In 2005, Ervan Hancock ’94 stepped onto an elevator at a renewable energy conference wearing a name badge that connected him to one of the largest coal-burning companies in the country. “Southern Company? What are you doing here? You guys are the enemy,” a fellow elevator passenger remarked. As they descended toward the lobby, Ervan explained what his company’s presence meant for the industry. “If we can get more big balance sheet companies to make a meaningful investment in renewables, it’s just going to help the overall cause,” he countered. Over the next five years, as Southern Company’s manager of renewable generation and energy efficiency strategy, Ervan helped guide the fossil fuel giant as they embarked on the long road toward sustainability.
Renewables had just begun riding an exponential growth curve to the apex of the energy industry when Ervan transitioned to a new role at Georgia Power, the largest subsidiary of Southern Company. There, he was responsible for a number of innovative projects that helped the company secure a spot in the top five fastest-growing utilities for renewable energy generation.
Georgia Power executives challenged Ervan with finding a way to add wind to their portfolio of resources. The hitch: wind doesn’t blow quite the same way in the Southeast as it does in the Great Plains, so Ervan had to look west. He identified a project in Oklahoma, called Blue Canyon Wind Farm, and determined they could run the power over high voltage transmission lines across three different utilities from Oklahoma to Georgia. To date, it is Georgia Power’s only wind project, providing enough electricity to power more than 50,000 Georgia homes.
Another new and noteworthy concept that Ervan brought to fruition was the installation of a solar array in the grassy area of a highway exit loop. Roadside verges, medians, and other unused buffer zones create the perfect opportunities for small-scale solar projects. Ervan developed a proposal and got approval from regulators to build a one-acre solar farm in the empty space beside an off-ramp in southwestern Georgia, demonstrating for Georgia Power and other utilities that the project can be widely replicated across other major highways.
For all the innovations that did work, there are plenty of ideas within the industry that haven’t yet made it past the testing phase, like solar-paved roads or wind turbines in elevator shafts. Sharing expertise and experience with other professionals is vital to the process, which is why Ervan has been involved in several industry associations, including the American Wind Energy Association, the Smart Electric Power Alliance, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the American Council on Renewable Energy, and the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, among others.
“Not every company is the same, but we all have similar challenges, so I’ve always found those engagements to be really beneficial,” he explains. “I leverage those associations to take part in constructive dialogue on what’s coming next or what other folks are doing that I may have to do next.”
Ervan has brought everything he has learned over the past 15 years with him to his current position as senior renewable energy manager at Amazon. Amazon set a goal a few years ago to reach net-zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2025. In 2020, the company became the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy.
“As the third largest company on the planet, we are a significant portion of global energy demand because we span so many countries, so by making the transition to renewables we can actually make a meaningful impact on the world,” Ervan says. “It’s our customers’ expectations that we be as sustainable as we can, and we aspire to be the most sustainable company on the planet and really lead by example. It is possible to have a triple bottom line, where you can be good for society, good for the environment, and good for shareholders.”
At Amazon, Ervan is engaged in conversations daily with multiple developers who have secured land and the right to connect to the grid. Through negotiations and relationship building, he executes power purchase agreements, committing to buy the energy over certain time increments at a certain price.
To date, Amazon has completed 232 renewable energy projects across the globe, with a total renewable capacity of 10,000 megawatts. Projects take a few years to complete after a contract is signed, so the deals Ervan has secured for Amazon over the past two years have not yet been announced. With Ervan’s help, Amazon is well on its way to meeting its goals and leading the corporate charge to ensure our planet’s future.Story from The Mount magazine.