Template.png

Reid Spolek

Senior Energy Lead

Google

August 24, 2021
  • iTunes
  • Spotify
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
Ep 41: Reid Spolek - Senior Energy Lead, Google
00:00 / 01:04

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
We are here today with Reid Spolek. He is the Senior Energy Lead at Google. Welcome to Energy Impact Podcast, Reid.

Reid Spolek
Great, thanks. Great to be here.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, wonderful to have you. We're obviously going to talk a lot about some of the amazing work that Google is doing in order to achieve decarbonisation targets, reach its goals to decarbonize a lot of the work that you're focused on in terms of data centers, and the global footprint by 2030. But I would love to actually just start by getting to know you and learning a little bit more about your background, how you got into the energy space, kind of, from the start. What was your first foray into energy and the energy technology space?

Reid Spolek
Sure. Well, yeah, thanks for having me. We're excited to talk a little bit more about what Google's doing in this space. In terms of the story of how I landed here, I mean, I guess it starts with me being a crunchy Pacific Northwesterner who grew up traipsing around the woods and the mountains and just appreciating the beauty that was around us. The outdoors meant everything to me. And as I progressed in my career, I graduated from Northwestern, started getting into business and management, consulting and private equity, and pretty quickly tried to figure out, how do I take this sort of business focus and direct it into this climate crisis that I was passionate about. What I ended up doing is going to business school at Berkeley at Haas, which has an energy program and specialized in energy there. While I was at Berkeley, I helped start an energy storage startup with a couple engineering professors there, focused on flywheel technology, which is not as mainstream as some of the lithium ion, but it's a unique and potentially very important technology in its own right. But that was my cool experience at going up and down Sand Hill Road, trying to raise funds, trying to write a business plan, and get some of this knowledge of all the different ways in which the capital and the funding in this space is trying to go into new technologies. And at the time, I remember trying to think, where's going to be, where do I go after business school? And all of my colleagues, everyone was going on what I thought of as the supply side of this equation, solar companies and wind companies and utilities. And I thought, that's what I was going to do too. As I started asking around, I think I started to dawn on the whole demand side of the conversation. At the time, there was this burgeoning industry of data centers and cloud computing and massive amount of power that, at the time, was also starting to get looked at for, Hey, what is the true environmental impact of all this power that is being consumed? Google, at the time, was fairly well ahead of the game - we can talk a little bit later about what Google was doing at the time - but for me, I was still learning about this space. What I ended up doing is going and working at Amazon, specifically their cloud computing division called Amazon Web Services. I worked in a variety of roles there focused on powering their data centers and ended up leading the first big renewable energy transaction that Amazon did. It was a wind farm in Indiana. And next thing you know, Amazon was launching a renewable energy practice and, by a combination of fortune and just being at the right place at the right time, I was there to launch that part of their business. Now, if you look at Amazon, Amazon, like Google, is one of the largest renewable energy buyers in the world. And I'm super excited and happy and grateful for that team and all that they're getting to do and feel very fortunate that I was able to be there for the start of that journey. Now, I've been here at Google for about three and a half years doing very similar work and look forward to telling you a little bit more about what we're doing on that front.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely, yeah. I think it would be maybe helpful for our audience to understand, kind of- so you said that Amazon is a major purchaser of renewable energy. But Google, if I have this correctly, is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. Just to kind of set the stage for us, obviously data centers are a large consumer or a large energy requirement. What are some of the other segments of that pie that make up Google's overall energy footprint? And just how large of that are data centers in particular?

Reid Spolek
Sure, well, you nailed it. The data centers really are the lion's share of the energy. If you think about all the products that Google is running for all of our customers - from Google search, to ads, and YouTube, and Gmail - all of that is ultimately run on physical servers around the world that are using a lot of energy. We always are quick to point out that it's a whole lot less energy than if you were running all that on a server in the back of your home. Or sometimes you'll be walking down to like a like a hotel hallway, and you'll see a door that says "Server Room" on it. That's the old, much less efficient way in which all of this used to be run. And now everybody's moving to the much more consolidated computing world that that Google is a part of. But we still use a lot of energy. And in the scheme of Google's overall footprint. Data Centers are well more than 90%, with the others being things like corporate headquarters, other operations and businesses that Google runs around the world. But I think it's fair to say that the data centers are really the big chunk that we're spending most of our time chasing after.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. So you mentioned that, before your time, Google had started taking steps to increase the share of renewable energy supplying some of this energy demand. Can you walk us a little bit through that history and get us up to the point to where it was when you came onto the scene?

