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  1. Sam Miles contributes to a new assessment report, “Digitalising Innovative Finance: Emerging instruments for early- stage innovators in low- and middle-income countries”

    Comments Off on Sam Miles contributes to a new assessment report, “Digitalising Innovative Finance: Emerging instruments for early- stage innovators in low- and middle-income countries”

    For the report, click here.


    Exec­u­tive summary

    Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies play a sig­nif­i­cant role in unlock­ing the poten­tial of inno­v­a­tive financ­ing mech­a­nisms across the util­i­ties sec­tors in Africa and Asia. Across these sec­tors, access to cap­i­tal is a major chal­lenge, par­tic­u­lar­ly when enter­pris­es have out­grown grant fund­ing but do not have the scale to tap into tra­di­tion­al invest­ment chan­nels. Tech­nolo­gies like dig­i­tal plat­forms, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), blockchain and the Internet

    of Things (IoT) can bring inno­v­a­tive financ­ing instru­ments to the ener­gy, water, waste, san­i­ta­tion, recy­cling, mobil­i­ty and asset-financ­ing sec­tors. How­ev­er, the scale of inno­v­a­tive finance has yet to reach its poten­tial, with only a small por­tion of avail­able devel­op­ment assis­tance and sus­tain­able pri­vate sec­tor cap­i­tal being mobilised through dig­i­tal­ly enabled inno­v­a­tive financing.

    There is lit­tle research that focus­es specif­i­cal­ly on the role of tech­nol­o­gy in unlock­ing inno­v­a­tive finance in the util­i­ties ser­vice sec­tor in low- and mid­dle-income coun­tries (LMICs). This research serves as a first attempt to cat­e­gorise the com­plex val­ue chain con­nect­ing upstream financiers explor­ing inno­v­a­tive financ­ing instru­ments to the mid­stream dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy providers and solu­tions and on to the down­stream imple­menters of util­i­ty ser­vice deliv­ery and their beneficiaries.

    The study uses nov­el con­cep­tu­al and ana­lyt­i­cal frame­works designed to cre­ate a com­mon lan­guage in iden­ti­fy­ing and analysing instances of dig­i­tal­ly enabled inno­v­a­tive finance. The frame­work employs three dis­tinct lens­es that cor­re­spond to the prin­ci­pal stages with­in the val­ue chain con­nect­ing financiers to imple­menters. This approach acknowl­edges that the fron­tier of inno­va­tion is con­tin­u­al­ly expand­ing and con­text-depen­dent; what may be com­mon­place in one area can be con­sid­ered inno­v­a­tive when applied elsewhere.

    To oper­a­tionalise this frame­work, each lens was defined through exten­sive desk-based research as well as con­sul­ta­tion with key stakeholders.Limitations to this approach are prin­ci­pal­ly around the inter­con­nect­ed nature of the dif­fer­ent finan­cial instru­ments and tech­nolo­gies which make cat­e­gories less dis­crete in real-world appli­ca­tions than in the­o­ry. Nonethe­less, the frame­work enables a com­plex land­scape to be bro­ken down into clear components.

    Over 80 in-scope use cas­es were iden­ti­fied through this ana­lyt­i­cal frame­work. Use cas­es and their appli­ca­tion of inno­v­a­tive finance instru­ments are seg­ment­ed into mature, scal­ing and emerg­ing cat­e­gories based on the num­ber of imple­men­ta­tion exam­ples doc­u­ment­ed in the lit­er­a­ture, num­ber of coun­tries and sec­tors, and typ­i­cal vol­umes asso­ci­at­ed with the instru­ment. These use cas­es serve to con­cre­tise the

    uni­verse of dig­i­tal­ly enabled inno­v­a­tive finance instru­ments into a cat­a­logue of exam­ples where finance instru­ments, dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and the trans­ac­tion mech­a­nisms under­pin­ning them come to life in the real world. The study dives into five inno­v­a­tive finance instru­ments as case stud­ies — receiv­ables financ­ing, alt-lend­ing, cli­mate, rev­enue- share mod­els, and dig­i­tal­ly-ver­i­fied RBF – as a means to ful­ly explore the rela­tion­ship between dig­i­tal inno­va­tion and these evolv­ing models.

    Key trends

    Matur­ing use cas­es include social enter­pris­es’ use of finan­cial instru­ments such as alter­na­tive lend­ing, receiv­ables financ­ing and crowd­fund­ing. Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies dri­ving the growth of such use cas­es prin­ci­pal­ly include advances in satel­lite imagery and dig­i­tal plat­forms that per­form ana­lyt­ics on trans­ac­tion and asset usage data enabled by IoT. Trans­ac­tion mech­a­nisms that fos­ter the growth of these use cas­es include tra­di­tion­al mobile mon­ey and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) sys­tems. The most mature use cas­es across the review were prin­ci­pal­ly from the ener­gy sec­tor, with emerg­ing inno­va­tion in the cook­ing space mir­ror­ing ear­ly suc­cess­es of the PAYG solar light­ing prod­uct and solar home sys­tems (SHS) verticals.

    Scal­ing use cas­es include those lever­ag­ing the growth of cli­mate finance, rev­enue shar­ing mod­els and dig­i­tal­ly-ver­i­fied results-based finance (RBF) mech­a­nisms. The dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies prin­ci­pal­ly dri­ving these use cas­es are IoT sys­tems paired with dig­i­tal plat­forms capa­ble of per­form­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion ana­lyt­ics, increas­ing­ly lever­ag­ing AI, and dig­i­tal ledger tech­nolo­gies. Trans­ac­tion mech­a­nisms that fos­ter these mod­els include mass-pay­out elec­tron­ic pay­ment inte­gra­tions into dig­i­tal plat­forms, as
    well as embed­ded finance mech­a­nisms. Use cas­es exhibit­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of scal­ing are large­ly focused on agritech and pro­duc­tive use asset- lend­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the vehi­cle financ­ing space.

    Emerg­ing use cas­es include social or envi­ron­men­tal cli­mate finance co- ben­e­fits mon­eti­sa­tion, impact bonds and
    var­i­ous appli­ca­tions of dig­i­tal tokens and cryp­tocur­ren­cies. These use cas­es increas­ing­ly lever­age inno­va­tions in dig­i­tal iden­ti­ty ver­i­fi­ca­tion like bio­met­rics and chat­bots, as well as dig­i­tal ledger tech­nolo­gies includ­ing smart con­tracts. Ledger tech­nolo­gies are par­tic­u­lar­ly well rep­re­sent­ed in the trans­ac­tion mech­a­nisms under­pin­ning emerg­ing use cas­es. Emerg­ing use cas­es were iden­ti­fied across sec­tors, with dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies sur­fac­ing as par­tic­u­lar­ly promi­nent in use cas­es focused on the co-ben­e­fits of cli­mate finance.

    Accel­er­at­ing adoption

    Screenshot 2023-10-19 at 2.53.05 PM

    Across the use cas­es con­sid­ered, the most advanced and inno­v­a­tive organ­i­sa­tions have pio­neered a spe­cif­ic tech­nol­o­gy, instru­ment or busi­ness mod­el, lay­er­ing on addi­tion­al inno­va­tions with time. Enter­pris­es or util­i­ty ser­vice providers aim­ing to lever­age dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies to unlock inno­v­a­tive finance instruments

    should mas­ter the tech­nolo­gies that pro­duce tan­gi­ble val­ue in their sec­tor, and con­sid­er what oppor­tu­ni­ties are offered by off-the-shelf solu­tions providers, par­tic­u­lar­ly for IoT plat­forms, satel­lite imagery pro­cess­ing or blockchain solutions.

    The inter­sec­tion of cli­mate and fin­tech finance is an emerg­ing macro trend that will like­ly impact the land­scape of util­i­ty ser­vice providers. Smart­phone pen­e­tra­tion and increas­ing matu­ri­ty in satel­lite imagery, IoT plat­forms, blockchain and AI are cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for util­i­ty ser­vice imple­menters to advance their digi­ti­sa­tion jour­neys. Trends in mobile mon­ey inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and cross- bor­der con­nec­tiv­i­ty are also poised to unlock addi­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for build­ing on PAYG mod­els across Africa and Asia, par­tic­u­lar­ly for receiv­ables finance and cli­mate finance.

    Util­i­ty ser­vice enter­pris­es need to recog­nise the val­ue of digi­ti­sa­tion in lever­ag­ing inno­v­a­tive finance. Digi­ti­sa­tion process­es typ­i­cal­ly begin with a desire to improve oper­a­tions, with inno­v­a­tive finance oppor­tu­ni­ties often emerg­ing as a byprod­uct. Devel­op­ing a sec­tor-spe­cif­ic under­stand­ing of which tech­nolo­gies are best suit­ed to improv­ing oper­a­tions is often the first step towards tap­ping into the most appro­pri­ate inno­v­a­tive finance mechanisms.

    Financiers across the impact-return spec­trum need to lever­age the data-shar­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties unlocked by dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies to gen­er­ate sec­tor stan­dards. The use of inno­v­a­tive finance spe­cif­ic to the util­i­ties sec­tor is poor­ly char­ac­terised in the avail­able lit­er­a­ture. Grant, equi­ty and debt financiers can lever­age the expo­nen­tial increase

    in data gen­er­at­ed by util­i­ty ser­vice providers to devel­op and share sec­tor-spe­cif­ic bench­marks that can gen­er­ate, bench­mark and socialise both com­mer­cial and impact indicators.

    Glob­al cor­po­ra­tions need to sup­port trans­par­ent, and acces­si­ble finan­cial inter­me­di­aries and instru­ments that can effec­tive­ly allo­cate impact- ori­ent­ed cap­i­tal flows. Increased atten­tion on cor­po­rate cli­mate and ESG impact met­rics means that cor­po­ra­tions need to dri­ve dig­i­tal­ly enabled mech­a­nisms that can enable stan­dard­ised, time­ly, and reli­able impact data.

