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.
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.
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.
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.
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Jonathan Scott Announces His First-Ever Documentary Film and Zooey Deschanel Is ‘So Proud’
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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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
NEW: We’re facing a climate crisis.
We need bold action.
CA is phasing out the internal combustion engine.⁰ By 2035 every new car sold in CA will be an emission free vehicle.
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.
Ford is proud to be the only American automaker to stand with California for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We want to leave a better world to the next generation: pic.twitter.com/9I27AO47Yq
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.
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.
“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 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
SITU designed the aluminum canopy with Brooklyn SolarWorks. It’s sold across the U.S., but most—about 300—are in New York City.
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.
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.
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 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.
If you engage in a lot of conversations about electric vehicles on social media, you start to see common themes emerging. The national grid can’t cope; they catch fire spontaneously; they can only drive 50 miles, particularly in winter; they’re built using rare minerals mined by children in the Congo; all the electricity required to charge them comes from coal anyway – and so on. Rather than rebuffing each one of these in turn (perhaps a future article), there’s a deeper underlying reason for all this hate. It’s not the (admittedly high) price that is why people aren’t running with arms open and buying EVs in droves yet; there appears to be a concerted hate campaign against them. But why, and where is it coming from?
The high price is something that can’t be denied. Most EVs are still at least £10,000 ($13,000) more expensive than equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) models. That is a major disincentive for purchase, despite the grants in lots of countries, particularly France. But the resistance you see online, which is rather reminiscent of social media-fuelled political arguments, isn’t usually about the price – it seems to be driven by a fundamental dislike for change, and the lack of EV options for different vehicular needs. There are lots of luxury EV SUVs, but surprisingly no estate cars / station wagons at all, for example.
WM Motor is a promising EV startup in China, that is yet to break out of the local market.
“The reason there is not so much choice in the EV market is because existing manufacturers don’t want to sell electric cars,” says Rupert Mitchell, Chief Strategy Officer at Chinese EV manufacturer WM Motor. Mitchell argues that it’s no surprise that the major players in the EV space are not incumbent manufacturers, but disruptive newcomers like his company and Tesla TSLA . Although EV sales are growing fast – up 175% year-on-year in the UK by July 2020, for example – they’re still less than 5% of overall car sales in Britain. For most incumbents, that means at least 95% of their sales are still ICE, so there are only limited incentives for creating electric platforms.
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With 95% of your cars still being ICE, you’re going to continue to focus heavily on developing that platform, rather than putting major funds towards upstart new electric ones. There are also issues with automotive industry workers and their powerful unions being worried about losing their jobs. The workers can be retrained, but EV manufacturing requires fewer people. China is less affected by this, because its ICE car industry was rather poor compared to the US or Europe’s, and therefore it has lots of promising EVs that are mostly still for domestic consumption. But a lot of China’s automotive industry is based on joint ventures, many of which are with VW. So even in China the EV focus is on entrepreneurial startups rather than incumbents.
A further reluctance comes from the dealerships. A recent UK blind buyer survey revealed that most manufacturers with EVs available had very poor online purchasing systems, and constantly tried to funnel buyers to their showrooms instead. There, salespeople had very little knowledge of EVs, making it genuinely hard to actually buy one. Anecdotal accounts of showrooms in the US allege salespeople there try to actively discourage EV sales, instead directing customers back to ICE. This is likely because car sales margins are traditionally low, and they make their money selling aftermarket service packages – which are almost not needed with EVs, particularly when they are fully connected, allowing remote management and diagnostics. EV manufacturers therefore don’t just have to change the technology itself but fight the incumbent sales model that simply doesn’t fit the low-maintenance nature of EVs.
Tesla’s shares have enjoyed a nearly six-fold increase in value over the last year.
