News Archive:

The color of energy: The Green New Deal Must Benefit Black And Hispanic Americans

James Ellsmor, Author

Arti­cle appeared in Forbes, Jan­u­ary 28, 2019

Solar power is a quickly grow­ing energy source in the United States, offer­ing impor­tant finan­cial ben­e­fits to house­holds. How­ever, a new study shows that many Amer­i­cans lack access to solar power. The report pub­lished in Nature Sus­tain­abil­ity by researchers from Tufts Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley sug­gests that the rea­sons go beyond mere economics.

The pres­ence of domes­tic solar pan­els has boomed across Amer­ica, but pre­dom­i­nantly in white neigh­bor­hoods, even after con­trol­ling for house­hold incomes and lev­els of home­own­er­ship. The find­ings show that cen­sus areas with over 50% black or His­panic pop­u­la­tions have “sig­nif­i­cantly less” pres­ence of domes­tic solar panel instal­la­tions than other areas. This sug­gests that the solar indus­try is not serv­ing all Amer­i­cans equally.

The find­ings of the study demon­strate a sig­nif­i­cant racial disparity:

Solar Access As A Civil Right

Dis­trib­uted solar refers to rooftop instal­la­tions of pho­to­voltaic (PV) pan­els, as opposed to large, cen­tral­ized solar power sta­tions. These instal­la­tions offer a num­ber of soci­etal ben­e­fits; reduc­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions and allow­ing indi­vid­u­als to gen­er­ate their own power. With the addi­tion of bat­tery stor­age, these sys­tems can also allow homes to retain power in the

Rooftop solar ben­e­fits the owner of the roof through a lower energy bill. While there are upfront instal­la­tion costs, PV equip­ment typ­i­cally pays for itself quickly, espe­cially in those states with good financ­ing options and where home­own­ers can sell excess elec­tric­ity back to the grid.

The cost of instal­la­tion is pro­hib­i­tive for many home­own­ers, and own­ers of rental prop­er­ties tend not to invest in PV because they may be unable to real­ize any finan­cial ben­e­fit (it’s the renters who would get a lower elec­tric bill). Many places, includ­ing parts of the US, have pro­grams aimed at low­er­ing the finan­cial bar­ri­ers to dis­trib­uted solar. But what if there are other barriers?

Finan­cial aid pro­grams alone won’t help if money isn’t the only prob­lem. The costs of cli­mate change already weigh heav­ier on dis­en­fran­chised groups. If the ben­e­fits of PV own­er­ship are also less avail­able to peo­ple of color, then that only com­pounds the injustice.

Lead author of the paper, and Tufts Uni­ver­sity Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neer­ing Deb­o­rah Sunter, who recently attended the COP24 cli­mate sum­mit in Poland, com­mented that, “Solar power is crit­i­cal to meet­ing the cli­mate goals pre­sented by the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, but we can and need to deploy solar so that it ben­e­fits all peo­ple, regard­less of race and ethnicity.”

The researchers set out to dis­cover whether mem­bers of racial and eth­nic minori­ties expe­ri­ence bar­ri­ers to PV own­er­ship other than price. They used cen­sus data to iden­tify the racial make-​​up up of indi­vid­ual cen­sus tracts, and com­bined those data with high-​​resolution maps to deter­mine which tracts had more rooftop solar.

The researchers con­trolled for vari­a­tions in solar inten­sity, finan­cial incen­tives, and other fac­tors that could influ­ence PV instal­la­tion besides race, such as house­hold income and home own­er­ship. What came of the analy­sis was a clear con­nec­tion between race and eth­nic­ity on the one hand and PV adop­tion on the other. Cen­sus tracts with a black or Latino major­ity con­sis­tently have less PV than oth­er­wise sim­i­lar tracts with no clear major­ity. And majority-​​white tracts had more PV than those with­out a major­ity. In majority-​​Asian tracts, the dis­par­ity was less appar­ent, but still present.

So, the big ques­tion becomes “why?”

The Color Of Energy

The study did not address how race and eth­nic­ity influ­ence PV adop­tion, and its authors can pro­vide no defin­i­tive expla­na­tion — but they do offer sev­eral possibilities.

In gen­eral, “seed­ing” speeds PV adop­tion: if one per­son gets rooftop solar, other peo­ple in the same neigh­bor­hood are likely to fol­low suit. The authors note that many more tracts with a non-​​white major­ity lacked even one house with solar, sug­gest­ing that part of the prob­lem is that seed­ing isn’t hap­pen­ing. A small dif­fer­ence in the like­li­hood of some­one get­ting that first rooftop panel may trans­late in a huge dif­fer­ence in the total num­ber of pan­els installed. This is cor­rob­o­rated by a pre­vi­ous study by Yale Uni­ver­sity, that found the most impor­tant fac­tor influ­enc­ing solar adop­tion was instal­la­tions on neigh­bor­ing households.

The authors also note that peo­ple of color are not well-​​represented in the solar indus­try, espe­cially at the man­age­ment level . Per­haps that lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion leads to poorer ser­vice to black or Latino neigh­bor­hoods — in a 2016 sur­vey just 6.6% of solar indus­try work­ers were found to be African-​​American.

