Tag Archives: Japan

Global Climate Talks: G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

Repost from The Carbon Brief

G7 leaders target zero-carbon economy

Simon Evans & Sophie Yeo, 08 Jun 2015, 17:00
Third working party at G7 summit
Third working party at G7 summit. | Bundesregierung/Kugler

Global climate talks received a symbolic boost today, as the G7 group of rich nations threw their weight behind a long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy over the course of this century.

The joint communique from the leaders of Japan, Germany, the US, UK, Canada, Italy and France reaffirms their commitment to the internationally agreed target of limiting warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It also reiterates their commitment to deep cuts in emissions by 2050.

Today’s declaration goes a step further, however, backing a long-term goal of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions at the “upper end” of 40-70% below 2010 levels by 2050 and decarbonising completely “over the course of this century”.

These milestones are broadly in line with the path to avoiding more than 2C of warming, set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year. The IPCC said this would require “near zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases by the end of the century”.

The 40-70% reduction on 2010 levels by 2050 is the range for 2C set out by research organization Climate Analytics earlier this year. It also just about reaches the 70-95% range of emissions reduction by 2050 that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. A review of whether to adopt this tougher temperature target is expected to conclude at UN climate talks in Bonn this week.

Powering up Paris?

The G7 declaration calls this year’s UN talks in Paris “crucial for the protection of the global climate” and says: “We want to provide key impetus for ambitious results”. It promises to put climate protection “at the centre of our growth agenda”.

However, the G7 nations only account for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd argued recently that the larger G20 needed to drive the planned global climate deal.

As such, the good will of the G7 is hardly enough to guarantee success in Paris on its own. In the run-up to the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen — variously described as a “failure”, “setback” or a “disaster” — the then-G8 group of leading nations said:

“We are committed to reaching a global, ambitious and comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen.”

The same 2009 G8 statement set a goal of cutting emissions by “at least” 50% by 2050 – within the 40-70% range set out by the G7 today. It said developed countries should collectively cut emissions by “80% or more” compared to 1990 levels.

G 7-group -photo
Group photo of the G7 leaders sitting together with their outreach guests on a bench. Source: Federal Government – Bundesregierung / Bergmann.

Zero carbon economy

Today’s text does not repeat this promise on developed country emissions. The novel element is its backing for potentially greater global ambition in 2050, along with complete decarbonisation by the end of this century.

Statements from NGOs — and some newspaper headlines — added their own interpretations to this new pledge. The Guardian said the leaders had “agreed on tough measures” that would cut emissions by “phasing out the use of fossil fuels”. The Financial Times headline  says “G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuels”.

Greenpeace said the text signalled the fossil fuel age was “coming to an end” and that coal, in particular, must be phased out in favour of 100% renewable energy. Christian Aid made similar points, asking global leaders to follow the UK in committing to phase out unabated coal. G7 nations continue to rely on large fleets of coal-fired power stations, whose combined emissions are more than twice Africa’s total.

The G7 language on decarbonisation this century is not specific, however, and does not promise an end to the use of coal or other fossil fuels. Instead, the language could imply reaching net-zero, where any remaining emissions are balanced by sequestration through afforestation or negative emissions technologies.

The most likely method of achieving negative emissions, biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), is controversial because it might require very large areas of land to be set aside for fast-growing trees or other biomass crops.

The G7 “commit to” develop and deploy “innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050”. The communique doesn’t explain which technologies would be considered “innovative”. However, the use of the plural term “energy sectors” perhaps points past electricity generation towards transport, heat and beyond.

Finance

The declaration is thin on new financial commitments – despite some high expectations heralded by chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement in May that Germany would double its contribution to international climate finance by 2020.

The communique says that climate finance is already flowing at “higher levels”. All G7 countries have pledged various sums of money into the UN-backed Green Climate Fund (GCF) over the past year, although all countries’ cumulative contributions are still only around $10bn.

This is well short of the $100bn a year that rich countries have pledged to provide every year by 2020. A significant proportion of this is expected to be channelled through the GCF. So far, there is no clear roadmap on how this money will be scaled up over the next five years – a source of contention for developing countries, which rely upon international donations to implement their own climate actions.

