Baltimore_MD_City_Hall_1

The 2016 Elections That Nobody’s Talking About

Last year I had the privilege of joining the board of the Environmental Voter Project (EVP), a new organization that is mobilizing the 16 million non-voting or poorly voting environmentalists in the US.  In the post below from the EVP blog, EVP founder Nathaniel Stinnett and I outline how increasing environmental turnout in municipal elections can help to save the planet.  Enjoy!

By Reid Capalino and Nathaniel Stinnett

Everybody knows that 2016 is a big election year. Over 120 million people will likely vote for our next President and Congress, and many will also be choosing new governors and state legislators.

But you probably don’t know that tens of millions of Americans will also have the opportunity to vote for a new mayor in 2016.

And if you care about the environment, that’s a big deal.

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a total of 483 American cities will hold mayoral elections in 2016, including San Diego, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Sacramento, and Portland, OR. Eighty-seven of these cities have populations over 100,000, and most will choose their chief executives in relative silence, without any of the 24/7 media coverage that surrounds even the smallest Presidential caucus.

But here’s the thing: mayors can save the planet, so if you care about the environment, you need to pay attention to these municipal elections…and you need to vote.

 

Over 71% of Americans live in cities of more than 50,000 people. We are an urban nation, and municipal governments have an enormous degree of control over energy use, air pollution, water pollution, and land conservation policies. With enlightened municipal leadership, our cities can lead the fight against climate change and create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable country. To cite just a few examples:

Clean Heat Initiatives: In certain cities, the burning of No. 4 and No. 6 fuel oils to heat buildings is a major source of air pollution and associated health impacts. In 2011, New York City began its New York Retrofit Accelerator program, which combines new regulations, financial incentives, and some mandatory conversions to accelerate the shift to cleaner heating systems. As a result of this program – in just its first five years – citywide fine particulate matter levels have dropped 23% and sulfur-dioxide levels have dropped 69%. Over five years, this reduction in emissions has prevented an estimated 4,000 deaths and 10,000 hospital visits due to lung and cardiovascular disease.

Sustainable Municipal Buildings: Municipal governments are often the largest property owners in cities, providing major opportunities to improve the sustainability of our built environment. Many cities, including London, Paris, Seoul, Houston, and New York, have undertaken large retrofitting efforts. In particular, London has retrofit over 440 buildings over the last 5 years, resulting in CO2 emissions reductions of 30,000 tons/year as well as energy cost savings between 25-35% for each retrofitted building.

Bus Rapid Transit: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a relatively cheap, yet particularly effective, form of public transportation, largely operating in dedicated lanes where high capacity vehicles have right-of-way priority over other vehicles. BRT systems have been developed in many cities, including Bogota, Istanbul, Beijing, Jakarta, Helsinki, Barcelona, Montreal, Los Angeles, and New York. In 2000, Bogota created its TransMilenio BRT system, which is now the most-used BRT system in the world. While previously Bogota had 2,700 conventional buses to provide for 1.6 million daily riders, in 2013 Bogota used just 630 BRT buses to transport 1.9 daily riders. As a result of this BRT system, Bogota reduced emissions of CO2 by 1 million tons annually, sulfur dioxide by 43%, nitrogen oxides by 18%, and particulates by 12%.

Green Roofs: By requiring or incentivizing buildings to paint or plant on their roofs, cities can dramatically reduce both cooling energy costs and storm water runoff. Toronto, New York, Tokyo, London, and Melbourne already have eco-roof programs and – once implemented citywide – Toronto expects to save $42-$118 million on infrastructure savings, pollution reduction, and reduced erosion control needs. Additionally, Toronto projects $79 million in energy savings, as well as a reduction in the city’s local ambient temperature by 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

These policies are already having a huge impact on climate change and the environment, but here’s the problem: cities aren’t exactly lining up to enact measures like this. Why? Because most mayors – as politically progressive as they tend to be – are still politicians, and politicians tend to be much more responsive to the needs of people who vote than they are to the needs of people who don’t vote.

Unfortunately, our research at the Environmental Voter Project reveals that most environmentalists never even think of voting in municipal elections. We see similar outcomes in demographic turnout studies showing that eligible voters over the age of 65 are 20 times more likely to vote in municipal elections than people between the ages of 18-34, which is a big problem for environmentalists because young people are significantly more likely to prioritize environmental issues than people over the age of 65.

