Climate under the Trump Administration: The bad and the good news

A summary of the ‘President Trump’s Energy Policy’ episode from The Energy Gang podcast.

In December 2015 a global commitment to fighting climate change was agreed in Paris. The US is only one of the 193 countries that form the Paris Agreement. However, under the Obama administration the United States has been a leader in progress towards the agreement and represents 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As of February 2017, Trump will become the President of the United States, and the only leader in the world that thinks that human beings are not warming the climate.

The following is a summary of the discussion by Steven Lacey, Catharine Hamilton and Shale Con during the Energy Gang podcast episode, ‘President Trump’s Energy Policy’.

The Bad News

Obama’s climate policy can relatively easily, and probably will, be repealed or cancelled by a Trump/Republican administration.

  • In the US, presidents can use executive authority to put laws into place without requiring approval from the house or senate. However, laws passed by executive actions rank lower than those passed by the senate and can be easily repealed by a new president using the same executive authority. Barack Obama used executive orders to put the majority of policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into place, including the Clean Power Plan (carbon regulations for states) and the US signing the Paris Agreement.
  • It would take the United States 3 years to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. However, if the new republican administration wishes to, it could withdraw from entirely from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1 year. Furthermore, the agreement is non-binding, so even if the administration does not want to expend the political capital to completely withdraw, Trump can just do nothing to meet the US’s emission reduction targets.
  • The Clean Power Plan, Obama’s flagship policy for reducing emissions and enforced by the Environmental Protection (EPA), can be easily killed. Backed by the Obama administration, the plan is currently going through the court to determine whether the EPA should be given the power to enforce it, or not. The quickest way to kill the Clean Power Plan would be for Trump to simply contact the court and notify them that the administration will no longer pursue the proceeding. What’s more, Trump can appoint a solicitor general, the attorney for federal government, and it is in his/her power to decide to not support the EPA. Even if it gets to the supreme court, Trump can appoint a supreme court justice. Another option is to simply direct the EPA’s staff to not work on the Clean Power Plan.
  • Trump has appointed a climate change skeptic, Myron Ebell, as the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team meaning that even if the EPA has the power to enforce the plan, they probably won’t.
  • The whole package of Obama’s climate policy named the ‘Climate Action Plan’, developed in 2013, which brought together new and existing regulations into a package to show to the international community that the US is committed to climate action, is at risk. This includes decade old regulations on reducing the emissions from cars and light trucks (the ‘CAFE’ regulations) to newer regulations such as the Clean Power Plan itself. Many of these were executive orders. The package also includes plans designed to curb the emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than C02. Trump and the republicans have said specifically that they wants to get rid of regulations curbing methane emissions.

The Good News

Market forces already underway and the growth and job opportunities of clean energy could counterbalance the repeal of regulation.

  • Clean energy represents a huge wealth and job creation opportunity. Trump’s win has been attributed to a large group of people in the US who feel they have been left behind, worse off from globalisation and are hoping for new industry and jobs to be introduced by Trump. There are opportunities for the clean energy industry to approach states and make it clear where possibilities lie to create new jobs and growth. Solar already accounts for 210,000 jobs, wind accounts for 80,000 jobs and ‘Wind Technician’ is the fastest growing job category in the US. The ‘advanced energy economy’ is worth $200 billion in the US alone, which is more than pharmaceuticals and almost as much as consumer electronics.
  • The economics of renewable energy vs. fossil fuels is increasingly in favour of renewables anyway. For example, large scale solar projects can be built for less than $0.50/W in the US and this number is falling. Solar is on track to be the cheap choice for new energy regardless of regulation. More than half of new solar capacity that will come online next year will have been built without the support of regulation.
  • It is likely that investment in clean energy technologies at the state level will occur anyway. States have already started deploying clean technologies, such as wind and solar, and understand that even if the Clean Power Plan is rolled back these technologies still form the future of energy in the US.
  • US Industry has begun shifting towards low carbon and may continue to move forward. Companies have already made investments to change their practices and their business models. For example, car companies are likely to continue to invest in electric vehicles and cleaner combustion engines because these are already a good business case, not because of regulation.
  • Trump is pro-infrastructure. This includes a desire to improve the electricity grid and work towards a smarter grid, with increased storage capacity and increased capacity to cater for renewable energy.
  • The level to which coal-fired power stations can actually be revived in the US is debatable. Also, Trump’s energy policy is to support the natural gas industry. Natural gas is in direct competition with coal. A focus on de-regulation could also help the nuclear industry. If Trump’s policies end up increasing the use of natural gas and nuclear, they may lead to levels of emission not far from the Paris Agreement targets.
  • States may take positive action without requiring federal direction. Even if the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer be able to force states to abide by the Clean Power Plan, states will still be able to uphold it by choice. It is likely that at least some states, who’s governors agree with the plan, will come up with a similar plan and legislate it.
  • Global leaders, including China, are already warning Trump not to back out of the US’s commitments to mitigating climate change. It could be argued that Trump will be a malleable president – he has shifted position on many issues on many occasions and has no experience of politics – and could be influenced to change his stance. There is no certainty that other countries will back down on their commitments made at Paris in the event of US withdrawal. A solution may be found to continue global efforts to mitigate climate change for four years without the US.
  • Internationally, the US could still show leadership on climate change through civil society means such as the actions and commitments of it’s companies and NGO’s.

