One census assesses the steep job growth created by the solar industry between 2010 and 2016. But new tariffs on solar imports could cripple the industry and undo half a decade of economic and environmental progress.
FUTURISM -- Solar energy isn’t just a tool to reduce emissions and help slow climate change — it’s a job creator. According to the most recent National Solar Jobs Census published by The Solar Foundation, the industry creates more jobs than any other sector in the U.S.
According to the census, solar energy adds jobs 17 times faster than the overall economy in the United States.
In 2010, there were only 93,000 jobs in solar. The sector has seen a steep rise and six years later 260,077 people were employed in the field. This means that in 2016 one in every 50 new jobs was in the solar industry, and analysts expect the trend to continue.
Although the figures presented in the census were originally criticized for underestimating the number of workers operating in the solar industry, the Hill now reports that “the Census is widely recognized as the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of the U.S. solar workforce.”
DWINDLING FOSSIL FUELS
This growth in the solar industry is happening as the fossil fuel industry continues to dwindle. For example, the United Kingdom used to produce a substantial percentage of its energy from coal, but now produces twice as much electricity from renewable sources as coal.
Conversely, in the U.S. President Trump has promised that not only is there a future in the coal industry, but it can drive the creation of a significant number of jobs. The President has recently slammed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells, as part of its plans to hamper the renewable sector and make space for fossil fuels. Although the new measure is expected to cripple the solar sector, according to experts coal jobs are not coming back.
Overall this most recent census, along with the explosive innovation currently driving the industry, strengthens the case for investing in solar energy in the U.S., but it’s undeniable that the new tariffs will be casting a shadow over this positive trend in the coming years.
Climatecoin, an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency, has partnered with a carbon credit exchange in an effort to help in the fight against climate change. The move is expected to lead to the creation of the world’s first blockchain-based platform for carbon credits trading.
FUTURISM -- Carbon emissions are wreaking havoc on our environment, and one way the world is attempting to combat this problem is through the use of carbon credits, an approach agreed upon by most of the world’s nations through an international treaty called the Kyoto Protocol.
The idea behind the system is that everyone has a limit to the emissions they can produce. If a nation wants to exceed its limit, it must purchase a carbon credit. Each of these carbon credits serves as a permit to produce a certain amount of emissions; for example, one credit might equal one ton of carbon dioxide emissions.
If an entity ends up with extra carbon credits, it can trade them to others on markets such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).
From this system emerged voluntary carbon offsets. These give companies and consumers the ability to pay a certain amount to offset their own emissions. For example, an airline might ask passengers if they want to pay an extra $20 when purchasing a ticket to offset the emissions caused by their flight.
The money used to purchase carbon credits and offsets is given to projects attempting to help the environment, such as by developing renewable energy systems or protecting forests.
These credits give purchasers a way to effectively cancel out the amount of emissions they produce. They’re doing something bad to the environment, so they give money to someone attempting to do something good for it.
Recently, cryptocurrency mining’s negative impact on the environment has been the focus of much attention. According to a study by PowerCompare, a U.K.-based energy comparison tariff service, if bitcoin miners were a nation, they would rank 61st in the world in terms of electricity consumption.
Climatecoin aims to help individuals take part in the emerging crypto market while also assisting in the fight against climate change. Each token is “stapled” to a carbon credit, and climatecoin owners can use the tokens to purchase carbon credits on the Carbon Trade Exchange (CTX).
According to a Medium post from the company, money from the token sale will be invested into environmental businesses, making climatecoin the “first carbon-zero cryptocurrency in the world.”
n the past, carbon trading schemes have been criticized because of their volatility. Prices on the ETS have fallen almost 70 percent since 2008, leading to an overhaul of the system.
Offset programs have also been criticized as simply public relations tools that allow companies to avoid addressing their impact on the environment. Tracking the money is also next to impossible, and companies could claim to be using it for environmental purposes while simply pocketing it.
