A solar high

renew2017MRSAccording to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2016, beating out all other energy sources, including coal. New solar capacity increased by 50% globally in 2016, with China accounting for almost half of this expansion. Despite current uncertainty about renewable energy policy in the United States, the US is still the second-largest growth market for renewables. By 2022, India is expected to more than double its current renewable electricity capacity.  The IEA predicts that these three countries alone will account for two-thirds of global renewable energy growth by 2022.  According to Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, this rapid growth in 2016 indicates a “new era” for solar energy, which is driven by continuous reductions in the technology’s cost and market dynamics in China resulting from policy changes.

Looking beyond solar energy, renewables overall accounted for two-thirds of all new energy capacity in 2016. IEA sees renewables growing “by about 1,000 GW (gigawatts) by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.” According to Birol, “while coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables close in on its lead.”


Bridging the Gap between NDC Commitments and NDC Implementation

During this morning’s Joint High Level Segment, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Cooper Pershing delivered the U.S. National Statement. Addressing the combined meeting of the COP22/CMP12/CMA1, Pershing said, “With the policies already in place, the United States is well-positioned to meet its Paris Agreement targets” and that through current market trends, “the transition to clean energy is inevitable.” These are reassuring words to those wondering if the U.S. can bridge the gap between its Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) and its policies.

Lord Nicholas Stern at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco

Lord Nicholas Stern at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco

Lord Nicholas Stern echoed these sentiments today at a COP 22 Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment event presenting the institute’s latest COP study. Lord Stern, Grantham Institute Chair and member of the U.K.’s House of Lords, emphasized the importance of federal structure, stating, “The best way for Parties to implement NDCs is to create supporting policies regionally and locally through cities, states, and provinces.” Pledges are only as good as their implementation. Governments will need to continue to translate words into action through understanding, informed by research, science and policy.  Policy is the bridge. Parties now need the courage to cross it.


Solar Energy Growth Really Heating Up

News about the increase in solar energy potential and development Montgomery Cty Divisionhas been robust across all the climate news aggregators for some time. And, targeted outlets like the U.S-based Solar Energy Industries Association News (weekly) and the Australian-based Solar Daily abound with exciting stories. Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.11.42 PMThe overwhelming consensus is that this technology has really caught fire, as costs have dropped and attention to the growing dangers of climate change has expanded.

Global adoption is expected to get a substantial lift from the International Solar Alliance (ISA). We brought you news of this initiative, launched in Paris at COP21 (December 2015) by India and France. Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.07.02 PMIt now has a steering committee, an interim secretariat, and roughly 120 country members, focused primarily in the region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. (See ISA’s Working Paper here.) Its ambitious goal of facilitating U.S. $1 trillion for solar development by 2030 became a pledge at ISA’s April meeting, held as a side event during the signing of the Paris Agreement. Joining co-hosts Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Power, Coal & Renewable Energy, and Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of the Environment/CO21 President, were ministers and representatives of 25 countries. They also agreed to collaborate in scaling up currently small-scale solar technologies, pursue R&D, and build technology capacity, all with the aim to lower the cost of finance and facilitate investment.

The cost of solar power is already declining rapidly. Earlier this week, The National (a publication of Abu Dhabi Media) reported a new record-low price of U.S. 2.99 cents/Kwh in a bid by a consortium of developers to install an 800 MW set of solar projects in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This represents a 50% drop in just one year in the lowest price for solar, to a figure that is now below the cost of new coal-fired power in Dubai.

Here in the U.S., the #MillionSolarStrong campaign is sharing the news that more than 1 million domestic systems have been installed, Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 8.13.15 PMwith the 2 million mark estimated to be crossed by 2018. A sure sign that this technology has been mainstreamed, the campaign’s solar declaration has more than 80 significant organization and corporate signatories; and even Obama tweeted the hashtag.

Speaking of ‘catching on fire,’ Solar City just released interesting data and illustrative animations on solar’s “contagion” in the U.S. Researchers analyzed this trend in homeowner adoption a couple of years ago, and attributed it to “neighbor effects,” neighborhood-solar-panels-456x295in which people living near new installations get a chance to readily talk to those new adopters about their decision, and can begin to see solar as more of a possibility for themselves. Incentives, including referral discounts and leasing as an alternative to buying, seem to be contributing, as well.

Overall, solar’s role as a mainstay of our global low-carbon energy future is quite a sizzling prospect.


Cleaning up India’s energy mix

dehli pollution2015 marked the first time that the average Indian was exposed to more air pollution from fine particulate matter than the average Chinese, reports Greenpeace. In response, India has introduced new taxes aimed at cutting pollution and reducing emissions.  The country’s finance minister announced this week a tax of up to 4% on new passenger vehicles.  It’s estimated that almost 40% of Dehli’s air pollution comes from vehicle emissions alone.

India is also taking aim at cleaning up its energy mix, both for local pollution abatement gains and for global GHG mitigation.  When announcing the car tax, the finance ministry also announced a doubling of its tax on coal, which comprises 70% percent of India’s energy mix. With an eye toward low carbon energy sources, the government plans to allocate $430 million for nuclear power development.

