International clean energy experts discuss investment levels, zero emissions vehicles, building emissions, gender equality in Vancouver meetings

CEM10-MI4_LogoIn the week of May 27, representatives from global government, industry, and NGO’s met as Canada hosted the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver. Several announcements were made against that backdrop:

Investment support for clean energy: The federal government announced it will contribute up to $30 million to Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada (BESC),  a public-private initiative to support “cutting-edge companies to deliver game-changing clean energy innovations to the market.” This Canadian program will be administered by Natural Resources Canada – in collaboration with Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion investment fund launched in 2016 by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.  The Canadian press release quotes Gates: “ We are hopeful that this Breakthrough Energy partnership with Canada will be a model for developing more collaborations…” A summary appears in “Canada launches homegrown version of Bill Gates-led clean energy fund”   in the National Observer (May 27).

The National Observer hosted a panel discussion on clean energy investment on May 28. The panel included the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors and author of the 2019 report,  Leveraging Sustainable Finance Leadership in CanadaA summary and video of the panel’s discussion is hereThe discussion revealed that, unbeknownst to Canada, the  European Commission and the European Investment Bank  have also reached agreement with Breakthrough Energy Ventures on a new €100 million fund to support clean energy investments – described in a May 29 press release.

Clean energy investment trends are worrying, as reported by the International Energy Agency in  World Energy Investment 2019 (May 14) : “Global energy investment stabilised in 2018, ending three consecutive years of decline, as capital spending on oil, gas and coal supply bounced back while investment stalled for energy efficiency and renewables.”  In May,  BankTrack and others published  Fool’s Gold – the Financial Institutions Bankrolling Europe’s Most Coal-dependent Utilities , naming the financial institutions behind almost €16 billion in support to the coal industry since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015.

electric truckZero emissions  vehicles: The International Energy Agency released the 2019 edition of one of their flagship publications, Global EV Outlook, which provides historical analysis, projections to 2030, and insights on electric vehicle and charging infrastructure deployment, ownership cost, energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and battery material demand. As part of the discussions on electrification of transportation at the CEM10, Canada became the first national government to endorse the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero (Drive to Zero) campaign, with British Columbia and the City of Vancouver also signing on . A press release explains “Drive to Zero is a strategic international initiative designed to catalyze the growth of the zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero-emission (NZ) medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector (MHDV), which includes everything from transit buses to eighteen wheelers to box trucks to school buses. Pledge partners promise to collaboratively put in place supporting mechanisms to speed the early market for these vehicles and equipment.”  Drive to Zero is a program of CALSTART,  a nonprofit consortium with offices in New York, Michigan, Colorado and California, and international partners which include Clean Energy Canada.  As Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources stated in the press release, this is in line with Canadian priorities: the Final Report of the Advisory Council on Climate Action  ( May 28) recommends policies concerning zero-emissions vehicles, including “The Government of Canada, working with partners and stakeholders, should develop an integrated strategy to reduce emissions across modes of transportation, including actions to support modal shifts.”  Related: on May 2, the Pembina Institute published Fuel Savings and Emissions Reductions in Heavy-Duty Trucking : A blueprint for further action in Canada  . 

Gender Equality in Clean Tech:  Over 100 organizations have now signed onto the Equal by 30 initiative, an international campaign begun in 2018. It “ encourages companies and government to adopt gender-equal principles, advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition and take concrete actions to support women in the sector.” A summary of the Gender Diversity participants and events is here . 

Hydrogen as a source of clean energy: A new “Hydrogen Initiative was announced  under the leadership of Canada, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and the European Commission, with the International Energy Agency as co-ordinating body. The initiative is intended to drive international collaboration on policies, programs and projects to accelerate the commercial deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across all sectors of the economy, especially industrial and transportation applications.

Building efficiency: Heating and cooling strategies in the clean energy transition: Outlooks and lessons from Canada’s provinces and territories is a report released at the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings on May 27. It is the result of collaborative research between the International Energy Agency and the National Energy Board of Canada. Using Canadian provincial data, it examines energy demand patterns and energy policies regarding  heating and cooling services in buildings, urging policies to move from natural gas to existing, cleaner technologies.  The National Observer summarizes the report in “Cutting fossil fuels could save Canadians  $24 billion a year by 2050”  .

