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One way to combat Russia? Move faster on clean energy

Sammy Roth - February 26, 2022 - Los Angeles Times image

The sun sets behind an offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea off the coast of England.
(Paul Ellis / AFP/Getty Images)
Direct link:   When a geopolitical crisis sent gasoline prices skyrocketing four decades ago, President Carter called on Americans to achieve “energy independence” from Middle Eastern oil exporters. He installed solar panels on the White House, donned a cardigan sweater to stay warm and took steps to boost domestic oil production. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has again upended global energy supplies, threatening to raise gas prices that are already higher than ever in California. The U.S. oil industry wants President Biden to ease restrictions on drilling, and Europe has already started importing more fossil fuel from the United States to reduce its dependence on Russian supplies. But doubling down on oil and natural gas isn’t the answer, some security experts say — and neither is energy independence. The war in Europe adds to the urgency of transitioning to clean energy sources such as solar and wind power that are harder for bad actors such as Russia to disrupt, those experts say. The conflict also highlights the importance of the U.S., the European Union and other allies working together to confront the climate crisis while taking global security into account. “There’s been a lot of concern about dependence on Russian [natural] gas, and whether that inhibits countries’ ability to stand up to Russia,” said Erin Sikorsky, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security. “The more that countries can wean themselves off oil and gas and move toward renewables, the more independence they have in terms of action.” It’s also important to remember that climate change poses a major national security threat, with the Defense Department and other federal officials warning last year that worsening climate-fueled hazards are likely to drive a surge in global migration, stoking political instability. That helps explain why the U.S. Army released its first-ever climate strategy this month, setting a goal of slashing its planet-warming emissions in half and powering all bases with climate-friendly electricity by 2030. Sikorsky pointed out that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has called China the “pacing threat” for the U.S., meaning it poses greater systemic challenges than any other nation. The climate emergency, Sikorsky said, is America’s “shaping threat.”
“It is shaping everything in the background now that the United States is dealing with,” she said. Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his attack on Ukraine this week, European nations were making plans to cut their reliance on energy exports from Russia. The country supplies more than one-quarter of Europe’s oil and nearly 40% of its natural gas, a different planet-warming fuel used for heating and electricity generation. But Russian aggression has sped up the E.U.’s plans. European officials are expected to release a strategy next week for reducing the continent’s use of fossil fuels by 40% over eight years, and ramping up non-polluting energy sources. It’s a plan designed to slow the climate crisis, which is wreaking havoc around the world by exacerbating wildfires, floods, droughts and heat waves. But cutting back on fossil fuels would also help to limit Russia’s geopolitical influence.image
Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. (Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)
UC Berkeley energy professor Daniel Kammen — who previously served as science envoy for then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry — lamented that Europe “has clearly needed higher motivations than climate change to cut the Gordian gas knot with Russia.” But if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushes the E.U. to act, he said, it could be a silver lining to an otherwise tragic situation. “For all we talk about how inexpensive renewables are, and how quickly energy storage is coming down in price, that hasn’t been enough when it appears that ‘just’ the climate is at stake,” Kammen said. “Now European sovereignty is at stake.” Still, there’s no guarantee Europe will follow through on its latest climate commitments. Even if the geopolitical crisis underscores the benefits of shifting to renewable energy, it could also distract global leaders from the longer-term climate crisis. And in the meantime, one of Europe’s strategies for dealing with constrained Russian gas supplies and rising prices during the last few months has been importing more liquefied natural gas from the United States. It’s an option made possible by fracking, which opened up “shale plays” in regions such as west Texas and made America the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer. “Putin hates U.S. shale because of the influence it gives the U.S. and the world, and the flexibility it gives us,” said Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian and vice chair of research and consulting firm IHS Markit.
The American Petroleum Institute — a fossil fuel industry trade group known as API — has urged Biden to respond to the Ukraine crisis by allowing more oil and gas drilling on federal lands and approving new facilities to export liquefied natural gas.
Twenty-seven Republican senators made a similar demand in a letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last week, calling U.S gas exports “a dependable source of energy and a reliable alternative to strategic competitors like Russia.” But those steps would carry long-term climate consequences,spewing more heat-trapping pollution into that atmosphere. They’re also unlikely to result in new energy supplies coming online quickly enough to make a meaningful difference in Europe. “API’s answer for all of the world’s problems is to remove constraints on domestic oil and gas production,” said David Victor, an international relations professor at UC San Diego. “It’s just a very well-rehearsed argument.”
Rendering of the proposed liquefied natural gas expansion at the Energia Costa Azul facility near Ensenada, Mexico. The plant is operated by IEnova, a Mexico-based energy company and a subsidiary of San Diego's Sempra Energy.
And if Europe follows through on commitments to ratchet down fossil fuel combustion — perhaps by investing in green hydrogen or long-duration batteries — the U.S. could also reap the benefits, Victor said. That’s because California and other states, like Europe, have a growing need for clean power sources that can keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. European investments to scale up those early-stage technologies could help drive down costs for everyone. “The technologies that are going to be used — whether it’s electrolyzers for hydrogen or fuel cells that use hydrogen for heavy trucks — these are all global,” Victor said. “Those economies [of scale] are just massive. That’s how solar got cheap.”
Westlands Solar Park in California's San Joaquin Valley.
Westlands Solar Park in California’s San Joaquin Valley.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Calls for energy independence, Victor added, “often end up backfiring, because we benefit from a global technology marketplace.” At the same time, bulking up domestic supply chains could help the U.S. shield itself against price swings and geopolitical conflict — particularly when it comes to lithium and other minerals needed for clean energy technologies such as batteries. Just this week, Biden joined with Gov. Gavin Newsom to announce a $35-million contract with a Las Vegas company that operates the nation’s only rare-earth mine in the California desert. Biden and Newsom also discussed federal support for lithium production at the Salton Sea, in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, which has been described as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Boosting domestic production of critical minerals could help combat Russian influence, since Russia is a leading producer of metals including copper and nickel — a reminder that even the clean-energy economy isn’t immune from bad actors. At the same time, the idea of energy independence is “somewhat dangerous, because it offers you a false sense of security,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at the think tank RMI. The reality, she said, is that the U.S. will need to find ways to work with Russia and other nations to slash climate pollution, even as it strives to diversify its own clean energy supplies. “You have to be sensitive to your energy vulnerabilities and have contingency plans in place,” said Ladislaw, who previously led the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