    Mobile net­work oper­a­tors (MNOs) have a key role to play across the land­scape of use cas­es. Increased atten­tion to util­i­ty ver­ti­cals rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­ni­ty for oper­a­tors to devel­op addi­tion­al rev­enue streams and move towards a posi­tion­ing as a tech­nol­o­gy part­ner for organ­i­sa­tions in the ecosys­tem. Laser-focused atten­tion on facil­i­tat­ing third-par­ty access to mobile mon­ey inte­gra­tions across mar­kets can addi­tion­al­ly sup­port util­i­ty ser­vice providers’ abil­i­ty to digi­tise oper­a­tions in their financ­ing journeys.

    Part­ner­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties high­light­ed through the land­scape empha­sise the need for blend­ed finance. Devel­op­ment financiers and impact- ori­ent­ed investors can unlock new pri­vate cap­i­tal by de-risk­ing invest­ments into tech­nol­o­gy- enabled sec­tors through guar­an­tee mech­a­nisms and con­ces­sion­al forms of invest­ment. Such part­ner­ships rep­re­sent the oppor­tu­ni­ty to include nov­el play­ers like local banks and pub­lic agen­cies in pio­neer­ing oth­er­wise poor­ly under­stood finan­cial instru­ments across new geographies.

    Achiev­ing an inflec­tion point in inno­v­a­tive finance using tech­nol­o­gy will require ded­i­cat­ed efforts in break­ing down silos across the invest­ment land­scape. The returns on invest­ing in dig­i­tal inno­va­tion can take years to be realised, and typ­i­cal­ly require time and effort to under­stand for those not already immersed. This report serves to cap­ture some of the most sig­nif­i­cant inter­sec­tions of tech­nol­o­gy and finance trends that will guide the need­ed deploy­ment of cli­mate-resilient, pro- poor cap­i­tal in the util­i­ty ser­vice sec­tors in the com­ing decade.


  2. US, China [can] cooperate on green energy in rural areas

    Comments Off on US, China [can] cooperate on green energy in rural areas

    For the orig­i­nal click here, or nav­i­gate to Chi­na Daily:



    US, China cooperate on green energy in rural areas

    By MINGMEI LI in New York | Xinhua | 

    Inno­va­tion in rur­al area-green ener­gy devel­op­ment and boost­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy are being empha­sized at a “smart vil­lage” forum.

    More than 50 experts, pro­fes­sors, local entre­pre­neurs, envi­ron­men­tal and social orga­ni­za­tions from many coun­tries are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Insti­tute of Elec­tri­cal and Elec­tron­ics Engi­neers Smart Vil­lage Forum (ISV) in Shanxi province on Sun­day and Monday.

    Par­tic­i­pants in the forum, titled “Green Low-Car­bon and Smart Vil­lage”, dis­cussed envi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance top­ics such as achiev­ing ener­gy tran­si­tion, using advanced tech­nol­o­gy to assist pover­ty-strick­en regions glob­al­ly in access­ing afford­able and clean ener­gy, improv­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy, and pro­mot­ing green and sus­tain­able development.

    A new demon­stra­tion project in Changzhi, a city in south­east Shanxi province, was fea­tured at the forum, show­cas­ing the cur­rent progress and prac­ti­cal results achieved by ISV. The project has effec­tive­ly incor­po­rat­ed solar pho­to­volta­ic pow­er and clean-heat­ing tech­nolo­gies and prod­ucts for residents.

    The ISV work­ing group has part­nered with lead­ing Chi­nese and inter­na­tion­al high­er-edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions to cre­ate ener­gy mod­els and projects suit­ed to spe­cif­ic local con­di­tions in oth­er cities such as Chongqing, Gan­su and Heilongjiang.

    Daniel Kam­men, a Nobel Peace Prize lau­re­ate and ener­gy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, and his lab­o­ra­to­ry, have worked close­ly with schol­ars and stu­dents from Tsinghua Uni­ver­si­ty, Chongqing Uni­ver­si­ty and North Chi­na Elec­tric Pow­er Uni­ver­si­ty to research renew­able ener­gy con­ser­va­tion and intel­li­gent mod­els from an aca­d­e­m­ic perspective.


    We devel­op math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els of the grid. There’s lots of inter­est­ing physics. There’s lots of inter­est­ing sci­ence. My part­ner­ships in Chi­na have been very pro­duc­tive,” Kam­men told Chi­na Dai­ly. “Low-cost solar, bet­ter bat­ter­ies and smart sen­sors. We build mod­els that become real. My lab­o­ra­to­ry is very much based around not just basic sci­ence, but also the mis­sion of decar­boniz­ing the pow­er grid and mak­ing our econ­o­my green.

    Just like the ten­sions that exist­ed between the Sovi­et Union and the US over pol­i­tics and geopol­i­tics in the ’70s and ’80s, one les­son that I think sci­en­tists learned on both sides, both in the Sovi­et Union and in the US, is that we need to keep the sci­en­tif­ic chan­nels open,” he said.

    Kam­men said that sci­ence coop­er­a­tion and exchange are impor­tant at this moment. “The US and Chi­na are the G2. I like to say we are the G2 of ener­gy, the two biggest con­sumers of ener­gy and the two biggest pol­luters in terms of green­house gas­es,” he said. “There is no cli­mate solu­tion unless the US and Chi­na find ways to work through their differences.”

    This is a tech­nol­o­gy exchange and a glob­al need. We are work­ing on clean ener­gy under cli­mate change and ful­fill­ing the need for decar­boniza­tion,” said Xiaofeng Zhang, the vice-pres­i­dent of ISV and pres­i­dent of Glob­al Green Devel­op­ment Alliance.

    The ISV has extend­ed its efforts not only with­in Chi­na but also across diverse regions, includ­ing Africa, Latin Amer­i­ca, South Asia and North Amer­i­ca, with the pri­ma­ry focus on deliv­er­ing eco-friend­ly and cost-effec­tive ener­gy solu­tions to under­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties who have lim­it­ed access to envi­ron­men­tal resources.

    We are doing more than only ener­gy trans­fer­ring, but also inter­net, elec­tri­cal machin­ery, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and telemed­i­cine. We intro­duce all of these based on the com­mu­ni­ty’s needs,” said Rajan Kapur, the pres­i­dent of ISV. “We ask the com­mu­ni­ty what they want to do, and based on that, we tell them what tech­nol­o­gy might be appro­pri­ate, what tech­nol­o­gy can be local­ly sourced.”

    ISV is also col­lab­o­rat­ing with Chi­nese local com­pa­nies and organizations.

    It is also a busi­ness-devel­op­ment coop­er­a­tion, because when you take tech­nol­o­gy and intro­duce it into soci­ety, you can­not just drop it over there,” he said. “The capac­i­ty does not exist to use the tech­nol­o­gy; the infra­struc­ture does not exist. So we also help with the busi­ness mod­el­ing, the gov­er­nance of the enter­pris­es that get set up,” he said.

    Kapur said that what they are try­ing to do is to have a long-term impact, and ISV has not only cre­at­ed sci­en­tif­ic and busi­ness mod­els in those regions but also has deployed sup­port­ive equip­ment for more than 20 or 30 years.

    He empha­sized that ISV’s ulti­mate objec­tive is to ensure afford­able and clean ener­gy access for 1 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide through tech­nol­o­gy and coop­er­a­tion between the US and China.

    Addi­tion­al­ly, ISV expects to lever­age its resources to assist local com­mu­ni­ties and busi­ness­es in achiev­ing sus­tain­able eco­nom­ic growth and region­wide improvements.

    What we should remem­ber is that it is advanc­ing tech­nol­o­gy for all of human­i­ty,” Kapur said.


  3. Half of Americans can’t install solar panels. Here’s how they can plug into the sun.

    Comments Off on Half of Americans can’t install solar panels. Here’s how they can plug into the sun.

    Half of Americans can’t install solar panels.

    Here’s how they can plug into the sun.

    No roof, no solar power.

    That has been the dispir­it­ing equa­tion shut­ting out rough­ly half of all Amer­i­cans from plug­ging into the sun.

    But sign­ing up for solar soon might be as easy as sub­scrib­ing to Net­flix. Scores of new small solar farms that sell clean, local elec­tric­i­ty direct­ly to cus­tomers are pop­ping up. The set­up, dubbed “com­mu­ni­ty solar,” is designed to bring solar pow­er to peo­ple who don’t own their own homes or can’t install pan­els — often at prices below retail elec­tric­i­ty rates.

    Clean elec­tric­i­ty for less mon­ey seems a bit too good to be true. But it reflects a new real­i­ty: Solar ener­gy prices are falling as pri­vate and pub­lic mon­ey, and new laws, are fuel­ing a mas­sive expan­sion of small-scale com­mu­ni­ty solar projects.

    Screenshot 2023-10-10 at 10.48.03 AM

     Find­ing a sub­scrip­tion to one, how­ev­er, can feel like try­ing to score Tay­lor Swift tick­ets: They’re on sale, but only a lucky few can buy them. At least 22 states have passed leg­is­la­tion encour­ag­ing inde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ty solar projects, but devel­op­ers are just begin­ning to expand.Most exist­ing projects are booked.

    At the moment, com­mu­ni­ty solar projects in the Unit­ed States gen­er­ate enough elec­tric­i­ty to pow­er about 918,000 homes — less than 1 per­cent of total house­holds, accord­ing to the Solar Ener­gy Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion, a non­prof­it trade group.

    But as more states join, and the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s “Solar for All” pro­gram pours bil­lions into fed­er­al solar pow­er grants, more Amer­i­cans will get the chance.

    Should you take it? I took a look.

            Solar pan­els on Barb and Ger­ald Bauer’s Min­neso­ta farm in 2021. (Jim Mone/​AP)
    What is com­mu­ni­ty solar?

