Clean Energy Leaders and Laggards: How Utilities Stack Up

, , Senior energy analyst | July 24, 2014, 12:31 pm EDT
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Utilities are lynchpins in moving us toward the clean energy future we need to see. But how quickly they’re helping us move in that direction varies greatly. A really useful new report from Ceres and Clean Edge looks at who’s leading and who’s lagging among U.S. utilities.

Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment, 2014 looks at 32 investor-owned U.S. utilities, from regional or multi-region players like Duke Energy and Exelon to single-state entities 1/20th the size, like Sempra Energy and Portland General Electric.

Utility leaders and laggards (Source: Benchmarking utility clean energy deployment, 2014)

Utility leaders and laggards (Source: Benchmarking utility clean energy deployment, 2014)

Renewables: Who’s Out Front?

The Ceres/Clean Edge analysis assessed utilities based on renewable electricity sales, cumulative energy efficiency savings, and incremental energy efficiency savings (savings from new programs, or from new customers in existing programs)—in each case, as percentages of a given utility’s sales.

When it comes to renewable energy, here’s what the new analysis found (emphasis added):

  • Leaders in this category are primarily located in regions with abundant renewable energy resources and/or with aggressive policy goals, such as NV Energy in Nevada, and Sempra, PG&E, and Edison International in California.
  • There is significant variability in this list, with five companies providing nearly 54 percent of [total] renewable energy sales and five delivering less than one percent.

As the chart above shows, for the top five, more than 15 percent came from wind, solar, or other non-hydro renewables.

As for the bottom of the chart:

  • Utilities in the Southeast, such as Southern Company, SCANA, Entergy and Dominion Resources deliver very modest amounts of renewable energy to their customers due, in large part, to weaker state renewable energy and energy efficiency policies.

The report stresses that point about the importance of state and national policy. And there’s certainly a lot of variation there (as the recent Clean Edge report on state clean energy superstars showed).

One piece of that policy picture is the type of structures utilities are operating in. They are, the report notes, “a disparate, heterogeneous bunch.” Some are essentially “wires” companies, with customers buying power through them, but not from them.

Leaders Wanted

Still, when it comes to assessing who’s lagging: Utilities are not passive recipients of policy, waiting for word from the halls of power. They are active participants in the debates in state houses (and Congress) around what kinds of clean energy policies happen, or don’t.

The Ceres/Clean Edge report is clear about not including that dimension in their analysis, but also about it being “arguably the most important leadership quality that utilities can exhibit on clean energy…”

Clean energy leadership is clearly in evidence in some of the utilities assessed. And has clearly been lacking in others.

Like energy efficiency, renewables bring a boatload of benefits, in terms of improving public health or making us less vulnerable to extreme weather (or other hazards), for example. They are also a necessary and ready tool for cutting carbon, and getting the power sector on track to address climate change.

Utilities are well positioned to make more clean energy happen. With utilities, as with states, a cleaner, more secure energy future depends on us having more leaders and fewer laggards.

How’s your utility doing?


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