White House Releases “Skinny” Budget: Extreme Diet for Clean Energy and Innovation

The Trump Administration released today what is known as the “skinny” budget because of the lack of specifics, and, while this is more of a political statement than a political reality, it is clear that any program remotely related to climate or clean energy is recommended for the chopping block. Climate programs like the Global Climate Change Initiative and Green Climate Fund were expected targets, but also eliminated were popular programs like Department of Energy’s flagship ARPA-e initiative; TIGER grants for transportation innovations; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance and Weatherization Assistance Programs that pay for and reduce energy bills for low-income families; and Energy Star whose labels are ubiquitous at appliance retailers. Dozens more are slated for refocus, reduction or elimination.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are saying this is “dead on arrival”, but a concern is that such a high number of programs across all sectors—not just climate and clean energy—are eliminated that it will be impossible to save them all and have the President still sign the final appropriations bills. In fact, the President has a great deal of leverage given that Congressional Republicans are eager to push to his desk both the healthcare repeal and tax reform. Congress, not the President, will pay the price for government inaction and shutdown in the 2018 mid-term elections.

So, what should we do as a community of clean energy and technology advocates and innovators? Since the agencies will be fighting against rather than on behalf of their own programs, it will be the job of Congress and all of us outside the government to stand up for our own federal government. Let’s figure out which programs have strong constituencies that Members of Congress are well-aware of and clearly support. We have to assume many of those will be restored. We find programs that industry has benefitted from and continues to engage in—and put those businesses to work being heard. The challenge will be identifying those programs that fall into the gap—that have clear benefits but not constituencies that can realistically fight for them—leaving them more vulnerable to deep cuts. Those are the programs we should be worrying about and that we will need to be more creative about supporting.

It will be critical to tell success stories, to engage everyone from grassroots to grass-tops and top brass, and to make the case that clean technology is good for the economy and for the transition into well-paying jobs in parts of the country that most need them. The private sector can’t do that alone; the federal government brain trust is crucial to enable research, development, and deployment partnerships that spur innovation and scale technology. Let’s work together to make sure the fiscal haircut does not include decapitation—that in the effort to reduce government spending we do not also diminish U.S. global leadership in clean energy.

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Where will our energy come from in 2030, and how green will it be?

Original interview posted by the World Economic Forum.

How can the energy industry adapt to meet the needs of a growing population while also supporting low-carbon growth?

Katherine Hamilton, Director of the Project for Clean Energy and Innovation, and co-chair of the Global Future Council on the Future of Energy, says that this essential transition will not happen without collaboration between large energy companies, entrepreneurs, the finance sector and consumers.

Why should we be thinking about the future of energy?

The energy sector is already changing very rapidly. It is transitioning, we hope, towards greater ability to meet the energy needs of a growing global population with reduced use of carbon, supporting continued economic growth in an environmentally sustainable way.

But that transition will not necessarily happen on its own. We need to get key players in the same room who can bring different experiences and perspectives, and collectively come up with better ideas than any of us could on our own – and then work out how to implement those ideas. Hence the need for this Global Future Council.

Who are the key players that need to be involved?

The incumbents are important, of course – the large energy companies who own and control the infrastructure, especially in industrialized countries. They are often criticized as part of the problem, but they also have to be part of the solution. In addition, we need the innovators – entrepreneurs who are coming up with ideas to disrupt the sector. And we need input from energy consumers, including large corporations and municipalities.

Representatives of the financial sector are important – experts in bonds, risk and insurance. There is plenty of capital out there looking for good projects to finance, but the main constraint for investors is the assurance that those projects will find a market. Creating certainty is one important thing politicians and policymakers can do to help – and it is they who, ultimately, will need the vision to define goals for the energy sector and devise policies to achieve them.

What are the biggest emerging trends in the energy sector?

The decentralization of energy generation is an enormous trend. Innovation is also being democratized; it is no longer just the incumbents who can innovate. Consumers, increasingly, are in the driver’s seat; there is more real-time interaction between energy service providers and consumers – whether that is the operator of a factory with sophisticated demand response or an Indian farmer using a mobile phone to manage crops.

We are continuing to see drastic reductions in the cost of many renewable technologies as well as greater accessibility to energy storage and efficiency.

How far are we from renewables no longer needing subsidies to compete?

Any time you talk about subsidies for renewables, you also have to remember that incumbent players have benefited from built-in subsidies for decades through policy support and monopoly power. Often there is a misconception that energy was a free market before the idea of subsidizing renewables came along. That is not the case, and we need to recognize that when we ask how best to adjust the market for innovation going forward.

What kind of innovations are we seeing in energy, and what might we expect in the coming years?

