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Can African cities drive their own energy transition?

11 December, 2017 - 15:00

The military and police have been put on standby in Cape Town, South Africa, as fears grow that water shortages may push citizens into civil unrest. This is a city on the front line of confronting the harsh reality of an altered climate, as its dams run critically low following the worst drought in over a century. What is the role of South African municipalities in moving their country towards a cleaner, greener energy economy, asks Leonie Joubert?

Cape Town’s battle to buy renewable energy has been blocked by the government so far (Photo by Lollie-Pop, edited, CC BY 2.0)

In July this year, the mayor of Cape Town announced that the city planned to withdraw any investments that it might have in fossil fuel industries, and move them into greener fund options. This was after several months of lobbying by Fossil Free SA, the civil society organisation that is calling for companies and governments around the world to move their investment funds away from anything that supports fossil fuel industries.

This makes Cape Town one of the only—if not the only—cities on the continent to commit to moving its investments away from dirty energy, with the intention of putting its money behind greener and cleaner investments.

In explaining the move, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said this was part of a broader move to pull its funds away from supporting the ‘development of dirty and unsustainable projects’, and that it would manage taxpayers’ money in line with the city’s ‘principles of resilience and sustainability’.

The reality is that any benefits of mitigation measures like this, which reduce the release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, will only be reaped by people living in the city in four or five decades from now, given the lag in the climate system. It will not save today’s citizens from the harsh impacts of climate change they’re experiencing right now. South Africans are reeling after a season of unnerving extreme weather events: devastating wildfires that hit the southern coastal town of Knysna earlier this year; extreme storms in Gauteng and flooding in Durban this month; three years of crippling drought in Cape Town, with taps literally expected to run dry in March 2018.

City takes on State

Cape Town has also been trying to change the way it shops for electricity, and is a test case for the difficult policy landscape governing electricity purchasing here at the moment. At present, the city buys its power directly from the state utility, Eskom, which mostly supplies the national grid with coal-based energy delivered from centralised power stations close to the economic highlands of the country: Gauteng and Mpumalanga. This energy is dirty, as it’s derived from coal, and inefficient because of electricity losses across the extensive grid.

But the city wants to buy some of its electricity directly from renewable energy plants – mostly wind farms – that operate on the edge of the city, in a bid to reach its goal of getting 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. To do so, the city needs permission from the national Ministry of Energy, and the National Energy Regulator. Apparently the city has been asking permission for three years now, with no success.

Mayor de Lille’s response to delays by the national ministry is to take the issue to the regional High Court, to force the minister’s hand. De Lille told a local broadcaster that her argument will be this: the current laws, which limit cities to buying their electricity from the national utility, are unconstitutional because they prevent the city from reaching its sustainability mandate to its citizens.

The issue is inherently political: the Cape Town municipality, and the Western Cape province in which the city is situated, are both run by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is the official opposition party to the current ruling party, the African National Party (ANC). Any efforts to tackle a national ministry on service delivery and sustainability issues like this are likely to be interpreted as being about scoring political points.

Either way, if the High Court rules in Cape Town’s favour, it could be a game changer in South Africa, freeing up municipalities around the country to go shopping for electricity directly from private solar or wind farms, rather than being locked into buying from the state’s supplier, Eskom.

The municipality’s divestment announcement looks as though it might be in step with the city’s wider energy sustainability objectives. But the question is about whether this particular move is more than just a public relations stunt. It’s hard to say.

The announcement to disinvest from fossil fuels was buried in the bottom of a press release, released in July, with no details about the practicalities of how the divestment would happen. The mayor’s office did not respond to several attempts to get more information on how it intends to withdraw those investments, where it will move them to, over what period, or what level of accountability there will be in the process.

If it’s votes that the DA wants to win at the next election, anything that keeps electricity cheap is likely to score the most points.

Eskom recently announced that it planned to hike the price of bulk electricity sold to municipalities by 27% by mid-year in 2018. Should the court free up the regulatory landscape to allow cities to buy electricity directly from local wind farms, it would play directly into the DA’s hand: the price of green electricity is getting cheaper by the day, relative to the coal-based state-run suppliers.

Categories: Blogs

‘Community’ energy projects in Greece under threat, activists warn

8 December, 2017 - 15:00

Two pioneering solar PV projects in Greece that enable renewable electricity benefits to be shared across local communities are coming under threat from EU rules on renewable energy “self-generation”, Greenpeace has warned. Frédéric Simon of Euractiv takes a look.

The city of Thessaloniki in Greece has pioneered a novel way of promoting distributed renewable energy production (Photo by EntaXoyas, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The solar PV installation in Larissa is the second project in Greece relying on a system called “virtual net metering”, which allows benefits generated by renewable electricity to be shared across buildings in the same municipality – even though they may be situated kilometres apart.

The first was a 10 kilowatt solar PV system installed on the rooftop of a school in the Northern city of Thessaloniki. Thanks to “virtual net metering”, the power generated by the PV cells can be credited to a hostel further away belonging to the municipality, which houses women and children who are victims of violence.

The Greek government had to design specific legislation for the installation, which was supported by Greenpeace Greece in cooperation with the municipality of Thessaloniki.

The model brings significant savings to the municipalities, which can use the roofs of school buildings to produce solar power, and credit the electricity to other municipal buildings that have high energy consumption – like the city hall, accommodation structures, surgeries and clinics.

“Greece is the first country in Europe to pioneer this novel way to encourage distributed renewable energy production,” Greenpeace said.

But according to the environmental NGO, this will no longer be allowed under the proposed revision of the Renewable Energy Directive, which currently defines renewable energy self-consumption as “electricity which is generated within the same site where it is consumed or sold”.

The European Commission has championed local power generation in its Clean Energy package of legislation, unveiled in November last year.

“Consumers and communities will be empowered to actively participate in the electricity market and generate their own electricity, consume it or sell it back to the market,” the Commission said when it unveiled its Clean Energy package last year.

Renewable energy ‘self-generators’

One year later, it remains to be seen whether this promise will be kept.

Although supportive of local energy communities, the Commission did not specifically include rules allowing “virtual net metering” in its proposed revision of the Renewable Energy Directive. And Berlin has been pushing to make sure small-scale renewable electricity can only be consumed where it is generated, in line with current practice in Germany.

“The definition of ‘renewable self-generator’ has to be clarified in order to avoid a discrediting of the whole concept,” Germany warns in a working paper on the Renewable Energy Directive, sent to the EU Council of ministers.

“The current wording would allow business models of virtually clustering (large) consumers who are not even living close to each other,” Germany writes in the paper, warning: “This would affect the public acceptance for the whole idea of granting exemption to small self-generating consumers”.

An EU source familiar with the German stance said Berlin only seeks to ensure that the costs of the energy transition – the ‘Energiewende’ – continue to be covered under the revised renewable energy directive.

German households that place solar panels on their rooftops currently do not pay charges related to the ‘Energiewende’ and grid maintenance, the source explained, saying this is why the energy producer and consumer “must be the same” in Germany.

However, Berlin does not want to impose this model on the rest of Europe, the source insisted, saying every country should remain free to decide for themselves how to finance their energy infrastructure.

The Greek government, on the other hand, has come out in defence of ‘virtual net metering’, seeing the benefits it can bring to local municipalities. Greenpeace even accuses Germany of trying to undermine ‘virtual net metering’ because “this model is threatening to the large energy corporations who currently dominate electricity production”.

Renewable energy ‘self-consumers’

The Council of the European Union, for the time being, seems to be following the German line.

An amended draft of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), obtained by EURACTIV, defines renewable self-consumers as “renewable electricity which is generated within the same site where it is consumed or sold”, a definition which fits nicely with the German view.

The Estonian Presidency of the EU, for its part, says Greece should not worry about ‘virtual net metering’, saying the practice will be allowed to continue under the revised directive.

“It is incorrect to claim that the scheme in question would not be allowed under the REDII,” said Annikky Lamp, a spokesperson for the Estonian Presidency. “Neither the Presidency nor the text discussed in the Council are taking a position on a huge variety of support schemes that member states are implementing all over Europe,” she told EURACTIV in e-mailed comments.

Lamp said one of the Presidency’s objectives was to avoid creating an overly burdensome system for national renewable energy support schemes.

Estonia tied electricity talks with digital policy when it took over at the EU’s helm in July. Tallinn has championed the use of smart meters and electricity “aggregators” that can negotiate on behalf of consumers to get a better deal from electricity companies.

In September, it got politicians and industry representatives in Tallinn to sign an e-energy declaration, with the aim of digitising the electricity market even further.

But Lamp insisted that ‘virtual net metering’ had “little to nothing to do with digital tools”, saying it is merely connected to supplying electricity “virtually” – i.e. not on site using wires, but using a virtual accounting method via the electricity grid.

“If in this process normal operation of wholesale markets and market participants’ rights are not violated, and the consumers using ‘virtual net metering’ are being charged for the grid services on a transparent basis, we do not see a problem with it,” Lamp said.

This article was originally published at Euractiv.com

Frédéric Simon is a publisher and editor at Euractiv.com, and Brussels correspondent for France24.

Categories: Blogs

Keeping coal plants open: the Spanish government’s costly intervention in the power market

7 December, 2017 - 15:00

After power producer Iberdrola announced the closure of their last coal plants, the Spanish government has said it might intervene to keep them open. Such an intervention, write energy experts Gerard Wynn and Paolo Coghe, is taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book. It is costly, bad for the investment climate, and for the planet’s climate.

Compostilla, one of the coal plants that would be shut down, is also a major NOX polluter (Photo by Silvia Alba, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Spain’s proposal on 13 November to give the government a veto on power plant closures is an extreme example of power market interventions in Europe, which is already burdened with capacity payments to prop up gas, coal and nuclear power. The U.S. is seeing similar interventions with the Trump government’s recently proposed “grid reliability” payments to coal and nuclear power.

Such interventions are highly likely to add to the cost of energy both directly, through the consumer or taxpayer cost of capacity and equivalent payments, and indirectly, by tending towards system over-capacity. In addition, random government interventions will increase investor uncertainty.

The Spanish government made it clear that it may seek a veto on coal plant closures, which it is seeking to prevent, regardless of the wishes of the electric utilities that operate them. Some background here is in order.

No support

After the announcement in May 2017 by ENEL (which owns around 70% of Endesa’s shares) of the closure of two of Endesa’s coal power plants in Spain – Teruel and Compostilla, the Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda announced it would prepare a regulatory instrument with the intention of allowing the Government to intervene in the decision of a company to shut down a large combustion plant, in case the Government deemed the plant was necessary for security of supply or economic reasons, among others. In practical terms, this instrument would prevent companies from being able to shut down their plants, even though they wanted to.

This instrument was subject to a public consultation procedure which finalized on 15 September, although there was not a draft text available at the time. At the beginning of November, according to Spanish media, the Ministry of Energy decided to sideline the instrument until it received feedback from the national Expert Committee on Energy Transition on “how an energy transition should be carried out”, also because the instrument had received no support from other political parties in the Parliament.

Nevertheless, after Iberdrola announced the closure of their last coal plants (874 MW located in Spain) and the Baleares Government said it wants to shut down two groups of Alcudia coal plant by 2020, the government has published the draft text and sent it to the competition and energy sector regulator, the National Commission of Markets and Competition. This body is enabled to participate in the elaboration procedure of this instrument through a non-binding report. The public participation procedure is now open until 18 December.

Securing votes

The stated goal of the decree was to preserve the country’s security of supply. But Spain has generating over-capacity, with a capacity margin of around 30%, measured as the excess of supply above peak demand, far exceeding a prudent 10-15% margin for grid operators to insure against large power plant outages and the variability of wind power.

The coal decree seems more about securing votes, in an echo of the U.S. Trump administration’s support for coal.

Spain’s wide capacity margin is a result of other Spanish government interventions, and in particular the country’s capacity market, which pays for coal, gas and hydro power plants to remain on the system, regardless of whether they generate electricity.

We see three costs of such intervention.

First, there is the direct cost of the Spanish capacity market. IEEFA last year reported that capacity payments and payments for demand-response in energy-intensive industries totaled nearly €1 billion annually.

Second, the capacity market (as well as rules to prevent the closure of idle capacity) has led to over-capacity, where cleaner burning gas power plants are now all but idle, in favour of older, more polluting coal plants. For each of the past five consecutive years, Spain’s 25 gigawatts (GW) or so of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) have operated at below 20% capacity. Capacity payments propping up widespread idle generation represents poor value for money. And if the result is to favour coal over gas, there is an additional cost in SOX, NOX and CO2 emissions which contribute to air pollution and climate change.

Third, confused signals from government will cloud sound economic decisions by utilities. Last week, the Spanish utility Iberdrola announced that it wished to close its last two remaining coal power plants in Spain, stating that this would not undermine grid stability, given that Iberdrola operates some 5.7 GW of CCGTs there.

The government’s draft decree this week appeared to target the Iberdrola announcement.

Emerging trend

Two weeks ago, we published a report arguing against the decision by Endesa, another Spanish utility (70%-owned by Enel), to invest some €400 million to extend the life of three coal power plants, Alcudia, Litoral and AS Pontes. We pointed out that Endesa’s CCGTs in the first half of this year ran at just 12% of their capacity. That was notwithstanding a 208% increase in CCGT output compared with the same period the year before.

In suggesting a re-think, we contrasted the poor financial performance of Endesa’s fossil fuel generation with the expected double-digit returns on its successful bid this year to build more onshore wind. And we pointed out that Endesa’s strategy of investing in old coal power plants did not fit with its parent’s (Enel Group) focus on renewables, digitalisation and customer services (see chart below).

 

Coal plant extensions may also ultimately run foul of an emerging trend towards coal phaseout in Europe. France has confirmed it will phase out coal by 2022; the UK and Italy will complete their phaseouts by 2025; while Finland and The Netherlands are setting a legislative end date of 2030 (with a likely earlier completion once additional carbon price instruments start to bite).

Spain’s Iberian neighbour Portugal has also confirmed that it will be out of coal in advance of 2030, with scope for this to be considerably closer to 2020. And recently, both Denmark and Austria committed to joining a new international “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, and to accelerating their own transitions out of coal.

Spain is therefore increasingly isolated among its Western European peers, who have recognised that phasing out coal provides the most cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions and health impacts while creating a market incentive for investment in clean energy alternatives.

There is another side of the argument: by upgrading its coal plants, Endesa can preserve electricity supply market share. However, in view of the above we argue that it should reconsider these investments, to focus on growing the more future-looking side of its business. Political opposition of coal or other power plant closures will only weigh against any such careful consideration of strategic options.

This article has been republished with permission from Energy Post; it is based on a report for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Editors Note

Gerard Wynn is Energy Finance Consultant (gerard.f.wynn@gmail.com). Paolo Coghe is President, Acousmatics (acousmatics@protonmail.com).

An earlier version of this article appeared on Gerard WynnEnergy and Carbon Blog, which he writes with Gerard Reid.

Special thanks to Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, lawyer at the Madrid-based Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente (IIDMA), who generously provided input for this article.

IIDMA has published an article on this issue on 23 November which you can find here. Note that IIDMA has also filed a lawsuit against the Spanish government’s “transitional national plan”, which it says “allows coal plants to emit above EU limits”. More information here.

Categories: Blogs

US cities leading the climate battle

6 December, 2017 - 15:00

In the US, where climate denialism is rampant, and the President is working against the energy transition, can cities take a leadership role in reducing emissions? Certainly, and they’re doing it. Silvia Weko takes a look at the American cities that want to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, and improve quality of life while they’re at it.

