2023 Renewable Energy Forum Wrap-up - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Distributed Generation, Finance, Industrial, Solar, Wind  -  June 26, 2023

2023 Renewable Energy Forum Wrap-up

Smart Energy Decisions’ community of energy customers and suppliers met once again at the Renewable Energy Forum to share actionable information on successes, challenges, best practices, and cutting-edge trends in renewable energy. The event was held June 6-8 at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

In his welcome, Wes Doane, Vice President of Diversified Communications’ Clean Energy Group, reflected that the Renewable Energy Forum was one of the first Smart Energy Decisions events back in 2017. “The market has changed a lot since then, and thankfully, for the better as things have progressed exceptionally and exponentially. The goals of this Forum, though, remain the same: We want to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.”

With that goal in mind, the Forum offered a variety of opportunities for education, discussion, and connection to help organizations develop strategies and implement projects to meet their renewable energy targets.

This year’s Forum featured educational general sessions and a series of programs for energy customers only, including a robust Peer-to-Peer Conversation and two spotlight sessions. The event also facilitated more than 350 one-to-one business planning meetings between energy customers and suppliers. At every turn, attendees demonstrated a high level of engagement as conversations flowed from sessions to meetings to networking opportunities.

Following are brief highlights from the Renewable Energy Forum’s General Sessions: 

Opening Keynote: “Prioritizing Social Impact and Renewable Energy”

“Now is the time to take bold steps toward investing in projects focused on uplifting communities and centering on co-benefits,” said Sophia Gluck, ESG and Sustainability Lead, Okta, Inc., in her opening keynote. After sharing details of how Okta embeds social impact into its corporate energy strategy, she noted, “These projects not only enable a reduction in carbon emissions and transition towards clean energy, but they also allow companies to support underserved communities, foster job creation and drive social progress.” Gluck ended her presentation by urging her fellow energy customers to take action. “Together, you can lead the charge toward a sustainable and equitable world, leaving a legacy of positive change for generations to come. The time for action is now. Embrace the power of social benefit RECs and let your company be a force for good in the world.”


Decarbonizing in a Turbulent Energy Market | Presented by NextEra Energy

In his presentation on the macro perspective of global energy markets, Michael Zenker, Managing Director of Research, NextEra Energy, said to energy customers facing decarbonization challenges, "Our message is that you're going to have a lot more options that we think are going to be cheaper."  However, the journey is not without bumps in the road. Noting disruptions in gas and oil supply due to the war in Ukraine, the economic recovery from COVID, and increases in electricity prices. Zenker summed up the current path to decarbonization. "We are not moving the needle tremendously yet on global oil and coal consumption. But we know how to do it." He added that while we're not firmly on a 1.5-degree path, the good news is that  "companies and countries are making additional pledges, and new breakthroughs in emissions-reduction technologies continue."


“Managing Change and New Technology in Carbon-Free Energy Purchasing"

Ben Chadwick, Executive Director of Renewables at Constellation shared his observations from working with renewable energy buyers: “We’re in an industry that’s experiencing organizational change. Organizations have varying degrees of readiness regarding sustainability plan implementation. For the most part, goals have been set. That’s real change, which creates excitement, but also causes stress. Change is hard to do. Take a look at internal reporting. Do you have the infrastructure to report your GHG emissions? What software technology do you use? What about electrification? Have you evaluated efficiency? We’re seeing customers exploring a lot of opportunities. In this market with a lot of change, companies are considering their options.”

Nicholas Lumpkin, Senior Business Development Manager at Constellation, discussed market changes around renewable natural gas (RNG) and its accessibility, especially on a regional basis. “Most of the energy industry’s growth has occurred due to the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard. The RNG flowing into pipelines is going toward transportation. As we see new interest in RNG, the calculus will shift to RFS and RIN pricing. That’s been a growth driver, setting up the competitive landscape for purchasers. The amount of RNG flowing through the system, versus total natural gas, is less than 2% after 10 years of growth. As more buyers show interest, pricing and availability will be impacted. Currently, there are more projects getting built, and it’s a good time to get engaged.”

Constellation's Senior Originator Nick Lumpkin expounded on participating in renewable natural gas solutions beyond simply being a buyer. “The beauty of RNG is wherever there are organic waste streams, you're going to have methane production,” he said. “I think it's important to consider what your operations look like, and what kind of feedstocks your waste stream may represent to the broader industry. And that may be a way to start analyzing and evaluating ways to enter in and add value to the space beyond just being a buyer.”


