News Archive:

How renewable energy could emerge on top after the pandemic

For the orig­i­nal post­ing in Grist and Yale Environment360click here.

Before the COVID-​​19 pan­demic hit, renew­able energy was grow­ing steadily — but still not fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s car­bon reduc­tion goals, let alone to make the fur­ther strides needed to keep cli­mate change from spi­ral­ing out of control.

Now, the virus-​​induced eco­nomic shock is likely to slow the expan­sion of wind, solar, and other clean power sources, at least tem­porar­ily, experts say. But while lock­downs, social dis­tanc­ing require­ments, and finan­cial uncer­tain­ties have put some new projects on ice, the under­ly­ing strengths of renew­ables remain strong, and ana­lysts expect their eco­nomic advan­tage over volatile fos­sil fuels will only increase in the long term.

Lead­ers must seize the oppor­tu­nity to design eco­nomic recov­ery pack­ages so they accel­er­ate a shift toward wind and solar power, rather than prop­ping up the fos­sil fuel econ­omy, said Francesco La Cam­era, director-​​general of the Inter­na­tional Renew­able Energy Agency, an inter­gov­ern­men­tal body.

The only thing we have to be afraid of,” he said, “is that gov­ern­ments can be pushed by lob­by­ists to bail out sec­tors that belong to the past. And this is the real danger.”

As shut­downs aimed at stem­ming the viral spread have caused global energy demand to plum­met, renew­able sources have accounted for an increased share of power gen­er­a­tion. That is in part because the low cost of solar and wind power means they are often dis­patched to grids before other sources such as coal and nuclear power. The huge drop-​​off in demand, for both elec­tric­ity and trans­porta­tion fuels, has also pushed oil and gas prices to his­toric lows, and left fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies strug­gling to find stor­age space for huge gluts of product.

In the short term, how­ever, ana­lysts say that the global eco­nomic fall­out from the pan­demic will almost cer­tainly also be a drag on the growth of renew­ables. Stay-​​at-​​home orders halted pro­duc­tion at fac­to­ries mak­ing solar pan­els and wind tur­bine parts, and ship­ping delays have exac­er­bated sup­ply prob­lems. Con­struc­tion on some big arrays stopped, and social dis­tanc­ing require­ments have forced home solar com­pa­nies to post­pone rooftop instal­la­tions and sales visits.

The indus­try needed instal­la­tions to be speed­ing up rather than slow­ing down at this point” for coun­tries to bring carbon-​​cutting real­i­ties into line with their promises under the Paris Agree­ment, said Logan Goldie-​​Scot, head of clean power research at analy­sis firm BloombergNEF, or BNEF. “Any­thing that makes that gap big­ger is hugely prob­lem­atic from an emis­sions perspective.”

BNEF has scaled back its pro­jec­tions for 2020 instal­la­tions by 12 per­cent for wind and 8 per­cent for solar, com­pared to what it antic­i­pated before the pan­demic. Renew­ables growth has been steady in recent years, and last fall, the Inter­na­tional Energy Agency, or IEA, pre­dicted the world’s renew­able power sup­ply would grow by 50 per­cent over the next five years, adding new power gen­er­a­tion equiv­a­lent to the entire exist­ing elec­tric­ity capac­ity of the United States.

VCG /​ Getty Images

We were expect­ing a boom year” in 2020, said Heymi Bahar, the IEA’s senior renew­ables ana­lyst. “So this becomes very bad timing.”

The big­ger ques­tion, experts say, is what hap­pens as coun­tries reopen. With cash tight, and eco­nomic trou­bles expected to keep energy demand below pre-​​COVID-​​19 lev­els, new wind and solar projects may find financ­ing hard to come by.

Auc­tions in which com­pa­nies bid to build such projects have been post­poned. Alto­gether, more than 40 per­cent of wind and solar capac­ity that was sched­uled to be com­mis­sioned from April to the end of this year has been delayed, said Goldie-​​Scot. “That’s an imme­di­ate setback.”

Home solar took a big­ger hit than utility-​​scale projects. Those rooftop sales are likely to con­tinue strug­gling, as the slow­down forces home­own­ers and small busi­nesses to restrict spend­ing on big-​​ticket items like solar arrays, even if, in the long run, they gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial savings.

Still, ana­lysts agree the renew­able energy sector’s fun­da­men­tals are strong. A lot has changed since the last global melt­down, the finan­cial cri­sis of 2007-​​08. Tech­nolo­gies have matured and prices dropped, to the point where renew­ables in most cases pro­vide cheaper energy than fos­sil fuels. Bat­tery stor­age, key to mak­ing clean power steady and reli­able, is improv­ing rapidly.

Renew­able gen­er­a­tion sources have become extra­or­di­nar­ily com­pet­i­tive from an eco­nomic stand­point,” said Dan Shreve, head of global wind energy research at con­sult­ing firm Wood Macken­zie. “It’s a ter­rific story. Do we expect any of that to change in the near term? No, I don’t think so.”