Cities like Chicago have to push the energy transition without help from the federal government (Photo by Daniel Schwen, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Globally, cities account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – so their policy can determine whether we (quite literally) sink or swim. Can US cities reduce emissions enough to keep the country anywhere near its Paris goals? (A reminder: the US target was 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.)

A study by the C40, a global network for cities that aims to address climate change, found that “if all the US cities with populations over 50,000 were to follow the C40 cities’ plans, they could achieve 36 percent of emissions reductions needed to meet the country’s Paris pledge.” Many major US cities are already a member of the C40, including Chicago, New York, Seattle, New Orleans, and Houston.

So if American cities followed C40’s ambitious recommendations, that would take care of about a third of the country’s Paris pledge reduction. This sounds great in theory, but not everyone believes in climate change: the chances of all larger US cities trying to act might be a lot lower.

But as actor and environmentalist Robert Redford pointed out, mayors are now having to deal with catastrophic weather that could be a game-changer both for engagement with their communities, and for their policies.

“If you are the mayor of a coastal town that now floods regularly or a farming town that just experienced several “once-in-a-hundred-years” droughts within a couple years, politics is the furthest thing from your mind.“

So let’s say that city officials are becoming convinced that they need to deal with climate change – what opportunities do they have?

Right now, many American mayors are working together: a group that calls themselves Climate Mayors now represents 68 million Americans. There are no binding commitments, but cities develop a greenhouse gas inventory, set targets, and develop a climate plan.

Trump maybe withdrawing the US, but 61 #ClimateMayors are adopting the #ParisAgreement. Cities will lead the way https://t.co/oablh5W4uJ pic.twitter.com/hYXZby2WmT

— The Climate Mayors (@ClimateMayors) June 1, 2017

The Climate Mayors have so far run one initiative as a group: a request for information about electric vehicles, which would eventually result in a plan to implement more e-mobility. Interest began in the city of Los Angeles and then expanded to over 30 more cities across the US. Since then, Los Angeles has taken steps to electrify its public transit, and will convert their fleet to zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.

While this is a great first step, the Climate Mayors need to set their sights higher. According to the C40, the most important thing cities can do is to shift to renewable energy and reduce energy consumption. In six cities in the US, utilities have been taken over by citizens, workers or the city – and once the people control their power, they’re able to choose what kind of energy they want. For example: Boulder, Colorado (population around 100,000) has municipalized its energy supply and aims to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. Cities that don’t own their energy supply can nevertheless increase their share of renewable energy – like Philadelphia, which is looking to increase its renewable power purchase agreements with its utilities.

So cities can implement changes locally, but they can also be an example of best practices for others. New York, which controls its own building codes, has launched a high-efficiency retrofit program that could cut greenhouse gas emissions “equal to removing more than half a million cars from the road.” Other cities have learned from such programs – Philadelphia and others have based their building benchmarking programs on New York’s.

Cities don’t just influence other cities, but also can affect what goes on in the rest of the state. Just take the recent decision in Oregon of Oregon Public Utility Commission to scrap the proposal to expand fracking in the state and instead go for renewable energy – partly because of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Mulnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Working on big issues like energy supply, transportation and building laws is crucial to reduce emissions and slow global warming. But they can also help deal with its consequences such as extreme weather.

Just take the example of Houston’s catastrophic flooding. Hurricane Harvey couldn’t be stopped, but its effects were made exponentially worse by “rapid expansion that has paved over former grasslands, overloaded critical infrastructure, challenged urban planning and limited evacuation routes,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

These are all issues where mayors and cities can and should take the lead. They can invest in green infrastructure systems that handle rainfall and melted snow. They can also turn cities into “sponge cities,” as Berlin has: planting rooftops and keeping concrete to a minimum helps prevent flooding and keep the city cooler during heat waves that are a consequence of global warming. Besides, it makes the city look great.

A Berlin elementary school – the Spreewald Grundschule – is one big green space.

Challenges for cities: funds, jurisdiction, no federal support

Going green isn’t cheap: the C40 found that “from 2016 to 2050, over US$1 trillion investment is required across all C40 cities to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement through new climate action. $375 billion of this investment is needed over the next four years alone.”

US cities are often strapped for cash – and recently, officials have been speaking up about the “diminished federal and state support for resilience programs and stretched local budgets.” The chances of money coming from the Trump administration is slim to none. Some projects have received funding from nonprofits like the American Cities Initiative, like Houston’s new recycling program.

According to the C40, mayors can deliver or influence just over half of the savings needed to put C40 cities on a 1.5 degree trajectory. But all the money in the world can’t help if there are legal barriers to cities’ actions. The Texan Supreme court ruled that Houston had overstepped its authority by trying to enforce clean air regulations.

Cities can do a lot to help the US achieve its climate goals, but they can’t make up for the lack of motivation on the Trump administration’s part. The energy transition requires so much more than local action – it also requires federal support, as we can see from Germany’s example. Cities hope that in the next four years, they can make as many changes as possible – but they’re counting on eventually getting help. They can account for lowering emissions, but the US needs to meet their goals fully to keep global warming from a terrifying trajectory.

Silvia Weko is a student of European Sociology, and project assistant to the Global Energy Transition.

Categories: Blogs

What bottom-up sustainability looks like

4 December, 2017 - 15:00

Increasingly, western democracies are divided over visions for the country’s future. But if we can’t agree on where we should go together, we won’t be able to address issues like climate change. Craig Morris investigates.

Bottom-up sustainability: communities focus on what they can change (Photo by Moss Community Energy, edited, CC BY 2.0)

Recently, I wrote about the German politician who said more of his constituents are voting for parties that want to break the political system because of a “loss of direct contact.” So is it really that simple – we just bring people together, and they work things out with each other?

In September, Prof. Norio Okada of Kyoto University gave a workshop at the Potsdam Summer School in Germany. Back home in Japan, he had come up with a way of getting communities to bridge societal gaps through direct contact. At the workshop in Germany, Okada shared that experienced with the summer school participants from around the world.

Lots of mediators focus on ways to have parties in disagreement talk through their differences. Okada does, too, but he starts off with a warm-up exercise that turns out to be the philosophical underpinning. The group folds a giant sheet of paper the size of a table-top – a kind of “team origami” – to produce creases marking three concentric squares in the paper. The participants think they created this form as a structure for the actual debate, which is true, but the process is also crucial for the participants to get to know each other in a different setting and achieve their first little success story together.

No team ever fails to create the concentric circles in the giant group origami warm-up. As Okada puts it, whatever the group decides to try to do that day, “you have to make it happen.” The goal is not yet to resolve intractable differences, but first be successful as a group.

In this video, Belgian scholar Sander van der Leeuw talks about how culture is important in strengthening communities. Traditional ceremonies provide frequent direct contact so people can work out differences amicably.

The participants then pick a solution to work towards. In Potsdam, the five groups of eight people all picked food issues, such as reducing food waste, eating heathier diets, or establishing a food truck with fresh food. Three steps towards the solution were written down along each crease on the giant paper, and the four sides of the concentric squares marked different perspectives on the project: information, management, finance, and logistics.

For the food truck, for instance, the two logistics people arranged the food supply, while the management duo contacted the city to get a permit for the truck. Later steps focused on adding additional trucks and a farmer’s market. “We doubted whether we could make this work,” said one participant from Nepal, “but I was already part of such a project in New Orleans, and we were successful. After hurricane Katrina, not enough grocery stores had opened up in parts of the city, so we filled that gap.”

“As the groups move from success to success, they build up team spirit,” Okada says. He is thus not offering an overnight fix to complex problems decades in the making. Rather, he has people meet regularly and learn to admire each other in new ways they would likely not discover if they only focused on their differences. That lady you disagree fundamentally with? She has a great sense of humor. The other guy who criticized your viewpoint? You share a passion for swing dancing.

Eventually, tougher decisions can be tackled. Okada hopes that, by the time the first setbacks come, “the group will say, we have accomplished so much together already. We can’t let this tear us apart!”

Of course, there are limits to Okada’s bottom-up approach. Citizens must fundamentally trust each other – and public officials. Petra Künkel, head of the Collective Leadership Institute and another lecturer at the Potsdam Summer School, spoke about Danish cities where citizens can send city officials a picture and location of something that needs to be fixed, and the city addresses the issue. The process wouldn’t work if citizens used it to denounce each other. But if people trust each other and their political system enough, Künkel says, “sustainability becomes a personal hobby, not something left up to city officials.”

The recent dual US delegation to COP23 – cities and local governments calling for mitigation while the national government undercuts it for short-term profits – suggests that communities tend to focus on sustainability naturally. But bottom-up sustainability doesn’t look like top-down. COP23 delegates focus on industry and energy. Communities focus on things they can change. Remember, all five groups wanted solutions for food issues. Getting people to eat healthier food will also reduce emissions – but it’s a behavioral change, not technological change. These citizen groups provide solutions that COP23 delegates are looking for.

Bottom-up sustainability thus adds behavioral change to the technological change from top-down sustainability actions like COP23. We should unleash both.

Direct quotes were taken from episode 3 of Craig’s new podcast for the IASS on Human environments in a changing world.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Solar supports village livelihoods and spurs business in Fiji

1 December, 2017 - 15:00

Reliable solar-powered refrigerators are creating economic opportunities for remote, rural towns in Fiji. Something as cheap and easy as solar panels and batteries can change people’s lives, the IRENA newsroom reports.

Costal livelihoods depend on fish – and being able to freeze it changes everything. (Photo by AusAID, CC BY 2.0)

In Wainika, a remote village north of Vanua Lavu, Fiji’s second largest island, villagers depend on fishing for their livelihoods. However, the nearest market to trade fish is a laborious two-hour drive and a 45-minute boat ride away. Keeping their fish fresh, without refrigeration, during this journey used to be impossible for Wainika’s villagers, until a renewable-powered solution presented itself.

The installation of a standalone hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) refrigeration system has drastically changed the economic prospects of the village. Installed at the village community hall, the system enables villagers to chill their fish in preparation for the journey to the market, and helps power lighting and phone charging outlets.  A backup diesel generator ensures the operation of the freezers during long cloudy periods.

“The new freezers have helped our community generate income, improve food conservation methods and support a better lifestyle in Wainika,” explains Epironi Ravasua, Wainika’s village chief.

Ravasua’s records show that between December 2015 and February 2016 Wainika’s freezers stored approximately two tonnes of fish.  In addition, the community no longer has to purchase ice or smoke the fish in order to preserve them. In other words, the system earns back around USD 12,500 per year using a system which cost around USD 14,000.  An additional benefit is that the system can also be used for other functions such as phone recharging services.

The Wainika hybrid system comprises 1.4 killowatt PV modules coupled with a 2,500 watt diesel generator and battery storage to power three energy-efficient freezers. Since the inception of Wainika’s solar-powered fridge project in December 2015, four more systems have been installed on the islands of Yanuca, Tavuki (Kadavu), Mali and Kia.

“With the fridges, we’ve been able to expand our range of merchandise and now sell ice creams and ice candies — a novelty for the village kids and elders alike,” says Epeli Boteanakadavu, Tavuki’s solar refrigeration caretaker. “We’re now looking to form a committee to look after the funds generated from these sales and those from fish storage.”

Renewable energy security

According to IRENA’s Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA) of Fiji, the archipelago, like other Pacific Island countries, depends heavily on imported petroleum-based fuels. “The fluctuation of global oil supply affects not only energy security, but also energy prices,” says IRENA’s Programme Officer Francisco Gafaro. “Scaling up non-hydro renewables like solar can diversify Fiji’s energy mix and improve energy security. Existing mini-grids on the islands could be made more sustainable through the hybridisation of solar PV systems with battery storage.”

Moreover, renewables go further than access, according to Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, and this year’s Climate Champion at COP23, “Fiji has tremendous renewable energy potential, and our strong commitment to renewables goes beyond improving energy access. Renewables feature prominently in Fiji’s NDCs and are planned to spur economic growth across various sectors and to improve livelihood.”

Dr Atul Raturi, a professor at the University of South Pacific and lead in the Wainika project, began Fiji’s solar-refrigeration projects with the assistance of the French embassy in Suva. Leading a team of students, Dr Raturi began by first surveying the needs of local communities and identifying effective ways to improve livelihoods and generate new sources of income with better energy access.

“Renewable energy plays a big role in Fiji, and on the larger islands almost 60% of electricity comes from hydropower and biomass, while numerous solar home systems fulfill basic electricity needs of smaller island populations,” explains Dr Raturi.

“Fiji is making considerable headway towards its target of 100% renewables-based electricity by 2030,” he continues. “We want to show the promise of the sustainable development goals and how SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) can support many other goals. Energy should be used for productive use.”

According to IRENA, in 2014 Fiji generated 55% of its electricity from renewables and had the lowest oil dependency and electricity tariff among all Pacific Island states. The government of Fiji is strongly committed to the global effort to address climate change, and is the organising country of COP23 — the United Nation’s annual climate conference. In Fiji’s Nationally Determined Contribution — a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as part of the Paris Agreement —  the country has set an ambitious target to increase its share of renewable electricity generation to 100% by 2030.

At the request of Fiji’s government, IRENA is conducting a grid integration study to provide national authorities with the technical background to design and put in place a sound policy framework for facilitating the deployment of more solar PV. Resources from Norwegian Voluntary Contributions to the SIDS Lighthouses Initiative is supporting this work.

This article has been republished from the IRENA Newsroom.

Categories: Blogs

Why Native American women are going after Europe’s banks to divest from Big Oil

30 November, 2017 - 15:00

From Standing Rock to Switzerland, Native American women are putting pressure on banks to divest. Shannan Stoll speaks to Jackie Fielder about the delegation’s trip to Europe, and the future of the movement to defund fossil fuel projects that threaten Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegates (left to right), Michelle Cook, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Tara Houska, and Jackie Fielder. (Photo by Teena Pugliese)

Last year, calls to defund the Dakota Access pipeline and “Stand with Standing Rock” led individuals to divest millions of dollars from banks extending credit to that project. As cities and tribes got involved, that amount increased to now more than $4 billion.

Seattle was the first, then more cities followed, and the movement to defund Big Oil is still growing. In May, Indigenous leaders launched a new campaign, the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, targeting four proposed tar sands pipelines. The strategy is to stop banks’ financial commitment before ground is broken. One of these projects—TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline—was terminated earlier this month.

Now, the movement that began at Standing Rock has gone global, since much of the DAPL funding came from overseas banks. Some European banks such as BNP Paribas have taken steps to stop funding fossil fuel projects that trample Native peoples’ rights. Others such as Norway’s DNB and ING have done some divesting.

Recently, a delegation of Indigenous women returned from a trip to Europe where they met with leaders of financial institutions in Norway, Switzerland, and Germany, the “home bases for several of the world’s largest financial and insurance institutions supporting dangerous extraction developments,” according to the news release. The delegation was organized by Indigenous women leaders in partnership with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network.

Jackie Fielder, who is Mnicoujou Lakota and Mandan-Hidatsa, was a member of that women’s delegation. Fielder is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and a campaign coordinator of Lakota People’s Law Project as well as an organizer with Mazaska Talks. Others in the delegation included LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, Michelle Cook, and Tara Houska.

In this interview, Fielder talks about divestment, the delegation’s trip to Europe, and what’s next for the movement to defund fossil fuel projects that threaten Indigenous peoples.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Shannan Stoll: One thing connecting the delegation of women that went to Europe was that you were all involved in the Standing Rock movement. Could you tell me about your involvement with Standing Rock and the divestment movement?

