Tag: "renewable energy"

11/30/18

  07:50:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Climate Change

Climate Assessment Report: Dire Threat Largely Ignored

On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released the 4th National Climate Assessment report, presumably in the hope that most Americans would still be too stupefied  from their food coma and shopping binges to notice.  So here we are a week later, and hopefully woke.  Because the message of the report is a dire warning of what is already happening and what is to come. We ignore it at our peril.

From ClimateNexus:

This U.S. federal government report shows that:

  • Human activity, like burning fossil fuels, is the primary cause for the warming temperatures we are undoubtedly experiencing.
  • By the end of this century, fighting climate change will save hundreds of billions of dollars just in public health costs, and save thousands of lives a year.
  • Americans are already paying for climate change as it makes storms more damaging, heat waves more deadly, wildfires more common, allergies worse and some diseases more widespread.
  • The U.S. military, as well as many farmers, businesses, and local communities are already planning for and adapting to climate change.
  • Climate change is a clear and present danger to the health and wealth of the American people.

Topline findings of the report include:

Human activity, primarily burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change. There is no credible alternative to global warming emissions to explain the warming.

  • Global average temperatures have risen 1.8°F (1.0°C) since 1901, predominantly because of human activity, especially the emission of heat-trapping gases.
  • Globally, 16 of the last 17 years are the warmest years on record.
  • Depending on the region, Americans could experience an additional month to two month’s worth of days with maximum temperatures above 100°F (38°C) by 2050, with that severe heat becoming commonplace in the southeast by 2100.

Economic losses from climate change are significant for some sectors of the U.S. economy.

  • In some sectors, losses driven by the impacts of climate change could exceed $100 billion annually by the end of the century.
  • If emissions continue unabated, extreme temperatures could end up costing billions upon billions in lost wages annually by the end of the century, and negatively impact the health of construction, agricultural and other outdoor workers.
  • Many aspects of climate change – including extreme heat, droughts, and floods – will pose risks to the U.S. agricultural sector. In many places, crop yields, as well as crop and grazing land quality, are expected to decline as a result.
  • We may be underestimating our level of risk by failing to account for multiple impacts occurring at once, or not planning for impacts that will span across government borders and sector boundaries.
  • Our aging infrastructure, especially our electric grid, will continue to be stressed by extreme weather events, which is why helping communities on the frontlines of climate impacts to adapt is so crucial.

Americans are already responding to the climate change impacts of burning fossil fuels.

  • Increased global warming emissions have contributed to the observed increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970.
  • Climate change doubled the area burned by wildfires across the West between 1984 and 2015, relative to what would have burned without warming. Climate change was a greater factor in area burned between 1916 and 2003 than was fire suppression, fire management or non-climate factors.
  • By 2100, annual acreage burned by wildfires could increase by as much as 6 times in some places. The U.S. spends an average of about $1 billion annually to fight wildfires, but spent over $2 billion in 2015 due to extreme drought. Costs exceeded $2 billion in the first 8 months of 2017.
  • The U.S. military is already working to understand the increased risks of security issues resulting from climate change-induced resource shocks (droughts causing crop failure, for example, which can contribute to civil unrest) as well as extreme weather events and direct impacts on military infrastructure, like sea level rise or extreme heat at military bases.

Storm surge and tidal flooding frequency, depth and extent are worsened by sea level rise, presenting a significant risk to America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market.

  • Global sea level has risen about 8-9 inches since 1880, 3 inches of which have come since just 1993. We can expect at least several inches more in the next 15 years, with 1-4 feet very likely by 2100, and as much as 8 feet physically possible by 2100.
  • Sea level rise has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 since the 1960s for some U.S. coastal communities.
  • Climate change is already hurting coastal ecosystems, posing a threat to the fisheries and tourism industries as well as public safety and human health. Continuing coastal impacts will worsen pre-existing social inequities as vulnerable communities reckon with how to adapt.