    While projects exist in most states, they are high­ly con­cen­trat­ed: More than half are in Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta and New York. These might be on a con­do roof, or on open land like the 10-MW Fres­no com­mu­ni­ty solar farm, on a city-owned plot sur­round­ed by agri­cul­tur­al land. Most are small: 2 megawatts of capac­i­ty on aver­age, about enough to pow­er 200 to 400 homes.

    Devel­op­ers tend to finance their projects through investors or banks, and sign up cus­tomers dur­ing con­struc­tion. If there are projects in your utility’s ser­vice area, you can sub­scribe to elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­at­ed by a cer­tain share of the project’s solar panels.

    The elec­trons that ulti­mate­ly flow into your home aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly from your pan­el. They are fed into the local grid, which pow­ers house­holds through­out your ser­vice area. Most allow sub­scribers to start or can­cel their solar sub­scrip­tion at any time, or some­times with a few months’ notice. The renew­able ener­gy mar­ket­place Ener­gySage and the non­prof­it Solar Unit­ed Neigh­bors con­nect cus­tomers to com­mu­ni­ty solar projects in their region.

    Peo­ple gen­er­al­ly receive month­ly cred­its for elec­tric­i­ty pro­duced by their share of solar pan­els. These are sub­tract­ed from their total elec­tric­i­ty bill or cred­it­ed on future bills. If cus­tomers pro­duce more than they con­sume, those cred­its roll over. If they pro­duce less, cus­tomers pay the dif­fer­ence. Sub­scribers on aver­age save about 10 per­cent on their util­i­ty bill (the range is 5 per­cent to 15 per­cent).

    These eco­nom­ics are pro­pelling the indus­try to record heights. Between 2016 and 2019, com­mu­ni­ty solar capac­i­ty more than quadru­pled to 1.4 gigawatts. By the end of this year, ener­gy research firm Wood Macken­zie esti­mates, there will be 6 GW of com­mu­ni­ty solar. And the Ener­gy Depart­ment wants to see com­mu­ni­ty solar reach 5 mil­lion house­holds by 2025.

    The eco­nom­ics are strong­ly on the side of doing this,” says Dan Kam­men, an ener­gy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. “It’s now cheap­er to build new solar than to oper­ate old fos­sil [fuel plants]. … We’re at the take­off point.”

                           Pho­to­volta­ic pan­els at a solar field in White­wa­ter, Calif., in 2021.                                                                                            
                                                                      (Bing Guan/​Bloomberg)
    Who should get it?

    Com­mu­ni­ty solar, also called “solar for renters,” is for any­one. But if you’re a home­own­er, it won’t max­i­mize your savings.

    On aver­age, sav­ings from com­mu­ni­ty solar amount to about $100 per year for the aver­age ratepay­er. Rooftop solar arrays may save home­own­ers more than $1,000 annu­al­ly, esti­mates EnergySage.

    But it brings oth­er advan­tages. It’s a sub­scrip­tion you can walk away from at any time with no upfront invest­ment. And your fixed rate or dis­count off pre­vail­ing elec­tric rates is usu­al­ly locked in for at least a decade. Res­i­den­tial elec­tric­i­ty rates, mean­while, have jumped about 17 per­cent since 2018.

    The biggest ben­e­fit may be expand­ing access to clean ener­gy to the rough­ly half of U.S. con­sumers and busi­ness­es not able to install their own solar pan­els. “The great promise of com­mu­ni­ty solar is it allows every­one to be part of the ener­gy tran­si­tion,” says Bran­don Smith­wood of Dimen­sion Renew­able Ener­gy, a com­pa­ny that has financed more than 1,000 MW of solar projects, “and not feel they’re being left behind.”

    How to buy

    If you live in a state with a robust com­mu­ni­ty solar mar­ket, sub­scrib­ing is easy.

    Mar­ket­places like Ener­gySage aggre­gate projects sign­ing up new sub­scribers. I typed in a Zip code in St. Paul, Minn., a hotbed of com­mu­ni­ty solar activ­i­ty, and was pre­sent­ed with six projects offer­ing sav­ings of $68 to $135 per year, along with 10 tons of green­house gases.

    The Ener­gySage com­mu­ni­ty solar mar­ket­place. (EnergySage/​TWP)

    The mar­ket­place allows you to quick­ly com­pare details such as fees, loca­tions and billing. Once I select­ed a project, I could cre­ate an account, link this to my util­i­ty and start a subscription.

    To get the best terms, say project devel­op­ers and non­prof­it groups, you should look for con­tracts that uphold a few key terms:

    • Get a dis­count­ed elec­tric­i­ty rate: Com­mu­ni­ty solar projects tend to offer 5 per­cent to 15 per­cent off pre­vail­ing elec­tric­i­ty rates.
    • Ensure you can can­cel any time: Sell­ers should allow you to can­cel your sub­scrip­tion imme­di­ate­ly or with­in a few months to final­ize cred­its on your bill.
    • Avoid can­cel­la­tion fees: Choose a plan that doesn’t force you to pay if you want to end your subscription.
    • Source close to your home: Ide­al­ly, projects should be with­in 10 or 15 miles of where you live, says Jeff Cramer, CEO of the Coali­tion for Com­mu­ni­ty Solar Access. This ensures that you decar­bonize your local grid.

    For mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing in places with abun­dant com­mu­ni­ty solar such as Min­neso­ta, Col­orado, New York and Mass­a­chu­setts, find­ing projects is rel­a­tive­ly easy.

    But I live in Cal­i­for­nia, where the mar­ket has stag­nat­ed amid unfa­vor­able poli­cies and fierce oppo­si­tion from util­i­ties. While that may change — Cal­i­for­nia, like many oth­er states, is poised to enact poli­ciesenabling more com­mu­ni­ty solar — I need to buy elec­tric­i­ty now.

    I still have options — they’re just not as attrac­tive. Green pow­er plans, or retail elec­tric­i­ty plans sold by third par­ties in about 20 states, are often prici­er, and most don’t finance new renew­ables direct­ly since they often just buy renew­able ener­gy cred­its from exist­ing projects.

    Com­mu­ni­ty choice aggre­ga­tion is anoth­er one. Cities or local gov­ern­ments buy pow­er inde­pen­dent­ly for local res­i­dents and busi­ness­es, and rely on util­i­ties to dis­trib­ute the elec­tric­i­ty, which is often clean­er than the stan­dard mix. CCA can be less expen­sive, but not always. It served about 5 mil­lion cus­tomers in 10 states in 2020, accord­ing to the EPA.

    In the end, I signed up for CCA. It was cheap­er than my local utility’s stan­dard rate. I paid a small month­ly pre­mi­um of about $3 to source 100 per­cent green power.

    But if com­mu­ni­ty solar comes to town, I look for­ward to sub­scrib­ing to my own solar pan­els — and pay­ing less.

  4. ERG COLLOQUIUM — The Power of Health: Accelerating the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

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    —————————————————————-ERG Col­lo­qui­um————————————————————

    Sep­tem­ber 20, 2023

    Loca­tion: 141 Gian­ni­ni Hall, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berkeley

    Time: 16:00 — 17:30 PDT

    Title: The Pow­er of Health: Accel­er­at­ing the 2030 Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals

    Sum­ma­ry: Clean ener­gy is under­go­ing a cost and per­for­mance rev­o­lu­tion, and health, social and­gen­der-jus­tice crises across Africa are explod­ing. With that back­ground, how do we rapidlyand with resilience accel­er­ate progress on the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals? To explorethis ques­tion on basic the­o­ret­i­cal and very prac­ti­cal applied grounds, HETA, (Health­Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Alliance) has emerged as a new tool. This talk will­ex­plore the ear­ly evo­lu­tion and fram­ing ide­al of this clean ener­gy-health-gen­der nexus. Wewill also cov­er HETA+, the inte­gra­tion of indige­nous knowl­edge and tra­di­tion­al med­i­cine intoth­is via a large-scale ‘pilot’ learn­ing project that was advanced sig­nif­i­cant­ly last week at theAfrica Cli­mate Sum­mit in Nairo­bi, Kenya.

    Screenshot 2023-09-19 at 4.41.50 PM

  5. Why what happened to Oppenheimer then is relevant now

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    Timed for pub­li­ca­tion with the release of the movie Oppen­heimer, we pub­lished an arti­cle on pub­lic ser­vice by sci­en­tists, a the I‑M-P-E-A-C‑H let­ter when Prof. Kam­men left the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, a piece in The Bul­letin of the Atom­ic Sci­en­tists, is now avail­able (open access):

    Oppenheimer Movie Poster–07/why-what-happened-to-oppenheimer-then-is-relevant-now/

    The full col­lec­tion of arti­cles is online at:–07/


    To down­load a pdf of the arti­cle: click here.

    Screenshot 2023-08-03 at 2.06.52 PM


  6. From Sun to Sustainability: The Journey of Solar Panel Recycling

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    The grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of solar pan­els has brought atten­tion to a crit­i­cal issue: the chal­lenge of recy­cling these devices at the end of their lifespan.
    Cal­i­for­nia has become a sig­nif­i­cant hub for solar pan­el instal­la­tions, lead­ing the way in the adop­tion of solar ener­gy with­in the Unit­ed States.
    With a cur­rent installed capac­i­ty of over 11,000 MW or the amount of elec­tric­i­ty that would pow­er Los Ange­les Coun­ty, the state has embraced sus­tain­able prac­tices and played a piv­otal role in pro­mot­ing clean ener­gy solutions.

    How­ev­er, the grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of solar pan­els has brought atten­tion to a crit­i­cal issue: the chal­lenge of recy­cling these devices at the end of their lifespan.

