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Tina Casey headshot

U.S. Energy Giant NRG Proves Why Clean Power Is Here To Stay

By Tina Casey

The election of Donald Trump to the Oval Office set nerves affray in the American clean power field, and with good reason. However, if the president-elect has any ideas about reversing the trend toward a low-carbon economy, it's going to be a case of locking the barn door after the horses have escaped.

The leading U.S. energy company NRG provides a good example of clean energy's staying power, with a long-term outlook that includes human resources as well as renewable energy resources.

NRG meets Ceres

NRG's vice president for sustainability, Bruno Sarda, spoke with me on the phone last week to explain the depth of his company's commitment to a sustainable economy.

In a coincidence of timing, just after Election Day NRG announced it was joining the Ceres Company Network. That's a project of Ceres, a leading nonprofit organization that focuses investors and the business community on sustainability.

"Ceres brings together a very savvy and engaged network," Sarda explained. "Its corporate members are in a process of mutual discovery with a powerful group of investors. By engaging businesses and investors, Ceres facilitates a sustainability roadmap."

Sarda emphasized that the learning process is a two-way street. Ceres Company Network members are not passive learners. They also contribute their knowledge to the organization:

"Ceres also listens to how decisions get made, how companies and investors come to incorporate sustainability," Sarda said. "The result is an incredible interface with policymakers."

A Ceres press release further explains the value NRG brings to the network:
"In 2014, NRG committed to a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a 90 percent reduction by 2050, from a 2014 baseline. In doing so, NRG became one of the first 10 companies globally and the only U.S. company in the power sector to meet the recognized standard for science-based greenhouse gas emission reduction goals."

Nothing can stop clean power

To realize the most obvious reason why the clean power ocean liner cannot stop on a dime, just scroll through the energy news headlines since Election Day.

Here are just three random examples from the solar sector late last week:

Nov. 18: NRG Begins Operation of Largest Co-Located Community Solar Project in Massachusetts

Nov. 17: Ikea Plugs-in More Onsite Power in Costa Mesa and Covina, CA as Fuel Cell Systems Expand Retailer’s Renewable Energy Portfolio

Nov. 18: Marathon Capital Announces the Closing of a Partnership Between Soltage and Basalt for Capital Investment in Solar Generation Assets

The Marathon Capital news involves a $140 million equity capital partnership for more than 100 megawatts of commercial, industrial and utility-scale solar projects. The first of such projects -- three solar farms on landfills -- are already under construction.

The American Wind Energy Association painted a similarly bright picture for the wind sector in a Nov. 18 blog post titled, "Wind power blows away records in the Midwest and Texas."

NRG, utilities, energy consumers and other energy stakeholders have been planning ahead for decarbonization for years. And they are not likely to write off these investments.

In particular, energy consumers -- including the U.S. Department of Defense -- are also not likely to stop demanding secure, reliable domestic energy resources that provide bottom-line benefits while promoting community health and national security.

Sarda made the case for clean power:

"Sustainability is informed by a set of business strategies and imperatives ... There is less risk, less cost, and less maintenance. The demand is here to stay, and the cost will continue to decline."

Clean power and the human factor

My conversation with Sarda also highlighted an other important force behind decarbonization under the Trump administration.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable energy have been career-track fields for a generation. That human resources factor predates the acceleration of clean power technology under the Obama administration, and it will continue to influence the direction of U.S. economic development long after the Trump administration.

Sarda himself illustrated how corporate influencers like NRG are availing themselves of a mature CSR talent pool.

He joined NRG as the company's new vice president for sustainability just a few months ago, bringing along his sustainability experience with another top company, Dell. That history put him on track to reach out to Ceres on behalf of NRG.

His NRG bio page underscores how the Ceres connection builds on that resume:

"Sarda joined NRG from Dell, Inc. where he served as director of sustainability and social responsibility since 2010. While at Dell, he partnered with the company's sales organization and key customers to drive collaboration and deepen business relationships. In addition, he worked closely with Dell's supply chain organization to bridge its sustainability efforts and global sourcing priorities and practices."

NRG also highlights Sarda's connection to academia and the incoming generation of sustainability professionals:
"Named one of the 'most influential sustainability voices in America' by The Guardian, Sarda is active in multiple cross-industry collaborations and projects, and is associated with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University."

NRG looks to the future

During our conversation, Sarda noted that NRG is an independent power provider, not a utility. "That means we have to be amazingly responsive to the needs of our customers," he said.

Those needs are complex within the current energy landscape, but essentially, he explained, clean power will dominate:

"Renewables are the core of where most power will come from."

For that to happen, Sarda also folds in the development of utility-scale storage along with more effective systems for demand management, including demand response, energy efficiency, and other strategies and tactics.

Looking to the near future, Sarda also counts in natural gas power plants to ensure that quick-start capability is available when needed.

"We can't rely on 100 percent renewables -- yet," he concluded.

Image (screen shot): via NRG




Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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