An Inconvenient Truth: Ten Years On


Ten years ago, Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, sending Italians into a frenzy. Yet, perhaps just as significant was the release of An Inconvenient Truth.

This documentary featured former US Vice-President Al Gore discussing on a slide show, about the consequences climate change would have on our planet in the future. It was a visual tour de force for the eyes, as Gore hit the point home, slide, after slide, after slide, about what will occur if we do not make necessary changes in order to avoid future damage. An inconvenient Truth won the 2006 Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It also became one of top grossing documentaries of all time, taking in $49.1 million, globally.

So what has happened since An Inconvenient Truth has come out?

A lot of things have happened. I won’t go into every crook and cranny on what’s happened since, but I will discuss some key points.

Weather events are getting more extreme: Ok, as much as I love watching a good extreme wrestling bout, the same can’t be said about extreme weather. There is nothing funny, nor pretty about flash flooding, droughts, and intense heat waves.  In, fact it’s quite scary. Consider since 2006, six years have been the hottest globally on record, (2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015). There is a 99% chance 2016 will be even warmer (and it’s not even June yet). Climate analysts suggest these types of events will only increase in warming world, as we head into a “New Normal” of expecting the unexpected in weather. If that won’t get you, perhaps increased insurance rates in the pocket-book will from these situations.

Increased investments in renewables and cleantech investment: While doom and gloom abounds about climate change, one positive has occurred, which is more investments into renewable energy and clean technology. Renewable energy and clean technology has seen revival, thanks to reducing carbon emissions, but also thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which poured $31 billion US into new American clean energy projects. Since then, global renewable energy investment reached a record in 2015 with $329 billion US, with emerging market countries leading the way. Electric vehicles are also finding their way, as they are becoming more affordable, as Tesla Motors has taken already 373,000 pre orders for its affordable ($35,000 per car) model 3 vehicle, and is considered a “game changing” event within the automobile industry due to the amount of rapid sales for an electric vehicle.

Ten years on. An Inconvenient Truth, if anything got more people talking about climate change and began a serious conversation in mainstream society. It’s been used in universities, and schools about what needs to occur about taking climate action. Sure it has its detractors.  Yet at the end of the day, it’s a discussion that needed to be out in the open. Look, I love talking about money (I prepare income taxes, and took economics), but we can’t continue to beat up our planet Earth day in and day out in the sake of maximizing return. There is no economy with no planet. Today we have to technology to move forward, with wind, solar, biofuels, battery storage, and electric vehicles.  The Internet of Things will help to ramp up renewable energy through smart grids, as smart cities will help to ensure improved energy efficiencies in major urban centres.

We owe it to ourselves. If not to save our Earth, but in the very least to upgrade our outdated 20th century infrastructure into the 21st century, and save ourselves future costs from extreme weather events.

So watch An Inconvenient Truth again. Discuss what has changed since. Debate with your friends and neighbors. Be inspired by it. But in the very least come out of it with something new, and take action. Because there is No Planet B.

 

Corporations Leading the Way on Climate Change (Seriously)


Monday’s news from the United States regarding 13 major companies announcing they will invest $140 billion in renewable energy, to reduce carbon emissions, is proving big business is serious about climate change.

Wind farm US Ill.

Wind Energy By Jim Allen Via Flickr Some Rights Reserved

Some of the most well-known brands, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, WalMart, and Coca-Cola said in a statement from the White House they plan to add more than 1,600 MW of additional renewable energy. These 13 companies have promised their support for a climate deal ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris late fall.

Meanwhile, last week, Amazon added their voice in advancing the renewable energy agenda, when it advocated for renewable tax credits in US congress. Thank the world’s largest e-commerce store for purchasing a North Carolina wind farm, in championing both the Investment and Production Tax Credits.

Here are some driving factors why this is a trend that’s likely here to stay.

