This seminar is presented by Brett Christophers, Professor, Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University. The seminar is part of the Social Life of Climate Change Michaelmas Term Seminars 2021.

The development of renewable energy resources is currently undergoing a sea-change. With the cost of key (solar and wind) technologies having significantly declined in the past decade, governments are widely reducing or even removing the subsidies and revenue guarantees that have supported the development of renewables to date. The renewables sector is struggling to stand commercially on its own feet, however: without the collateral of state support, it is often difficult for developers to secure affordable project financing. In this talk I discuss both this growing challenge to the energy transition and a principal mechanism to which renewables developers are turning to try to resolve it – the corporate power-purchase agreement (PPA). Under renewables PPAs, corporations ranging from cloud-computing providers to aluminium smelters contract to buy electricity from solar parks or wind farms at fixed or floor prices for periods of up to 15–20 years. Often crucial in enabling developers to raise finance, PPAs have been widely hailed as re-energizing a faltering energy transition. But to rely on the purchasing habits of the likes of Amazon and Google rather than the investment priorities of governments to maintain the shift into renewables is, of course, to raise important political, economic and ecological questions.

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