Indeed, with oil com­pa­nies in a tail­spin, clean energy’s steadi­ness also increases its appeal to investors, in Shreve’s view. “Folks look­ing for a safe haven in a very tur­bu­lent mar­ket may con­tinue to turn to this sec­tor,” he said.

Even the breath­tak­ing drops in oil and gas prices may not be enough to under­mine wind and solar. While oil is cen­tral to trans­porta­tion, it doesn’t play a direct role in power gen­er­a­tion. And its low price will mean drilling is scaled back. Since nat­ural gas — which does go up against wind and solar in elec­tric­ity mar­kets — often flows from the ground along with oil, its sup­ply is likely to decline too, bring­ing its price back up.

Which means it won’t be com­pet­i­tive with renew­ables,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, direc­tor of the Pro­gram on Energy Secu­rity and Cli­mate Change at the Coun­cil on For­eign Relations.

Indeed, Shreve said nuclear and coal-​​fired power plants faced far stiffer head­winds than renew­ables. “That’s been the case for the last five years. It was expected to be the case for the next five years, regard­less of the Covid cri­sis,” he said. Early retire­ments of such plants, par­tic­u­larly the ones for which finances were already in trou­ble, could pick up pace, he said.

Another sec­tor likely to take a hit is elec­tric cars. That has less to do with low oil prices than with unem­ploy­ment slow­ing sales for all cars, Jaffe said. “If you believe that peo­ple were going to have the next car they buy be an elec­tric vehi­cle, if you delay by two or three years the next time they’re going to buy a new car,” that will slow the tran­si­tion, she said.

Fewer elec­tric cars means less power demand, which hurts the renew­ables out­look. But Jaffe said the pan­demic could has­ten the economy’s elec­tri­fi­ca­tion in other ways, includ­ing a long-​​term increase in remote work­ing, which would likely shift energy demand away from oil-​​based trans­porta­tion needs, and toward res­i­den­tial use, which is more heav­ily electric.

Deng Hep­ing /​ VCG via Getty Images

In the big­ger pic­ture, what comes next depends on the virus, the econ­omy, and the path gov­ern­ments decide to chart. With vast amounts of stim­u­lus money likely to be poured into economies around the world, clean power advo­cates say it’s a his­toric oppor­tu­nity to speed the growth of a sec­tor whose for­tunes are cen­tral to hopes of stem­ming cli­mate change. La Cam­era said the renew­able energy sector’s big-​​picture strengths, and its resilience through the cri­sis so far, make him hopeful.

My impres­sion is that we are going to have a future that will be more decar­bonized than we could have imag­ined three months ago,” he said. “And in the end, this health and eco­nomic cri­sis will push us to a cleaner path for­ward.” Risks in the other direc­tion include not just direct gov­ern­ment sup­port to oil firms, but also reg­u­la­tory loos­en­ing like the Trump administration’s deci­sion to essen­tially sus­pend enforce­ment of air and water pol­lu­tion rules, or to relax lim­its on mer­cury and other toxic power plant emis­sions. Such moves save the indus­try vast sums it would oth­er­wise have to spend reduc­ing pol­lu­tion, said Daniel Kam­men, pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berkeley.

Even with­out a push to help fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, COVID-​​19 could bump cli­mate change down the list of lead­ers’ priorities.

For now, most gov­ern­ments are still focused on imme­di­ate response to the health and jobs cri­sis. Longer-​​term mea­sures will come next, and coun­tries includ­ing South Korea and New Zealand are already talk­ing about incor­po­rat­ing cli­mate action into recov­ery plans. The Euro­pean Union may com­bine parts of its Green Deal — a plan for trans­form­ing nearly every sec­tor of its econ­omy to cut car­bon and improve qual­ity of life — with efforts to repair the pandemic’s dam­age. In the U.S., the fate of any ambi­tious renew­ables plan depends largely on whether Pres­i­dent Trump is reelected in November.

For the most part, coun­tries’ inter­est in green stim­u­lus plans aligns with their pre-​​coronavirus stance on cli­mate action. “We think they are more likely in coun­tries where there was already broad-​​based sup­port,” such as China and much of Europe, Goldie-​​Scot said.

What might green recov­ery efforts entail? Given clean power’s com­pet­i­tive­ness, com­pa­nies don’t really need direct sub­si­dies any­more, experts say. They would ben­e­fit from upgrades that make power grids smarter and more flex­i­ble, and there­fore bet­ter able to uti­lize renew­ables. Spend­ing to expand elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing net­works is essen­tial, too, the ana­lysts say.

The U.S. and China both have year-​​end dead­lines when impor­tant tax and price incen­tives for renew­ables expire.

Access to credit will also be cru­cial, Bahar said. While it eas­ily com­petes with fos­sil fuels on cost, “the renew­ables indus­try just doesn’t have as deep pock­ets,” added Kammen.