Jackie Fielder: I have a connection to the Dakota Access pipeline specifically because Mnicoujou is a band within the Cheyenne River [Sioux] Tribe, and Cheyenne River is, alongside Standing Rock, suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the illegal approval of the Dakota Access pipeline.

I got involved because I am the result of what happens when you protect water—my grandparents grew up along the Missouri River—and I have had a passion for following the money when it comes to injustices like these.

At the end of DAPL, I was trying to find a way to get involved or support the movement from afar. I was in San Francisco at the time of the camp and was really committed to my work in the Bay Area and didn’t want to tear away from it.

In late January, I saw Seattle commit to moving its money away from Wells Fargo. This was a result of Indigenous-led ground actions and a four-month-long pressure campaign led by Matt Remle and Rachel Heaton, who are the co-founders of Mazaska Talks. I was inspired by [their] work, and I said “this has to happen in San Francisco.” Over the course of a month I started a campaign and made a Facebook page called San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition. … We wanted to put San Francisco’s money where their solidarity was. … We got a resolution on the table [of the city council], and it passed unanimously.

Stoll: How has the divestment movement grown since Standing Rock? Is divestment working?

Fielder: Yes. Since Standing Rock, more than a dozen cities have taken some form of action to move their money out of Wall Street. These include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Eugene, Missoula, Santa Fe, Denver, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, Chicago, D.C., Charlotte, and others.

We know divestment is working because Energy Transfer sued our partner Greenpeace, and other partners, … and their SLAPP [strategic lawsuit against public participation] suit included a quote that says:

The damage to our relationships with the capital markets has been substantial, impairing access to financing and increasing their cost of capital and ability to fund future projects.

So it’s working to the extent that they’re having a tough time with capital markets and having a tough time funding future projects. And that’s exactly what we want.

Stoll: What was the purpose of this trip?

Fielder: The purpose was to demand European banks divest from fossil fuel companies that violate Indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, as outlined in the United Nations declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

We met with [major banks] and asked them to exclude Energy Transfer, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, and other fossil fuel companies that have violated Indigenous peoples’ rights to deny or grant permission for projects on their territories and that fund tar sands pipeline expansion.

Stoll: Why was it important that women in particular carry this message to Europe?

Fielder: I think because Unci Maka, Grandmother Earth, is feminine. Indigenous women have been the backbone of this particular resistance movement, but also in general, of tiospaye, family units, in Lakota nations. And Indigenous women—as well as [being] traditionally the backbone of their families, they often are the ones to call out injustice when they see it immediately. We saw that at Standing Rock. LaDonna has a story in which she describes how there were bulldozers going over the sacred burial sites, and the men were just so in shock that they didn’t know what to do. And LaDonna said, “Well push [the men] out of the way and tell the women to stop it.” And that’s what happened. Women got arrested: doctors, mothers, sisters. They are a force to reckon with. And I think that’s why we were meant to carry this particular message to Europe.

Stoll: The specific places you traveled were Norway, Switzerland, and Germany. Why were those the targets?

Fielder: These European nations and their institutions have some of the world’s highest standards for Indigenous rights, creating an opening for delegates to call for firm action by banks and investors of these nations to uphold high standards and become an international model for justice and accountability.

Stoll: What did you learn from the trip?

Fielder: We got to understand how European, specifically Norwegian, Swiss, and German, people think about Indigenous people, environmentalism, and their relationships to banks. For example, Norway is lauded as the prime example of a green, progressive country. However, there is a $1 trillion oil fund behind the economic and social equality over there. And the Swiss bank, they manage money from sketchy leaders. You know, they held Nazi money. They’re a really good example of showing how neutrality in instances of injustice helps oppressors maintain their hold on oppressed people.

With respect to Germany, there is a lot of potential for people to hold their banks accountable. For example, Deutsche Bank is one of, if not the biggest, financers of the companies behind the tar sands pipelines that we’re focused on. And they were really interested to hear what we had to say.

But they are—like many of the banks—really hesitant to do anything radical, which in their world means stepping away from fossil fuels. And that’s not what we’re asking. BNP Paribas just set a standard while we were there—right before Tara was going to meet with them—that they would stop financing tar sands, Arctic drilling, and fracking. That sends a message to the rest of the banks that it is possible to stop funding destruction and climate change. This also follows other banks that pulled out of the Dakota Access pipeline funding.

I think that Europe is ready—because at this point the United States is not going to do this with the current administration. Europe is ready to lead the world, if they want to, in a green path and one that upholds Indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights.

Stoll: What’s next for the divestment movement?

Fielder: Our next move is to meet with insurers and credit rating agencies in order to really understand why a company like Enbridge has an “A” credit rating. But Enbridge has one of the worst, if not the worst, records in the United States and Canada for oil spills.

According to LaDonna, there are more than 200 camps around the world. We have fossil fuel and desecration projects around the world, and there are big financers behind these projects. The next thing for the divestment movement is to keep growing. … We are going to continue building our alliances across the world and we’re going to bring this specific divestment movement that is Indigenous led to a level we haven’t seen since South African apartheid.

Stoll: Mazaska Talks has been organizing a Divest the Globe campaign. What are you asking people to do?

Fielder: On October 23 and 24 and 25, 92 banks that belong to the Equator Principles Association are meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to discuss Indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior, and informed consent.” Starting on Monday, we are calling for three days of action around the world that makes the connection between banks and desecration projects, whether that’s the tar sands pipelines and the banks that finance those, a deforestation project, coal mines, or a local refinery. We want to raise the public’s awareness and to raise the banks’ awareness that we are well aware of who is financing these projects, and —whether it’s a sit-in, vigil, nonviolent direct action, art space, or teach-in—we want people to meet the community where it’s at and educate one another about the relationship between these banks and these fossil fuel projects.

Stoll: Why the focus on making the campaign global?

Fielder: The financing of fossil fuels over green power is a global issue. The events at Standing Rock opened the world’s eyes to the system that we’re operating under. Indigenous peoples are the canaries in the coal mine. There are companies that are willingly financing the destruction of our planet—not just Standing Rock’s only source of water. This has always been much bigger than just a single tribe or single people.

I am excited to see people realize that this is going to happen to everyone at some point. Whether that’s in a week, as is happening with these hurricanes and fires and natural disasters, or whether it’s going to happen to their grandchildren who will have to live on a planet that is two degrees hotter and with freshwater as scarce as it [will be]. I’m excited to work with people on solutions that honor our role as stewards to the Earth and our duty to provide a cleaner, less violent, and cooler planet to the next seven generations.

These banks are only making decisions on a quarterly basis. They’re not making their projections based on the next seven generations. That’s why they’re happily financing these projects that are so short-sighted and not even economically viable.

Divestment is a way to obtain accountability and do it in a way that also invests in our future. When we take our money out of Wall Street, we put it into community banks, into green banks, into credit unions that … fund growth in the community.

Divestment is not the only tactic that we, as Indigenous people or just people who care about the planet, need to use. But it is certainly going to be the engine behind the just transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

This article has been republished with permission from Yesmagazine.org

Shannan Stoll is a senior editor at YES! She covers environmental justice and Native rights issues.

 

Categories: Blogs

Australia under new pressure to get serious about climate in 2018

29 November, 2017 - 15:00

The planet is at a crossroads, and Australia can no longer afford to support coal as it has been doing – even building a new coal-fired station. Giles Parkinson takes an in-depth look at Australian energy policies.

Emissions from coal have to drop, or else Australia will be looking at some dangerously hot summers (Public Domain)

The Australia government is going to come under increasing global pressure in the coming year to boost its climate targets, even as it seeks to base its energy policy around the assumption that emission reductions should cease after 2030.

At the Bonn climate talks, progress was made in putting together the rules that will underpin the Paris climate deal when it comes into effect from 2020.

But one of the most significant developments was the creation of a “2018 Talanoa dialogue” that will put pressure on major economies to upgrade their climate commitments to ensure that the long-term Paris target of limiting global warming “well below” 2°C is adhered to.

By this time next year, countries will be expected to have finalised the rules for implementing the Paris accord, and to commit to enhance their national climate plans by 2020. They had probably thought that they could get away with no upgrades until around 2025.

“The planet is at a crossroads,” says the former Peru environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who is now Head of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Programme.

“We have within our reach an unprecedented opportunity following the Paris Agreement – one that can and must change the future. The decisions we make today set the foundation for 2018 and beyond. Countries must increase their ambition to put us on a path to a 1.5°C future.”

“In order for governments to have confidence in strengthening their climate targets in 2020, they need to see that exceeding their current targets is urgent, achievable, and desirable,” he says.

And this is where we see the Talanoa Dialogue playing a role. It will allow countries to better understand that businesses, cities, and communities around the world are stepping up ahead of them.

“They will understand that their national climate plans have been surpassed by the real economy and its time to catch up.”

Most are pointing to the falling cost of renewables as the principal vehicle to achieve these goals, along with a greater focus on energy efficiency; and 11 countries – albeit those with little coal power in the first place – have vowed to exit coal by 2025, led by England and Canada.

“Governments should not hide behind those who do not want to make progress,” said Sharan Burrow, the former head of the ACTU and now general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation .

“They put at risk the benefits of investments in jobs and economic growth and they put at risk the planet.”

Australia, however, will be one of those under pressure. Already, it has been criticised after a UNEP report suggested its own modest targets would not be met. And it is not shying away from its support of coal.

At Bonn, Australia was simultaneously derided by environmental groups for its support for the Adani coal mine, and applauded by US coal giant Peabody for giving coal a boost through its proposed National Energy Guarantee.

Energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who attended the last few days of the negotiations for ministerial talks, says coal still remains a critical part of Australia’s energy mix.

And while most others – including even the conservative International Energy Agency – were marvelling at the fall in renewable energy and storage costs, and some were hailing how 100 per cent renewables would be cheaper than business as usual, Australia looks determined to look the other way, and put a lid on wind and solar.

The proposed NEG assumes no or little renewable energy will be installed between 2020 and 2030, and the Energy Security Board has been instructed by Canberra to design a policy assuming only a 26 per cent cut in energy sector emissions by 2030, and no further cuts after that time.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, meanwhile, has flown to Queensland to voice his support for that state’s LNP, which proposes to remove all incentives for renewable energy, scrap the state’s 50 per cent renewable energy target and build a new coal-fired power station near Townsville.

It is a position that is widely regarded as completely untenable and reflective only of an administration that either does not accept the climate science, or refuses to do something about it.

“When you deny climate action, you deny your citizens cleaner, cheaper energy,” said Marcelo Mena Carrasco, environment minister of Chile, which recently set a new record low for the price of solar PV (until it was beaten by Mexico).

“Since we’ve introduced carbon taxes, and begun to change our energy system, we’ve seen the renewable energy sector grow fivefold,” he said.

“And while we projected renewable energy from solar and wind to be 20 percent of our energy sources by 2025, we reached this goal last month –eight years early.

“Our NDC (Paris climate commitment) was written in 2013 and is already outdated. So I think for the future, to enhance ambition, we need to have very flexible action plans so we can capture the low-carbon transformation as it happens.”

That’s not what Australia’s conservatives have in mind. Ironically, the next climate talks will be held in Silesia, known as coal heartland of Poland, Europe’s most brazenly pro-coal country.

This piece was originally published at RenewEconomy.

Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.

Categories: Blogs

Germany and California look beyond the power sector to cut carbon

28 November, 2017 - 15:00

As their electricity systems grow cleaner, both Germany and California are looking for additional ways to cut global warming emissions.  But cleaning up the transportation and heat sectors has proven to be more challenging than cleaning up power plants. Ben Paulos takes a look.

California and Germany are working together to figure out the fastest ways to cut emissions (Photo by the California Energy Commission)

That was a significant takeaway from the California-Germany Bilateral Energy Conference 2017, held October 19-20 in Sacramento.  Sponsored by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the event drew a few hundred policy makers, industry people, and researchers, including counterparts brought over from Germany.

CEC chair Robert Weisenmiller pointed out that the power sector is now responsible for only 19 percent of California greenhouse gas emissions.  And that number is declining thanks to the ongoing growth of renewables, with legislation aiming at 50 percent by 2030.

Transportation is now the largest source of emissions, accounting for 36 percent of the state total.  Adding emissions from oil drilling and refining makes it closer to half, Weisenmiller added.

In Germany, likewise, power sector emissions are dropping, falling 14 percent between 2007 and 2016 according to data from the German environment ministry.

And like in California, emissions from other sectors have barely budged in Germany.  Emissions from industry are unchanged over the past decade, falling slightly and then rising again.  Transport sector emissions actually rose 8 percent.

Overall emissions fell by 66 MMt in the past decade, with 56 of those MMTs from the power sector.

Both regions are keen to connect progress in renewable electricity to other more intransigent sectors, what Martin Schöpe, head of the International Cooperation on Energy division for the BMWi, called “sector coupling.”

Vehicles

California has been promoting low emission vehicles since the 1990s, and has a goal of putting 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025.  It is currently home to 330,000 plug-in electric vehicles, accounting for half of all battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the US, and trailing only China worldwide.

Using money from the cap and trade program, from the VW “dieselgate” settlement, from private companies, and from electric utilities, California has more than 10,000 Level 2 and 1,500 direct current fast charger (DCFC) connectors, according to Janea Scott of the CEC.  The CEC is partnering with Oregon and Washington to build a West coast electric highway and is spending $20 million per year on hydrogen filling stations to serve fuel cell vehicles, with 30 stations built so far.

Ron Nichols, CEO of Southern California Edison, which serves 15 million people in areas outside of LA and San Diego, said “We think 1.5 million cars by 2030 is low, it might need to be double that.”

Nancy Sutley of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power pointed to the pollution benefits of clean transportation. “LA still has the worst air quality in the nation.  As our grid gets cleaner, the opportunity to make the transportation system cleaner is clear.”

“Prospects for meeting those air standards are dim, absent going to electric vehicles,” commented Nichols.

Germany

Daniel Witt of Tesla said other car makers, including the main German brands like Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes, “have finally come around to the concept that an electrified fleet is in their best interest and the survival of their brands.”

Tesla, based in Fremont, California, and led by visionary Elon Musk, is the leader in luxury EVs, and is poised to be a major player in the mass-market with their new Model 3.

Half of German-made EVs are exported to other regions that have more aggressive EV policies, Witt pointed out.  “Germany needs policies to ensure their car industry maintains a leadership position.”

He welcomed the growing competition from German car makers.  “Diversity of supply is vital to consumer adoption,” he said.  “As more models come on the market there will be more choices for consumers.”

Germany currently has 10,000 EV charging stations and 500 DC fast charging stations, according to Hanno Butsch of the National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW GmbH), along with 77 planned hydrogen filling stations.

Speakers from both regions were bullish on the use of electric vehicle batteries to provide services to the grid, known as vehicle grid integration (VGI).

With VGI, cars can be charged during very sunny or windy periods, soaking up plentiful renewable electricity.  Then they can be discharged while parked, helping power the grid in other periods, follow the ups and downs of demand, and cut charges for customers.

“The electric grid is everywhere,” pointed out Niklas Schirmer of Ubitricity, a company that does EV chargers and smart meters. “The hydrogen grid is not there.  Even the natural gas grid is not everywhere.”

Christoph Jugel, Director of Energy Systems for Deutsche Energie-Agentur (DENA), agreed.  “There will be so many batteries deployed it would be foolish not to use all that capacity.”

“There is no better marriage than electric transportation and the electric grid,” said Steve Berberich, CEO of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the California power grid.