    As the Unit­ed States is pro­ject­ed to dom­i­nate solar pow­er in North Amer­i­ca by 2030, with an esti­mat­ed capac­i­ty of 240 gigawatts, con­cerns are emerg­ing about the poten­tial accu­mu­la­tion of solar waste. Experts antic­i­pate that by 2030, between 170,000 and 1 mil­lion met­ric tons of solar pan­el waste may be generated.

    Ensur­ing prop­er man­age­ment and recy­cling of solar pan­els is essen­tial to mit­i­gate the envi­ron­men­tal impact of this grow­ing waste stream.

    Cal­i­for­nia, along with oth­er states and the solar indus­try, is active­ly work­ing to devel­op ways to recov­er the valu­able mate­ri­als from decom­mis­sioned solar pan­els and min­i­mize the dis­pos­al of haz­ardous components.

    Efforts are under­way to estab­lish ded­i­cat­ed recy­cling facil­i­ties and cre­ate stan­dard­ized process­es for han­dling solar pan­el waste. Col­lab­o­ra­tion between man­u­fac­tur­ers, recy­clers, and reg­u­la­to­ry bod­ies is cru­cial to address the chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with recy­cling solar pan­els effec­tive­ly. Devel­op­ing effi­cient recy­cling meth­ods will not only help reduce the envi­ron­men­tal foot­print of solar ener­gy but also ensure the long-term sus­tain­abil­i­ty of this renew­able ener­gy source.

    By address­ing the issue of solar pan­el recy­cling, Cal­i­for­nia and the broad­er solar indus­try can pave the way for respon­si­ble and envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious prac­tices, ensur­ing that the growth of solar ener­gy aligns with sus­tain­able waste man­age­ment principles.

  7. Climate Change is an Energy Problem. Here’s How We Solve It.

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    For the Cal­i­for­nia Mag­a­zine arti­cle, click here.


    Count on come­di­ans to nail the zeitgeist.

    I’m think­ing of comics like Marc Maron, whose act riffs off exis­ten­tial pain points like mor­tal­i­ty, anti­semitism, the delam­i­nat­ing geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, and, of course, that multi­gi­ga­ton car­bon ele­phant in the room, cli­mate change.

    The rea­son we’re not more upset about the world end­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ly, I think, is that, you know, all of us in our hearts real­ly know that we did every­thing we could,” Maron dead­pans. “We brought our own bags to the super­mar­ket,” he says, then paus­es a few beats.

    Yeah, that’s about it.”

    No sur­prise that come­di­ans are able to play our eco-dread for yuks. Com­e­dy is often root­ed in the fer­tile manure of uncom­fort­able truths: we laugh so we don’t sob. And that’s all fine and good; laughter’s a good anti­dote to the malaise that comes from doom­scrolling our news­feeds day in, day out.

    But are we real­ly ready to throw in the tow­el and laugh our­selves into obliv­ion? And is Maron cor­rect? Have we real­ly done noth­ing to con­front our fore­most envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis? Hard­ly. True, we haven’t yet reversed the upward trend in green­house gas emis­sions, and the chal­lenge of tran­si­tion­ing away from fos­sil fuels often seems insur­mount­able. Is it, though?

    Accord­ing to Berke­ley experts inter­viewed for this sto­ry, there’s rea­son for hope that we’ll make it through the bot­tle­neck yet. The tech­nol­o­gy is already here and improv­ing all the time. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. Now, let’s see how:


    a statue of a man holding up a disco ball

    If you’re look­ing for a peg to hang your hopes on, start with ener­gy eco­nom­ics and, in par­tic­u­lar, the price of solar pan­els. Costs have dropped by near­ly 90 per­cent since 2009, dri­ven by both improved tech­nol­o­gy and glob­al pro­duc­tion (par­tic­u­lar­ly from Chi­na). In 1976, solar elec­tric­i­ty cost $106 a watt; today, it costs less than 50 cents per watt. Bot­tom line: Solar is now com­pet­i­tive with fos­sil fuels as a means of ener­gy production.

    While solar still only accounts for 3.4 per­cent of domes­tic ener­gy con­sump­tion, pro­duc­tion has been grow­ing by more than 20 per­cent annu­al­ly over the past five years, and like­ly would have been high­er if not for ship­ping and sup­ply chain dif­fi­cul­ties stem­ming from the pandemic.

    Pro­duc­tion isn’t every­thing, how­ev­er. For wide­spread adop­tion, an ener­gy source must be avail­able on demand. And it’s here that fos­sil fuels have a big leg up. Nat­ur­al gas or coal can be burned at any time to gen­er­ate elec­tric­i­ty as required. Solar pan­els pro­duce only when the sun shines. Stor­ing ade­quate ener­gy for lat­er use—i.e., at night or on cloudy days—has long posed a major obstacle.

    Solar pro­duc­tion has been grow­ing by more than 20 per­cent annu­al­ly over the past five years, and like­ly would have been greater but for the pandemic.

    Not any­more, says Daniel Kam­men, the found­ing direc­tor of Cal’s Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Ener­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry and a pro­fes­sor in the Ener­gy and Resources Group and the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­i­cy. A coor­di­nat­ing lead author of the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change since 1999, he shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

    I don’t see stor­age as a major prob­lem at this point,” Kam­men says. “It’s not a sin­gle break­through that makes me think that way, but more that we’re see­ing the same trend in price and per­for­mance for stor­age that we saw with pho­to­voltaics. A vari­ety of approach­es are com­ing to mar­ket, and they’re scal­ing real­ly fast. Things that used to take sev­er­al years to devel­op now take a year, and that’s almost cer­tain to continue.”

    The stor­age of the future will serve two dif­fer­ent sec­tors, observes Kam­men: trans­porta­tion (think elec­tric vehi­cles) and every­thing else (homes, office build­ings, fac­to­ries, etc.).


    a plug cord making the shape of a car

    From a cli­mate change point of view, an elec­tri­fied vehi­cle fleet is desir­able because it dove­tails nice­ly with a green elec­tric grid—i.e., one fed by sus­tain­able ener­gy sources. Cur­rent­ly, cars burn­ing gaso­line or diesel spew about 3 giga­tons of car­bon into the atmos­phere each year—about 7 per­cent of total human-cre­at­ed CO² emis­sions. Just elec­tri­fy­ing rough­ly a third of China’s vehi­cle fleet could slash car­bon emis­sions by a giga­ton a year by 2040. So there’s a lot at stake with elec­tric vehi­cles, and every­thing con­sid­ered, Kam­men is pret­ty san­guine about their progress.

    It’s real­ly been pick­ing up, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the last year,” he says. “It’s prob­a­bly not a coin­ci­dence that gaso­line and diesel prices have been spik­ing at the same time, and I hate to think that the war in Ukraine is part of that, but it prob­a­bly is.” EVs are now the best-sell­ing cars in Cal­i­for­nia, Kam­men con­tin­ues, “and it’s the same in Nor­way, and it’ll soon be the same in New York. Prices on EVs are com­ing down. The trend is strong and accelerating.”

    EVs gen­er­al­ly store ener­gy in bat­ter­ies that use lithi­um, a rel­a­tive­ly rare ele­ment that charges and dis­charges rapid­ly and is lightweight—an essen­tial qual­i­ty for auto­mo­biles, where excess weight is anath­e­ma. Lithi­um bat­tery tech­nol­o­gy is well advanced, and some EVs can now go 400 miles between charg­ing, alle­vi­at­ing ear­li­er anx­i­eties about lim­it­ed range.

    A cen­tral goal of the Biden admin­is­tra­tion is the con­struc­tion of 500,000 new EV charg­ing sta­tions. For per­spec­tive: There are cur­rent­ly few­er than 150,000 gas sta­tions in the entire Unit­ed States.

    The next chal­lenge to over­come is a pauci­ty of charg­ing sta­tions, a real­i­ty that still gives Tes­la dri­vers pause before embark­ing on a long road trip. But that’s being reme­died, Kam­men says, thanks in sig­nif­i­cant part to the 2022 Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act (see side­bar), which pro­vides gen­er­ous home and busi­ness tax cred­its for new and used EV pur­chas­es and fast-charg­ing EV sta­tions. A cen­tral goal of the Biden admin­is­tra­tion is the con­struc­tion of 500,000 new EV charg­ing sta­tions dis­trib­uted across all 50 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and Puer­to Rico by 2030. For a lit­tle per­spec­tive on how ambi­tious that num­ber is, con­sid­er: There are cur­rent­ly few­er than 150,000 gas sta­tions in the entire Unit­ed States.

    Wor­ries over charg­ing sta­tion access are real, there’s no deny­ing it,” says Kam­men. “But this leg­is­la­tion, cou­pled with the fact that recharge times are now very fast, will make a huge dif­fer­ence. The one thing that we still have to address, though, is the social jus­tice com­po­nent,” as not all zip codes will see the same resources. With­out poli­cies to ensure oth­er­wise, San­ta Mon­i­ca will like­ly have charg­ing sta­tions aplen­ty; South Cen­tral Los Ange­les not so much.

    We real­ly need to ensure that doesn’t hap­pen,” says Kam­men. “First, it’s wrong. Sec­ond, to make a real dif­fer­ence, both ener­gy pro­duc­tion and trans­port must progress across a broad scale. That’s an eas­i­er case to make when every­one benefits.”


    batteries behind a city skyline

    In addi­tion to trans­porta­tion, urban infra­struc­ture must tran­si­tion to sus­tain­able, car­bon-free ener­gy as well. That will require com­bin­ing clean ener­gy with ade­quate stor­age to pro­vide “grid reliability”—that is, sys­tems that will keep the juice flow­ing in all sea­sons, even when the sun is absent or the wind stops blow­ing. In short, you need real­ly, real­ly big batteries.

