Banking on a Positive Future
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
Banks and electric utilities are both facing tough times.
You don’t have to be a futurist to know that banks have a big problem now, and it isn’t just the housing crisis. Interest rates paid by customers are so low that when banks make loans, they don't earn much money on them, making it hard to be profitable. In turn, they cannot pay those who deposit money in savings accounts much interest on their savings. Currently, we have a vicious spiral where saving is discouraged - something that is not in our country’s long-term interests.
At the same time, electric utilities also have a unique challenge: Their customers do not buy the same amount of electricity each minute of the day. This means that the utility has to constantly, literally minute by minute, turn the generators up or down to adjust to their customers' usage. They have no alternative, because if the utility produces less electricity than the customers need, the result is brownouts. If they produce more electricity than the customers are using, the grid and transmission equipment may overload and unsafe conditions can result. The bottom line is that the supply and demand of electricity must match.
A second challenge facing electric utilities is that not all electricity costs the same to make. In the United States, electricity can cost anywhere from less than a nickel to over 15 cents per kilowatt hour (KWH) to deliver a single KWH to a customer, depending on what generation station the utility has to turn on to meet the customers' need at a particular moment in time.
A KWH is the amount of electricity used running one 100 watt electric light bulb for 10 hours. The most expensive electricity in the United States (up near the 15 cents per KWH end of the range) is made during the hot summer days. Coincidentally, banks run their expensive computing centers and absolutely required expensive computer cooling systems full throttle at this time. This makes the banks' electric bills high.
Combine these challenges, and you actually have an opportunity that can benefit both banks and utilities.
The business proposition for the utility is to encourage others to make an investment that provides electricity more cheaply than other alternatives at a particular time of day and year. And they can do so, because the time when the utility needs help is when the solar electric systems work their best – during the days when sunshine is brightest.
Some banks have taken this new approach. Their solar energy investment earns them a reliable rate of return, reduces their energy costs for data centers, computers and air conditioning, and makes them more profitable. Along the way, they reduce the ozone pollution which harms kids’ lungs, and they also reduce emissions by the power company of climate-changing gases which also places kids at risk. The banks are doing an economic good and a social good at the same time.
One such bank is First Citizens Bank in Raleigh, N.C. They have built a large solar electric system on the rooftop of their corporate data center. After installing a roofing system which helps keep the building cool, the bank added 7,000 solar panels and created a 1.7 megawatt generating system. Now, the 1,100 bank employees who work in that building experience a true win/win: their company does better financially while the amount of greenhouses gasses being created goes down. 
A second good example is Aquesta Bank. Located in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina, Aquesta has installed solar electric generating systems on the roof over the three lanes of drive-through windows and ATM machines. In addition to making electricity, this installation location allows the customers’ cars to remain cool while sitting in line. Based on their own experience as a company, Aquesta is so excited about this kind of investment that it has created special lending programs for customers seeking to install solar. 
Efforts like this are an important and often misunderstood part of our nation’s national energy security. As of 2011, 13% of electricity in the United States is now generated by electric utility owned renewable energy plants - an amazing change from just a few years ago. And this 13% does not count another significant amount generated by private companies like these banks and individuals who install solar electricity generation materials on their rooftops. 
For more information on how banks are working to create a "green" future, you can go to the GreenBankReport website (http://greenbankreport.com/eco-friendly-banking/solar-power-atms-banks/).
It gives one heart to see these examples of banks joining the ranks of partner organizations that are creating a better future.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.