Heating and energy efficiency

Germany has done much more than California to encourage low-carbon heating sources, but is still seeing limited success.

Germany has long promoted high-efficiency district heating systems. Aurubis, a copper manufacturer in Hamburg, is in the process of tying their waste heat output into the city’s district heat network, cutting 160,000 MWh of fuel consumption per year.

But district heating systems, while very efficient, still tend to use fossil fuels.  Using renewable and zero-emission sources for heat poses a number of difficulties.

Increasing the efficiency of buildings is the necessary first step.  But the big energy savings are in retrofits rather than in new construction, and retrofits are harder. Christoph Jugel pointed out that the energy renovation rate of buildings has been about 1 percent of buildings per year in Germany.  DENA is trying to double that rate, such as through “mass customization,” a standardized approach that can cut costs.

Another problem is that many heating technology purchase decisions happen during equipment turnover – a furnace fails in the winter, for example – and an urgent decision is made that tends to result in status quo replacements.  The main low-carbon alternatives, like air source heat pumps or high-efficiency wood pellet stoves, are not easily “dropped in” to replace a gas furnace.

An air-source heat pump works like a refrigerator, using electricity to drive compressors to move heat into or out of a building.  But heat pumps account for only 2 percent of heat now, according to Dietrich Schmidt of the Fraunhofer Institute.  He thinks Germany could get that up to 22 percent by 2030.

The good news about electric heat is that wind power in northern Germany is correlated with heating needs in the winter.  Cold winds off the North Sea drive demand for heating, and supply energy at the same time.

To make progress, panelists agreed that success needs to spread from the power sector to other areas.

“We need to electrify everything that moves and everything that doesn’t,” said SCE’s Ron Nichols.

Bentham Paulos is an energy consultant and writer based in California. His views are his own, and don’t necessarily represent those of any of his clients. For more information see PaulosAnalysis.com.

Categories: Blogs

Barbórka goes on

27 November, 2017 - 14:19

Polish mining is in crisis, but its companies are acting like nothing’s wrong. They are even paying out miners their traditional Barbórka (St Barbara’s day) bonuses. Michał Olszewski finds that despite generous EU funding, Poland does not invest in the future of its energy system.

(Photo by Peabody Energy, edited, CC BY 3.0)

The legal newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reports on a certain paradox: that Polish mining still finds itself deep in crisis. Polska Grupa Górnicza, one of the largest producers of bituminous coal in Europe, has published its preliminary results for the past year. According to DGP reporters, instead of the planned 32 million tonnes of coal, the company is set to have extracted 5 million tonnes less.

Investments have been halted or completed late, while the company director’s declarations, which instead warn of a “euphoria of over-demand” next year, may be brutally tested by the market. None of this will have an adverse effect on the payment of Barbórka bonuses to PGG miners. The company is, in the director’s words, “making cash.”

Polish miners receive bonuses for a mining holiday, Barbórka. (Photo by Ewkaa, CC BY-SA 3.0

Perhaps a long awaited surge in demand really is coming. However, until it actually shows up, Polish news headlines will continue to sag under the weight of information like that published after a detailed investigation by journalists of the aforementioned DGP.

It revealed that Poland, as sensitive as the country is about its energy independence, is receiving high quality anthracite mined in Donbas. The raw material is probably making its way to Russia, and from there, on falsified documents to Poland. This year at least 3,000 tonnes of coal has found its way to Poland from Donbas, which remains under Russian control.

How is that possible? The principle remains unchanged: Poland still declares itself to be a coal superpower, independent and self-reliant. The facts belie the declarations, as best exemplified by the import of anthracite: the coal-based economy is no longer self-sufficient and so has to look for outside support, including in places like the grey zone of Donbas.

Three thousand tonnes is barely 45 wagons, but they have a symbolic significance: while defending ourselves against renewable energy sources, which Polish politicians treat as foreign and suspicious, we are allowing coal of unknown origin into the domestic market through the back door – coal mined to the detriment of Ukraine.

It is doubtful that the Polish energy market will be receiving more optimistic news any time soon. One reason for this was recently indicated by renewable energy expert Grzegorz Wiśniewski, who has analysed the European Innovation Scoreboard, which assesses how individual countries are implementing the Lisbon Strategy. EIS also looks at the energy sector, and unfortunately the charts showing investment in innovation and its effects (measured in terms of sales of new and modernised products) place Poland fourth from last (despite also being the largest beneficiary of EU grants).

What do Wiśniewski’s remarks have to do with coal? The sad truth is that, rather than thinking about the future (and about the future of Poland’s mines and mining industry), Barbórka is still more important. Wiśniewski concludes with sadness that our innovative capabilities are capped by the “Bloki200+” programme, aimed at “adapting Polish power units to new challenges.” The best projects can receive more than 20 million euros in financial support. “What global innovations can we expect with so much money being invested in such a trivial area?” asks Wiśniewski.

The answer, though politicians will not speak it, seems obvious: it is not about real innovations that would free us from the cycle of struggles with the coal-mining industry – it is about plugging the system into a drip feed. That is what is keeping the Polish mining and energy sector on its feet, and once a year, on December 4th, it can reward the miners for their hard but unprofitable work.

Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.

Categories: Blogs

Rising from the ashes, a Buffalo suburb ends its dependence on coal

25 November, 2017 - 15:00

Sixteen months ago, the coal-fired Huntley Generating Station, which sits on the banks of the Niagara River, stopped producing power for first time since World War I. And soon after, the surrounding towns started to go broke. Elizabeth McGowan takes an in-depth look at what US communities are doing to keep their communities going after coal.

The retired Huntley Generating Station on the banks of the Niagara River via Google Earth

Erie County lost its largest air and water polluter. But the town of Tonawanda, a working class Buffalo suburb 13 miles downstream of America’s most storied waterfalls, also lost its biggest taxpayer.

The impact of Huntley’s decade-long slowdown — and finally shutdown — hit this upstate New York community like a punch to the gut.

In just five years, between 2008 and 2012, Huntley’s pre-tax earnings tumbled by $113 million as it operated far below capacity, translating into a combined revenue hit of at least $6.2 million to the town, county, and local school district. That precipitous decline came when state education funds were also shrinking. Belt-tightening wasn’t enough; 140 teachers lost their jobs. Three elementary schools and one middle school closed their doors.

Rebecca Newberry, a 35-year-old former bartender and LGBT-rights activist, saw her home town facing the same fate that has befallen so many other Rust Belt communities that fell on hard times following an industrial exodus. She was determined not to let it happen to the place where she grew up. And she was fortunate enough to find a diverse group of allies who were willing to fight for their survival.

By combining the resources of her nonprofit, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, with area labor unions and other community groups, Newberry helped to hatch a plan for Tonawanda’s next chapter — and provide an inclusive, equitable template for other blue-collar towns facing the loss of dirty energy jobs and other polluting industries. (The jargony term for this in advocacy circles is “just transitions.”)

Huntley on the Niagara River (Photo by Elizabeth McGowan)

The group that Newberry helped form would come to be known as the Huntley Alliance. The partnership convinced New York lawmakers to provide Tonawanda with a temporary cash infusion to sustain the town as it reinvents its tax base — the first time a state has offered a financial cushion to a community that was financially reliant on a coal-fired power plant.

“It was a trauma when Huntley finally announced it was closing,” Newberry says, “so we had to come at this from a place of healing. Our goal was to stop the bleeding to the industrial and public sectors.

“Always, our key question is: How are we going to take care of our people?”

Team of rivals

Tonawanda, a Native American word meaning swift waters, was founded by white settlers in 1836. East of the railroad tracks that run north from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, the 20-square mile town has nearly 73,000 residents and is known for its top-flight paramedic service.

But west of the tracks, it’s anything but quaint. Huntley and 50-plus industrial facilities coexist within a three-mile radius, mingled with older homes and trailer parks. Big grinding trucks assault the ears, and the air carries a distinct petroleum-rubber-chemical-exhaust stink.

Right, the shuttered Huntley site; left, a residential neighborhood in its shadow (Photos by Elizabeth McGowan)

The energy giant NRG purchased Huntley in 1999. Although the oldest current coal-fired unit dates back to 1942, the facility’s steam-generating history stretches back to World War I. NRG retired half of the plant’s 760-megawatt capacity in 2006 and 2007, with a corresponding drop in tax revenue.

In the fall of 2013, Peter Stuhlmiller, president of the Kenmore-Tonawanda Teachers Association, reached out to Richard Lipsitz, president of the local AFL-CIO chapter, to figure out how to save the community’s schools. They were soon joined by Newberry’s coalition, the Sierra Club, and trade unions representing steelworkers and Huntley employees.

“This country has a very poor record of rescuing communities built up around coal and heavy industries,” Lipsitz says. “Our goal was to stabilize the economy and provide income for a town that needed it desperately.”

Although their goal was the same, the various factions in the early Huntley Alliance had different priorities. The united front fell apart when a local Sierra Club member organized a protest calling for Huntley’s closure — with some demonstrators wearing union shirts. Labor leaders felt the rally threatened the livelihoods of the 70-plus remaining NRG employees. Finger-pointing ensued, and the plant’s union walked away from the nascent alliance.

Then the whole effort collapsed.

Newberry’s Clean Air Coalition didn’t join the Big Green’s call for Huntley’s closure — although it harangued other major polluters along the industrial waterfront during its decade of existence. The group’s leaders saw no need: The coal plant’s obsolescence seemed imminent with cheap natural gas flooding U.S. markets.

To motivate the Huntley Alliance to regroup, Newberry circulated preliminary results of a study her 200-member nonprofit commissioned. “Given that the plant is located in a region with substantial excess capacity for at least the next decade, the Huntley units appear ripe for retirement,” the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concluded in a 24-page report released in January 2014.

That sobering prediction did the trick, ending the alliance’s six-month hiatus. Newberry — who ascended to the top job at the Clean Air Coalition in 2015, four years after being hired — insisted that workers couldn’t be left behind. It became the group’s guiding principle and managed to hold together unlikely allies. Teachers rubbed shoulders with steelworkers and teamsters. Male-dominated trade unions listened to women’s ideas. Labor and Big Green found common ground.

“Going through this helps me to visualize that we can do better as a society,” Newberry says. “We don’t always have to be fighting with one another.”

At least 1,500 members of the steelworkers union live in the Tonawanda area, many drawing paychecks at employers such as Tonawanda Coke, 3M, DuPont, and Sumitomo Rubber. They backed the alliance’s focus on job retention and creation, because they feared property taxes would spike after Huntley’s shutdown — to make up for lost revenues from the plant. That could spook existing employers and repel potential newcomers.

“We want to make sure there are good, clean, high-road, family-sustaining jobs that improve the quality of life,” says Dave Wasiura, the union’s organizing coordinator for the area.

Retired teacher Diana Strablow, a member of both the Sierra Club and Newberry’s group, was initially frustrated that the dangers of climate change sparked by coal-fired power plants weren’t the alliance’s number one priority. But Newberry helped her understand how a stumble by Huntley could mean a fall for her entire community.

“I was the angry environmentalist,” Strablow says. “I’ve learned we need to take care of both our workers and our environment.”

Don’t ask. Tell.

Once reunited, the Huntley Alliance needed clear goals — specifically ones that met the needs of the town’s residents. Through a series of listening sessions, door-to-door surveys, and voter-registration drives, the partnership channeled the hopes and anxieties of hundreds of residents. The wish list that emerged included keeping schools intact, creating good-paying jobs, expanding the tax base, and improving public health and the environment.

Those desires would be compiled with proposals and needs of businesses and other stakeholders into Tonawanda Tomorrow, a succinct blueprint for the town’s trajectory. A final version was released in June.

It was a tall order, so the alliance set about lobbying New York state legislators for “gap funds” to keep the town afloat during its transformation. After all, Newberry reasoned, Huntley had supplied electricity far beyond Tonawanda’s borders. Rather than asking lawmakers to find money for them, Newberry and her colleagues combed through the state’s budget themselves and compiled a list of potential funding pots to draw from.

By August 2015, when NRG announced Huntley’s impending retirement, a Democrat-majority State Assembly and a Republican-controlled Senate had already voted to back the alliance’s brainchild. When the 102-acre power plant went offline seven months later, the framework was in place for $30 million.

Cynthia Winland, a planning specialist at Chicago’s Delta Institute, praised New York legislators for being brave enough to act on Tonawanda’s financial request. Her sustainable solutions nonprofit helped assemble the town’s blueprint.

“If a state as geographically, politically, and economically complicated as New York is capable of this,” Winland says, “then other states can look for parallels.”

This spring, legislators expanded the Huntley-inspired measure — in part due to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement last year that New York would strive to be coal-free by 2020. The gap fund’s budget ballooned from $30 million to $45 million, its availability was extended from five to seven years. (It now covers communities with plants powered by any fuel source.)

The initial funding makes Tonawanda’s post-Huntley metamorphosis viable, Newberry says, adding that the two-year extension “gives us the extra breathing room we will need.”

The fund so far has shored-up the school system — which is no longer hemorrhaging teachers — stopped electricity bills from skyrocketing, and kept the budget for the prized paramedic unit intact.

David Schlissel, a coauthor of the 2014 report questioning the Huntley Generating Station’s viability, emphasized that the alliance’s proactive approach and the New York legislature’s response offer a vital lesson for the rest of the country.

“Instead of spending millions on propping up coal plants,” Schlissel says, “we need to spend money to help communities make an economic transition.”

The Huntley Alliance took its cues from other communities forced to evolve beyond heavy industry. Members traveled as close as Appalachia and as far as Germany, where they were amazed to witness how the German government funded worker retraining programs and recycled old production plants, as renewables supplanted fossil fuels.

“That gave us hope that a cleaner environment can be achieved in Tonawanda without leaving broken workers behind,” Newberry says.

Back home, the alliance’s efforts also benefitted from a $160,000 grant from an Obama administration initiative to help communities distressed by the demise of coal. President Trump proposed defunding the program in his 2018 budget.

Not another Bethlehem Steel

Even with all the planning, the Huntley station’s idle smokestacks cause jitters among Tonawandans who have watched the 1,000-acre Bethlehem Steel plant idle in Lackawanna, 20 miles to the south, for three and a half decades. References to the hulking carcass send shivers down the spine of Tonawanda Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger.

“We are not going to have another Bethlehem Steel here,” he declares.

County and town planners view the reinvention of the Huntley site as a vital part of transforming 2,300-plus brownfield acres into greener ventures. Recent cleanups have allowed existing companies, such as Sumitomo Rubber, to expand and invited in newer industries, such as solar technology and warehousing operations.

“It’s a 20-year-long, step-by-step process,” says Erie County Director of Business Assistance Ken Swanekamp. “We’re doing it one project at a time.”

Possibilities for what could fill the Huntley site were tossed about at Tonawanda Tomorrow sessions. They included a bioenergy plant, an industrial heritage museum, and much-needed green space. River access along the town’s six miles of shoreline is now limited to one sliver of parkland south of the power plant.

That’s in contrast to the town’s northern neighbor — a significantly smaller city, confusingly also named Tonawanda — where a lush, verdant ribbon beckons visitors to the riverfront. A pockmarked bicycle/pedestrian path in the town suddenly turns pristine at the city line.

“We have a clear pathway forward,” Newberry says. But questions about what will become of the Huntley site make it clear, she adds, that “our work is not over.”

Unlike the Bethlehem Steel site, Huntley is not eligible for New York’s Superfund Program, says Erica Ringewald, a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman. However, NRG or a future owner that takes on the remediation effort could qualify for tax credits through the state’s brownfield cleanup program.