Dan Kammen

Clos­ing The Gap

One of the study’s authors, Berkeley’s Dr. Dan Kam­men, states that he finds the results “depress­ing”, but also “a clear sign that we can do things dif­fer­ently and more equi­tably.” He con­sid­ers it likely that the prob­lem is “an effect of more solar installers and more seed pro­grams in more advan­taged areas,” and sug­gests solar edu­ca­tion and financ­ing tar­geted specif­i­cally to low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple of color as part of the Green New Deal.

Kam­men con­tin­ues to say that seed­ing “could be reversed by tar­get­ing solar and other tech­nol­ogy edu­ca­tion and sales pro­grams in ways that work for low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties. Solar is an up-​​front cost, so we need efforts like the Green New Deal to make solar edu­ca­tion and financ­ing avail­able, such as is done by groups like Grid Alter­na­tives that train, work to finance, and to inte­grate solar and energy effi­ciency to make it a least cost, most secure energy option for dis­ad­van­taged communities.”

Dr Kam­men was pre­vi­ously appointed Sci­ence Envoy by the US State Depart­ment and made head­lines when his let­ter of res­ig­na­tion went viral in August 2017 cit­ing his con­cerns around the Pres­i­dent Trump’s fail­ure to denounce white suprema­cists and neo-​​nazis. He remains an out­spo­ken cham­pion of sus­tain­able energy pro­duc­tion and envi­ron­men­tal justice.

The authors of the study empha­size that the racial gap in solar adop­tion is a form of injus­tice since it denies many peo­ple real finan­cial ben­e­fits. They also sug­gest that, with­out inter­ven­tion, the gap is likely to grow. Aware­ness of the racial and eth­nic dimen­sion of the inequal­ity of access is the first step and should direct edu­ca­tion and financ­ing pro­grams that can address the dis­par­ity and bring dis­trib­uted solar to all.

New article on the racial disparities in installed rooftop solar in the US .

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 9.02.49 PM

Not every­one is ben­e­fit­ing equally from the avail­abil­ity of new solar energy tech­nolo­gies, a new study by researchers at UC Berke­ley and Tufts Uni­ver­sity shows.

To access and down­load the paper, click here.

By com­bin­ing remote sens­ing data from Google’s Project Sun­roof with cen­sus tract infor­ma­tion, the researchers dis­cov­ered sig­nif­i­cant racial dis­par­i­ties in the adop­tion of rooftop solar photovoltaics.

Our work illus­trates that while solar can be a pow­er­ful tool for cli­mate pro­tec­tion and social equity, biases and bar­ri­ers to access can dra­mat­i­cally weaken the social ben­e­fit,” said Daniel Kam­men, pro­fes­sor and chair of energy in the Energy and Resources Group and, pro­fes­sor in the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy and direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Laboratory.

For house­holds with the same median house­hold income, black– and Hispanic-​​majority cen­sus tracts had fewer rooftop solar pho­to­voltaics installed com­pared with those areas with no major­ity eth­nic group, by 69 and 30 per­cent, respec­tively. White-​​majority cen­sus tracts had installed 21 per­cent more.

When cor­rect­ing for home own­er­ship, black– and Hispanic-​​majority cen­sus tracts had fewer rooftop pho­to­voltaics installed by 61 and 45 per­cent, respec­tively, com­pared with no-​​majority tracts, while white-​​majority cen­sus tracts had installed 37 per­cent more.

The Green New Deal and other envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice efforts can use our find­ings to build a bet­ter and more inclu­sive energy tran­si­tion,” said Kam­men, who is also a fel­low of the Berke­ley Insti­tute for Data Sci­ence and is a for­mer Sci­ence Envoy for the U.S. State Department.

Advances in remote sens­ing and in ‘big data’ sci­ence mean that we are now able to take a unique look at not just where solar is deployed, but to com­bine that with cen­sus and demo­graphic data to chart also who gets to ben­e­fit from the solar energy rev­o­lu­tion, and there­fore think deeper about the effec­tive­ness of cur­rent poli­cies and approaches to accel­er­ate solar pho­to­voltaic deploy­ment,” said Ser­gio Castel­lanos, a post­doc­toral scholar in the Energy and Resources Group and research fac­ulty in the Cen­ter for Energy and the Envi­ron­ment.  The lead author for the paper is Deb­o­rah Sunter, for­mer RAEL post­doc­toral fel­low and now Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Mechan­i­cal Engi­neer­ing at Tufts Uni­ver­sity.

The find­ings were pub­lished Jan. 10 in the jour­nal Nature Sus­tain­abil­ity. Kammen’s Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory is on the web at rael​.berke​ley​.edu, where the data for the study can be found.

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Feb­ru­ary 11, 2019: For cov­er­age in The Atlantic & The Pacific Stan­dard, click here.

Jan­u­ary 28: For cov­er­age in Forbesclick here.

Jan­u­ary 14: For cov­er­age in Green­tech­me­diaclick here.

Jan­u­ary 11: For cov­er­age in Sci­encedailyclick here.

Jan­u­ary 11: For cov­er­age in Solar Power Worldclick here.

Jan­u­ary 10: For the Col­lege of Nat­ural Resources story, click here.