Every American’s health is at risk from climate change, with the elderly, young, working class and communities of color being particularly vulnerable.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will, by the end of the century, potentially save thousands of lives annually, and generate hundreds of billions of dollars of health-related economic benefits compared to a high emissions scenario.
  • Allergies like hay fever and asthma are likely already becoming more frequent and severe.
  • Warmer temperatures are expected to alter the range of mosquitoes and ticks that carry vector-borne diseases like Zika, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
  • Drier conditions in Arizona and California have led to greater growth of the fungus that leads to Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) while Cryptococcal infections were strictly tropical before 1999, but have moved northward, with Oregon experiencing 76 cases in 2015.
  • West Nile is projected to double by 2050, with a $1 billion annual price tag.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will reduce the risks of climate impacts.

  • A certain amount of warming is likely “locked in” so adaptation is still required.
  • The faster we reduce global warming emissions, the less risk we face and the cheaper it will be to adapt.

 

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11/10/16

  11:25:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton   , 766 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, LADWP, Climate Change, Solar Policy

Ch-ch-ch-Changes to LA's Energy Mix!

LA City SolarLos Angeles doesn’t have a great reputation for being green. Sadly we are better known as a car-centric city frequently afflicted with smoggy skies. In fact, Los Angeles has been ranked the worst air pollution in the nation. Recently our fair city took one step closer to changing that! Last April the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a motion asking the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to develop a plan for how the city can move toward 100% renewable sources of electricity. LADWP - the largest municipal utility in the country - currently gets about 20-25% of its energy from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and waste). The biggest challenge to going 100% green will be to convert from a grid which relies on coal and natural gas, which can adjust supply to meet demand, to one which can handle the fluxuations of solar and wind. The largest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - nearly 9 million metric tons - will be through DWP’s existing plan to eliminate coal-fired power plants from their energy mix by 2025. (Side note: Shockingly, Pasadena’s energy mix coming from Pasadena Water and Power, has an extraordinarily high percentage of power coming from coal at 34% compared to CA average of 6% with no plans as of yet to move toward renewables! Hopefully they’ll follow in LA’s footsteps!)

Another 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions result from the remaining energy sources in LADWP’s mix, largely natural gas. As we move away from coal we need to be careful to not be lured to just switch to cheap natural gas. Last year the Aliso Canyon gas leak disaster - the worst in US history - proved this fossil fuel is a very dangerous source of energy for our communities. 11,000 residents were evacuated and hundreds reported methane-related illnesses from the leak. Aliso released 100,000 tons of methane, which has a warming effect 80 times higher than CO2 over the short-term. Currently there are also natural gas storage facilities in Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. Obviously natural gas is a serious threat to our public health and the environment. If we are going to get to a fully clean power supply a commitment similar to the departure from coal needs to happen with natural gas… and the faster the better. 

With a 100-year old grid supplying 4 million Angelinos with power, LADWP is poised to make significant infrastructure investments. This is the perfect opportunity for the city to upgrade the system to accommodate the potential for a fossil-free future. Councilman - and co-author of the City Council motion - Paul Krekorian, emphasized the urgency for Los Angeles to move to clean energy:

“This is an enormous step forward that will help restore our environment and lead us to a sustainable, fossil-free future. For the third year running, Los Angeles was ranked as having the worst air pollution in the country, which is unacceptable and unhealthy for our families and neighborhoods. To reverse this trend we need big thinking and bold, smart action." 

While Mayor Eric Garcetti has already set a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2030, this recent legislation is only a starting point to research how to get to 100% but has no set timeline. This is a crucial first step, however, we are really looking forward to hearing the results of DWP’s research. A realistic but ambitious time-bound roadmap to ending our reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to improving our chances of preventing climate change’s most damaging effects.

San Francisco and San Diego are also among eighteen other cities who have committed to 100% clean energy goals recently. Four cities are already proving it is possible with fully renewably powered systems! Los Angeles, as the 2nd most populous city in the country and most polluted, can serve as a particularly powerful role model for cities and jurisdictions across the country. These plans have the potential to both help stop devastating climate change impacts but also to boost economies in the process. Some opponents of a renewable transition worry that it will hurt the economy but the growth of renewable jobs in recent years and a growing local economy has proven that is a false threat. Last year’s solar census reported that 10% of solar jobs - over 21,000 well paid jobs - are in Los Angeles! Going green saves money in the long-term. A report from the New Climate Economy found cities could save $17 trillion by 2050 by pursuing low-carbon solutions such as public transport, building efficiency, waste management and ‘aggressive’ solar implementation.