1. Consumers are voting with their dollars, not necessarily at the ballot box: Ok, I get this where politics is important and elections drive climate policy (including the upcoming Canadian Federal election this fall). However, consumers voting with their dollars has become a new way of doing politics outside the government realm. Ethical funds, consumer boycotts are some ways customers can voice their displeasure with how companies are doing business. Businesses, have a faster response time with consumers, rather than governments with their constituents on many problems. Case in point, Newsweek, recently highlighted Corporate America’s critical role in supporting same- sex marriage and other social issues:

Fortune 500 corporations are trying to appeal to (or at least avoid offending) the widest possible swath of Americans. “Inclusiveness” may not be good politics in this day of polarization and micro-targeting, but it seems to be good business. And that is making the business community the sort of “big tent” political force that neither major political party can claim to be.

While don’t expect the CEO of Suncor to be buddies with New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulclair any time soon, big business will have a bigger ear towards consumers going forward, or they will lose customers business.

2. The Carbon Investment Bubble is About to Burst:  Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking 2012 Rolling Stone article about how Earth could only burn 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere by 2050 before this planet can keep within the 2C limit, was the catalyst of divesting from fossil fuel investments. Now, fossil fuels becoming a more riskier investment. as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney noted these investments will become financially abandoned.

3. IT and Internet companies Are The Backbone for Renewable Energy: From Apple, who runs all their US operations on 100% renewables, to Google, who has bought 1.1 GW of clean energy, information technology and internet-based companies have been leaders in supporting renewables. Tom Friedman’s 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded exemplified how information technology was going to be critical in moving green technology forward.

We are starting to see this marriage become a reality, with these companies investing heavily in The Internet of Things, and smart grid technology. Smart grid markets are estimated by 2020 to reach past $400 billion globally. Hence, there is real incentives for the likes of Google, Apple, Cisco, in reaping the rewards of strong climate change policy.

It’s not perfect. Sure, but corporations are becoming leaders on this issue. And it may very well be driving many Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman fans bonkers.

US Adds 1.3GW of Solar PV in 1st Quarter of 2015: GTM Research/SEIA


United States solar market continues its growth, fuelled by residential PV installations, which advanced by 76% (437MW) in the first three months of 2015.

Solar Energy Industries Association/Green Tech Media (GTM) Research, who co-publish the US Solar Market Insight quarterly reports on the state of the industry, said overall installations were 1.3GW in Q1 2015. This was the sixth straight quarter where more than 1GW of new solar capacity was added.

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Image Credit: Photon Energy via FlickrSome Rights Reserved

This also accounted for 51% of new US electricity generation brought online, said senior vice president of GTM Research Shayle Kann.

Kann expects greater than 3 million home solar installations in the next five years, thanks to a more extensive movement towards customers engaging in energy creation, management, and use.

California (not surprising) lead the way in 2015 first quarter installations, followed by Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, New Mexico, and Maryland, round out the top ten in new capacity

Image credit via: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

Image credit via: GTM Research

Prices also fell this past quarter for home solar systems by 10% compared to 12 months earlier, at $3.48/watt. This is especially good news for consumers who are looking to take advantage of solar’s falling prices, with improved technologies.

One interesting side note from this report which kind of surprised me was how North East US record snowfall this past winter did not hamper new solar capacity:

The Northeastern U.S. experienced one of its worst winters ever recorded, but that didn’t prevent the residential solar market segment from having its best quarter of all time. The first quarter tends to be the slowest time of the year for the solar market due to weather, accounting and tax considerations. Despite these headwinds, the residential market still grew 11 percent over last quarter, its previous high-water mark.

What this recent report is solar is becoming the real deal. It’s a testament when despite pitiful weather conditions could have hurt new solar pv in Northern Atlantic states, places like New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland were in the top ten for new overall installations.

As SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch said “Solar continues to be the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States. By 2016, the U.S. will be generating enough clean solar energy to power 8 million homes.”

Resch added solar power can 8 million cars off the road, or 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Not bad, considering fossil fuels like Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson mocks renewables, despite its growth,and ignoring 97% of scientists who suggest climate change is real.

If you want to go deeper into this report go to the SEIA website, where you can download the report.

Climate Change Today: Weather Underground Infographic


Today in the food for thought category, Weather Underground had put out a nice, clean, infographic explaining the causes and effects of climate change.

Considering 97% of scientists agree that carbon emission levels (which are currently over 403 parts per million) is pushing man-made climate change, the effects are nothing to ignore.

