US consumes more green energy than coal for first time since 1885 – Electrek

In 2019, US annual energy consumption from green energy sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time in 134 years, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Monthly Energy Review.

Green energy’s new US record

How was this major milestone achieved? Simply put, coal is declining and wind and solar are growing. Coal consumption in the US decreased by nearly 15% in 2019, and total renewable energy consumption grew by 1%, compared with the previous year.

The EIA explains:

In 2019, US coal consumption decreased for the sixth consecutive year to 11.3 quadrillion Btu, the lowest level since 1964. Electricity generation from coal has declined significantly over the past decade and, in 2019, fell to its lowest level in 42 years. Natural gas consumption in the electric power sector has significantly increased in recent years and has displaced much of the electricity generation from retired coal plants.

Total renewable energy consumption in the United States grew for the fourth year in a row to a record-high 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2019… In 2019, electricity generation from wind surpassed hydro for the first time and is now the most-used source of renewable energy for electricity generation in the United States on an annual basis.

Wood was the main source of US energy until the mid-1800s. Then the first hydropower plants began to produce electricity in the 1880s. The US used coal in the early 19th century to fuel steam-powered boats and trains and manufacture steel. It was later used to generate electricity in the 1880s, and 90% of its consumption is now used primarily to generate electricity. 

Renewable energy is more broadly consumed by every sector in the United States. About 56% of commercially delivered US renewable energy is used in the electric power sector, mostly from wind and hydroelectric power, but different types are also consumed in the industrial (22%), transportation (12%), residential (7%), and commercial (2%) sectors.

Electrek’s Take

Well, this is a nice New Year’s Eve reminder from the EIA, which originally posted this announcement in May. It’s nice to reflect on something positive from the past year.

Keep in mind that these are the EIA’s statistics from 2019, so 2020, as weird as it was as a whole due to the pandemic and the turbulent US election, is going to have even better green energy versus coal/fossil fuel statistics due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

But the US has got to get that natural gas consumption down, as no matter how hard gas companies try to sell it as clean, it’s not.

Once the Biden administration takes its collective seat and gets to work on its climate change plan, we are optimistic that future EIA reports are going to look even greener when it comes to renewables.

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It’s time to start wasting solar energy

Solar is so cheap, we need to build far, far more than we need.
That was the surprising conclusion Marc Perez, a doctoral student in engineering at Columbia University, arrived at in 2014. Perez was trying to design the world’s cheapest electricity grid. By using a decade of satellite data to …

Back to the future: Swedish firm bets on wind-powered ships

A futuristic throwback – a huge, wind-driven cargo ship – could help end the fossil fuel era and curb climate change, its designers say

By Alister Doyle

OSLO, Dec 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two centuries after the first coal-powered steamships crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a Swedish company is designing a futuristic throwback: a huge, wind-driven cargo ship that could help end the fossil fuel era and limit climate change.

Shipping accounted for 2.9% of man-made greenhouse gas in 2018, and the industry’s share of planet-heating emissions has been rising in recent years, according to the U.N.’s International Maritime Organization.

One solution may be to turn the clock back to pre-industrial times and again hoist sails to carry cargo around the world.

Sweden’s Wallenius Marine AB, which designs and builds ships, is currently testing a sleek white model of an “Oceanbird” automobile carrier in a bay in the Baltic Sea.

Per Tunell, Wallenius’ chief operating officer, said results from the seven-metre model were encouraging and that he was “very confident” the full-scale Oceanbird will be ready to order by the end of next year.

The sail-driven ship could be in service in 2024 on Atlantic routes, he said.

The Oceanbird will be 200 metres long with capacity to carry 7,000 cars. It may be the tallest sailing ship ever built, equipped with wing sails reaching 105 metres above the water.

The sails, however, look little like traditional billowing fabric sails, instead more closely resembling aircraft wings rising vertically from the deck.

The vessel will have engines as a backup, but aims to save 90% of carbon emissions compared to a conventional ship run on polluting bunker fuel.

It will take Oceanbird about 12 days to cross the Atlantic, compared to eight for a fuel-powered ship.

The design “could also be applied as a cruise vessel, a bulk carrier, a tanker,” Tunell said. “One of the key conditions is that it shall be commercially feasible.”

Oceanbird would probably cost a bit more than a conventional car carrier, he said, declining to estimate the exact price.

But operating costs would be lower, especially if governments trying to curb climate-changing emissions impose a price on carbon emissions from using fuel.

The Oceanbird is not the only emerging contender in the low-carbon shipping race.

Neoline in France is seeking orders for a smaller, 136-metre vessel, also suitable for transporting cars or farm machinery.

Like Oceanbird, it reckons its carrier could cut emissions by 90%.

HIGH TECH, LOW EMISSIONS

Such cargo ships would mark a maritime revolution. Until now most companies trying to cut emissions have viewed sails as an add-on to curb fuel consumption, not as the main source of propulsion.

