The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, for the first time in U.S. history issued a federal rule governing the disposal of coal ash nationwide. With some 140 million tons left over from combustion of coal to generate electrical power, coal ash is the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S. Up until today, it has been left up to state governments to regulate storage and disposal. In effect, public health and environmental groups point out, there has been less regulation and monitoring of coal ash than household waste in the U.S.
While welcoming the EPA’s action, environmental groups say its initial rule won’t do nearly enough to safeguard human and environmental health and safety. “While EPA and the Obama administration have taken a modest first step by introducing some protections on the disposal of coal ash, they do not go far enough to protect families from this toxic pollution,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, was quoted in a statement. “We welcome federal efforts on this issue, but Sierra Club has significant concerns about what has been omitted from these protections and how they will be enforced in states that have historically had poor track records on coal ash disposal.”
South Africa is a nation rich in renewable energy resources. It’s finally capitalizing on them, thanks in large part to opening up its power market – previously a regulated monopoly – to independent power producers (IPP) and instituting short- and long-term national targets for renewable energy generation capacity.
Experiencing rolling blackouts and committed to developing its renewable energy resources as a path towards sustainable development, South Africa’s government on Dec. 11 announced it would triple electricity production from renewable energy sources in order to help alleviate power shortages. In the midst of auctions to procure 3,725 megawatts of energy from biomass, wind, solar and hydropower sources, and an additional 3,200 MWs thereafter, South Africa is now aiming for renewable energy resources to contribute 11.4 gigawatts to the grid as of an as yet unspecified date.
Add at least another 100 megawatts to South Africa’s total renewable power generation capacity: It is to come in the form of a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant to be built and operated by Spain’s Abengoa, and it will do more than generate clean, renewable power. Making use of molten salt thermal energy storage technology, the Xina Solar One power plant will be able to store five hours worth of energy, doling it out as needs demand even after the sun sets.
Continuing to lead the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, California in October 2013 enacted AB2514, legislation that requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to acquire 1.325 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020.
Earlier this month, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison issued their first request for proposals for energy storage assets that will help meet projected long-term local capacity requirements.
California grid and energy market regulators are joining with industry players and already taking the next step in the U.S. renewable energy-smart grid transition. They’re building and testing microgrids in which solar photovoltaic systems are integrated with a variety of advanced energy storage technologies and the latest in real-time energy management software platforms.
President Barack Obama took executive action yesterday evening, Dec. 16, to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, instituting an indefinite ban on oil and gas drilling across some 5.6 million acres in what’s known as the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area.
One of the world’s most economically valuable fishing grounds, the waters of Bristol Bay yield up to $2 billion worth of wild-caught seafood every year. Visiting to partake of Bristol Bay’s natural splendor, recreational fishing and tourism adds another $100 million a year to Alaska’s economy and communities. Home to an American fishing fleet and community that supplies 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood, one of the economic and social pillars of the community is Bristol Bay’s salmon run – the world’s largest – as well as a bevy of endangered marine and terrestrial species of plants and animals.
President Obama’s latest executive action assures that the Bristol Bay ecosystem will not be threatened by oil and gas drilling. Further, it ensures local communities and businesses can continue to pursue eco-based livelihoods and lifestyles that reach back generations. Far above Bristol Bay, another environmental threat persists, however: the massive open-pit Pebble Mine project.
With energy demand rising and energy imports meeting as much as 70 percent of its needs, Chile has put itself on the “fast track” when it comes to developing an abundance of clean, renewable energy resources. Recent changes in energy market regulations are proving to be keys to unlocking Chile’s distributed renewable energy potential, and more broadly speaking, its sustainable development.
The same confluence of market regulatory changes, lower costs and technological advances is driving rapid renewable energy growth in the U.S. The birthplace of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, U.S. solar energy technology and project developers are venturing overseas in efforts to expand their businesses. Given the changes recently made to the market regulations governing its energy sector, Chile has become a “hotspot” for solar and renewable energy project developers.
Case in point: SunEdison on Dec. 15 was awarded 15-year power purchase agreements to supply 570 gigawatt-hours of electricity to Chile’s National Electricity Commission. Highlighting just how fast solar has become competitive with fossil-fuels in Chile, this solar energy will come at a lower cost than electricity generated by fossil-fuel combustion – and that’s without subsidies or incentives.
U.S. solar power installations are on track to post another year of record growth. Enough solar power capacity – 1.354 gigawatts – was installed in the U.S. in Q3 2014 to power some 3.5 million homes, according to the latest quarterly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.