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Image Credit: Climate Change Today via Weather Underground

What this infographic does nicely is show what effects (extreme weather, higher temperatures, higher sea levels) will occur.

So pick what concerns about our changing climate and advocate for it.  For me, it’s the cost of inaction of doing nothing. Plus my second problem is how governments need to update old and outdated infrastructure, in order to meet the needs of a warming world, as Bloomberg discussed in April:

Severe weather is the leading cause of power disruptions, costing the U.S. economy from $18 billion to $33 billion a year, and climate change will only make it worse, a White House review on energy infrastructure concludes.

The report, released Tuesday by the Energy Department, recommends investments in the electric grid to protect it from the severe storms that may be occurring more frequently because of global warming, as well as from physical and cyber-attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the report at Peco Energy Co. in Philadelphia. Biden noted that more electricity is being generated from solar and wind, which are challenges to the grid. Renewable energy resources often are in rural areas where power is needed least, requiring lines to bring it to consumers.

 “How and where we’re producing energy is changing and our energy infrastructure has to keep up,” Biden said.
Infographics provide information to people who don’t have the time to read a 20-page report. It’s critical to nail the key points in a specific issues (like climate change) within one page, so people can advocate for their concerns better. This is one of the better infographics on climate change geared towards the general public.

SolarCity Tops 6GWh, Doubled Electricity Generation Since April 2014


SolarCity keeps on rolling and breaks its own milestones at rapid rates.

According to a post on LinkedInthe top US solar panel installer on June 2nd reached 6GWh of solar electricity in a single day, doubling its generation rate in one day of 3GWh in April, 2014. SolarCity said on their LinkedIn page they “Can not wait to see what summer brings,” referring to reaching 7GWh soon.

It was only in late March they reached 5GWh, easily smashing 4GWh, two weeks prior.

I had predicted in the same CleanTechnica post 6GWh in solar electricity generation in a day was feasible by early summer for SolarCity, which they easily accomplished as noted by the below graph.

SolarCIty 6GWh Graph

Image: SolarCIty 6GWh via SolarCIty LinkedIn page

Even more astonishing is how fast this was achieved in five years to reach 6 GWh of solar electricity production. Consider, by 2013, only 1 GWh was produced in a day. Within two years it’s now six times that!.

Declining solar costs, driving climate change concerns will factor into SolarCity’s ferocious appetite to push clean electricity further.

All that solar power will come in handy as US energy demand could increase up to 95 gigawatts within the next 5-25 years, in order to meet cooling needs from increased heat waves.

With “The dog days of summer” on its way, and peak consumption period from the hot weather, I would not be surprised if SolarCity reaches 7GWh in a day by early July.

Until then, I am excited by the possibilities Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s CEO & Co. have in store.

Infograph: Union of Concerned Scientists: US Solar Growth


Ok, I figure I would share this info graph with everyone from US-based Union of Concerned Scientists regarding the jaw-dropping growth of US rooftop solar energy since the start of 21st Century.

Consider this:

In 2005, the average rooftop solar system cost $40,000. However by 2013, a roof based solar power plant would cost $20,000. If customers decide to lease a solar system, installations costs are $0.00. Examples of companies providing leasing options for those wanting to go solar include SolarCity and Vivant Solar.

Add by 2017, more than 50% of US states will have solar electricity prices cheaper than local utilities. Currently, many states, including California, Texas, Arizona have prices as affordable as the grid.

What’s more impressive is how many households have gone solar. In 2006, 30,000 households had added a solar system to their home. By 2013, those numbers reached 400,000. By 2020, depending estimates, range from 900,000 to 3.8 million homes going solar.

So what has drove solar’s ascension? Here are three critical reasons.

1. Climate change concerns and mitigating risk.

2. Declining solar costs (and even more proof here).

3. US Government tax credit policy.

Without all three, I don’t think you would see the disruption you are seeing in the US utility sector.

So what does Canada have to do to duplicate the United States growth?