Pol­icy changes mat­ter, as well. National, long-​​term carbon-​​cutting com­mit­ments would pro­vide some cer­tainty in fright­en­ing times. In the shorter term, the U.S. and China both have year-​​end dead­lines when impor­tant tax and price incen­tives expire; extend­ing those would help projects delayed by the pan­demic, ana­lysts say.

Green stim­u­lus advo­cates say cli­mate action is well-​​suited to cre­at­ing jobs, and if done right can also help rem­edy the stark eco­nomic, social, and racial inequal­i­ties the virus has exposed so vividly, par­tic­u­larly in the U.S.

A shift to cleaner energy promises health gains too. Many have taken note of the bet­ter air qual­ity lock­downs have brought, and Shreve said that could help peo­ple see the ben­e­fits of find­ing last­ing ways to reduce fos­sil fuel use.

The one bright spot in this crazy cri­sis is to have been able to walk out­side in places that have been noto­ri­ous for air pol­lu­tion, and see­ing clean skies, and hav­ing a dose of what could be,” he said.

Kam­men said he is hope­ful the pan­demic would ulti­mately speed the move to a cleaner economy.

Covid gives an oppor­tu­nity for gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies to make that switch more strongly,” said Kam­men. “I don’t think this is going to be an easy good­bye, but I would def­i­nitely say we’re in the long good­bye to fos­sil fuels.”

 

Yale Environment360: How Renewable Energy Could Emerge on Top After the Pandemic

 

Screen Shot 2020-05-12 at 11.32.46 AM

The short-​​term prospects for wind and solar power look rocky amid the eco­nomic upheaval of the coro­n­avirus. But long term, renew­ables could emerge stronger than ever, espe­cially if gov­ern­ments inte­grate sup­port for clean energy into COVID-​​19 economic-​​recovery programs.

Before the COVID-​​19 pan­demic hit, renew­able energy was grow­ing steadily — but still not fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s car­bon reduc­tion goals, let alone to make the fur­ther strides needed to keep cli­mate change from spi­ral­ing out of control.

Now, the virus-​​induced eco­nomic shock is likely to slow the expan­sion of wind, solar, and other clean power sources, at least tem­porar­ily, experts say. But while lock­downs, social dis­tanc­ing require­ments, and finan­cial uncer­tain­ties have put some new projects on ice, the under­ly­ing strengths of renew­ables remain strong, and ana­lysts expect their eco­nomic advan­tage over volatile fos­sil fuels will only increase in the long term.

Whether the pan­demic ulti­mately puts clean energy on a faster track than before, though, depends to a large extent on the choices polit­i­cal lead­ers make now, ana­lysts say. Which means 2020 is shap­ing up to be a piv­otal moment for renew­ables — and the world’s hopes of check­ing warming.

Lead­ers must seize the oppor­tu­nity to design eco­nomic recov­ery pack­ages so they accel­er­ate a shift toward wind and solar power, rather than prop­ping up the fos­sil fuel econ­omy, said Francesco La Cam­era, director-​​general of the Inter­na­tional Renew­able Energy Agency, an inter­gov­ern­men­tal body.

Some 40 per­cent of wind and solar capac­ity that was sched­uled for the rest of 2020 has been delayed.

The only thing we have to be afraid of,” he said, “is that gov­ern­ments can be pushed by lob­by­ists to bail out sec­tors that belong to the past. And this is the real danger.”

As shut­downs aimed at stem­ming the viral spread have caused global energy demand to plum­met, renew­able sources have accounted for an increased share of power gen­er­a­tion. That is in part because the low cost of solar and wind power means they are often dis­patched to grids before other sources such as coal and nuclear power. The huge drop-​​off in demand, for both elec­tric­ity and trans­porta­tion fuels, has also pushed oil and gas prices to his­toric lows, and left fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies strug­gling to find stor­age space for huge gluts of product.

In the short term, how­ever, ana­lysts say that the global eco­nomic fall­out from the pan­demic will almost cer­tainly also be a drag on the growth of renew­ables. Stay-​​at-​​home orders halted pro­duc­tion at fac­to­ries mak­ing solar pan­els and wind tur­bine parts, and ship­ping delays have exac­er­bated sup­ply prob­lems. Con­struc­tion on some big arrays stopped, and social dis­tanc­ing require­ments have forced home solar com­pa­nies to post­pone rooftop instal­la­tions and sales visits.

The indus­try needed instal­la­tions to be speed­ing up rather than slow­ing down at this point” for coun­tries to bring carbon-​​cutting real­i­ties into line with their promises under the Paris Agree­ment, said Logan Goldie-​​Scot, head of clean power research at analy­sis firm BloombergNEF (BNEF). “Any­thing that makes that gap big­ger is hugely prob­lem­atic from an emis­sions perspective.”