In the statement, the G7 countries pledge to “continue our efforts to provide and mobilize increased finance, from public and private sources”.

This doesn’t equate to a commitment to actually scale up finance, Oxfam’s policy lead on climate Tim Gore tells Carbon Brief:

“They’re saying that it’s higher than it was, and now they’re going to try and maintain it at that higher level. What we were looking for was what Merkel did, and say from the level we’re at now, we’re going up towards 2020.”

The statement also says that the G7 nations “pledge to incorporate climate mitigation and resilience considerations into our development assistance and investment decisions”. This could have particular implications for Japan, which is still investing heavily in coal plants both domestically and abroad.

Conclusion

Despite its shortcomings, the stronger elements of the G7 communique were not easily won. Wording on the long term goal could reverberate at the UN negotiations taking place this week in Germany, sending a message about the pressure that countries such as Japan and Canada are under to toe the climate line.

Both nations have faced criticism for low ambition in their INDCs (still due to be finalised in Japan’s case), yet have nonetheless agreed to a statement pointing towards a decarbonised economy by the end of the century.

Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, says:

“I think it shows the pressure that some of these laggard countries felt under from other countries and from the public in their own countries to not block the language. This is not a kumbaya moment that all of a sudden has transformed the long term goal discussion, and those who have been resisting good language in this agreement are suddenly going to turn around on decarbonisation in the long term goal. I think that’s the political significance.”

    Solar industry heating up in California

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: I still burn fossil fuel in my car, but my home and my electric bicycle are powered by the sun.  In Benicia, call or email Dave Hampton of Diablo Solar – Dave and the crew did a great job on my home.  – RS]

    Solar industry is heating up again after stumbling during recession

    Northern California companies are part of the energy surge
    By Mark Glover, 11/08/2014
    Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing.
    Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing. | Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee file

    The solar power industry, viewed more than a decade ago as a game-changing, jobs-producing juggernaut in California, took its lumps during the recession.

    But now it’s coming back with a vengeance, both here and globally.

    Some California solar system installers say they have work backlogs. New deals to build new solar power-generating arrays are being announced regularly. And the nation’s No. 1 solar installer, San Mateo-based SolarCity Corp., recently created ripples industrywide, announcing a loan program that lets homeowners finance and buy their rooftop solar systems. It also announced an offering of what it calls the nation’s first solar bonds.

    “Inch by inch and now leap by leap, solar is growing and creeping further into the mainstream … and California is a center point for what we’re seeing now,” said Alfred Abernathy, a Bay Area energy analyst.

    That growth is fueled partly by a sunnier economy, falling manufacturing costs, federal tax incentives and increasing consumer and corporate enthusiasm for renewable energy. Solar also has boomed far beyond California’s borders, spreading in China, Japan and Europe.

    For perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the United States currently has about 16 gigawatts of installed solar power, or enough to power more than 3 million average American homes. Through June this year, California accounted for nearly half – 7 gigawatts – of the national total. A gigawatt is a unit of power equal to 1 billion watts.

    By contrast, China’s solar power supply is more than 23 gigawatts, and it has set a goal of 35 gigawatts in 2015. Japan surpassed 14 gigawatts early this year and is working toward a goal of doubling that by 2020.

    Sacramento’s solar hotspots

    The industry’s hot streak has rippled throughout the Sacramento area.

    SolarCity, which employs more than 500 locally, plans to move its rapidly growing sales staff into 60,000 square feet of space at 1000 Enterprise Way in Roseville’s Vineyard Pointe Business Park next month.

    SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive noted that if his company’s Sacramento-area operations alone were considered a single company, it would be among the largest solar firms in the United States.

    Last month, Folsom-based 8minutenergy Renewables LLC received approval to build three solar projects of up to 135 megawatts in Kern County. Collectively called the Redwood Solar Farms, it will be developed on 640 acres of farmland. Construction of the first phase is set to begin in December, with energy production expected to begin in mid-2015.