Blockchain is currently the most promising ledger technology available, so using it to track carbon credits/offsets could solve some of these problems. With the planet’s carbon dioxide levels higher now than they’ve been in millions of years, any action that addresses the emissions problem is worth considering.
The World Economic Forum has released The Global Risks Report 2018. According to the experts surveyed, environmental factors ranging from extreme weather to failure to adapt to climate change should be our biggest concerns.
FUTURISM -- Extreme weather events are the most likely and most severe threat facing humanity in 2018, according to the new Global Risks Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Every year, the report surveys a pool of 1000 experts and decision makers about the major risks the world will face in the coming months. 2018, they agree, will be dominated by heightened political risks, that could spill over into open conflict between major powers, and by failure to address climate change.
The report assesses the severity of each global risk according to its likelihood and potential impacts. Extreme weather and natural disasters score highly in both the categories.
Other threats are more likely to become reality but their impacts are expected to be limited. For instance, illicit trade is said to be more likely than the baseline average, but will ultimately have a less pronounced impact. On the other hand, weapons of mass destruction would have a catastrophic effect if deployed, but that scenario is thought to be relatively unlikely to take place.
Environmental risks have grown more pronounced over the course of the thirteen years that the WEF has issued its Global Risks Report, and the likes of 2017’s destructive hurricane season, extreme temperatures, and heavy rainfall are said to have contributed to their prominent position in the 2018 report.
EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
The report does indicate that we’re beginning to move on from the effects of the global financial crisis of 2007-8. Economic issues are said to be less of a pressing concern than environmental factors, although this doesn’t mean that there’s any room for complacency.
“A widening economic recovery presents us with an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander, to tackle the fractures that we have allowed to weaken the world’s institutions, societies and environment,” said World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Professor Klaus Schwab in a press release. “We must take seriously the risk of a global systems breakdown. Together we have the resources and the new scientific and technological knowledge to prevent this.”
However, while economic issues seem less urgent, there are risks associated with the possibility of a new crisis emerging. While more than half of the countries included in the report have seen an increase in income equality over the past 30 years, inequality still remains a source of “chronic economic problems,” the report says.
One of the key features of the WEF’s analysis is that it doesn’t just list a series of potential threats to humanity; it shows how they are all interconnected. The strong message is that each potential shock, whether it’s environmental, financial or social, should be tackled as part of a complex system and never in isolation.
Take climate change for example – it’s no secret that we need to address its impacts as soon as possible. However, transitioning to a more environmentally secure state of affairs with a reduced carbon output might have unforeseen social and economic effects, as the energy industry would be disrupted in the short term. The report’s Global Risks Interconnections Map outlines some of the links between seemingly discrete problems.
Overall, the picture is not rosy – of the 1000 survey’s respondents only seven percent said that risks would decline in 2018, whereas 59 percent predicted an increase. 93 percent stated an expectation that political or economic confrontations between major powers would get worse, and almost 80 percent expected to see a greater risk of war between major powers.
While ultimately the report captures perceptions rather than offering predictions based on scientific models, it will inform high level debates and strategic policy decisions in 2018.
Petco Park is about to become home to the largest solar power system in Major League Baseball.
THE SAN DIEGO TRIBUNE -- There are no guarantees how the rebuilding Padres will do this coming season but on the energy front, the team is about to become baseball’s undisputed leader in the solar standings.
Construction of the largest solar power system in Major League Baseball has begun at Petco Park — a 336,520-watt project comprised of 716 high-efficiency, 470-watt solar modules expected to produce more than 12 million kilowatt-hours over the next 25 years.
Seven other teams in the majors have installed solar facilities in recent years but at a Wednesday news conference announcing the plans, officials said the Padres’ solar array will be larger than all the other teams’ facilities combined.
“This project really checked all the boxes for us,” said Erik Greupner, Padres chief operating officer. “It’s something that will generate energy savings for us over time and it’s consistent with the priorities to our fan base and to the city of San Diego.”