Reid Spolek
Sure. Google has been focused on this since, well, at the early stages of Google as a company. Google was actually the first company of its scale to actually achieve carbon neutrality way back in 2007. That was done back at the time with the only real tool there was, which would be carbon credits. Carbon credits-

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Can I ask on that? How did Google define carbon neutrality way back when it was still very much a, honestly, at that time, a pretty new term for people to get on board with?

Reid Spolek
Definitely, and one of the things of being the first is that definitional question. When we say we're going to be carbon neutral, what does that mean? One thing we always try to do is at least define how we're measuring it, so if others are measuring it differently, at least everybody's transparent about it. At the time, it was using carbon credits, so you go out and measure your carbon footprint, and you'd go buy the equivalent number of carbon offsets or carbon credits in the market, based on what was available at the time. And then we say that, okay, we've been covering our overall carbon footprint with these carbon credits. I think we were the first to say - we'd be the first to say then and now - that that was by far the panacea. It was, we are trying to figure out what we can do at the time and constantly evolve. Shortly after that, we started pushing into this idea of, Hey, how about we go enter into these large, renewable energy purchases to directly buy renewable energy? At the time, this term power purchase agreement was not common in the commercial energy space like it is now, but we really had to figure out how does an individual buyer enter into one of these power purchase agreements like a utility did. I believe our first PPA we signed in 2011 and from there, we started entering into more and more of these power purchase agreements all around the world. At one point, we set the goal of we want to cover 100% of our global usage with renewable energy purchased through these direct energy purchases, and actually first achieved that goal in 2017. We became the first company of our size to achieve that milestone and it didn't stop there. We also achieved that in 2018, and 2019, and 2020. So in every year, even as our load and our footprint has grown, we've continued to meet that goal by continuing to make sure we're buying enough renewable energy to match our global footprint.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. So now it's 2021 and we have, obviously, a large runway for things moving to the cloud, increasing our need for data processing, and centralized facilities, not just in the United States, but globally. We also have kind of a global mandate to transition more than just certain company's carbon footprints to be carbon-free, and to completely decarbonize kind of everywhere. As we're looking at the next nine years - and I'm using 2030, because that's, obviously, Google's big target for achieving 100% carbon-free energy in their operations globally - let's talk about how that looks for you and for your team going forward, and how you're setting out the pathway to ensure that your global operations actually can meet that goal. But to kind of narrow that question down, let's focus just on data centers and kind of where you're focusing on your operations right now. Let's frame the location. Obviously, Google has a lot of operations in United States, but globally as well, in terms of data centers. Where all are we talking about? Where are the majority of the data centers that Google operates? And where might new ones be coming online in the future, where these types of PPAs and potentially direct contracts with new renewable, or other clean sources of energy are being focused right now?