Clean energy investment declining in Canada; and a profile of Calgary’s clean energy economy

clean energy transition takes hold coverClean Energy Canada has released the 2017 edition in its Tracking the Energy Revolution series, on March 30.   The Transition Takes Hold  analyzes clean energy markets around the world, with an emphasis on investment trends.  The report states that global clean energy investment in 2016 totalled C$348 billion, with China, the U.S. and India collectively responsible for half of that amount.  This C$348 billion global clean energy investment represents a 26% decrease from 2015; in Canada, investment fell by 53%, from C$4 billion  to C$2 billion. The decrease, for the second year in a row, sees Canada fall from 9th to 11th place in the world for clean energy investment. To provide context, the report states that Canada already derives 80% of its power from emissions-free sources, and that fact, coupled with relatively stable demand for electricity, limits the need or opportunity for new investment. The opportunities for growth clearly lie in export markets.

The Transition takes Hold provides some estimates for employment in clean energy, based mostly on the 2016 Renewable Energy and Jobs publication by the  International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).  Since Canada is not an IRENA member, the report states only that in 2015, Canada was home to 10,500 jobs in wind and 8,100 in solar PV – but no source for that information is provided.  Based on figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, the report states that  the solar industry created one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. in 2016,  with wind turbine technician as the country’s  fastest-growing occupation.

At the local level, and  providing a window into the growing green culture of Alberta, is Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy: Summary Report , published by the Calgary Economic Development department.   It states that the city’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and employed approximately 15,470 jobs in 2015, equal to 1.8% of all workers in the Calgary Economic Region.  The report points out that “Calgary is a well-established ‘talent hub’ of high-value added, service-oriented workers that are experienced in the energy industry”, with the suggestion that the traditional energy sector provides a talent pool for the growing green sector. For this report, the green energy economy is categorized into four sub-sectors: renewable power supply and alternative energy; energy storage and grid infrastructure; green building and energy efficiency; and green transportation, and for each sub-sector, the report provides statistics as well as “on the ground” information about existing companies , supply chains, policies and programs . Green building and energy efficiency account for the largest GDP and number of jobs.   Interesting Appendices include a SWOT analysis, and a brief comparative look at policies of other cities around the  world.   Research and analysis was conducted by The Delphi Group.

Calgary_skyline _Kevin_Cappis

Calgary Skyline by Kevin Cappis.  Creative Commons 4.0 license.

Clean Energy is unstoppable – and China is in the lead

January 2017 began with an attention-getting report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth” .  Similarly, the Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook published  by the World Economic Forum states:   “ renewable energy technology, especially solar and wind, has made exponential gains in efficiency in recent years, enough to achieve economic competitiveness and, in an increasing number of cases, grid parity.”   A January 5 post by Clean Energy Canada,  “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to Pass up ” , documents the economic and political  forces driving clean energy in the U.S., and offers this chart comparing the number of jobs in solar to the fossil fuel industries.

jobs-in-solar-vs-oil-and-gas-jan-2017

from Clean Energy blog post, “Clean Energy is too good a deal for Trump to pass up” (January 5, 2017)

And in an unprecedented move for a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama has written “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy”  in Science (Jan. 9), with an overview of his energy policy legacy, and making the case that market forces in the U.S. will carry it on.

A general consensus is that the clean energy train  has left the station, and China is driving that train.  A January 2017  report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is the latest to document the growing dominance of China in the renewable energy industry in   China’s Global Renewable Energy Expansion: How the World’s Second-Biggest Economy Is Positioned to Lead the World in Clean-Power Investment.  The report  states:   “The change in leadership in the U.S. is likely to widen China’s global leadership in industries of the future, building China’s dominance in these sectors in terms of technology, investment, manufacturing and employment. ” According to the IEEFA,   Chinese global investment in clean energy exceeds $100 billion annually, (more than twice that of the U.S.), and is expanding beyond Asia to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America. It cites the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 report ( Nov. 2016) to state that China holds 3.5 million of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs globally. Small wonder when five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms, and five of the ten top wind-turbine manufacturing firms are owned by  Chinese companies.  Between 2015 – 2021,  “China will install 36% of all global hydro electricity generation capacity … 40% of all worldwide wind energy and 36% of all solar.”See a summary of the details of the IEEFA report in “China cementing Global Dominance of Renewable Energy and Technology”   in The Guardian ;  the Globe and Mail  summary   “U.S. and Canada falling behind China in race for renewable energy” (Jan. 6) rather badly understates the case .

The trend  seems set to continue.  On January 5, the Chinese National Energy Agency announced its plans for the next phase of energy investment: see “China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020 ” in the New York Times.

