Reducing energy use by increasing energy efficiency is viewed as one of the most effective, least costly and simplest ways of boosting businesses’ bottom lines, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to address the global threat of rapid climate change. International organizations, such as the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM)-International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC) partnership and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), in concert with the U.S. federal government’s Superior Energy Performance (SEP) program, are helping business in the U.S. and around the world do just that.
The first U.S. defense contractor to earn the Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office’s SEP Gold Certified Partner certification (sustainable energy savings of 10 to 15 percent) and comply with ISO 50001 energy efficiency standards, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS), improved energy performance at its ammunition plant in Scranton, Pa. by 11.9 percent by implementing an energy management system.
Energy efficiency projects and financing are moving down-market – in the sense that they’re increasingly attractive to and viable for medium- and even small-scale commercial and industrial companies, as well as government departments and agencies.
Taking advantage of ongoing advances in clean technology and applying some creative financing, innovative companies such as Noesis Energy are creating new markets and growth opportunities for energy efficiency project developers and energy service companies, as well as offering small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) the opportunity to boost their bottom lines while also reducing their environmental impact and carbon footprint.
The landscape of the global renewable energy market continues to shift with changes in economic and social conditions and policies. While some renewable energy sectors – notably, solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment – experienced “dazzling growth, success and rising stock prices,” others saw a drop in deployments, as well as challenges on the policy and finance fronts, according to a global clean energy market report from Clean Edge released March 26.
Last year marked a turning point for solar PV, according to Clean Edge’s, Clean Energy Trends 2014 report, as newly installed solar PV generating capacity exceeded that of wind power for the first time since the market research company began tracking global markets in 2000. Newly installed solar PV generating capacity totaled 36.5 gigawatts (GW) while that for wind totaled 35.5 GW, according to Clean Edge’s count.
“Conserving water conserves energy, and conserving energy conserves water,” was a key message of 2014 World Water Day and the World Water Development Report. It’s a message that business executives across the economy, not just those in the agricultural and industrial sectors, are increasingly taking to heart.
The search for ways to minimize waste and conserve water, other natural resources and energy is making for what may seem like strange bedfellows. Some of the world’s largest corporations have been joining with leading environmental organizations to find what amount to triple bottom line solutions — solutions that can turn business risks and threats into opportunities and benefits.
Working together at the water-energy nexus, AT&T and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) over the past few years have developed a set of tools to help businesses reduce water, and hence energy, use for cooling buildings. Setting a target of reducing their own annual water use by 5 percent (some 150 million gallons) and annual energy use by 400 million kilowatt-hours (enough for 35,000 U.S. households), the two unlikely partners are setting out to promote and foster adoption of their water-energy conservation toolkit in five water-stressed U.S. cities.
Environmental and ecosystems degradation – air pollution in particular, most recently – has become a hot-button issue for the Chinese government and society. With increasingly polluted lakes, rivers and coastal waters, desertification and land degradation, and toxic air, perhaps nowhere in the world are the profund and far-reaching costs of an unconstrained, unregulated quest for rapid economic growth better illustrated.
Responding to rising public alarm and protest, China’s government earlier this month pledged to tackle its pollution an environmental problems. Declaring a “war on pollution” in his first speech in office to open this year’s session of the National People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Li Kequiang stated, “Smog is affecting larger parts of China and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
Pioneered by the European Union (EU), the Chinese government is turning to emissions cap-and-trade systems as a foundational element in its war on pollution. With pilot markets now up and running in seven major Chinese cities and provinces, Beijing-based consulting firm Environomist and contributing organizations recently released the first comprehensive study of China’s nascent emissions cap-and-trade systems.
The United Nations (U.N.) shines a light on the critical issue of freshwater resources – and linkages with energy – with the March 21 release of the 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR). Produced by the U.N.’s World Water Assessment Program (U.N.-Water), WWDR 2014 is being released in conjunction with special events sponsored around the world as part of this year’s World Water Day celebrations on Saturday.
