Big Pivot: Business Can Play a Profitable Role in Combating Climate Change, with Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston is a bestselling author and business strategist who has advised some of the world’s top companies on environmental matters. In his new book, The Big Pivot, Winston advocates for a major shift in business priorities away from short-term earnings and toward long-term sustainability. Despite outside pressure to achieve quick wins, Winston believes the business community can help tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues (such as climate change) “using the tools of capitalism, markets, and competition to do it most profitably.”

In his recent Big Think interview, Winston calls climate change “arguably… the greatest challenge we face for humanity.” Not only does it have a negative effect on our environment, climate change has been and will continue to be catastrophically expensive for both the public and private sectors. Yet, thanks to efforts to raise awareness about its many costs, Winston expresses confidence that the growing environmental movement can make a lasting impact. All they need is help from the outside.

Winston illustrates two key reasons why the business world is sometimes sluggish on environmental issues. The first is that common myths still plague sustainability, most notably the myth that “there’s this fundamental trade-off between trying to manage these big challenges in a profitable way and just managing your bottom line in a normal way.” For a long time, green products and services were known to be quite expensive. That dated reputation has persevered despite the fact that it’s no longer steeped in truth. Businesses are slowly coming to realize this:

“There’s a whole category of things that companies do that save money very quickly. All things that fall under kind of the banner of eco-efficiency or energy efficiency. I mean, in part, green is about doing more with less. That’s just good business and so that part of the agenda has become much more normal in companies and they’re finding ways to cut costs dramatically.”

More than just these quick and easy fixes, it’s never been more economical to do something like install solar panels on the company’s roof:

“The cost of that has been dropping dramatically, 70-80 percent reduction in cost of, you know, using solar power in the last five years. So the economics have shifted. This is now very good for business. Almost all of the agenda of The Big Pivot is good for business in the long term, in the medium term and very often in the short term. So there isn’t this tradeoff. This is the path to growth. This is the path to innovation.”

The second obstacle facing Winston’s big pivot is the media, specifically its unsettling reluctance to cover issues related to climate change. Winston points to the recent climate march in New York that drew 400,000 people to the Big Apple yet was barely a blip on the press’ radar:

“There’s a very strange thing that’s happened where, I don’t know, climate change is boring, it’s not sexy, it doesn’t seem exciting and so it doesn’t get the coverage it needs… And it’s a shame. I think there’s an opportunity to highlight how far we’ve come and the opportunities we have to change our lives for the better and make business a part of the solution and make it more prosperous and more profitable. And I think we’re missing out on telling that story.”

So Winston’s goals for enacting the ideas espoused in his book are to dispel the common myths about the monetary price of going green and to raise awareness through media channels. Once those benchmarks are cleared, there will be little standing in the way of a business-led environmental revolution.

Citation: Winston, A.[Big Think]. (2014, November 5th). Business Can Play a Profitable Role in Combating Climate Change[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3CxMZOmCgo

A Tricky Transition From Fossil Fuel: Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Denmark, with a pioneering wind-power program, is above 40 percent renewable power on its electric grid. It wants to be off fossil fuels by 2050. Credit: European Press photo Agency/E.ON/HO

Denmark, with a pioneering wind-power program, is above 40 percent renewable power on its electric grid. It wants to be off fossil fuels by 2050. Credit: European Press photo Agency/E.ON/HO

COPENHAGEN — Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

Their policy is similar to that of neighboring Germany, which has spent tens of billions pursuing wind and solar power, and is likely to hit 30 percent renewable power on the electric grid this year. But Denmark, at the bleeding edge of global climate policy, is in certain ways the more interesting case. The 5.6 million Danes have pushed harder than the Germans, they have gotten further — and they are reaching the point where the problems with the energy transition can no longer be papered over.

The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run.

But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day.

That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

With their prime assets throwing off less cash, electricity suppliers in Germany and Denmark are on edge. They have applied to shut down a slew of newly unprofitable power plants, but nervous governments are resisting, afraid of being caught short on some cold winter’s night with little wind.

The governments have offered short-term subsidies, knowing that if they force companies to operate these plants at a loss, it will be a matter of time before the companies start going bankrupt.

Throughout Europe, governments have come to the realization that electricity markets are going to have to be redesigned for the new age, but they are not pursuing this task with urgency. A bad redesign could itself throw customers into the dark, after all, as happened in California a decade ago.

Denmark is geographically lucky. It has strong electrical linkages to neighboring Sweden, with plentiful nuclear power capacity, and Norway, with power available on demand from dams. But Swedish politicians have vowed to shut down the country’s nuclear plants and go renewable, and Norway’s cheap hydroelectric power is in rising demand, with a supply line under consideration to energy-hungry Britain. So the Danish electricity industry sees trouble coming.