But new technologies, such as wing sails and tougher, lighter materials inspired by racing yachts in the America’s Cup, may enable a fuller shift to wind.

More reliable long-term weather forecasts also allow better route planning to avoid storms or doldrums.

“It makes sense to use this historic wind power, but also new technology,” said Jean Zanuttini, chief executive officer of Neoline.

He said negotiations were underway on possible contracts and shipyard deals, with the first “Neoliner” vessel likely to be in service by July 2023, at a cost of about 45 to 50 million euros ($54-60 million).

Partners in designing and using the ship include carmaker Renault, he said.

A “NO BRAINER”

Among early ocean-going steamships, the SS Savannah took 29 days to cross the Atlantic from the U.S. state of Georgia to Liverpool in England in 1819. Paddle wheels on its sides to supplement sails were its main power source.

Later the SS Royal William crossed the Atlantic from Pictou in Canada to London in 1833, relying almost entirely on steam power from coal.

Many shipping companies trying to cut emissions are seeking a boost from sails, kites or Flettner rotors – tall spinning tubes that help push a ship forward in much the same way as wings on a plane provide lift.

Helsinki-based Norsepower, which has installed such rotors on cargo ships and cruise ships, says they can typically cut fuel use by 5% to 20%.

Diane Gilpin, head of the Smart Green Shipping Alliance in Britain, said wind-powered ships were alluring on the drawing board and sails were a “no brainer” for fighting climate change.

Nearly a decade ago, she led a company that designed a “100%renewable-powered cargo ship” with sails and an engine using biogas from municipal waste. Tests of a model were successful, but it has not been built.

“The biggest challenge is getting market uptake. Everybody loves the pictures, everybody loves the story. But nobody puts the money into it,” she said.

Still, the International Maritime Organization has said it wants to cut climate-changing emissions from shipping by half by 2050, from 2008 levels, she said.

That means that any ships ordered today, with an expected lifetime of 30 years, will have to be far less polluting.

With more than half of the journey costs for a ship coming from fuel, Gilpin said governments could spur a green shift by imposing a carbon emissions price of perhaps $50 a tonne on shipping.

Among the drawbacks for wind-powered vessels are that ports operate on strict deadlines, meaning an unexpected extra day at sea can mean missing a slot for unloading cargo in port and long, costly delays.

Both Oceanbird and Neoliner plan to use engines, powered by fossil fuels or biofuels, to stick to schedules if the winds they depend on calm en route. But Tunell said the engines and fuel tanks would be smaller than on a comparable vessel.

“Most of the other companies are focused on wind assistance. We are focusing on wind power. This is a sailing vessel,” Tunell said. Jakob Kuttenkeuler, a professor at the Swedish KTH Centre of Naval Architecture who is running tests for Oceanbird, said one research puzzle is what wind changes will be like as sails reach new highs above the sea surface.

Oceanbird’s wing sails, likely to be built from aluminium, steel and composite materials, will rise from a deck 35 metres above the water, reaching 105 metres (345 feet) above sea level.

Most mariners have learned how to manage winds closer to the water line, where waves causes air turbulence.

“Not too many people have utilised this part of the atmosphere in the open ocean. Planes go higher and ships go lower,” he said.

Read more:

Zero carbon at sea? Rotterdam port eyes a greener future

Shipping industry proposes $5 billion research fund to help cut emissions

Sustainable transport

(Reporting by Alister Doyle ; editing by Laurie Goering : (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

1 Renewable Energy Stock to Buy and 1 to Avoid

The rising use of renewable sources of energy is an indisputable trend here to stay. But the performance of renewable energy companies has generally been erratic so far, giving investors a tough time in selecting the right stock for them. Two emerging players in the renewables space — though with different offerings — are Renewable Energy Group (NASDAQ:REGI) and Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE). While one of the two looks like a buy, it’s best to avoid the other one for now. Let’s see why.

Operations

While both Renewable Energy Group and Clean Energy Fuels are renewable energy companies, their operations differ significantly. Renewable Energy Group is a top producer and distributor of biofuels, primarily biodiesel and renewable diesel. The company carries out all the operations from acquiring feedstock to constructing and operating biorefineries and distributing fuel through terminals. Renewable Energy Group owns 13 biorefineries — 11 in the U.S. and two in Germany. The company has diesel production capacity of 505 million gallons per year.

Dice with the words SELL and BUY with chart in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

In comparison, Clean Energy Fuels primarily sells renewable natural gas, which is derived from organic waste. The company doesn’t produce renewable gas itself, but rather purchases it from third parties. It then sells it, in compressed and liquefied forms, through customers’ as well as its own fueling stations. Clean Energy Fuels owns two liquefaction plants. 

