Powering a cleaner future: RE100 and Google partner on EU energy event

Reading time: 6 minutes
6 February 2017

LONDON: RE100 and Google convened business leaders and policymakers in Brussels on Thursday, to discuss how to create the right market conditions in Europe to help leading companies deliver on their commitments to 100% renewable power.

RE100 is a collaborative, global initiative of the world’s most influential businesses committed to 100% renewable power – led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP.

The event was held at Google’s offices in the Belgian capital, and comes as policymakers work to shape the Energy Union ‘Winter Package’, which aims to phase out coal subsidies, reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions across the EU.

It follows a RE100 report published in November last year, backed by RE100 members BT Group, Google, IKEA Group, Royal DSM and Unilever, calling for easier access to renewable power and assurances that EU Member States will all play their part in achieving 27% renewable energy by 2030.

Maroš Šefčovič, Energy Union Vice President, European Commission, with journalist Sonja van Renssen

“The big challenge now is how to make sure we integrate renewables better”, explained Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission’s Energy Union Vice President, interviewed on stage by journalist Sonja van Renssen.

“Corporate demand is absolutely key – it shows 100% renewable power is possible, and makes strong business sense”, Maroš Šefčovič continued, urging companies to communicate this message to governments.

“If you want to go 100% renewable, it shouldn’t be tempered by administrative or technical barriers”, he added, suggesting that Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) offered a long-term solution for businesses, while Guarantees of Origin certificates also had a role to play in developing the electricity market.

The event featured two panel discussions, bringing together a number of RE100 members, EU policymakers and investors.

Exploring the business case for renewable power

Vincent Eckert, Head of International Environmental Management, Swiss Re was quick to point out the financial risks associated with inaction on climate change – the reason the company became a founding member of RE100. He said that as well as de-risking large renewable energy projects around the world, Swiss Re is building a large solar plant in New York state, which is expected to be “very profitable”.

Monica Mireles Serrano, Senior Advisor of EU Environmental Policy, IKEA Group, highlighted how the company’s investment in renewables has been driven by business reasons from the outset, and that IKEA now had more wind turbines than stores.

“Now we want to make renewables available for our customers”, she said, pointing out that IKEA has switched its lighting range to LED, and is selling solar panels in several countries.

Google’s Director of Global Infrastructure, Francois Sterin, said renewables were becoming increasingly affordable. The internet giant is already sourcing 2.6 gigawatts of wind and solar power globally, and has announced it will reach 100% renewable electricity this year.

“The cost of renewables is falling so quickly it makes our first deal look expensive”, Francois Sterin said. But he also suggested that the cost of storage still needed to come down to help develop the business case further.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Press, Director of Planning and Programme Support, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) emphasized that renewable energy has gone from a niche option to an economically and technically preferred solution. She said that supportive policies have been driving down costs through accelerated deployment, and that policy security was vital for market integration.

Growing and developing the market

The second panel discussion, moderated by Nick Mabey, CEO, E3G, took a closer look at the policy changes needed to ensure the EU maintains its leadership position on renewables and enables purchasing to scale effectively up to 2030.

Jill Duggan, Director of Policy, University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Director, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, pointed to a lack of ambition by EU policymakers currently, underlining the importance of action by individual Member States.

Luis Quiroga, Infastructure Investments, HgCapital, highlighted a lack of long-term stability for businesses sourcing renewables, echoing earlier calls for greater policy security to take this risk away.

Nestlé’s Head of Environmental Sustainability, Pascal Gréverath, focused on the leadership role of the private sector, saying that the company joined RE100 to “send a strong signal to the political world that the private sector is ready to buy”.

But Kathleen van Brempt, MEP (Belgium), urged progressive businesses to be more vocal in their support of renewable power. She said the Winter Package is not far reaching enough, and companies should be lobbying policymakers to make improvements – as RE100 members have done. Jill Duggan, CISL, added that leading businesses should be influencing their supply chains and customers to switch to renewables too.

Audience participation

The event audience was invited to contribute throughout. A survey of those in the room, for example, revealed that most participants worked for a company that has a 100% renewable energy target.

There were questions put to the panelists from participants at the event, and also from people online.

How to ensure additionality in the market place was a re-occurring question, and Francois Sterin, Google, pointed to the company’s PPAs, adding that any certificates it buys are for specific projects.

Members of the audience also said that unclear market rules were the biggest challenge to the adoption of renewable energy. When asked about Nestlés top priority ask of government, Pascal Gréverath said harmonization of PPA rules across the EU was the most important task ahead.

In his closing remarks, Mike Peirce, Corporate Partnerships Director, The Climate Group, congratulated RE100 members on their progress on sourcing renewable power in Europe – where 50 of the 87 RE100 member companies are based.

The RE100 Annual Report 2017, published last month, showed that electricity consumption of European-based members represented 38% of the global total.

The report also showed an even split between the use of unbundled renewable energy attribute certificate purchases and green tariffs in Europe, which accounted for 48% and 47% of the renewable electricity purchasing total respectively.

by Marie Reynolds

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