BNEF has scaled back its pro­jec­tions for 2020 instal­la­tions by 12 per­cent for wind and 8 per­cent for solar, com­pared to what it antic­i­pated before the pan­demic. Renew­ables growth has been steady in recent years, and last fall, the Inter­na­tional Energy Agency (IEA) pre­dicted the world’s renew­able power sup­ply would grow by 50 per­cent over the next five years, adding new power gen­er­a­tion equiv­a­lent to the entire exist­ing elec­tric­ity capac­ity of the United States.

A worker installs solar panels on a house in Hayward, California amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A worker installs solar pan­els on a house in Hay­ward, Cal­i­for­nia amid the coro­n­avirus out­break. AP PHOTO /​ BEN MARGOT

We were expect­ing a boom year” in 2020, said Heymi Bahar, the IEA’s senior renew­ables ana­lyst. “So this becomes very bad timing.”

The big­ger ques­tion, experts say, is what hap­pens as coun­tries reopen. With cash tight, and eco­nomic trou­bles expected to keep energy demand below pre-​​COVID-​​19 lev­els, new wind and solar projects may find financ­ing hard to come by.

Auc­tions in which com­pa­nies bid to build such projects have been post­poned. Alto­gether, more than 40 per­cent of wind and solar capac­ity that was sched­uled to be com­mis­sioned from April to the end of this year has been delayed, said Goldie-​​Scot. “That’s an imme­di­ate setback.”

Home solar took a big­ger hit than utility-​​scale projects. Those rooftop sales are likely to con­tinue strug­gling, as the slow­down forces home­own­ers and small busi­nesses to restrict spend­ing on big-​​ticket items like solar arrays, even if, in the long run, they gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial savings.

Still, ana­lysts agree the renew­able energy sector’s fun­da­men­tals are strong. A lot has changed since the last global melt­down, the finan­cial cri­sis of 2007-​​08. Tech­nolo­gies have matured and prices dropped, to the point where renew­ables in most cases pro­vide cheaper energy than fos­sil fuels. Bat­tery stor­age, key to mak­ing clean power steady and reli­able, is improv­ing rapidly.

Renew­able gen­er­a­tion sources have become extra­or­di­nar­ily com­pet­i­tive from an eco­nomic stand­point,” said Dan Shreve, head of global wind energy research at con­sult­ing firm Wood Macken­zie. “It’s a ter­rific story. Do we expect any of that to change in the near term? No, I don’t think so.”

“Folks look­ing for a safe haven in a tur­bu­lent mar­ket may con­tinue to turn to [the renew­ables] sec­tor,” says one analyst.

Indeed, with oil com­pa­nies in a tail­spin, clean energy’s steadi­ness also increases its appeal to investors, in Shreve’s view. “Folks look­ing for a safe haven in a very tur­bu­lent mar­ket may con­tinue to turn to this sec­tor,” he said.

Even the breath­tak­ing drops in oil and gas prices may not be enough to under­mine wind and solar. While oil is cen­tral to trans­porta­tion, it doesn’t play a direct role in power gen­er­a­tion. And its low price will mean drilling is scaled back. Since nat­ural gas — which does go up against wind and solar in elec­tric­ity mar­kets — often flows from the ground along with oil, its sup­ply is likely to decline too, bring­ing its price back up.

Which means it won’t be com­pet­i­tive with renew­ables,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, direc­tor of the Pro­gram on Energy Secu­rity and Cli­mate Change at the Coun­cil on For­eign Relations.

Indeed, Shreve said nuclear and coal-​​fired power plants faced far stiffer head­winds than renew­ables. “That’s been the case for the last five years. It was expected to be the case for the next five years, regard­less of the COVID cri­sis,” he said. Early retire­ments of such plants, par­tic­u­larly the ones for which finances were already in trou­ble, could pick up pace, he said.

Another sec­tor likely to take a hit is elec­tric cars. That has less to do with low oil prices than with unem­ploy­ment slow­ing sales for all cars, Jaffe said. “If you believe that peo­ple were going to have the next car they buy be an elec­tric vehi­cle, if you delay by two or three years the next time they’re going to buy a new car,” that will slow the tran­si­tion, she said.

Fewer elec­tric cars means less power demand, which hurts the renew­ables out­look. But Jaffe said the pan­demic could has­ten the economy’s elec­tri­fi­ca­tion in other ways, includ­ing a long-​​term increase in remote work­ing, which would likely shift energy demand away from oil-​​based trans­porta­tion needs, and toward res­i­den­tial use, which is more heav­ily electric.

A wind turbine blade being built at a manufacturing plant in Haimen, Jiangsu province, China in 2019.

A wind tur­bine blade being built at a man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Haimen, Jiangsu province, China in 2019. FEATURECHINA VIA AP IMAGES

In the big­ger pic­ture, what comes next depends on the virus, the econ­omy, and the path gov­ern­ments decide to chart. With vast amounts of stim­u­lus money likely to be poured into economies around the world, clean power advo­cates say it’s a his­toric oppor­tu­nity to speed the growth of a sec­tor whose for­tunes are cen­tral to hopes of stem­ming cli­mate change. La Cam­era said the renew­able energy sector’s big-​​picture strengths, and its resilience through the cri­sis so far, make him hopeful.