A preliminary to-do list at the site includes moving an 11-acre pile of unused Powder River Basin coal to a 116-acre NRG landfill about a mile away; closing a coal-ash lagoon; and continuing to clean 11 petroleum bulk storage tanks. But according to a state environmental assessment, contamination levels there do not “represent a significant threat to human health or the environment.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know how long this takes,” NRG spokesman David Gaier says, adding that the company is just beginning the long-term decommissioning process for Huntley. “But you don’t go from a working power plant to condos in a year.”

Emminger, the town supervisor, isn’t envisioning condominiums — or any other type of housing — at the waterfront site. “Residential is too risky there,” he says, adding that light industry is more likely.

“We have a proud industrial past,” Emminger notes. “Hopefully, it’s going to be part of our future.”

This article has been republished from Grist.org

Elizabeth McGowan is a Washington, D.C.-based energy and environment reporter. Funding for this article was provided by a Solutions Journalism Network grant.

Categories: Blogs

US cities and states step forward on climate as Trump steps back

22 November, 2017 - 15:00

As the Trump Administration steps back from climate action, states, cities, and corporations in the US are stepping up.  Ben Paulos take a look at American groups in Bonn, and the city-level action in Austin, Texas as an example of climate leadership.

Mayors from around the world work together for sustainable cities: among them Franklyn Tau, Won Soon Park, Eduardo Paes, Michael Bloomberg, Babatunde Fashola, Gilberto Kassab and Eduardo Macri (Photo from C40CC BY-SA 2.0)

The nations of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP23), the ongoing global discussion for action on climate change.

While the Trump administration has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, US cities, states, and corporations have stepped up their plans to cut carbon emissions.

These “sub-national” groups had a strong presence in Bonn, with a large delegation led by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in a White House ceremony in June.  With the recent validation by Syria and Nicaragua, the US is now the only country in the world that has refused to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Bonn Fire

The Trump Administration’s disdain was evident in Bonn.  The US government did not fund a pavilion at the conference, as all other major economies have. Instead, a pavilion – marked with the hashtag #WeAreStillIn – was funded by Bloomberg’s foundation.

The US State Department brought a small delegation that focused on “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.”  In materials reviewed by the Guardian, the presentations argued that “It is undeniable that fossil fuels will be used for the foreseeable future, and it is in everyone’s interest that they be efficient and clean. This panel will explore how the US will be a leader in cutting carbon emissions through cleaner, more efficient fossil fuels and other energy sources.”

The presentation was met with a barrage of over 200 protestors. Mayor Bloomberg said “Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.”

State and local governments in the US have, if anything, become more engaged thanks to the actions of the Trump Administration.

Within days of Trump White House ceremony, more than 1200 US states, tribal nations, cities, companies, and universities declared “We Are Still In,” pledging their support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement.  This number has grown to over 2300 entities, according to America’s Pledge, a new report from the Bloomberg Philanthropies.

In all, these entities represent more than half of the US economy, equal to the third largest economy in the world, ahead of Japan or Germany.

“Across the US, governors, mayors, and business leaders are acting to fill the climate action void created by current federal climate policies. With public support, and effective collaboration strategies, they will drive US climate action forward, from the bottom up.”

“The American government may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals – and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a presentation in Bonn.  “If Washington won’t lead, mayors, governors, CEOs, and civil society will.”

California Governor Jerry Brown echoed Bloomberg’s remarks. “When cities and states combine together, and then join with powerful corporations, that’s how we get stuff done,” he said. “We’re here, we’re in, and we’re not going away.”

Meanwhile, back in Austin

While local action is getting a strong boost in Bonn, it is not a new phenomenon.

Austin, the capital city of Texas, has been working on cutting carbon for over 10 years.

In February of 2007, the City Council under the leadership of Mayor Will Wynn, unanimously adopted a resolution to make Austin “the leading city in the nation in the effort to reduce the negative impacts of global warming.”

“I was — and continue to be — of the opinion that Austin is an indispensable city in this fight,” Wynn said recently.  “Some of the things that give us an edge include the fact that Austin owns our own electric utility, is a significant technology hub focused on innovation, and has a citizenry that recognizes the problem and demands that we do something about it.”

Austin has made solid progress so far.  On the 10th anniversary of the pledge in February, they announced that City operations have cut emissions by 75 percent, largely from buying 100 percent renewable electricity though the municipal utility’s GreenChoice program.

The city’s utility, Austin Energy, now gets 31 percent of its total power from wind and solar, up from 4 percent in 2007.  They have given out 600,000 energy efficiency rebates, weatherized 18,000 low-income homes, and given green building ratings to 13,000 homes and 400 businesses.  As of February, over 6000 customers had gone solar, adding about 46 megawatts of rooftop systems.

In 2015, the City Council adopted the Austin Community Climate Plan to achieve net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The current Mayor, Steve Adler attended the 2015 COP21 meetings in Paris, as well as the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City in 2016.

Speaking at a C40 event in New York in September, Mayor Adler reminded listeners of the side meeting in Paris, where mayors signed their own climate accord.  Almost half of carbon reductions under the Paris Agreement, he said, will have to be achieved at the sub-national level.

“Our path was very clearly set in Paris, and nothing that’s happening at the federal or state level can stop a city that is still making its own decisions on transportation and land planning – or on power generation, if your city like Austin has its own power company.”

“There is still a lot of opportunity and control for cities,” he said.

The partisanship around climate change has created conflict at the federal level, but has spurred action at locally, he argued.

Texas, one of the most conservative parts of the US, has paradoxically been antagonistic to climate policies while leading the nation in wind power and rapidly closing coal plants in their fiercely competitive power market.

Austin, the politically liberal capital city is “the blueberry in the middle of the tomato soup,” Adler told the C40 audience. “Regardless of the climate around us, what I say to my community is that the rest of the country could go crazy, but we’ll still be Austin.”

“What they say about climate change is that unfortunately it will be happening to all of us, whether you believe in it or not.”

“We’re used to cultural wars, but this one is getting easier to fight.  As the price of renewable energy comes down the cultural battle that was the false choice – between having a good economy and dealing with sustainability – doesn’t exist the way it used to.”

The proof is in the bottom line, he said.

“The economies of the cities that are progressive on these issues are stronger economies, like Austin is within the state.  The cultural issues become easier as you look at cities whose economies are doing well, not in spite of the positions they take on sustainability but because of them.”

“Its changing the debate and the discussion, it will continue to change the cultural divide.”

With the city on target to hit their renewable energy goals, Austin recently dialed up their ambition. In August, the City Council boosted the municipal utility’s renewable electricity goal to 65 percent by 2027, up from 55 percent renewables by 2025.

Bentham Paulos is an energy consultant and writer based in California. His views are his own, and don’t necessarily represent those of any of his clients. For more information see PaulosAnalysis.com.

Categories: Blogs

COP23: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Bonn

21 November, 2017 - 15:00

Climate change was again placed at the centre of global diplomacy over the past weeks as diplomats and ministers gathered in Bonn for the latest annual round of United Nations climate talks. COP23, the second “conference of the parties” since the Paris Agreement was struck, promised to be a technical affair as countries continued to negotiate the finer details of how the agreement will work from 2020 onwards. Jocelyn Timperley of Carbon Brief covers the summit’s key outcomes.

Representatives from Fiji perform a traditional ceremony, known as the Qaloqalovi, to open the meeting, 06/11/17. (Photo by IISD/ENB, Kiara Worth)

However, it was also the first set of negotiations since the US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, announced its intention earlier this year to withdraw from the Paris deal. And it was the first COP to be hosted by a small-island developing state with Fiji taking up the presidency, even though it was being held in Bonn.

Two US delegations

After Trump’s decision in June that he wanted to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, all eyes were on the US official delegation to see how they would navigate the negotiations.

During the first week of the talks, a civil society group known as the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance called for the US delegation to be barred from attending the negotiations, due to its decision to leave the Paris deal.

Meanwhile, a seemingly pointed message was sent on day two of the COP, when Syria announced it would sign the Paris Agreement. This now leaves the US as the only country in the world stating it doesn’t intend to honour the landmark deal.

However, the delegation itself kept a relatively low profile – bar a now infamous“cleaner fossil fuels” side event which anti-Trump protesters disrupted for seven minutes, singing: “We proudly stand up until you keep it in the ground…”).

This was the moment when the protest started around me at the Trump administration event at #COP23 pic.twitter.com/3yx3deO9Q4

— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) November 13, 2017

The US delegation co-chaired a working group with China on Nationally Determined Contributions (country pledges, often known by the acronym NDCs) with reportedly high success. It’s worth noting, though, that many of the US negotiators are the same officials who have been representing the US at COPs for years. They seemingly continued their negotiations with little change in attitude, albeit possibly taking harder stances on issues such as “loss and damage” and finance.

There was a further chaotic appearance in the media centre by Trump adviser George David Banks, who vowed that his priority at COP23 was to fight “differentiation” (sometimes called “bifurcation”), namely, the division of countries into industrialised “annex one” countries and the rest in the UN climate arena. However, beyond this, the behaviour of the US delegation did not differ significantly from previous years.

Cracking @KarlMathiesen pic of a #COP23 huddle… starring @deantscott @LeoHickman + @MattMcGrathBBC https://t.co/w8aZFxJNV6 pic.twitter.com/cgwg2rdqe4

— Ed King (@edking_I) November 15, 2017

Importantly, though, the official US delegation were not the only group from the US drawing attention at the COP.

An alternative “We Are Still In” delegation set up a large pavilion at their US Climate Action Centre just outside the main venue for the talks.

This group included major sub-national actors, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California governor Jerry Brown, keen to prove there are many US voices against Trump’s anti-climate policies.

Their “America’s Pledge” report outlined how their coalition of cities, states and businesses represented over half the US economy. At the report’s packed launch event, Bloomberg even argued the group should should be given a seat at the climate negotiating table.

COP23 video: Does Donald Trump make limiting global warming to 1.5C impossible? Dr James Hansen, Dr Bill Hare, Rachel Cleetus, Catherine McKenna, Bill Peduto and Rachel Kyte respond.

Stronger China?

Another talking point throughout the talks was the extent to which the US’s withdrawal from its climate leadership role seen under Barack Obama has emboldened China to take the role on itself.

One concrete way China has begun to play such a role is in the Ministerial on Climate Action (MOCA) coalition, a joint group consisting of the EU, China and Canada, conceived during last year’s COP after the US election result came in.

Li Shuo, senior global policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, told Carbon Brief:

“It is worth noting that this is one of the only high-level climate processes that is a collaboration between developed and developing countries. It is also a very concrete case in point that China is lending support to the international climate process as part of collective/shared leadership.”

Others argue leadership is no longer about one country or set of countries. Speaking at the COP, Mohamed Adow, international climate lead at Christian Aid London, said:

“The days when you looked to one country to be able to actually lead the transition are gone. We’re now in a new era, where we are actually seeing more shared distributed leadership emerging, where 200 countries have collectively contributed to the global effort.”

Coal phase-out

A second major event at the COP was the launch of the “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, led by the UK and Canada.

More than 20 countries and other sub-national actors joined the alliance, including Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands; as well as the US states of Washington and Oregon. It aims to top 50 members by this time next year.

While the alliance notes in its declaration that “analysis shows that coal phase-out is needed no later than by 2030 in the OECD and EU28, and no later than by 2050 in the rest of the world” to meet the Paris Agreement, it does not commit signatories to any particular phase-out date. It also does not commit the signatories to ending the financing of unabated coal power stations, rather just “restricting” it.

Claire Perry, the UK’s climate minister, travelled to Bonn to launch the initiative alongside Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna. The UK has previously pledged to phase out unabated coal by 2025, while Canada has a 2030 deadline.

Claire Perry, @cathmckenna @MLiebreich et al preparing for the launch of the "Powering Past Coal Alliance" at #COP23 pic.twitter.com/9W4TmTlgNm

— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) November 16, 2017

The US did not sign onto the pledge and several other big coal countries were notable by their absence, including Germany, Poland, Australia, China and India.

Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel manoeuvred a delicate balancing act at the talks between trying to maintain her climate leadership on the world stage and wrangling with coalition talks between her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the Green party and Free Democrats (FDP).

Coal-phase out has become a significant focal point for campaigners at UNFCCC summits and hopes that Merkel would commit Germany to a firm date in her speech to the conference were dashed.

Separately, Michael Bloomberg used a side-event to pledge $50m to expand his anti-coal US campaign into Europe.

Pre-2020 action

The official talks themselves finished during the early hours of Saturday morning, following some last-minute wrangling over the ever-fraught issue of climate finance. (See Carbon Brief’s “map” of finance from multilateral climate funds published on the day the COP started.)

One key conflict to emerge in the early days of the conference, however, was pre-2020 climate action.

This centred on a developing country concern that rich countries had not done enough to meet their commitments made for the period up to 2020. These commitments are separate to the Paris Agreement, which applies only post-2020.

There were two main concerns: first, developed countries had not yet delivered the promised $100bn per year in climate finance by 2020 agreed in 2009 at Copenhagen; second, the Doha Amendment, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol for the years leading up to 2020, had still not been ratified by enough countries to bring it into force.

Developing countries, including China and India, were particularly irked that pre-2020 action did not have a formal space on the COP23 negotiation agenda. They insisted space must be made to discuss it, arguing that the meeting of pre-2020 commitments was a key part of building trust in the rest of negotiations.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace international, says the pre-2020 ambition issue is really about whether developed countries who committed to take the lead in the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) back in 1992 have been doing so, and whether they’ve also taken specific measures to reduce their own emissions before 2020. She tells Carbon Brief:

“I think many developed countries wanted to just kind of ignore that and focus on post-2020, but developing countries said “no”, we actually need to peak global emissions by 2020, so we want that to be a big topic here.”

At first, many developed countries dismissed these demands. However, in the end they conceded, and pre-2020 ambition and implementation formed a major part of the COP23 decision text agreed and published early on Saturday morning.

Developing countries lost the battle for an agenda item on pre-2020 actions, but won the war because pre-2020 ambition is now embedded throughout the negotiations #COP23 pic.twitter.com/OS8jJKwNiA

— Mohamed Adow (@mohadow) November 15, 2017

This included an agreement to form additional stocktaking sessions in 2018 and 2019 to review progress on reducing emissions, as well as two assessments of climate finance to be published in 2018 and 2020. These submissions will then be pulled together in a synthesis report on pre-2020 ambition ahead of COP24, which takes place in December next year in Katowice, Poland.

Letters will also be sent to countries signed up to the Kyoto Protocol who have not yet ratified the Doha Amendment urging them to deposit their instruments of acceptance as soon as possible. Several European countries even ratified the Doha Amendment during the COP, including Germany and the UK.

Poland, the country which has so far held the EU back from ratifying as a whole, also announced its plans to ratify the amendment this year. The EU, which is treated as a party under the UNFCCC, has also suggested it may ratify the deal without Poland.

Fiji’s COP

With Fiji being the first small-island state to host the climate talks, hopes were high that it would give added impetus to the negotiations.

High-level speakers on Wednesday were preceded by a speech from a 12-year old Fijian schoolboy called Timoci Naulusala, who reminded delegates that “it’s not about how, or who, but it’s about what you can do as an individual”.

The UN Climate Conference #COP23 finished on Saturday, but this 12-year-old from Fiji's message will stick with attendees for a long time. pic.twitter.com/wv4yXn7sYg

— United Nations (@UN) November 18, 2017

Opinions were mixed on Fiji’s effectiveness as the talk’s president, but two outcomes it pushed for were touted as significant achievements.