 

IMG_1654

Fig­ure: Grid Alter­na­tives solar instal­la­tion in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, with Sen­a­tor Kevin de Leon and Daniel Kammen

 

Screen Shot 2019-01-16 at 10.26.23 AM

 

 

Commentary on National Public Radio about the COP24 Climate Convention

Decem­ber 16, 2018:

Coun­tries Adopt ‘Play­book’ To Imple­ment Paris Cli­mate Agreement

Decem­ber 9, 2018:

For­mer U.S. Sci­ence Envoy: The Tone Of Cli­mate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

Text: Both interviews:

 

Decem­ber 16, 2018 — MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We’d like to go back now to that big United Nations cli­mate con­fer­ence that just wrapped up in Poland. Yes­ter­day, del­e­gates from around the world struck a deal on how coun­tries should imple­ment the land­mark 2015 Paris Agree­ment. We wanted to learn more about the deal, so we’ve called Daniel Kam­men once again. He’s a for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment, and he was part of the United Nations team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their work on cli­mate sci­ence. He’s now a fac­ulty mem­ber at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for join­ing us once again.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, thank you for hav­ing me on.

MARTIN: First, would you explain what hap­pened last night? What was this deal?

KAMMEN: Well, the deal actu­ally was almost two days after the end of the con­fer­ence, so there was a lot of drama to get there. But what was agreed to in the end is called the play­book. And that basi­cally means the rules of report­ing for car­bon emis­sions were clar­i­fied, and that’s much more impor­tant than it sounds. It’s not just basic bookkeeping.

The idea is that if you build a new wind farm or you replace a coal plant with solar or you pre­serve a for­est or a wet­lands, what’s the pro­to­col? And what’s the method to fig­ure out what was the green­house gas impact of that? And, with­out such a clear play­book, every coun­try can set their own def­i­n­i­tions of the direct emis­sions and what we call the life cycle, the cradle-​​to-​​grave emis­sions of mak­ing a solar panel or build­ing a home.

And so these rules are crit­i­cally impor­tant. It allows the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to look quite clearly at what each coun­try is doing. That said, get­ting to these agree­ments in the play­book had to hap­pen, and it did.

MARTIN: So I think a lot of peo­ple will remem­ber that, last year, Pres­i­dent Trump promised to with­draw from the Paris Agree­ment. So where does the U.S. stand now? Does the U.S. posi­tion affect the agree­ment on the whole?

KAMMEN: So, sadly, it does affect things. When Pres­i­dent Trump said the U.S. is going to leave the Paris cli­mate accord, there was sort of great con­ster­na­tion because this is a major player step­ping out. But it also said, in the rules, that you can’t fully step out until 2020, until — and so, sadly, what hap­pened on the eve of this con­fer­ence, start­ing two weeks ago, was that the U.S. orches­trated a num­ber of fos­sil fuel-​​producing coun­tries to basi­cally block the smooth flow of science.

And so this con­fer­ence began with a cri­sis, where the U.S.-led naysay­ers, the cli­mate deniers essen­tially launched the meet­ing by say­ing they were not going to wel­come the lat­est inter­na­tional sci­ence, and that really put things on a very sour note to start. I’m glad, how­ever, in the end that smarter, more intel­li­gent, more adult voices ruled the day and that the COP24 meet­ing did pass the playbook.

MARTIN: Finally, do you have a take­away from this meet­ing? What should we — those of us who aren’t cli­mate sci­en­tists but who obvi­ously are very con­cerned about, you know, the state of the atmos­phere and all these other issues. What should peo­ple draw from this meeting?

KAMMEN: I think there’s two things. One is that the play­book was accepted. And so the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity — with­out the United States, the only coun­try not part of the Paris accord — is going for­ward on tran­si­tion­ing the econ­omy. It would be much eas­ier if the U.S. was a pro­duc­tive participant.

And we heard an incred­i­bly elo­quent set of voices really high­lighted by a 15-​​year-​​old Swedish girl, Greta Thun­berg, who’s made speech after speech, basi­cally, not just say­ing we want adults to act but much more like state­ments that ended with you, the adults, have ignored us in the past, and you’ll ignores in the future and that you, the adults who are not act­ing on this known sci­ence, are steal­ing our future. And so this voice — not just a protest by youth but of real anger that, when we have a clear thing to do, that a few voices ignor­ing the sci­ence is slow­ing down the process.

MARTIN: That was Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s now a fac­ulty mem­ber at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for talk­ing to us once again.

KAMMEN: Well, thank you.

 

Decem­ber 9, 2018 — MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we’d like to hear about that major U.N. con­ven­tion on cli­mate change. Ambas­sadors and sci­en­tists from around the world have been meet­ing in Poland for this. It’s being called the most impor­tant gath­er­ing on cli­mate change since the Paris Agree­ment was signed almost three years ago. Now, the pur­pose of this con­fer­ence is for coun­tries to take stock of how well they’re doing since that agree­ment was signed. Daniel Kam­men is a for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment, and he has attended many such gath­er­ings, called COP, or Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties. And he’s with us now. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for talk­ing with us.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Oh, thanks for hav­ing me on.

MARTIN: What is your sense of how this con­fer­ence is going so far?

KAMMEN: Well, not good. Unfor­tu­nately, because the U.S. backed out, that’s left a num­ber of holes. Essen­tially, the Paris con­fer­ence was such a suc­cess because coun­tries have been ramp­ing up clean energy and becom­ing less expen­sive. But the U.S. and China, the two big hold­outs, took major lead­er­ship posi­tions in 2014, with Pres­i­dent Obama and Pres­i­dent Xi com­mit­ting to very strong clean-​​energy strate­gies. And, of course, Pres­i­dent Trump has now stepped out of that. And that’s left a big financ­ing void of at least 20 bil­lion a year against the com­mit­ted or pledged totals. And we are see­ing that only very few coun­tries are actu­ally on tar­get to deliver on what they promised in Paris.