In summary, many of Obama’s policies intended to reduce emissions such as the Clean Power Plan and the ratification of the Paris Agreement are relatively easy for Trump and his party to cancel or repeal. Trump has already appointed a climate skeptic as the head of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, signalling that he is planning on repealing the progress made by the Obama administration.

However, market forces, including committed investment from businesses, continuously improving economics of clean energy and the wealth and job creation potential of the clean energy industry will work in the opposite direction to the repeal of regulation  by the new administration. Another positive factor is that although Trump plans to do nothing actively to reduce emissions, his energy policy  may well inadvertently lead to the US meeting it’s emission reduction targets anyway as a result of natural gas being cheaper and cleaner than coal.

The key question is how the international community will react to the United States’ withdrawal from it’s commitments in Paris. This will dictate the future of the agreement and our chances of avoiding catastrophic warming of over 2°C.

A Map to 100% Renewable Electricity

In order to know if you’re on track you need a destination and a map. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. As the Cheshire Cat points out to Alice.

If our destination is a world where global warming has been limited to 2.0°C, what does the map look like? And, what if we want to go further and limit warming to 1.5°C?

At least a quarter of the answer lies in how quickly we reach 100% renewable generation of our electricity. This post will describe the map, and a check to see how we’re getting on.

The Paris Target (the destination)

In December 2015, in Paris, 174 countries agreed to do whatever is necessary to limit the increase of the average global temperature of our planet to no more than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels. These countries have also agreed that ideally we should keep warming “well below 2˚C” and that they will meet every 5 years to ratchet down this target towards 1.5˚C.

An increase of 1.5˚C is the level at which the scientists at the UNFCCC have told us that “most terrestrial and marine species would be able to follow the speed of climate change; up to half of coral reefs may remain; sea level rise may remain below 1 m [39 inches]; some Arctic sea ice may remain; ocean acidification impacts would stay at moderate levels; and more scope for adaptation would exist, especially in the agricultural sector”. Many of these statements may not hold true in a 2˚C world. So, let’s focus on the 1.5˚C target.

We are already above 1˚C and to get a feel for how close we are to these limits, see this incredible animation produced by climatologist Ed Hawkins, from the University of Reading in the UK (via Climate Progress).

spiral_optimized

What do the Paris targets mean in terms of CO2 reductions? The “Feasibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C and 2°Creport by Climate Analytics has concluded that for us to limit global warming to 1.5˚C:

Global energy and industry CO2 emissions must reach zero by around 2050″.

So, that is our challenge, and it is monumental. Total carbon neutrality of global energy AND industry. Carbon neutrality of global electricity, transport, manufacturing, construction, agriculture and more… In just over 30 years!

This article will focus on decarbonising the production of electricity. The Electricity and Heating sector is only part of the story but accounts for the largest share, 25%, of global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by sector. See the chart below from the IPCC (2014). In this chart, the use of electricity from the grid by industry is included in ‘Electricity and Heat Production’. Therefore, every new wind turbine, solar PV panel or wave turbine attacks this 25% chunk of the pie.

global_emissions_sector_2015

The Theory

The demand for electricity is commonly split between “base load”, “intermediate load” and “peak load”. Simply, the base load tends to remain the same over a 24 hour period. The intermediate and peak loads are the reaction to increased need for electricity during the day or seasonal variation. Below is an example from two 24 hour periods in the UK in 2016, one during June (summer) and one during January (winter). You can see the continuous base load beneath the varying intermediate and peak loads above. The increase in winter is a result of the UK turning the heating on.