These were the Gender Action Plan, which highlights the role of women in climate action and promotes gender equality in the process, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, which aims to support the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation.

Fiji also launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership, which aims to strengthen the inclusion of oceans within the UNFCCC process.

Talanoa dialogue

Countries agreed two years ago in Paris that there should be a one-off moment in 2018 to “take stock” of how climate action was progressing. This information will be used to inform the next round of NDCs, due in 2020.

This way of recognising “enhanced ambition” – a term heard a lot at COPs – was seen as an important precursor of the Paris Agreement’s longer-term “ratchet mechanism”, which aims to increase ambition on a five-year incremental cycle.

Originally called the “facilitative dialogue”, the name of this one-off process in 2018 was changed to “Talanoa dialogue” this year under the Fijian COP presidency. This was to reflect a traditional approach to discussions used in Fiji for an “inclusive, participatory and transparent” process.

COP23 video: What needs to happen by COP24 to keep the Paris Agreement on track? Rachel Cleetus, Li Shuo, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and Carlos Rittl are among those who respond.

The final “approach” of the Talanoa dialogue was included as a four-page Annex to the main COP23 outcome decision.

It is structured around three questions – “Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?” – but also includes new details, such as a decision to accept inputs from non-party stakeholders as well as parties, a decision to set up an online platform to receive inputs, and a new emphasis on efforts being made in the pre-2020 period.

It also pointedly says the dialogue “should not lead to discussions of a confrontational nature” with individual parties being singled out. Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of climate and energy at WWF Japan, tells Carbon Brief:

“Talanoa dialogue was supposed to be a kind of opportunity-oriented, constructive and solution-oriented conversation. These kind of conversations, raising ambition conversations, tend to be very hard conversations in the UNFCCC context. Talanoa dialogue is one attempt to overcome that and create a space to try to be positive about it.”

The Talanoa dialogue was also referred to in the main COP23 outcome:

Screenshot of COP23 decision text. Source: UNFCCC

This bit of text was subject to change until fairly late on at COP23, as parties negotiated the extent to which they wanted to be committed to the Talanoa process. The ultimate choice of “welcomes with appreciation” is significant – a previous draft had the more strongly worded “endorses”, but also did not officially launch the Talanoa dialogue as the final text did. Proposals for even weaker language were also on the table.

According to Yamagishi, “a careful balance” seems to have been struck between parties. He notes, however, that the final text makes it difficult for signatories to challenge the way the dialogue is organised, since they “welcome” it “with appreciation” and have also officially “launched” it. It’s worth noting that last-minute changes also saw that it “started” in January 2018 rather than at COP23 itself, as per earlier drafts.

The preparatory phase of the Talanoa dialogue will now begin over the coming year, ahead of the political phase conducted by ministers at COP24 in Poland. A key moment for the Talanoa dialogue will also be the publication of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 1.5C special report in September 2018.

Figure showing the “preparatory phase” of the Talanoa dialogue. Source: UNFCCC.

COP24 will see the conclusion of the Talanoa dialogue with a “political phase”, as illustrated with this UNFCCC diagram.

Figure of “political phase” of the Talanoa dialogue to be held at COP24. Source: UNFCCC.

Paris ‘rulebook’

As was the case at COP22 in Marrakesh last year, negotiations in this session centred around attempts to make significant progress on developing the Paris “rulebook”. This will establish the more technical rules and processes needed to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s ambition.

These discussions are overseen by the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, or APA. Its work covers several areas, including setting the framework of country pledges (known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs), reporting of adaptation efforts, the transparent reporting of action taken at a “global stocktake” in 2023, and how to monitor compliance with the Paris Agreement.

The deadline for this work is next year’s COP in Poland, set to be held in December 2018. But the goal in Bonn was to create a draft of these implementation guidelines, with options and disagreements outlined as clearly as possible to show what still needs resolving.

The final COP23 text recognises that an additional negotiating session may be needed in 2018 between the May intersessional and COP24 in December to ensure the Paris rulebook is finished on time. This will be decided during May’s scheduled intersessional meeting, although early drafts of the text suggested “August/September 2018” as being the preferred time for such an additional session.

NDCs; Agenda item 3

A 179-page document pulling together parties’ positions on information needed to communicate national climate action plans (NDCs) was released earlier in the week.

Deep breath, everyone… #COP23 co-chairs have just released "preliminary material in preparation for the first iteration of the informal note" for Agenda item 3. It summarises parties' views on contents/accounting of NDCs. And it runs to 179 pages…. https://t.co/SLtpshfWBY

— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) November 13, 2017

The size of the text indicated significant differences still remained on how NDCs should be organised, delivered and updated. This led to some disappointment.

Yamide Dagnet, project director on international climate action at the World Resources Institute, says NDC communication was the area of the Paris rulebook with least progress so far. She tells Carbon Brief:

“Countries got stuck because there was no agreement on how to tackle the issue of scope and differentiation, as well as flexibility. So this is how we landed with a 180-page document that includes all countries’ views. There needs to be a streamlining. We need to translate those views into some sort of options for each issue.”

Global stocktake (Agenda item 6)

More progress was made on the global stocktaking exercise – a more formal version of the 2018 Talanoa dialogue – which is embedded in the Paris Agreement and set to take place in 2023 and every five years thereafter. Discussions centred on equity, as well as the scope of the stocktake – for example, whether it will include loss and damage.

Transparency (Agenda item 5)

Transparency negotiations under the Paris rulebook cover how compliance will be monitored, in line with the “enhanced transparency framework” set out by the Paris Agreement.

Dagnet says these talks made significant progress, resulting in one set of text, albeit 46-page long. She tells Carbon Brief:

“Obviously, the format and the final format will probably be a political conversation. We need to maintain that balance next year, but at least we can really witness some really good progress on transparency.”

(Note that Carbon Brief’s article about the Bonn intercessional in May 2017 explained what all the different “agenda items” refer to.)

Fights over finance

Resolution of several issues during the final day of COP23 left many hoping the meeting would (uniquely) end on time. However, disputes over two finance issues prevented this from happening, with the conference finally wrapping up at 5.30am on Saturday morning.

Last-minute tensions unfolded over the Paris Agreement’s Article 9.5, which asks developed countries to report on their flows of climate finance to developing countries.

Article 9.5 in the Paris Agreement. Source: UNFCCC.

The key point of Article 9.5 is to improve the predictability of financial flows to developing countries, thereby providing information to help them develop their climate plans.

However, as with the tensions over “pre-2020” discussed above, there was no formal space on COP23’s agenda to discuss how to develop the guidelines for it, with developed countries arguing that demands were beyond what was originally agreed.

In the end, negotiators settled on allowing extra time to discuss this issue at the intersessional meetings between now and COP24 in December.

A second sticking point on finance was the Adaptation Fund, a relatively small but politically significant multilateral fund for small-scale projects. Parties had previously agreed that it “should” serve under the Paris Agreement, but the specifics of this had not been decided.

Late into the night on the final day of COP23, member countries of the Kyoto Protocol, which the fund currently serves, at last formally agreed that the fund “shall” serve the Paris Agreement.

The Adaptation Fund also received more than $90m (including $50m from Germany) in new pledges during the COP. The same amount was also pledged to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).

Separately, French president Emmanuel Macron told COP23 delegates during his speech that Europe will cover any shortfall in funding for the IPCC. This follows the US decision to pull its funding of the science body. “It will not miss a single euro,” said Macron. The UK also announced it was pledging to double its contribution.

Loss and damage

The Paris Agreement includes a section recognising the importance of averting – and addressing – the loss and damage caused by climate change. It also says parties should enhance “understanding, action and support” on this key topic, which has become somewhat of a bugbear at negotiations in recent years.

To some, it has now become the “third pillar” of the climate action, alongside mitigation and adaptation. But unlike mitigation and adaptation – with their promised $100bn-a-year in climate finance – there are currently no sources of finance for loss and damage.

The workstream to create the Paris rulebook currently doesn’t include loss and damage as an agenda point, meaning loss and damage is not given a major space in the political UNFCCC process. This is despite demands from developing countries that new additional finance will be needed for it.

COP23 did include discussions on loss and damage as part of a separate, more low-level technical process called the Warsaw International Mechanism (or “WIM”). Originally agreed in 2013 at COP19 in Poland, this is a separate UNFCCC workstream to the Paris Agreement, with its own executive committee.

The WIM agreed on a new “five-year rolling workplan” for the mechanism, finalising a proposal from October. However, the WIM has yet to bring forward any concrete plan on finance – the key difficulty in loss-and-damage discussions. A one-off “expert dialogue” was also agreed for the May intersessional in 2018, which will inform the next review of the WIM in 2019.

Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator at CARE international, tells Carbon Brief that shifting the finance discussion to 2019 is “wholly inadequate” in light of the increasing impacts facing so many people.

A stronger emphasis on enhancing action and support, as well as identifying new sources for additional finance, is urgently needed on loss and damage, he says, alongside initiatives such as the new InsuResilience Global Partnership launched at the talks this year.

Agriculture

One notable, yet low-profile outcome from the conference this year was the end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.

Parties agreed to work over the next few years on a series of issues linking climate change and agriculture. They agreed to streamline two separate technical discussions on this topic into one process.

Countries have now been asked to submit their views on what should be included in the work by 31 March 2018, with options including how to improve soil carbon and fertility, how to assess adaptation and resilience and the creation of better livestock management systems.

Jason Funk, associate director for land use at the Center for Carbon Removal, says the decision itself, rather than what it says, is the most significant part of the agreement. He tells Carbon Brief:

“I’ve watched the parties deliberate and negotiate over agriculture issues since 2011 and they have been close many times. But this is the first time they have reached consensus about how to work on agriculture. The stakes are very high and I have witnessed the deep divides among the parties on issues that connect agriculture and climate change. As I see it, this decision signals that they have reached a level of trust and common understanding about each others’ views, and that trust and understanding will pave the way for them to work successfully together from here forward.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) welcomed the outcome on agriculture, calling it a “major step” to address the need to adapt agriculture to climate change and meet a growing global demand for food.

Meanwhile, earlier on in the week during the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) discussions at COP23, a skirmish broke out over the best way to account for the warming impact of sources and sinks of greenhouse ages.

The argument centres on how the commonly used Global Warming Potential (GWP) metric accounts for the warming effect of methane. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay formed a new alliance to say the GWP metric currently over-accounts for methane, disadvantaging them unfairly due to their large cattle industries. Brazil also made this point in its Paris pledge in 2015, where it calculated its emissions in both GWP and Global Temperature Potential (GTP).

However, no clear resolution was reached and the discussion has now been pushed to June 2019. Observers say this is something to watch at future meetings.

The ‘gateway’

A proposal submitted by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and six others asked for a new agenda item to consider a new “gateway”. This would create a UN-sanctioned emissions trading platform designed to “to encourage, measure, report, verify and account for greater ambition from corporate entities, investors, regions, states/provinces, cities and civil society organizations”. But this led to concern among some that this could increase corporate influence over the UN talks.

Similar concerns emerged during the first week at COP12 with a proposal from Ukraine to bring energy corporates closer into the UN climate process by slotting energy multinationals into an “intermediate layer” between the UNFCCC and national governments.

Road ahead in 2018

With the conclusion of COP23, the clock really begins to tick for the major deadlines and events in 2018. With the process for the Talanoa dialogue now essentially agreed, with it taking place throughout next year, there still remains much work to do before the Paris rulebook is agreed upon at COP24 in Poland.

Below are some key dates in the diary for the year ahead…

Finally, Brazil has put in an official bid to host COP25 in 2019, which is scheduled to be hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina and Jamaica were also said to be in the running). Brazil’s offer was officially “accepted with appreciation” suggesting it is now the frontrunner.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Italy have both signalled their interest to host COP26 in 2020 – another key year with the next round of NDCs due to be submitted.

This article has been republished from CarbonBrief.org.

Jocelyn Timperley is a climate and energy journalist. She holds an undergraduate masters in environmental chemistry from the University of Edinburgh and a science journalism MA from City University London. She previously worked at BusinessGreen covering low carbon policy and the green economy.

Categories: Blogs

Why France really had to postpone its nuclear reduction

20 November, 2017 - 15:00

Just as the COP23 meetings were getting underway, French environmental minister Nicolas Hulot said that France was not abandoning the goal of switching partly from nuclear to renewables, but merely postponing its attainment. Craig Morris says more time won’t help: Nuclear may help keep the lights on in France for now, but the French remain in the dark about the conflict between nuclear and wind & solar.

Reactors can’t adapt to the fluctuations of wind and solar – France will have to choose one or the other (Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet, edited, CC BY 2.0)

France has announced (report in French) the abandonment of plans first adopted in 2012 to reduce the share of nuclear from 75% to 50% by 2025. The reason given is that such a fast reduction would not be possible without more fossil energy in the interim.

In 2011, French candidate for the presidency Francois Hollande first proposed the semi-phaseout during the election campaign. The French then elected him to implement it. And then nothing really happened – no nuclear plants have been closed, and renewables hardly grew.

To make the math easy, let’s assume that France consumes some 500 TWh of electricity each year. Nuclear would then drop from 375 TWh to 250 TWh, so we would need to add 125 TWh from renewables to cover that decrease. In 2012, Hollande still had twelve years to do so. Renewables would thus have needed to grow at around 10 TWh a year. Instead, from 2013-2016 France added a mere 3.26 TWh annually on average from solar (1.2 TWh), wind (1.6 TWh), and biomass (0.47 TWh) (data source in French – years are out of order!).

It is possible to add wind and solar much faster. Renewable power grew in Germany from 2010 (the year before Merkel’s nuclear phaseout) to 2016 by nearly 84 TWh or 14 TWh annually in those six years. Take out the 16 TWh of biomass, and you have the 10 TWh of solar and wind alone France would have needed. France also has far better conditions for both than Germany does, not to mention far more sparsely populated land.

So just in terms of the amount of energy, replacing a third of nuclear with wind and solar would theoretically have been possible starting in 2012. But now, France only has seven years left, so the task would be daunting indeed.

But there’s a bigger problem: ramping

In 2016, France had 1.6% solar and 3.9% wind power (source). Increasing that to cover an additional 25% at a ratio of, say, 1:2 would require another 8% solar and 16% wind, putting solar at around 10% of supply and wind at some 20%. And that won’t work with France’s inflexible nuclear fleet, which has never ramped by more than a third.

A recent post by climate change skeptic Euan Mearns on the infamous duck curve illustrates the problem well. Mearns estimates that a 10% solar share of annual supply would peak at some 28 MW on a sunny summer day in France, with demand at 45 GW. His analysis doesn’t investigate what a peak of 2/3 solar would mean for nuclear, but clearly the fleet would be pushed down to serving a residual load of only 17 GW.

Reducing the nuclear fleet by a third from 63 GW to 42 GW would thus still mean ramping by around half. The French fleet has never demonstrated it can ramp by more than a third. And even then, all other power sources – wind, biomass, hydro, and gas (France will close its last coal plants in 2021, see President Macron’s tweet below) – would need to be curtailed entirely. It would be an expensive mess, not to mention a technical challenge.

La France s'est engagée dans ces derniers mois pour une sortie de la production des énergies fossiles.
Nous fermerons toutes les centrales à charbon d'ici 2021. #COP23

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 15, 2017

Granted, power exports could provide some relief by increasing the residual load. Exports are already rescuing Germany’s nuclear and coal fleet, though the country still has many hours of negative power prices on the spot market. UK-based climate change NGO Sandbag recently published another chart nicely showing how power exports make space for German lignite plants. (The blue area looks a bit like what nuclear would eventually have to ramp like in France.)

