The corporate renewables boom received one of the brightest spotlights imaginable with the American public this past weekend in a Budweiser advertisement during the Super Bowl.
Demand for wind and solar power from major corporations has become one of the renewables industry’s most important growth drivers in recent years, particularly in the US – where corporate and non-utility buyers contracted for a record 4.2GW of wind last year, led by AT&T, Walmart and Facebook.
Rather than simply playing defense with such deals – using them to hedge their energy expenses while mitigating their carbon footprint – corporate buyers are finding increasingly creative and high-profile ways to tout their renewables bona fides. Budweiser is now indisputably top dog in that department.
Budweiser’s ad features the company’s iconic Clydesdale horses – used in its Super Bowl ads going back more than 30 years – clip-clopping through an idealized farm somewhere in the American West. Wind turbines emblazoned with "Budweiser" turn majestically overhead, to the gentle strumming of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.
“Now brewed with wind power,” the ad concludes. The Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the US-based National Football League, is typically viewed by more than 100 million people, with 30-second ad spots reportedly costing more than $5m.
The ad was widely praised by television critics and made a number of "Best Of" lists, with Wired calling it "the least showy [ad] of the bunch this year".
Anheuser-Busch InBev, the mega-brewer that owns Budweiser, signed a virtual power-purchase agreement in 2017 for 152.5MW of the output from Enel Green Power’s 298MW Thunder Ranch wind farm in Oklahoma – making it one of that year’s biggest corporate buyers.
Enel Green Power North America, part of Italian utility group Enel, is one of the leaders in the US corporate renewables market, and has said corporate demand – and market flexibility allowing for such deals – sets the US apart on the global stage.
In a recent interview with Recharge, EGP-NA chief executive Georgios Papadimitriou said that in addition to expanding the pool of potential off-takers, corporate buyers also act as a kind of “advertisement for the renewables industry”.
While direct deals with corporations will remain an important part of the market, utilities are playing an increasingly large role as an intermediary between renewables developers and corporate buyers, particularly when such buyers are relatively small or have a widely dispersed load.
One example of this is EGP's deal late last year to sell power from its HillTopper wind farm in Illinois to utility group Exelon, which will in turn offer the wind power to Starbucks.