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.

Zapped Out: The Cost of Video Games


Recently I went to EB Games to see what was out and upcoming in the video game world. Batman: Arkham Knight, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Rainbow Six Siege will all have us gaming fanatics on the edge of our seat very soon.

897595F5-CDBE-4BAD-B6CB-2FC13BB51FD9CEF23B88-92C8-4C6E-AC1E-CE4AE435453F

Image Credit: Adam Johnston

However, my mouth dropped. Not for the anticipation for these blockbusters. No, instead it was the prices which had me shaking my head. For example, it will take a small mortgage of $79.99 to buy Call of Duty Black Ops (which is due out in November, 2015) , $79.99 to get your kicks from FIFA 16 (will feature 12 national women’s teams and headed for a September, 2015 release), and $74.99 to get your hands on Rainbow Six Siege (coming out in October, 2015), all for Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

Many games still are $69.99 for these two systems. A few years ago new releases for when Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 were in its prime was around $59.99.

It comes down to three questions regarding video games pricing and costs related to consumers. What is pushing the costs of games up? Why is the price the way it is when you go to a video game store?  And are video games in general more expensive than in past years when factoring inflation and other factors?

First, let’s look at what’s pushing the costs up: Increased budgets. Video games today, are not like its 8-bit NES predecessors.  Technology today is far more effective and cheaper, helping push what gaming developers can do. Today’s video games resemble more like a big budget theatrical movie. It’s common for video games to have budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars today. This requires a lot more help to produce these games, including voice actors, and designers, The Economist noted:

As characters, items, levels and visual effects have become more intricate and detailed, developers have had little choice but to throw more and more artists at the problem. Another reason costs are rising is the increasing professionalism of the industry. These days, Hollywood actors are hired (and paid handsomely) to voice characters. The biggest developers market-test their products to destruction. Like political parties honing a slogan, they offer snippets of gameplay to focus groups. If anything is found to be too difficult, too obscure or simply not fun, it is sent back to be re-done. That kind of quality control costs serious money.

Expect budgets of your favorite video games to increase as the current next generations systems are starting to gain market traction said The Economist. 

Now question two, who sets the price of a video game?  It’s not the store where you buy it, but the distributor, according to a CBC article. For example, Activision will set the price of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, or EA Sports for FIFA 16 at $79.99 when it first comes out. Stores like Best Buy, EB Games do not have much of a say on pricing for when games first come out.

This is also created a debate on how much value gamers get in hours of play vs. the cost, which CBC argued about the short play time for The Order 1886 vs. its $74.99 price tag.  Expect this trend to continue as budgets rise and distributors need to maximize profits in order to costs.

Which leads me to question three. Are video games, in general, more expensive to buy now than in previous times?

The answer is muddled.

If you add inflation to this mix, according to IGN then no. For example, An NES game twenty-five years would cost you $50, would be $89.00 now. An NES system, which cost $199.99 in 1985, is around $434.69 in today’s cost.

Meanwhile, a Playstation 2 (PS2) game in 2000 at $60.00 a pop would set you back about the same now. A PS2 system in 2000 which was $299.99 is $407.44 now. Very little increase with inflation factored in.

In fact, Forbes technology columnist Erik Kain argued video game prices should cost more, thanks to massive budgets, and more realistic gameplay. He argues today’s gamers are getting a bargain, in compared to other times in history when inflation is added.

However, his argument is kind of flawed considering when you factor Moore’s Law, where exponential technologies have improved all aspects of technology, driving cost down. Does anyone recall laptops in 2000 being $2,000? Now you can get a laptop for around $300-$400.00.  You can argue this for video games which have brought technology costs down for this industry, and cancelling Kain’s ideas of increasing gaming prices.

Add constant bombardment of downloadable content (around $20.00 to $35.00), Internet costs ($65.00 a month for high-speed Internet with a local provider), yearly online fees ($49.99 for Playstation Plus) and headphones ($150.00 for high quality ones) to get the most interactive movie-like experience, and it’s not as cheap as you think.

Lastly, stagnant wages, plus a low Canadian dollar, stifles consumer purchasing power. Consumer may likely not want to spend on games, as they feel the pinch with increased prices. Hence, why it’s unclear as to why it’s cheaper to buy video games than in the past. Ironically, this may not deter millennials (one of the video game industries top demographics), as they are willing to spend more on entertainment, despite not having the wealth of past generations.

PS4-Console-wDS4

Image Credit: “PS4-Console-wDS4” by Evan-Amos – Media:PS4-Console- via Wikimedia

Let me know what your thoughts are. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+

 

 

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.

3664051538_29c9e77b02_z

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.

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:

800px-Electrical_and_Mechanical_Services_Department_Headquarters_Photovoltaics

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:

800px-Tesla_Model_S_(108)

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:

800px-Spark-Renault_SRT_01_E_(Formula_E)

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.

 

 

 

 

From Cleantechnica: Ube Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Support Smart Dimmer


This is really neat. Please note, that Ube had just switched their crowdfunding campaign to Kickstarter.

Ube Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Support Smart Dimmer (via Clean Technica)

Disruptive technologies and the emerging crowdfunding platform are becoming more commonplace as not only a marketing and finance tool, but also changing the dynamics of how energy is distributed. Enter Austin, Texas-based company Ube, who launched their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for their award…

From CleanTechnica: China Reaches 50 GW Of Connected Grid Wind Capacity; Expected To Top 140 GW By 2015


China is serious about cleaning up their air and rapidly moving towards a sustainable economy. This is what the power of globalization looks like.

China Reaches 50GW Of Connected Grid Wind Capacity; Expected To Top 140GW 2015 (via Clean Technica)

China advanced past 50 gigawatts (GW) of on-grid connected wind capacity in 2012, and is expected to grow a further 40% by the end of 2013. GTM Media Research and Azure International in their China Wind Market Quarterly for the fourth quarter of 2012 said the emerging market country is on target this…