Forecasting that the global population will need 40 percent more water by 2030, the ambitious report highlights the threat to water supplies posed by the conflicting interests of a growing global population for energy and food, as well as water itself. The list is extensive, including regulations and governance that lead to perverse outcomes, along with threats from water contamination, pollution, climate change and the often profligate ways in which we use and manage freshwater resources.
WWDR 2014 also offers potential solutions, focusing in particular on governance at the water-energy nexus. “Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda,” Rector of United Nations University David Malone, this year’s coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of U.N.-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said in a press release.
Renewable energy accounted for 14 percent of gross final energy consumption across the European Union (EU), up from 12.9 percent in 2011, while renewables’ share of gross electricity consumption rose from 20.4 percent to 23.4 percent, according to the 2013 edition of EurObservER’s “The State of Renewable Energies in Europe.”
Renewable energy employment, economic activity and investment indicators didn’t fare as well, however, reflective of ongoing fiscal and economic problems that have caused EU renewable energy leading nations to cut back on subsidies and incentives, or eliminate them completely.
“Costa Rica opposition group says to scrap 2021 carbon neutrality target,” reads the headline of a recent Reuters news article. Standing on its own, the headline is accurate. However, lacking context, it could be misleading, causing readers who don’t venture beyond the headline to conclude that Costa Rica will be dropping its goal of achieving carbon neutrality completely.
Reading further, Reuters reporter Marcelo Teixeira makes it clear that while Costa Rica’s “leftist” opposition PAC (Citizens’ Action Party) party, whose candidate Luis Guillermo Solis appears to be a shoo-in to win the presidency in an April 6 runoff election, believes the 2021 goal of achieving carbon neutrality is too optimistic, it doesn’t intend to drop the carbon neutrality goal or other climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.
To the contrary, PAC doesn’t intend to drop Costa Rica’s carbon neutrality goal; the party believes the Central American country just needs more time to achieve it. Already a world leader when it comes to low carbon emissions and the use of renewable energy, further gains are harder to come by, particularly when it comes to transportation and diversifying its renewable energy base.
It may seem quaint to some, but at a fundamental level, there are ethical, moral, even spiritual motives for we humans to do our best to conserve wilderness, ecosystems and biodiversity. Then, of course, there are the most pragmatic and self-interested: all our economic activities and the health and well-being of all our societies is dependent on healthy ecosystems, and biological diversity is central to assuring health ecosystems.
Though perhaps best known, and criticized, for bankrolling development of large-scale infrastructure projects such as coal-fired and hydroelectric power plants, the World Bank has likewise been instrumental in helping conserve biodiversity and sustainably utilize the numerous and varied services diverse ecosystems provide.
The World Bank has also been a key agent in helping realize the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Though results to date are very much mixed, researchers, agents and policy makers have found that there are ways of achieving the MDG goals that are self-reinforcing and effective. Such synergy exists, for instance, when it comes to achieving two MDGs: reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Extreme, atypical weather continues to take an unusually heavy toll on the U.S. economy and society this winter, patterns consistent with forecasts made by the world’s leading climate scientists. Those same scientists have been urging world leaders to take action and proactively invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives for at least two decades.
When it comes to mitigating climate change, reducing carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is paramount. Here in the U.S. in 2009, a total of nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states joined in launching the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a power sector emissions cap-and-trade market whereby the proceeds of emissions allowance auctions are invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other programs of benefit to consumers.
On March 5, RGGI completed its 23rd auction of CO2 allowances — the first since a new, much lower cap on CO2 emissions from the region’s power plants (those with capacity of 25 MW or more) was set in January. This year’s emissions cap of 91 million tons of CO2 is 45 percent lower than last year’s limit of 165 million.