We need to change this, and we need to start in 2016. Cities and towns should be easy pickings for the environmental movement – there’s no congressional gridlock, no Koch brothers (at least not yet), and a largely non-partisan discussion of issues. Even a small increase in turnout among environmentalists could easily give mayors the nudge they need to lead on climate change and other environmental issues.

Voting in municipal elections is an easy way for environmentalists to start making a big difference. So let’s make 2016 about voting in every election, and not just the Presidential election.

Reid Capalino is a Senior Energy Analyst with the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Director of Energy & Resiliency at Capalino+Company. Reid also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Environmental Voter Project.

Nathaniel Stinnett is the Founder & CEO of the Environmental Voter Project.

The $2 trillion stranded assets danger zone: How excessive fossil fuel capex risks eroding investor returns

With climate negotiations occurring in Paris and clean energy technologies advancing rapidly, how should fossil fuel producer navigate the transition to a low-carbon world?  Read our new Carbon Tracker report or my commentary on Entelligent.com.

There is a danger zone above a 2°C scenario where excess capex and CO2 emissions need to be avoided. All energy players have the chance to navigate around this by staying within the carbon budget. This will give the world an opportunity to reach the ultimate destination – a world that has prevented dangerous levels of climate change. Our analysis here focuses on the marginal production between the IEA 450 Scenario and business-as-usual for the coal, gas and oil sectors to 2035.

Synthesis infographic-01

King Coal dethroned? – Video of my talk on financial trends in the global coal sector

Finally posting video of my September 2014 talk at Bloomberg LP on financial trends in the global coal sector.   The Carbon Tracker report I am discussing is available here.

Note that recent developments – such as the third-largest US coal miner announcing plans to layoff 20% of its workforce – continue to make coal’s future a highly relevant topic for investors.

Presentation below contains the slides that I presented (which begin at slide 35)

Adapting our one-way grid to handle more two-way power: quick recap of Solar One/GTM Research panel

Last night Solar One and GTM Research hosted a terrific panel on “The Expansion of Distributed PV in the Age of the Grid Edge.”  My quick recap is below:

Image

  • US solar boom poised to grow: GTM Research’s latest numbers show that the US installed 4,751 MW of solar PV in 2013.  Over the past year twenty-nine percent of all new electric generating capacity added in the US has come from solar.  2013 additions are up 41% over 2012 and nearly 15X over 2008.  Moreover, GTM projects a continued ramp-up – from new distributed solar PV installation every four minutes in 2013 to one every 83 seconds by 2016.
  • Creating technical challenges for the grid: Since Edison made history at Pearl Street more than a century ago, the electric grid has been designed to handle one-way power flows (i.e. from generation to load).  Solar panels generating power on rooftop are now introducing an increasing volume of two-way flows – creating exciting opportunities but challenges for the grid.  Naimish Patel (of Gridco Systems) noted that the challenges arise because (1) output from solar PV panels varies throughout the day/year (often on the order of seconds), with peak ouput usually coming several hours before the peak load on the distribution system (which, in NYC, occurs on summer nights when folks return home and crank up the AC); and (2) fluctuations in output can lead to sudden changes in voltage on the distribution system.
  • For which technical solutions exist…: Solutions to these challenges exist, ranging from the simple (installing thicker wires or larger transformers) to the more involved (requiring PV panels to be able to curtail output when necessary, as Germany has done) to the new and exciting (Gridco’s hardware/software, or SolarCity’s new energy storage systems).  Most of these solutions, however, require some up-front investment by the utility.
  • … and raise the question of who pays for the grid (i.e. the “Aunt Millie effect”): Increasing deployment of solar PV reduces the amount of electricity that users consume from the grid.  The cost of the grid, however, is largely not in the electrons but in the physical network of wires, transformers, etc.  In the US we generally bundle those costs of investing in/maintaining the grid into the overall electricity rate.  Solar adopters who offset 100% of their electricity use therefore often pay none of these costs.  In the aggregate, deployment of PV can shift the fixed costs of the grid onto a shrinking pool of consumers – even though what we demand of the grid remains the same (and, for the reasons noted above, arguably increases). Critics of solar sometimes accuse solar adopters of “using the grid like a big battery for which they are not paying the costs of operations and maintenance.”  This view simplifies and overstates the problem by, for example, not accounting for the benefits that distributed PV can bring to the grid (i.e. deferring the need for distribution upgrades in certain areas).  There is, however, indeed a question of how to allocate these fixed grid-related costs – what NYSERDA’s Richard Kaufmann has dubbed the “Aunt Millie effect.“  As solar penetration rises in the US (from what remains a very low base) more states are likely to consider passing along grid-related costs to users via fixed charges rather than as charges bundled into the electric rate. How this will affect the economics of distributed PV in different markets remains to be seen.
  • Though current “grid payment” regimes hardly always benefit solar: The “Aunt Millie” effect notwithstanding, our current policies for allocating grid-related costs sometimes penalize (rather than subsidize) solar adopters.  SolarCity’s Shaun Chapman noted that when a solar installation requires the utility to perform some distribution upgrade (i.e. install a larger transformer), the first/last project to trigger that upgrade is often stuck with 100 percent of the bill (even though future/previous projects as well as other consumers will also benefit from the upgrade).  A more rational or pro-rata approach to allocating such costs would make the economics of solar better, rather than worse.
  • Remember the name Gridco: Of the four excellent companies represented on the panel, Gridco Systems stands out as particularly exciting.  Gridco’s team is leveraging its top-flight experience in the IT space to solve a pressing and lucrative problem in energy – how to help utilities integrate more renewables.  What we need more of in the cleantech space!