MARTIN: You know, I was going to ask you about that. So, really, there are two issues there because there’s been a lot of report­ing in recent weeks, includ­ing from the United States, from fed­eral agen­cies in the U.S., that says that, despite these agree­ments, coun­tries on the whole are still falling short of what is actu­ally needed to mit­i­gate the very dan­ger­ous effects of cli­mate change. So the ques­tion here is — if the tar­gets were ambi­tious enough to begin with and if nations have kept up with the tar­gets that were set, what’s your take on it?

KAMMEN: Right. Well, the tar­gets that were set in Paris were def­i­nitely ambi­tious enough. They set a goal of not hav­ing the global tem­per­a­ture rise more than 2 degrees Cel­sius. And there’s been this more — most recent report this fall that called for our tar­get to become 1.5 degrees Cel­sius. But what’s hap­pened, instead, is that we’ve seen that emis­sions have risen for 2017 and 2018 after sev­eral years of emis­sions being flat or going down very slightly. And what has been left in the void of the U.S. step­ping out of this process is that a num­ber of indus­try groups that would’ve prob­a­bly been onboard and mak­ing progress have really taken this as a chance to back off.

And so we’re left with a very small set, actu­ally, today. Morocco and The Gam­bia are the two coun­tries that have kept up with their pledges. All of the Euro­pean Union are in a hold­ing pat­tern. The United States is in the group of coun­tries that — whose emis­sions are going the wrong direc­tion. And so lack of U.S. lead­er­ship has really hurt a process that needs to be thought of as a long-​​term change in the econ­omy. As I like to say, it’s much more of a marathon than a sprint, but that means you need to keep run­ning each mile.

MARTIN: You men­tioned emis­sions in the U.S. The pres­i­dent tweeted — the U.S. pres­i­dent tweeted this week­end, say­ing, quote, “very sad day and night in Paris. Maybe” — well, he’s speak­ing, of course, about the demon­stra­tions there, but — “maybe it’s time to end the ridicu­lous and extremely expen­sive Paris agree­ment and return money back to the peo­ple in the form of lower taxes. The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major coun­try where emis­sions went down last year,” unquote. Is that true?

KAMMEN: No. Unfor­tu­nately, he’s just fac­tu­ally inac­cu­rate on mul­ti­ple counts. What we’ve found is that invest­ing in cleaner-​​energy econ­omy has actu­ally been good for busi­ness. Solar and wind have become some of the cheap­est forms of energy, and they pro­duce far more jobs than fos­sil fuels. And, in fact, U.S. emis­sions didn’t go down.

What’s really sad to see is that the U.S. was in a busi­ness lead­er­ship posi­tion after Paris, where U.S. solar and wind com­pa­nies, energy stor­age com­pa­nies, energy effi­ciency com­pa­nies were find­ing really valu­able over­seas mar­kets because of this over­all push to a cleaner econ­omy. And Pres­i­dent Trump, by step­ping away from that, has taken the impe­tus away from many com­pa­nies that could’ve got into this game, iron­i­cally, leav­ing more and more busi­ness for those play­ers who are still in, mainly, the Euro­pean Union and China.

MARTIN: So, finally, I know that you aren’t there. You gen­er­ally would go to this, but there are sched­ul­ing con­flicts, you weren’t able to. But you are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple who are there. Do you have a sense of what — of the tone at the con­fer­ence? Is there any sense of opti­mism? Is there any sense of, you know, the oppo­site? Is there any gen­eral feel­ing that you can deter­mine about how we are doing on this?

KAMMEN: Well, iron­i­cally, I’m not there because the Camp Fire in Cal­i­for­nia closed uni­ver­si­ties here. And so we have a climate-​​related rea­son not to be at the cli­mate con­fer­ence. The tone of the con­fer­ence is quite grim, and it’s for sev­eral rea­sons. One is that the recent report, such as the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change’s report, say­ing we really need to reduce the 2-​​degree goal that was set in Paris to have our warm­ing of less than 1.5 degrees Cel­sius, mak­ing the job tougher — that would be pos­si­ble because of the impres­sive per­for­mance gains we’re see­ing from solar power, from wind power and from some projects try­ing to pre­serve forests around the planet. But, with the U.S. step­ping away, leav­ing at least a $20-​​billion-​​a-​​year gap in the fund­ing needed to part­ner with poorer coun­tries and the fac­tu­ally incor­rect state­ments Pres­i­dent Trump has been mak­ing about cli­mate change — we have very clear agree­ment that humans are caus­ing the cli­mate change.

We’ve seen that in inter­na­tional reports. We’ve seen that in the U.S. National Cli­mate Assess­ment. And we see that invest­ing in clean energy actu­ally is a very sig­nif­i­cant job pro­ducer. So this is the right time to really take heed of this cli­mate report. But U.S. fed­eral action is not only lack­ing but the U.S. has, of course, left the Paris Accord, entirely.

MARTIN: That’s Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s now pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thanks so much for talk­ing with us.