However, it’s clear that the reluctance of incumbent manufacturers to address the EV market with gusto has left the door wide open for Tesla in particular, as well as other newcomers, who don’t have that baggage to contend with. When Tesla became the most valuable car company in June, it felt like it could be a blip. But Tesla’s shares had increased in value nearly six-fold year-on-year by August 12th, and the company is now clearly ahead of its next biggest competitor Toyota – in fact 38% more valuable. It’s ironic that Toyota doesn’t have a battery electric vehicle strategy at all, instead focusing on hybrids and fuel cell electric vehicles, which show no signs whatsoever of being popular in the consumer vehicle space. Tesla has not only built innovative vehicles on brand new EV-only platforms, but also its own refuelling network and a sales model that eschews traditional showrooms, with a very slick online experience.
Tesla is now 38% more valuable than its nearest competitor, Toyota.
However, EVs aren’t all about taking all your fossil fuel cars and making them electric. There’s also a significant shift in the way we transport ourselves, which has been further accentuated by the Covid pandemic. In the UK, electric scooters have been fast-tracked with government funding to provide a potential green solution to personal city transportation. Companies like IRP Systems are focusing on drivetrains for this emerging market. “There’s a separation between urban mobility versus long-distance,” says Moran Price, CEO of IRP Systems. “We’re seeing a shift to personal commuting, and a jump towards electric two-wheel platforms.” This also opens up a possible door for countries where two-wheel transport is more the norm, like India. Take a look at the electric motorcycles available in India already, and you will be surprised by how many options there are as well as their low price. These could be very promising imports. Without incumbents, this market faces much less resistance because it’s entirely new, rather than fighting against powerful existing players that want to protect their lucrative corporate models.
For cars, however, there will be years of struggle against the hate campaigns. It’s clear that the uphill struggle for EVs isn’t about whether they are any good, or specifically tackling the negative arguments against them cited at the beginning of this article. If you’ve driven an EV, with an open mind, you will have realised how effortless and smooth it is. EVs are not perfect, and they do cost more, but in many ways EVs are now just better than their fossil fuel forebears – cleaner, requiring less maintenance, faster, more reliable, even more spacious. That’s not going to be enough for EVs to succeed, however. There are a lot of vested interests in fossil fuel vehicles – not just the fuel industry itself, or even the manufacturers, but also the showroom networks and service centres. This is what needs to be addressed for EVs to succeed, and it will take quite a bit of effort to do so.
Wind and solar reached a record-high market share of 10% of global electricity in the first half of 2020, up by 14% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a new report from think tank Ember, which focuses on accelerating the global energy transition. This is despite a 3% drop in power demand globally due to the impact of COVID-19. Wind and solar have doubled their market share since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
Many key countries now generate around a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar: China (10%), the US (12%), India (10%), Japan (10%), Brazil (10%), and Turkey (13%). The EU and UK were substantially higher with 21% and 33%, respectively; Germany rose to 42%. (Russia is the largest country to so far shun wind and solar, with just 0.2% of its electricity coming from them.)
This year, for the first time, the world’s coal fleet ran at less than half of its capacity. Coal dropped by 8.3% in the global electricity mix from the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2020. The drop was led by major falls in the US (-31%) and the Europe Union (-32%). For the first time ever, the existing global coal fleet ran at less than half capacity. In the US, existing coal plants ran at less than a third of their capacity (32%). In contrast, China’s coal fell only 2%, meaning its share of global coal generation rose to 54% so far this year, up from 50% in 2019 and 44% in 2015.
But here’s the important part: The global electricity transition is off track for 1.5 degrees.
Coal needs to fall by 13% every year this decade, and even in the face of a global pandemic, coal generation has only reduced 8% in the first half of 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 1.5 degree scenarios shows coal needs to fall to just 6% of global generation by 2030, from 33% in the first half of 2020. The IPCC shows in all scenarios that most of coal’s replacement is with wind and solar.
Six former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations joined a prominent group of former EPA officials to raise a bipartisan call for a new forward-looking direction at the EPA in an open letter.
Administrators Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, Carol M. Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa P. Jackson, and Gina McCarthy discuss their concerns about the far-reaching impacts of climate change, new toxic hazards and other emerging health risks, and the disproportionate burdens that pollution and global warming place on lower-wealth communities, communities of color, and indigenous people. They write:
As EPA approaches its 50th anniversary this December, we believe the time has come to reset the future course for EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead.