My impres­sion is that we are going to have a future that will be more decar­bonized than we could have imag­ined three months ago,” he said. “And in the end, this health and eco­nomic cri­sis will push us to a cleaner path for­ward.” Risks in the other direc­tion include not just direct gov­ern­ment sup­port to oil firms, but also reg­u­la­tory loos­en­ing like the Trump administration’s deci­sion to essen­tially sus­pend enforce­ment of air and water pol­lu­tion rules, or to relax lim­its on mer­cury and other toxic power plant emis­sions. Such moves save the indus­try vast sums it would oth­er­wise have to spend reduc­ing pol­lu­tion, said Daniel Kam­men, pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

Even with­out a push to help fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, COVID-​​19 could bump cli­mate change down the list of lead­ers’ priorities.

For now, most gov­ern­ments are still focused on imme­di­ate response to the health and jobs cri­sis. Longer-​​term mea­sures will come next, and coun­tries includ­ing South Korea and New Zealand are already talk­ing about incor­po­rat­ing cli­mate action into recov­ery plans. The Euro­pean Union may com­bine parts of its Green Deal — a plan for trans­form­ing nearly every sec­tor of its econ­omy to cut car­bon and improve qual­ity of life — with efforts to repair the pandemic’s dam­age. In the U.S., the fate of any ambi­tious renew­ables plan depends largely on whether Pres­i­dent Trump is reelected in November.

For the most part, coun­tries’ inter­est in green stim­u­lus plans aligns with their pre-​​coronavirus stance on cli­mate action. “We think they are more likely in coun­tries where there was already broad-​​based sup­port,” such as China and much of Europe, Goldie-​​Scot said.

What might green recov­ery efforts entail? Given clean power’s com­pet­i­tive­ness, com­pa­nies don’t really need direct sub­si­dies any­more, experts say. They would ben­e­fit from upgrades that make power grids smarter and more flex­i­ble, and there­fore bet­ter able to uti­lize renew­ables. Spend­ing to expand elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing net­works is essen­tial, too, the ana­lysts say.

The U.S. and China both have year-​​end dead­lines when impor­tant tax and price incen­tives for renew­ables expire.

Access to credit will also be cru­cial, Bahar said. While it eas­ily com­petes with fos­sil fuels on cost, “the renew­ables indus­try just doesn’t have as deep pock­ets,” added Kammen.

Pol­icy changes mat­ter, as well. National, long-​​term carbon-​​cutting com­mit­ments would pro­vide some cer­tainty in fright­en­ing times. In the shorter term, the U.S. and China both have year-​​end dead­lines when impor­tant tax and price incen­tives expire; extend­ing those would help projects delayed by the pan­demic, ana­lysts say.

Green stim­u­lus advo­cates say cli­mate action is well-​​suited to cre­at­ing jobs, and if done right can also help rem­edy the stark eco­nomic, social, and racial inequal­i­ties the virus has exposed so vividly, par­tic­u­larly in the U.S.

A shift to cleaner energy promises health gains too. Many have taken note of the bet­ter air qual­ity lock­downs have brought, and Shreve said that could help peo­ple see the ben­e­fits of find­ing last­ing ways to reduce fos­sil fuel use.

The one bright spot in this crazy cri­sis is to have been able to walk out­side in places that have been noto­ri­ous for air pol­lu­tion, and see­ing clean skies, and hav­ing a dose of what could be,” he said.

Kam­men said he is hope­ful the pan­demic would ulti­mately speed the move to a cleaner economy.

COVID gives an oppor­tu­nity for gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies to make that switch more strongly,” said Kam­men. “I don’t think this is going to be an easy good­bye, but I would def­i­nitely say we’re in the long good­bye to fos­sil fuels.”

For a link to the orig­i­nal story in Yale Environment360click here.

Berkeley Conversations: Climate Change and Covid-​​19, can the crisis shift the paradigm?

April 27, 2020.  To watch the webi­nar, click here.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.40.18 AM

A panel of UC Berke­ley experts dis­cussed Mon­day what effect COVID-​​19 is hav­ing on the envi­ron­ment. (UC Berke­ley video)

Ever so slowly, com­mu­ni­ties around the globe are cau­tiously eas­ing shelter-​​in-​​place orders, and peo­ple are head­ing back to work — bring­ing with them dam­ag­ing behav­iors that hurt the envi­ron­ment and impact cli­mate change, such as increased reliance on single-​​use plas­tic gro­cery bags.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, say four UC Berke­ley envi­ron­men­tal and energy experts. Instead, they say, the cur­rent COVID-​​19 pan­demic offers lessons in how shared global solu­tions can help beat back the con­tin­ued threat of cli­mate change.

