Demand for renewable energy by consumers and businesses – along with a long-term commitment to cleaner portfolios from utilities – seems to be fundamentally shifting energy attitudes and decisions, independent of federal stances, according to Deloitte's annual "Resources 2017 Study – Energy Management: Sustainability & Progress."
Technology advancements and cost declines have made renewables competitive with conventional energy, giving consumers and businesses more clean energy options and pushing utilities to offer smarter, high-tech offerings.
"The demand for clean energy has passed the point of no return. It is not only political anymore. It is an economic issue," said Marlene Motyka, U.S. and global renewable energy leader and principal, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. "Green energy no longer solely means environmental concerns, 'green energy' also means the dollars that can be saved by investing in wind, solar and other clean energy sources."
Key findings include:
- Sixty-three percent of residential consumers were very concerned about climate change and their personal carbon footprints. In fact, using clean energy sources was the most important energy issue among consumers, with 37 percent citing "increasing the use of solar power" (up 4 percent from 2016) as the top issue and 25 percent placing a priority on use of wind power (up 4 percent from 2016).
- Nearly 6 in 10 consumers cited the option to use renewable sources as a motivation to switch providers. Further, they stated that they are willing to pay a 4-8 percent surcharge on their electric bills for renewables, although the need for such surcharges has been declining.
- Millennials have been driving much of the support for renewables. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of millennials said they were extremely or very interested in installing solar panels, up 9 percent over last year, and more than half (53 percent) were extremely or very interested in purchasing a share in a community, or "shared," solar installation.
Energy storage: Makes renewables even more attractive
According to the study, energy storage could be the biggest potential game changer for renewable energy growth from consumers and businesses, as technology advances and costs decline.
- About half (48 percent) of business respondents responded that they are working to procure more electricity from renewables. Of the 39 percent who are not working to procure more renewable electricity, 58 percent said combining renewable energy sources with battery storage could motivate them to do more.
- Forty-five percent of residential consumers said they would be more interested in installing solar panels if they could combine them with a home battery storage unit.
"Utilities are not only contending with demands to secure power from cleaner sources, but also the growing, significant gap in values, preferences and motivations between millennials and older age groups. This gap seems especially substantial when it comes to use of technology and social media," said Scott Smith, vice chairman and U.S. power and utilities leader, Deloitte LLP. "As customer expectations change and many become more active energy consumers, utilities likely need to be more flexible in tailoring service offerings to meet new demands."
The private sector speaks out
Deloitte also reached out to more than 700 companies nationwide to conduct interviews with the energy decision-makers within the enterprise. These interviews showed changing business needs are driving a shift in energy priorities in the private sector.
- Eighty percent of businesses viewed reducing electricity costs as essential to maintaining an image that keeps them competitive. Business motivations for energy management have gone well beyond cost cutting, with nearly half (45 percent) reporting it as a key part of corporate strategy and 9 in 10 investing about 21 percent of their total capital budgets in related programs.
- More than 8 in 10 agreed that their company's view of energy procurement is shifting from merely a cost to an opportunity for reducing risk, improving resilience and creating new value. Sixty-one percent said their customers are demanding their companies procure a certain percentage of their electricity demand from renewable resources.
Businesses seek to generate their own power
- Six in 10 businesses now have some form of on-site electricity generation, up from 35 percent five years ago. And 33 percent plan to increase the amount of electricity they self-generate.
- Businesses that reported an increase in electric outages are taking matters into their own hands, with 26 percent reporting they intend to develop self-generation capabilities, while another 35 percent indicated they have considered implementing or participating in a microgrid.
"This is an exciting time as businesses of all sizes seem to be building momentum in energy management based on their consistent successes year over year," concluded Motyka. "As companies seek to up their game to reduce energy consumption and increase use of renewable energy, it should be good news for individual businesses, their shareholders and employees, as well as their communities at large."