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Tina Casey headshot

Despite the Global Pandemic, Clean Energy Just Had a Banner Year

By Tina Casey
Clean Energy

The COVID-19 pandemic has roiled energy markets around the world, but it has not stopped the clean energy juggernaut. More than 130 global corporations bought a combined, record-setting total of 23.7 gigawatts in wind and solar last year. In a sign of things to come here in the U.S, Texas is becoming a hub of solar activity in addition to its status as a wind power leader.

Global corporations keep uniting around clean energy

Six years ago, top U.S. corporations organized a powerful public relations and lobbying effort in support of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. They never let up, pushing for more investments in renewables all through the Trump administration. In addition, leading global oil and gas stakeholders, such as France-based Total among others, have been pivoting to renewables to meet the rising demand for clean energy.

According to a new report from BloombergNEF, last year’s corporate clean energy purchase of 23.7 gigawatts globally came within reach of doubling the amount of 13.6 gigawatts recorded in 2018. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the total amount of such acquisitions increased by 18 percent in 2020, up from 20.1 gigawatts in 2019.

The 130 corporations tracked by BNEF represent a wide range of sectors, but all share one common trait.

“Underpinning the market is surging stakeholder interest in corporate sustainability and expanding access to clean energy globally,” BNEF explains.

How the U.S. almost dropped the clean energy ball

In an indication that former President Trump’s fossil-friendly policies may have had an impact in the U.S., corporate clean energy investments suffered their first year-on-year drop since 2016. The amount dropped to 11.9 gigawatts in 2020, down from 14.1 gigawatts in 2019.

Nevertheless, the U.S. remains the single largest clean energy market in the world. BNEF also attributes part of the falloff to the pandemic, indicating the clean energy buyers in the U.S. are primed to pick up where they left off.

Despite troubles at home, top U.S. corporations and brands continued to make an impact on growth within the global renewables market last year. Anheuser-Busch, which became part of Belgium-based AB InBev in 2008, is credited with helping to propel Spain’s booming clean energy market in 2020. Globally, the U.S. tech companies Amazon, Google, Facebook and Verizon claimed four of the top five spots for clean energy purchases last year.

Sunny skies (and steady winds) ahead for clean energy purchasers

Taiwan is another market that surged upwards last year despite the pandemic. BNEF attributes the sudden burst of activity in part to increased interest among the nation’s many manufacturers, which are feeling pressure from corporate customers that want to decarbonize their supply chains.

More likely, though, the bulk of the impetus was provided by a policy change. BNEF notes that Taiwan has imposed a new clean energy requirement on companies using 5 megawatts or more annually.

Similarly, BNEF expects a new energy policy in South Korea to spark a fresh burst of corporate activity in the clean power market there.

Here in the U.S., Republican members of Congress could slow or halt federal clean energy legislation. However, President Biden has already made climate action a top priority across all federal agencies. The purchasing power of the Department of Defense alone will help drive the market for decarbonization, including energy efficiency and clean fuels as well as wind and solar power.

All eyes on the Lone Star State

As one indication that the U.S. is positioned for another burst of clean energy activity in the months ahead, solar developers are beginning to test the waters in Texas.

Texas is already a wind power leader in the U.S., but it has been slow to exploit its rich solar resources. That could change with the advent of grid improvements that balance wind and solar inputs, in addition to growing demand from corporate energy purchasers.

In the latest development, earlier this week the EU-based solar company Lightsource BP announced the start of construction on a new 316 megawatt, $380 million solar project in Texas, consisting of two solar arrays to be located about 40 miles from Dallas.

Two firms, L3Harris and the Capital Solutions unit of Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), have already staked out their claims to clean energy generated from the new arrays.

Completion of the project is expected before the end of this year, and there is much more in store for the Lone Star State. Late last year the Chicago-based solar developer Invenergy announced that it will build the largest solar facility in the U.S., a 1.31 gigawatt hub that will support clean energy purchases from AT&T, McDonalds, Google, Home Depot and Honda along with several municipal buyers.

Texas’s role in the U.S. clean energy transition is especially significant, considering its dominant position in the oil and gas economy. Regardless of federal legislation, Texas is on track to help accelerate climate action in the U.S.

That’s not a moment too soon. According to the latest report from the International Energy Agency, global electricity demand only took a temporary nosedive during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. The Biden administration’s shift on energy policy, including vehicle electrification, are all but certain to keep demand rising in the U.S. for many years to come.

Image credit: Laura Ockel/Unsplash

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey