IEA: Universal Energy Access Achievable by 2030

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the number of people without electricity fell from 1.6 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016—and that the most cost-effective strategy for lowering that number is compatible with the demands of global climate change goals. The analysis, which looked at 140 developing countries, concludes that universal energy access is possible by 2030 and that solar technology will be the linchpin of the effort.

“Providing electricity for all by 2030 would require annual investment of $52 billion per year, more than twice the level mobilized under current and planned policies,” the IEA analysis reports. “Of the additional investment, 95% needs to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa. In our Energy for All Case, most of the additional investment in power plants goes to renewables. Detailed geospatial modeling suggests that decentralized systems, led by solar photovoltaic in off-grid systems and mini-grids, are the least-cost solution for three-quarters of the additional connections needed in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although coal supplied 45 percent of energy access between 2000 and 2016, its role in new access will shrink to 16 percent, according to the report. Meanwhile, renewables are poised to take the leading role, growing from 34 percent of the supply over the last five years to 60 percent by 2030. The reason: they are becoming cheaper, and the hardest-to-reach people live where off-grid solutions offer the lowest cost.

The biggest gains in access will be experienced by developing countries in Asia, particularly India, which could achieve universal energy access by 2020. But 674 million people, nearly 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, will remain without electricity even after 2030, the report said.

The IEA report underscores the central role of energy in meeting human and economic development goals. One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by 193 countries is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030.

PJM Opposed to Department of Energy Directive

More than 500 comments—some hundreds of pages long—were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Monday’s deadline following Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s September directive to FERC to change its rules to help coal and nuclear plants in wholesale power markets. The change proposed by Perry would mandate that plants capable of storing 90 days of fuel supplies at their sites get increased payments for providing “resiliency” services to the grid.

The largest grid operator, the PJM Interconnection, in comments asked regulators to reject the directive, calling the plan “unworkable.”

“I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market,” said Andrew Ott, who heads up PJM Interconnection, noting that PJM feels Perry’s proposal is “discriminatory” and inconsistent with federal law.

Ahead of Monday’s comment period, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute hosted a webinar for state regulators explaining the legal and market implications of Perry’s directive.

FERC is allowing to Nov. 7 for parties to file responses to the initial comments.

Senate Committee Approves Trump EPA Nominees

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a 11 to 10 party line vote, on Wednesday advanced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Michael Dourson and William Wehrum to the full Senate where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can schedule a vote for confirmation. Dourson, a University of Cincinnati professor, longtime toxicologist and former EPA employee, is being considered to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office of chemical safety and pollution prevention. Wehrum, who currently serves as partner and head of the administrative law group at Hunton & Williams—a practice focused on air quality issues—is slated for the post of assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of air and radiation.

The two nominees were questioned at a confirmation hearing Tuesday where much focus was placed on Dourson’s post as a special advisor at the EPA and his duties associated with that role. Committee Democrats questioned whether Dourson was violating the law by working at the EPA prior to being confirmed.

“Your appointment creates the appearance, and perhaps the effect, of circumventing the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent responsibility for the position to which you have been nominated,” 10 Democrats wrote in a letter to Dourson, warning that it would be “unlawful” for him to assume the duties of the position to which he’s been nominated.

Wehrum’s hearing, which was held earlier this month, focused in part on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—a program managed by the office of air and radiation.

“The RFS is a very complex program, and there are extensive provisions within the law that govern how it should be implemented, and even more extensive regulations that EPA has adopted,” Wehrum said. “So, I have to say I know a bit about the RFS. I don’t know everything about the RFS. So, I said this before, but I really mean it. If confirmed, part of what I need to do is fully understand the program and part of what I need to do is fully understand your concern, and I commit to you that I will do that senator.”

The other nominees approved by the committee are Matthew Leopold for assistant administrator for the Office of General Counsel, and David Ross, for the Office of Water.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Senate Approves Funding for U.N. Climate Agency; House Votes on Funding for Methane Rule

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16 to 14 to approve an amendment to restore funding for the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a spending bill for the State Department, setting up a negotiation with the House over its version of the State funding bill, which does not fund the U.N. climate agency.

“[This] fits in with Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson’s desire that we both continue to monitor the changes in the world’s climate and that we keep a seat at the table,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who sponsored the amendment.

The Senate bill would direct $10 million to the body that oversees U.N. efforts to address climate change, despite President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut funding in his first budget draft earlier this year. Since 1992 the United States has contributed some 20 percent of operational funding—$6.44 million—for the secretariat of the UNFCCC and last year provided 45 percent—$2 million—to its science wing, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Senate bill would not restore U.S. funding for the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor countries adapt to climate change.

The vote on the bill came between two highly destructive hurricanes that representatives of some small island nations are pointing to as they press their case for wealthy countries to pay not just for adaptation but also for climate-related “loss and damage.”

“If ever there was a case for loss and damage, this is it,” Ronny Jumeau, U.N. ambassador from Indian Ocean island nation the Seychelles, told Reuters, referring to Hurricane Irma and other recent storms.

“Hurricane Irma graphically shows the destructive power of climate change and underscores that loss and damage isn’t some abstract concept, but the reality of life today for the people who contributed least to the problem,” said Thoriq Ibrahim, Maldives’ environment minister who chairs the U.N. negotiating bloc Alliance of Small Island States.

On Wednesday, the House voted to block funding for an Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas drilling sites. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had imposed a two-year delay on the implementation of the 2016 regulation to review the rules and potentially roll them back. But in July, a federal appeals court blocked the Trump administration from eliminating the methane rule.

DOE Solar Program Hits Target Early; Funding Issued for Cybersecurity

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this week, announced that efforts to make solar power more cost-competitive hit a key target. The average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—a price hit three years ahead of a target DOE set through the SunShot Initiative in 2011.

“It’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made, and be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead,” said Dan Simmons, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “Solar’s costs have dramatically declined, but electricity rates have not. As we experience greater penetration of solar [photovoltaics], we experience new challenges.”

DOE attributed the early milestone to rapid declines in the cost of hardware.

In the same announcement, DOE said it will spend $82 million to research energy storage and technologies that could help grid operators detect problems rapidly not only to reduce physical and cyber vulnerabilities, but also to enable consumers to manage electricity use.

Separately, the DOE also announced plans to fund $20 million in energy cybersecurity projects through an array of national labs, universities and private companies.

“This investment will keep us moving forward to create yet more real-world capabilities that the energy sector can put into practice to continue improving the resilience and security of the country’s critical energy infrastructure,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Hurricanes Raise Climate Change Issue

The devastation following two hurricanes—Harvey and Irma—that made landfall in the United States this month and last have renewed debate about climate change. On a plane ride from Columbia, Pope Francis—who has spoken out about the issue previously—weighed in on the debate.

“If we don’t turn back, we will go down,” said Pope Francis. “Those who deny it should go to the scientists and ask them. They are very clear, very precise. They [world leaders] decide and history will judge those decisions.”

Although many in the Trump administration are not discussing climate change, it is rumored that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn will host an energy and climate discussion with international officials.

The invitation, obtained by Politico, says the gathering is an “opportunity for key ministers with responsibility for these issues to engage in an informal exchange of views and discuss how we can move forward most productively.”

A White House official told The New York Times that the meeting was intended to be an informal discussion to help the Trump administration find a way to fulfill the president’s pledge to reduce emissions without harming the American economy.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

A Sleepy Start for 2010

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

First Things First: Our story left off at the COP-15 negotiations, minutes after world leaders released their three-page Copenhagen Accord [pdf], a broad statement of political intent to address the issues that–according to the (old) UN schedule–should have been addressed by now. This result begs the question: Did 2009 end with more or with less ambiguity about how to address climate change? The potential answers feel more like a Rorschach test than points of debate.

We do know certain things: No one has any illusions about the difficulty of bringing the community of nations to agreement on how to rebuild the global energy economy.  We know that the United Nations process failed to produce a legally binding emissions-reduction and sustainable-development treaty. Or even a political agreement that offers clear guidance to a treaty. We know that China frustrated European and American leaders at key moments, even blocking discussion of national efforts in the Accord, a move that caused German Chancellor Angela German Merkel to demand, “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” It will be interesting to watch the build-up to COP-16, in Mexico City this November, given the certainly dramatic, inevitably anti-climactic (anti-climatic?), year-long sprint to Copenhagen.

We are confident that we have very little idea what course the U.S. Senate will take in coming weeks and months. The leadership troika of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) appears to be pushing ahead, despite the pessimism engulfing much of the chattering class. Political intrigue erupted this week when two Democratic senators, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, announced their retirements, putting at risk the majority’s ability to maintain a filibuster-defeating voting block. We continue to expect global media interest in geo-engineering to vary inversely with media interest in emissions reductions. And we know that observable phenomena consistent with warming predictions continue to emerge.

Continued international and U.S. policy uncertainty puts renewed spotlight on nascent regional programs, and on the private sector. Companies making up the FTSE 100 are, on average, projecting that they will meet the U.K.’s target of a two-to-three percent reduction annually, according to a new Carbon Disclosure Project report. Global investment managers (not, of course, compelled to act, as FTSE firms are, by a new U.K. law) have yet to substantially incorporate climate risk assessments into their portfolios. Perhaps Google will find a way to solve some of the complications involved in the struggle toward carbon neutrality.

The Center for Public Integrity prefaces the coming activity on climate legislation with a deep dive into lobbying records. The number of registered businesses and groups hovered steadily, around 1,160. But that number conceals about 140 newcomers to the debate, including highly visible consumer firms, such as Campbell Soup Company, Kellogg Company, and Del Monte Foods. “[T]he domestic politics are only growing ‘curiouser and curiouser,’ as Alice might say from Wonderland,” report Marianne Lavelle and M.B. Pell.

New Year’s Resolutions: The holiday break gave Climate Post some time to think about this project, the year passed, and the year ahead (and, for a goof, to begin reading the “climategate” e-mails). And a slow news week opens up space to share thoughts.

The conceit of traditional news-gathering, and by extension, this blog,  is that what just happened is more important than anything else. After all, it is called “the news,” and not “the recentlies” or “the interestings.” But given the sweep of information available to each of us with the touch of a key, there’s no longer a reason to limit ourselves to the news, when “the recentlies” and “the interestings” can really enrich the conversation.

So, how can we enrich the conversation? First, by acknowledging that it’s a conversation. Climate Post is a community, a smallish, newish one, and I’m curious about how to make this fact a little bit more visible. This missive goes out to friends of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke University, and is reproduced at the environmental magazine,

Energy and climate change, and all they encompass–economics, policy, science, business, competing values–are extraordinarily complicated, hence the initial idea for Climate Post to begin with. So, other than what’s “news” in a given week, what can we help you with? What came up at a dinner party over the holidays that no one could answer, or that sparked an hour-long discussion, or is reported in contradictory ways? There’s an opportunity here for Climate Post to become something of an information or research concierge, particularly in regard to policy and the work of my colleagues at the Institute. Again, in policy, science, business, behavior, it takes a lot of listening and learning just to become comfortable with what the solutions are.

Space restraints being what they are (ie, restraining), we won’t be able to hit every desirable topic every week. But hopefully the swarm will guide us all toward engaging, informative, and productive conversation, while still flying close to the original mission. This blog is my blog. This blog is your blog. This blog was made for you and me.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.