Tran­script pro­vided by NPR, Copy­right NPR.

 

National Public Radio: Former U.S. Science Envoy: The Tone Of Climate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

For the audio of the story, click here.

For­mer U.S. Sci­ence Envoy: The Tone Of Cli­mate Talks Is Now ‘Quite Grim’

NPR’s Michel Mar­tin talks with Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy to the State Depart­ment, about the U.N. cli­mate talks being held in Poland.

Tran­script

COP24 March For Climate In Katowice

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we’d like to hear about that major U.N. con­ven­tion on cli­mate change. Ambas­sadors and sci­en­tists from around the world have been meet­ing in Poland for this. It’s being called the most impor­tant gath­er­ing on cli­mate change since the Paris Agree­ment was signed almost three years ago. Now, the pur­pose of this con­fer­ence is for coun­tries to take stock of how well they’re doing since that agree­ment was signed. Daniel Kam­men is a for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment, and he has attended many such gath­er­ings, called COP, or Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties. And he’s with us now. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thank you so much for talk­ing with us.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Oh, thanks for hav­ing me on.

MARTIN: What is your sense of how this con­fer­ence is going so far?

KAMMEN: Well, not good. Unfor­tu­nately, because the U.S. backed out, that’s left a num­ber of holes. Essen­tially, the Paris con­fer­ence was such a suc­cess because coun­tries have been ramp­ing up clean energy and becom­ing less expen­sive. But the U.S. and China, the two big hold­outs, took major lead­er­ship posi­tions in 2014, with Pres­i­dent Obama and Pres­i­dent Xi com­mit­ting to very strong clean-​​energy strate­gies. And, of course, Pres­i­dent Trump has now stepped out of that. And that’s left a big financ­ing void of at least 20 bil­lion a year against the com­mit­ted or pledged totals. And we are see­ing that only very few coun­tries are actu­ally on tar­get to deliver on what they promised in Paris.

MARTIN: You know, I was going to ask you about that. So, really, there are two issues there because there’s been a lot of report­ing in recent weeks, includ­ing from the United States, from fed­eral agen­cies in the U.S., that says that, despite these agree­ments, coun­tries on the whole are still falling short of what is actu­ally needed to mit­i­gate the very dan­ger­ous effects of cli­mate change. So the ques­tion here is — if the tar­gets were ambi­tious enough to begin with and if nations have kept up with the tar­gets that were set, what’s your take on it?

KAMMEN: Right. Well, the tar­gets that were set in Paris were def­i­nitely ambi­tious enough. They set a goal of not hav­ing the global tem­per­a­ture rise more than 2 degrees Cel­sius. And there’s been this more — most recent report this fall that called for our tar­get to become 1.5 degrees Cel­sius. But what’s hap­pened, instead, is that we’ve seen that emis­sions have risen for 2017 and 2018 after sev­eral years of emis­sions being flat or going down very slightly. And what has been left in the void of the U.S. step­ping out of this process is that a num­ber of indus­try groups that would’ve prob­a­bly been onboard and mak­ing progress have really taken this as a chance to back off.

And so we’re left with a very small set, actu­ally, today. Morocco and The Gam­bia are the two coun­tries that have kept up with their pledges. All of the Euro­pean Union are in a hold­ing pat­tern. The United States is in the group of coun­tries that — whose emis­sions are going the wrong direc­tion. And so lack of U.S. lead­er­ship has really hurt a process that needs to be thought of as a long-​​term change in the econ­omy. As I like to say, it’s much more of a marathon than a sprint, but that means you need to keep run­ning each mile.

MARTIN: You men­tioned emis­sions in the U.S. The pres­i­dent tweeted — the U.S. pres­i­dent tweeted this week­end, say­ing, quote, “very sad day and night in Paris. Maybe” — well, he’s speak­ing, of course, about the demon­stra­tions there, but — “maybe it’s time to end the ridicu­lous and extremely expen­sive Paris agree­ment and return money back to the peo­ple in the form of lower taxes. The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major coun­try where emis­sions went down last year,” unquote. Is that true?

KAMMEN: No. Unfor­tu­nately, he’s just fac­tu­ally inac­cu­rate on mul­ti­ple counts. What we’ve found is that invest­ing in cleaner-​​energy econ­omy has actu­ally been good for busi­ness. Solar and wind have become some of the cheap­est forms of energy, and they pro­duce far more jobs than fos­sil fuels. And, in fact, U.S. emis­sions didn’t go down.

What’s really sad to see is that the U.S. was in a busi­ness lead­er­ship posi­tion after Paris, where U.S. solar and wind com­pa­nies, energy stor­age com­pa­nies, energy effi­ciency com­pa­nies were find­ing really valu­able over­seas mar­kets because of this over­all push to a cleaner econ­omy. And Pres­i­dent Trump, by step­ping away from that, has taken the impe­tus away from many com­pa­nies that could’ve got into this game, iron­i­cally, leav­ing more and more busi­ness for those play­ers who are still in, mainly, the Euro­pean Union and China.

MARTIN: So, finally, I know that you aren’t there. You gen­er­ally would go to this, but there are sched­ul­ing con­flicts, you weren’t able to. But you are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple who are there. Do you have a sense of what — of the tone at the con­fer­ence? Is there any sense of opti­mism? Is there any sense of, you know, the oppo­site? Is there any gen­eral feel­ing that you can deter­mine about how we are doing on this?

