Climate & Energy

Mr. Clinton goes to the public-goods markets

The promise of governmental buyers’ clubs

We often wonder whether the government is better suited to solving many of our problems, or whether the market should take the lead. The current issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an article concerning the efforts of Bill Clinton's foundation which addresses this issue. The article shows how governments can work with markets for the benefit of large numbers of people and the planet by guaranteeing demand for a particular product or service. By doing this in the long-term, the production of beneficial goods and services can achieve the economies of scale that will make them practical to use within a few years, instead of decades from now. The Clinton Foundation used this powerful idea to cut prices for AIDS drugs in Africa and the Caribbean for hundreds of thousands of people. In Clinton's words, "All we did was take something that people would naturally do in a purely business market and apply it to the public-goods market." I'm not sure if Clinton is referring to the technical definition of "public goods" here, which refers to a good whose consumption does not reduce any other's consumption of that good, and a good that all have access to, such as information or air. The Earth's climate is most certainly a public good, and its radical warming would most certainly be a public bad. So the Clinton Foundation worked with a new group of cities, the C40, to create large-scale demand. If big cities could come together to provide a market to jumpstart new, energy-savings technologies, it would give quite a boost to efforts to mitigate global warming. As the author of The Atlantic article points out, cities have quite a source of demand at their disposal:

Discover Brilliant: Renewables + smart grid

Today at the conference, everyone’s broken out into small groups and are having more free-form discussions. Consequently, it’s somewhat more difficult to summarize. I’m hanging out for the day in the “State of the Union in Renewables + Smart Grid” room. I’ll try to pass along insights as they drift by. For now, there’s some fairly animated discussion going on about just what a "smart grid" is and how to talk about it with customers, utilities, regulators, etc. There’s some worry that the highfalutin’ way energy wonks tend to talk about this might scare people off. "A grid that’s smart …

It's a wind that someone thinks blows ill

Rising blowback against wind power

Stumbled across an interesting site the other day -- an anti-wind power site.

Residential solar PPAs

On buying solar electricity, not panels

One of the biggest hurdles to going solar is the large up-front costs. That's why solar power purchase agreements (PPAs in wonk-speak) have been so popular. With this model, a third party designs, installs, and owns a system on your roof. You simply sign a long-term contract to buy the output on a kWh basis. You avoid the need for financing, and shift performance risk to the service provider -- you only buy what the system produces. Check out this article for more. To date, solar PPAs have been offered exclusively for commercial-sized systems. That's because the developer has to take a 15-yr maintenance/service/billing interest in the property, and the economics are better for big systems. Until now. Sun Run Generation is, as far as I can tell, the first company to legitimately offer a form of residential solar PPA*. They make a fairly convincing case that they can offer a PPA with net customer economics better than an outright purchase. The reason? As a business, they are not restricted by the $2K residential Fed investment tax credit cap, but can take the full 30 percent. I predict that the next few significant developments in the solar field are going to be in the field of financial rather than technical innovation. Solar Power 2007, the largest solar conference in the U.S., is next week in Long Beach. If I see anything that contradicts my prediction, I'll let you know. (You should also consider going yourself. All the kids will be there, and there's a no-fee public night on Tuesday). *Note: there have been other companies that claim to offer this service. The most notorious don't currently have ... what's the technical term ... any actual product. As with everything, buyer beware.

Setting an example for the feds

State renewable electricity standards create jobs while cutting pollution

Since the federal government has so far refused to adopt a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) the states have stepped in. Some 25 states, plus D.C., have adopted an RES, also known as a renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to purchase a rising percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar. A new report by U.S. PIRG details the myriad benefits of state action to promote renewables: "Reaping the Rewards: How State Renewable Electricity Standards Are Cutting Pollution, Saving Money, Creating Jobs and Fueling a Clean Energy Boom." Here are some of the conclusions: In 2006, more than two-thirds of all new renewable electric generating capacity in the United States was built in RES states. In 2007, more than 70 percent of planned renewable generation is expected to be built in RES states. Texas stands out as the state with the most aggressive renewable energy development in recent years, adding 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity. Texas is followed by Washington, New York, and Colorado. Renewable energy is addressing a greater share of new energy needs in RES states. In 2007, renewables account for about 38 percent of planned capacity additions in RES states, compared to just 12 percent in non-RES states.