Now is the time to kick our transition to clean energy into high gear at local and state levels! We look forward to being part of the solution!

06/06/16

  04:15:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 801 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Ranting

Solar Panels: Renewable but not Recyclable?!

Recent years have seen the number of solar energy systems grow exponentially as the affordability of solar and the environmental benefits make more and more sense for consumers. By the end of 2016 global solar installations will reach 310 Gigawatts! Solar already provides more than 1 percent of total energy produced and that number will continue to climb!

Spreading solar power is definitely a good thing for the planet and our pocketbooks! But there’s an elephant in the room we really need to tackle. What happens to solar panels at the end of their life? In the US, they frequently end up in landfills. As the solar industry grows, so does concern over the environmental impact of the full lifecycle for these rooftop electronics. 

Solar WasteA rooftop photovoltaic solar system provides wonderfully clean energy for the 25-30 year lifespan of the panels. Indeed panels installed in the 70’s and 80’s are still producing power so it is possible the latest technology could last much longer than 30 years! But the fact remains that we need to find a solution to the inevitable piling up of end-of-life panels sooner rather than later if we truly aim to transition to a clean renewable energy source through solar power. Recycling is particularly important because of the valuable, and sometimes rare, materials used to make panels. In addition to glass, aluminum and plastics PV panel production includes the following long list of elements, some of which are not widely available: Si, Al, Ag, Cd, Te, In, Ge, Mo, Ga, Cu, Se, Zn. With limited recycling, these materials could go to waste after a few decades of shining bright as a solar panel…rendering them far from “renewable"!

In an industry that, from a power-generation standpoint, has plenty of environmental credibility, solar manufacturers will have to receive either enough pressure or incentives to develop costly recycling programs. Panel manufacturers certainly are aware of the issue and many would like to ensure their products are as sustainable as possible while taking advantage of reusing panels’ critical elements. The Silicon Valley Toxic’s Coalition reported that 14 of the companies surveyed for their Solar Scorecard have said they would support public policy to reduce waste. Some solar companies are ahead of the game and already have collection programs in place; particularly in Europe where policy already pushes them to do so. Third party companies in Europe, such as PV Cycle, are actually doing quite well in the panel recycling industry, achieving a process for recovering 96% of a silicon panel’s materials! Here in the US, however, there simply aren’t enough places to recycle panels and there aren’t enough panels (yet!) to make developing these solar waste programs economic. 

Solar RecyclingIn Europe, solar panel disposal falls under the European Union’s Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive and is strictly regulated. Universal regulation doesn’t exist in the U.S. at the federal level yet. However, state policy will likely be the initial driver for PV disposal programs.

As the leader in US solar installations with a call to reach 50% renewables by 2030 California should definitely be the state to set the bar in addressing PV waste. In fact, the California Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials enacted the Photovoltaic Panel Collection and Recycling Act in 2015. Senate Bill 489 addressed the difficulty in categorizing solar panels as hazardous waste versus universal waste. To be classified as hazardous and subjected to regulation, panels must fail to pass the Toxicity Characteristics Leach Procedure test (TCLP test). But most panels pass the TCLP test. By designating them as universal waste the state can subject them to universal waste management regulations. Also encouraging… SB 489 states the legislature’s intent to:

(1) Foster a comprehensive and innovative system for the reuse, recycling, and proper and legal disposal of end-of-life photovoltaic modules.
(2) Encourage the photovoltaic module industry to make end-of-life management of photovoltaic modules convenient for consumers and the public, to ensure the recovery and recycling of photovoltaic modules, which is the most efficient and environmentally safe disposition of end-of-life photovoltaic modules, by developing a plan for recycling end-of-life photovoltaic modules in the state in an economically efficient manner.