KAMMEN: Well, iron­i­cally, I’m not there because the Camp Fire in Cal­i­for­nia closed uni­ver­si­ties here. And so we have a climate-​​related rea­son not to be at the cli­mate con­fer­ence. The tone of the con­fer­ence is quite grim, and it’s for sev­eral rea­sons. One is that the recent report, such as the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change’s report, say­ing we really need to reduce the 2-​​degree goal that was set in Paris to have our warm­ing of less than 1.5 degrees Cel­sius, mak­ing the job tougher — that would be pos­si­ble because of the impres­sive per­for­mance gains we’re see­ing from solar power, from wind power and from some projects try­ing to pre­serve forests around the planet. But, with the U.S. step­ping away, leav­ing at least a $20-​​billion-​​a-​​year gap in the fund­ing needed to part­ner with poorer coun­tries and the fac­tu­ally incor­rect state­ments Pres­i­dent Trump has been mak­ing about cli­mate change — we have very clear agree­ment that humans are caus­ing the cli­mate change.

We’ve seen that in inter­na­tional reports. We’ve seen that in the U.S. National Cli­mate Assess­ment. And we see that invest­ing in clean energy actu­ally is a very sig­nif­i­cant job pro­ducer. So this is the right time to really take heed of this cli­mate report. But U.S. fed­eral action is not only lack­ing but the U.S. has, of course, left the Paris Accord, entirely.

MARTIN: That’s Daniel Kam­men, for­mer sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. He’s now pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. Pro­fes­sor Kam­men, thanks so much for talk­ing with us.

Tran­script pro­vided by NPR, Copy­right NPR.

Foreign Policy editorial: The Beautiful Rivers — And the Dammed

To access the arti­cle, click here.

The Beau­ti­ful Rivers—And the Dammed

Advances in solar and wind power mean that hydropower is no longer the only renew­able game in town—and that’s good news for the world’s rivers.

BY JEFF OPPERMANCHRIS WEBERDANIEL KAMMEN

NOVEMBER 23, 2018, 9:05 AM

For­eign Pol­icy - https://​for​eign​pol​icy​.com/​2​0​1​8​/​1​1​/​2​3​/​t​h​e​-​b​e​a​u​t​i​f​u​l​-​r​i​v​e​r​s​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​d​a​m​m​ed/

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 10.33.05 PM

Fig­ure: Water is released from the flood­gates of the Xiaolangdi dam on the Yel­low River near Luoyang, China on June 29, 2016. (STR/​AFP/​Getty Images)

In Octo­ber, the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change released a report out­lin­ing strate­gies the world can pur­sue to keep global warm­ing below 1.5 degrees Cel­sius and main­tain healthy economies and ecosys­tems. But unless we are smart about how we imple­ment that blue­print, it could cause irrepara­ble dam­age to the world’s great rivers.

The panel’s report urges a rapid tran­si­tion to low-​​carbon, renew­able sources of elec­tric­ity. That call to action could trig­ger expanded invest­ment in hydropower, which is cur­rently the world’s main source for that kind of energy (70 per­cent as of 2017). But if that devel­op­ment fol­lows the pat­tern of ear­lier dam-​​building, it could accel­er­ate an alarm­ing loss of rivers and their resources, includ­ing of the fish that feed hun­dreds of mil­lions of people.

The case of the Mekong River puts the prob­lem into sharp relief. The river is the world’s most pro­duc­tive fresh­wa­ter fishery—it pro­vides nearly 20 per­cent of the annual global fresh­wa­ter fish har­vest, the pri­mary source of pro­tein for tens of mil­lions of peo­ple in the region. Already, sev­eral hydropower dams on the Mekong are under con­struc­tion or are mov­ing through the plan­ning process. Sci­en­tists esti­mate that those dams, if com­pleted, will cut the river’s annual har­vest by half.

With the Mekong Delta’s sand sup­ply cut off, sci­en­tists project that it will sink and shrink, with more than half under­wa­ter by the end of the century.

The dams are also pro­jected to trap within their reser­voirs more than 90 per­cent of the sand that would oth­er­wise flow into the Mekong Delta, which is home to 17 mil­lion peo­ple and pro­duces 90 per­cent of Vietnam’s rice exports. With its sand sup­ply cut off, sci­en­tists project that the delta will sink and shrink, with more than half under­wa­ter by the end of the century.

It is easy to hear such sto­ries and con­clude that the world faces an ago­niz­ing dilemma: Must we sac­ri­fice our rivers to save our cli­mate? Even just a few years ago, that trade-​​off seemed unavoid­able. With wind and solar power lim­ited by their expense and vari­abil­ity, global hydropower was pro­jected to nearly dou­ble by 2050. Mas­sive dams were under con­struc­tion or planned for many of the world’s great rivers, includ­ing the Yangtze, Mekong, and most trib­u­taries of the Ama­zon. Some gov­ern­ments used cli­mate and renew­able energy objec­tives to jus­tify these projects, even as sci­en­tists quan­ti­fied their impacts and affected com­mu­ni­ties and indige­nous groups protested.

