

Following are brief highlights from the Renewable Energy Forum. More extensive coverage will follow in our “Renewable Energy Forum Insights” report, which will be available later this year:

“Opening Keynote: Microsoft and the Art of the Possible”

With aggressive commitments, including being carbon negative by 2030, removing all historical emissions by 2050, and investing $1 billion in climate technology to help accelerate those goals, Brian Janous, General Manager of Energy and Renewables at Microsoft explained,  “Sustainability is core to who we are as a company. It is an absolute non-negotiable for us.” Noting his company’s leadership position, he said, “We need companies that are willing to be out in front and innovate and break things along the way to figure out how to do it better. And we need that learning to be shared. Forums like this are a great place for that.” Janous added, “There’s going to be a lot of positive peer pressure to go faster and do more. We’re going to see a tremendous amount of change over the next five years, as even more and more companies jump on the bandwagon.”  

“Supplier Keynote: The Infinite Game - Managing Cost, Risk, and Carbon” 

The mindset to achieve sustainability needs to change, according to Brad Christensen, Vice President of Powerfolio Services at Calpine Energy. “You need to think not in terms of a finite game, where the objective is to get a transaction completed. It needs to be an infinite game, something that we are always going to have to be thinking about and working on, to be aware of the changing landscapes that we're managing.” Among the five critical factors needed to play an infinite game, he said, is “the need to build a flexible playbook. We are thinking about completing transactions that typically are going to be 10 to 15 years long. If you're not building flexibility into those commitments, you will have to live with that a long time, despite the fact that you're going to see the environments radically shifting during that 15-year period.”

 "Creating Your Scope 3 Emissions Playbook"

SED’s John Failla opened this conversation with a question: Why are companies having such difficulty getting their arms around and managing the whole topic of Scope 3 emissions? “The concept that your Scope 3 is someone else's Scope 1 makes you feel like this should be an easy process, right?” said Greg Kandankulam, Director of Sustainability, NRG Energy. “But getting Scope 3 data can be opaque. Supply spend within a company’s top 90% can be with lots of small vendors who may not necessarily have the sustainability acumen or have not made public commitments. Also, there are various methodologies to try and address Scope 3, but there hasn't been one bulletproof way of doing it.” In some cases, “supply chains are international, and that provides a host of issues around data capture. And then, sometimes, competitive advantage can be discerned from supply chain optimization, so some companies are trying to hold on to that. There are a lot of reasons and challenges.” 

Keynote: The Next Chapter: Reflections from an Industry Leader

As Mary Curtiss, Global Head of Energy and Sustainability at HP transitions from her renewable energy work for the company into leading its circularity practice for laptops and hardware programs, she shared lessons learned during her career. “For all of us in this industry, you have to be up for the adventure, you have to be open-minded and want to try new things. I'm excited about the innovation that's going to come from here. We know that what got us to this point is not going to get us to the future, so all of us have to think innovatively and creatively and want to take on some new exciting challenges.” Among learnings she presented, the most important might be to “Never take no for an answer. I know these projects are long, they're hard. They're grueling, they're super complicated, but just never give up.” She added, “Think big, start small, and act now.”

"How to Get Your PPA Deal Done in a Seller’s Market"

 “I’m in my fifth year of doing this and it feels like the toughest time so far,” said Helen Brauner, Vice President of Business Development at Lightsource bp (right). Among the challenges facing developers that are affecting buyers: supply chain issues, rules and regulations that can impact the economics of solar projects, labor issues, and “the interconnection process, which is getting harder and taking longer.”

To meet these challenges, Gia Clark, Senior Director of Developer Services at LevelTen Energy (left), offered, “Producers of energy are looking for flexibility from the buyer side” in factors raging from completion dates being pushed to price increases. “Historically, developers have worn and borne the entire risk and they’ve been able to manage that because it has previously been a buyer’s market. But now, as the volatility in the marketplaces is increasing, there's an ask from the developer to share that risk.” 