    But what kind of bat­ter­ies? Lithi­um-ion bat­ter­ies, already well estab­lished, are one option, says Kam­men. But the qual­i­ties that make them ide­al for vehicles—lightweight, fast charg­ing capabilities—aren’t as crit­i­cal when you’re try­ing to light a city at night. For sta­tion­ary pow­er needs, bat­ter­ies can be indus­tri­al scale—heavy, with a large footprint.

    Anoth­er prob­lem with lithi­um is its scarci­ty. The Unit­ed States cur­rent­ly con­trols less than 4 per­cent of glob­al reserves. For that rea­son alone, researchers are look­ing for alter­na­tives: bat­ter­ies that employ cheap­er and more read­i­ly avail­able elements.

    One of the most promis­ing approach­es, accord­ing to sev­er­al sources, is iron-air bat­ter­ies. And one of the lead­ers in the tech­nol­o­gy is Form Ener­gy, a com­pa­ny head­quar­tered in Mass­a­chu­setts with satel­lite facil­i­ties in Berkeley.

    Zac Jud­kins ’06 is the company’s vice pres­i­dent of engi­neer­ing. He stress­es that Form was obsessed with find­ing a way to address the prob­lem of mul­ti­day stor­age, not enam­ored of a par­tic­u­lar technology.

    Jud­kins and col­leagues eval­u­at­ed a wide array of can­di­date chemistries before set­tling on iron-air bat­ter­ies, which work by rust­ing and unrust­ing thou­sands of iron pel­lets with every cycle.

    When we start­ed up in 2017, we saw that the world was rapid­ly mov­ing to renewables—mainly solar and wind—and set­ting increas­ing­ly ambi­tious grid reli­a­bil­i­ty and decar­boniza­tion goals.” With­out effec­tive stor­age, how­ev­er, progress was going to hit a brick wall, Jud­kins says.

    Ana­lyz­ing the mar­ket, Form’s engi­neers arrived at a tar­get. They need­ed to build a bat­tery that could con­tin­u­ous­ly dis­charge for 100 hours at a total cost of $20 per kilo­watt-hour and had a round-trip effi­cien­cy (the amount of ener­gy stored in a bat­tery that can lat­er be used) of 50 percent.

    Those para­me­ters, Jud­kins says, would allow for very high adop­tion of renew­ables with no sac­ri­fice to grid reli­a­bil­i­ty and min­i­mal increase in cost to con­sumers. “That was the bench­mark we had to hit.”

    Jud­kins and col­leagues eval­u­at­ed a wide array of can­di­date chemistries before set­tling on iron-air bat­ter­ies, which work by rust­ing and unrust­ing thou­sands of iron pel­lets with every cycle. Says Jud­kins, “We didn’t invent the iron-air bat­tery. It was devel­oped by West­ing­house and NASA in the late ’60s and ’70s. They’re not good for cars—they’re not light, and they don’t dis­charge rapid­ly. But there are advan­tages. For one thing, iron is abun­dant. It’s cheap. We don’t have to wor­ry about sup­ply constraints.”

    What you also get with iron, says Jud­kins, is low cost and high ener­gy density—i.e., the amount of juice you can put into the bat­tery. The trade­off is low­er pow­er density—how fast you can pull the ener­gy out rel­a­tive to volume.

    It’s rough­ly 10 times low­er on pow­er den­si­ty than lithi­um-ion, but for our needs it’s fine,” says Jud­kins. “This is stor­age for large-scale, grid-tied projects.” Take the exam­ple of a large pho­to­volta­ic array like those on California’s Car­ri­zo Plain. One array there has a 250-megawatt capac­i­ty, enough for about 100,000 homes, but only when the sun is shin­ing. At night, dur­ing storms, there’s no elec­tric­i­ty. But, says Jud­kins, with the addi­tion of a Form plant with a foot­print of 100 acres or so, you could store enough ener­gy to keep the elec­tric­i­ty flow­ing for a four-day period.

    The com­pa­ny is now tran­si­tion­ing from proof of con­cept to full pro­duc­tion. Iron­i­cal­ly, the first com­mer­cial rust/​unrust bat­tery sys­tems will like­ly come out of the Rust Belt. “We’re build­ing a fac­to­ry in West Vir­ginia on a 55-acre site—a for­mer steel plant—that will have approx­i­mate­ly 800,000 square feet of pro­duc­tion space and employ 750 peo­ple at full oper­a­tion.” Green jobs. Once the plant is ful­ly on its feet, Jud­kins says, it will pro­duce 50 gigawatt-hours of stor­age capac­i­ty every year.


    In sub-Saha­ran Africa alone, 600 mil­lion peo­ple live with­out elec­tric­i­ty. Pro­vid­ing them car­bon-free pow­er will require microgrids.

    Large, cen­tral­ized util­i­ty grids are nat­u­ral­ly the focus for decar­boniz­ing devel­oped countries—but they don’t real­ly apply to parts of the world where access to elec­tric­i­ty is still rare. In sub-Saha­ran Africa alone, 600 mil­lion peo­ple live with­out elec­tric­i­ty, which doesn’t mean they don’t want it. Pro­vid­ing car­bon-free pow­er to these com­mu­ni­ties will require micro­grids: small sys­tems that serve neigh­bor­hoods, ham­lets, or even mul­ti­ple vil­lages. But while the micro­grid con­cept has been kick­ing around for years, its full real­iza­tion has been elusive—until recently.

    What we’re see­ing is a mesh­ing of enabling tech­nolo­gies,” says Dun­can Call­away, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Ener­gy and Resources at Berke­ley and a fac­ul­ty sci­en­tist at Lawrence Berke­ley Nation­al Laboratory.

    For starters, he points to cheap solar. “With the pro­found price drop in pan­els, it’s a tru­ly afford­able resource that’s ide­al­ly suit­ed for mid-lat­i­tude coun­tries,” which expe­ri­ence less sea­son­al­i­ty. “In gen­er­al, you can serve elec­tric demand with solar bet­ter in those lat­i­tudes than in coun­tries [clos­er to either pole], where there’s just less sunlight.”

    Anoth­er dri­ver is cheap­er, bet­ter stor­age options, Call­away says. For micro­grid-scale, lithi­um-ion bat­ter­ies work well. And these, too, have grown more afford­able. “The explo­sive growth in elec­tric vehi­cles real­ly pushed things along,” Call­away says. “Ten years ago, it cost $1,000 for one kilo­watt-hour of stor­age. Now it costs less than $100.”

    Final­ly, says Call­away, “smart grid” tech­nolo­gies have been devel­oped that make micro­grids, once noto­ri­ous­ly balky, high­ly efficient.

    We now have ‘big buck­et’ con­trol sys­tems that allow for the smooth coor­di­na­tion of ener­gy pro­duc­tion, stor­age, and demand,” Call­away says. “That makes these small grids both low-cost and real­ly reli­able. The goal is to make sys­tems that are tru­ly mod­u­lar, so you can plug var­i­ous com­po­nents into larg­er sys­tems. That will allow easy cus­tomiza­tion and scaling.”

    More than 150 micro­grids already are deployed in the Unit­ed States, pow­er­ing every­thing from indi­vid­ual build­ings in large cities to small, remote vil­lages in Alaska.

    As far as wide­spread adop­tion goes, Call­away doesn’t fore­see many tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. It’s social and polit­i­cal road­blocks that need to be over­come. “The great thing about micro­grids is that they work well in remote, under­served areas and they can be man­aged local­ly. But in less devel­oped coun­tries, there are often cor­rupt gov­ern­ments that want their cut from any project. And if that’s the case, you’d have an inher­ent bias toward cen­tral­ized grids with base­line pow­er plants.”

    It’s a chal­lenge that must be met, says Call­away. “Some­how, some way, small grid tech­nol­o­gy must be put on a lev­el play­ing field with the old sys­tem, the large, cen­tral­ized grid—or it’s unlike­ly to make it, even where it’s clear­ly the supe­ri­or choice.”


    Glowing electric light bulb isolated

    Micro­grid or macro­grid, we’ll need a lot of clean, sus­tain­able ener­gy flow­ing through the wires if we’re going to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sus­tain an advanced civ­i­liza­tion and cool the plan­et. Kam­men is con­vinced it will large­ly come from fusion. But by that he means fusion in all its forms, includ­ing, as not­ed, the sun: that mas­sive reac­tor in the sky that con­tin­u­al­ly fus­es hydro­gen into heav­ier ele­ments, releas­ing 3.8 x 10²6 joules of ener­gy every second.

    But there’s also that will‑o’-the-wisp that’s been tan­ta­liz­ing futur­ists and physi­cists for decades: ter­res­tri­al fusion reac­tors. These would use hydrogen—the most com­mon ele­ment in the universe—as feed­stock to gen­er­ate gigawatt-hours of cheap ener­gy, pro­duc­ing harm­less, inert heli­um as the pri­ma­ry by-prod­uct. (Radioac­tive tri­tium would also be gen­er­at­ed, but it has a short half-life and it’s con­sumed by the reac­tor in a closed-loop process.) Fusion tech­nol­o­gy remains the Holy Grail of clean, Earth-friend­ly ener­gy pro­duc­tion, but it’s also the butt of wag­gish com­ments. The most com­mon is that it looks promis­ing, but it’s 20 years away. And it’s been 20 years away for 60 years.

    But after a break­through on Decem­ber 5, 2022, at Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Laboratory’s Nation­al Igni­tion Facil­i­ty (NIF), it now seems high­ly pos­si­ble that a com­mer­cial fusion reac­tor actu­al­ly could be avail­able in, uh, well, 20 years. Maybe sooner.

    Most fusion efforts to date have involved toka­mak reactors—toroidal vac­u­um cham­bers that cor­ral hydro­gen atoms via mag­net­ic coils, sub­ject­ing them to heat and pres­sure until they become plas­ma, a super­heat­ed (as in 150 mil­lion degrees Cel­sius) gas that allows the hydro­gen to fuse. This releas­es ener­gy that trans­fers as heat to the cham­ber walls, where it is har­vest­ed to pro­duce steam to dri­ve tur­bines for elec­tric­i­ty production.