UKNATGRIDLOADSCharlieCook

The importance of all this is that the different types of demand require different types of power generation technologies to match the loads. Traditionally, the base load has been met using technologies that are not easy to turn on or off and trundle away continuously throughout the year, such as coal or nuclear. The intermediate and peak loads are met with power stations that can be ‘dispatched’ easily when needed, such as natural gas.

Models constructed by several researchers and institutes agree that 100% renewable electricity grids are capable of providing for national electricity demand day and night, 365 days a year and during extreme circumstances. Each propose a combination of technologies that together, are capable of replacing the fossil fuel alternatives mentioned above. The exact mixture of generation technologies differs from study to study but the conclusion is the same regardless of which country is the focus: 100% renewable electricity grids are technically possible. See the table at the bottom of this page for examples of a few.

The studies follow a common theme. By 2050, 100% of electrical power generation is derived from a combination of technologies including wind turbines, wave turbines and solar PV. Normally, it is assumed that extra technologies must be used to provide the base load power, biomass, biofuel, nuclear or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

However, In 2009, Jacobson and Delucchi published a plan in the Scientific American that proposed a scenario in which, as early as 2030, 100% of electricity is produced solely by a combination of wind, water and sun (coined WWS). This may be the most optimistic view in research, but knowing the most ambitious path helps to put alternative pathways into perspective.

In this scenario there is no need for biomass, biofuel, nuclear or CCS which are deemed more damaging technologies. A combination of wind, water and sun can meet the intermittent, peak and baseload electricity demand. In 14 years from today, wind turbines provide 50%, concentrated solar power 20%, commercial solar plants 14%, rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) 6%, hydroelectric plants 4%, geothermal plants 4%, wave turbines 1% and tidal turbines the final 1% of global electricity demand.

The following chart, the demand curve for a day in California, shows how WWS could potentially cope with the full range of demand without the need for nuclear, bio or CCS.

24-7 Generation

Around the world, this scenario requires:

  • 3.8 million wind turbines (19000 GW)
  • 49,000 concentrated solar power plants (14,700 GW)
  • 40,000 solar PV plants (12,000 GW)
  • 1.7 billion rooftop solar PV systems (5,100 GW)
  • 900 hydroelectric plants (1170 GW)
  • 720,000 wave turbines (540 GW)
  • 5,350 geothermal plants (535 GW)
  • 490,000 tidal turbines (490 GW)

(all GW values are installed capacity) (If you’re interested in climate solutions, you should check out the Solutions Project which was founded by Mark Jacobson, one of the two authors of this paper.)

So, how are we doing so far?

 

Deployment of Renewable Technologies (the map)

Let’s take a look at what’s currently installed, and the rate at which we would need to install each technology to reach the numbers set out by Jacobson and Delucchi.

My previous post described how, despite policy u-turns on subsidies from some governments, despite huge lobbying efforts to suppress renewables in some countries, and despite the collapse of some solar industries, the growth of solar power on a global scale has consistently doubled every two years for the past 15 years. Behind all of the drama is a very smooth, steep curve.

The same consistent nature is true for wind and water technologies. Since wind and solar account for 90% of generation in the 100% WWS scenario, we will focus on those.

The Map for Wind

As of 2015, we have 432 GW of installed wind capacity. This is 2.3% of Jacobson and Delucchi’s 2030 target of 19,000 GW.

Wind capacity 2

However, the good news is if we maintain the rate of growth that has occurred between 2000 and 2015, we will reach 19,000 just before 2033. A slightly increased growth rate could reach the required 19,000 GW by 2030. This implies some potentially unrealistic increases in the final years (641,000 turbines installed in 2032) but even at a much slower growth rate, we could see 19,000 GW of wind power by 2040 or 2050.

Wind growth projections 2.png

The Map for Solar

As of 2015, we have 237 GW of installed solar capacity. This is 0.9% of the 2030 target of 26,700 GW.