Performance

Renewable Energy Group’s performance so far is impressive. Since 2010, the company’s annual sales grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30%. In the first nine months of 2020, Renewable Energy Group’s performance was resilient, despite the effects of the pandemic. For the nine months, even though the company’s sales dipped by nearly 2%, its EBITDA grew by nearly 3%. In comparison, Clean Energy Fuels continues to struggle to grow its revenue.

REGI Revenue (Annual) Chart

REGI Revenue (Annual) data by YCharts

Renewable Energy Group has also been able to translate its sales growth into bottom line growth. Over five years, its profit margins averaged nearly 4%. By comparison, Clean Energy Fuels has largely been generating losses.

REGI Profit Margin Chart

REGI Profit Margin data by YCharts

Indeed, earnings of both companies may be significantly affected by changes in governmental policies and incentives. As an example, the constrained growth in renewable volume obligations for refineries during the years 2017 to 2019 affected Renewable Energy Group’s earnings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuels Standards require refineries to blend a minimum percentage of renewables-based fuels to their petroleum-based volumes, or purchase credits — called renewable identification numbers or RINs — in lieu of blending. Some small refineries may be exempted from this requirement. Any changes in this policy affect the demand and pricing for RINs, thereby affecting the profitability of bio and renewable diesel producers, including Renewable Energy Group.

Growth prospects

Renewable Energy Group stands to benefit from several current and potential governmental incentives. The BTC, or Biodiesel Tax Credit, which provides a tax credit to bio-diesel blenders, has been retroactively reinstated and will be effective through 2022. Other incentives, including the RFS, the Renewable Energy Directive II, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard or LCFS, and other state incentives all bode well for Renewable Energy Group’s growth.

Renewable Energy Group’s strategy of increasing renewable diesel production is smart considering its premium pricing compared to biodiesel. Renewable diesel can be blended more easily with petroleum-based diesel, and it generates more RINs on a per-gallon basis. Moreover, Renewable Energy Group is also focusing on expanding its distribution capabilities. This will not only help it diversify its earnings, but also help it to improve margins.

Clean Energy Fuels should also benefit from the push for renewables. However, the growth of electric vehicles is expected to limit the use of renewable natural gas as a vehicle fuel. Notably, its prospects remain bright in the heavy vehicles segment, due to limited breakthrough of electric technology in that segment so far. However, Clean Energy Fuels has until now been unable to deliver on its top and bottom lines. I would rather avoid this stock till it progresses on these fronts.

Race to zero: This graphic shows the rapidly falling cost of renewables

  • The cost of renewable energy continues to fall. In most cases, it’s now cheaper to use renewables than fossil fuels.
  • $23 billion could be wiped off global bills if we switched from costly coal to renewables.
  • Power industry experts say the switch to renewables is now unstoppable.

Renewable energy is not only cheaper than fossil fuels, but it’s undercutting them without subsidy – and is now the default choice for new electricity generation.

Renewables already account for almost 30% of global electricity output, according to the International Energy Agency. The IEA says the pandemic has slowed the roll-out of renewables and has called on governments to accelerate the transition to green energy after COVID-19.

Although all forms of renewable energy have become more competitive, the price of onshore wind and solar photovoltaic-generated power have both fallen below five US cents per kilowatt hour for the first time, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says. Solar photovolaics has tumbled from nearly 8 times that figure just 10 years ago, while onshore wind has fallen steadily from nearly 9 cents per kilowatt hour in 2010.

Fossil fuel-fired power generation is estimated to cost between 5 and 18 cents per kilowatt hour, according to IRENA.

Reducing the world’s energy bills

In April 2019, the United States generated more electricity from renewables than from coal for the first time. In the same month, the UK went for 18 days without using any coal to generate electricity.

IRENA says $23 billion could be wiped off the world’s energy bills if the costliest 500 gigawatts of coal-generating plant was replaced by solar and wind power. While switching generation from fossil fuels to renewables would reduce global CO2 emissions by 5%, it says.

Reasons to use coal to generate electricity are evaporating as renewables provide power more cheaply in the majority of cases, says IRENA. Over half of new renewable installations delivered generating costs that were lower than the cheapest comparable new coal-fired plant.

The renewable energy revolution

“We seem to be approaching a world in which 50% of electricity will be from renewable energy,” says Simon Weiher, Product Portfolio Manager of Hitachi ABB Power Grids, in a YouTube video. “Renewable generation seems unstoppable.”

He says there are three factors that mean renewables will continue to grow: public environmental concerns; falling renewable energy costs; and the fact the technologies are now available to make the renewable energy revolution happen.

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

“If there is one constant in today’s grid landscape, it is the clear expansion of renewable power. And based on the three strong and stable drivers, this isn’t going to change any time soon,” he adds.

Race to zero

On World Environment Day this year, the United Nations launched the Race to Zero, a global campaign to mobilize leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a zero-carbon recovery and to accelerate action to reduce harmful climate-change emissions.

