TODAY’S STUDY: All The New Ways To Buy New Energy
Status and Trends in the U.S. Voluntary Green Power Market (2016 Data)
Eric O'Shaughnessy, Jenny Heeter, Jeff Cook, and Christina Volpi October 2017 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Green power—for the purposes of this report—refers to renewable electricity voluntarily purchased by retail electricity customers. It is substantiated through renewable energy certificates (RECs). The voluntary green power market encompasses seven green power procurement mechanisms: utility green pricing programs, utility renewable contracts, unbundled RECs, competitive suppliers, community choice aggregations (CCAs), power purchase agreements (PPAs), and community solar.
About 6.3 million customers procured about 95 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of green power in 2016 (Table ES-1), which represents a 45% increase in the number of customers and a 19% increase in the amount sales from 2015. The voluntary green power market now accounts for about 28% of all U.S. renewable energy sales, excluding large hydropower.
Sales and participation increased across all green power mechanisms from 2015 to 2016. Unbundled RECs account for more than half of the green power market in terms of sales. Unbundled REC sales have continued to increase in recent years as corporations and other large non-residential customers make large green power purchases to meet internal renewable energy or sustainability goals. CCAs now account for more than half of green power customers. The significant increase in green power participation from 2015 to 2016 is primarily attributable to the enrollment of large numbers of residential customers into new and growing CCAs in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.
For the first time in this annual series, this report includes a state-level analysis of the geography of voluntary green power sales and customers. Demand for green power is ubiquitous in the United States. Where green power is available, green power customers procure green power through locally available options such as utility green pricing programs, competitive suppliers, and CCAs. Customers also procure green power through unbundled RECs or PPAs, especially in states and utility service territories without local green power options. The geographic expansion of green power will likely continue as green power costs decline and providers continue to develop innovative green power products…
Summary of Voluntary Green Power Participation and Sales
About 6.3 million U.S. electricity customers purchased about 95 million MWh of green power in 2016
…Increasing corporate interest in green power and low REC prices are contributors to growth in unbundled RECs (Section 5). New CCA programs and program expansions in California, Massachusetts, and New York have fueled the growth of CCAs (Section 7). Community solar continues to grow rapidly as new projects are developed (Section 9)
Green power sales have generally increased over time, in part because sales within certain mechanisms have increased, but also because new mechanisms have become available over time (Table 4, Figure 2). Sales growth has been relatively steady in green pricing programs and competitive suppliers, and more pronounced in relatively newer markets such as PPAs and community solar.
After declining for two years, green power participation increased by more than 50% from 2015 to 2016 (Table 5, Figure 3). The large increase in 2016 is primarily attributable to the expansion of CCAs in California and Massachusetts, where new programs began providing green power to large numbers of residential customers (Section 7).
Unbundled RECs remain the largest source of green power sales, though the share of the market met by unbundled RECs fell beginning in 2012 because of the emergence of CCAs and PPAs (Figure 4). Green pricing programs, competitive suppliers, and CCAs—mechanisms that cater primarily to residential customers—comprise the majority of the green power customer base. CCAs now account for more than half of green power customers.
…The majority of U.S. renewable energy sales are used to comply with state RPS programs. In 2016, compliance-based sales in state programs that require regulated entities to procure RECs from “new” projects accounted for about 42% of renewable energy sales, while compliance-based sales from existing projects accounted for about 26% of renewable energy sales in 2016. The voluntary market accounted for about 28% of all U.S. nonhydro renewable energy sales in 2016. The group “other renewables” in Figure 5 includes utility renewable energy purchasing beyond RPS requirements and on-site generation. Compliancebased REC sales are based on data compiled by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL 2017). Total U.S. renewable energy sales are based on retail electricity sales data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA 2017).
Utility Green Pricing…Utility Renewable Contracts…Competitive Suppliers…Unbundled RECs…Community Choice Aggregation…Power Purchase Agreements…Community Solar…The Geography of Green Power…
Conclusions and Observations
The U.S. voluntary green power market continues to grow. Green power sales increased by about 19% from 80 million MWh in 2015 to 95 million MWh in 2016. Participation in green power markets increased by 45% from 4,305,000 customers in 2015 to 6,257,000 customers in 2016. This market expansion is primarily attributable to increasing green power sales in unbundled RECs, CCAs, and PPAs.
• Utility green pricing sales grew by about 6% from 2015 to 2016. Consistent with previous years, this growth is primarily driven by the growth of a few large programs. However, the majority of green pricing programs showed declining sales from 2015 to 2016.
• Utility renewable contracts resulted in about 2.9 million MWh of green power generation in 2016 from 12 contracted projects. Utility renewable contracts are new green power mechanisms and several utilities are in the process of developing renewable contract programs.
• Competitive supplier trends are more difficult to assess because of data limitations. Based on available data, green power sales grew by 4% while participation grew by 34% increase in sales from 2015 to 2016.
• Unbundled REC sales grew by 22% and participation grew by 54% in 2016, primarily through increasing corporate renewable energy procurement.
• CCA green power sales grew by about 18% from 2015 to 2016, primarily as a result of program expansions in California and Massachusetts, as well as the implementation of the first CCA in New York. At the same time, CCA green power sales continue to stagnate in Illinois and Ohio.
• PPA sales grew by 19% from 2015 to 2016, with about 4,356 MW of commissioned projects and an additional 5,858 MW of capacity in the project pipeline. The tech sector continues to lead the expansion of PPAs.
• Community solar sales increased by about 40% from 2015 to 2016. However, green power sales, where customers retain the RECs, remain a small component of the community solar market.
A state-level geographic analysis of green power shows that green power demand is ubiquitous. Green power demand is higher in states such as Illinois, California, Texas, and Massachusetts where local green power options are available, but demand exists in every state and in both urban and rural areas. Demand for green power is likely to increase across the country as green power providers offer innovative new products and renewable energy prices continue to decline. Windrich states like Texas, California, and Illinois provide the majority of green power generation.