By Francis Hodsoll and Lea Maamari

Decarbonizing energy through solar and wind technologies, as well as harnessing geothermal, hydropower, and biomass power, moves us toward meeting American’s growing desire for zero emission, zero carbon energy. The question of how and whether these discreet clean energy industries can join forces or align interests has stirred efforts and prompted discussion among industry experts and stakeholders, including at the recent Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) Conference this past October. In this article, we explore the possibilities of organized and unified efforts among clean energy providers, with some key insights from SolUnesco CEO Francis Hodsoll. 

Recognizing first that this has been an ongoing conversation among industries, especially wind and solarHodsoll notes that working together combines resources and gives industries the ability to exert influence. “Together solar and wind represent a massive workforce,” he notes, “and by getting legislators, regulators, and other policy folks to think of us as an economic development machine gives us bigger economic clout.” 

Unifying Under Portfolio Standards 

One unifying force seems to have been states’ renewable portfolio standards, which, according to Bill Ritter, Jr. of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, “typically require that power providers supply an increasing percentage of renewable energy to their customers, to promote deployment of clean energy.”  

According to the Solar Energy Industries, 38 states and Washington D. C. now have renewable portfolio standards. When states mandate and incentivize more decarbonized energy, they not only drive the market but serve to unify it. Power providers aren’t looking to source wind or solar energy specifically in order to meet the renewable requirements. Instead, they’re looking at a connected clean energy industry, who can in turn see themselves as co-providers to the same customers.

Developing Integrated or Hybrid Systems 

In addition to aligning renewable energy industries, some have explored more concrete ways that wind and solar could combine forces, specifically by co-locating wind and solar plants to reduce costs and steady the power supply. Ben Jervey of Ensia describes “developing hybrid solar–wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each—with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone.  

Major Advances in Virginia 

Located in Virginia, a state leading the way in clean energy legislation and attracting major corporate commitments and investments in renewable energy, SolUnesco is at the forefront of major shift in our nation’s energy consumption. With much excitement and approval, Virginia’s 10-year Energy Plan and Grid Transformation and Security Act, both released in 2018 by Governor Ralph Northam, makes bold recommendations and commitments to renewable energy.  

The same year, the state’s major power producer, Dominion Energy, “announced a solicitation for 500 megawatts of onshore wind and solar.” And last March, tech giant Microsoft also announced the biggest corporate solar agreement in history, which is also its second purchase of solar power in Virginia.  

Additionally, in news that we will cover more in-depth soon, just this month Apex Clean Energy purchased 442.5 MW of solar projects from SolUnesco, a transaction that includes “the 150 MW Carvers Creek, 150 MW Moody Creek, 130 MW Red Brick, and 12.5 MW Rivanna projects located across the Commonwealth.” This moment in renewable energy is without a doubt exciting and expansive. 

Sharing Resources, Increasing Influence 

In addition to supporting industry-unifying organizations like Solar Energy Industries (SEIA) and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), SolUnesco maintains active memberships in the Virginia chapters of both the Renewable Energy Alliance (VA-REA), and Advanced Energy Economy (Virginia AEE).  

These organizations give industry leaders the opportunity to come together and find common goals and interests. By teaming up, industries can push for the market to make advances more quickly. The demand is already there, stemming from individuals’ concerns over climate change and companies committing to clean energy purchases and ongoing socially responsible corporate practices. “Decarbonizing energy is a long-term trend. It’s already happening, it’s just a matter of how quickly people change their buying habits, Hodsoll explains. Pushing the market to respond to consumer desires means the evolution of clean energy can happen more quickly.

As discussions continue and alliance forge, SolUnesco’s primary focus remains on their stakeholders. Hodsoll concludes that working together “is better for our landowners trying to get projects on their land. It’s better for counties and communities who want these projects because they will show up sooner.