The World Economic Forum is hosting the Race to Zero Dialogues from 10 to 12 November, which will bring together business and public sector leaders to discuss ways of making a zero-carbon future a reality.

The event will debate how best to decarbonize industries including transport and fashion, as well as focus on protecting the oceans from the effects of climate change.

Jonathan Scott Announces His First-Ever Documentary Film and Zooey Deschanel Is 'So Proud'

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How the US could go from climate laggard to climate leader — in 8 simple steps

Imagine a green future for a hot second (no pun intended). The United States and the rest of the world have taken substantive action to slow (and even reverse) climate change. Crisis averted! You’re probably envisioning a lot of the following: snazzy yet affordable electric cars, smog-free city skylines, and an electrical grid powered by sweet, sweet, renewable energy.

Well, you likely don’t need the staff of Grist to tell you that the nation is nowhere near approaching that eco-friendly dreamscape.

In fact, the U.S. is currently on a path away from that green dream. Bigly. The Trump Administration is in the process of finalizing the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. (It will shortly become the only one in the world that contributes more than 2 percent of global emissions without being a member of the landmark climate pact). Emissions have been on the rise again after years of incremental dips — slowed this year only because of a deadly pandemic. And the nation’s most vulnerable communities are routinely forced to reckon with environmental contaminants, extreme weather, and industrial pollution.

If a couple of intrepid aliens dropped by to observe a Congressional hearing on climate change, knowing that humanity’s survival hinged on finding a solution to rising temperatures, they would hurry back to their home planet under the impression that Earth was doomed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. That green dream could be a reality — and for the most part, we know what we need to do to bring it to life.

Below, you’ll learn about eight tools lawmakers could leverage to make America great on climate change. These are interventions that already exist, and concern everything from your home to your local transportation system.

All we need to do is reach out and grab them.

1

Ditch the gas guzzlers

In a world of Priuses, Leafs, Bolts, and a growing number of Teslas, you’d think that the national average for gas mileage would be higher than it is: a measly 26 miles per gallon.

That’s not very efficient. And it’s partly why, in 2018, transportation produced nearly 30 percent of the U.S.’s global warming emissions — more than energy or any other sector, with most of it coming frompassenger cars and trucks.

The good news: The vast majority of Americans say they want the federal government to increase fuel efficiency standards for all types of vehicles.

In the short term, hybrids and plug-in hybrids are available to satisfy the needs of those who want — and can afford — more efficient rides. They easily meet or surpass California’s stricter fuel-efficiency standards, with some models reaching over 56 mpg.

Eventually, if the federal government follows California’s lead, our roads could be filled entirely with electric vehicles. Emissions-free autos are already beginning to take off, with sale prices falling and current models able to go as far as 141 miles using the same amount of energy in one gallon of gasoline.

But fully electric vehicles still make up less than 2 percent of annual car sales. An analysis from the International Energy Agency found that policies like fuel mandates could drive EVs to make up 30 percent of all U.S. auto sales by 2030 — an impressive rise, but still not enough to meet the most aggressive climate targets.

Proposals do exist to better meet the moment. In a report released this summer, the Democratic House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis proposed that the federal government create an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions standard for light-duty vehicles and trucks to reduce pollution by at least 6 percent each year for five years, beginning in 2026. The Environmental Protection Agency already has the authority to do this under the Clean Air Act.

The House committee also recommended action from Congress, where lawmakers could establish a zero-emissions vehicle sales standard, requiring all vehicles sold to be emissions-free by 2035. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign has floated a similar sales standard for light- and medium-duty vehicles, which would complement “annual improvements” for larger automobiles.

— Joseph Winters

1

Not-so-extreme makeover: home edition

Little-known fact: Buildings are responsible for just over a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. About 10 percent of all emissions come from directly inside them, such as whenever we fire up a gas stove for a meal or flip on the heat to keep warm. Not only that but burning fossil fuels inside our homes isn’t great for our health.

Like trading in your beat-up Chevy Impala for an all-electric Bolt, there’s a straightforward solution: Replace boilers and hot water heaters with electric heat pumps. Swap gas-powered stoves for snazzy new induction cooktops.

Improving energy efficiency is also a way to cut down on emissions from buildings. Whether your heating system is powered by electricity or gas, or if you live in an old, drafty house that needs insulation, you’re probably using more energy than you need to — both the heat and your dollars are slipping through the cracks. (For low-income Americans, the cost-burden of an inefficient home can be as high as 26 percent of their earnings.) Sealing up cracks and helping people replace old appliances would lighten the load on their wallets while cutting emissions and, most crucially, reducing demand on the electric grid so we can actually meet all our energy needs with clean sources.

So where do we start? Congress could increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program that helps low-income households pay for energy-efficiency upgrades. It could also strengthen efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and increase and extend tax credits for retrofits.