We can restart the econ­omy and put peo­ple back to work, and we have to do so in a way that we’re tak­ing advan­tage of where renew­able energy is today — then there’s a really pos­i­tive oppor­tu­nity,” said Dan Kam­men, pro­fes­sor and chair of the Energy Resources Group and pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy and nuclear engi­neer­ing. “We have to put peo­ple back to work in a way that’s equi­table and green.”

Dis­pos­able plas­tic bags have made a come­back as peo­ple have grown leery of being too close to other peo­ple and their pos­ses­sions. In a num­ber of cities and states, includ­ing San Fran­cisco, new bans on plas­tic bags have been delayed or exist­ing bans have been tem­porar­ily halted and cus­tomers ordered not to bring into shops their own bags, mugs or reusable items from home.

Kam­men, along with col­leagues David Ack­erly, dean of the Rausser Col­lege of Nat­ural Resources, Kate O’Neill, pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, pol­icy and man­age­ment, and Valeri Vasquez, a Ph.D. can­di­date in the Energy and Resources Group, were part of a Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions panel that exam­ined on Mon­day how the pan­demic has caused seis­mic shifts in how we pro­duce and con­sume goods and could also open a path to a more sus­tain­able future.

Right before the out­break, we were actu­ally start­ing to feel like we could make a real dif­fer­ence in terms of get­ting rid of single-​​use plas­tics and solv­ing a lot of the issues with global waste streams,” O’Neill said. “But for any of us who’ve been in the Berke­ley Bowl park­ing lot recently, one of the first things we might have noticed is a lot more lit­ter. Plas­tic bags, rub­ber gloves, masks. This is some­thing we’re going to have to push back on and really ques­tion. The main prob­lem com­ing up is going to be rein­stat­ing zero waste poli­cies once (the pan­demic) is over.”

Vasquez under­scored how the COVID-​​19 pan­demic is reveal­ing deep soci­etal inequities and also demon­strat­ing the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of health, cli­mate and sus­tain­abil­ity issues.

The pub­lic health and cli­mate debates are really inex­tri­ca­bly linked,” she said. “In our highly con­nected world, a dis­ease that orig­i­nated 3,000 or 6,000 miles away can be at our doorsteps in a day or less. So, the way that we mobi­lize against COVID-​​19 needs to be reflected in the way that we mobi­lize against that other big global afflic­tion called cli­mate change.”

Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions: COVID-​​19, are a series of live, online events fea­tur­ing fac­ulty experts from across the UC Berke­ley cam­pus who are shar­ing what they know, and what they are learn­ing, about the pan­demic. All con­ver­sa­tions are recorded and avail­able for view­ing at any time on the Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions web­site.

Renewable power surges as pandemic scrambles global energy outlook, new report finds

Sci­ence Mag­a­zine cov­ers the Green Stim­u­lus. Click here for the orig­i­nal.

The pandemic-​​induced global eco­nomic melt­down has trig­gered a drop in energy demand and related car­bon emis­sions that could trans­form how the world gets its energy—even after the dis­ease wanes, accord­ing to a report released today by the Inter­na­tional Energy Agency (IEA).

The pre­cip­i­tous drop in energy use is unpar­al­leled back to the Great Depres­sion of the 1930s. But not all energy sources are suf­fer­ing equally. Efforts to shift toward renew­able energy could be has­tened as fos­sil fuels, par­tic­u­larly coal and oil, have borne the brunt of the decline. Use of renew­able energy, mean­while, has risen thanks to new projects com­ing online and the low cost of turn­ing wind tur­bines or har­vest­ing sunlight.

The energy indus­try that emerges from this cri­sis will be sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from the one that came before,” pre­dicts Fatih Birol, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Paris-​​based IEA.

Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 10.08.27 AM

The num­bers spell out the changes rat­tling the energy world:

  • Global energy demand is expected to drop by 6% in 2020, com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year. That’s a seven times big­ger drop than in the wake of the 2008 reces­sion. The biggest change is pre­dicted for the most devel­oped economies, with a 9% decline in the United States and 11% in the Euro­pean Union.
  • Car­bon emis­sions from the energy sec­tor are expected to fall by 8% for the year—almost 2.6 giga­tons. That makes it the largest drop ever recorded and six times the decline caused by the last recession.
  • Demand for renew­able energy is expected to grow 1% over the year, dri­ven by a 5% increase in use of renew­able elec­tric­ity. That con­trast with fos­sil fuels stems largely from the low fuel costs for gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity from wind, sun­light, or hydro­elec­tric dams.

Year­long fore­casts could change, depend­ing on how long economies remain locked down by a com­bi­na­tion of gov­ern­ment and pri­vate efforts to stem the spread of the new coro­n­avirus. But the first 3 months of 2020 already tell a tale of swift and dra­matic change. Global energy demand fell an esti­mated 3.8%, with much of that com­ing in March, as the virus spread and coun­tries imposed tighter lim­its on busi­nesses and move­ment, accord­ing to the new report.