Overall an exciting start to the 2014 Clean Energy Connections series.  Looking forward to the next event.

Adapting our one-way grid to handle more two-way power: quick recap of Solar One/GTM Research panel

Last night Solar One and GTM Research hosted a terrific panel on “The Expansion of Distributed PV in the Age of the Grid Edge.”  My quick recap is below:

Image

  • US solar boom poised to grow: GTM Research’s latest numbers show that the US installed 4,751 MW of solar PV in 2013.  Over the past year twenty-nine percent of all new electric generating capacity added in the US has come from solar.  2013 additions are up 41% over 2012 and nearly 15X over 2008.  Moreover, GTM projects a continued ramp-up – from new distributed solar PV installation every four minutes in 2013 to one every 83 seconds by 2016.
  • Creating technical challenges for the grid: Since Edison made history at Pearl Street more than a century ago, the electric grid has been designed to handle one-way power flows (i.e. from generation to load).  Solar panels generating power on rooftop are now introducing an increasing volume of two-way flows – creating exciting opportunities but challenges for the grid.  Naimish Patel (of Gridco Systems) noted that the challenges arise because (1) output from solar PV panels varies throughout the day/year (often on the order of seconds), with peak ouput usually coming several hours before the peak load on the distribution system (which, in NYC, occurs on summer nights when folks return home and crank up the AC); and (2) fluctuations in output can lead to sudden changes in voltage on the distribution system.
  • For which technical solutions exist…: Solutions to these challenges exist, ranging from the simple (installing thicker wires or larger transformers) to the more involved (requiring PV panels to be able to curtail output when necessary, as Germany has done) to the new and exciting (Gridco’s hardware/software, or SolarCity’s new energy storage systems).  Most of these solutions, however, require some up-front investment by the utility.
  • … and raise the question of who pays for the grid (i.e. the “Aunt Millie effect”): Increasing deployment of solar PV reduces the amount of electricity that users consume from the grid.  The cost of the grid, however, is largely not in the electrons but in the physical network of wires, transformers, etc.  In the US we generally bundle those costs of investing in/maintaining the grid into the overall electricity rate.  Solar adopters who offset 100% of their electricity use therefore often pay none of these costs.  In the aggregate, deployment of PV can shift the fixed costs of the grid onto a shrinking pool of consumers – even though what we demand of the grid remains the same (and, for the reasons noted above, arguably increases). Critics of solar sometimes accuse solar adopters of “using the grid like a big battery for which they are not paying the costs of operations and maintenance.”  This view simplifies and overstates the problem by, for example, not accounting for the benefits that distributed PV can bring to the grid (i.e. deferring the need for distribution upgrades in certain areas).  There is, however, indeed a question of how to allocate these fixed grid-related costs – what NYSERDA’s Richard Kaufmann has dubbed the “Aunt Millie effect.”  As solar penetration rises in the US (from what remains a very low base) more states are likely to consider passing along grid-related costs to users via fixed charges rather than as charges bundled into the electric rate. How this will affect the economics of distributed PV in different markets remains to be seen.
  • Though current “grid payment” regimes hardly always benefit solar: The “Aunt Millie” effect notwithstanding, our current policies for allocating grid-related costs sometimes penalize (rather than subsidize) solar adopters.  SolarCity’s Shaun Chapman noted that when a solar installation requires the utility to perform some distribution upgrade (i.e. install a larger transformer), the first/last project to trigger that upgrade is often stuck with 100 percent of the bill (even though future/previous projects as well as other consumers will also benefit from the upgrade).  A more rational or pro-rata approach to allocating such costs would make the economics of solar better, rather than worse.
  • Remember the name Gridco: Of the four excellent companies represented on the panel, Gridco Systems stands out as particularly exciting.  Gridco’s team is leveraging its top-flight experience in the IT space to solve a pressing and lucrative problem in energy – how to help utilities integrate more renewables.  What we need more of in the cleantech space!