In Canada, the latest major report tracking clean energy investment was published by Clean Energy Canada in June 2016.   Tracking the Energy Revolution    reported reduced investment in 2015 (from $12 billion to  $10 billion), although renewable generation capacity grew by 4% in that time.  Even before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework, Clean Energy Canada called this a “pivotal time” for renewables, and sets an optimistic tone.  That boosterism is also apparent in   “Challenge 2017: Rays of hope shine on solar industry despite ‘Trump digs coal’ mantra” in the Financial Post (Jan. 3) – a mostly anecdotal story of Canadian solar manufacturers, and  “Canada can cash in on a cleantech boom“, in the Toronto Star (Jan. 5). The Star article  applauds  a recent clean energy-focused trade mission to China by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the clean-tech incentives announced in the December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on  Clean Growth and Climate Change, and recent federal and provincial policies that set aggressive targets for renewable energy use in government buildings and operations.

U.S. Fossil fuel workers need early retirement, guaranteed pensions, and clean energy futures

A Just Transition program of income and pension-fund support for workers in fossil fuel–dependent communities could be provided for approximately $500 million per year, according to the Just Transition proposals by Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci. “A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers” was published in American Prospect in July and re-posted to Portside on July 11. It estimates the numbers of jobs at risk in the fossil fuel industry, contrasting coal and the oil and gas industry, and assumes  that displaced workers will be re-employed in a growing clean energy industry. The Just Transition proposals focus on: Retirements at age 64 with full compensation; Guaranteed fully-funded pensions; and Community transition.  For coal workers, pension funds are managed through the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds, which is currently underfunded by $1.8 billion. The authors call for the federal government to  bridge that gap with funding from  companies and the government. In the oil industry, the authors call on the U.S.  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to use its legislated  power to prohibit the oil companies from paying dividends or financing share buybacks until the pension funds are fully funded, and to place liens on company assets if pension funds are underfunded.  Acknowledging that the decline of the fossil fuel industry, already underway, will bring hardships to entire communities, they point to past experience: the Worker and Community Transition program operated by the Department of Energy from 1994 to 2004 to cushion the impact of nuclear decommissioning. Once example from that program:  a successful economic diversification program in Nevada, which repurposed a nuclear test site to what is now a solar proving ground.  Another previous community assistance program, the Defense Reinvestment and Conversion Initiative,  is deemed less successful.  The authors conclude that a Just Transition program is eminently affordable at approximately  1 percent of the $50 billion in overall public spending needed to build a U.S. clean energy economy. And they state,  “ It is also an imperative—both a moral and strategic imperative.”

Canadian Climate Change Policy: The Vancouver Declaration and Subsequent Federal budget

The First Ministers meeting in Vancouver raised enormous expectations, culminating on March 3 with the release of  an 8-page  Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change  ,  (in French here ). The Declaration pledged immediate federal investment in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy efficient social infrastructure; investing in clean energy and clean tech R & D, as well as electric vehicles and clean electricity. It creates working groups to report by October 2016, in four areas: Clean Technology, Innovation and Jobs; Carbon Pricing Mechanisms; Specific Mitigation Opportunities; and Adaptation and Climate Resilience.  Acknowledging that ANY federal-provincial discussion represents progress from the Harper years,  reaction to the meetings was generally optimistic – for example, Four Reasons the First Ministers Meeting on Climate Matters  from Clean Energy Canada, and Vancouver Declaration Moves Canada Closer To A National Climate Plan  from DeSmog Blog.   The Council of Canadians disappointment is explained in “Council of Canadians protest as first ministers fail to take needed action on climate change”  , and the outrage of some Indigenous leaders marred the meetings, see “Indigenous leaders shocked at exclusion from climate change meeting”  in The National Observer  . For a simple, balanced overview, read “From Paris to Vancouver: What happened at the First Ministers meeting on climate” by Marc Lee at Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives  , who rightly points out that achieving a clean economy is a  political problem, not a technical problem, and who advises us to “watch the budget”.

Action on climate change is listed as one of the top 10 things Canadian unions want to see in the federal budget, according to the Canadian Labour Congress.  And the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives included a call for a national carbon price of  $30 per tonne  in their Alternative Budget  .  When the actual federal Budget  was delivered on March 22 by  Finance Minister Morneau, he characterized the new government as a “champion of clean growth and a speedy transition to a low-carbon economy.”   Spending allocations include: $2.5-billion for public transit; $1.8-billion on green infrastructure; $574-million for energy and water efficiency upgrades in social housing;  $401-million for a variety of clean-tech development efforts;  $1.7-billion for climate and environmental protection, and an additional $1-billion in  each of 2018 and 2019 to establish a low-carbon economy fund for provinces and territories that sign on to a national climate agreement.   The Budget did NOT eliminate  fossil fuel subsidies, and DID include a provision to allow LNG producers to write off their capital investments at an accelerated pace for the next 10 years.  For an overview, see “Liberals unveil spending as ‘Champion of Clean Growth”  in the Globe and Mail (March 22).  Read CUPE’s response here .