Workers from San Diego-based Sullivan Solar Power began installing the modules earlier this week and the Padres anticipate the project will be wrapped up in time for the team’s season opener March 29 against Milwaukee.
The panels will be mounted on the park’s roof, and one-quarter of the panels will hang over the stadium’s high canopy. More than a mile of electrical conductors will send solar electricity to the park’s distribution center.
“This is the most complex installation we have seen in a very long time,” said Daniel Sullivan, the president of Sullivan Solar Power.
Sullivan said the project cost the Padres about $1 million but predicted the team will save enough money from a combination of lower electricity bills and renewable tax credits that the project will pay for itself in about six or seven years.
“It makes all the other systems (in baseball) look a lot smaller so the Padres are going into the season in first place,” Sullivan said.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer helped spearhead the city’s Climate Action Plan, that calls for 100 percent of the city’s energy coming from renewable sources and cutting the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.
Faulconer attended the Padres news conference and said the city has cut greenhouse gas emissions 19 percent, bettering its goal of a 15 percent cut by 2020.
“This is not a partisan issue in San Diego, it’s the right thing to do for our environment,” Faulconer said. The Padres’ solar project “will send an extremely positive message to businesses large and small, not just in San Diego but across the entire region.”
The Padres have also made investments in energy efficiency programs. In 2016, the team estimated it reduced energy usage by more than 40 percent through water savings and LED lighting.
The installation of about 400 LED lights aimed at the playing field were estimated to reduce enough energy to take 660 cars off the road for a year.
“We think energy efficiency and sustainability is something that matters to our mayor, to our city, to the people of our city and it matters to us,” Greupner said.
The solar project is not the only new addition to Petco Park this season. A new $2 million video board is being erected over the right field seats.
“What we’ve been challenged with by our ownership group is they don’t want the ballpark to ever appear to look more than three years old,” Greupner said.
A former chief designer for Aston Martin is working on a new solid-state battery design that could be vastly superior to the currently available lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars.
FUTURISM -- Henrik Fisker, a former chief designer for Aston Martin, claims that he will soon revolutionize the world of electric cars with a new, superior battery. After leaving the luxury car brand, Fisker started his own company and has filed patents on a new type of solid-state battery, which can be charged faster and has greater capacity than leading lithium-ion batteries, at least in theory.
In lithium-ion batteries, current flows through either liquids or polymers, but in solid-state batteries it flows through a solid. Although the technology is still in its infancy, these new batteries are designed to be cheaper and smaller than their lithium-ion counterpart.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Fisker said that “Everyone has gone down a road of working on what we call thin-film sheet batteries. One of the early scientists who worked on these was Dr Fabio Albano.” When Albano left the company Sakti3, he brought his ideas for the next development in battery technology to Fisker.
“The breakthrough that Fabio brought to me, just over a year ago, was a development of the solid-state battery, and he said that he wanted to bring this battery into Fisker, and he really wanted to get it into a vehicle. He believed that he was close to a breakthrough,” Fisker told The Irish Times.
For now, the details of this collaborative design remain undisclosed. However, we do know that it will be able to hold 2.5-times the energy of a traditional lithium-ion battery and it will charge at a much faster rate. Fisker even suggests that this battery could be charged in as little as one minute.
In addition to these advantages, this mysterious solid-state battery would outprice competitors like Tesla that still use conventional lithium-ion batteries for their electric cars. According to Fisker, “the unique thing about our battery is that the solvent that we use to build the battery is the cheapest one you can get – water.”
So far, the main downside to the concept is that it doesn’t technically exist in real life. But, should the theoretically sound science behind this design amount to a commercially-viable product, the lithium-ion batteries that currently power electric vehicles (EVs) could give way to these batteries and EV capabilities and range could seriously advance.
It’s the height of summer in Cape Town, and the south western most region of South Africa is gripped by a catastrophic water shortage. Unless the city adopts widespread rationing, the government says, the taps “will be turned off” on April 22, 2018, because there will be no more water to deliver.
