David Crane, renewables and America: There is nothing permanent except change

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David Crane, renewables and America: There is nothing permanent except change

Like many of you, I have been following the events around NRG and David Crane that have occurred over the past few months. Crane, like a growing number of utility executives, believes that America is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables for electricity generation. Further, he believes pressure from investors (who don’t necessarily agree with him) was a significant reason for his departure. In an interview, he noted, “We never attracted a shareholder base that was interested in clean energy.”

Take heart, Crane. The recent Supreme Court brake-pressing on the Clean Power Plan notwithstanding, I do know that institutional investors are becoming more interested in renewable energy. Large investors such as Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund and California State Teachers’ Retirement System have announced plans to increase their investments in such projects.

And it’s not just a growing number of investors who want clean energy; it’s also a growing number of utility customers. Our Energy Pulse research shows more and more interest in renewables among electricity consumers. The True Believer segment continues to support a transition to renewables ASAP, and they are willing to pay the price. In addition, we are starting to see ancillary evidence that other segments are interested as well. Recent focus groups we’ve conducted show that even Working Class Realists (our least affluent, least environmentally engaged segment) are interested in participating in voluntary green energy programs from their utility, because they believe in this cause. Even Cautious Conservatives, who often support coal as the cheapest energy source, seem to recognize that wind and solar are going to eventually replace coal and natural gas.

And this transition may be just on the horizon. The electric utility industry has already experienced a fairly impressive transformation in a relatively short period of time. Just six years ago, coal accounted for roughly 50% of electricity generation. Now, for the past five months, natural gas has surpassed coal as the leading source of power in the U.S.

As utility-scale renewable project costs continue to get closer to grid parity, we could see yet another fairly quick transformation in the generation mix in some areas of the country. In fact, Suzanne attended the Electric Light and Power Executive Conference this week, and Michael Liebreich from Bloomberg forecast that America should be 24% renewable by 2040 (which sounds less impressive when you see their forecast for Germany: 77%).

The shift is happening, and it’s unfortunate that David Crane was a casualty as he blazed the trail. I think history will reveal he was just slightly ahead of his time.

Skills

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Posted on

February 11, 2016

About the Author

Jim Lyza

Jim Lyza

Jim is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.