Business Renewables Centre – Australia: System-wide collaboration for catalytic climate impact

Published 24 Apr 2021

By Finnian Murphy and Maryanne Coffey, Business Renewables Centre - Australia

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In the world of climate innovation, the Business Renewables Centre Australia (BRC-A) is not a textbook venture. Rather, it is an unprecedented organisational collaboration, allowing market competitors to access high-value renewable electricity contracts by acting systemically.

There are a number of pain points for transitioning mid-to-large scale electricity users to renewables. For renewable energy developers, policy uncertainty and a volatile wholesale energy market inhibit industrial-scale deployment. In order to secure debt financing for their asset’s construction, they require long-term power purchase agreements.

On the buyer’s side, deals can involve long, opaque, high-stakes procurement processes requiring high baseline levels of energy literacy.

So although it would appear that the two sides are in alignment – one side wishes to sell renewable energy, one side wishes to buy renewable energy – there are barriers outside the control of each participant inhibiting deals from going through.

A few weeks back, my colleagues Will and Chris at Climate-KIC Australia wrote about catalytic climate action not being dependent solely on policy leadership nor on technology development, but on the connective tissue that can bring the two together. In my mind, BRC-A is a perfect analogy for this.

Software, firmware, hardware

BRC-A is a collaboration between Climate-KIC Australia, WWF and the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS. In my mind, BRC-A is a computing system, where the hardware (renewable energy infrastructure) is accessible to users (energy buyers) thanks to the firmware, or operating system which enables them to speak the same language (BRC-A). The outputs, of course, are more deals done better – but even more than that, the systemic outcome is a shaping and scaling of the renewable energy market. BRC-A works because it tweaks several meaningful levers of influence and change simultaneously to drive systemic outcomes.

For instance, state governments and the federal renewable energy body provide strategic input, and a Technical Advisory Panel of industry experts review the tools, templates, primers and guides, overlaying their rich consulting and development experience on top of the research conducted by  our research team at ISF.

And where we act in the system is also important. We aren’t interested in bringing new renewables technologies to market, or in campaigning for stronger policy to enable transition – although we’d be enthusiastic supporters of both of those things. Our focus is on strengthening that connective tissue that Will and Chris spoke about. We’re interested in providing resources, training and a safe space to speak frankly to help energy buyers navigate what is a complex process. We’re interested in facilitating networking between buyers, developers and service providers. We’re interested in giving developers a platform to win business from organisations who have already flagged their interest.

Solutions to level-up the market

BRC-A operates at the nexus of competition and co-operation. The business model calls for federal and state funding, in roughly equal measure to fees from developers, retailers and financiers, along with service providers that advise on the deals. Buyers don’t have to pay to join – that would only reinforce the barrier. Effectively, sworn competitors are collectively paying for a service that increases the likelihood that any and all players will win business, as more transaction-ready buyers surface.

Our philosophy is that an efficient change at a sensitive intervention point means amplified impact. If BRC-A can succeed in growing the pool of prospective PPA buyers, this ought to be a catalytic process which could unlock significant new wind and solar capacity. Lever: tweaked. Impact: amplified.

It’s been a strong start

Our Buyer Membership currently comprises more than 100 public and private organisations, spanning all major economic sectors, and we aim to double that by the end of the year. Among buyer members and those that have participated in a Buyers Bootcamp, 18 organisations have announced 20 deals, buying more than 700 MW of power annually and supporting well over 3 GW of renewable generation which is equivalent in capacity to 1

Last year our Acting Director Gen Mortimer wrote about the contrast between organisations that only disseminate information and those that aim for deeper engagement through community–building. At BRC-A’s core we build the ecosystem that supports Corporate PPAs critical to accelerating large-scale renewable energy investment across Australia.

What have we learned?

In the case of the BRC-A, cross-organisational collaboration is essential for cross-sectoral outcomes.

While the obvious challenge BRC-A is trying to address is improving the literacy of buyers purchasing renewable power, there are other, related, sub-challenges that need to be addressed in concert for the improved literacy to have somewhere to go in the market. For example, at BRC-A, we also put a lot of energy behind helping developers and service providers to better understand the preferences and barriers of these electricity users (see our annual State of the Market report).

Furthermore, there is a need for all market participants to understand the value of such an undertaking. That is, buying in to the idea that working together, across the renewable energy system, even with (especially with!) market competitors, can and will deliver benefits to all.

Working at BRC-A is an exercise in never being comfortable. It can be a logistical behemoth. Policy conditions fluctuate. And the organisation itself continues to iterate itself: by incorporating Bootcamp participant feedback; exploring new programs of work to accelerate PPA uptake; and seeking new partnerships with industry associations and other NGOs. And being uncomfortable is good. It means we are agile and adaptable to opportunities and changes in the market. We thrive in complexity, and it’s all complexity.

2020 was the definitive boom year for Corporate PPA procurement to date, and 2021 is already shaping up to be a highly active year for announcements. We’re ready.

Finnian Murphy was a Project Officer at the Business Renewables Centre – Australia until March 2021. Drawing from an engineering background in renewable energy and experience consulting for social enterprise, Finnian was involved in managing and delivering projects that connect key cross-sectoral stakeholders to support renewable energy deployment. He has recently taken a position as a Photovoltaics Enginner at Sun Cable.

Maryanne Coffey is the Marketing and Events Officer at the Business Renewables Centre – Australia. Maryanne brings her technical expertise, as well as her extensive experience in policy implementation, stakeholder engagement, project and relationship management towards helping BRC-A increase their impact in key sectors.

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