This would make Cape Town the first major city in the world to run out of water, according to Anthony Turton, a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State in South Africa, who spoke to the New York Times. “It’s not an impending crisis—we’re deep, deep, deep in crisis.” The shortage is the result of a multi-year drought.
The city is asking residents to restrict their water use to 87 liters per person per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of a four-minute shower using a regular shower head, or an eight-minute shower using a low-flow shower head.
Cape Town’s water system isn’t built to withstand a multi-year drought (nor are any city’s water system), which are expected to occur “perhaps as rarely as once in a millennium,” according to a group of professors from the University of Cape Town.
This particular drought won’t last forever. But according to climate models, it is likely part of a trend for the Western Cape of South Africa, where climate change is expected to bring lower chances of wet years and higher chances of dry years as the century progresses, according to Piotr Wolski, a hydrologist with the Climate Systems Analysis Group. Water rationing may soon become the norm for the city of 4 million.
On Tuesday, the Longmont city council voted to approve a resolution committing the community in a shift away from fossil fuels and to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable electricity by 2030. The City Council Resolution builds off of Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley’s Proclamation signed on December 5thestablishing a vision for powering the community entirely with clean and renewable sources of energy like wind and solar.
The Colorado Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign is joining Sustainable Resilient Longmont in celebrating Longmont becoming the 55th city in the nation, and seventh city in Colorado to commit to a sustainable and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
“We thank the Longmont city council and Mayor Bagley for their dedication to create a truly sustainable future, powered by 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2030. As one of the most fracked regions in the nation, it’s exciting to see Longmont made the decision to invest in our health and climate,” said Jim Alexee, Colorado Sierra Club Director
“Now, more than ever, action at the local level is crucial to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy future,” added Sustainable Resilient Longmont Board Chair Abby Driscoll.
“This is a watershed moment not only for Longmont, but for the broader movement to combat climate change. I’m proud of the grassroots movement that we’ve built over the past year, empowering the people of Longmont to have a voice in what we want the future of Longmont to look like.” said Ready for 100 campaign leader Karen Dike.
“I’m pleased to see the Council taking this step to affirm Longmont’s commitment to clean energy. Our energy production needs to be reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible. This step forward continues us in this direction.” said Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley.
“Longmont is the fourth city in Boulder County, following Boulder, Nederland, and Lafayette to make this commitment, proof that that the momentum for clean energy is both economically feasible on a local level and widely supported by Coloradans,” said Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner.
Longmont’s renewable energy commitment follows a recent PACE Global report by the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) which studied the feasibility of moving to zero net carbon. Sustainable Resilient Longmont, along with a coalition of partners commissioned subsequent review of a report by Catalyst Coop, which encourages the PRPA to take into account future costs of wind, solar, and electricity storage. “PRPA is fully aware that the PACE report is conservative. With the renewable investments that PRPA has completed and initiated since commissioning the study, they have already surpassed the parameters of the study. We are confident that PRPA and its four cities will enter a golden age of clean energy together.” said Longmont City Council Member Marcia Martin.
“The longer that we depend on old and dirty energy, the more we put our neighbors at risk for asthma and our neighborhoods at risk for climate caused wildfires and floods. 100% renewable energy by 2030 is achievable and affordable. It’s time we make it inevitable,” added State Representative Jonathan Singer.
“That we’re having this discussion shows how rapidly renewable energy has grown. This transition is already creating new possibilities for families, businesses, cities and states as we power the economy affordably and reliably. Thank you Longmont city Council for ensuring a just transition,” said immigrant rights advocate Angel Sanchez.
The central fact that will drive the energy industry worldwide in 2018, profoundly affecting businesses, consumers and policymakers, is that “clean energy” is now “cheap energy.”
THE HILL -- Fossil fuel extraction is expensive. It is giving way to cheaper, more flexible technologies, primarily renewables like wind and solar, and electric vehicles. These shifts will change investment decisions, business models, household usage, employment patterns and politics.