Overall an exciting start to the 2014 Clean Energy Connections series.  Looking forward to the next event.

Financing the Clean Energy Future: Panel from 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk

At the United Nations last week a panel of financial experts discussed the keys to quadrupling annual global investment in clean energy by 2030. The panel included my colleague Mark Fulton, who served as Editor of the new Ceres report – “Investing in the Clean Trillion: Closing the Clean Energy Investment Gap” – on which I had the privilege to serve as Lead Analyst. A full list of panelists is below; check out their thoughtful and provocative ideas on how to link capital markets to clean energy.

Watch the panel at the link below (to get to the start of the panel, fast-forward this video to 1:55, or an hour and fifty-five minutes in):

https://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1722935254001?bctid=3059096647001&autoStart=false&secureConnections=true&width=480&height=270

– Mark Fulton, Senior Fellow, Ceres; Founding Partner, Energy Transition Advisors
– Jack Ehnes, CEO, California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) (moderator)
– Lisa Carnoy, Head of Global Capital Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
– Michael Liebreich, CEO, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

How many financial leaders does it take to quadruple investment in clean energy? – “Clean Trillion” report released at UN summit

What do Bob Rubin, Tom Steyer, Christiana Figueres, Richard Trumpka, and the NYS/NYC Comptrollers have in common?  They and 500 other global financial leaders were all at the United Nations last week for the release of a new Ceres report –  Investing in the Clean Trillion: Closing The Clean Energy Investment Gap – on which I had the privilege to serve as Lead Analyst (with my former Deutsche Bank colleague Mark Fulton as Lead Editor).

The report provides 10 recommendations for investors, companies and policymakers to increase annual global investment in clean energy to at least $1 trillion by 2030 – a roughly four-fold jump from 2012-13 levels.  Such an increase is the bare minimum necessary to limit future global temperature to two degrees Celsius (2 °C) above pre-industrial levels and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

ImageA list of the report’s recommendations are below, and you can read the full report (or much shorter executive summary) here.

Mobilize Investor Action to Scale Up Clean Energy Investment
1. Develop capacity to boost clean energy investments and consider a goal such as 5% portfolio-wide clean energy investments
2. Elevate scrutiny of fossil fuel companies’ potential carbon asset risk exposure
3. Engage portfolio companies on the business case for energy efficiency and renewable energy sourcing, as well as on financing vehicles to support such efforts
4. Support efforts to standardize and quantify clean energy investment data and products to improve market transparency

Promote Green Banking and Debt Capital Markets
5. Encourage “green banking” to maximize private capital flows into clean energy
6. Support issuances of asset-backed securities to expand debt financing for clean energy projects
7. Support development bank finance and technical assistance for emerging economies

Reform Climate, Energy and Financial Policies
8. Support regulatory reforms to electric utility business models to accelerate deployment of clean energy sources and technologies
9. Support government policies that result in a strong price on carbon pollution from fossil fuels and phase out fossil fuel subsidies
10. Support policies to de-risk deployment of clean energy sources and technologies