The bill requires that the department collect an annual administrative fee for the PV Panel Collection Administration Account. The Photovoltaic Panel Collection Administration Fund is established in the State Treasury and will cover the department’s costs for implementation and subsequent programs followed by all California photovoltaic panel manufacturers, groups, or organizations subject to solar panel recycling requirements.

However, the vast majority of panels manufactured outside California state lines aren’t affected by the state bill. We must work at the national level and with other states to adopt a plan to deal with both domestic and internationally manufactured PV waste if we hope to continue to grow a truly renewable energy resource. Consumers and stakeholders across the solar industry need to work together to demand action!

03/07/16

  02:40:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 648 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change, Solar Policy

Clean Power Plan Drama In a Nutshell

On August 3, 2015, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) – an exciting, historic and truly critical step in tackling climate change. Advocates say its policies will create jobs, make our grid more reliable, and our economies more resilient while helping protect all of us against climate change’s worst impacts. The CPP is the heart of Obama’s effort to uphold commitments agreed upon at the Paris COP21 climate conference last December.

What Does the Clean Power Plan Entail?

Cut CO2 Pollution from Power Plants Nationally

Power plants are the largest polluters in the US. They account for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions! We wrote about the controversial carbon standards for NEW power plants put forth by the EPA in December 2014. Obama’s Clean Power Plan takes it a giant step further by forcing all EXISTING coal-fired power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.  

A few points on the controversial rules:

  1. States have plenty of time to comply. Final state plans are not due until 2018 and power plants are not required to comply before 2022.
  2. States decide how to meet their energy goals by developing their own individualized plans.
  3. Inter-state emissions cap and trade systems offer a market-based option for compliance. Trade systems create financial incentives to reduce emissions where the costs of doing so are the lowest and gives clean energy investment the highest leverage.
  4. Flexible, market-based compliance options - including inter-state trading - mean that states can design plans around any anticipated reliability issues. This approach will fuel job growth in renewable energy and other innovative efficient technologies.
  5. States can develop their energy mix while saving money by taking advantage of ever-decreasing renewable energy costs.
  6. Three federal agencies will work together to analyze and coordinate oversight. The EPA does not hold the sole responsibility of oversight. 
  7. States can modify plans if necessary. 

Despite the seemingly fair and flexible terms of the Clean Power Plan, vested interests (including coal and mining groups and a coalition of Republican states) fiercely opposed, stating the regulations are an overreach of the EPA’s power. On February 9th the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stay implementation of the CPP until the litigation challenging the Clean Power Plan is addressed. Justice Scalia’s passing doesn’t change anything since a 4-4 vote also stays the implementation until the Federal District Appeals Court makes a decision likely in late 2016.

Experts are confident that the CPP’s contents are on solid legal ground and courts will ultimately uphold it. However, a final decision is unlikely before June 2017 or even into 2018 (depending on when the Supreme Court makes their final ruling after going through the DC Court). These delays only make global progress more and more difficult as all eyes are on the US to set an example by honoring our Paris climate commitments.

While 27 states filed the petition to delay the CPP implementation, eighteen state governors - both Democratic and Republican - have announced an accord to move forward on clean energy solutions regardless. The governors declared that “we recognize that now is the time to embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future,” and that their states “are once again prepared to lead.”

“As the world gets hotter and closer to irreversible climate change, these justices appear tone-deaf as they fiddle with procedural niceties. This arbitrary roadblock does incalculable damage and undermines America’s climate leadership. But make no mistake, this won’t stop California continuing to do its part under the Clean Power Plan.” – California Gov. Jerry Brown

Its leaders like these governors, and many large private businesses who have come out in favor of upholding the Clean Power plan, who seem to understand the gravity of climate change and the many benefits that moving to a clean energy future brings. We hope the alliance of leaders in politics and the private sector continues to grow and soon will outnumber those that back the interests of dirty energy!

12/01/15

  03:24:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 1009 words  
Categories: Climate Change

World Leaders Talk Climate Solutions - Solar Stands Out

COP21 LogoMonday marked the onset of what may be the most important (and most exciting) gathering of world leaders in human history. From November 30 to December 11, representatives from more than 190 countries are coming together to reach agreement on global climate efforts at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.