Source: Sandbag

Like Mearns, Sandbag doesn’t focus on what that different residual load (blue) would mean for the plants. German lignite ramps better than nuclear does, but it still cannot ramp like that blue area. In practice, lignite would thus not exactly be pushed down into the blue area shown by Sandbag. Rather, lignite plants would have to switch off for days, such as over weekends, while they wait for more extended higher levels of demand. Lignite would thus decrease much more than Sandbag expects, and gas turbines would fill the gap – which is what the French now believe is needed for their nuclear-to-renewables switch in the interim as well.

In contrast to German lignite plants, nuclear reactors really, really don’t like to switch off for a few days, come back on for a few, etc. But few talk about nuclear inflexibility in France; mainly, carbon is discussed. When France announced the postponement of the semi-phaseout, the country’s grid operator published a set of five scenarios (press release in French), one of which was for Hollande’s plan from 2012. Without ever mentioning ramping, RTE found that gas turbines would partly replace nuclear, thereby increasing carbon emissions.

The French have put so many eggs in the nuclear basket that they are stuck. Spiky wind and solar will break those eggs. A report in Platt’s Nucleonics Week from June 2016 (paywall) speaks of reactor operator EDF’s efforts to make “two-thirds (sic) of its French reactor fleet able to load-follow in 2016.” But that also seems to be the maximum, according to the report. In other words, the French fleet is already as flexible as it can be – and that’s not enough for even 10% wind and 20% solar.

So why did Hollande think a nuclear reduction was possible without fossil fuel?

The short answer is: he had no idea. Laypeople often assume that policies are based on some scientific finding or expert knowledge. But in reality, policymakers often adopt policies that sound good, and scientists then scramble to investigate what that might look like.

RTE has been producing scenarios of Hollande’s aim since 2012; it’s hidden a bit in this French PDF from 2012 as the “nouveau mix” scenario for 2030, but with 40 GW of nuclear in 2025. Still, wind would only make up 12% of demand; solar, just 4%. Implicitly suggesting that replacing a third of nuclear just with wind and solar is not even feasible, RTE never investigated that option. Rather, electricity from gas would quadruple. Ramping is not mentioned, but a main finding is that carbon emissions would go up.

I have not found any expert who ever thought France could replace a third of its nuclear power (25% of total supply) with renewables by 2025. French environmental minister Hulot stated himself on announcing the postponement that “lots of people knew it wasn’t reachable” (in French). Hollande had no French study to base his target on in 2011; it had never been investigated. And like so many people, Hollande probably thought the French nuclear fleet is far, far more flexible than it actually is.

Quelle ironie: It wasn’t Merkel’s phaseout of 2011 that was a “panicked reaction to Fukushima,” but Hollande’s. Merkel reverted to Germany’s 2002 phaseout; the country had ten years of experience already, and renewables were growing far faster than anyone had ever imagined possible. She had previously extended reactor lifespans in 2010, so her 2011 decision mainly reversed that extension. She had lots of facts to base her judgement on in 2011. And a national debate about the Systemkonflikt between nuclear and wind & solar had raged for years by then (here’s the nuclear sector reacting to it in a PDF from 2010). The Germans have long known that nuclear has to go for wind and solar to grow.

In contrast, Hollande had nothing in 2011: no scenarios, no French experience with high levels of wind and solar, and no national public discussion about the energy sector. Today, the French discussion remains poorly informed.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Breaking down the elements of an energy efficient building

17 November, 2017 - 15:00

The up-front costs of energy efficient buildings and passive houses may be relatively high. But they are one of the most important ways to reduce energy use and thereby emissions – and, of course, energy bills. Justin Havre takes a look at how homeowners and businesses can act.

Passive houses can be both functional and attractive (Photo by Jeff Kubina, edited, CC BY-SA 2.0)

When it comes to an energy efficient home, there are many dimensions to consider. The first of those dimensions starts with a philosophy, and then moves into the building materials and technology that are used for construction. Some buildings are more efficient than others, and passive houses meet the highest standards for reducing costs and providing comfort while ensuring that power bills stay low. No matter how many energy efficient elements are in the house, each of those elements works together to reduce energy consumption.

The Philosophy of Energy Efficiency

The idea of energy efficiency is not new. Energy efficient choices that are built into homes or that are used for upgrades all started with the philosophy of saving money and having a home that was easier to maintain and care for. Many countries have set goals for renovating houses or building only passive homes (for example, the EU requires that homes built after 2020 be nearly zero-energy).

For most homeowners, the philosophy of energy efficiency is one that has also adapted and changed over time. As more appliances were created that used energy – everything from dishwashers to electric can openers – some homeowners made the choice to do without those things. But others pushed for these modern conveniences to have energy efficient ratings. Their philosophy was that the conveniences shouldn’t come at the expense of energy efficiency, but they also shouldn’t have to be avoided or done without.

The Right Building Materials Make a Difference

The materials used to build a home are important, because they can make a difference in the degree of energy efficiency. Homes that have the right materials can save a lot of money, while homes that do not have the proper materials may be listed as energy efficient but not really save power. Insulation is among the most significant of building materials when people are looking for energy efficiency; other materials include windows and doors, along with ductwork and appliances.

Water heaters, stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, and more can all be energy efficient, and many people focus on those types of options when they look for efficiency. For anyone building a home (or any other kind of building, for that matter) the focus should be not only on the appliances that are being used in that building, but also on the materials themselves. There are different grades and types of insulation that can be used to improve efficiency, and there different types and thicknesses of drywall that can make a difference. The more care is taken in choosing energy efficient materials, the more that can be done with a home or business that has a comfortable feel and better efficiency.

Technology is Improving Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency has been greatly improved in recent years by the advent of different types of technology. These include new and better ways to test products for energy efficiency. Furthermore, the costs of technology have been greatly reduced over the years; for example, solar power has never been more accessible as prices have decreased.

Some of the older products that were deemed energy efficient in the past would not meet the standards of today for products that are energy efficient. With that in mind, more knowledge goes a long way. There are now products that can automate functions of a house, allowing for maximum energy efficiency and reminding homeowners to make adjustments to their home that can help reduce their utility costs.

Thermostats that change the temperature at particular times, lights that turn on and off on a timer or through a smartphone app, and other types of features can help keep power bills low and the comfort in their buildings high. While this technology is not always inexpensive, over time it can help save so much money that it pays for itself many times over.

Passive Houses for True Energy Savings

There are a number of options for energy savings, but the best way to save as much energy and be as efficient as possible is to buy or build a passive house. These houses virtually run themselves, and they are as energy efficient and detailed as possible. Consumers will want to focus on these types of houses if they are truly interested in reducing their energy consumption to the lowest possible levels.

The passive house concept is spreading around the world, but currently there are not that many houses that truly qualify for this level of energy efficiency. This is mostly because homes like this cost more up front. The types of materials and appliances they use are efficient, and that makes them higher-end.

Over time the cost of passive homes will start to come down, but this may take a number of years. In the meantime, people who are interested in these types of homes will continue to research them, and may make changes to their current homes to get them closer to passive house standards. While that will not provide an extremely high level of energy efficiency, it can provide enough to allow for homeowners to feel good about saving money on their power bills and reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible.

The reduction of a carbon footprint may not be the focus of many homeowners. But if we can have both a more comfortable, and over time cheaper building, it makes sense to move to a more energy efficient standard today.

Justin Havre is a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates.

Categories: Blogs

Tear down or leave up all the old wind turbines?

16 November, 2017 - 15:00

In the next few years, a large number of wind turbines will run out of eligibility for feed-in tariffs after twenty years. Even if they are still running well, they are likely to be dismantled for several reasons. Craig Morris investigates.

Biomass, solar and wind: the most likely scenario is that old wind and biomass capacity will be torn down (Photo by Florian Gerlach, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 2000, Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) went into effect. Though the country had had feed-in tariffs since the Feed-in Act of 1991, new installations grew for wind power considerably after the EEG became law. The record year was 2002.

In addition, solar and biomass systems were also built in significant volumes for the first time after 2000. For PV, the issue is relatively straightforward: the systems have almost no maintenance costs and were largely built on rooftops. Owners can therefore consume the power directly (or store it as battery systems get cheaper). So solar arrays can be left running.

For old biomass units, the future is less clear, as a new report (in German) by the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (LBW) argues. Such systems can be complex, and expensive revamps may be necessary. Most of these systems can be expected to close. However, this sector (along with PV) was not really significant until the EEG was amended in 2004. So neither PV or biomass retirements would have a major impact until the mid-2020s.

Wind turbines also have maintenance costs, and they can rise after 20 years of operation. They would have to be below the wholesale power price for a turbine to remain profitable once the feed-in tariffs elapse. Currently, wholesale rates are quite low at close to 3 cents but are expected to rise by 2023, the first year after the nuclear phaseout is completed in Germany. Removing that excess capacity will bring prices back up, as would additional coal plant closures currently being debated.

Indeed, some experts believe wholesale prices could double to six cents by the middle of next decade – one reason why recent winning offshore win bids simply said they would accept whatever wholesale rate was available. That step could be tricky, however, because wind turbines drive down the price of power on spot markets, which rise again when less wind and solar power is available. Wind turbines react to the weather, not to power demand, so average spot market prices don’t apply. Firm contracts based on wholesale rates will still be needed.

The LBW’s findings are in line with those of other publications, such as this one (in German) by Energy Brainpool. A previous study from 2016 for offshore wind turbines came similar conclusions (with some nice charts). But the LBW adds another option that seems unclear at the moment: old turbines could participate in new auctions. The idea is that the prices that recently won contracts – still above four cents – are higher than current wholesale prices and could be high enough to make further operation of twenty-year-old wind farms profitable.

If so, they wouldn’t be able to stay online for another 20 years – and this is where that thinking starts to fall apart. The LBW authors argue that a shortfall in new capacity additions could result if winning bids aren’t completed on time or at all. Continued use of old wind farms could easily fill that gap quickly, the authors propose – but the major deadlines that might be missed don’t come until 2023, a fact the paper doesn’t mention.

Furthermore, there is increasingly pressure on existing projects to repower (replace old turbines with new ones) because land is increasingly scarce. People near these old wind farms are used to having turbines nearby and might therefore be more likely to welcome repowering than people with no exposure to turbines might for new projects.

Nonetheless, the option of offering the winning bid price to old wind farms if new projects are delayed is an idea worth looking into. So is the proposal to have old biogas units run as backup units when spot power prices are higher. The problem here is technical: the earliest biogas units were not built to be flexible, and biogas production itself runs in batches than cannot be interrupted.

In both cases, the most likely scenario is that all this old wind and biomass capacity will be torn down. Only the old PV will largely remain online, perhaps even for 30 or 40 years. We still don’t know how long solar panels are good for, only that they “degrade”; output falls to 85% after 25 years. But solar panels operating at, say, 50% after 40 years is still a good thing, especially if it costs nothing to leave them running.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

How will Volkswagen’s Dieselgate settlement be spent?

14 November, 2017 - 13:50

German car maker Volkswagen, caught cheating on emissions tests in 2015 in the “Dieselgate” scandal, is rolling out plans to spend almost $15 billion in penalties and settlements. Some of the money goes back to customers, but about half will be used for infrastructure and pollution mitigation. Ben Paulos takes a look.

Volkswagen must invest $40 million on charging stations in 11 cities across the US (Photo by Mariordo, edited, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Caught by regulators and researchers, Volkswagen confessed that it had secretly and deliberately installed a “defeat device,” software designed to fool emission testers, in nearly 583,000 VW and Audi-branded diesel vehicles sold in America between 2009 and 2015.  The ruse resulted in an estimated 44,000 tons of extra nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, a potent contributor to smog and lung disease.

VW and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to a series of three settlements to resolve the charges, with VW committing to major payments. The largest chunk of money will go directly to customers who bought or leased the vehicles.  VW is offering a buyback and lease termination to those customers, at a cost of over $10 billion.

The rest of the funds, $4.7 billion, will help mitigate the pollution caused by the cheating cars and invest in green vehicle technology.

Of that amount, $2 billion will be spent on building out electric vehicle infrastructure, while $2.7 billion will be used to establish an Environmental Mitigation Trust, which states and territories will use to invest in transportation projects that cut NOx emissions.

While states can use the funds for a variety of NOx-reduction technologies, it is likely to provide a significant boost to electric cars.

“This settlement does favor electrification,” says Cassie Powers, Senior Program Director at the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).  NASEO is working with the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) to help states craft their plans.

EV Charging and Education

To manage the spending on electric vehicle infrastructure, education, and access, Volkswagen set up a subsidiary company, Electrify America.  The company will invest $1.2 billion in four rounds over the next 10 years outside of California, plus an additional $800 million in California.

In the first tranche of national spending, Volkswagen will invest $190 million on a long-distance highway charging network, $40 million on charging stations in 11 cities, and $25 million on consumer education.  In all, the funds will support over 2500 non-proprietary chargers across 450 individual stations, including 240 fast-charging stations along highway corridors.

Just before leaving office, the Obama Administration designated 55 Alternative Fuel Corridors, spanning 35 states and Washington, DC, covering approximately 85,000 miles of highway.  Most of the corridors are for EV charging, meaning they have at least one fast charging station every 50 miles.  But Congress appropriated no funds to support alternative fuel stations along the corridors.  The VW settlement funds will help fill that gap.

Powers estimates that Electrify America’s investment will cover only about 10-15% of the infrastructure needed for a fully functioning national EV market.

The first round of charging stations are expected to be operational for local community charging in Q3 of 2017 and for highway charging in Q2 of 2018.

The California part of the plan was approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on July 27, which will direct $200 million for EV charging infrastructure at 100 locations in six metro areas and along highways, as well as brand-neutral education and outreach programs.

The plan also includes a new “Green City” initiative in Sacramento.  Electrify America will spend $44 million in Sacramento on charging facilities, electric car ride sharing services, and other projects to demonstrate the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.

This aspect has been criticized by advocates for low-income communities, like Dean Florez, a CARB board member and past leader of the California Senate.

“A show of force for the political class in the Capitol makes great headlines, but may not be the best for the rest of the surrounding cities suffering from higher pollution levels baked in the Central Valley sun,” he writes.

Electrify America began selecting locations for chargers in August.

Environmental Mitigation Trust

The settlement also includes $2.7 billion for states to spend on environmental mitigation, especially aimed at reducing NOx emissions from transportation vehicles.

Source: NASEO / NACAA online clearinghouse:  www.vwclearinghouse.org

States are still developing their plans. They first must be certified to participate, with applications due December 1.  States then make funding requests to the trust manager, and could begin making investments as soon as late spring of 2018.

So far, ten states have draft plans out for public comment, according to NASEO.

NASEO Executive Director David Terry sees the settlement funds as a real catalyst for change.  “NASEO is encouraging market transformation, long term benefits, and leapfrogging current practices,” he told Energy Transition. “Vehicle electrification is a pretty important thing.  The settlement can be a catalyst in overcoming some of the challenges.”

Funds can be spent in 10 categories of NOx reduction strategies, with a maximum of 15% of the funds for light-duty electric vehicle infrastructure.

Midwest states will receive more than $438 million for local air quality efforts. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, a regional advocacy group based in Chicago, has been urging states to spend 85% of the funds to electrify large, public fleets that operate in densely-populated areas, such as school and transit buses.  The rest should be spent on light-duty EV infrastructure, they say, like fast-chargers along the Midwest’s designated EV corridors.