Most of the action will likely happen at the state and local level, through incentives, rebates, and pilot programs that help people cover the cost of all these upgrades, along with new laws and updated building codes designed with an eye to increased energy efficiency.

— Emily Pontecorvo

1

Get on the bus!

If the U.S. starts taking climate change seriously, we’ll have to become much less dependent on cars (even if they are more efficient). A staggering 75 percent of Americans drive alone to work. And even before the pandemic hit, ridership on buses, trains, and subways appeared to be on the decline. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 45 percent of Americans couldn’t use public transportation even if they wanted to — because of where they live.

Taking climate change seriously will require a redesign of our country’s transportation infrastructure. In other words, we’ll have to find a way to get people out of their cars. In the early 2020s, that will mean taking public money away from building new highways that encourage people to drive more, and using it to expand the country’s existing bus, train, and subway systems, especially for rural communities and areas that have traditionally been denied transit access. Do all this, and by 2030, the majority of Americans will live within walking distance of public transportation.

Sound like a plan? It’s one devised by the advocacy group Transportation for America as a way to meet international climate targets. Activists see public transit as a huge opportunity — not only to slash emissions from the country’s biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, but also to create jobs and fuel the American economy. One analysis found that every $1 billion invested in transit can generate $5 billion in economic returns, creating and supporting roughly 50,000 jobs. According to the Blue Green Alliance, fixing up our existing road and transit systems could generate 6.6 million jobs within 10 years.

So how do we arrive at the future that Transportation for America and others envision? The Biden campaign has proposed using federal funds to provide all Americans in cities of more than 100,000 people with “quality public transportation” by 2030. In a report this summer, House Democrats recommended at least doubling annual funding for new transit projects and implementing a minimum emissions-per-mile performance standard for vehicles traveling on the National Highway System. If a state’s emissions exceed those standards, it would have to use its federal highway money toward projects to decrease emissions.

— JW

1

No fossil-fuel worker left behind

If and when the nation ditches fossil fuels, what happens to the nearly one million people who work in the oil and gas industry? It’s a reasonable question, and one that’s become a sticking point that Republicans, fossil fuel lobbyists, and some unions often leverage to derail much of the talk about expanding the country’s renewable energy.

Right now, the systems to help fossil fuel workers find jobs in the green energy sector aren’t in place yet. But roadmaps to accomplish such an evolution do exist.

In June, a group of 80 local, regional, and national organizations published the National Economic Transition Platform, a raft of policy recommendations for federal policymakers designed to help fossil fuel workers shift to a green-energy economy. The plan recommends putting former coal miners to work on cleaning up coal sites and abandoned mines and restoring local water resources, as well as creating new jobs in energy efficiency retrofits for residential and commercial buildings.

There’s been some discussion of this issue in Congress, as well. Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois, a Democrat, introduced a bill this July that simultaneously seeks to revitalize communities devastated by the decline of coal and restore the surrounding environment. The Marshall Plan for Coal Country Act would also boost the federal minimum wage to $15 and provide Medicare for coal workers who have lost their jobs.

Joe Biden’s latest climate plan picks up where Duckworth’s bill leaves off. He proposes creating a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which would help the families who wind up out of work in a clean-energy transition access federal funds for recovery efforts, partner with community colleges for training opportunities, and find jobs repairing local infrastructure. Biden’s plan also calls for an entirely new class of jobs and job training in climate-resilient industries (think: coastal restoration, sustainable infrastructure design, and tree planting in cities).

On the campaign trail in 2016, President Trump accused Democrats of abandoning oil, gas, and coal workers. But polling shows people are open to building a green economy, as long as it doesn’t leave Americans behind.

— Zoya Teirstein

1

Protection for the day after tomorrow

More and more Americans are waking up to the fact that we’re going to need to shore up our homes, neighborhoods, and communities against the effects of planetary warming. Low-income and vulnerable minority areas already dealing with the fallout from extreme weather are going to need even more help.

Each region of the U.S. faces its own unique set of disasters. And a simple formula can help states prepare for what’s coming: Plan + funding = protection. In other words, state governments need to figure out how to protect their residents, and the federal government needs to do what it does relatively well: dole out disaster-relief dollars.

Some states are already leading the way. This summer, North Carolina passed the NC SECURE Act, which streamlines the funding and permitting of projects that store floodwater and reduce the risk of inundation. The legislation calls for a mix of federal disaster relief funds and state dollars to create a grant program to prioritize natural solutions to flooding, like restoring wetlands and directing water to green space that can soak up floodwaters.

Virginia is planning to use money generated from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic’s cap-and-trade program, to fund climate resilience projects. The commonwealth joined the initiative this year and expects to generate $100 million annually from the program, with $45 million of it slotted for coastal resilience and community flood preparedness.