But we do not need to sac­ri­fice rivers for zero-​​carbon energy. In the last two years, solar energy has rapidly become more eco­nom­i­cally viable due to tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ments and to economies of scale in pro­duc­tion and deploy­ment. Whereas solar energy used to cost 20 cents or more per kilowatt-​​hour, new projects in Chile, Mex­ico, and Saudi Ara­bia have come in at one-​​tenth that cost. Wind energy costs have like­wise plum­meted. In 2017, a win­ning bid for a new wind farm in Mex­ico fea­tured costs of around 2 cents per kWh. That was half the pre­vi­ous year’s low­est bid there. This makes solar and wind the price lead­ers across much of the world.

Even with falling costs, the vari­abil­ity of wind and solar power remain a chal­lenge. Sim­ply put, in order for these tech­nolo­gies to offer reli­able, round-​​the-​​clock elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, there needs to be a way to store power when the wind is blow­ing and the sun is shin­ing and then deploy it when the wind dies down or the sun sets.

For­tu­nately, the costs for stor­age tech­nolo­gies are plum­met­ing as well, with the cost of lithium ion bat­ter­ies, capa­ble of grid-​​scale stor­age, drop­ping by about 90 per­cent over the past few years. New tech­nolo­gies are emerg­ing as well. For exam­ple, a Chilean solar power plant that uses molten salt as stor­age recently offered to pro­vide 24-​​hour base­load elec­tric­ity at less than 5 cents per kWh. That is com­pa­ra­ble to or cheaper than most hydropower and fos­sil fuel options. Tesla and Google X, mean­while, are pur­su­ing “moon­shot” solu­tions for stor­age technologies.

Also tip­ping the scales toward wind and solar is that, among large infra­struc­ture projects, hydropower dams have among the worst per­for­mance in terms of delays and cost over­runs, in part due to the con­flict and con­tro­versy sur­round­ing them. Whereas some dams take a decade to com­plete, wind and solar power can be deliv­ered through rapid, smaller-​​scale, and lower-​​risk projects that tend to engen­der far less conflict.

Gov­ern­ments are tak­ing note. Thai­land ear­lier this year sig­naled that it would delay sign­ing a power pur­chase agree­ment for Pak Beng, a 912-​​megawatt hydropower dam that Laos is plan­ning for the Mekong. In announc­ing the delay, the coun­try stated that it needed to revisit its energy strat­egy since other renew­able sources, includ­ing wind and solar, were becom­ing increas­ingly viable. Thai­land was slated to buy 90 per­cent of the dam’s elec­tric­ity, so its change of plans could spell the end of the project. In Guyana, mean­while, ris­ing cost esti­mates and delays for the Amaila Falls hydropower project led the gov­ern­ment and financiers to trans­fer fund­ing intended for the dam toward a 100-​​megawatt solar project.

The rapidly evolv­ing renew­able energy land­scape doesn’t mean an end to hydropower, but rather a shift in its role. Hydropower reser­voirs are cur­rently the dom­i­nant form of energy stor­age for grids, and although other forms of stor­age are improv­ing, they will con­tinue to pro­vide crit­i­cal stor­age ser­vices in the near future. Upgraded older dams and strate­gi­cally planned new projects, care­fully located to min­i­mize envi­ron­men­tal and social dis­rup­tion, can empha­size energy stor­age to facil­i­tate adding large incre­ments of wind and solar into a grid.

Although it is now pos­si­ble to build afford­able, low-​​carbon wind and solar sys­tems, they still face con­straints, includ­ing polit­i­cal and social pref­er­ences for large infra­struc­ture projects. Pak Beng may have been paused, but other dam projects on the Mekong and on other key rivers are mov­ing forward.

It would be a great tragedy if the renew­able rev­o­lu­tion arrived just a few years too late to save the world’s great rivers. Mar­ket reforms and new finan­cial mech­a­nisms can accel­er­ate the adop­tion of more sus­tain­able energy sys­tems, as can inno­v­a­tive sci­ence. For exam­ple, the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley recently devel­oped and is using an energy plan­ning model for Laos. The lab found that invest­ments in solar pan­els (backed up by exist­ing hydropower) could meet that nation’s objec­tives for sell­ing elec­tric­ity to neighbors—with greater returns and lower risks than the planned dams that threaten the Mekong’s fish har­vests and the via­bil­ity of its delta.

There’s no need to con­tinue accept­ing tragic trade-​​offs between healthy rivers and low-​​cost, reli­able, and renew­able elec­tric­ity. The renew­able rev­o­lu­tion pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to have both. Gov­ern­ments, fun­ders, devel­op­ers, and sci­en­tists should seize it.

Jeff Opper­man is the World Wildlife Fund’s global lead sci­en­tist for fresh­wa­ter. Twit­ter: @jjopperman

Chris Weber is the World Wildlife Fund’s global lead sci­en­tist for cli­mate and energy.

Daniel Kam­men is a pro­fes­sor in and the chair of the Energy and Resources Group and a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. He has been a coor­di­nat­ing lead author for the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change and a sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen

For­eign Pol­icy - https://​for​eign​pol​icy​.com/​2​0​1​8​/​1​1​/​2​3​/​t​h​e​-​b​e​a​u​t​i​f​u​l​-​r​i​v​e​r​s​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​d​a​m​m​ed/

 

 

RAEL contributes to Chapter 3: Energy systems. In State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report for the United States

To access the Energy Sec­tor chap­ter, click here.