There is a great deal of optimism around the world as national heads come together with commitments in hand. This is a huge step forward compared to past climate conferences which have failed to reach any target that the world could agree upon. It remains to be seen if this positive momentum will result in an accord with the power to spur change on a global scale. 

So what is COP21 all about?

United NationsIn preparation for the conference, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) evaluated the current research (over 30,000 papers) on the science of climate change. The key takeaway in their synthesis: Scientists are now more certain than ever that climate change is real; it’s caused by human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels; and it’s already impacting people around the world, from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events. Hence the overarching goal in Paris this week is to frame a deal to prevent Earth from warming above the point of no return (more than 2°C).

In the months leading to the conference nearly every country on the planet submitted their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases based on the IPCC report, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The United States’ INDC outlines a commitment to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, mostly by reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

All 156 INDCs, representing 97.8% of global emitters, will be plugged into a final document crafted through the high level negotiations. The COP21 final accord will actually be divided into a “core agreement,” laying out the broad objectives for emissions reduction and how to pay for poor nations’ efforts, and “decisions” describing how these objectives will be achieved.

One hot issue to be settled in Paris is over the legal status of this document. A formal treaty would need the impossible approval of the Republican-controlled US Senate. Instead, President Obama will likely sign off on the accord as an “executive agreement.” There seems to be an understanding that the “agreement” would have more binding legal status than the “decisions,” which would include the national pledges and be subject to revision. The US has held that they will not sign any legally binding emissions targets.

While the commitments to cut emissions by the world’s countries is a great start, without legally binding targets and accountability, these promises hold little weight. It will also be interesting to see if, and how, leaders will establish a path forward with plans to reconvene and re-affirm their targets regularly.

Will the Paris accord stop climate change?

The unfortunate reality is that even if every country followed through with their commitments, scientists estimate that global warming will be about 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Given that a 2 degree increase is the limit necessary to avert the worst impacts, we will still need to focus on adaptation as well as mitigation to climate change. But on the bright side, it’s a lot less warming than would happen if we continue the status quo without curbing any emissions at all!

This summit isn’t the end of the fight to limit climate change. But considering there has never before been international agreement on climate efforts - the Kyoto Treaty never got off the ground, due in large part to the failure of the US to join - it is a huge step to come together in the battle. As technologies such as solar improve and countries become more confident in their ability to transition to cleaner energy, they can step up their action over time.

COP21 Too Late

What impact will COP21 have on the fate of clean energy?

Renewable energy stands out as the most common strategy for meeting targets out of all of the INDCs! This is a great sign of growing prospects for the solar industry. According to research by the World Resources Institute, if Brazil, China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and the United States follow through on their commitments, the amount of clean energy installed will more than double by 2030! 

The US targets were largely based on the projected outcome of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants and aims to get 20% of electricity from renewables by 2030. The Clean Power Plan has yet to be approved by the Senate and has significant opposition. One can hope that the COP21 and international pressure to act will help on this front. But in a climate where federal tax credits are under threat and state-level clean energy incentives are rapidly drying up, the US commitments on an international stage could be an important backstop to helping the renewable energy sector grow.

Outside the negotiating rooms, thousands of business leaders, state officials, activists, scientists and others from the private sector are also holding events and meetings. The mere existence of the political agreements taking place will lead to increased investment in the renewable energy sector. While the value of political will to accomplish the enormous task of an energy transition shouldn’t be underestimated, the private sector is likely where the real growth will occur without the partisan challenges of the government.

On a final note, we at Run on Sun are thrilled about the events in Paris this week. As the international community finally comes together to tackle climate change our optimism about the world’s ability to act meaningfully is renewed! However, the work that must be done doesn’t end this week. Next week, next month, next year and on and on the fight will continue. Governments, the private sector, and even individuals must continue to act every day on behalf of the only planet we’ve got. Going solar is one of the best ways to reduce your emissions impact from your home or business. We look forward to doing our part!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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