I've been covering renewable energy for The Motley Fool for more than seven years now. And over that time, I've written hundreds of articles about how wind and solar energy are beating fossil fuels on cost, and getting cheaper more quickly than anyone predicted. My bullishness on the sector was driven by economics, not climate change or other environmental concerns, which is the way I think investors should approach renewable energy.
In 2017, the largest companies in the world are tripping over themselves to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon, and they aren't doing it because they want to cut back on fossil fuel usage. They're doing it because the dollars and cents make renewable energy a no-brainer.
If there's one company that epitomizes the corporate move to renewable energy, it's Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD). The alcoholic beverage behemoth is controlled in part by 3G Capital, a company that's known for pretty ruthless business tactics, like laying off thousands of workers as soon as it acquires a company. 3G is all about making money, and it sees many millions of dollars in potential savings from renewable energy.
When the company announced earlier this year that it had committed to get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, it did so because procurement costs for wind and solar energy have fallen to less than half of the price of electricity from the grid. And Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer Tony Milikin, said early in July that he thinks the company will beat its renewable energy timeline.
Over 100 companies already on a path to 100% renewables
So far, 102 large companies have signed on to the RE100 campaign, showing just how far the business world has come on this topic. JPMorgan Chase was the latest to join last week, saying it would reach 100% renewable power by 2020, and will invest $200 billion in clean energy by 2035.
Ikea, Apple, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, and Nike are just a few of the companies committing to transition to solely renewable energy. And they're doing so by signing long-term power purchase agreements with some of the biggest renewable energy developers in the world.
What this means for renewable energy investors
The fact that corporations are moving so quickly to buy electricity from wind and solar producers is a positive for renewable energy investors. But how they do so can be a bit confusing.
The simplest and most direct acquisition strategy for a company is to install solar or wind assets on-site. Given space constraints, solar energy generation of this type most commonly comes from panels installed on rooftops and carports, which can feed electricity directly into a company's infrastructure. In this niche, SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) leads the market, and possesses the advantage of superior system efficiency compared to other manufacturers.
Corporate supply deals are also playing a big role; they account for a majority of the electricity that corporations count as renewable energy. These are power purchase agreements (PPA) that ensure they'll pay a set price for all electricity from a wind or solar farm, like First Solar's (NASDAQ:FSLR) deal to sell $848 million of renewable energy and credits to Apple in California. The specific megawatts generated by these plants don't necessarily make their way to the purchasing company's sites; instead, they end up in the grid, indirectly supplying their end customers and pushing total demand for fossil-fuel power generation lower.
A structure that's becoming more common is a utility playing the middleman role in that process. Utilities are starting to offer renewable energy pricing for customers (I get 100% of my electricity from wind); as the grid operators, they have an interest in both customers' and suppliers' needs. In Nevada, NV Energy has played a role in projects by both SunPower and First Solar that supply electricity to Apple and Switch.
First Solar and SunPower are two clear leading beneficiaries from the U.S. corporate push toward renewable energy. As this movement grows, I think they'll both be huge winners as corporations look for reliable partners to get them to their fossil-fuel-free goals.