By: Susan Kraemer
This summary comes, not from just another renewable energy blogger like myself, overwhelmed by the gushing hose of news out of Steven Chu’s newly invigorated Department of Energy, but from a surprising source. The Wall Street Journal.
“The government’s multi-billion-dollar push into energy research is reinvigorating 17 giant U.S.-funded research facilities, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory here to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. After many years of flat budgets, these labs are ramping up to develop new electricity sources, trying to build more-efficient cars and addressing climate change.”
For example, the last time Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab saw this level of funding was during the last big renewable energy push - in the Carter era. It had initially been one of three labs set up to work on the atom bomb, during the second world war.
When the Reagan administration came in, renewable energy research was once more cut. All the early research advantage that the US had in solar and early electric car R&D went overseas to Japan.
As someone who covers renewable energy news; I see an overwhelming number of innovative projects now being funded by Steven Chu’s Nobel-prizewinner directed Department of Energy.
Metal-Air Battery With 11 Times the Energy at Half the Cost?
DOE Using CO2 to Extract More Geothermal Energy
Top ARPA-E Funding to Renewable Storage in Liquid Battery
ARPA-E to Pump Money into Nocera Biomimic Photosynthesis
California to Get Smart Grid Funds to Bottle Wind which was part of
Obama Announces New Recovery Act Smart Grid Funding -- $3.4 Billion
South Carolina to Lead US With $98 Million World-Class Wind Center
To Wrap Around that New Battery technology, Cheaper, Lighter Cars From Carbon Fiber
Govt Picks a Winner: Tesla Gets $465 Million
President Obama: $800 Million for Biofuels and Flex-Fuel Vehicles
President Obama Announces $2.4 Billion in Funding for Electric Vehicles
Solyndra Solar Wins First DOE Funding which was just the first solar investment, then:
US Department of Energy Dishes Out $87 Million for Solar Technology and Deployment
Obama Unveils Largest-Ever Investment in Advanced Batteries
Another Day, Another Humungous Renewable Energy Funding Announcement From DOE
Obama Announces US $467M in Stimulus Funding for Geothermal and Solar Energy Projects
Obama Commits $13 billion for High Speed Rail
In this downturn, more VC funding news has come from the Department of Energy, than from Silicon Valley. It is not often that a renewable energy writer like me will agree with the fossil-fuel-friendly Wall Street Journal, but this level of science funding truly is generation-changing.
Let’s hope, when the next administration takes over; that we don’t throw away our current round of advanced research, like we did the last time after the last push in the ’70s. We Americans suffer from a swinging political pendulum that has hurt us before.
2. Shows that the “Fossil Party” can be deposed
In each democracy, the fossil industry is able to pick one party to prevent action on climate change, on its behalf. The party names differ in each nation, but in each country - one party represents hope for a future, and one represents continuation of behavior that will kill us all, over centuries.
The Fossil Party and the Future Party.
For example, the “Fossil Party” took over Canada in 2006 and was able to promptly renege on Kyoto, through its proxy, Conservative Party leader; Steven Harper. The oil sands are just about the worst thing to happen to Canada, with the resource curse of the lobbyist army that crawled out. Canada’s Conservatives control 99% of the seats in Alberta, where energy legislation is decided.
In the US, the fossil industry has metastasized within the Republican party with Senator Inhofe alone recieving $2,182,631. Previous climate legislation has been killed by Republican majority Senates.
Yet the Senate now has 60% Democrats. Seven more votes to ratify Copenhagen is a stretch, but it now has a chance.
The single biggest lobby on Capitol Hill is the US Chamber of Commerce. Recently it has been discovered that a tiny group of 18 members provides 30% of its funds. While the sources are not publicly available; it is possible that the most powerful industry is simply laundering money through the Chamber; given its position on climate change.
Yet businesses have been leaving the Chamber in protest.
3. Local legislation has national effects
One or two Republicans have consistently voted for renewable energy legislation over the past two decades: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe - - both from America’s equivalent of Sweden: 55% renewably powered Maine.
This indicates that it is possible to turn Fossil Party Senators into Future Party votes, once a tipping point is reached in their state. Legislation like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that an increasing percent of utility energy must come from renewables, increases the chances.
Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa might be next. Iowa now gets 15% of its energy from wind, because of local renewable energy legislation. It doesn’t have to be a high trigger. Thirteen percent renewably powered California’s Republican Governor is another example.
This effect of local change is why funding the development of a world-class wind center in South Carolina was good strategery on the part of the Obama administration. Republican Lindsay Graham is a key climate vote and will only solidify once wind energy takes hold in his state.
4. Experience with carbon cutting quells fears
The nations that signed Kyoto are now more easily amenable to taking the next step. Experience with renewable energy development calms opposition. Despite initial fears, The EU economy grew while implementing Kyoto and reducing CO2 emissions up to 13%, even better than their goals. Initial goals were to get to 8% or so under 1990 by 2012.
The German Marshall Fund Study, Ten Insights From Europe on The European Trading System (original pdf) found that cutting carbon worked in trailblazer Europe, despite lots of mistakes, and offered ten insights for followers:
1. Don't worry too much. Even imperfect policy worked to get carbon emissions down.
2. But you could design Cap and Trade to be "fixable" as you go, anyway, and adjust as you go.
3. Get an accurate count of projected emissions or carbon prices will be lower than expected.
4. Be bold because switching from fossils will be much cheaper than everyone thought.
5. Most industries will profit from renewable energies with net benefit to the overall economy.
6. Tailor individual solutions for the few industries that are genuinely at risk.
7. Minimize incumbent sector impacts, even while boosting profitability of renewable energies.
8. Be tough on industries with the potential to clean up, go easy on those who can't.
9. Keep free allocations down, auction as much as possible.
10. Avoid a general carbon tax at the border, do a separate one for the few industries that really need one.
Like the EU, Russia and Japan are also suggesting 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, (but won’t go higher). Norway is offering the most: 30% - 40% below 1990 by 2020. Switzerland: 20-30% below 1990. Even Ukraine is offering 20% below 1990. Brazil: 36% (from BAU) by 2020. Mexico: 50% below 2000 by 2050. South Korea: 4% by 2020 from 2005 levels. Indonesia: 26% by 2020.
With the return of Conservative control, Canada is now having trouble getting to its Kyoto target of 6% below 1990 levels. Despite this, Canada is still offering a modified cut: 20% below 2006.
Likewise, in Australia and New Zealand; despite some power shifts from Future Party commitments to returns to Fossil Party control; both nations are still offering cuts, albeit weakened.
Kevin Rudd took over in 2008 and signed Kyoto on his first day, and is now under threat of being toppled by the issue. Yet, Australia is still offering 25% below 2000 levels with an international agreement or between 5 - 15% without one.
New Zealand’s former leader Helen Clarke had pushed for a 90% renewable powered nation by 2025. Now under conservative leadership; New Zealand is downgrading those more ambitious goals - but they are still offering 10-20% below 1990 by 2020.
Once a signer, always a signer. And now that the US can possibly sign this year, next time every nation will be a former signer.
These are the reasons I’m hopeful about Copenhagen. Overall, rich countries' pledges for 2020 average out to 16-23% below 1990 levels, according to UN figures.