ELPC led a four-state, six-city electric school bus road tour to raise awareness about the potential for school districts to modernize their fleets while protecting children from the harmful effects of diesel pollution. School buses transport more people nationwide than transit and rail combined, they note.

California will be spending about $423 million from the mitigation trust fund. Legislation passed in June requires that 35% of the funds be spent in low-income communities. CARB is expected to finalize a spending plan in spring of 2018.

Competitiveness concerns?

One ironic facet of the settlement is that Volkswagen is being forced into the EV charging industry. The company has been slow to the EV party, with the German government complicit in protecting their profitable business in high-end diesel and gasoline cars.

Now, forced by the settlement, Electrify America is emerging as a significant competitor to existing charging firms like ChargePoint, EVgo, and Blink. ChargePoint is the largest, with more than 41,000 charging spots.

Tesla, whose stations work only with Tesla cars, is aiming to increase their charging network to 10,000 by the end of 2017.

Regulators in California approved plans by the state’s three investor-owned utilities – Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — to invest $195 million in more than 12,500 charging stations.

Still, Electrify America is downplaying the settlement, with no mention of it on their website. Instead their goal is “to build a network that is economically sustainable for the long term.”

“We believe electric mobility is about to enter a new era of product choice,” they write. “And we will be there with an extensive and reliable charging network to power it.”

NASEO’s David Terry is skeptical.  “They will have some hurdles to address,” he says.  “The rollout of EVs will be uneven nationally.”

EV charging companies suffer from the chicken and egg problem – not enough electric cars means the chargers are not profitable, and not enough chargers means people don’t buy electric cars.

“I find it hard to believe it will be profitable,” he says, especially outside of California.  “This is not for the faint of heart.”

Volkswagen is also planning to spend big on electric vehicle production.  At the Frankfurt auto show in September, VW announced plans to invest $24 billion by 2030, with 80 new electric models by 2025, up from a previous goal of 30, and an electric version of all 300 models by 2030.

Bentham Paulos is an energy consultant and writer based in California. His views are his own, and don’t necessarily represent those of any of his clients. For more information see PaulosAnalysis.com.

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Truth to Power? India’s Renewable Energy Boom

13 November, 2017 - 15:08

With all of the noise around Trump and the US exit from the Paris Agreement, it’s easy to forget that other countries are taking their goals seriously. India has seen a huge solar boom, wind energy has been steadily increasing, and planned coal plants have been cancelled. Frances Beinecke explores India’s energy transition.

India’s solar capacity has skyrocketed by 370% in the past three years (Photo by Bkwcreator, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

India plays an important role in Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. The film looks at India to highlight the challenges developing nations face as they seek to move away from conventional, polluting coal energy toward clean but less established sources of renewable energy. Much of the movie was filmed in 2015, when India was portrayed in Western media as being a holdout in the Paris climate negotiations.

Spoiler alert: India, the world’s 4th largest carbon emitter (after China, the U.S. and the EU), does indeed sign on to the Paris treaty. And what’s more, India is on track today to meet and even exceed the ambitious climate goals set at Paris. In the scant two years since the film wrapped, India has made tremendous progress shifting away from coal and toward renewables, fueled by ambitious goal-setting and supportive government policies. What’s crucial now is developing the financial infrastructure to fund small-scale projects and newer technologies to ensure that clean, renewable power reaches India’s rural areas.

The overall growth of renewable energy in India has been remarkable. India has added 9 gigawatts (GW) of solar power in just the past two years—the equivalent of 4.5 Hoover Dams—for a total of 12 GW of total solar power capacity. Solar capacity has increased 370 percent in the past three years. According to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), another 37 GW will be added by 2020. India commissioned 3.6 GW of wind power in 2016 and doubled that in the first quarter of 2017 alone.

This boom in clean energy has led to a slowdown in the growth of coal. Several Indian states have recently scrapped plans to build new coal-fired power plants and announced the cancelation of coal mining projects. BNEF projects that by 2040, coal will no longer play a dominant role in India’s power system.

Much of India’s projected clean energy growth is expected to come from large-scale projects such as solar parks. But India also needs to ramp up small scale energy development, such as rooftop solar, in order to reach some 300 million people who are not connected or are underserved by the power grid.

Many small towns and villages only get electricity for a few hours a day, if at all. People rely on wood, coal or gas for lighting and cooking. This creates carbon emissions as well as unhealthy smoke at home—pollution that particularly affects women and children.

The government has set a goal of installing 40 GW of rooftop solar and electrifying 18,000 villages by 2022. But right now these types of small-scale, off-grid projects don’t have the same access to capital that big projects like solar parks do. This needs to be remedied. The ability to warehouse and bundle small projects together would make it easier for banks to service loans and create a scale that’s more attractive to private and international investors. A dedicated green investment fund with ring-fenced, patient capital and clean energy expertise could provide this and other solutions to help finance underserved projects such as rural solar energy development, as well as newer technologies like electric vehicles and solar batteries, where financiers have less experience lending.

With all the drama in the United States, it’s easy to forget that most countries are still moving forward on climate, honoring their commitments at Paris and even, like India, on track to exceed their climate goals. NRDC is working with partners in India to help remove barriers to clean energy financing so that India can continue to cut carbon pollution while providing energy to everyone who needs it.

This article has been republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Frances Beinecke was president of the NRDC from 2006 to 2015.

Categories: Blogs

What are they talking about at COP23?

9 November, 2017 - 16:00

About ten thousand people are attending the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP) on climate change. Didn’t they just decide something in Paris two years ago? Why do they have to keep meeting every year? Craig Morris asks the experts.

Demonstration at the COP23 – protesters demand climate justice (Photo by Spielvogel, edited, CC BY-SA 3.0)

From 6-17 November 2017, some 25,000 delegates and visitors will descend upon Bonn, Germany, for COP23 under the Fuji presidency. They will meet in temporary buildings (heated with oil) and probably stay a bit longer hammering out details of an agreement on emission reductions.

What else is there to discuss? In 2015, the Paris Accord was signed. It marked a breakthrough in climate policy – not because of the targets, which remain insufficient: the pledges would bring global warming down from 3.6°C to only 2.8°C, far from the 2.0°C aimed for, much less the 1.5°C acknowledged to be necessary. Rather, Paris was a breakthrough because it broke with the old Kyoto approach.

In the Kyoto Protocol, countries negotiated binding targets. “Annex” countries were to reduce their emissions; non-Annex countries (developing nations) had leeway to increase theirs. The countries thus fought over what was fair.

The approach didn’t work. The US never joined; no Democrat or Republican senator would ratify it. Canada joined but left when it would have had to pay fines. At COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, a decision was made to change the approach, which had failed.

The idea was that pledges should be non-binding, and there would be no penalties. Under Kyoto, each country would theoretically pledge to do more in order to encourage others to be more ambitious – hence Germany’s unrealistic pledge of a 40 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2020. But in practice, it worked the other way around: there was a race to the bottom. The spirit could be summed up as: “If they don’t do more, we’ll do less.” The Kyoto approach thus encouraged a lack of ambition, the opposite of what Germany – which hosted three of the first six COPs to ensure the process continued – wanted. By 2009, people had lost confidence in the process.

How could confidence be restored? By 2015, Paris had replaced Kyoto’s penalties with the “name-and-shame game” in order to switch from policing to peer-pressure (literally). All pledges are now voluntary, and some of them make little sense, lacking even a baseline (30% relative to what?). The only penalty is that people like me and you get to point the finger. “There are just limits to compliance,” Elmar Kriegler of PIK explains the new approach, which he says is “more about nudging.” Kyoto proved to be unenforceable. But peer-pressure? It’s hard to imagine how that could even be stopped. In this respect, Paris represents a paradigm shift.

All-night sessions

The delegates often work frantically, sleeping little and staying longer than planned. Given those poor conditions, it’s not surprising that the documents themselves are less than perfect. “If you look at the first version of the Paris agreement, you’ll see there’s a paragraph missing,” explains Navina Sanchez, associate lecturer at the University of Cologne. “It jumps from 35 to 37. And there are articles that are interrelated but contradict each other.” One example is reporting schedules, which do not always overlap.

In Paris, delegates basically raced to fill in the blanks from a template agreed on in 2014 at COP20. “In Lima, we came up with some 70 pages of text. Everything was in brackets, but there was a structure,” Sanchez says. That structure was possible because the idea of pledges (INDCs or intended nationally determined contributions) had been invented in 2013 at COP 19 in Warsaw. In turn, the INDCs were possible because of the insight at COP18 in Doha that a paradigm switch was needed – in 2012, the year that the Kyoto Protocol expired. The Paris agreement thus took shape gradually, and it will continue to evolve. “I think the agreement came about because it included mechanisms to make it gradually enforceable,” says Manuel Pulgar Vidal of the WWF.

How can a voluntary agreement become enforceable? Since the Paris Accord was adopted in 2015, the COPs have focused on what’s called the Paris rulebook. When does what need to be reported? And how can countries be “nudged” to adopt more ambitious pledges? That’s what delegates are negotiating in Bonn. “The idea of Paris in the beginning was to create confidence,” Vidal says. “I believe the agreement does that, so it will continue to serve us well for many decades to come.”

For the time being, the only penalties are peer-pressure. It’s thus important that people like you and me play the name-and-shame game. So please do take part. For now, it’s all we’ve got.

Direct quotes were taken from episode 2 of Craig’s new podcast for the IASS on Human environments in a changing world.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

Categories: Blogs

Get ready for the next generation of electric vehicles

8 November, 2017 - 15:00

Electric vehicles (EVs) are approaching a tipping point, as a wave of new cars are matching the cost and performance of traditional petrol cars. Three breakthrough electric cars, from GM, Tesla, and Nissan, are offering drivers everything they want – but without the pollution. Ben Paulos takes an in-depth look.

Tesla Model 3 has one of the best ranges of the new electric vehicles sold (Photo by Steve Jurvetson, edited, CC BY 2.0)

Growth of electric vehicles is being driven by the confluence of falling prices and improved performance of batteries, consumer demand, and especially regulatory demand.

The new cars

GM’s Chevy Bolt, Tesla’s Model 3, and Nissan’s LEAF 2.0 are average priced cars with 250 mile ranges. While previous electric cars had either the range (Tesla) or the price (Nissan), the new cars have both. This is the breakthrough that many have been waiting for, triggering a round of new policies, new product announcements from major car companies, and new forecasts of future sales.

The Chevy Bolt was the first on the streets, boasting an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles (383 km). With a sticker price of $36,620, it has been a steady seller, trailing only the Tesla Model S in the most recent sales quarter, according to EV Obsession.

The Tesla Model 3 went into production in July, with the goal of producing 5000 cars per week by year’s end. But Tesla has struggled with “production bottlenecks,” according to CEO Elon Musk, and appears unlikely to reach that goal.

Musk whipped up a frenzy around the Model 3 by collecting reservation deposits of $1000 each from half a million potential customers, eager to buy some of the Tesla mystique for only $35,000. As a result, Tesla got an interest free loan of $616 million from its customers, mostly from Model 3 deposits.

The $35,000 base model has a range of 220 miles while the $44,000 “long range” version can go 310 miles, giving it the most miles-per-dollar of any battery-electric car on the market, according to Bloomberg.

The new Nissan LEAF is expected to hit the market by October in Japan, and the US early next year. While the initial version of the LEAF has been a top seller, the new 2018 model will have an improved range of 150 miles, as well as a host of “smart” features, like following the car ahead at a preset distance, staying centered in a lane, and pedestrian detection. The sticker price starts at only $29,990. Nissan has said that the 2019 version will have a larger battery pack and a range well over 200 miles.

Figures via Bloomberg

Big policy changes

This breakthrough on price and performance has inspired policy makers around the world to become more aggressive about electric vehicles.

Norway, England, France, Scotland, India, and the Netherlands have all announced plans to phase out internal combustion engines.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to commit to a phase-out of diesel cars, but has acknowledged the British and French plans “were the right approach,” according to Reuters.

“We need to organize a smooth transition into the new era so that people keep their jobs,” she said, during the recent campaign season.

The biggest potential impact is from China, by far the largest single market for new car sales. In 2017 so far, total Chinese vehicle sales have risen 4.3% to 17.51 million units, while US auto sales have fallen 2.7% to 11.35 million vehicle units, according to industry data tracker Market Realist.

In September, the Chinese government announced that they too are “researching” a phase-out of internal combustion cars. China currently has a goal of 20% of all car sales to be from EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2025.

Norway is currently the world leader in EV adoption per capita, thanks to substantial incentives, like an exemption from the 25% tax applied to vehicle sales. Norwegian buyers set a new record in June, with 42% of new cars being EVs, including 27% from battery-only cars.

Regulatory demand for EVs initially came from California, where the Air Resources Board (CARB) imposed a zero-emission / low-emission vehicle mandate in 1990, known as ZEV-LEV. The rule required that in 2% of vehicles sold in California had to be ZEVs by 1998, increasing to 5% in 2001 and 10% in 2003. Subsequent changes allowed a range of other technologies to earn credits, including hybrid cars.

Auto-makers challenged the rule in court, but grudgingly complied, with GM releasing the EV1 in 1998, a battery-only EV model with a range of 124 miles. But the price of electric vehicles was high, demand was low, and car makers had more success with hybrid cars.

Regulators at CARB saw the success of hybrids as a way to drive bigger air quality gains more rapidly. Instead of a small number of zero-emission cars, they could put a large number of low-emission vehicles on the road.

While critics castigated CARB chair Alan Lloyd as the man “who killed the electric car,” CARB’s revision of the rules in 2001 launched the global hybrid industry.

Toyota especially jumped at the hybrid opportunity in California with the Prius, selling over 800,000 units over the first ten years in the US; about a quarter of all Prius’ were sold in California.

Nine states followed California’s lead in adopting ZEV-LEV laws, mostly in the Northeast and Northwest. This move created essentially two car markets in the US – “California” cars and non-California cars.

Altogether, the “California car” states require that 15% of new vehicle sales be ZEVs by 2025, or about 4 million vehicles. California still dominates sales, with over half of all plug-in vehicles sold nationwide in 2017 to date, according to the Association of Global Automakers. Almost 5% of new sales in California were plug-ins, compared to only 1.1% nationally.

Policies trigger big plans

The combination of market and regulatory pressure is now pushing car makers to move into EVs in a big way.

Volvo was the first major car company to announce plans to phase out conventional engines, committing to selling only hybrid and electric cars by 2019. GM recently announced that it will sell at least 20 new all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles globally by 2023. Ford too said it would add 13 electric models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion.

Altogether, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects over 120 different models of EV to be on the market by 2020, including SUVs and small vans. The “EV Revolution” is underway, they say, with EVs accounting for 54% of new car sales by 2040.

“Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29.”

The International Energy Agency, typically more conservative, predicts there could be between 40 million and 70 million electric cars on the roads by 2025. The ten member countries of IEA’s EV Initiative recently launched the EV30@30 campaign, setting a collective goal of a 30% market share for electric vehicles by 2030.

While the EV revolution currently seems inevitable, the coming year will be critical in the success of clean cars. Sales of the three breakthrough models from Chevy, Tesla, and Nissan will dictate whether the public is willing to follow the regulators.

Bentham Paulos is an energy consultant and writer based in California. His views are his own, and don’t necessarily represent those of any of his clients. For more information see PaulosAnalysis.com.

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