"Accelerating Decarbonization with Integrated Clean Energy Solutions"

Ittay Arad, Director of Origination, NextEra Energy Resources, talked about the importance of integrated solutions. “A segment of the overall market is starting to realize that going after their goals project-by-project and solicitation-by-solicitation is a messy business that can get really complicated really fast. And so there has been growing interest in finding partners that can provide those integrated clean energy solutions, where you can go to one company to help you chart a path to reach milestones in pursuit of a greater goal.” He added, “I think the more aggressive the goals, the more complicated the goals, the more cross-functional the goals that an organization sets, the more likely they are to want to try to find someone who can help them crack that big puzzle.”


"Developing a Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy"

Rajiv Bazaj, Executive Director – Customer Solutions, Constellation (left), noted, “A concern that we hear from customers quite a bit is with respect to gaining internal consensus. A lot of times what we find is, we're talking with an individual from a company; they get very excited about a particular project or product and they want to move forward. But then they get a lot of questions thrown at them and a lot of overall hurdles that they have to deal with.”

 Jeff Blankman, Sustainable Manufacturing Manager at McCormick & Company (right), talked about dealing with those internal issues: “Especially during COVID, we were challenged with a huge increase in our sales because people were cooking from home, at the same time that our people have to produce our product safely. And then I say, ‘Oh, by the way, we also have to reduce our greenhouse gases by 20% by 2025.’ That has been a very real challenge. The good thing is, we do have leadership to support our goals. Our CEO has disclosed our goals and he has every intention that we're going to hit these goals. So, while we do have challenges, prioritizing sustainability, having that leadership means we're going to find a way to make it happen.

 The Electrification of General Motors

Rob Threlkeld, Global Manager, Sustainable Energy, Supply & Reliability, General Motors Company, said, “The transformation at the company is incredibly dynamic. Mary Barra kicked it off with her keynote at CES last January kicked it off. There's been this incredible string of announcements throughout the year, and energy seems to be at the heart of it.” Noting the company’s commitment to be carbon neutral for both operations and products – including a $35 billion investment in electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles over the next five years, he said, “This is going to lead to the release of 30 electric vehicles in that time period, which will represent about 40% of our U.S. fleet.” He added, “It's transforming the whole business, and saying how you how you drive your vehicle today will be completely different tomorrow with a totally different mode of propulsion.”

 "Going Global: Advancing 100% Renewable Energy in Global Organizations"

While EY has been publishing its Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index for 25 years, its PPA Index began in October 2021. “What was attractive for an investor isn't necessarily attractive for a corporate procurer,” said Stephen Auton-Smith, Senior Managing Director, Ernst & Young. This parallel index “ranks those same markets, but viewed 100%, through the lens of a corporate off-taker.” The Index includes four key criteria, including precedent and market experience, forward-looking policy, market liquidity, and a wider bundled index that refects a macroeconomic analysis including regulatory risk, political stability, corruption, tax environment, etc.” According to Auton-Smith, “What it gives you is a good reality check of what you can do and where you can do it.”

Project Spotlight

The closing session put the focus squarely on projects and initiatives created by our buyer attendees in the last year – and a look at their priorities going forward. Participants included (from left) Emma Cox, Renewable Energy Lead, McDonald’s Corporation; Stephanie Armistead, Program Lead for Sustainability, Energy and Water, Chick-fil-A; Bambi Ingram, Sustainability Manager, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Brent Trenga, Director of Sustainability, North America, Kingspan; Sean Kinghorn, Global Sustainability Leader, Intuit;  and Victor Udo, PhD, Director of Sustainability at Bucknell University.


Smart Energy Decisions continues its return to IN PERSON events with the 2022 Innovation Summit, set for March 14-16 at The Houstonian Hotel Club and Spa, Houston, Texas. Buyer registration is limited; for more information, click here. Suppliers may click here for information on sponsorship opportunities.


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