What we are watching in 2018:
Big investments mean electric vehicles are likely to surge rapidly
Technological improvements are driving the price of electric cars down. Most industry analysts are forecasting slow growth in this sector. However, we think change may occur more rapidly than predicted, due to decisions by some major businesses to purchase whole fleets of electric vehicles, an increase in the auto industry’s capital expenditures in these products, and breakthroughs in battery storage technology.
Prices of wind and solar energy will continue to drop
Renewable energy is now driving electricity markets in many parts of the world. 2017 saw a remarkable reduction in solar prices and the renewables industry gained market share in India, Mexico, China and the United States. In the Middle East, South and Central America, and African countries, reliable, safe and affordable renewable energy proliferates. During this growth period, renewables will experience some political and financial setbacks, but the industry will overcome those obstacles, as it becomes a permanent and growing part of the energy landscape.
Coal is facing a market buzz saw
Coal demand for power generation will continue its long decline and bleak outlook. Globally, long term trends, driven by economics, climate and environmental policy, are moving away from coal. Expect to see more cancellations of proposed new plants around the world and more retirements of existing plants.
In the U.S., the coal industry’s public relations efforts won’t overcome the sector’s weak fundamentals, characterized by more coal-fired power plant retirements, low energy prices and unstable export opportunities. Although the U.S. coal industry has recently pointed to modest gains in employment and investments, the improvements are temporary, if not illusory. A few companies that export metallurgical coal for steel may see an upside due to improved prices.
The U.S. industry will not recover despite regulatory rollbacks at the federal level. A key question will be whether leaders in coal country will be able to rebalance slumping economic fortunes and employment losses for coal miners with new broader investments in other industries.
The oil industry is In decline
Oil prices have been on the rise over the past two years, moving from a low of $28 per barrel to over $60 per barrel, after the biggest crash in oil prices in decades. But even as the overall U.S. stock market soared in 2017, the energy sector faltered, competing with telecommunications for the worst stock performance in the S&P 500.
Massive capital expenditures and big tract purchases by the oil and gas industry are history. Instead of its’ traditional “strength through growth” rationale, the industry will focus on how to generate cash, reduce costs, limit investments in oil and gas, and diversify.
Rising prices have brought small comfort to the governments and people of oil-rich nations. Russia and Iran face protests caused in part by difficult economic conditions, and even Saudi Arabia is making plans for growth beyond oil. The long decline of the oil and gas sector has had major implications in Norway, which built its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund from oil revenues. In 2017, the fund — known as the “Oil Fund” — is weighing whether to take oil stocks out of its investment indexes as the industry outlook falters.
Even if oil prices continue to rise in 2018, they will not rise sufficiently to cover the overall costs of oil and gas companies or state-run organizations. Natural gas assets will continue to be plagued by high demand and a business structure inadequate to the tasks of maintaining sustainable profit levels. How publicly traded companies will cope with diminishing profits and how political leaders in oil producing countries will manage the challenge to their political legitimacy will be important to watch.
Consumer nations now have options other than to accept the economy-destroying effects of rising oil prices, and their responses may surprise the oil producers.
In sum, the pace of change in every sector will only increase as prices for clean energy decline. Attempts to hold back the tide of transition will inevitably fail.
A disastrous hurricane season combined with wildfires and other extreme weather events inflicted a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 billion-dollar weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage. These events caused 362 direct deaths.
MASHABLE -- These figures come from a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released on Monday morning.
The previous costliest year for the U.S. was 2005, when losses totaled $215 billion, largely due to the three major hurricane strikes of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
The number of billion-dollar events tied 2011 for the most such disasters in a single year. The Western wildfire season alone, which scorched California in particular, cost at least $18 billion, NOAA said, tripling the previous record annual wildfire toll.
