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.”
From sustainable agriculture and water resource management to solar photovoltaics, Israeli companies have been at the forefront of developing new means of forging sustainable societies amid harsh and changing conditions. A strong, homegrown clean tech venture capital community is helping innovative young Israeli clean-tech companies make their mark locally and in markets around the world.
A drive on the part of solar PV industry participants to reduce balance-of-system (BoS) and “soft” costs is underway as governments in key markets such as the European Union and U.S. cut back or eliminate renewable energy R&D funding, tariffs and other incentives.
Operations and maintenance (O&M) makes up a significant portion of running solar PV power generation assets. According to a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), fixed O&M costs for solar PV systems ranging from 1 to 10 megawatts averaged $20 +/- $10 per kilowatt-hour of energy in 2013.
Aiming to boost efficiency as well as drive those costs down significantly, Israeli clean tech startup Ecoppia has developed a high-tech means of cleaning and maintaining solar PV panels on a utility scale. Ecoppia’s solution comes in the form of a cloud-based solar robotics platform that’s not only highly efficient and effective, but also energy-independent and water-free. That’s an important attribute not only in arid and desert regions, but also anywhere in the world where pressures on water resources threaten or may threaten water supplies.
Joining a list of legendary physicists that includes Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and former Obama administration Energy Secretary Steven Chu, physics professor Shuji Nakamura was one of three physicists who shared in the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in October awarded this year’s physics prize to Nakamura, of University of California, Santa Barbara, and Nagoya University‘s Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amanao for their invention of the blue light-emitting diode (LED).
Enabling LEDs to produce white light for the first time, the invention of the blue LED in the late 1990s paved the way for a revolution in lighting. As is often the case with such groundbreaking innovations, the three physicists’ invention led to a rising tide of interest and efforts to build on their work.
While Nakamura continues his research as a materials professor and chair of the Cree Center for Solid State Lighting and Displays, his innovation has been embraced at UC Santa Barbara and in the Santa Barbara community. Nonprofit Unite to Light is leveraging LED lighting, as well as the work of other university researchers in developing more efficient solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and battery technology, to deliver solar-powered LED lamps to organizations working to improve living conditions in under-served, developing communities around the world.
Some of the world’s largest multinational businesses have recognized the advantages ‘closing the loop’ on their supply chains can provide. From energy and water conservation to materials reuse and recycling, they’re achieving significant gains in operating efficiency and productivity as they move toward becoming ‘zero-waste‘ and ‘zero emissions’ businesses.
Mimicking natural ecosystems, commercial and industrial ecosystems are emerging — in which an increasing percentage of products, their components, and raw or intermediate materials are being reused or recycled. The ultimate goal — cradle-to-cradle product lifecycles in which all materials used to produce, package and distribute products to consumers are recaptured, reused or recycled — is edging closer to reality.
At the leading edge of this movement is a small group of companies operating in what has come to be known as reverse supply chain management. Aiming to close the loop on the supply chain, they’re advancing green economy initiatives by offering original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across a growing range of industries an integrated ‘one-stop shop’ for re-manufacturing, as well as reusing and recycling products, their constituent parts and raw materials.
Yahoo on Oct. 16 announced that it signed a 15-year partnership with OwnEnergy to develop a Kansas wind farm. Able to generate more than 100,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, the wind farm will feed into the Southwest Power Pool and offset much of Yahoo’s energy usage in the Great Plains region, according to joint press releases.
The Kansas wind farm is the latest demonstration of Yahoo’s commitment to local community development, as well as reducing its carbon and environmental footprints. “Although we are a global company, we are deeply invested in the communities in which we live and work,” Chris Page, Yahoo’s global director of energy and sustainability strategy, and Brett Illers, project manager of sustainability and energy efficiency programs, wrote in a Yahoo Blog post.
“We are proud to support this type of community-centric energy project through direct engagements from mid-sized local wind farms.”
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) recently announced that it is on track to achieve the Obama Administration’s 2020 renewable energy goals after awarding a competitive power supply contract. Responsible for procuring the goods and services – including energy – federal government agencies need to do their jobs, GSA contracted to purchase 140 megawatts (MW) of wind-generated electricity from the Walnut Ridge Farm currently in development in northwest Illinois, according to a GSA news release.
The ten-year power supply contract is the largest wind energy purchase from a single source in federal government contracting history, according to GSA. It will add over 500,000 megawatt-hours (Mwh) of emissions-free wind-generated electricity per year to the PJM power grid.
GSA’s latest renewable power purchase also gives a big boost to the Obama administration’s efforts to promote renewable energy resource development and use among Native American communities. The Walnut Ridge wind farm is being developed by MG2 Tribal Energy, a joint venture the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians and commercial wind-power project developer Geronimo Energy.
Acer Americas is joining the growing ranks of U.S. businesses meeting 100 percent of their electricity needs from renewable energy resources. The U.S. subsidiary of the Taiwanese multinational consumer electronics manufacturer on Oct. 28 announced it is joining the EPA Green Power Partnership and has purchased enough green power to offset all of its carbon emissions from electricity in the U.S.
To get there, Acer Americas recently purchased more than 27 million kilowatt-hours of green power in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs). That puts Acer among the ranks of U.S. businesses on the EPA’s 100 Percent Green Power Users list, as well as the Top 30 Tech & Telecom partner rankings, Acer highlights in a company press release.
Acer also reported that it is ahead of schedule to meet its 2015 global carbon emissions reduction target. Reducing carbon emissions, environmental pollution and natural resource use, as well as reducing waste and promoting recycling, all factor into the strategic goals Acer has set out in its corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, company management points out.