Cumulative solar

If if keeps up its current rate of growth of 140.6% (2000-2015) solar will fly past wind and reach the 26,700 GW target by 2029. A slightly slower growth rate of 137% will see solar reach the target in 2030.

Solar growth projections 2

 

Keeping Track

These two technologies alone account for 90% of the WWS generation. If we can follow the map and achieve these rates of construction we will practically elimate the 25% chunk of CO2 emissions from the Electricity and Heating sector. If the global car fleet switches to electric battery vehicles, the clean electricity grid will also be responsible for slashing the 14% of global CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

The trajectories for deployment of wind and solar are high. But s-curves for technology penetration are getting shorter and shorter. If these growth rates were achieved in a pre-Paris COP21 world, who’s to say the same can not be achieved in a post-Paris world with falling costs for renewables, increasing investment and far more pro-active global climate policy?

Bear in mind that the 100% WWS scenario puts almost all the responsibility on wind and solar in an attempt to achieve the cleanest possible energy mix. In reality, although it is possible that nuclear power plant installations may slow, it seems unlikely, barring a significant catastrophe, that the industry will grind to a halt any time soon. Any increase in nuclear, biomass, biofuel or CCS capacity would make up for shortfalls in installations of wind and solar.

Regardless of what we end up achieving, the purpose of this article was to present a map to our destination. Emissions reductions targets are abstract and difficult to follow. Installed capacity of wind and solar is the clearest way to keep an eye on our progress. Watch out each year for the figures for new wind and solar capacity, compare them to the projections on the graphs above, and you’ll know how well we’re doing at making the most significant technological transition since the industrial revolution.

 

 

 

 

ANNEX

Table 1. 100% Renewable Electricity studies, Jacobson and Delucchi (2009).

Study Energy Mix by Sector Time Frame Geographic Scope
Jacobson and Delucchi (2009) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS) All new energy: 2030. All energy: 2050 World
Alliance for Climate Protection (2009) Electricity transport (100% WWS+Bm) 2020 U.S.
Parsons-Brinckerhoff (2009) Electricity transport heat/cool (80% WWS+NCBmBf) 2050 UK
Price-Waterhouse-Coopers (2010) Electricity (100% WWS+Bm) 2050 Europe & North Africa
Beyond Zero Emissions (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS+Bm) 2020 Australia
European Climate Foundation (ECF) (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (80% WWS+NCBm) 2050 Europe
European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) (April (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS+BmBf) 2050 Europe

 

The Growth of Solar Power

Solar and Moore’s Law

by Charlie Cook

 

Solar power will grow at an exponential rate through the 21st century. This prediction has been made by the futurist and Director of Engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil, on many occasions.

In line with the lesson from his essay, The Law of Accelerating Returns, Ray believes that the growth of solar will resemble Moore’s Law: the doubling of computer capability every two years. During an interview in 2011, Ray explained:

“Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. It’s doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, it’s a very smooth curve. There’s all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, they’re raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression.”

Moore's Law

source: Intel

Of course, this is a very exciting idea. In 2011 solar PV generated 60.6TWh or 0.27% of global electricity generation. Based on Ray’s simple number crunching, solar would generate enough energy to meet the entire world’s electrical needs of today by 2029 (let’s put the storage issue aside for a moment).

So, four years later at the end of 2015, is solar PV still seeing a consistently exponential growth?

 

Global growth of solar since 2000 – in numbers

At the beginning of the 21st century, global installed solar PV capacity paled in comparison to today’s figures. Estimates put the total installed PV capacity in 2000 at around 1.4GW. To put this figure in perspective, China alone installed ten times this amount of solar PV in just 2014.

Cumulative solar

Source (years 2000–2013): Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018 (EPIA, 2014), Source (year 2014): Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2015-2019 (SSE, 2014), *based on prediction by Mercom

For the next seven years, from 2000 to 2007, the world saw gradual but impressive double-digit year-on-year growth of between 20%-40% year-on-year (YOY).

It is fair to say that the years 2008 to 2012 saw a boom in the global solar PV market as the rate of new installations almost doubled to between 50% and 75% YOY.

This was followed by a cooling off to previous growth rates during the years 2013 to 2014. Now, coming to the end of 2015, it is estimated that 57.4GW has been added to global PV capacity, bringing the global total to 237.3GW.

