It’s great to see that the SolutionWind campaign has been generating a buzz at COP21, the United Nations climate change talks in Paris. One of the key messages of the campaign is that many of the world’s biggest companies are using wind as their primary renewable energy source. The roll-call of Chief Executives going on the record to highlight the key role of wind energy in their business model is impressive, as it includes the CEOs of the likes of Google, Ikea, Lego, Unilever and BNP Paribas, among many others.
Unilever has committed to using 40% renewable energy, including wind, by 2020, as well as working towards a 100% goal in the future. Their Chief Executive Paul Polman has been taking an assertive stance, commenting that in some parts of the world “we’re still seeing too many fossil fuel subsidies and we need government support to level the playing field”.
Amen to that – we’re advocating fair competition in which newer technologies are nurtured, planning laws are balanced so that they don’t penalise one technology while promoting another, and there’s a recognition that polluters must take financial responsibility for their emissions.
It’s good to see that Mr Polman recognises the strong business case for energy efficiency too, with his company consuming 20% less than it did in 2008 - even though it’s continuing to grow. As a result, the company has already saved an amount of energy equivalent to the quantity needed to run 40 factories – a good example of how business is doing its bit to tackle climate change.
The Chief Executive at BNP Paribas, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, notes that the investment case for wind energy is clear: it’s a mature technology with a successful track record of introducing technological innovations, it provides a predictable revenue stream and it’s increasing economically competitive.
His last point is particularly applicable to onshore wind here in the UK, where it’s one of the most cost-effective of all our energy sources. That’s one of the reasons why we’re working so hard to ensure it has a future. We need to see onshore wind farm projects included in future CfD auction rounds, as well as measures to ensure that householders, farmers and small businesses can generate their own power using small and medium-scale wind energy, so that we can continue to demonstrate that renewables offer good value for money.
There are many other great examples. Lego has invested £288m in an offshore wind farm and has a long-term goal of producing more renewable energy than the power it uses. Google powers 35% of its operations through long term Power Purchase Agreements mostly from wind energy. The company says these are attractive because they’re cost-competitive and offer long-term visibility in terms of pricing – and predictability is a valuable commodity.
For these successful companies, wind makes good business sense, so they’re making substantial, long-term investments in onshore and offshore wind energy.
I’ve noticed that Unilever’s Paul Polman has been particularly pro-active yet again in the last few days, praising the British Government for committing £5.8bn to a climate resilience fund to help the poorest nations most affected by global warming, as well as sticking to its policy of providing 0.7% of GDP for development aid.
He’s also right to continue to hammer away on other important issues. He told the BBC that “there are also some areas where I would expect the UK obviously to be a little bit more progressive, for example the risk of reducing the subsidies for wind or solar would send the wrong signal at this point in time."
When business leaders are lining up to argue the robust economic case for providing political backing for wind energy, all parties would do well to listen. COP21 has provided an ideal forum for the debate to be aired on the world stage. If we are to tackle climate change effectively, wind is a big part of the solution.