The Road to Commercial and Industrial Decarbonization - Steve Schaefer, Head of Origination

Corporate decarbonization can be a long and complicated process, but Amp Energy’s head of Canadian Operations believes C&I organizations can be more than just participants in the transition; they can become leaders in the push to net-zero.

The transition to a low-carbon global economy is increasing the corporate demand for power purchase agreements (PPA’s) as organizations seek to reduce emissions and secure their long-term energy costs. As one of Canada’s leading renewable energy developers, Amp’s vision and technological innovations are reshaping traditional PPA’s and helping the country realize its clean energy future.

Steve Schaefer has been with Amp since its inception in 2009 and now serves as Senior Vice President of Origination and Head of Canadian Operations. A veteran of the energy industry, Steve worked with a technology consulting firm in the late ‘90s as deregulation became a feature of Canada’s largest electricity market. He later worked for Direct Energy as its Eastern Canada Director of Sales and helped launch Direct Energy Business, a new division providing energy solutions for C&I clients. In 2009, while developing advanced energy hedging and risk programs for commercial clients, Steve reconnected with Amp’s future founder Dave Rogers and forged a new era in Canadian renewables.

“As the Canadian market started to evolve in favor of clean energy, we saw both the Green Energy Act and the Green Economy Act launched in 2009, and that’s when we started Amp,” he said. “Our initial focus was selling solar feed-in tariff agreements, and at the time, we were one of the few markets doing that outside of Germany. We quickly established ourselves in our launch market of Ontario as a significant C&I player developing rooftop solar solutions, which was a really core play for us.”

Steve and his team have now developed more than 130MW , primarily in the form of Feed-in-Tariff contracts supplied by solar and, more recently, battery storage assets.

“The genesis of our C&I strategy, which has now developed across every market we’re in, is to solve the challenges associated with corporates and industrials achieving their environmental sustainability targets by providing the most beneficial solutions. This is why Amp is now a top-tier PPA provider globally.”

Developing Effective Net-Zero Roadmaps

With decarbonization being new territory for many C&I organizations, Steve says Amp’s initial role focuses primarily on education, data collection, and strategic planning.

“More and more C&I organizations are making ambitious net-zero pledges, but they don’t always know where to start or how to finance their transition, and that's exactly where we come in,” he said. “Decarbonization and net-zero pledges have quickly become a very compelling space for us. The market is huge and it’s still growing rapidly. Our C&I clients have really awoken to the fact that they can do more than just participate in the energy transition, they can lead it.”

With clients across a broad range of sectors and industries, Steve believes it’s critical to adopt an individualized approach to meet each organization’s specific needs, both now and in the future. “Every market is unique and has its own nuances, and for our C&I partners, the road to decarbonization can be a very steep learning curve,” he said. “First and foremost, our initial role is really about education and understanding their end-state to develop the most effective energy transition roadmap.”

“The RE100 list has a renewable energy shortfall of around 250 terawatt-hours between now and 2030, so there’s clearly a huge opportunity in the energy transition space.”

Despite the almost exponential growth of renewables in recent years, Steve says there can still be some initial hesitancy in making the transition to clean energy. “There can be some stigma that renewable energy is more expensive or more difficult, and so a large role for us is educating our clients about the economics, their capabilities, and what their energy potential is at the end of their transition.”

With a growing portfolio of solar, wind, and battery assets throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, Steve says Amp’s global footprint is key to delivering effective PPA solutions.

“We’re currently working with a very large real estate company with millions of square feet across numerous countries and jurisdictions, and they’re looking for a broad solution that doesn’t just meet their requirements in one market, but across all of them,” he said. “That’s where scale is one of our critical advantages. It can be difficult to finance an individual organization or platform, but at Amp, we have the ability to aggregate that marketplace and provide comprehensive solutions that lower costs while enhancing an organization’s capabilities.”