    For the first time on this planet—other than dur­ing a ther­monu­clear explosion—a fusion reac­tion was cre­at­ed that pro­duced more ener­gy than was required to ini­ti­ate the process.

    Toka­maks have been able to coax hydro­gen to fuse for brief periods—indeed, progress has been steady, if plod­ding, since the first machine was built 60 years ago. But to date, they haven’t been able to achieve “ignition”—that point at which sus­tained fusion occurs, and more ener­gy is pro­duced by the device than it consumes.

    NIF took a dif­fer­ent approach. Researchers there fab­ri­cat­ed a minute pel­let from frozen deu­teri­um and tri­tium (both hydro­gen iso­topes). They then placed the pel­let in a small gold cap­sule known as a hohlraum, which in turn was sit­u­at­ed on an arm in a cham­ber bristling with 192 lasers. The sci­en­tists then fired the lasers simul­ta­ne­ous­ly at the hohlraum, caus­ing the inner cap­sule to com­press. The result: tem­per­a­tures and pres­sures exert­ed on the deuterium/​tritium admix­ture were extreme enough to pro­duce igni­tion. For the first time on this planet—other than dur­ing a ther­monu­clear explosion—a fusion reac­tion was cre­at­ed that pro­duced more ener­gy than was required to ini­ti­ate the process.

    True, the sus­tained yield was mod­est. The reac­tion last­ed less than a bil­lionth of a sec­ond and released 3.15 mega­joules of ener­gy, or slight­ly less than one kilo­watt-hour. Not very much, in oth­er words; the aver­age Amer­i­can house­hold uses about 900 times that every month. Still, it was 50 per­cent more ener­gy than was expend­ed by the laser bursts. Progress! But here’s anoth­er catch: While the actu­al laser beams rep­re­sent­ed only around two mega­joules of ener­gy, it took about 300 mega­joules to pow­er up and oper­ate the mech­a­nisms that fired the beams.

    So, there’s still a lot to be done before we’re microwav­ing our frozen bur­ri­tos with fusion pow­er. Nev­er­the­less, Kam­men, ever the opti­mist, is fair­ly sure we will be soon.

    Giv­en the trends, I think I’m pret­ty safe in pre­dict­ing that we’ll derive about 70 per­cent of our pow­er from fusion by 2070,” Kam­men says. “Half of that will be from the sun and half from fusion pow­er plants.”

    And while NIF’s laser-blast­ed pel­let approach points to future suc­cess, don’t rule out toka­maks. Kam­men says he’s “expect­ing some excit­ing announce­ments about toka­mak reac­tors pret­ty soon.” You heard it here first.

    Solar fusion, too, will fol­low mul­ti­ple avenues toward fuller implementation.

    It’s not just rooftop pan­els in cities and solar farms out on the land­scape,” he says. “There’ll also be marine solar—large arrays out in the ocean.”

    Also: orbital solar. Live tri­als are now under­way at Cal­tech and the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry, says Kam­men, to estab­lish large, autonomous­ly assem­bled (i.e., no live astro­nauts required) solar arrays in space. The ener­gy would be beamed down as microwaves to ter­res­tri­al col­lec­tors, where it would be con­vert­ed to elec­tric­i­ty. That may raise the specter of a loose-can­non death ray immo­lat­ing cities from orbit if some­thing goes awry—but not to wor­ry, says Kam­men. “The watt-per-square-meter dose is pret­ty low, so there’s no dan­ger of any­one get­ting fried if they’re hit by it.”

    He also thinks the fusion tech­nol­o­gy now under devel­op­ment for ter­res­tri­al reac­tors will have appli­ca­tions for space trav­el. “There’s a dual angle on fusion that’s real­ly cat­a­pult­ing the tech­nol­o­gy,” Kam­men says. “For bet­ter or worse, it’s imper­a­tive that we col­o­nize the solar sys­tem so our fate as a species isn’t com­plete­ly tied to one plan­et. Fusion propul­sion will be an excel­lent means for get­ting us to the moon and Mars and beyond, and fusion—solar, reac­tor, or both—will also serve as a base-load pow­er source when we get there.”


    Fis­sion gen­er­ates a lot of ener­gy from a small foot­print. Dia­blo Canyon, California’s sole nuclear plant, pro­duces almost 10 per­cent of the total elec­tric­i­ty con­sumed in the state, and it does it with­in a con­fine of 600 acres.

    With all the fuss over fusion, the oth­er “nuclear” pow­er source, fis­sion, seems to have fad­ed into the back­ground. That’s illu­so­ry. Fis­sion is still quite hot, so to speak, with increas­ing num­bers of erst­while foes in the envi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ty now embrac­ing it—or, at least, tac­it­ly sup­port­ing it. The rea­sons are clear. First, fis­sion can gen­er­ate a great amount of ener­gy on a small foot­print. Dia­blo Canyon, California’s sole oper­at­ing com­mer­cial fis­sion plant, pro­duces almost 10 per­cent of the elec­tric­i­ty con­sumed in the state and does it with­in a con­fine of 600 acres. And from a cli­mate change per­spec­tive, nukes are peer­less: they emit zero CO².

    Of course, peo­ple remain wor­ried about oth­er kinds of emis­sions, such as intense radioac­tiv­i­ty from long-lived waste iso­topes. And old­er gen­er­a­tion plants—that is, most of the ones oper­at­ing today—are sus­cep­ti­ble to core dam­age to vary­ing degrees, with cat­a­stroph­ic results à la Cher­nobyl and Fukushima.

    Those con­cerns are entrenched, espe­cial­ly in the Unit­ed States, where envi­ron­men­tal issues, reg­u­la­to­ry red tape, and sim­ple cost often con­spire to scotch large infra­struc­ture projects in the pro­pos­al phase.

    We’re pret­ty bad at megapro­jects in this coun­try,” says Rachel Slay­baugh, for­mer­ly an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in nuclear engi­neer­ing at Berke­ley and now a part­ner at ven­ture cap­i­tal firm DCVC. “For one thing, it’s incred­i­bly easy for them to go over bud­get. Just look at the new Bay Bridge, which ran triple the orig­i­nal estimates.”

    That prob­lem is com­pound­ed for nuclear plants, giv­en height­ened safe­ty con­cerns and the reg­u­la­tions and lit­i­ga­tion they engen­der. But there has been an upside to the imped­i­ments imposed on tra­di­tion­al nuclear pow­er, Slay­baugh says: Out of neces­si­ty, more efficient—and per­haps more social­ly acceptable—technology has been developed.

    The new­er reac­tors are smaller—some much smaller—than the behe­moths of yore, and pilot projects are underway.

    A good many of these designs orig­i­nat­ed from basic con­cepts devel­oped in the 1950s or 1960s, but their refine­ment and com­mer­cial deploy­ment is being dri­ven in large part by our inabil­i­ty to con­struct large projects,” Slay­baugh says.

    Dif­fer­ent reac­tors have been designed for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, Slay­baugh observes, employ­ing var­i­ous fuels, coolants, and con­fig­u­ra­tions. Some “breed­er” reac­tors could even burn their own byprod­ucts, great­ly reduc­ing radioac­tive waste.

    What’s the pri­or­i­ty?” Slay­baugh asks rhetor­i­cal­ly. “Eco­nom­ics? Pro­vid­ing high-tem­per­a­ture heat, or bal­anc­ing renew­ables on the grid? Min­i­miz­ing nuclear waste? A com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent goals? These new designs can be stan­dard­ized or cus­tomized and scaled for the site and require­ments, and all involve con­sid­er­able engi­neer­ing to ensure safety.”

    Some of the reac­tors will be large enough to pow­er a city, or sev­er­al cities. “And oth­ers will be tee­ny,” Slay­baugh says. “Those will be per­fect for remote mil­i­tary bases or research facil­i­ties, say Antarc­ti­ca or the Arc­tic. You’d elim­i­nate sev­er­al major prob­lems with one of these very small reac­tors. Think of the logis­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties involved in get­ting diesel fuel to an arc­tic base, not to men­tion the heavy pol­lu­tion it pro­duces and, of course, the CO² that’s emitted.”

    Fis­sion tech­nol­o­gy also has some pro­found advan­tages over renew­ables, she says. “There are real lim­its to how many solar farms and wind tur­bines we should or even can build,” she observes. “A lot of mate­ri­als are required for their pro­duc­tion, and a lot of min­ing is need­ed to get the nec­es­sary ele­ments. And these facil­i­ties tend to have very large foot­prints. I’m actu­al­ly wor­ried that we’re going to see a strong solar and wind back­lash as peo­ple real­ly start to under­stand all the impacts.”

    Every ener­gy source has strengths and weak­ness­es, con­tin­ues Slay­baugh, “and we need to have sophis­ti­cat­ed con­ver­sa­tions on what they are and where each can best apply. Ulti­mate­ly, my view of fis­sion is that it’s a nec­es­sary tool that we must use in con­junc­tion with oth­er avail­able tools to get the job done as well and as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. No sin­gle solu­tion is going to work for all scenarios.”


    At this point, we know what we must do to turn things around. Even bet­ter, we have the tech­nolo­gies and tech­niques to do it. But we need to deploy them.

    Reduc­ing car­bon emis­sions is not the com­plete solu­tion to glob­al warm­ing, say sci­en­tists. To real­ly get a han­dle on the prob­lem, we’ll also need to remove exist­ing CO² from the atmos­phere and sequester it per­ma­nent­ly in the ground. One option, direct air cap­ture (DAC), is the basis for a small but grow­ing indus­try: Cur­rent­ly, there are about 20 DAC pilot plants oper­at­ing, in total cap­tur­ing and seques­ter­ing around .01 mega­ton of atmos­pher­ic CO² annu­al­ly. Accord­ing to the Inter­na­tion­al Ener­gy Agency, that stor­age could grow to 60 mega­tons a year by 2030, assum­ing large-scale demon­stra­tion plants pro­ceed apace, cur­rent tech­niques are refined, and costs drop as the tech­nol­o­gy scales.

