Power Line: Inside the $6 billion market where people buy the right to call energy clean, and rooftop solar’s new pitch

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My mom is visiting me in NYC this weekend. Because why wouldn’t you want to travel to the nation’s most populous city amidst a virus outbreak when you live in rural Iowa. (I’ll be delighted to see her.)

Our healthcare team has been busy covering the novel coronavirus. Sign up for the newsletter Dispensed to follow their coverage. 

PG&E blackout shut off
After the California utility Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to more than a million people, the rooftop solar company Sunrun saw a spike in its battery sales.
Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Notch that back a bit, and that’s basically how rooftop solar companies are now pitching themselves — as a way to keep the power on if the grid goes down

That new marketing approach seems to be working. 

The takeaway: Buying solar for your home was once about sourcing green energy or cutting costs, but now it’s largely about energy security

(Meanwhile, here I am sizzling in a century-old NYC building, with no control over the oil-based radiator that seems hellbent on steaming me out with deafening bangs. Solar sounds pretty good.)

It’s tough to write a scintillating headline when the topic of the story is something called “renewable energy certificates,” or RECs. But I assure you: it’s one worth getting to know. So as my editor likes to joke, let’s get REC’d.

Q&A: 

  • What the heck is a REC? It’s a receipt that proves 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy was created somewhere. (1 MWh is a little more than what the avg. American household uses every month.)
  • Why do they exist? Once electrons enter the grid, they are indistinguishable from one another — no matter what kind of power plant produced them. RECs are the only way to track the generation of clean energy.
  • What’s the business angle? Here’s where things get wild. Wild, I tell you!  
  • Who’s buying and selling them? You can find that and much more bizarre REC industry insights in my story
Lene Hviid Shell GameChanger
Lene Hviid heads up Shell’s incubator program, GameChanger
Shell

How does an oil giant stay relevant as the world tries to cut ties with fossil fuels? It partners with startups. Loads of them. 

We caught up with Shell’s Lene Hviid, who runs the energy giant’s in-house incubator program called GameChanger. 

  • The program has worked with 1,500 inventors since 2017, and many of them are developing clean-energy technologies, she said. 
  • “If you look at the energy transition and you are a supertanker that has to change, you need help from a lot of companies around you to make it happen,” she told me. 

Where is Shell placing its bets? 

Finally, here are this week’s top updates 

  • The US Senate will soon consider a hefty package of energy legislation, which is “Congress’ best bet to make a dent in federal clean energy policy under the Trump administration,” Utility Dive reports.
  • Tesla and the utility PG&E are developing what officials are calling the largest battery farm in the world in Northern California, NBC reports.  
  • The Italian energy giant Eni has pledged to cut its emission by 80% by 2050. 
  • General Electric, one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers, says its renewable energy unit is taking a hit from coronavirus, per Recharge

We’re monitoring the virus’s impact on the clean-energy industry. If you have tips, please pass them along to energy@businessinsider.com

That’s it! Have a great weekend. 

– Benji 

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