A Holistic Approach to Decarbonization

With the impacts of climate change driving the transition to a low-carbon global economy, Amp’s role has quickly evolved from supplying clean energy solutions to complete decarbonization strategies. And in the increasingly competitive renewable energy sector, Steve says one of Amp’s key differentiators is its holistic approach to C&I energy transitions.

“There are many organizations that have taken small steps in the decarbonization space to date, but have now either generated their own net-zero target or had one imposed upon them, as we’re often seeing in Europe at the moment,” he said. “Decarbonization doesn’t rely on one single pillar. The only way to reach these goals is through a holistic approach that encompasses supply, demand, and efficiency optimization behind the meter.”

“We take a consultative, data-driven approach to get our C&I customers on a path that aligns their progression, targets, and scale throughout the transition.”

Amp’s unique approach can combine renewable generation with battery storage and its proprietary digital energy platform, Amp X. “We’re now integrating and unifying real asset development with our Amp X platform, combining supply and demand through a digital platform with a single optimization engine,” he said. “So we’re taking all the energy nodes, whether they’re consumption, generation, or both combined with storage, and providing the unique capability to optimize behind the meter.”

Steve says that while many decarbonization efforts focus primarily on green electricity, Amp’s holistic approach enables organizations to develop a comprehensive energy strategy. “We deploy a full array of solutions, combining solar, batteries, and our digital platform Amp X to deliver a wide breadth of services. Ultimately, we look beyond renewable energy and seek to unlock latent flexibility and show our clients where the additional value is within their organization.”

Unlocking Energy Flexibility with Amp X

The development and evolution of the Amp X digital energy platform has been something of a revelation in the PPA space. Working in conjunction with renewable energy assets, Amp X is designed to unlock new levels of optimization and flexibility, enabling C&I customers to potentially generate new revenue streams via participation in energy markets.

“Historically, organizations have been price-takers that haven’t been able to affect their costs or take control of how they use energy,” Steve said. “Once we’re able to introduce the Amp X platform and marry it with the real assets such as battery storage, rooftop solar, or even EV charging infrastructure, it really opens up a whole new set of capabilities for an organization. We can help them move closer to the center of the energy ecosystem and become ‘prosumers’ that monetize flexibility,” he said.

The end goal is to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to autonomously control a facility’s consumption and use energy when it’s cheapest and greenest. “Several Canadian markets are perfect for us as there are such high demand charges and high energy costs,” Steve said. “Once you have that digital layer, you can optimize how each load operates, or how it provides flexibility to an organization or potentially even back to the market. For our C&I customers, Amp X has the potential to fundamentally change the game and put them on a lower cost trajectory.”

With Canada shifting towards electrification and electric vehicles (EV’s) gaining momentum, Steve says Amp X’s platform will become even more critical. With a growing number of C&I organizations looking to deploy EV’s at scale, they often underestimate how much they can impact demand charges and overall energy costs.

“If you’re trying to optimize EV charging, particularly in markets with high demand charges or time of use rates, having a platform that manages charging is a distinct advantage,” Steve said. “It maximizes value using a data engine that continuously learns and autonomously optimizes the way these fleets charge, discharge, and use power based on the ideal tariffs. Simply put, the economic benefits are massive.”

The Growing Role of Energy Storage in PPA’s

Amp is rapidly establishing itself as a global leader in the energy storage space, with an expanding portfolio of standalone assets and hybridized systems pairing batteries with solar or wind. In addition to extending the reach of renewable generation, energy storage is also quickly emerging as an effective way to reduce peak energy demand.

“Here in Ontario, we have some of the highest demand charges in the world, known as the Global Adjustment, which can be up to 60% of a corporate’s energy bill,” he said. “So, we can really utilize storage to attack these business problems such as high demand charges. In Canada’s largest electricity market, every megawatt of peak demand we shave, when the grid is at peak capacity, can equate to almost $500,000 in annual energy savings.”