Even when funding flows after a disaster, plenty of people are left out. For example, there are 90,000 fewer Black New Orleanians now than there were before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. And a survey of post-Hurricane Harvey Houston showed 50 percent of lower-income respondents said they weren’t getting the help they needed, compared to 32 percent of higher-income respondents.

Thus, a truly equitable plan to beef up disaster preparedness should allocate a certain portion of the funds to the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

— ZT

1

Greening the grid

The U.S. still runs on dirty power. Fossil fuels provide 63 percent of the country’s electricity. In some states, like West Virginia and Wyoming, the grid is powered almost entirely by coal.

The solution, according to some policymakers, is obvious: The federal government should require power companies nationwide to draw their energy from clean energy sources (think wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, and hydropower). Thirty states and three territories already mandate the use of renewables in the electricity grid. And — surprise surprise! — they also tend to have lower carbon emissions than their neighbors. But most of them set a relatively low bar for renewable generation, aiming to make it 15 to 25 percent of their overall energy mix.

A new generation of advocates wants to raise it much, much higher: They want all of the country’s electricity to come from pollution-free sources by 2035. Biden has thrown his support behind the goal, amid pressure from youth activists and his former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. The House climate crisis committee aims to erase emissions from electricity slightly less aggressively, by 2040.

Hitting either of these goals would mean a lot more solar panels and wind turbines nationwide — and a lot fewer coal and natural gas plants. But here’s the rub: Simply setting a target for clean energy won’t be enough.

To fully kick dirty-but-reliable fossil fuels off the grid, we need new technology for storing energy for long periods of time and new methods for generating high heat for industrial processes, like cement manufacturing. That’s why spending big bucks on research and development is key. Biden’s plan, for example, invests $400 billion over the next decade on solving these problems.

Then there’s a third tool in the clean energy Swiss army knife: tax incentives. The credits the wind and solar industry rely on to finance new projects are about to expire. House Democrats want to extend those incentives for a few more years — and eliminate some of the tax breaks that give oil and gas companies an unfair advantage and keep fossil fuel prices competitive with renewables. Other policy wonks have suggested reviving an Obama administration program that offered grants instead of tax credits to really kick the renewable industry into high gear.

— SO and EP

energy

Price carbon out

Once upon a time, putting a price on the carbon content of fossil fuels — much like we tax cigarettes or alcohol — was the policy of choice for both Democrats and Republicans hoping to curb dangerous climate change. According to economists, the government could just slap on an extra cost for burning fossil fuels, and then step back and watch emissions plummet.

Nowadays, taxing carbon isn’t quite as popular. Democrats prefer to focus on big spending and regulations, while a lot of Republicans ignore the overheating planet entirely. Those Republicans who do accept the reality of climate change, however, still tend to be fans of pricing carbon: James A. Baker, George P. Shultz, and other old-school Republicans have released a comprehensive carbon tax plan that has won support from corporations and economists alike.

A tax on carbon pollution could play a big role by helping to cut emissions across the economy — not just from the electricity grid. Proposals floating around Congress suggest taxing carbon dioxide emissions at $15 per ton (equivalent to about $0.13 per gallon of gas), and then ratcheting the price up every year.

The only sticking point is what to do with all of that cash collected. A carbon tax would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in government revenue every year — and legislators are divided over how best to use it. Because some of the costs would fall on taxpayers — through, for example, a price hike at the pump — policymakers have suggested a “revenue-neutral” tax, where per-capita proceeds would be returned to households or offset by decreases in the income tax. Others suggest reinvesting the revenue into the development of clean energy technologies, like solar and wind, or supporting communities that have been hard hit by fossil fuel pollution.

If the tax is high enough, it could be critical to cutting America’s carbon footprint. Forty countries around the world have managed to implement some form of carbon pricing, and even though many have yet to fulfill their promise, a carbon tax in the U.K. has helped emissions in that country reach their lowest levels since 1890.

— SO

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Make vulnerable communities resilient

The U.S. doesn’t have a great track record of protecting people living in places choked by pollution and more likely to get hit hard by extreme weather. Entrenched structural systems, think redlining and being ignored by local politicians, lead to more pollution winding up in low-income enclaves and neighborhoods of color — and leave them vulnerable to the consequences of a warming climate.

A few policy changes could make these frontline communities resilient. Governments at all levels can, for example, pass laws to reduce methane emissions from natural gas operations, which would improve air quality and slow climate change. (Methane is a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.) It would be a boon to public health.

Take the populations living along the Gulf Coast, for example. Just this summer, industrial coastal cities in the South were hit with hurricanes and tropical storms that brought torrential rain and a series of floods. Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm, pummeled the petrochemical hub of Port Arthur, when it made landfall over Texas at the end of August.

Many low-income communities of color were left with the option of either weathering the storm at home despite being warned to evacuate, or leaving their homes and risk being exposed to COVID-19 and thick air pollution. Shutting down plants in preparation for potential storms isn’t enough to keep those communities safe — nearby chemical plants and oil refineries continue to spew harmful chemicals in the process of going offline.