Peer-to-Peer Wrap-Up

Energy customers engaged in Peer-to-Peer Conversations, guided by Peter Kelly-Detwiler, Principal at NorthBridge Energy Partners LLCcovering challenges, potential solutions, and resources needed to implement those solutions across five trending topics in renewable energy.

Darien Crimmin, Vice President of Energy & Sustainability at WinnCompanies led a discussion covering The IRA: What’s in It for You? including how to address the challenge of lack of clarity. “There really should be clear information about the process as these rules are set, these regulations are set,” Crimmin stated. “We talked about potentially a group advocacy kind of effort … where one individual, one company trying to influence regulation as it's being written may not be as effective as a number of different groups together.”

In a discussion focused on De-Risking Your PPAs and VPPAs, a group led by Target’s Jennifer Kessling, Lead Program Manager: Offsite Renewable Energy, focused in part on the ever-changing nature of risks in the space of PPAs and VPPAs. “What risks are we not identifying as buyers?” Kessling said. “And how do we mitigate some of that risk? As a buyer, push that back on the developer a little bit. If you think you have an inked deal, and then it comes back open, it doesn't feel good for you. And it doesn't feel good for you to have to bring that to your leaders who approved it initially.”

Zephyr Taylor, Global Director of Renewable Energy at Mars, Inc. (left, with Peter Kelly-Detwiler), shared his group’s findings covering Global Operations, including the importance of market intelligence as a key solution. “Definitely avail yourself of local capabilities and expertise,” he said. “Your market intelligence, market assessment-gathering exercise really needs to be honed into the unique dimensions of each respective market. Market intelligence cannot be overstated in its significance in being able to be successful.”

On Defining Your Renewable Energy Strategy, Bob Valair, Director, Energy & Environmental Management of Staples presented his group’s insight that defining a strategy is predominantly focused on goal setting. “We saw over the last couple of years, with the pandemic … [people] resetting their goals, or even rethinking what they had set for goals,” he shared. “Are they going to meet those? And what's it going to take to get there? So it's interesting to see all of the goals are starting to be relooked at and revisited.”


From additionality to communication to partnerships, Liz Lucente, Lead Program Manager, Energy & Sustainability at Target closed the Peer-to-Peer session with a look into solutions for I’m Falling Behind on My Goals: What Now? On the topic of communication, Lucente shared: “The solution can be just being transparent, and that's something that's so important when you're doing CDP, ESG reporting or other kinds of PR statements — that you have a system, you document it, and you're transparent every year on what your methodology is.”



The Evolutionary Journey of an Energy Program

Jon Shore, Director, Origination & Commodity Risk Management at Calpine, and Rowena Striff, Energy Manager at Lockheed Martin joined in this presentation to explore how their companies formed a partnership to help Lockheed Martin achieve its sustainability goals. As he considered key challenges and opportunities throughout the energy program’s evolution, Shore commented, “I think there are great lessons learned for everyone here regarding the journey that Rowena has taken to advance Lockheed Martin’s energy program. A challenge for Lockheed Martin, which also applies to other organizations, is they have silos. Demand side management, the budget, energy management, sustainability, and more, were all handled by different groups. One of the challenges she overcame when helping to transition the program was to break down those silos.” 

When asked to reflect on her experiences in the energy industry, Striff answered, “I think we have the privilege to be part of the solution. If you don’t own it, it’s not going to happen. In some ways, I think it’s not a goal. It’s an oath. When I worked at UCLA, they had these inspirational quotes on campus. A quote I especially like is: Be the change you want to see in the world. That’s Mahatma Gandhi. We have the opportunity to be that change. Crucially, we’re not buyers; we’re dream-builders. We’re goal-setters. We’re thought leaders. The sellers are not sellers – they are dream enablers. They make innovation happen. We have this time on Earth to make a difference. Be that change and make that difference.”


Smart Energy Decisions' next event is the Net Zero Forum/Fall Edition, set for September 19-20 at the Hilton Phoenix Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Registration for energy customers is limited; for more information on the event, including SED’s Grant Program, click here. Suppliers may click here for information on sponsorship opportunities.

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