“Battery storage is a massive enabler that unlocks incredible flexibility and a host of unique economic benefits.”

In addition to reducing costs and emissions, Steve and his team are also starting to deploy battery storage for resiliency purposes. “We’ve been working with municipalities as well as some of our C&I partners to pair rooftop solar with battery storage to create energy resilient buildings,” he said. “With the battery technology in development today, along with massive cost reductions, it will be economical to achieve significantly more hours of storage in the future, which will be incredibly powerful from an energy resiliency perspective.”

With falling costs and a growing list of benefits, Steve believes battery storage is becoming increasingly critical for organizations to achieve net-zero targets and stay competitive in the market.

“We’re seeing battery prices following a similar price curve to solar ten years ago, and combined with a lot more information in the market around storage and how it increases value, batteries are now informing more and more business models,” he said. “For manufacturers, we can also use battery storage to smooth out grid fluctuations and avoid plant floor interruptions, so it’s rapidly becoming more applicable and cost-effective in that space too.”

The Value of Long-Term Commitment

One of Amp’s core focuses has always been a long-term commitment to its markets, customers, and projects. As the developer, owner, and operator of its renewable energy assets, combined with PPA lengths of up to 20 years , Steve says his team’s dedication to each customer’s success has been one of Amp’s defining factors since day one.

“In the early days as a startup, I think it’s fair to say we were punching above our weight class in terms of what we were able to achieve and the results we delivered,” he said. “We really commit to our C&I clients for the long-term by dedicating as many resources as we can and always look for new ways to support and accelerate their energy transition.”

“We started Amp Energy to try and change the world, and we’ve been able to grow with our clients by having a bold vision and delivering long-term value.”

“One of our first long-term corporate engagements was with IKEA, and they had a bold vision from the very start that really energized the entire organization. So it’s almost impossible not to be excited about this decarbonization space and working with great companies that are embracing the future of energy.”

With an ambitious goal to become the world’s first energy transition supermajor, Amp seeks to forge long-lasting partnerships that benefit all stakeholders involved. Steve believes Amp’s agile and forward-thinking nature creates a unique value proposition in the competitive renewable energy market.

“We’re passionate, we’re committed, and we see every opportunity as a long-term play. In all of our markets, we embrace partnering with progressive organizations that we can support and grow with by achieving their decarbonization goals together.”

The Future of the C&I Energy Transition

With many Canadian corporations now pledging to achieve net-zero by 2050 or earlier, Steve says the rapid emergence of clean liquid fuels will help Amp to enhance its energy offerings.

“There are specific sectors that are very difficult to abate, such as mining, shipping and transport, and heavy manufacturing, and in addition to renewable energy, I think economic green hydrogen has a very large role to play,” he said. “We’re starting to see huge interest, and many of our clients and prospects are already looking to make commitments and investments in it.”

The growth of green hydrogen was strengthened by the Canadian government’s announcement of the Hydrogen Strategy Steering Committee in early 2021. Composed of senior leaders from around the country, the committee aims to increase Canada’s role in the global hydrogen market, which is expected to be worth almost $12 trillion by 2050.

“I think green hydrogen is going to be a big part of the complex at some point, and it’s accelerating much faster than many people realize. And with a potential carbon price of $170 per ton in the future, it’s a great incentive,” he said. “I think Canada will inevitably become a major player in the green hydrogen space, and Amp will be right there leading the charge.”

Amid the rapid progress of Canada’s C&I decarbonization efforts, Steve is excited by the scale of the opportunities that lie ahead. “The renewable energy market here in Canada is really interesting. It’s evolved from feed-in tariffs to one that’s now standing on its own feet economically, and we see here, perhaps more so than in other markets, that the C&I space is leading this transition,” he said.

“It’s breathtaking to see how many organizations here, both large and small, are making that net-zero pledge, and my team and I here at Amp are excited to support our commercial and industrial partners in achieving this vision.”