Ron Seftel
CEO - Bullfrog Power
Part of the Spotlight on Renewable Energy

Consumer Demand Can Drive the Energy Transition

Takeaways

  1. For-profit social enterprises offer a sustainable solution to environmental problems and can work with non-profits as well as industry to maximize their impact.
  2. While transitioning to 100% clean electricity is manageable in a decade, Canada still has a long way to go when it comes to a 100% clean energy mix.
  3. The demand for renewable energy on the consumer and industry side – known as the voluntary market – is just as influential as supply side changes like innovation in cleantech and public policy.

Action

There is ongoing, positive progress in the development of renewable energy solutions in Canada, but we have a lot of work to do before a 100% renewable or carbon-free economy becomes a reality.


What is Canada’s position in the world when it comes to the development and competitiveness of its renewable energy sector?

Canada is blessed with great assets; we are very fortunate to have a lot of hydroelectric power. Starting with that position, the growth of renewables in the electricity sector is a great compliment to baseload hydropower generation. Hydro is the battery storage; you can throttle it up and down and manage the intermittency that comes with wind and solar by balancing them with hydro. Canada and its government have done a good job of incubating some of those markets.

“The electrification of many parts of the Canadian economy, including transportation, is going to be key for the energy transition.”

Now, we just have to continue on the path to 100% renewably powered; it is not going be easy and Canada needs all the system operators to buy into this goal. We need organizations to start selling more products and services around generation, which will help save peak and balance loads. The electrification of many parts of the Canadian economy, including transportation, is going to be key for the energy transition.


What can companies and the public do to help Canada transition to a zero-emission energy system?

A part of Bullfrog’s mission is to enable consumers to drive industry change. Simply by demanding a lower carbon product and service economy, consumers can influence the type of products and services that companies put forward, and this can influence government regulation. Our focus is on the role of the voluntary market: businesses and individuals making the choice to support renewable energy. There are many great partners that we work with who work on policy reform. We focus our efforts on creating the consumer demand that will help us move to a low-carbon economy.

“With the reduction in the cost of solar energy and increasing importance of storage, the price of renewables will be cheaper than conventional power.”

Bullfrog was started 13 years ago because one of our founders was looking at investing in renewables. He saw an opportunity in a business through which consumers could, for a premium, choose green power for their home, reducing their emissions footprint and supporting the growth of the renewable energy industry in Canada.

“From an electricity standpoint, getting to 100% renewable or carbon-free power is certainly doable within the next decade.”

For companies, their adoption of renewable energy is first and foremost a credible way to reduce their energy-related emissions while helping build values-based brand equity and demonstrating to customers and employees that they are taking action on climate change. Moreover, consumers want to buy products, but they also want to know more about the organizations that create them – and that builds loyalty.


How does Bullfrog Power’s business model differ from others?

Bullfrog Power’s mission is to inspire and empower people to lead the way to a renewably powered future. We do that right now with three products: green electricity, green natural gas, and green fuel.

We work with large utility-scale projects, so that consumers can choose renewable energy without putting solar on their roof or building their own turbine. People want to support the shift to renewables but they want it to be easy, yet meaningful and impactful. When you choose green electricity for your home or business, we ensure the energy put on the grid on your behalf is from clean, renewable sources. We also use customer demand to support the development of new renewable generation.

“Companies’ adoption of renewable energy creates brand value and drives brand loyalty.”

Bullfrog Power is privately held and a unique kind of social enterprise. In its early days we established that in order to drive meaningful change, we would need investment, and a lot of business customers committed to sustainability. We needed a business model that turned out to be based around selling the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Our idea was unique at the time and our approach is certainly unique as well. First, we source high quality renewable energy on our consumers’ behalf and put it into the grid. Second, Bullfrog uses our customers’ support to provide critical financial support to advance new renewable energy projects in communities across Canada. To date, we have supported over 130 community projects. Those could be cooperatives, educational institutions, First Nations’ communities or other community groups. Bullfrog aims to approach the issue at the grassroots level. That also means raising awareness and helping to educate the public about the benefits of renewable energy. We can go into a school in Banff, Alberta, help them fund the installation of solar panels on the roof, which offers educational opportunities to build that into the curriculum so that students understand how solar energy works and what its benefits are. Lastly, our corporate consumers are educating their stakeholders on the topic voluntarily. Combining all these aspects into our product makes our model quite unique.


How has the renewable energy market evolved in recent years and where do you see it going in the future?

We are now starting to talk to some of our customers about getting into more onsite and behind-the-meter solutions. There is a new concept called virtual net metering or community solar gardens, and we are lucky enough to be able to start investing into those markets. As new policies change renewable energy markets across Canada, we want to build up capabilities and services to be well positioned with innovative new offerings for our customers.

“People want to support the shift to renewables but they want it to be easy, yet meaningful and impactful.”

Community involvement and community support has always been one of our values. When we launched in 2005, we were pre-Al Gore and pre-“Inconvenient Truth.” Over the last 13 years, the level of education among consumers has increased. The conversation has moved from education about the problem to solutions: How do we implement? How do we adapt? What does that look like? Our model has always targeted the “voluntary market,” which is made up of individuals and companies who believe that switching to renewable energy is the right thing to do. Large financial institutions and companies like BMO and Unilever as well as smaller businesses like CRAFT Beer Market, Steam Whistle and Moksha Yoga are like-minded in the sense that they understand sustainability. BASF is another large company that has signed on this year. Its motto is “We Create Chemistry,” but it prioritizes sustainability, which is interesting because it produces a lot of intermediate products. It is exciting to be starting our 13thyear by beginning to work with a company like BASF because we are now seeing sustainability moving down the supply chain.


What is your vision for renewable energy adoption in Canada and how do you think the country’s energy mix will evolve over the next decades?

We look at energy in three different buckets. From an electricity standpoint, getting to 100% renewable or carbon-free power is certainly doable within the next decade. Secondly, once all the coal plants are shut down across Canada, natural gas will be the next most carbon-intensive power source to look at. At the same time, energy storage will play a significant role in helping to decarbonize the grid. And yet, it will be tricky to fully transition heating and cooling as well as transportation to renewable energy. Reducing emissions from passenger vehicles and mass transit through electric vehicles plus the potential for utilizing renewable natural gas or biofuels shows some potential in tackling transportation emissions. The big picture is that we are still decades away from a 100% clean energy mix, but we are making progress and moving in the right direction.