The sharing economy will be increasingly important in the transport sector. There is potential to improve efficiency and greatly reduce emissions as we move towards more electric and autonomous vehicles.

There is also room to harness data to make the grid and entire energy ecosystem more efficient. The data is available, through advanced meters and mobile applications, for example, but we have yet to fully exploit that data to move energy to where it is needed, smartly and in real time.

I expect to see more “community solar” projects, as collective consumers invest in generating and storing power. There will be more distributed generation using a variety of technologies, such as solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, and hydropower. We will see further innovations in multiple uses of energy storage, such re-purposing car batteries to store electricity.

In the coming years we might see some breakthroughs in carbon capture and storage – and, no doubt, there will be innovations and applications nobody has thought of yet.

What needs to be on the agenda for energy stakeholders?

Above all, we must have a solid plan to reduce carbon, To reach that, we have to define what we value – not just improving access to energy, and guaranteeing energy security to meet the needs of economic growth, but doing all of this in a sustainable way and one in which carbon emissions are drastically reduced. Then we need clear and transparent benchmarks against which to measure our progress.

We also need a vision that combines the decentralized and the centralized – embracing more distributed generation, while looking at the larger system and how we can move energy around globally in real time.

Finally, how might the energy sector look by 2030?

I fear that we will be paying for our previous failures to reduce carbon emissions, and being increasingly preoccupied with climate change adaptation. But I also believe that we can have a sector that delivers much higher access to energy than today, with greater use of renewables, incentivizing innovation and creating economic growth while reducing our impact on the planet.

The Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils took place on 13-14 November in Dubai.

The Future of Electricity: Clean and Bright

What happens when you bring together nearly two dozen energy leaders from across the globe into a room for several days of uninterrupted discussion on the Future of Electricity? Throw in jet lag for anyone not from United Arab Emirates, add a cocktail of fossil fuel interests along with renewable energy advocates, shake well in nearly 100 degree F heat, and one could not imagine consensus coalescing around almost anything. Surprisingly, perhaps, this group, convened by the World Economic Forum, agreed on a set of trends that indicate change is nigh in the electricity sector:

  • The world is increasingly electrified.
  • Renewable energy has the greatest capacity growth.
  • Clean energy enables growing universal access to electricity.
  • Energy security increases as a result of more indigenous clean electrification.
  • Distributed energy resource deployment is significantly increased.
  • Energy storage provides critical grid services.
  • Consumer engagement and choice shape future electric growth.
  • The price of electricity may increase briefly, then decrease, over time.
  • Regulation supports and accommodates these changes.

This transformation will not happen organically, however. The group also identified requirements to realize this transformation in our electric system:

  • Politic targets must be clear, transparent, and consistent.
  • Regulation should anticipate trends and create a climate for investment.
  • Power markets and platforms must be open for all participants.
  • Financing mechanisms should be clear and risk factors understood.
  • Business and monetization models must evolve.
  • Consumers must be allowed to participate.
  • Special provisions should be made for universal access.

It was affirming as a participant in this process to hear from others about the same policy hurdles I deal with every day in Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory bodies. My firm‘s public policy work, while mostly centered in the U.S., can be informed by policies that have been tried elsewhere with varying degrees of success. That the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Electricity could arrive at these principles and requirements should give us all a cogent road map to this transition. Read the full report here.

Omnibus Package: Sausage with Delicious Clean Energy Provisions

Post published on 38 North Solutions website here.

The omnibus deal—PATH (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015)–was sausage-making at its most intense, but the product should be palatable for most parties in clean energy. Extensions for renewables and efficiency tax credits were key sweeteners to lifting the oil export ban. In addition, clean energy R&D funding, reauthorization and increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and climate change funds (Clean Technology and Strategic Climate Funds of Bank for Reconstruction & Development and Global Environment Facility) were included in the deal. While the solar and wind credits are phase-downs, the trajectory should provide much-needed certainty to renewable energy investors, developers, and consumers and will serve as a bridge to implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the longer-term market driver for clean energy in the U.S.

House and Senate leaders—McConnell (supported by Chairman Hatch of Senate Finance), Reid, Ryan, and Pelosi—were key to ensuring that this deal could pass their caucuses, and the White House provided additional feedback throughout the process to ensure the President would sign the resulting package. Because of vociferous opposition to lifting the 40-year oil export ban, the environmental community for the most part had to sit this fight out. The renewable energy industries, in particular solar whose credit did not expire until the end of 2016, had to carry much of the water on the renewable energy extenders. New allies were made, especially in the Republican Caucus, that allowed for greater bipartisan support than has been seen in a number of years.

Now, the renewable energy industries can turn their focus to state and local policies, siting and permitting issues, and compliance strategies for the Clean Power Plan.