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Responsible green finance: can investors make a real social impact?

Windturbines and windfarms are one example of what green bonds can finance. […]

Will The Next Natural Disaster Doom The Nation’s Energy Grid?

California is facing a power calamity. Not only does the state have the most expensive energy in the continental U.S., but also the least reliable. It’s leading the nation with more than 470 power outages this year alone, and is expected to enact 14 planned blackout days throughout the summer as a response to power sourcing issues. Power lines at dusk. Natural disasters are, and will be, the main undoing of California’s power structure […]

While Washington Argues Policy, Corporations Keep Buying More and More Clean Power

By Dan Probst, Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services, JLL Don’t tell Washington, but corporations are quietly spending billions on clean power. Renewable energy policy may be contentious on the floors of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, but it’s finding more friends than foes in corporate boardrooms. Last year was a record-breaker for corporate purchasing of large-scale wind and solar energy, reports the Rocky Mountain Institute, which reports that corporate use of renewable power in the U.S. more than doubled from 2014 to 2015–from 1.2 GW purchased in 2014 to nearly 3 GW of renewable energy purchased in 2015. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan–which calls for slashing power plant greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030–has been encountering heated resistance from some policymakers and fossil-fuel companies. And yet, the move to cleaner power shows no signs of slowing, at least in the corporate sector. Green energy’s latest endorsement: the corporate bottom line Blue-chip corporations are increasingly pursuing clean power sources, regardless of federal policy moves. While the trend began with companies trading carbon credits, we are seeing a shift toward onsite renewable energy generation and direct power-purchase agreements with clean energy providers. Many first pursued these options because they’ve made public commitments to meet ambitious sustainability goals. Some have joined RE100, a collaborative, global initiative of influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, to massively increase corporate demand for renewable energy. Close to half (215) of Fortune 500 companies have set ambitious clean energy and GHG reduction goals, according to Ceres research, and some are aiming to achieve them by 2020. Among other blue-chip companies, for example, Marriott has made a 2020 pledge to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, and Coca Cola plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent. These commitments drove the initial investments–but the ROI from early efforts has created real economic momentum. As a result, corporate social responsibility commitments are now being trumped by simple economics. Even companies without defined sustainability goals are making moves toward renewable power because of the financial viability of the clean energy supply in the United States. The 100 companies reporting on climate and energy targets to CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) are conservatively saving $1.1 billion annually through their emission reduction and renewable energy initiatives, reports Ceres. In addition, the use of renewable energy enables organizations to budget better for energy costs and hedge against volatile fossil fuel costs. Oil and gas prices may be very low today, but that wasn’t always the case–and they won’t stay extraordinarily low because the market always finds equilibrium eventually. The availability of renewable energy helps mitigate the financial risk. It’s becoming easier and more cost-effective than ever for corporations to access or invest in renewable energy. Here are five indicators that corporate use of green energy is here to stay: 1. Wind turbines in the parking lot? No big deal. Onsite power generation is becoming mainstream. Using excess heat, wind or solar power, buildings that generate their own power onsite can become more self-sustaining and achieve more stable operating costs. Ultimately, some will even be able to sell excess power back to the grid. Walgreens’ first net-zero store, for instance, draws on solar, wind and geothermal energy and was expected to consume an annual 200,000 kilowatt hours of electricity while generating 256,000 kWh. Although that facility may not have yet achieved its ambitious goal of being a net-zero energy facility, others have. In fact, New Buildings.org maintains a significant database of net-zero buildings. Meanwhile, thousands of corporate and institutional (and residential) facilities around the United States are tapping renewable energy, whether generating it onsite or connecting with nearby wind or solar farms. One California company is working on the largest solar carport project in the world, covering carports with solar panels in 150 sites across the state. In the category of brilliant but simple, it turned property that had very little value into significant energy savings, negotiating a 20-year power purchase agreement for 97.5 million kWh/year. The electricity from these carports is enough to power 16.2K homes, and also saves the business nearly $3 million annually in energy costs, or roughly 15 percent of its typical utility bill. 2. Wall Street is getting onboard. New clean energy investment vehicles are emerging. With the rise of yieldcos (think wind or solar real estate investment trusts) and extension of the solar power investment tax credits, we are seeing the cost of money go down for clean energy projects, lowering the cost per kWh. Meanwhile, virtual power plan agreements, like Yahoo’s renewable energy contract with solar project developers represent a new way forward for organizations seeking a closer relationship with their clean energy suppliers. 3. When shareholders speak, corporations listen. Investors are demanding clean energy use. According to Ceres’ Power Forward 2.0 report, institutional investors have been calling for companies to adopt greenhouse gas and other clean energy targets. In the past two years, institutional investors have filed more than 100 clean energy resolutions with companies in the electric power, oil and gas, insurance, manufacturing, and other sectors. Shortly before the COP21 conference on climate change in December 2015, more than 400 investors with a collective US$24 trillion in assets under management signed the Global Investor Statement on Climate Change, a call to action setting out the steps investors can and will take to address climate change. 4. The path is clear. Alternate energy matchmaking is accelerating adoption. Determining specific clean energy goals–and the path to achieving them–is a complex undertaking for a company with dozens or hundreds of locations. Which technologies will be most effective at which sites? The feasibility of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass or renewable energy power depends upon local environment conditions, as well as state or local incentives, require lengthy investigations and cost analyses. Third-party alternative energy matchmakers are emerging to help corporate property owners navigate everything from deal structuring and vendor selection to post-implementation monitoring. Outpacing fossil fuels With all these trends in play, why be a ‘dinosaur’ when it comes to powering corporate buildings and clean energy infrastructure is evolving so rapidly? The world is currently adding more capacity for renewable energy each year than for coal, natural gas and oil combined, reported Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysts last year. Clean power’s attraction is becoming abundantly clear. By benefiting corporate sustainability goals, resource efficiency, and the bottom line, corporate demand for renewables is going strong. With or without the Clean Power Plan, companies are taking greenhouse gas emissions reduction into their own hands–and their pocketbooks. ### — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]