YOY growth of PV

 

Where has the growth been coming from?

Official statistics for solar installations in 2015 are not yet available country by country. However, the growth up until 2014 is all we need to see where the action has been happening. It is good news that the 178GW of installed solar built since 2000 was been deployed all around the world.

Germany has been the largest contributor, increasing its capacity from 114MW to an enormous 38GW. Following closely is China which, although being one of the most coal hungry countries, has seen an incredible growth in solar since 2011. A similarly steep increase has been achieved in Japan, in particular since 2012 when a generous feed-in-tariff was introduced.

The USA and Italy are the 4th largest markets, both with around 18.4GW of installed capacity. Considering their relative size, this is a great achievement for Italy. However, new installations have become almost none existent in the past couple of years after cuts to the financial incentives.

The remainder of the top 10 is made up of France, the UK, Australia, Belgium and India, all with between 2.5GW to 5.5GW of installed capacity.

Growth of PV country by country

From these figures, it would seem as though Germany, China, Japan, Italy and the USA have been driving the global trend of solar PV growth. In the boom years of 2008-2011, Germany and Italy were responsible for 72% of all growth. Whilst, where Germany and Italy have been slowing in the past few years, China, Japan and the USA have been picking up the slack.

 

So how has solar compared to Moore’s Law?

To measure the growth of solar over fifteen years, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) can be used, which is similar to the way you would calculate your average interest on a bank account over a period of time.

For computing capability (or anything, for that matter) to follow Moore’s law and double every two years, a minimum CAGR of 41.42% is needed. The CAGR of global solar PV installations from 2000-2015 has been 42.13%.

So, on average solar has been doubling every two years since the beginning of the 21st century and so far, Ray Kurzweil’s prediction has been accurate. Let’s hope Ray continues to be right over the next 15 years. Or at least not far off…

Only Investment Can Free the Renewable Energy Industry from Political Whim

The Prince of Wales Delivers The Opening Address At A Conferenceon Inclusive Capitalism

 

At the Inclusive Capitalism Conference this week, Prince Charles told 200 business leaders that “We stand at a pivotal moment in history… we can chose to act now before it is finally too late, using all of the power and influence that each of you can bring to bear to create an inclusive, sustainable and resilient society”.

Currently, the renewable energy industry around the world relies on government subsidies to be economically viable. Investors and businessmen in all countries are analysing politicians’ every word and hoping the industry’s lifebuoy is not pulled away.

So far, government led policy has achieved small but reasonable increases in energy generation from renewable sources.

However, recent elections have seen a rise in climate sceptic parties in Europe, a fossil fuel hungry Republican government may soon enter the White House, Australia’s current Prime Minister is a climate sceptic and China’s growth continues to be fed by more coal. Every day politics introduces more uncertainty into the renewable energy market.

The time has come to stop relying on politics and force the change in how the world generates energy.

The challenge of mitigating climate change in the next few decades lies not with the world’s governments but with its business leaders, investors and engineers. With this challenge comes an immense opportunity to push fossil fuels out of the market and instate renewable energy in their place.

When before have engineers had such a clear opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people?  When before could money men invest in mitigating a proven, existential risk to humanity?

The key driver will be bringing the localised cost of electricity from wind, solar, marine and other renewable sources below that of fossil fuels. At that moment a giant transition to renewable energy will occur around the world.

Developing countries will no longer need to compromise between economic growth and a safe planet. Developed countries will no longer need to put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk to maintain their standard of life.

The renewable energy industry and the sustainable future of our planet will no longer be at the mercy of political whim.

To foster this change more rewards should be offered to universities working on renewable energy technology. Today’s youth are excited about the opportunities in renewable energy and keen to make a change.

This would help to ensure the industry has the talent it needs to meet the demands of the future.

Those companies with the most foresight are already investing in renewables. Google has invested $1.015 billion in solar and wind projects in America, Africa and Europe and has committed to invest a further $560 million in future projects.

Prince Charles has pointed out in that the short term these choices will be difficult but if investors “stand firm and take the kind of action that is needed… the rewards will be immense… our finances will be sustained and we can find new sources of profit”.

It is time to put the spotlight on the business leaders, investors and engineers that are creating a better, more profitable future for the planet.

What other initiatives can help push the transition to renewable energy? Please leave your comment below.

Thank you.