Reid Spolek
I think you're getting at one of the big challenges of these goals is a location-based one. To answer your question, we have data centers all over the world, in the United States, but also elsewhere in the Americas, for example, in Chile. We have several across Europe and in Asia Pacific. We're in Taiwan, we're in Singapore, and we're increasingly in more and more of these countries. We build all these data centers in order to be closer to our customers in terms of what they want, the services they want, the service latency they want. And as Google grows, we're going to keep growing data centers, these large data center campuses in more and more countries and in more and more states, while continuing to grow the campuses that we already have. So even if we were to- the list of countries on our plate right now is not necessarily the list of countries that are in our scope for our goal, because we need to cover all the countries that we'll ultimately be in. You had asked about the location. I think that's an important distinction. When we say 100% renewable energy matching, the way that goal is typically measured, and the way we have measured it is that, on an overall annual basis, and on a global basis, we buy as much renewable energy as all of those data centers use. But those aren't necessarily matched on hour for hour or location for location basis. If you look at some of our discussion papers that outline a lot of our data, for example, you'll see that we, for example, historically have bought maybe more wind in windy places like Oklahoma, or in the Nordics in Europe, and less in places where renewables are just harder to get done in places like Singapore. So naturally, to meet our global average, some of that overbuying in some countries is going to offset, quote unquote, under buying in other regions. And that's why, when we talk about this 100% carbon-free goal, that's a really important distinction, because it does zero in, you have to do this in each grid. in which each of your data centers are. And for the technical folks, we define that as balancing authority, so the different balancing authorities within the US, for example. And so we really need to drill into each location and solve each of those locations, which significantly increases the difficulty of this challenge for us to achieve. And as you pointed out, we've set this goal of doing this carbon-free goal by the end of 2030.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And that goal, you mentioned the difference between annual averages and hourly. Is the 2030 goal tied to the hourly definition?

Reid Spolek
Correct. So our nomenclature for this, we often call it our 24/7 goal and it's a name that others have taken up as well. It is, for every hour of every day 24/7, we are matching 100% of our hourly usage with 100% carbon-free energy. Now, that gets really important as we get into some of the more policy questions, some of the more technology questions, because there's the classic - you'll hear it any time you talk to a utility - the sun doesn't always shine, the wind doesn't always blow, so what do you do during those other hours? And that really gets at the meat of this challenge. I can talk a little bit about some of the ways we're starting to address it. We have these heat maps where you can see every single hour on this color scale, where we are on that hourly level, and we can find those bogeys and those targets of those much more dark grey hours that we say, Okay, those are low carbon content hours, what can we do to go structure some sort of procurement in order to address those hours?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, and of course, you're also looking not just at existing data center locations, but there's also the possibility that you might want to build a new data center in a place that doesn't already have the low carbon infrastructure that would enable you to kind of build the data center, but also meet your targets. How does your team look at that in terms of long-term planning? And are there any countries or regions right now that you have to put back further into the development timeline because of these critical infrastructure decisions? Because this isn't just Google asking for countries to push forward their renewable energy targets, but it's also, of course, up to decision makers and policymakers in these countries. It sounds like quite a geopolitical task here, to both provide a service in a region, which is what you're coming in to do in terms of business development, but also work within the existing policy landscapes and infrastructure, landscapes and planning landscapes of that local region. Can you talk about some of those complexities and how that affects your long-term planning?

Reid Spolek
Sure, I mean, you nailed it. One of the big questions we start with is, Hey, we want to bring what's usually a quite sizable investment in a large data center campus to a given country or given metropolitan area. And so we often have a lot of conversations with policymakers there about what are the ways we can establish it so that it makes business sense for us to go build there. One of the first questions on that list is how do we meet our sustainability goals and our 24/7 carbon-free energy goal? We're looking at the policy structures, the regulatory structures, the technology availability, the business environment for procuring that type of renewable and carbon-free energy that we'd like to, and that is often not a conversation that's just had in that first meeting. This is often a, let's set some goals and what we need to achieve and work with you on what needs to happen. I think the big improvement over the last several years is we're often not the only large buyer at the table in those conversations. A lot of our peers are also approaching these policymakers asking for, if not the exact same, very similar things. And it's sort of this, we can almost frame it as a as a bulk deal for these policymakers. If you weren't able to put X, Y and Z in place to allow us - and let's be clear, it's us compensating for this, we wouldn't ask to put any of that cost on ratepayers - to be able to procure the carbon for energy that we are asking for. And you could not just have Google coming and expanding, but potentially multiple other large corporations that want to invest in that space. I think the other piece that has been very helpful over the last few years is we've had a number of what we like to think of are pretty exciting successes in that in that realm. I'll use Alabama as an example.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Roll tide, I'm from Alabama.