Environmental justice organizations have been laying out ways to protect at-risk residents. A focus on clean energy and resilience measures, from seawalls to community evacuation protocols, would not only limit the risk from future storms in vulnerable neighborhoods but also reduce their exposure to pollution. In his climate plan, Joe Biden promised to invest historic levels of funding toward clean energy, aggressively limit methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, and ensure vulnerable communities benefit from a shift to a green economy.

Imagine a country where climate change isn’t the crisis it absolutely is right now — and all residents can feel safe to breathe and move around, inside and outside their neighborhoods.

— Angely Mercado

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Crowded presidential field got you flustered? Look no further. This is a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about 2020 candidates and where they stand on the environment.

California Is Banning Gasoline Cars. Now the EV Race Begins

California just started the clock on a future that a few years ago would’ve been unthinkable: dealerships full of nothing but zero-emissions cars.

On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered regulators to phase out the internal combustion engine and ban the sale of all new gasoline-fueled cars after 2035. With that, California became the first state in America to impose such a prohibition and delivered the biggest jolt yet to automakers already under pressure to give up fossil fuels and deliver a new generation of electric vehicles.

California Fuel Dream

The Golden State makes up about 15% of U.S. gasoline sales

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

While for now the industry depends on gasoline-powered SUVs and pickups for most of its profit, traditional automakers are investing billions of dollars in electrification and announcing new EV models — with startups such as Rivian Automotive and Lucid Motors Inc. right on their heels. California’s ban ups the ante.

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“There’s an arms race going on here,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the powerful California Air Resources Board that regulates the emissions of everything from oil refineries to power plants to cars.

Read More: California to Ban New Gasoline Cars by 2035, a First in U.S. (1)

Newsom’s announcement adds to worldwide momentum this week in the fight against climate change, coming less than a day after China pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060 — a bold move from the world’s largest polluter that, while still 40 years out, caught environmentalists by surprise. California is joining more than a dozen countries, including the U.K., France and Canada, that are phasing out the internal combustion engine, BloombergNEF data show. The U.K. is actually considering whether to push forward its ban to 2035.

What California wants would be a huge leap for the auto industry. Less than 8% of new vehicles registered in California through the first half of the year were electric ones. And in 2035, BNEF projects about half of U.S. passenger vehicle sales will be battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in 2035.

Impetus for Change

The target is “aggressive,” but it has the potential to speed the pace of EV adoption among automakers, said Stephanie Brinley, a principal automotive analyst for IHS Markit.

“If it actually happens, it does create a reason and impetus to make change happen faster,” Brinley said. If “you have the opportunity for volume there, and you’re going to be able to sell the car, then you can put more money into investing and increasing your capacity faster.”

Read More: So You Decided on an Electric Car. Now What?

Newsom’s order — signed on the hood of the forthcoming electric Ford Mustang Mach-E — will inevitably set the tone for states across America. Not only is California the largest car market in the U.S., it’s also one of the nation’s biggest gasoline consumers and the world’s second-largest EV market, behind only China. The strength of its transportation policy has always hinged on the fact that automakers, other like-minded states and often the nation have tended to follow suit.

The ban is “a kiss of death for gasoline and petroleum as California tends to be a trendsetter,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for fuel-pricing firm GasBuddy.

Key questions remain, including whether California will allow plug-in hybrid sales (used gasoline car sales will be allowed) — and whether the rest of the U.S. will actually join. Much of the latter hinges on the upcoming presidential election. While the Trump administration has aggressively fought California’s efforts to squeeze emissions out of transportation, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has advocated for the widespread adoption of electric cars and a national charging network to power them.

There is also the question of enforcement: Combustion engine phase-outs in other parts of the world have lacked the necessary teeth to be effective, such as penalties for dealerships who break the rules and sell gasoline-fueled cars. Newsom’s executive order doesn’t lay out exactly how California will see to it that only zero-emissions cars are eventually sold.

Still a Sliver

EV penetration is growing but still a small portion of California’s car market

Source: California New Car Dealers Association

Still, the Golden State has long been a champion of hybrid and electric cars powered by batteries and fuel cells, with aggressive targets that have pushed and prodded automakers to comply. Its zero-emissions vehicle, or ZEV, program requires automakers to sell electric cars and trucks and has been adopted by several states including New York, New Jersey and Oregon.

The ZEV regulation has allowed home-grown companies like Palo Alto-based Tesla Inc. to earn revenue selling emission credits to automakers who can’t meet the mandate. And while 2035 has long been a goal for California to reach zero emissions, Newsom is doubling down on that time line as the state confronts the grim consequences of climate change: heat waves and massive wildfires that have scorched millions of acres and choked much of the West Coast with toxic air pollution.

