Power cuts during California’s devastating wildfire season have boosted demand for combined solar panels and battery storage solutions as businesses look to mitigate economic damage from future blackouts.
Billions of dollars in economic activity were lost from mass power shutoffs during wildfires in California last year. The blackouts, which were aimed at preventing live wires from sparking more fires during high winds, caused widespread disruption for Californians at the end of last year and forced schools and business to shut.
“We’re seeing more tenders for solar-storage combinations in areas where there are reliability issues, in California for instance, where blackouts this autumn boosted demand,” Gwenaelle Avice-Huet, Engie SA’s head of renewables division, said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re also seeing demand on islands, with tenders in Hawaii for solar-storage combinations.”
The need for a more reliable supply of electricity coincides with a push by companies, governments and investors for cleaner power as part of efforts to mitigate climate change, which is partly to blame for recent giant blazes from Australia to Portugal.
Engie, which signed a deal last September to supply Microsoft Corp. with electricity from a mix of wind and solar, wants to boost the number of power purchase agreements which would combine various types of low-carbon energy with storage devices, Avice-Huet said.
“What’s happening in the U.S. will take place elsewhere,” she said. “We’ll be able to export these solutions in other geographies by mixing technologies.”
The French utility is among a growing list of companies offering relief from weather-related blackouts and power shortages. Options include solar and battery combinations from Sunrun Inc. and Tesla Inc., and natural gas or diesel-fueled micro-power plants from Generac Holdings Inc.
Engie quadrupled its commissions of wind and solar farms last year, to 3 gigawatts, and it wants to maintain that rate this year and again in 2021 with expansion across the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Asia.
The company has stakes in 26.9 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, comprising about 28% of its power generation assets. The utility said last week it wants to increase that to 58% by 2030.
To grow faster in capital-intensive areas, Engie is in the process of buying hydro-electric dams in Portugal. It’s also forming a joint venture in offshore wind with Portuguese utility EDP Renovaveis SA, which is developing a giant project at sea off the coast of Massachusetts.
“We’re interested a lot in the U.S. because of the size of its projects,” Huet said. Engie, which is building wind farms in Belgian and Scottish waters and developing projects in France, is also interested in upcoming offshore tenders in the Netherlands, Poland and the U.K., she said.
To fund growth in clean power, Engie has sold stakes in projects in France, India and Mexico. The company may continue to shed assets in France, and is also considering doing so in the U.S. and Australia, Huet said.
“It’s a balance to find,” Huet said. She added Engie will consider whether to sell assets “geography by geography, and project by project.”
–With assistance from Joe Ryan and Christopher Martin.
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