With performance improving, production volumes rising and costs on the decline, intelligent battery storage systems may provide the missing piece of the clean energy puzzle, enabling customers to cut the cord linking them to utility grids and ushering in the end of the centralized electric utility business model.
Analyzing regional scenarios across the U.S., the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), CohnReznick Think Energy and HOMER Energy concluded that utility grid parity for the combination of solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage systems is “already here in some areas and imminent in many others for millions of U.S. customers.”
The combination of solar PV and battery storage technologies – what the authors of “The Economics of Grid Defection” dub “utility-in-a-box” – can make “the electric grid optional for many customers – without compromising reliability and increasingly at prices cheaper than utility retail electricity.”
For commercial, industrial and municipal power consumers, intelligent energy storage, coupled with demand response, is emerging as an economically viable means of realizing gains in energy efficiency and paring down electric utility bills. That, in turn, may have much broader social and environmental ramifications and positive outcomes, spurring smart grid development and more widespread adoption of distributed solar, other forms of renewable energy generation and electric vehicles (EVs). And that could well lead to realizing big reductions in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other pollutants that result from generating electricity by burning fossil fuels.
An initial group of intelligent energy storage-demand response startups is beginning to make some waves in the U.S. power industry. Nurtured by federal funds and private-sector venture capital, they are now being given a boost by state government initiatives such as California’s AB 2514, “Procurement Targets for Viable and Cost-Effective Energy Storage Systems.”
Intelligent energy storage startups, such as Green Charge Networks (GCN), are also taking a page out of the residential solar playbook. Last week, independent equipment finance and asset management company TIP Capital and GCN announced the creation of the first fund of its kind: a $10 million TIE fund that will enable GCN to offer its commercial, industrial and municipal customers zero-money down financing to deploy its GreenStation smart energy storage-demand response and reduction platform.
When it comes to energy efficiency, even small improvements can go a long way.
Following through on President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Energy (DOE) on Feb. 28 issued new energy efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment. Over the ensuing 30 years, it’s projected that the new standards will reduce carbon pollution by 142 million tons – the equivalent of that produced by generating electricity for 14.3 million U.S. homes – while also saving businesses as much as $11.7 billion on energy bills.
An update of standards set in 2009, the new energy efficiency standards will yield on the order of a 30 percent improvement in the energy efficiency of commercial refrigeration equipment as compared to current standards, according to the DOE.
A new report shows that 2013 was another banner, record-setting year for solar energy in the U.S., with 4,751 megawatts (MW) of new photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed–a year-over-year increase of 41 percent–with another 410 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) coming online. A record 2,106 MW of solar power capacity was installed in the fourth quarter alone, amounting to 44 percent of the annual total. That bests the old quarterly record by 60 percent.
As of year-end, there were more than 445,000 solar electric systems generating clean, renewable electrical power in the U.S. That amounts to more than 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP capacity–enough for some 2.2 million average U.S. homes, according to the GTM Research-Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) “Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013.”
Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation capacity added in 2013, second only to natural gas, which accounted for 46 percent. In the aggregate, 2013 statistics indicate that solar energy is on the cusp of going mainstream in the U.S., if it isn’t already there. A geographic breakdown of solar installations shows that this is indeed the case, but only in a few U.S. states.
Any form of economic decision-making–whether to invest in a coal mine or solar power project, to buy this brand of good or product or that–comes replete with trade-offs, particularly when it comes natural resource development. We rely on markets and private sector businesses and investors, working within the context of public sector governance, to guide and approve, or disapprove, of those decisions.
Such trade-offs are clearly in evidence in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, one of the world’s richest, most productive and few remaining wild salmon fisheries. Bristol Bay is also the site of the proposed Pebble Mine, envisioned by project developers as one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines.
Concerned about Pebble Mine’s impact on the Bristol Bay fishery and watershed–which provides basic ecosystem services, such as water, food and shelter, and sustainable livelihoods for communities throughout the area, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this past week invoked Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act in initiating a process “to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.”