Discover Brilliant: Renewables and baseload

What does the future hold for renewables?

Again, I babbled away too long in an interview (a great one) and missed the beginning of “Baseload Challenge and the Realities of Renewables.” PIER, California Energy Commission, Gerry Braun, Renewables Team Lead SAIC, Chris McCall, Program Manager Sterling Planet, Mel Jones, CEO I really wanted to see all of this one. But let’s jump in. Jones says comparing renewables and existing baseload is apples and oranges. Renewables are hobbled by the its competitors being heavily subsidized. Renewables have to have guaranteed return and guaranteed buyers. Also, most baseload doesn’t pay for transmission costs, which is where renewables have a …

Bush administration push for drilling in Colorado angers GOP constituency

Republicans in western Colorado, long a GOP stronghold, are losing patience with the Bush administration’s relentless push for resource extraction in the state. According to a new report from the Wilderness Society, western Colorado currently has 4,500 oil and gas wells on federal public lands, and 22,000 more are in the proverbial pipeline. A total of 126,000 new wells in total are predicted to puncture Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah in the next 20 years. Ranchers and hunters in Colorado are a big anti-drilling contingent, but are joined by plain ol’ unhappy residents who dislike seeing semis instead …

My backyard carbon sink

Can planting trees offset your carbon footprint?

When my wife and I bought our house, the yard was typical for our neighborhood: a mostly barren plain of lawn so sunbaked that you could bounce a tennis ball off it. So being eco-groovy types, we've tried to improve the place: we put in a rain barrel, built a natural drainage system, and added topsoil planting berms. But I'm most proud of the trees we've planted: a pair of akebono cherries in the parking strip and a white-star magnolia in the front yard; and in the backyard, a shore pine, a Chinese dogwood, a couple of vine maples, a Japanese maple, and a limelight cypress. I recently began wondering how much carbon our new trees are soaking up. Since tree planting is the sine qua non of carbon offset programs, how much of my emissions are offset by my yard? Enough, perhaps, to justify moving from a dense, highly walkable neighborhood to a still-urban but less foot-friendly place? (My Walkscore dropped from 92 to 80.) The answer, I'm afraid, is "no." I estimate that in an average year my nine trees will soak up right around 100 pounds of carbon-dioxide combined. (Brief methodology note at the end of this post.) That's the emissions equivalent of burning five gallons of gasoline -- or actually just four gallons, if you consider the "lifecycle" emissions of gas. In other words, my tree planting allows me to burn about one-third of a tank of gas guilt-free each year. That's certainly better than nothing. But then again, the average American is responsible for about 45,000 pounds of yearly CO2 emissions from energy use alone. Nine trees like mine offset about 0.2 percent of those emissions -- and much less when nonenergy sources are considered. Even giving myself a big benefit of the doubt -- my electricity is carbon-free hydropower and I take other steps to reduce my climate footprint -- it's highly unlikely that my trees are offsetting more than half a percent of my annual emissions. Plus, half of those tree offsets belong to my wife. So that means at the very, very most I'm offsetting about one-quarter of one percent of my own emissions. I could do more for the climate by simply avoiding a couple of trips in my car.

Discover Brilliant: Demand response

How to enable consumers to be responsive to electricity prices

I had an interview so I missed most of "The Emerging Models for Demand-Response Technology." I walked in about halfway through. Reliant Energy, Mark Jacobs, CEO EnerNOC, Scott McGaraghan, Director of Business Development–West Coast IBM, Ron Ambrosio, Global Research Leader–Energy & Utilities  PG&E, Janice Berman, Senior Director of Customer Generation and Emerging Technologies Tons of interesting stuff being said, but I’m too late to helpfully summarize. Suffice to say, lots of people are out there working on ways to get information into consumers’ hands, enabling them to modify their energy use based on price and environmental signals. There are nifty …

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