Feel free to email me at adamjwpg@mymts.net your thoughts. You may also contact me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Three Things Environmentalists Should Jump For Joy On Earth Day


 

Tomorrow is Earth Day. We will gather to celebrate the Mother Earth in all her glory.

We will also hear a lot of doom and gloom about the planet we live on. Sure, there is a lot of gloomy stories to worry about. Carbon emissions last year went above 400 parts per million (ppm) and went to 402 ppm recently. We have seen record storms and droughts in recent times that should raise concern among climate policy makers.

Despite some of the end of the world mentality by many environmentalists, here are three things to get really excited about as you celebrate Earth Day:

1. Cost of Solar Falls Like A Ton of Bricks:

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Image Credit: China Solar Panels via WikiCommons

It was not long ago, the cost of solar power was really expensive. Solar costs in 1950 were $300 per watt and $27.00/watt in 1980. In 2013, solar plummeted to $0.74/watt. That is an astonishing figure. Solar is price competitive to coal in some places. What is occurring with solar energy, and other renewables occurred with the late 1990’s information technology boom, which created the framework for Web. 2.0. Governments, and utilities will have to kick out their old 20th century style energy policies out the door, thanks to the open sourced energy model solar offers.

2. SolarCity and Tesla Motors Are Rolling:

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Image Credit: Tesla Motors Model S via WikiCommons

Tesla Motors and SolarCity in the past few years have really taken off in the Nasdaq stock exchange and are hot talking points.

At the end of Monday, Tesla Motors stock was worth $204.38 USD a share, an increase of more than $100.00 a year ago. Meanwhile, SolarCity’s share price hit $57.13. While not as high as earlier this year, it’s almost five times more than the initial IPO offering of $11.79/share on its first day of trading in December, 2012.

In March, the Globe & Mail put SolarCity’s bright future into context:

To put this in perspective, two-thirds of all solar energy systems in the U.S. were installed in the last two-and-a-half years. I don’t think it’s just tree huggers who are installing these systems, either. These are financial decisions. And for people who don’t have $20,000 or more to invest up front in a solar energy system on their roof, solar leasing is a popular solution.

Within the sector, Solar City is a clear leader by market share in the U.S. It specializes in putting solar energy systems on homeowners’ roofs. Solar City, and other companies like them, pay for the entire installation and recoup their money by signing the customer to a long-term energy-purchase agreement. Everybody wins because Solar City generates a healthy profit over the life of the solar-power system, while the customer pays less for power compared to their feed from the traditional grid. Customers can still use grid power, but most of their electricity comes from their roof, and if the grid goes down, they are still generating their own power.

Take SolarCity’s monster share of the US solar market, along with Tesla’s ambitious plan on building a “gigafactory” for its electric cars, and you see how the long-term motor vehicle and energy market trends may shape out this century.

3. Spectator Sports Are Becoming More Sustainable:

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Image Credit: Spark Renault Formula E Car via WikiCommons

One of the biggest complaints about spectator sports (Auto Racing, NFL) is the big footprint it leaves. Major sports leagues are now taking up the sustainability charge.

Averaging about a 4 million carbon footprint annually, NASCAR is often on the “Hit List” of many environmentalists. Ironically, they have also brought in some green changes, including an E15 ethanol blend, and working with ACORE on energy efficiency initiatives.

Meanwhile, Formula E, the first ever electric vehicle racing circuit will kick off this September. Announced in 2012, its hoped the new racing venture will reduce carbon emissions, create jobs and advance the electric vehicle industry.

In the NFL, many teams have embraced renewable energy strategies to save costs and the environment. These include the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins.

Society Better Equipped to Fight Climate Change Now

As you sit back on Earth Day, sure be mad about a lot of things. But at the same time lets start being more positive on the changes that are taking place. Ask someone thirty to forty years ago, if wind, solar energy, or electric vehicles would become apart of mainstream society? You would be laughed right out of the building.

Sure nothing is perfect. However, but as you are seeing now with declining solar costs, cleantech stocks becoming hot talking points on Wall Street, and less carbon footprint from spectator sports show society is moving in the right direction. If you ask me, We are more equipped now to take on climate change, then we were even twenty five years ago. That my friends is progress.

Happy Earth Day.