Members of the PolicyShift team attended the COP 21 event on RE-Energising the Future at the Palais Brongniart in Paris this Sunday. This afternoon’s session focused on how businesses can lead the way towards a renewable energy future. The session was moderated by Chiristine Lins, the Executive Secretary of REN21, with a panel attended by Christine Bargain, Director of Social and Environmental Responsibility for La Poste, António Neves de Carvalho, Head of Corporate Sustainability Office for Energias de Portugal (EDP), Bjorn Otto Sverdup, Senior Vice President of Sustainability of Statoil, Bill Weihl, Director of Sustainability for Facebook, and John Woolard, Vice-President Energy of Google.
Topics discussed ranged from how to convince businesses that renewable energy is a viable business model, how companies themselves foster innovation, and ways for businesses to invest in renewable energy. Overall, panelists agreed that during the past ten years, such topics have risen to the forefront in the business world, and this trend is continuing. Just last year, $270 billion was invested in the renewable sector, and currently 164 countries have renewable energy projects and targets.
Christine Bargain explained the measures that La Poste has taken to become the first French company to use 100% renewable energy, through measures like the use of electrical vehicles in their fleet. Antonio Neves de Carvalho explained that investment in renewable energy was key for EDP’s long term sustainability, and it utilized the advantage of being the first to break into certain markets, including the U.S. and Brazil. However, he also emphasized that more stable markets are needed, as well as alternative means to finance renewables so that a stable income is provided. He also explained that feed-in tariffs were important at the outset. Statoil, as an oil and gas company, also explained that diversifying the portfolio is important, and ongoing investments are needed.
The representatives from Facebook and Google both clarified that a major use of energy for companies such as theirs stems from the data servers centers, such as “cloud” data technologies. These centers use a lot of energy to maintain, and have begun to push some companies to search for ways to use renewable energy to run them. Google currently has 14 data centers worldwide. It also has a goal of becoming 100% renewable by 2020. To meet this, Google will have to work with the locations of the data centers to find ways to run on clean energy.
The panelists identified several challenges and opportunities as well. Google and Facebook explained that joint initiatives to work with energy markets in the U.S., for example, would accelerate corporate purchasing of renewable energy. They also agreed that they need policies in place that require having an option to utilize renewable energies. Profitability was another challenge identified by the panelists. They proposed further partnerships, incentives, carbon pricing, and consumer demand as ways to accelerate the shift to clean energy.
The panelists concluded with two central points. The first was the need to integrate the entire system and infrastructure for their respective industries in order to maximize energy efficiency, and integrate clean energy use. The second was innovation. They identified that innovation is often a high risk endeavor for the energy sector, but a necessary one. Furthermore, the time is right for innovative ideas, as executive leadership is more receptive than ever before to make sustainability a central part of their business model. It makes sense for their finances, and sense for their future.