According to the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2015, America’s demand for energy will increase slightly over the next 35 years. According to ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy: A view to 2040, global energy consumption will rise by 35% from 2010 to 2040.
And according to several different speakers at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm E, there’s a big question mark about who, exactly, will be selling us all that energy. Here are a few things I heard:
- Walmart continues to march forward with its plan to get to 100% clean power. The recent announcement that they’ll purchase 58% of the power from a 200-megawatt wind farm is one more step towards that. And, being Walmart, they’re not paying top dollar for any of the renewable energy they’re securing. They’re looking to purchase renewables (and I assume they’re succeeding in this) at or below the price they’re paying for traditional electricity – or as I’ve seen them refer to it in PowerPoint slides, “brown power” – from utilities. My takeaway: Walmart will create a cost-effective model for energy procurement that doesn’t involve buying from utilities, and others will follow their model.
- Siemens intends to be climate neutral by 2030. Click here for an infographic laying out their plan. My takeaway: This is one more example of how Big Business is taking energy matters into its own hands. Lawmakers, regulators and utilities aren’t coming to the table with a way for business and industry to meet their sustainability commitments/do the right things/create a triple-bottom-line reality, so they’re leading the charge. Click here for an example of a few very frustrated, high-use energy consumers who are trying to work within the current regulated system of energy procurement and you’ll understand why many businesses are working to go around the system.
- Never mind the tax credit, folks are bullish on solar. The American tax credit for purchasing a solar system is due to expire at the end of next year. So for companies who are only selling systems in America, there’s a lot of nervousness and a general consensus that if the tax credit is allowed to expire, it will hurt the American solar industry. But according to Tom Werner, President and CEO of SunPower, China will install four times the solar this year that America has cumulatively, so the market is booming for global solar companies. Another speaker noted that as costs come down, the tax credits won’t matter, and another noted that solar was “killing it” in terms of capital productivity – it used to take a $10 investment to get a return; now it only takes a $1 investment. My takeaway: The solar industry will continue to thrive and many of us will soon have options on how we procure the power we need (self-generated, from a community solar garden or from a traditional utility).
- Opinions are mixed on battery storage. There was a lot of talk about batteries at the conference and a seeming consensus that while, yes, they are very useful and can change the solar game a little, they’re not the silver bullet Game Changer some folks have made them out to be. One speaker said, “It’s hard to see a useful role for large-scale utility storage,” while another said, “Storage is getting plugged in instead of new power generation, but it works best at the neighborhood and substation level.” My takeaway: See above … batteries will be one more piece of the puzzle in a not-so-distant future where we have multiple options on how we power our lives.
For those of you who also attended the conference, weigh in. I’d love to hear if you walked away with the same insights or something different.