The impetus for buildings to decarbonize and move towards radical energy and water efficiency is increasingly strong and identified as a priority within the green building sector. The tiny house movement offers an opportunity to both address the challenges of affordable housing and contribute to residential building decarbonization. Tiny houses de-emphasize mass consumption and excessive belongings and have potential to address equity issues such as gentrification by providing living spaces to lowincome residents in desirable housing locations. This paper analyzes the Tiny House in My Backyard (THIMBY) project, investigating building sustainability concepts through the design-build-occupy process in a three-year-old structure. THIMBY demonstrates energy and water efficiency technologies inside an award-winning small living space (18.5 m2). THIMBY was designed to reduce energy and water use by 87 and 82% compared to California residential averages. In practice, it has reduced site energy by 88% and has emitted 96% fewer carbon emissions than a 2100 square foot California Energy Commission 2016 Title 24 minimally compliant home. We discuss the differences between design and performance of energy and water systems, which we find offer important lessons for the further expansion of the tiny house movement and other alternative and micro green housing types. We find that optimizing such houses through integration of energy and water saving technologies, home energy management systems, and strong communication between modelers, builders and occupants will be essential to achieving dramatic energy (87%), water (82%), and carbon (96%) savings.

A panel data analysis of policy effectiveness for renewable energy expansion on Caribbean islands

Accelerating the rate of renewable energy deployment in Small Island Developing States is critical to reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports and meet emissions reductions goals. Though many islands have now introduced policy measures to encourage RE development, the existing literature focuses on qualitative recommendations and has not sought to quantitatively evaluate and compare the impacts of policy interventions in the Caribbean. After compiling the first systematic database of RE policies implemented in 31 Caribbean islands from 2000 to 2018, we conduct an econometric analysis of the effectiveness of the following five policy interventions in  promoting the  deployment of  RE: investment incentives, tax  incentives, feed-in tariffs, net- metering and net-billing programs, and regulatory restructuring to allow market entry by independent power producers. Using a fixed effects model to control for unit heterogeneities between islands, we find evidence that net-metering/net-billing programs are strongly and positively correlated with increases in installed capacity of renewable energy - particularly solar PV. These findings suggest that the RE transition in the Caribbean can be advanced through policies targeting the adoption of small-scale, distributed photovoltaics.

Evaluating cross-​​sectoral impacts of climate change and adaptations on the energy-​​water nexus: a framework and California case study

Electricity and water systems are inextricably linked through water demands for energy generation, and through energy demands for using, moving, and treating water and wastewater. Climate change may stress these interdependencies, together referred to as the energy-water nexus, by reducing water availability for hydropower generation and by increasing irrigation and electricity demand for groundwater pumping, among other feedbacks. Further, many climate adaptation measures to augment water supplies—such as water recycling and desalination—are energy-intensive. However, water and electricity system climate vulnerabilities and adaptations are often studied in isolation, without considering how multiple interactive risks may compound. This paper reviews the fragmented literature and develops a generalized framework for understanding these implications of climate change on the energy-water nexus. We apply this framework in a case study to quantify end-century direct climate impacts on California’s water and electricity resources and estimate the magnitude of the indirect cross-sectoral feedback of electricity demand from various water adaptation strategies. Our results show that increased space cooling demand and decreased hydropower generation are the most significant direct climate change impacts on California’s electricity sector by end-century. In California’s water sector, climate change impacts directly on surface water availability exceed demand changes, but have considerable uncertainty, both in direction and magnitude. Additionally, we find that the energy demands of water sector climate adaptations could significantly affect California’s future electricity system needs. If the worst-case water shortage occurs under climate change, water-conserving adaptation measures can provide large energy savings co-benefits, but other energy-intensive water adaptations may double the direct impacts of climate change on the state’s electricity resource requirement. These results highlight the value of coordinated adaptation planning between the energy and water sectors to achieve mutually beneficial solutions for climate resilience. Unknown-1

A community based approach to universal energy access

In this paper we present an alternative approach to addressing the problem of energy poverty. The private and community ownership in electricity factors of production, economic calculation, and the incentive for innovation through the price mechanism are discussed. A brief analysis on how this new approach can be used to address energy access problems in energy poor communities is done. Cases studies of the Nigerian off-grid mini-grid industry and the Ecoblock pilot project in California in the United States are discussed. 

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