It also continues to emphasize solar energy development. The BRICS development bank, along with the World Bank and the Asian Development india solar missionBank, recently announced that they will each provide $500 million in financing for rooftop solar in India. These loans will be used to provide a 30% subsidy to public institutions that set up rooftop solar power systems. India aims to have 100 GW of solar power capacity operational by April 2022, with 40% of it coming from rooftop solar. Currently rooftop solar contributes only 10% of the total 5 GW solar power capacity.  To spur development, the Indian Cabinet recently approved a rooftop solar subsidy of $770 million by 2022 for public institutions, to complement the international development bank loan pledges.

 


Will You Under 2 MOU?

The subnationals are firmly in the game.  At COP19 in Warsaw, they had their orange pinnies on while stretching and sprinting on the sidelines, showing the ADP coaches that they were ready.  “Bring in the subs” was my favorite 2014 blog headline.

CuomoYesterday New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that California’s Jerry Brown shouldn’t get all the playing time. Cuomo signed the Under 2 MOU, committing his state to take actions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Under 2 MOU “brings together states and regions willing to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and will galvanize action at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris this December.” Thus far, forty-three other subnational governments have signed this MoU, ranging from Canadian provinces British Columbia and Ontario to cities like Los Angeles and Nampula, Mozambique, and regional governments in Spain’s Basque Country and Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

What will the Empire State do after the ink dries?  Governor Cuomo announced several specific actions, some new and some that build on those already in play.  One new plan is to expand the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and link it with the Western Climate Initiative, creating a North American carbon market. Another new initiative is requiring the State University of New York (SUNY), the largest statewide public university system in the U.S., to install renewable energy in its 64 campuses by 2020. SUNY currently has 20% energy efficiency improvement and 30% GHG reduction goals for 2020.  Governor Cuomo challenged private colleges and universities to match SUNY.  Finally, in the category of adding new to old, a commitment to bring solar energy to 150,000 more homes and businesses by 2020 builds on the $1 billion of public funds invested inNY Rev New York’s solar industry in 2013 via NY SUN Initiative and the additional $270 million and solar installations in 30,000 homes and businesses since then. A new twist in this 2015 announcement is the Shared Renewables program, which allows commercial projects to share power generated on their properties with surrounding community members.

Earlier this year, as part of the 2015 State Energy Plan, New York pledged to reduce GHG emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 below 1990 levels. To do this, New York started Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which we have blogged about.

At yesterday’s Under 2 MOU signing ceremony, Cuomo did not mince words about the need for subnational action on climate change. Failure to address the causes of climate change represents “gross negligence by government,” the Albany Times Union quotes him as saying, along with the public’s failure to hold their elected representatives responsible.  “In the case of climate change, denial is not a survival strategy.”


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

tale of two cities“… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities came back to me when reading today about recent renewable energy policy changes in Britain and France.

The British government announced on Wednesday its plan to cut renewable energy (RE) subsidies. RE generation UK rooftop solarhas doubled in Britain during the last three years, with electricity from solar increasing 60% in the past year alone. Most of this growth is attributed to subsidy support.  Why, then, cut them? David Cameron’s Tory government says that it seeks to bring down consumer electricity bills, which have also risen almost 60% during the last decade. But the Guardian reports that the move will only save 50p a year. The government says that the renewable energy sector no longer needs subsidies to compete; it also admits that the subsidy program has experienced a £1.5bn cost overrun.   According to one RE industry official: “We appear to be entering another dark age where we will return to total fossil fuel reliance, power cuts, low confidence in UK investment, opening the door for fracking activities to maintain energy security.” A season of Darkness indeed. Read more here.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Chunnel, the French government announced yesterday the passage of a new energy sector reform law that willnuclear in france reduce nuclear’s role in the country’s energy mix from 75% to 50% by 2025 and cap its total allowed capacity at the current 63.2 gigawatts. To fill this gap, the renewable energy share of France’s energy pie will increase to 23% by 2020 and 32% by 2030. The new law will reduce French CO2 emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, in line with the EU’s INDC filed with the UNFCCC Secretariat at the end of March.  Just in time for France to welcome the UNFCCC’s 196 parties to “a season of Light” in the City of Light this December for COP21.


Clean Energy to Go Around

Countries, states, and the private sector took center stage last week with an array of energy announcements from around the world.