“We are really worried about this situation,” Anders Stouge, the deputy director general of the Danish Energy Association, said in an interview. “If we don’t do something, we will in the future face higher and higher risks of blackouts.”

The government is somewhat dismissive of that notion but well aware that it needs to find a way out of this box. Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago.

But the political risks of the situation also ought to be obvious to the greens. The minute any European country — or an ambitious American state, like California — has a blackout attributable to the push for renewables, public support for the transition could weaken drastically.

So the trick now is to get the market redesign right. A modest version of reform would essentially attach a market value, and thus a price, to standby capacity. But Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, told me he was tempted by a more ambitious approach. That would involve real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

As Denmark, like other countries, installs more smart meters and smart appliances able to track those prices with no human intervention, one can imagine a system in which demand would adjust smoothly to the available supply. Most people would not care if their water heater were conspiring with other water heaters to decide when to switch on and off, as long as hot water reliably came out of the tap.

Yet, even if Denmark can figure out a proper design for the electric market, it has another big task to meet its 2050 goal: squeezing the fossil fuels out of transportation. Prematurely, perhaps, the country embraced a proposed system of electric cars in which depleted batteries would be switched for fresh ones in minutes, but only a few hundred cars were sold before that overly ambitious plan flopped.

Mr. Petersen told me he still felt electrification of cars was the way to go, but the cars themselves were not really ready.

“We need longer range and lower prices before this becomes a good option,” he said. “Technology needs to save us here.”

Citation: Gillis, J. (2014, November 10). A Tricky Transition From Fossil Fuel: Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/science/earth/denmark-aims-for-100-percent-renewable-energy.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=1

A Battery to Prop Up Renewable Power Hits the Market

A new kind of battery that stores energy from solar and wind power cheaply and cleanly has hit the market. It is by far the cheapest of a new generation of large, long-lived batteries that could make it possible to rely heavily on intermittent, renewable energy sources.

A battery module built at Aquion’s plant in Pennsylvania.

A battery module built at Aquion’s plant in Pennsylvania.

Aquion Energy, a company spun out of Carnegie Mellon University, recently delivered the first of its batteries to operators of small power grids, or “microgrids,” that can operate independently of the centralized grid.

Microgrids, which typically use local energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower, could help hundreds of millions of people who live beyond conventional grids get reliable electricity. Batteries can store power from solar panels or wind turbines to provide round-the-clock power. Alternatively, diesel generators can be used.

Aquion’s batteries use sodium ions from saltwater as their electrolyte. Electrical current moves through this brackish liquid from positive electrodes based on manganese oxide to negative ones based on carbon. The batteries are large and operate slowly, but they are also manufactured cheaply, using repurposed manufacturing equipment. Last week Aquion announced $34.6 million in funding to help it scale up production.

The batteries cost about as much as lead-acid ones, which are sometimes used now, but they last twice as long, effectively cutting the long-term costs in half. Other long-lived batteries exist, but they cost far more than lead-acid batteries.

The new energy storage technology could be crucial to making renewable energy more viable, especially in remote locations. By making solar power cheaper than diesel fuel in many places, it could help bring clean power to some of the more than one billion people in the world without reliable electricity.

As costs come down further, the batteries could find new applications beyond microgrids, including stabilizing conventional power grids as they come to rely more heavily on renewable energy.

The company isn’t disclosing where its batteries are being used—except to say the projects are international.

Bullis, K. (2014, November 14). A Battery to Prop Up Renewable Power Hits the Market. Retrieved November 14, 2014, from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532311/a-battery-to-prop-up-renewable-power-hits-the-market/

Global Energy Demand To Soar By 2040, Putting ‘Stress’ On World Supplies: IEA Report

A technician repairs power supply lines at a power plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat. In its annual World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency on Wednesday said India would become the world's "leading engine of energy demand" by 2040.

A technician repairs power supply lines at a power plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat. In its annual World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency on Wednesday said India would become the world’s “leading engine of energy demand” by 2040.

Global energy demand is set to soar over the next two decades, threatening to “stress” the world’s energy systems as countries struggle to maintain supply, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday. The agency advised that significant investments and policy changes are needed to ensure that enough oil and natural gas are drilled and renewable energy projects are developed to match the pace of global consumption.

In its annual World Energy Outlook, the Paris-based agency projected that global demand will rise by 37 percent by 2040. “As our global energy system grows and transforms, signs of stress continue to emerge,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.