    Roseville’s SPI Solar, which warned in an early 2013 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that there was “substantial doubt as to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” has found new life since closely aligning operations with LDK Solar Co., its China-based parent company. In recent weeks, SPI has signed a blizzard of solar development agreements in China (regarded as the world’s No. 1 solar market), Japan and Europe.

    David Hochschild, one of five commissioners on the California Energy Commission and an expert in renewable energy, acknowledged that solar energy was once regarded as a relatively exotic technology that was outside the mainstream for most consumers. But that perception is changing, and he envisions solar’s growth path similar to what the mobile phone industry experienced nearly a generation ago.

    “I think the future is very bright, and I think that we will eventually reach the point where solar panels are as ubiquitous as cellphones,” he said.

    Driving the growth

    A combination of factors is propelling solar forward in California.

    For one, an improving economy has helped. Sales and installations of residential and commercial solar systems nosedived during the housing meltdown but are on the upswing now.

    Mark Frederick, president and CEO of CitiGreen Solar in Auburn, says his company is backlogged with orders from commercial clients. “My experience with businesses is that they are willing to invest (in solar) when they have had three good years in a row, and we have been seeing that.”

    Hochschild cites another major factor: “In the past, the barrier has been cost, but it’s no longer a barrier.”

    Improved methods of solar panel production have dramatically reduced manufacturing expenses, said Hochschild. In 1980, solar panels cost around $35 per watt to produce, he said. That fell to around $5 a watt in 2000 and currently stands at around 70 cents a watt.

    Low cost was not always considered a plus in the solar industry. China’s overproduction of solar panels was cited by some energy experts as one of the factors producing a soft market in 2012. But the international playing field has shifted.

    Subsidization of solar projects in China and Japan helped turbocharge the industry in those nations, to the point where Hochschild says the United States is the world’s No. 3 solar market, behind China and Japan, respectively. In China’s case, it went from being a relatively small builder of solar installations to a major builder in just several years.

    That has benefited Roseville’s SPI Solar, which is now finding substantial work overseas due to its relationship with Chinese parent LDK. Xiaofeng Peng, SPI’s chairman, says SPI is now “one of the largest photovoltaic development companies in (China’s) market.”

    Hochschild said California’s solar market also has benefited from Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for a third of California’s energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2020. Also helping the solar industry are federal tax credits of 30 percent for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels by Dec. 31, 2016.

    Tax credits also played a role in SolarCity’s recently announced solar financing plan, which analyst Abernathy called a “game-changer.” “On one level, it’s a variation of the old-fashioned car loan.” Under the company’s MyPower plan, consumers take out a 30-year loan to purchase their rooftop solar system, rather than leasing it, which is the norm. The benefit of buying the system is that the homeowner gets the 30 percent federal tax credit, instead of the solar company.

    Some red flags

    For all of solar’s promise, energy analysts warn that the industry’s history is laced with periods of boom and bust, dating back to the 1954 invention of the world’s first practical solar cell by scientists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

    Already, there are some red flags.

    In Japan, where subsidies and a favorable tariff policy created a solar boom following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, energy analysts are now citing a glut of renewable-energy businesses and applications for solar facilities. Some fear that the industry could collapse under its own weight. Japan solar investors who were betting on relatively high renewable-energy rates over the long term are now voicing concerns.

    In Europe, Germany was the embodiment of solar power expansion from 2010-12, installing a whopping 22.5 gigawatts of capacity. However, solar power installations have declined for two years, accompanied by significant job losses in the industry. Renewable-energy advocates have blamed the German government for enacting policies that restricted tariff benefits and put unreasonable restrictions on utility-scale installations.

    SolarCity’s Rive dismissed concerns about the solar industry and its past history, stating that the recessionary dip in California occurred in manufacturing, not in the growth of solar companies.

    As further evidence of the increasingly mainstream interest in solar technologies, a handful of major U.S. companies are now offering their workers substantial discounts on solar installations for their homes, making it another employee benefit like health care. The discounts will be available to 100,000 employees of four companies – Cisco Systems, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and National Geographic – part of a program announced last month by the World Wildlife Fund.

    To insiders like Rive, that’s yet another sign of the solar industry’s momentum: “Now, more people are educated on it. More people are getting it.”