Coun­tries with strict lock­downs have seen a 25% drop in week-​​to-​​week energy demand as fac­to­ries are shut­tered and peo­ple stay home. Demand fell 18% in nations with par­tial lock­downs. Demand for electricity—a sub­set of total energy—has fallen as much as 20% in locked down coun­tries, and daily pat­terns of elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion resem­ble those usu­ally seen on a typ­i­cal Sunday.

Coal suf­fered the biggest losses in the first quar­ter of the year, with an almost 8% drop com­pared with the start of 2019. Major con­trib­u­tors to the decline included: the lock­down in China, a heavy coal user; com­pe­ti­tion from cheaper nat­ural gas and renew­able energy; and mild win­ter weather. Demand for oil fell by 5%, as car traf­fic was cut in half and air travel by 60% by the end of March. Renew­able energy use, in con­trast, rose 1.5% in the first 3 months of the year.

The pan­demic is reveal­ing down­sides to fos­sil fuels, such as the need for exten­sive stor­age sys­tems and sup­ply chains to move fuel from its source, says Daniel Kam­men, an energy pol­icy expert at the Uni­ver­sity Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. “Those costs are always there,” Kam­men says. “But when there’s so lit­tle demand for fos­sil fuel, what you’re see­ing is the infra­struc­ture to move it around has been overwhelmed.”

The new report noted that new renew­able energy projects could slow if con­struc­tion is slowed by lock­downs or prob­lems get­ting needed equipment.

It’s less clear what will hap­pen once the pan­demic recedes and economies sput­ter back to life. Birol noted that green­house gas emis­sions resumed their upward march fol­low­ing the last eco­nomic down­turn. He urged gov­ern­ments to put clean energy tech­nolo­gies “at the heart of their plans for eco­nomic recovery.”

Some coun­tries have already shown signs they want to head down that path. In South Korea, the rul­ing Demo­c­ra­tic Party, which won a land­slide vic­tory in mid-​​April elec­tions, recently called for clean energy invest­ment as part of its eco­nomic plan. Ger­man and U.K. offi­cials have also said envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns should inform recov­ery efforts.

Kam­men, who is co-​​author of a pro­posal for a “green stim­u­lus” ini­tia­tive in the United States, hopes the cur­rent suc­cess of renew­able energy, cou­pled with people’s expe­ri­ence of cleaner air as less fos­sil fuel is burned, will help win sup­port for such a shift else­where. “One ver­sion of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis is it all eases and we go back to what we were doing before,” Kam­men says. “The other ver­sion of it is peo­ple say, ‘Wow, I hadn’t real­ized how bad things were.’”

The Guardian Op Ed: Climate crisis will deepen the pandemic. A green stimulus plan can tackle both

April 20, 2020

For the orig­i­nal in The Guardian, as part of Earth Day cov­er­age, click here.

The Covid-​​19 epi­demic is rav­aging our tat­tered health­care sys­tem and shred­ding our econ­omy. In the past month, over 22 mil­lionAmer­i­cans filed for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, com­pound­ing the fear that unem­ploy­ment could breach 32% absent mas­sive pub­lic action. This is an unmit­i­gated human dis­as­ter, recall­ing the hor­rors of the Great Depres­sion. And it gets worse. We’re also fac­ing the cli­mate emer­gency. Imme­di­ate relief is nec­es­sary – but not suf­fi­cient. To tackle all these crises at once, we need a Green Stim­u­lus that cre­ates jobs and lifts up com­mu­ni­ties in ways that also slash car­bon pol­lu­tion, increase resiliency, and develop a just, mod­ern economy.

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 12.24.29 PM

No one can pre­dict when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will turn their full atten­tion to eco­nomic recov­ery. But behind the scenes, the plan­ning has already begun. It’s not a ques­tion of whether we spend big on stim­u­lus, but what kind of stimulus.

And while Repub­li­cans will decry any­thing “green”, we can win the argu­ment. But much of what we pro­pose already has bipar­ti­san sup­port, from polling to pend­ing leg­is­la­tion.

Cli­mate change is about to super­charge the coro­n­avirus emer­gency. In April, California’s wild­fire sea­son will start. Restric­tions on work caused by the pan­demic will make it harder for fire­fight­ers to con­duct con­trolled burns that steer fires – and smoke – from homes. Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ lungs could face Covid-​​19 and unusu­ally intense smoke at the same time. A third of the coun­try also faces seri­ous flood risk through the spring. And in sum­mer and fall, fore­cast­ers pre­dict “above aver­age prob­a­bil­ity for major hur­ri­canes mak­ing land­fall along the con­ti­nen­tal United States”. We’re already see­ing this cat­a­strophic con­ver­gence else­where: In Ecuador, a muted gov­ern­ment response to flood­ing in indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, for fear of spread­ing the virus; in Fiji, dev­as­tated by Cyclone Harold this week, 19 con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases are cast­ing doubt on how to rebuild.

Here too, we will need to find ways to do the needed relief work with­out deep­en­ing the pan­demic. Amid all this suf­fer­ing, the case for bold moves to tackle the mis­eries of inequal­ity, Covid, and cli­mate at once will get clearer.