    But those are a lot of assump­tions for min­i­mal ben­e­fit. Grant­ed, a 60-mega­ton mass of any­thing is impres­sive. But from a cli­mate-change per­spec­tive, 60 Mt is neg­li­gi­ble, giv­en ener­gy-relat­ed car­bon emis­sions hit an all-time high of over 36.8 bil­lion tons in 2022. Many researchers think there are bet­ter options, and we don’t have to do any­thing to devel­op them because they already exist. They point to nat­ur­al car­bon sinks: forests, wet­lands, grass­lands, and, most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the oceans. These nat­ur­al sys­tems are part of the Earth’s car­bon cycle, which absorbs and releas­es about 100 giga­tons of car­bon a year. A plan­e­tary mech­a­nism of that scale might seem more than ade­quate to han­dle car­bon emis­sions, and it would, if atmos­pher­ic CO² only orig­i­nat­ed from nat­ur­al emis­sion points such as vol­ca­noes and hydrother­mal vents. As not­ed recent­ly by MIT pro­fes­sor of geo­physics Daniel Roth­man, nat­ur­al sources con­tribute ten times more car­bon to the atmos­phere than human activ­i­ties, but it’s the anthro­pogenic car­bon that is push­ing the cycle over the edge. The plan­et can’t process the extra atmos­pher­ic car­bon back into a sta­ble earth­bound state fast enough.

    This deficit is exac­er­bat­ed by the fact that we’re degrad­ing our car­bon sinks even as we’re pump­ing more CO2 into the sky.

    The eco­log­i­cal ser­vices car­bon sinks pro­vide are real­ly price­less,” says John Harte, a pro­fes­sor of the Grad­u­ate School in Berkeley’s Ener­gy and Resources Group. Harte, who con­duct­ed pio­neer­ing work on the “feed­back” effect a warm­ing cli­mate exerts on nat­ur­al car­bon cycles in high-alti­tude mead­ows, observes that car­bon sinks were poor­ly under­stood 35 years ago.

    But we now know they absorb 18 bil­lion tons of CO2 a year. Real­is­ti­cal­ly, we should be putting more of the mon­ey we’re devot­ing to the devel­op­ment of car­bon seques­tra­tion tech­nol­o­gy into enhanc­ing nat­ur­al car­bon sinks. At the very least, we need to stop their degradation.”

    Harte’s work in the Col­orado Rock­ies entailed arti­fi­cial­ly heat­ing plots of land and track­ing changes in veg­e­ta­tion types and car­bon seques­tra­tion rates. In plots that weren’t heat­ed and expe­ri­enced cli­mate change in real time, he found that wild­flow­ers dom­i­nat­ed, cycling large vol­umes of car­bon into the soil dur­ing the short alpine grow­ing sea­son; when the plants died back each fall, the rate of car­bon stor­age dropped off dra­mat­i­cal­ly. But as Harte warmed spe­cif­ic plots over a peri­od of years, woody shrubs replaced the flow­er­ing annu­al plants ear­li­er than on non­heat­ed land. These slow­er-grow­ing plants sequestered car­bon at a much slow­er rate than the wildflowers.

    The ‘mon­ey,’ the car­bon, in the bank account shrinks,” says Harte. But after about 100 years, you begin to see div­i­dends. “The car­bon com­ing into the soil from woody plants is stored longer, so you even­tu­al­ly still have car­bon in the soil.”

    The goods news: This sug­gests nat­ur­al sinks could be man­aged for opti­mal stor­age. But if emis­sions remain high, they’ll strain and ulti­mate­ly over­whelm the seques­tra­tion capac­i­ty of the sinks, negat­ing their value.

    If cli­mate change con­tin­ues, if we don’t cut back on emis­sions,” says Harte, “there’ll be no way to buffer the effects.”

    And real­ly, that’s the crux of the whole issue. At this point in the cli­mate change cri­sis, we know what we must do to turn things around. Even bet­ter, we have the tech­nolo­gies and tech­niques to do it. But we need to deploy them. That means every­thing: solar in all its forms, from rooftop pan­els to orbital microwave arrays; wind tur­bine farms, both on land and at sea; fusion reac­tors; fis­sion reac­tors; micro­grids; mas­sive­ly dis­trib­uted stor­age sys­tems. And we must enhance, not debase, the nat­ur­al sys­tems that sequester car­bon. We need to plant many more trees and man­age work­ing forests more sus­tain­ably, cal­cu­lat­ing car­bon stor­age as a prod­uct equal to or exceed­ing board feet of lum­ber. And we need to pro­tect the great­est car­bon sink of them all: the ocean.

    I’m ter­ri­bly wor­ried about the trend toward seabed min­ing,” says Kam­men. “It’s the least reg­u­lat­ed of all the new fron­tiers, some very large com­pa­nies are push­ing it, and it’d be absolute­ly dev­as­tat­ing. If we don’t stop activ­i­ties like that and if we don’t use all the sus­tain­able ener­gy options that are avail­able, we are risk­ing extinction.”

    That may not be a very opti­mistic note to end on, but then, opti­mism only gets us so far, doesn’t it? What we need now is grit and determination.

  8. A Fruitvale Microgrid Could Inspire Resiliency if Approved

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    A Fruitvale Microgrid Could Inspire Resiliency — if Approved

    by | May 16, 2023

    Inspiration TeamA Con­trib­u­tor from our Next-Gen Inspi­ra­tion Team

    For the orig­i­nal, click here.

    Two dozen homes in Oakland’s Fruit­vale neigh­bor­hood are band­ing togeth­er to give their block a first-of-its-kind sus­tain­abil­i­ty makeover. The EcoBlock, a UC Berke­ley research project col­lab­o­rat­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty, aims to afford­ably retro­fit urban neigh­bor­hoods to have small­er car­bon foot­prints and more reli­able energy.

    Dur­ing its sev­en years in the mak­ing, the EcoBlock project has pushed through sky­rock­et­ing costs, per­mit­ting red tape, and com­pro­mis­es with Pacif­ic Gas and Elec­tric. Although researchers antic­i­pat­ed bring­ing upgrades to res­i­dents’ homes this spring, the lin­ger­ing effects of the pan­dem­ic on sup­ply chains and costs are still hold­ing the project back. “Between COVID and infla­tion, our bud­get was just wal­loped,” says Therese Pef­fer, the prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor on the EcoBlock research team.

    If the project is even­tu­al­ly imple­ment­ed, the 25 Fruit­vale homes par­tic­i­pat­ing in the EcoBlock can look for­ward to improved air qual­i­ty, low­ered water usage, and green­er ener­gy with new effi­cient elec­tric appli­ances, air ven­ti­la­tion, water-recy­cling laun­dry, and a shared elec­tric vehi­cle. The EcoBlock cen­ters around a key piece of infra­struc­ture: a small, local­ized ener­gy sys­tem known as a microgrid.

    Screenshot 2023-06-08 at 5.10.36 PM

    By con­nect­ing to solar ener­gy, a micro­grid could pro­vide the neigh­bors with elec­tric­i­ty dur­ing black­outs or PG&E’s pub­lic safe­ty pow­er shut-offs dur­ing extreme weath­er events. And it’s been proven to work: In 2022, a micro­grid com­mu­ni­ty in Flori­da kept the lights on even as mil­lions of homes lost pow­er dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Ian.

    The Fruit­vale loca­tion was cho­sen out of a pool of self-nom­i­nat­ed blocks by the UC Berke­ley Research team, PG&E, and the City of Oak­land based on vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, lev­els of pol­lu­tion, and the block’s posi­tion on the city’s elec­tri­cal grid.

    Daniel Hamil­ton, the Sus­tain­abil­i­ty and Resilience Direc­tor for the city of Oak­land, says that choos­ing a less wealthy area of Oak­land was a pri­or­i­ty. “There’s huge poten­tial to help the front­line com­mu­ni­ties that are already suf­fer­ing the effects of cli­mate change and have few­er resources to do the work,” he says.

    Also crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the project, say Hamil­ton and researchers, are the inter­est and col­lab­o­ra­tion of res­i­dents. In 2019, with the sup­port of Peo­ple Pow­er Solar Coop­er­a­tive, neigh­bor­hoods in Oak­land were invit­ed to apply to be the EcoBlock. “The Fruit­vale site was the one where the com­mu­ni­ty was most orga­nized and already most sup­port­ive” but still vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate impacts, says Hamilton.

    Com­mu­ni­ty liai­son Cathy Leonard, a long-time Oak­land native, says that the Oak­land EcoBlock serves as a micro­cosm for the rest of the city. Res­i­dents range in age from 1 to 80 years old, speak four dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and are of “all dif­fer­ent races and eth­nic­i­ties for a tru­ly diverse block.” For the project, Leonard has orga­nized block par­ties and infor­ma­tion ses­sions for the Fruit­vale neighbors.

    In order for soci­ety to real­ly address cli­mate change,” says Leonard, “we have to wor­ry about the homes that are already here.”

    Screenshot 2023-06-08 at 5.11.09 PM

    Since the project’s launch in 2015, the UC Berke­ley research team has had to over­come a series of hur­dles. The first site cho­sen failed due to neigh­bor­ly dis­agree­ments. Then, while work­ing on the Oak­land neigh­bor­hood, the nation­al cost of con­struc­tion sky­rock­et­ed. In 2020, the pan­dem­ic came, bring­ing with it infla­tion and sup­ply chain issues. Some parts of the EcoBlock, such as a res­i­den­tial charg­ing sta­tion for the neighborhood’s shared elec­tric vehi­cle, are a first for the city of Oak­land and a stream­lined per­mit­ting process has not yet been estab­lished. Oth­er reg­u­la­tions, such as state-wide build­ing codes, turn over reg­u­lar­ly before the project can begin construction.