That growth, however, actually signals a slowdown in demand compared with previous decades. Aggressive policies and new technologies to boost energy efficiency in buildings, factories and cars have helped to curb some of the world’s appetite for energy. The pressure on energy systems “would be even greater if not for efficiency measures that play a vital role in holding back global demand growth,” according to an agency press release.

ieademand

According to the IEA report, the use of coal and oil will steadily plateau, while natural gas use and consumption of low-carbon fuels like nuclear power and wind and solar will grow the strongest. Renewables could account for nearly half of the world’s increase in power generation over the next three decades, and overtake coal as the leading source of electricity, the agency said.

“Renewables are expected to go from strength to strength, and it is incredible that we can now see a point where they become the world’s number one source of electricity generation,” Van der Hoeven said.

Much of the growth in global energy demand will come from India, which would overtake China as the leading engine of energy consumption by the mid-2020s as China’s population levels off and its economic growth slows, the IEA said in its report.

Citation:

Gallucci, M. (2014, November 12). Global Energy Demand To Soar By 2040, Putting ‘Stress’ On World Supplies: IEA Report. Retrieved November 14, 2014, from http://www.ibtimes.com/global-energy-demand-soar-2040-putting-stress-world-supplies-iea-report-1722440

Watch the Proliferation of Solar Energy Output Grow Across the Top 30 US Markets, 2010 to 2014

solar-energy

By the end of 2009, the United States had installed 1,164 cumulative megawatts of solar PV. In less than five years’ time, that total had skyrocketed to nearly 15,000 megawatts, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s U.S. Solar Market Insight report.

The short animation below shows the adoption of solar PV across the nation’s top 30 solar states. In the first quarter of 2011, California crossed the 1,000 cumulative megawatt mark, and in Q4 2013, the state installed 1,200 megawatts of PV in just three months.

Other states to keep your eye on in the animation are Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and North Carolina.

Climate Panel Issues Dire Report as Renewables Make Little Impact

By David Talbot on November 3, 2014

The latest comprehensive global scientific assessment of climate change, released on Sunday, sounds the direst warning yet about the need to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But despite years of such reports, fossil-fuel use and human-caused emissions continue to rise, and renewable energy technologies have so far failed to make a significant difference.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-convened panel of the world’s scientific community, estimates that in order to have a 66 percent chance of limiting total average warming to less than 2 °C relative to preindustrial levels—a goal widely seen as a threshold beyond which severe changes are far more likely—the world’s human population can emit no more than one trillion tons of carbon dioxide, and that we’ve already emitted more than half that much.

Avoiding going over one trillion tons would mean reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 40 to 70 percent by 2050 and slashing them to almost zero by 2100, the report estimates.

Such estimates were first made in 2009 (see this Nature paper) without prompting much in the way of policy changes to reduce emissions. But this is the first time the IPCC has embraced the concept of a global carbon budget in one of its comprehensive sets of assessments, which the panel issues every few years. On Sunday, the IPCC released the synthesis of the fifth set of such reports since 1990.

The task ahead is now far clearer for countries that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says Myles Allen, lead author of the 2009 paper, who heads climate research at the Environmental Change Institute of the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. These nations will meet for the next round of climate talks in Paris in late 2015.

With the IPCC having reviewed and endorsed the idea of a carbon budget, nations “haven’t got any excuse to ignore it now,” he says. “It’s not for the IPCC to recommend policy, but speaking personally, I very much hope [the countries] will now acknowledge the fact that their two-degree goal implies a cumulative limit on carbon emissions. And it is a limit we are rapidly approaching.”

At current rates, the “budget” would be spent in just 30 years. Reducing emissions below the threshold is a monumental task. It would require large-scale burial of carbon dioxide from many hundreds of existing coal power plants—but this effort has barely begun (see “Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late?”). In addition, it would require almost quadrupling the present supply of renewable energy and nuclear energy, the report estimates, as well as other vast efforts, including stopping deforestation and making widespread changes to agriculture practices.

And yet emissions keep rising. As one example, coal power plants already produce more than 14 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year (that’s about four billion tons of carbon) and are becoming more numerous.

If we continue on the current path, heat-trapping gases will build up to produce a surge in average global temperatures of 3.7 °C to 4.8 °C by 2100. The result will be a dangerous rise in sea levels, more profound droughts and heat waves (greatly stressing world water and food supplies), and more powerful storms and floods.

The idea of a carbon budget could clarify matters for governments, says Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. “This concept might prove useful at the negotiating table, as it changes the question from one of annualized emissions of individual nations,” he says. “Negotiations could then focus on how to divide that budget amongst individual countries.”

The IPCC says it is at least 95 percent certain that human activities, led by the burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of the climate change seen since 1950, up from 90 percent in the previous assessment in 2007 and 66 percent in 2002. Its report is based on 30,000 scientific papers studied by about 830 authors and 2,000 reviewers.

Citation:
Talbot, D. (2014, November 3). Climate Panel Warns Again of Disastrous Climate Change | MIT Technology Review. Retrieved November 9, 2014.