The Role of Corporate Renewable Power Purchase Agreements in Supporting US Wind and Solar Deployment

Lead PI: James Kobus, Ali Ibrahim Nasrallah, Jim Guidera

Unit Affiliation: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP)

March 2021 - Ongoing
North America ; United States
Project Type: Outreach

DESCRIPTION: This student-led paper, from the Power Sector and Renewables Research Initiative at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, explores the drivers influencing the renewables PPA market and assesses whether these procurement initiatives by nonutility corporations are likely to continue growing in the United States at a rapid enough pace to support power sector deep decarbonization goals. The analysis finds that while robust private sector participation in recent years has been encouraging, the potential market size going forward may be smaller than previously projected, highlighting the need for comprehensive policy frameworks to support power sector decarbonization.

OUTCOMES: • Under current policy conditions, the corporate renewables PPA market could drive between 218 and 296 TWh of demand equating to 55–85 GW of incremental solar and wind capacity additions in the United States through 2030 across three scenarios. While this range implies significant growth, the base case scenario suggesting additions of around 70 GW is below other projections and implies that recent procurement rates could slow.
• These results, showing a wide range of potential outcomes and the possibility that PPAs may not drive as much renewable capacity additions as has been projected by other organizations, highlight the risk in overreliance on private sector actors to voluntarily address unpriced greenhouse gas externalities. While renewables costs have fallen dramatically in recent years and the actions of many large US corporations have led to significant additions of zero-carbon generation resources, the market may not be deep enough to sustain its recent pace of annual procurements without further policy incentives.
• More comprehensive policy frameworks are needed if US policy makers wish to achieve the rapid growth in renewable electricity that is needed to support broader decarbonization of the nation’s economy.[1] Effectively designed decarbonization policies could drive greater growth from traditional sources of renewable energy demand (e.g., utilities) while also making emissions reduction initiatives a more straightforward business decision for corporations. These could include federal carbon pricing, clean electricity standards, increased research and development (R&D) spending, green infrastructure investment, and the extension of federal tax credits. Initiatives to expand zero-carbon targets, corporate green tariff offerings, and firm REC values at the state and regional level could also accelerate renewable adoption.
• The US corporate PPA market has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some projects facing supply chain disruptions, financing bottlenecks, and higher offer prices. As a result, 2020 renewables PPA transactions tracked below 2019 levels. It remains to be seen whether the pandemic will have any long-term impacts on corporate procurement initiatives.