Hurricane Harvey, which caused the most extreme rainstorm ever observed in the U.S., had total costs of $125 billion, just behind Hurricane Katrina in the 38-year period of record for billion-dollar disasters. Insurance companies are still tallying the damage for some of these events, so these costs may yet rise further.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma had total costs of $90 billion and $50 billion, respectively, and Hurricane Maria, which demolished Puerto Rico's power grid, ranks as the third-costliest weather and climate disaster on record for the nation.
The spike in costs for 2017 may have some link to global warming, since numerous recent studies have found that extreme heat, wildfire, and rainfall events are becoming more likely and more severe due to climate change. This could, in turn, make such disasters more expensive, depending on how vulnerable the impacted areas. However, NOAA did not make a determination on global warming's role in billion-dollar disasters for this report.
In deluging Houston with up to 60 inches of rain in just a few days time, Hurricane Harvey, for example, hit one of the most flood-prone metro areas in the U.S., where rampant urban development did not take into account the threat of heavy rainfall.
The NOAA cites both increased vulnerability to disasters, in part due to a growing population and more infrastructure in harms' way, as well as climate change for causing an increase in the number of billion-dollar disasters since 1980.
"Climate change is also paying an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters," wrote Adam B. Smith of NOAA in a blog post. "Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change."
There is some uncertainty associated with the billion-dollar event estimates, given that NOAA is drawing from about a dozen databases, from private insurance company figures to public data from the federal government. The costs do not include ancillary costs of these events, such as health care, including mental health care that may be needed for storm survivors for years after an event.
Furthermore, the death toll from Hurricane Maria is still being tabulated, as are the costs, so these figures are likely to be updated in the future.
"They really are a low point to the true costs that are probably harder to calculate," Smith said during a press conference from the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Austin, Texas.
Third-warmest year for the U.S.
The NOAA report also found that 2017 was the third-warmest year on record for the lower 48 states, with an average annual temperature that was 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average. This was slightly cooler than 2012 and 2016, but it marks the 21st straight warmer-than-average year for the country.
In other words, if you were born in the U.S. in 1997 and remained here since, you've never experienced a cooler-than-average year in the U.S. In fact, the globe has not experienced a cooler-than-average month since December of 1984.
Strikingly, the five warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S. have all occurred since 2006, NOAA found.
This year, every state across the lower 48 and Alaska had an above-average annual temperature, and five states — Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, and South Carolina — had their warmest year on record. This is the third-straight year in which every state across the lower 48 states has had an above-average annual temperature, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.
Thirty-two additional states, including Alaska, had a top-10 warmest year.
One way that NOAA measures extreme weather is via the Climate Extremes Index, which takes into account temperatures, precipitation, tropical storms and hurricanes, and other factors. In 2017 it had the second-highest value in the 108-year period of record, which was more than double the average.
Only 2012 had a higher value on this index, NOAA said. Extremes in warm maximum and minimum temperatures, one-day precipitation totals, days with precipitation and landfalling tropical cyclones contributed to the elevated extremes index, NOAA found.
According to NOAA, during the past 38 years, the U.S. has sustained 219 weather and climate disasters where the overall damage costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. The cumulative costs for these 219 events exceed $1.5 trillion, when adjusted to current levels using the Consumer Price Index.
Ann Arbor has pledged to meet city energy use with 100% renewables by 2035 and Fayetteville by 2030.
The number of cities committing to 100% renewable energy goals continues to grow. And while left-of-center communities on the West Coast and New England have often led the charge, it is increasingly spreading across the United States.
Most recently, in December Ann Arbor pledged to power 100% of municipal operations with renewable energy by 2035, as reported by MLive. This will be a complement to the city’s Climate Action Plan and may include joining utility DTE Energy’s MIGreenPower program and/or installing solar on city properties.
And yesterday, Fayetteville Arkansas became the first municipality in the Southern state to commit to transition to 100% renewable energy. The city’s Energy Action Plan will include a goal to power all government operations with clean energy by 2030 and the entire community by 2050.
According to Sierra Club, this makes Fayetteville the 54th city in the nation to commit to 100% renewable energy, although Sierra Club’s list does not yet include Ann Arbor.
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