The 2035 deadline “gives everyone who works in transportation — including the fuel suppliers, planners, manufacturers and fleet managers — a real target to work towards,” Nichols said.

Anyone who thinks Newsom’s goal is symbolic, only cementing where California was already headed, is mistaken, said BloombergNEF analyst Nick Albanese. “Despite its ambitious policies, I do not think California was on track to hit a 100% passenger EV sales share in 2035 before this announcement,” he said.

Transition Years

Nichols said that the next 15 years will be ones of transition, as automakers put forward more cars, consumers become more comfortable driving electric and the cost of batteries drops. Tesla’s “Battery Day” on Tuesday didn’t go unnoticed in Sacramento. Nichols noted the electric carmaker’s plan to halve the cost of batteries and, consequently, build EVs that more people can afford to buy.

“It’s an electric race to get to cheaper and more effective batteries, and it’s one that manufacturers around the world are competing in,” Nichols said. “That’s the prize: the zero-emission vehicle that’s affordable to everybody.”

Not everyone is happy. Questions remain about charging infrastructure, and how low-income consumers will be able to afford electric vehicles that are largely associated with coastal wealth. Roughly 2 million new passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are sold in California each year, and the California New Car Dealers Association has several questions about how the directive will be met.

Dealers Concerned

“Banning new non-ZEV vehicles and limiting choice, even 15 years from now, is significantly more difficult than striving to achieve the goals the governor has set forth,” Brian Maas, of the CNCDA, said by email. “While we support the state’s goals to combat climate change, there are many questions and factors that need to be thoughtfully considered.”

Newsom’s executive order tasks Nichols’s agency with writing the regulations. There may be some some wiggle room in how automakers can achieve the state’s goal. In the past, the air board has made changes when it was clear the market and the technology couldn’t match the rules.

“There’s still some things to figure out, but it’s a significant direction to lay down,” Brinley said.

— With assistance by Jeffrey Bair, Michael Jeffers, and Kara Wetzel

Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Solar aesthetics haven’t evolved as fast as solar tech. Sure, some panels possess a flatscreenlike sleekness, but many rooftop rigs remain bulky eyesores. Tesla Inc. has struggled to mass-produce its tiles designed to resemble classic shingles. Now, thanks to strict building codes and cramped city living, some New Yorkers have found a way to elevate the look of solar arrays: the canopy.

Brooklyn SolarWorks Canopy

About $40,000 for a typical system

Design

SITU designed the aluminum canopy with Brooklyn SolarWorks. It’s sold across the U.S., but most—about 300—are in New York City.

relates to Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Photographer: Adrienne Grunwald/Bloomberg

How It Works

Unruly roof topography, fire codes, and setback rules all constrain urban solar. One way to maximize space for panels is to build up.

The Power

A 7-kilowatt canopy can generate up to 9,000 kilowatt-hours annually. That’s enough to power a home for a year or charge a Tesla Model 3 for 37,000 miles. It’s also more power than could be produced within the usable rooftop space of many New York City buildings without the canopy.

relates to Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Photographer: Adrienne Grunwald/Bloomberg

What It’s Good For

Besides providing solar power, the canopy has doubled as a shaded deck for rooftop barbecues, hot tubs, and seating for a tennis club. “Putting a canopy on the roof certainly sweetens it up,” says T.R. Ludwig, co-founder of Brooklyn SolarWorks.

Where This Is Going

A Brooklyn SolarWorks sister company has its eyes on developing solar carports for surburbia. “This is the way we’ll get into Arizona,” Ludwig says, “where they may need not a canopy but a shade structure.”

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Why Amazon committed $2 billion to fund clean energy technology

Matt Peterson, a senior Amazon exec, joined the “Axios Re:Cap” podcast to explain the thinking behind the tech and commerce giant’s climate venture capital fund, which rolled out its first investments on Thursday.

Why it matters: The fund, $2 billion to start, is beginning to invest on the heels of Amazon’s late 2019 pledge to be net-zero emissions by 2040.

The big picture: Peterson, their director of new initiatives, made the case that today’s clean tech VC investing isn’t akin to the meltdown of a decade ago.

  • One reason, he said, is that it will help Amazon and other companies obtain new tech to fulfill emissions pledges.
  • “The way we are approaching this is from a demand perspective, not a supply perspective. We are asking ourselves, what does Amazon need as a company to decarbonize, then we are finding companies that produce those products,” Peterson said.
  • “We’re coming at it from the standpoint of, we will be a customer of this technology today if we can find the right company, and I think that’s a much more sustainable way to invest.”

The intrigue: He said one kind of important tech they will be decarbonized aviation. “That is one of our biggest challenges, and there is really nothing out there today that can address that,” Peterson said.

  • Electrified jets that could meet the needs of their operations are likely decades away, he said.

Go deeper: Amazon defends working with oil companies to reach its zero-carbon goal