How investing in unlikely places will accelerate the clean energy transition

  • November 6, 2023
  • /
  • Julia Bell, Chief Commercial Officer

 The clean energy transition is at a tipping point where the decisions made today will have a generational impact. At CleanCapital, we are dedicated to accelerating clean energy through the investment and development of solar and storage assets. As we look across the climate field today, we need to think strategically about how we can use our investments to drive key levers to progress the energy transition. 

We currently invest in early-stage development, new construction, and middle-market operating solar and energy storage projects. As we assess emerging markets, acquisitions, and policy, we aim to partner with developers in order to foster future pipeline opportunities and accelerate the deployment of renewables. Earlier this year we announced our largest capital raise to date of up to $500 million from Manulife Investment. We also crossed over the $1 billion mark of capital deployed into solar and storage projects across the U.S.  

We believe that climate change is the greatest threat we face, and are committed to doing everything we can to invest in the transition to clean energy for the betterment of our planet. It is not about the size of the project but the impact. As we look toward investing our next billion our track record shows the importance of meeting investor return requirements and advancing regions that may be lagging.  

Investing in the least likely

Many regions across the US have been leaders in driving the energy transition through aggressive renewable energy portfolio standards, incentive programs and streamlining interconnection. These measures have brought a number of solar and storage developers and investors to those regions, and this leadership is exactly what we need to drive renewable energy adoption across the nation. However, the energy transition cannot just be for regions that are seeing these kind of incentives – in order to reach our climate goals, we need to be developing, installing and investing in renewable energy in other regions as well.  

Currently, we maintain a portfolio of over 230 operating and new construction projects in 26 states and one U.S. territory, totaling more than 460 MW. While the majority of our projects are in the regions that are leading the nation in renewable energy prodcution, we are always looking for the unlikely regions – ones that really need a first mover to demonstrate the viability and benefits of solar and storage in that area. 

Alaska, which traditionally has been a state strong in natural gas to supply electricity, is a state that only sees the sun for months out of the year. It may seem like Alaska and solar don’t mix. But what many don’t know is that even on partially cloudy days, the sun’s reflection in the clouds can still produce energy captured by solar installations. And with Alaska’s power supplied primarily by traditional carbon-based fuels, it is especially important to demonstrate that renewable energy can work for Alaskans. To push forward the energy transition in Alaska, we partnered with Renewable IPP (RIPP), an Alaska-grown solar developer, to finance solar and storage projects throughout the state, including the 8.5MW project in Houston, AK, which when electrified this autumn, will be the largest solar farm in the state. This project will not only create stable and affordable energy to local residents but also long-lasting economic impact through local job creation and help push forward the clean energy transition by training a local workforce on how to build renewable energy projects. 

We identified a similar investment opportunity on the U.S. territory of Guam. Guam isn’t a well known player but the opportunities are vast to drive forward the islands economy and their renewable energy industry. We have already taken steps to invest in Guam, beginning in July 2022 when we acquired a 36.6 megawatt (MW) solar facility in Inalåhan, Guam. This included the operating Dandan solar farm and rights to the solar development pipeline on the island. Since then, two additional solar plants have been developed. And although the plant generates 6% of the entire island’s electricity generation capacity, there is still more to be done.  

Brownfield to brightfields

One of the key ways to move forward the energy transition is to site projects on underutilized land, so we can preserve both rich agricultural areas and renewable energy sources. As part of our commitment to ensuring the best use for all land, CleanCapital acquired BQ Energy in 2022 – one of the nation’s leading brownfield developers. We’ve found that local communities are especially excited about these projects, which are cleaning up a local eyesore and providing renewable energy without taking away from viewsheds. This triple whammy of producing renewable energy, reusing contaminated sites, and providing clean energy to local communities this approach a clear win. 

Cross industry partnerships

In addition to where we invest, a key driver in moving the energy transition forward is how we invest. We always aim to have our renewable energy projects as a sustainable part of the local community.  More and more, the public is recognizing the threat of climate change as severe weather events become more and more severe. In turn, that is also creating more stakeholder pressure to do more, faster. In order to accelerate the clean energy transition, investors and developers will need to look beyond their current industry and form unlikely partnerships.  

One of the key ways that we do this is by partnering with local farmers in a few different ways. For our landowners that are interested in landscaping, we always prefer to work with them to mow our sites and do vegetation management, to provide a bit of extra income and work with a partner that loves the site as much as we do. Where appropriate, we also work with local shephards to use sheep to maintain the grass at our sites. And all  the sites we build ourselves use pollinator seed mixes to help support the local bee populations and thus support healthy crop yields for our farming neighbors. 

In addition to our current partnership practices, we are always looking for new ways to partner with the community and take a multi-use approach to our sites. As an example of this, we are working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to research the benefits of high latitude agrivoltaics at our Houston AK site. We will be co-locating vegetable and grazing crops, as well as floral plots, with our PV solar array to see the impact of the agrivoltaic approach on crop yield and productivity. This data will inform farmers and solar owners in high latitude areas about the benefits and best practices for agrivoltaics, helping build confidence about a multi-use approach to solar sites. Our team was awarded a prestigious Department of Energy Foundational Agrivoltaics Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) grant to conduct this research, recognizing its importance for pushing forward a sustainable clean energy transition.  

Developing in unlikely places like Alaska or Guam could push the clean energy transition into an elevated state. Now is the time to truly consider emerging markets that may not be considered traditional that will attract the right capital partner. Additionally, a holistic project strategy will set you apart to capture the attention of investors in climate solutions. While we continue to act on opportunities to expand our portfolio, we are increasingly seeking ways to be on the leading edge of investing in new and emerging markets and asset classes that drive the clean energy transition.