Reid Spolek
Okay, well, there you go, roll tide. We can't improve much yet on the football program, but hopefully we can provide things in terms of, from a regulatory, what we're trying to achieve from a carbon-free energy standpoint. We talked to the large utility in that part of Alabama, TVA, about what we were trying to achieve and what was available within their system. We did two things there. One, we talked through a number of the coal plants that they had that they were in the middle of retiring for both economic and environmental reasons. We actually identified one where they were going to be retiring it and, by bringing in a data center, we could help facilitate that process. And oh, by the way, this is a large electrical facility with all of this existing electrical infrastructure that ties into the grid. Data centers want access to large electrical infrastructure. This is overly simplistic, but we swapped out a supply for a demand in that same location using effectively the same electrical infrastructure. It was this great story that TVA could use to help retire a coal plant and we had a lot of the existing infrastructure already there that we'd want on day one. Those are types of- just to me, scream to be replicated, and all these other places where a lot of utilities are trying to find ways to retire their coal plants faster than they are currently. People like us are out there encouraging them to retire these coal plants. And we can come with a pretty nifty solution for how to swap those out. So that's an example of where us coming to a community helped sort of ease that process for an existing challenge that a lot of the local policymakers had. Another one, I'd point to a place like Taiwan. Taiwan, being an island country, has typically really focused on a lot of this sort of inherent fossil fuel generation that is often necessary in an enclosed Island like that. There's just the way the physics work. So when we came into Taiwan, we worked a lot with the regulator saying, Hey, we're going to need to find ways to procure renewable energy. Right now, our options with the incumbent utility are limited in almost entirely fossil base. We spent the process of multiple years working in new laws to allow individual customers like us to choose what type of resource we wanted to procure from. This was really starting from scratch with them. They did not have these laws on the book. We had to write them with them, think through all of the implications both for us, but also all of the other stakeholders and customers and regulatory players. And that was a long process, but we got to the point where we were able to - I believe it was in 2019 - put those -actually, I believe it was 2018 - put those rules into the books that allowed large customers like us to procure our own renewable energy if we wanted to. We shortly thereafter did our first renewable energy deal in Taiwan. It's a solar farm and it's actually pretty cool. Because land is so hard to come by in a lot of these smaller island countries, we took this industrial fishing pond where there's all these landforms that form the barriers between all these different fishing ponds - almost imagine like a honeycomb format - that we put solar farms along the embankments of all of these different land edges that, when added up, can generate quite a bit of power, but with land that was otherwise not being used. There are all these other cool second order effects about how the shade and the ecosystem helps other parts of the biology and the fish. Lots of that can be its own other conversation, but it's an example of a country having a challenge with trying to figure out how to integrate renewable energy while attracting new business. And when we get in early and start talking through these different challenges, that's what Google likes to do is, let's take these big challenges and figure them out together, because we're willing to take some risks and we're willing to put in that time.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, it's also really interesting, right, because when you look across the corporate landscape, in terms of companies that have not only the technology that a country might find attractive from an economic perspective, like having a data center located there, but also, the company itself is large enough that it can dedicate enough time and enough expertise and enough resources to actually work with a country or municipality or a utility, to ensure that these things are actually done in the most beneficial way for all parties, not just for the eventual procurer of that energy, but also ensuring that other players that might come in, be they other data centers, other industrial players who are looking to decarbonize, or really just any other business activity that's looking to locate there, you're essentially paving the way with an organization that is able to do so given your size and your deep knowledge of expertise across a lot of these areas, where smaller organizations might not be able to do that, or even local organizations might not have the resources to do that. I'm curious kind of on the global scale, this was one example, I think over roughly a five-year period in Taiwan. Let's assume the Alabama example you gave was a several year period as well. How many of these types of deals do you have - or maybe deals is not the right word - but projects that take a long time are in the pipeline today, and that you can kind of see eventually changing the energy landscape through this type of community development, if you will?