KEY FINDINGS

  1. In 2013, pri­mary energy use in North Amer­ica exceeded 125 exajoules,1 of which Canada was respon– sible for 11.9%, Mex­ico 6.5%, and the United States 81.6%. Of total pri­mary energy sources, approxi– mately 81% was from fos­sil fuels, which con­tributed to car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent (CO2e)2 emis­sions lev– els, exceed­ing 1.76 peta­grams of car­bon, or about 20% of the global total for energy-​​related activ­i­ties. Of these emis­sions, coal accounted for 28%, oil 44%, and nat­ural gas 28% (very high con­fi­dence, likely).
  2. North Amer­i­can energy-​​related CO2e emis­sions have declined at an aver­age rate of about 1% per year, or about 19.4 ter­a­grams CO2e, from 2003 to 2014 (very high confidence).
  3. The shifts in North Amer­i­can energy use and CO2e emis­sions have been dri­ven by fac­tors such
    as 1) lower energy use, ini­tially as a response to the global finan­cial cri­sis of 2007 to 2008 (high con­fi­dence, very likely); but increas­ingly due to 2) greater energy effi­ciency, which has reduced
    the regional energy inten­sity of eco­nomic pro­duc­tion by about 1.5% annu­ally from 2004 to 2013, enabling eco­nomic growth while low­er­ing energy CO2e emis­sions. Energy inten­sity has fallen annu– ally by 1.6% in the United States and 1.5% in Canada (very high con­fi­dence, very likely). Fur­ther fac­tors dri­ving lower car­bon inten­si­ties include 3) increased renew­able energy pro­duc­tion (up 220 peta– joules annu­ally from 2004 to 2013, trans­lat­ing to an 11% annual aver­age increase in renew­ables) (high con­fi­dence, very likely); 4) a shift to nat­ural gas from coal sources for indus­trial and elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion (high con­fi­dence, likely); and 5) a wide range of new tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing, for exam­ple, alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cles (high con­fi­dence, likely).
  4. A wide range of plau­si­ble futures exists for the North Amer­i­can energy sys­tem in regard to car­bon emis­sions. Fore­casts to 2040, based on cur­rent poli­cies and tech­nolo­gies, sug­gest a range of car­bon emis­sions lev­els from an increase of over 10% to a decrease of over 14% (from 2015 car­bon emis­sions lev­els). Exploratory and back­cast­ing approaches sug­gest that the North Amer­i­can energy sys­tem emis­sions will not decrease by more than 13% (com­pared with 2015 lev­els) with­out both tech­no­log­i­cal advances and changes in pol­icy. For the United States, how­ever, decreases in emis­sions could plau­si­bly meet a national con­tri­bu­tion to a global path­way con­sis­tent with a tar­get of warm­ing to 2°C at a cumu– lative cost of $1 tril­lion to $4 tril­lion (US$ 2005).

Note: Con­fi­dence lev­els are pro­vided as appro­pri­ate for quan­ti­ta­tive, but not qual­i­ta­tive, Key Find­ings and statements.

Con­tribut­ing Authors

Peter J. Mar­co­tul­lio, Hunter Col­lege, City Uni­ver­sity of New York (lead author)

Lori Bruh­wiler, NOAA Earth Sys­tem Research Lab­o­ra­tory; Steven Davis, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine; Jill Engel-​​Cox, National Renew­able Energy Lab­o­ra­tory; John Field, Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity; Conor Gately, Boston Uni­ver­sity; Kevin Robert Gur­ney, North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­sity; Daniel M. Kam­men, Uni­ver­sity
of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley; Emily McG­lynn, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis; James McMa­hon, Bet­ter Cli­mate Research and Pol­icy Analy­sis; William R. Mor­row, III, Lawrence Berke­ley National Lab­o­ra­tory; Ilissa B. Ocko, Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund; Ralph Tor­rie, Cana­dian Energy Sys­tems Analy­sis and Research Initiative.

 

Rec­om­mended Cita­tion for Chap­ter:

Mar­co­tul­lio, P. J., L. Bruh­wiler, S. Davis, J. Engel-​​Cox, J. Field, C. Gately, K. R. Gur­ney, D. M. Kam­men,
E. McG­lynn, J. McMa­hon, W. R. Mor­row, III, I. B. Ocko, and R. Tor­rie, 2018: Chap­ter 3: Energy sys­tems. InSec­ond State of the Car­bon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sus­tained Assess­ment Report [Cav­al­laro, N., G. Shrestha, R. Bird­sey, M. A. Mayes, R. G. Naj­jar, S. C. Reed, P. Romero-​​Lankao, and Z. Zhu (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Pro­gram, Wash­ing­ton, DC, USA, pp. 110–188, https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​7​9​3​0​/​S​O​C​C​R​2​.​2​0​1​8​.​Ch3.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 12.23.02 PM

Knowledge@Wharton — the IPCC 1.5 degree Report

To lis­ten to the pod­cast RAEL did on the IPCC 1.5 degree Report, click here.

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The UN’s lat­est cli­mate change report should spur coun­tries and busi­nesses to take quick and effec­tive steps to com­bat global warm­ing, says Pro­fes­sor Dan Kam­men of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.  To hear the whole pod­cast, click below.

Right ref­er­ence:

http://knowledge.whar​ton​.upenn​.edu/​a​r​t​i​c​le/climate-​​change-​​report-​​ipcc/​

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