More­over, green stim­u­lus is the only option for a smooth tran­si­tion to the 21st cen­tury green econ­omy. The era of dirty energy is end­ing. Even the con­ser­v­a­tive CBNC ana­lyst Jim Cramer has warned investors that oil stocks are no longer safe invest­ments, as soci­ety is increas­ingly repu­di­at­ing fos­sil fuels. Giant investors like Black­rock are grad­u­ally wind­ing down their invest­ments in car­bon. And at the Euro­pean level, and in coun­tries like Ger­many and South Korea, a green stimulus-​​based recov­ery is becom­ing the con­sen­sus choice, with invest­ments in effi­ciency and clean energy seen as obvi­ous dri­vers of eco­nomic reconstruction.

The longer-​​term vision of the green stim­u­lus is a more reward­ing, life­long career of dig­ni­fied green work. We should also invest in Stem edu­ca­tion for all chil­dren and cre­ate appren­tice­ship pro­grams in vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, matched with new careers for work­ers to enter. And by directly invest­ing in front­line com­mu­ni­ties, fol­low­ing best prac­tices in Cal­i­for­nia, we can bring tech­nolo­gies like solar and bat­tery stor­age to neigh­bor­hoods that have been scan­dalously left out of the clean energy boom so far. Plus, these same nim­ble, local solu­tions make neigh­bor­hoods more resilient to extreme weather. Local stor­age and nested micro­grids make the power sys­tem, includ­ing health­care facil­i­ties, more reli­able dur­ing dis­as­ters. We’d be mak­ing envi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic, and social improve­ments in the same places, at the same time.

And we should speak of green invest­ments in con­crete terms. Polling con­ducted by Data for Progress in March finds major­ity sup­port for mas­sive green spend­ing over­all. More inter­est­ing is the find­ing of even greater sup­port – includ­ing major­ity Repub­li­can approval – for spe­cific pub­lic green invest­ments, like elec­tric buses, retro­fits to low-​​income hous­ing, and renew­able energy. Strip away abstract rhetoric, and the sub­stance that we’re advo­cat­ing is incred­i­bly popular.

For these rea­sons, we recently joined nine other experts in social and cli­mate pol­icy to write a let­ter to Con­gress out­lin­ing a menu of pol­icy options for a Green Stim­u­lus. Our pro­pos­als span eight sec­tors of the econ­omy. But fun­da­men­tally, a Green Stim­u­lus is about mobi­liz­ing mas­sive pub­lic funds – say, $2tn to start – in spe­cific green invest­ments to cre­ate high-​​quality jobs and improve the qual­ity of life, espe­cially in low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ties of color, and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, which have suf­fered the most dis­in­vest­ment and pol­lu­tion in recent decades.

It seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but the tim­ing for such a Green Stim­u­lus is per­fect. Bridge-​​loans and advance pay­ments on pub­lic green pur­chases of goods like solar pan­els and elec­tric vehi­cles for pub­lic use would sta­bi­lize firms’ and work­ers’ finances. Announc­ing ini­tia­tives like a Cli­mate Con­ser­va­tion Corps would give young peo­ple eager to work jobs to apply for, and plan to start. And desk work­ers across the econ­omy could get on Zoom and do paper­work to make green projects shovel-​​ready the minute it’s safe to break ground. (Indeed, a major rea­son the 2009 Obama stim­u­lus fal­tered was months wasted on paperwork.)

Each of us has lived through climate-​​fueled dis­as­ters – in Cohen’s case, Hur­ri­cane Sandy, and in Kammen’s, last year’s dev­as­tat­ing wild­fires. We agree with the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice advo­cates who argued then that dis­as­ter recov­ery shouldn’t be about try­ing to bounce back to how things were before the dis­as­ter. We don’t want to bounce back to a Jan­u­ary 2020 econ­omy when half the coun­try lived pay­check to pay­check; unchecked car­bon pol­lu­tion endan­gered our future; and racial inequal­i­ties made peo­ple of color so vul­ner­a­ble to dis­ease. Rather, by deploy­ing a Green Stim­u­lus that cen­ters work­ers and com­mu­ni­ties, we can bounce for­ward together.

  • Daniel Aldana Cohen is assis­tant profes­sor of soci­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, where he directs the Socio-​​Spatial Cli­mate Col­lab­o­ra­tive, or (SC)2, and is a co-​​author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal
  • Daniel Kam­men is profes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, coor­di­nat­ing lead author for the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC), and for­mer Sci­ence Envoy for the United States Depart­ment of State.  Twit­ter: @dan_kammen
  • This story is a part of Cov­er­ing Cli­mate Now’s week of cov­er­age focused on cli­mate solu­tions, to mark the 50th anniver­sary of Earth Day. Cov­er­ing Cli­mate Now is a global jour­nal­ism col­lab­o­ra­tion com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing cov­er­age of the cli­mate story

 

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