They cite a new report, “Resetting the Course of EPA,” from the Environmental Protection Network, a bipartisan group of more than 500 former EPA senior managers and employees. It provides a comprehensive set of recommendations to guide the EPA in addressing the most significant and emerging threats to public health and the environment.
It covers 10 action areas, from reducing emissions from vehicles, to safeguarding drinking water, to restoring science as the backbone of agency decision-making, to elevating environmental justice in all aspects of EPA’s work.
Siemens eMobility solutions announced this week that it will field test new EV charging technology, a Meter Integrated Charger (MIC), in New York. The MICs measure the quantity of electricity needed to charge EVs so that drivers, utilities, and others can track and manage consumption. The standard utility meter can be used to record the energy usage, and the meter will send the data back to the utility, which can then be shared with the customer. The data could be used to bill the EV on a separate rate in the future.
German multinational conglomerate Siemens is partnering with New York utility Con Edison to recruit up to 20 residential customers in New York with smart meters to participate in the project.
John DeBoer, head of Siemens eMobility solutions and Future Grid Business in North America, said:
Currently, for most customers who own EVs, EV energy consumption is mixed in with all other usage in the owner’s electricity bill, making it impossible to identify the energy costs from charging the EV versus the home’s air conditioning or lighting. With the MIC, the power used for the EV will show up separately. Siemens is working to promote EV adoption with our full range of charging equipment and solutions, and this could be a game-changer for EV drivers in understanding their fuel savings when they switch to EVs.
Con Edison will collect information on the charging habits of the participating customers and share it with Siemens. The project is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
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The smart brick. Image: D’Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis
Bricks are about as basic as architectural materials can get, yet these simple building blocks have hidden powers that can be leveraged to provide electricity, according to a new study.
Scientists modified a common red brick—the same kind you’ll find on sale for under a dollar at your local hardware store—so that it could power a green LED light. This proof-of-concept for a “smart brick” reveals that brick technology, which dates back thousands of years, can be tweaked to have futuristic applications, including electrical conductivity and sensing capabilities. The results were published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.
“We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy,” said study co-author Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, in a call.
“We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks,” he added.
For years, D’Arcy and his colleagues have experimented with rust, the ubiquitous reddish film that forms on any structure that contains iron. Rust is normally seen as a corrosive nuisance, but D’Arcy’s team has shown that rusty iron oxides have useful properties for material science.
“We discovered that if you actually treat rust chemically, it actually becomes reactive,” D’Arcy explained. “So something that we typically think of as waste turns out to be a useful chemical for producing materials that can be used for storing energy.”
The pigment in red bricks is partially derived from rust, which inspired the researchers to take a closer look at the structural properties of bricks to see if they could be converted to an energy-storing device called a supercapacitor.
The intricate porous interiors of bricks turned out to be an ideal space to introduce sophisticated polymer coatings, which react with rust to increase the surface area and conductivity of bricks.
These photos and microscope images show the structure of a common fired red brick before and after deposition of nanofibrillar coating that increases surface area within the brick. Image: The D’Arcy Laboratory in Washington University in St. Louis
As a result of the modifications, the team was able to engineer a prototype smart brick that stored enough energy to power the green light. The team is currently building on its findings by manufacturing specialized bricks with various metal oxides and polymer coatings.
In addition to tinkering with conductivities and storage capacity, the researchers hope to demonstrate that air sensors or water purification systems could be integrated into the bricks.
“When the water runs down your rooftop and it goes through the brick, what if the water gets purified when it comes down and you finally collect it?” D’Arcy speculated. “We always think about purifying water on a filter. But what if the house was a filter?”
In the near-term, however, D’Arcy and his colleagues are focused on boosting the efficiency of these bricks so that they could be incorporated as a back-up power source in regular homes, such as an emergency lighting system.
“If we can increase the amount of energy that can be stored in one brick,” D’Arcy said, “we can scale up and use even less bricks.”