More affordable and as emissions- and pollution-free as ever, U.S. home and property owners are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems at an unprecedented pace. An industry first, more than 300 megawatts of residential PV went into operation in Q3. More than half of that was installed in states that don’t offer any incentives, SEIA and GTM highlighted.
That’s encouraging news for players all along the U.S. solar industry value chain, particularly in light of ongoing international trade tensions and a scheduled scaling down of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) at year-end 2016.
Facing stiff competition for residential customers, downstream solar PV finance-and-installation companies are turning to home solar loans as opposed to the third-party leases that have galvanized growth in recent years. Upsolar America believes it has a winning lifelong solution with its zero-down, 20-year, 5.99 percent fixed rate home solar loan program.
Economic theory supports the allocation of capital and investments throughout the U.S. $17-trillion — and global $75-trillion — economy. Conventional economic theory is rife with assumptions that not only paint a narrow, inaccurate and vastly oversimplified view of the future prospects and actual overall impacts of investment decisions, but also justify investments that, over the long-term, can drive societies over the proverbial cliff.
Efforts to move beyond narrowly defined conventional economic theory — and measures such as GDP — stretch back decades. On Dec. 10, a globe-spanning initiative on the part of United Nations agencies, universities and research institutes released the 2014 Inclusive Wealth Report.
Measuring human and natural as well as produced capital, the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) offers a broader, more comprehensive — and hence more useful more perspective than GDP — regarding the economic performance of 140 nations. Moreover, comparisons of national economic performance from 1990 to 2010 as measured by Inclusive Wealth contrast starkly with those based on GDP.
Early this year, California became the first state in the U.S. to start making use of advanced, distributed energy storage systems. The list of factors motivating the passage of California’s energy storage mandate – AB2514 – is substantial. It encompasses integrating the fast-growing amount of renewable energy generation capacity coming online, enhancing grid reliability and resiliency, neutralizing the high and volatile costs of fossil fuels, and addressing the growing costs of climate change adaptation and degradation of ecosystems and natural resources.
Making billion-dollar investments in solar photovoltaic (PV) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery manufacturing, Elon Musk-led SolarCity and Tesla are gambling on their ability to dramatically lower the costs of solar PV and Li-ion battery storage technologies to cover all these bases. On Nov. 5, Southern California Edison (SCE) made its own foray into advanced energy storage, making U.S. power industry history when it awarded local capacity procurement contracts for over 260 megawatts of storage capacity across its Western Los Angeles Basin service territory.
Aiming to build a mass market for energy efficiency products and services, energy industry startups and established players are rolling out a range of connected demand response and demand management products and services for homes and businesses. They range from smart thermostats and home energy management apps to lighting controls, solar energy and battery storage systems.
Positioned at the leading edge of the U.S. residential solar market, SolarCity, SunPower and others are working with public and private partners to commercialize the first generation of home solar-battery storage systems, as well as link in electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging stations. Companies such as Nest (acquired by Google in a $3.2 billion transaction this past January) are leveraging the power of cloud computing in a bid to build a mass-market home energy management platform.
SolarCity just announced it is launching a mobile app “that aims to strengthen its relationship with customers by providing real-time energy use data and creating a social network for its customers to swap stories and photos,” Forbes’ Ucilla Wang reports in a Dec. 5 article.
Facing real competition from new market entrants for the first time since the dawn of electricity grids, utilities are keen to be part of the action. On the other hand, they are taking reactionary, rearguard action to stem market and environmental regulatory reforms that would accelerate the pace of change.
Reducing deforestation and land degradation are key elements of realizing the goals of U.N. climate change and biodiversity conservation treaties. Pledging to cut the loss of forests worldwide in half by 2020 and to zero by 2030, 130 governments, businesses, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organizations endorsed the “New York Declaration on Forests” during the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 this past September.
Reducing and ultimately ending deforestation and land degradation is inextricably linked with government and private property owners’ decisions on land use and development, as well as the broad social and environmental responsibilities of property ownership. Despite decades of multilateral effort, the necessary top-down and grass roots communications networks, coordinated resource allocation, and funding have yet to coalesce and gain traction at a scope and scale necessary to achieve these goals.
The lack of cross-sectoral and inter-organizational coordination is apparent even within the small community of leading global deforestation organizations, PwC highlights in “Ending deforestation: REDD+ CGF = 0 Deforestation.” “Whilst there are individual examples of the CGF (Consumer Goods Forum) and REDD+ (Reducing Deforestation and Degradation) community working together, there has not yet been systematic collaboration on a large scale. This is despite the fact that 100 percent of CGF and REDD+ organizations recently surveyed by PwC and Code REDD thought that the two communities should be working closer than they are now.”