When visiting the US at the end of June, Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, announced with President Obama that both countries pledged to source 20% of their energy from nonhydro renewables by 2030.  China, when filing its INDC on June 30 with the UNFCCC, kept in line with the joint rousseffannouncement it made last November with the US when pledging to reduce the amount of carbon emitted relative to the size of its economy by 60 to 65% by 2030; it previously had declared that it would reduce it by 40 to 45% by 2029 and is already down 33.8%, so on track to achieve the INDC pledge. Scotland generated 49.8% of its electricity from renewables in 2014, effectively meeting its 2015 target. The country’s next benchmark is 100% renewable by 2020. Scottish wind farms currently produce enough to power some one million U.K. homes for a year and overall renewables make up about 30% of the UK’s total. More than half comes from wind, about a third from hydro, and a much smaller percentage from solar.    A leaked EU Commission paper says that Europe overall is on track to sources 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

At the local government level, New York State announced that its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) 2030 targets include a 40% cut in GHGs from 1990 levels and a 50% statewide goal for renewables.  The plan also seeks $5 billion over 10 years to support programs like the NY-Sun solar initiative and the New York Green Bank, and an additional $1.5 billion to promote large-scale solar and wind projects. Some friendly competition for California, given its recent announcement?

On the private side, Google will convert an old coal-fired plant in Alabama to a data center powered by renewable energy. About 46% of Google’s data centers are powered by renewable energy, lagging behind Apple, with 100% clean energy fueling its centers.  BMW is still aiming to convert allbmw of its vehicles to an electric drivetrains.  Bloomberg Business reports that solar power will draw $3.7 trillion in investment through 2040, out of a total of $8 trillion invested in clean energy. That’s almost double the $4.1 trillion that will be spent on coal ($1.6), natural gas ($1.2) and nuclear plants ($1.3). Interestingly, large utility-scale solar will dominate in developing countries while smaller-scale solar will comprise most of the investment in developed countries. And oil and real estate billionaire Philip Anschutz plans to turn his Wyoming cattle ranch into the world’s largest onshore wind farm with 1,000 turbines sited in one of the windiest parts of the country. It is estimated that it would produce more than 3,000 megawatts of power, four times the electricity produced by the Hoover Dam and enough to power every home in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It could also cut carbon emissions by as much as 13 million tons a year. Anschutz’s spokesman, Bill Miller, colorfully put this renewable energy project in perspective: “I just look at it as energy, pure and simple. A wind turbine is just an oil well turned upside down.”

 


As goes California, so goes the Nation?

California solarJust a month after the U.S. submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC Secretariat, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new, ambitious GHG emission mitigation goals for the state. While the U.S. is being chided internationally for its INDCs’ lack of mitigation and adaptation “ambition,” California is getting the limelight for stepping up.Brown’s executive order issued on April 29th “sharply speeds up this state’s already ambitious program” to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 (off the 1990 baseline emissions). This goal, ensconced in California’s first-in-the-nation climate change law, AB32, was viewed as visionary – if not unachievable – when enacted in 2006. Under this week’s order, the state will have the interim goal of reducing emission by 40% – the halfway point – by 2030.

In announcing the new target, Governor Brown highlighted its role in giving more precise direction to the energy industry and the state itself for making investment and regulatory decisions that move one of the top ten economies in the world toward its 2050 goal.

“It’s a real test,” Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said in a speech at an environmental conference in downtown Los Angeles. “Not just for California, not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the parochialisms, the ethnocentric perspectives, the immediacy of I-want-I-need, to a vision, a way of life, that is sustainable?”

But of course it comes at a cost. A recent study reports that to reach this new goal, California will need to double the energy efficiency of buildings and industry, source 50-60% of its electricity from wind and solar, and spur a significant increase in hybrid and zero-emission cars. It also projects that doing so will cost each Californian household $14/month.

With these targets, California becomes a major player in the upcoming COP21 negotiations in Paris, in the “ambition” company of the EU. Said Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary of the conference, “California’s announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe. It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the U.N. climate conference in Paris in December.”


For the climate change record book

According to a variety of news sources, several important records were broken in 2014.

2014 hottest year graphHottest year on record.  The Japan Meteorological Association (JMA) reports that 2014 was 0.27°C warmer than the average from 1981 to 2010, and 0.63°C warmer than the 20th century average. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, and the UK Met Office, also keep track of these climate stats and confirm the JMA’s conclusion.  NOAA just reported that 2014 was 0.5°F above normal, making it the 34th-warmest year for the continental U.S.  As Climate Central titled this news, “the U.S. hot streak is now officially old enough to vote for president as 2014 makes it 18 years of temperatures above the 20th century average.”

As the NYT described it: “Last year was the hottest on earth since record-keeping began in 1880, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring warnings about the risks of runaway greenhouse gas emissions and undermining claims by climate change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped. Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Records were set across large areas of every inhabited continent. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except near Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.In the annals of climatology, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year.”

Wind energy increases. Britain’s wind turbines generated enough electricity to power more than 25% of its homes, up 15% from 2013 (comprising 9.3% of the total grid). Germany’s wind power generated more in December than in any previous month.

solar recordsNew solar energy too.  Globally, utility-scale solar installations increased for a fifth, consecutive year. Solar markets in South America and Africa had notable growth, but the largest shares remained in Asia and North America.

Coal demand in China declines.  Chinese coal consumption dropped by around 2.3% in the first eleven months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 (and 9% average annual growth between 2000 and 2010). Notably, electricity growth in China has slowed to around half the pace of its economic growth, indicating success at energy efficiency and a transition to less electricity-intensive industrial sectors.