    Although per­mits have been applied for, the project is in lim­bo while they are being processed. “I think the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers right­ful­ly expect­ed this to move much faster,” says Hamil­ton, not­ing the com­plex­i­ty behind EcoBlock, which has over a dozen part­ners and inter­sects with dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­to­ry bodies.

    Among the red tape, the EcoBlock has had to con­tend with per­mit­ting and reg­u­la­tions by PG&E, which has a monop­oly on util­i­ty man­age­ment in the Bay Area. “I would say every step for­ward has been a bat­tle against the iner­tia of slow-mov­ing util­i­ties,” says Dr. Daniel Kam­men, the co-prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor for the EcoBlock.

    Ener­gy researchers say that while micro­grids are a promis­ing solu­tion to an unre­li­able Unit­ed States ener­gy sys­tem, they are still uncom­mon. “Util­i­ties are in no rush to pro­mote clean ener­gy that’s dis­trib­uted, and not in their con­trol,” says Kam­men. ”Which cer­tain­ly might be an out­come of a world full of microgrids.”

    Orig­i­nal­ly, the researchers envi­sioned giv­ing the res­i­dents a mas­ter meter, allow­ing them to “island” the block’s micro­grid from the city’s grid, for tru­ly self-man­aged solar ener­gy. “PG&E did not like that,” says Pef­fer. Instead, each home is now planned to be equipped with its own solar meter, that feeds into the city’s ener­gy sup­ply as well as the EcoBlock microgrid.

    Screenshot 2023-06-08 at 5.11.41 PM

    PG&E has two pro­grams for defray­ing the costs of micro­grids. The Com­mu­ni­ty Micro­grid Enable­ment Pro­gram pro­vides up to $3 mil­lion towards PG&E‑related costs of installing a micro­grid. A forth­com­ing Micro­grid Incen­tive Pro­gram has $200 mil­lion of fund­ing from the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion and is antic­i­pat­ed to be launched joint­ly by PG&E and oth­er region­al util­i­ties across the state in ear­ly 2023.

    Paul Doher­ty, a spokesper­son for PG&E, says that the EcoBlock is not eli­gi­ble for this sec­ond pro­gram as it is not, “‘vul­ner­a­ble to out­ages’ by our def­i­n­i­tion, not in a high fire-threat area, and not in our worst per­form­ing cir­cuits list.” Accord­ing to PG&E, out of the three dozen com­mu­ni­ties cur­rent­ly apply­ing for micro­grids, only one — The Red­wood Coast Air­port — has received fund­ing through their incen­tive programs.

    With the help of the Tut­tle Law Group hired by the UC Berke­ley researchers, the EcoBlock res­i­dents have formed a demo­c­ra­t­ic com­mu­ni­ty asso­ci­a­tion through which they will co-own their micro­grid, which includes a solar-pow­er bat­tery stor­age system.

    This agree­ment gives the UC Berke­ley researchers a 5‑year run­way to study the suc­cess of the project and pro­vides clear guid­ance on what hap­pens if a prop­er­ty changes hands dur­ing that time. The EcoBlock research team will track the resilien­cy of the micro­grid to black­outs — which can be trig­gered by extreme heat, rain, or cold — to inform ener­gy pol­i­cy in California.

    In terms of adap­ta­tion, “two extremes exist today,” says Kam­men. “We do good green things one home at a time, or we attempt too much at once.” With just one block, the EcoBlock team strives for an achiev­able exam­ple of upgrad­ing our cities to be green­er, kinder places to live.


  9. AP: Leaders gather in Paris to accelerate wringing more out of every ounce of fuel

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    For the orig­i­nal, click here.

    As 30 ener­gy envi­ron­ment and trade min­is­ters plus 50 CEOs assem­ble in Paris for the 8th inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence on ener­gy effi­cien­cy, the Inter­na­tion­al Ener­gy Agency is urgent­ly call­ing for greater invest­ment in ener­gy effi­cien­cy for fac­to­ries, cars and appli­ances to meet inter­na­tion­al cli­mate goals.

    The agency tout­ed recent glob­al progress: A The new IEA report released Wednes­day says that demand for ener­gy is grow­ing, yet emis­sions are not grow­ing as fast. Effi­cien­cy is increas­ing every year as tech­nol­o­gy improves, and last year that increase was twice the aver­age of the pre­vi­ous five years.

    We’re at a real junc­ture where more effi­cient, more clean, more afford­able tech­nol­o­gy is start­ing to dom­i­nate,” said Bri­an Moth­er­way, chief of ener­gy effi­cien­cy at the IEA, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Tuesday.

    Elim­i­nat­ing wast­ed ener­gy is the most afford­able way to bring goods and ser­vices to the peo­ple who need them — while slow­ing green­house gas emis­sions — the main dri­ver of glob­al warm­ing, ener­gy experts say.

    Gov­ern­ment poli­cies that encour­age ener­gy effi­cien­cy are dri­ving the trend. Japan has strength­ened laws that favor ener­gy effi­cient build­ings. The Euro­pean Union agreed this year to reduce its total ener­gy con­sump­tion by some 12% com­pared to its 2020 fore­cast, by improv­ing build­ings, heavy indus­try and pri­vate trans­porta­tion. The Unit­ed States allo­cat­ed a record 95 bil­lion dol­lars over ten years through the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act to increase ener­gy effi­cien­cy in pow­er gen­er­a­tion, build­ings and cars. And India passed impor­tant leg­is­la­tion to decrease the amount of ener­gy used by homes.

    Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives are crit­i­cal because they get big build­ings, they get big hous­ing projects, they get indus­try (and) they have to take it seri­ous­ly,” said Daniel Kam­men, a pro­fes­sor of ener­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley who was not involved in the IEA report.

    Accord­ing to the report, total pub­lic and pri­vate invest­ment in ener­gy effi­cien­cy increased by 15% in 2022 to $600 bil­lion from the pre­vi­ous year. This year, invest­ment is expect­ed to grow by only 4%, which Moth­er­way called concerning.

    To lim­it glob­al warm­ing to just 1.5 degrees Cel­sius (2.7 degrees Fahren­heit) and avoid severe cli­mate dis­rup­tion, the world needs to dou­ble ener­gy effi­cien­cy for the rest of the decade. Annu­al invest­ment of $1.8 tril­lion is need­ed to make that hap­pen, the report says.

    The tech­nol­o­gy exists, we just need to pri­or­i­tiz­ing spend­ing, Philippe Delorme, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Europe oper­a­tions for Schnei­der Elec­tric said in a press conference.

    Experts not involved in the report agreed. “Gov­ern­ments should be doing more, whether that relates to appli­ance effi­cien­cy, cars or build­ings,” said Steven Nadel, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Coun­cil for an Ener­gy-Effi­cient Economy.

    As far as growth in demand, elec­tric­i­ty saw the most growth, with oil and coal just behind. Demand for nat­ur­al gas saw an over­all decline.

    Elec­tric vehi­cles and heat pumps grew in pop­u­lar­i­ty last year, adding to the demand for elec­tric­i­ty. Heat pumps effi­cient­ly wring ener­gy out of the air, or more occa­sion­al­ly, the ground, and they pump heat either into or out of a build­ing depend­ing whether they are heat­ing or air con­di­tion­ing. Their sales increased ten per­cent glob­al­ly and near­ly 40 per­cent in Europe last year. Elec­tric vehi­cles sales also grew, now mak­ing up 14 per­cent of all new car sales, and are on track for 18 per­cent of the new car mar­ket this year.

    In many places, elec­tric­i­ty to heat homes and pow­er vehi­cles still relies on fos­sil fuel ener­gy that burns car­bon. But as util­i­ties build out more renew­able ener­gy, emis­sions decline. That same progress is not built into gaso­line-burn­ing cars or homes that burn nat­ur­al gas for cook­ing and heat­ing. They will con­tin­ue to com­bust hydro­car­bons and release car­bon dioxide.

    Some of the recent inter­est in ener­gy effi­cien­cy world­wide has been influ­enced by fears of a glob­al ener­gy short­age caused by Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine.

    Philippe Benoit, a researcher at the Cen­ter on Glob­al Ener­gy Pol­i­cy at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, said that in order to meet cli­mate goals, mon­ey needs to go into bet­ter ener­gy effi­cien­cy even when there is no fear of ener­gy scarcity.

    The great­est inter­est in ener­gy effi­cien­cy is often trig­gered by an ener­gy sup­ply con­cern,” he said. “We need to get to the point where with­out even a poten­tial ener­gy sup­ply cri­sis, that gov­ern­ments, house­holds and busi­ness­es are increas­ing their invest­ment in ener­gy effi­cien­cy. That’s what our cli­mate goal requires.”


    Peter­son report­ed from Den­ver. Cost­ley report­ed from Wash­ing­ton, DC.


    The Asso­ci­at­ed Press receives sup­port from mul­ti­ple foun­da­tion for cov­er­age of cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy. The AP is sole­ly respon­si­ble for all con­tent. For all of AP’s envi­ron­men­tal cov­er­age, vis­it https://​apnews​.com/​h​u​b​/​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​-​a​n​d​-​e​n​v​i​r​o​n​m​ent

    Orig­i­nal arti­cle link:


    Link to the IEA report:


    Link to the paper used for the first fig­ure in the IEA analysis:

    Screenshot 2023-06-07 at 7.53.17 AM

    Amory B. Lovins, Diana Ürge-Vor­satz, Luis Munda­ca, Daniel M Kam­men, and Joa­cob W Glass­man (2019) “Recal­i­brat­ing cli­mate prospects”, Envi­ron­men­tal Research Let­ters, 14 (12).–9326/ab55ab

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