Rapid transition from centralized energy systems based on fossil fuels to those based on a mix of distributed, locally appropriate renewable energy resources is viewed by many as the most effective means of mitigating and adapting to climate change. That’s just the “thin edge of the wedge” with regard to the advantages and benefits societies can realize by spurring development and adoption of distributed energy resources and technologies, however.
Economists and development experts such as Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen have zoomed in on and elaborated the potential of distributed renewable energy resources and technologies to do much more than address climate change. Rather than focusing narrowly on climate change, Sen asserts in an August 2014 article in the New Republic, renewable energy proponents, and global society, would be better served if this perspective were to be broadened and refocused on the potential of distributed renewable energy resource development to alleviate poverty, enhance individual liberty and freedom, and hence foster development of more open, inclusive market-based economies and democratic forms of government.
An energy-and-development policy paper from the Worldwatch Institute invokes Sen’s conceptualization of “Development as Freedom” as applied to Haiti, the most poverty-stricken nation in a region whose history is characterized largely by general poverty linked to political and economic repression and unsustainable extraction and exploitation of natural resources and ecosystems.
In its “Haiti Sustainable Energy Roadmap,” Worldwatch highlights that “tremendous opportunities and actionable solutions exist to build an electricity system that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable using the tremendous renewable energy and energy efficiency potentials of the country.”
On Nov. 26, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy took another step forward in the federal government’s three-plus decades long effort to improve air quality, and environmental and human health and safety, by driving further reductions in air pollution across the U.S.
Responding to “extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone,” or smog, Ms. McCarthy announced: “EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment.” In addition, EPA said it is taking comments on tightening ozone emissions standards further, to 60 ppb.
“So, 60 is on the table for comment as well as consideration,” McCarthy stated in a conference call. “Now this is a proposal, so taking comments on a range of different outcomes is exactly how we’re supposed to do it, and I’m excited to get moving with the comment process because the conversation isn’t over. This is an opportunity for us to look at all of the science together.”
From the boardroom and executive suite through the ranks of management, down to the factory floor and across its global network of dealers and suppliers, Volkswagen AG (VW) has been at the forefront of auto industry efforts to make ecological sustainability and social responsibility a strategic motivating force.
On Nov. 18, VW announced that its ‘Think Blue. Factory.‘ environmental sustainability program is on track for success. Per Think Blue. Factory’s targets, a total of some 5,000 individual measures are to be taken by 2018 as VW aims to reduce energy and water consumption, as well as waste, carbon dioxide (CO2) and solvent emissions, across all its factories 25 percent.
VW has already carried out more than 2,700 environmental sustainability projects at its factories, resulting in production processes that are 17 percent “more environmentally compatible over the past three years,” according to a team of more than 250 environmental experts that conducted an interim evaluation of VW’s ecological sustainability program.
A few days later, on Nov. 21, VW Group announced that it would invest €85.6 billion (~US$106.46 billion) to develop “new models, environmentally friendly technology and production facilities over the coming five years.” Around two-thirds of the total will be invested in developing “increasingly efficient vehicles.
“We will continue to invest in the future to become the leading automotive group in both ecological and economic terms – with the best and most sustainable products,” Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, VW AG chairman of the Board of Management, stated during an address at VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Public-private partnerships are proving to be instrumental, effective and affordable means of addressing carbon emissions and climate change.
On Nov. 17, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Chevrolet purchased third-party-verified carbon credits from working ranch grasslands in North Dakota’s Prairie Pothole region. The first transaction of its kind, the voluntary carbon credits were ushered into being by a public-private partnership and a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). Totaling $161,000, the grant was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, has set a voluntary goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8 million tons, “comparable to the annual carbon reduction benefit of a mature forest the size of Yellowstone National Park,” the Agriculture Department highlighted.
SkyTruth, Oceana and Google unveiled an easy-to-use online platform that will give citizens in countries the world over the ability “to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide.” Dubbed Global Fishing Watch, the three development partners introduced the online platform Nov. 14 at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.
Making use of satellite data and big-data analytics, Global Fishing Watch will give stakeholders and the public at-large unprecedented views of the location and activities of fishing vessels globally. This comes at a time when public interest in and support for sustainable seafood and fishing practices is strong and rising.
“So much of what happens out on the high seas is invisible, and that has been a huge barrier to understanding and showing the world what’s at stake for the ocean,” SkyTruth founder and president, John Amos, was quoted in a press release. “But now, satellite data is allowing us to make human interaction with the ocean more transparent than ever before.”