Clean energy for your business: easier than you think

Jason Kaplan
Rooftop solar is great, but half of US businesses can’t install panels on-site.

An emerging model of energy distribution provides a fresh choice.

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Shift Clean Energy, launched in 2016, fills a long-neglected gap in the energy market. After years of working in the solar industry, Shift has found a way to give small and medium-sized businesses the access to renewable energy that was more limited before.

“We saw a whole bunch of folks who wanted to make an impact, but they either didn’t know how or didn’t have a viable option to do so,” says co-founder Robin Cairns. “So we thought, how do we make (clean energy) a possibility for them?”

Forty-eight percent of businesses nationwide are unable to host solar panels themselves, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Many don’t own the building in which they operate, or their roof space isn’t large enough to host the panels that would cover all of their consumption needs.

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) were typically the fallback, but these too have their drawbacks: that power is not always tied to physical clean energy, and purchasing these credits does not necessarily support new renewable energy development. Also, that power can be sourced from anywhere in the country.

To Shift, it was clear: Business owners needed a more direct way to purchase renewable energy, one that made sense for their budget and values.

With Shift, they thought, we can facilitate that connection.
Shift Robin Cairns image 14Shift co-founder, Robin Cairns, believes all businesses should have access to clean energy.

Shift is an independent energy supplier. It represents an emerging model of sourcing renewable energy from a company other than a traditional utility, making clean power a more feasible and cost-effective option for small and medium-sized businesses.

How it works is unique: Local solar and wind farms produce clean energy that can be acquired from a wholesale market. Shift purchases the energy and sells it directly to businesses. The utility still delivers the power via existing wires and ensures reliable service. But, businesses, instead of purchasing the power through the utility, can choose to buy from an independent supplier, giving guaranteed fixed rates to hedge against rising utility rates.

Further, businesses know the power they receive is from a regional source of clean energy, not elsewhere in the country. It’s a choice that many businesses had been largely unaware of.

One company that has embraced this is Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown is pursuing B-Corp certification—a sustainable business certification—and needed a way to convert its power consumption to renewable energy. With ten storefront locations and three distribution centers across the country, they couldn’t find a way that made sense for them.

When Stumptown was introduced to Shift, the coffee purveyor was thrilled to have this new model of independent distribution as an option. Within months, the stores were being powered entirely by renewable energy.
Shift x Stumptown CafeStumptown Coffee is powering all of their cafes, production and office buildings with 100% PNW clean energy.

Shift is based in Seattle with an office in Portland. They’ve begun to do more Oregon-based projects—notably Basecamp Brewery and Green Choice Farms. Their hope is, as this new model becomes more mainstream, more businesses will have the ability to make the environmental impact they desire.

The sign-up process is simple: Shift puts pricing together based on a business’ historical energy usage data. This can cover one year or extend to five, and is typically comparable to existing utility rates for non-clean energy. The business fills out a one-page form to opt out of their basic service with the utility, and then Shift takes care of the rest.

Small businesses can make this switch at any time in the year. Most medium-sized companies, however, only have three one-week windows where they can change contracts—one in September, November and February, respectively.

The Shift model is a positive shift towards the clean-powered state Oregon hopes to become, and to achieving the statewide goal of 50% renewable energy sourcing by 2040.

“One thing we really believe in is the power of people making sound economic decisions to positively impact the environment; businesses, in particular, have a larger scope and they truly hold the keys to unlocking a lot of value in clean energy,” Shift Business Development Manager, Allie Haskins said. “If we help companies make sound business decisions in buying clean power, that will ultimately increase the proliferation of clean energy.”

At the very least, small business owners will finally get what they have asked for: the chance to make an affordable and positive impact on the environment. For more information please visit or call 503.764.2016


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