A decade ago, Duke Energy didn’t own any renewable energy assets. Today it owns or contracts for 3,000 megawatts — a number that it expects to increase to 8,000 megawatts by 2020. Its purchase of a majority stake in REC Solar is a primary vehicle to getting there and one that will focus on selling solar energy to small-to-mid-sized commercial customers.
Duke is hardly alone. Other utilities are moving aggressively into this new energy world. The choices are stark — to either get into the game or to watch it from the sidelines. As utility customers seek to reduce their bills and to lower their emissions, they are looking to increasingly develop onsite energy sources such as rooftop solar. And while the bigger companies may go a step further and construct localized microgrids, they are all after the same thing:
“Small-to-mid-sized commercial businesses want to become more sustainable and cleaner,” says Matt Walz, who is now the chief executive for REC Solar, in an interview. “At the same time, they want to save on their electric bills.”
Edison International, meanwhile, is well positioned to compete. It says that the billions it is spending on upgrades goes predominately to its networks — that it only owns about 15 percent of the generation that its customers consume. The other 85 percent is purchased on the open market.
ReD Associates’s research says that companies are in dire need of experts to guide them. They are concerned about managing energy costs and commodity prices, as demonstrated by a finding that 25 percent of those surveyed do not have an accurate overview of their total energy spend.
“We see this more as opportunity than a threat,” says Ted Craver, chief executive of Edison International, whose unit Edison Energy provides such services. “We see an explosion of distributed energy resources, as opposed to central generation.”