Reid Spolek
I think it's fair to say virtually anywhere where we have large energy footprints, we are actively in those conversations. Some of them are more nascent, and some of them are quite far advanced. Even this 24/7 carbon-free energy goal that we set was not one that we just thought up in a whiteboarding session and then published. We'd spent quite a bit of time with thought leaders, with think tanks, with different governments talking through the implications of this and said, Hey, if we were to set this goal for ourselves, what would that mean for you all? What would be our mechanisms with which to achieve this? And it took a lot of that thinking and planning to get us getting to the point of confidence where, Hey, we're going to set this goal and we're going to set it for 2030, because we've talked to enough folks and thought through enough mechanisms that we think that is achievable, even as ambitious and some days intimidating as that sounds today. And I think since we've made that announcement, some of the other things that have come on to us have really helped validate that there's some reality to this. Recently, you might have seen President Biden's administration has also committed to a 24/7 carbon-free energy goal for all the federal buildings. And when you add them up, the federal government has a lot of buildings that use a lot of power. And so there's just huge second order effects. We've had that same- we have been outside of Des Moines with our data center campus for a long time, very familiar with the City Council there. We were excited to see that they also set their own 24/7 carbon-free energy goal as a city council and you'll see other corporations and our peers setting similar goals, as well. Iron Mountain set a 24/7 commitment. I believe, most recently, Microsoft announced their next set of goals that are measured on an hourly 24/7 level. And it feels that same way back when we'd first achieved carbon neutrality at the time, and we're thinking about this 100% renewable energy goal, how daunting and ambitious it felt at the time. And then when we achieved it in 2017, other companies were just quickly doing this in the same way. And I truly feel, and I know the company, we would not have made this commitment if we didn't feel that it's going to be the same way with this hourly way of measuring the carbon intensity of our operations.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So you've mentioned the impact on, obviously, policy and decision makers, but you previously talked a little bit about how you're able to potentially work with other players who are looking to have carbon-free energy in a given sector. Can you talk a bit about how, what that process is like and how you're able to form consortia or partners even to ensure that all boats rise with the tide as you're looking to help a certain area decarbonize and produce electricity for a plethora of businesses and needs.

Reid Spolek
Sure, I think there is a whole wide range of the types of partners we work with on these types of things. One that we're increasingly spending a lot more time on is directly with our Google customers, our Google Cloud customers, who are moving to the cloud, in part for sustainability reasons. They don't want this usually highly inefficient data center they might have. They want to move over to, say, Google's cloud, which is, on average, much more efficient, is already covered with 100% renewable energy, and allows them to meet a lot of their own sustainability goals. I'll use, one of my personal favorites from growing up, National Geographic. I mentioned being the crunchy environmentalist kid, seeing all those cool pictures was a big part of my growing up. Well, now National Geographic is so much of that is digital and they've moved their whole digital library over to the Google Cloud, in part because of the environmental impact of doing so. I think their most recent estimate was something like 19,000 pounds of coal was not having to be burned or the equivalent of because of that move. There are just some really big numbers you can get right off the bat with some of these customer transitions that we're seeing. I think we're also seeing a lot of what we might refer to as peer companies and kind of comparing notes and combining forces on a lot of what we're trying to do. If you think about a lot of the big name cloud companies out there, on Wall Street, or on the Wall Street Journal, we're framed as competitors in a lot of these different ways. And in a lot of the ways we are, but in the world of trying to figure out our carbon-free energy goals, we are very much allies and rooting for each other, because their success begets our own success, and vice versa. We're all working to open up the market for others. We're all trying to drive the cost of all this renewable energy down. And I guess, forgive my cheesiness, it's all one planet. We're all trying to save the same climate, so we're all rooting for each other and that way, and I think it's a pretty cool way that these different companies get to work together. One example of that that jumps to mind is the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance. This is a group of companies that have come together, basically, just to share notes and find ways to collaborate. We often all have these different siloed function like my own, where we're thinking about energy and kilowatt hours and capacity factors all day, within a broader company, that that's not their core business. Well, now those different groups can talk, meet up and think about contract terms and think about different technology advancements and different risks that somebody might not have thought about. There's been just a ton of really great learning that has come out of that. And that group has just continued to both accelerate the members of it to compare notes, but also constantly bringing in other new corporations who are starting to make these investments, set these goals. There's this follow-on effect that's been really cool to see as someone who has my share of battle scars for how difficult that can be getting our organization off the ground to set those goals. It's really exciting to see that there are some doors being open for others as time has progressed.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, I mean, I think there are quite a few of these kind of collaborative standards, if you will, organizations or membership organizations. There's obviously REBA, as you mentioned, RE100, and several others. I'm curious how you see the influence of that coalition approach making these processes actually more efficient. Are there any kind of particular examples you can point to where maybe, for example, standards were shared or best practices were shared, or even tasks were divvied up in a way that made the whole group able to be more successful, or at least more efficient toward striving towards some of these goals that we all collectively share?

Reid Spolek
We're having a number of those conversations right now. Hopefully we'll have some good news to share at some point soon. But those conversations are a bit going on, live behind the scenes in a lot of these ways, so I don't want to share too much on that just yet. But one example where there was a very clear bringing together of different companies was with TVA. TVA, right now, has a program called Green Invest where different corporations are allowed to subscribe directly to renewable energy projects that TVA then goes and signs power purchase agreements with and then delivers the renewable energy and any kind of economic associated impact directly to the customers, as a way, in a market that is otherwise fully regulated, to allow sort of a proxy of customer choice for specific renewable energy products. That did not just come out of the blue. To TVAs credit, we spent a long time working through with them, as a large regulated utility, who also happens to be a federal entity, there's a lot of challenges for things they need to do and change in order to put these types of options in place. And Google had lots of our share of conversations in Chattanooga, but so did a lot of the other companies and you're seeing them announce a lot of their own deals with TVA following on, the Facebooks of the world, the General Motors of the world. A lot of the local universities started participating in this program. And that's just the example of there were different customers who, solving for different things, some of them might have different states within TVA service territory that they were trying to solve for. Some of them only wanted solar. Others wanted to integrate in energy storage, for example, and all these different players that we all brought to the table. And TVA was able to make the case internally to say, Hey, it's not just Google. We have this whole roster of customers who are interested in this program, and we structured it in this very careful way so as to ensure not putting any burden on any other ratepayers while also meeting the needs and desires of these growing datacenter loads or industrial loads and we're able to make that work. I think, oftentimes, from the outside looking in, we see these press releases or these announcements of these new programs, and the press releases, by their nature, do not talk about the years of meetings and the whiteboards in musty conference rooms and those late-night coffees where we were talking through all these wonky details, but those were a big part of what happened. We want to give credit to the TVAs of the world who are willing to sit down and say, Hey, these are important valid concerns we're hearing from our customers. Let's talk it out.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, and what's really freat about that, it's- what you're saying is, at the end of the day, it's utilities like TVA and maybe the local political leadership, or those types of decision makers are the ones who ultimately structure these types of environments where this is possible for organizations to locate, and have clean energy for their operations. But what's, again, kind of great about this, what Google is doing with its global operations, is you're able to take these best practices that you learn through TVA or in Taiwan, and then bring that somewhere like the Netherlands and share all these learnings. Obviously, there are different stakeholders and different motivations in each, but you're still able to have this global, we're all trying to save the world approach, which seems ultimately to be a much more efficient way to make this a much more successful program across all global operations. I think that's great. I do want to-

Reid Spolek
I would just add there, you'd mentioned that sort of follow-on effect. At the end of the day, I'm still a business guy and capitalism still works. What also works is selling counterparties that, Hey, this could be a big business for you. If you were to develop this product, there's a lot of customers wanting this and at the end of the day, willing to pay for it and willing to subscribe to it. We've had a lot of really productive conversations with, not necessarily regulated utilities, but unregulated independent power producers and companies of that nature that are trying to build businesses that are increasingly focused around, how do we solve the carbon-free energy needs of a lot of these large customers that are unsatisfied with their choices. One I'll highlight that we announced recently, and I was pretty involved with, was the deal we announced in Virginia with AES Corporation. That was kind of the first supply structure of its kind that was, think of it as an all-in-one 24 /7 deal. The way it works is we sign a long-term supply agreement with AES for some of our data centers in Virginia, and in exchange, they go out and they build this portfolio of renewable and other forms of carbon-free energy assets, and carefully structured in a way so that they can deliver us a guaranteed threshold of 90% carbon-free energy when measured on an hourly basis. All we have to do is basically pay our bill that shows up on a monthly basis, like any energy customer does, and they manage all of it on the back end for an all-in fixed price. That was attractive enough to us that we were able to execute on it. Trust us, we were part of a- we have finance orgs at Google who are looking closely at all of these numbers and had to go through a lot of scrutiny in order to execute this type of deal we did with AES. But I I say that because, well, we put in a lot of work upfront with AES thinking through the structure, thinking about all the trade-offs of the different portfolios, the way to build in different contract terms to account for different scenarios, especially because the whole point was we were going to hand the keys over to AES and say, You drive this thing so we don't have to procure all of our own renewable energy in Virginia. There was a lot of work upfront, but now we have this model and really this deal structure that is replicable in places where you have access to this market energy. And I know AES has launched this whole clean energy business unit, in large part to provide this type of structure to other customers who want to do this type of thing. And so, while we are also talking to multiple counterparties for ways to replicate this structure elsewhere, one of the things we're most excited about is the scalability of the same structure that AES and other customers- and other providers can provide to other customers who may not have a relatively large energy crew. Google is lucky to have, it might have one or two people who, most of their day job is just struggling to make sure all the lights stay on and don't have a lot of extra bandwidth to structure these deals. The more we can make it more off-the-shelf and minimize the amount of upfront work they have to do, hopefully lowers the barrier entry for them to also be able to commit to these around-the-clock carbon-free energy, goals and structures.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. I think what you're getting at is just such a critical thing that we actually love to tease out here on this podcast, which is that innovation in energy and climate is not all about the technology, right? You could build a solar farm, great. You could build a nuclear plant, great. You can build the wind farm, great. But then how you actually structure those deals - such that you're able to have organizations come, buy that energy, it's financially stable, low risk structure, PPAs - all of these are different types of innovations that, without them, that energy would not be as accessible. And so, when we talk about energy accessibility and innovation in this space, it is far beyond the technology. It goes much more to the things that people think of as relatively boring, and not sexy in the climate sphere. When you say, I'm going to save the world, you're not saying I'm going to go structure some PPAS and then share my best practices. But that's really critical in terms of- because we're talking about climate change, and we're really talking about a global scale crisis. That's going to require innovation across the entire scale of how we consume energy and how we live our daily lives and lots of those things are relatively boring.

Reid Spolek
It's a great point. We often talk about our carbon-free energy initiative around three pillars, the first being technology, as you say. There has to be these carbon-free energy technologies. The second being more commercial and deal structuring. How do you build these structures, like for example, what we did with a AES, in order to enable commercially these things to get built. And the third is regulatory and policy, because those of us who've been in the industry know that that's the first thing that can kill something really quick is that the laws don't allow it or the regulatory structure does not align incentives correctly to enable it. As much as those boring pieces- I think about maybe you saw that article that went around energy Twitter of all these terms that sound like warlock terms that we use, like LOPR and NOPR and FERC that the average normal person has never heard of. They sound like these crazy terms. They are incredibly important to making this whole thing work. And if we can encourage more of the smart minds out there to invest their upfront time into a legal degree or public policy degree or get involved in that nitty gritty, I promise that the impact is much more amplified than it looks heading in, because it's really in those wonky footnotes of that 38 page of that IRP is where a lot of the make or break decisions get made on how we're going to achieve this goal.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, I think that was a wonderful way to kind of wrap this conversation up. Thank you so much, Reid, for sharing your expertise, your knowledge, and your perspectives on making the world a better place for us all. Thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate your time.

Reid Spolek
Thanks, it was great to be on. Appreciate it.

EIC_Logo_Final__Primary Icon Medium .png

Shownotes