Utilities, solar energy and the fight for your roof

Seth Blumsack, Pennsylvania State University Solar power in suburbia: what’s not to like? Gray Watson, CC BY-SA By many accounts, the spread of solar power is unstoppable. Costs continue to fall at a blistering pace, solutions to give consumers a solar-powered home without needing to connect to the grid for back-up power are emerging, and even the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in, with a recent ruling that is favorable for the solar energy market. Seen another way, though, solar power is seeing serious threats. Predictions from even last year were that solar energy would soon match the price of electricity from utilities – known as “grid parity” in the business. But the plummeting cost of natural gas, which has become the most used fuel to generate power, has kept electricity prices low. And after dropping precipitously for several years in a row, solar panel prices have recently leveled off, making grid parity more elusive. Solar businesses are feeling some of this market instability. First Solar, a large manufacturer of solar panels, has seen its stock price gyrate up and down over the past several months, while the stock price for Solar City, a large installer of solar panels, has dropped nearly 50% since its high in December. And now, electric utilities are pushing back against solar – with some success. In late 2015, the state of Nevada more than tripled a monthly fee customers need to pay on rooftop solar projects. A last-minute appeal in early January failed, and Solar City laid off hundreds of workers and saw its stock price plummet within the space of a few weeks. The battle between the solar industry and electric utilities has the makings of a classic David versus Goliath tale, but the debate raises legitimate questions, notably: how should regulations be updated to recognize the growth of solar while still ensuring a reliable and affordable power system? And ultimately what value do distributed solar and utilities provide to society? Solar: friend or foe to the grid? Any part of the energy business is going to be volatile at times (just ask any shell-shocked oil executive). But the situation being faced by the solar industry is different, because the industry’s success and failure depend as much on a complex web of state and federal regulations as on genuine technological progress. Many of these regulations were designed to provide a stable environment for electric utilities, and to promote reliable electricity supplies, by keeping the utility shielded from competition. Utilities are feeling threatened by solar energy upstarts, which effectively turn customers into competitors, and are leaning on those regulations to fight back. Nevada changed electric billing to allow utilities to triple the monthly charges for people who own solar panels – one of a few state-level battles between utilities and solar providers. brendanwood/flickr, CC BY-SA Nevada changed electric billing to allow utilities to triple the monthly charges for people who own solar panels – one of a few state-level battles between utilities and solar providers. brendanwood/flickr, CC BY-SA In some places, those fights have not ended well for the solar industry. Nevada and Arizona states have imposed fees on rooftop solar power. In California, the state has resisted the types of fees assessed in Arizona and Nevada, but has also changed the incentives for rooftop solar to limit the amount of excess power – those times when solar panels produce more power than a building consumes – that flows back to the grid. The whole fight revolves around a seemingly simple question: is rooftop solar power good for the grid, or bad for the grid? Two sides to every solar panel While the question seems innocuous, there isn’t a very simple answer. There are basically two sides to the debate. On the one hand, more rooftop solar power lowers the amount of power needed from centralized power plants. That means upgrades to the grid – such as new power plants or bigger power lines and substations – can be delayed or even canceled altogether. Utilities and their regulators, even those opposing the expansion of rooftop solar power, have long recognized the value of lowering demand. Rooftop solar would seem particularly valuable in this regard since it can be set up to produce more energy during the afternoon peak, when demand is most expensive to meet and the risk of blackouts is the highest. Utilities argue that if more consumers use solar to lower their monthly bills, there are fewer funds to pay for maintenance of the power grid. Portland General Electric, CC BY-ND Utilities argue that if more consumers use solar to lower their monthly bills, there are fewer funds to pay for maintenance of the power grid. Portland General Electric, CC BY-ND On the other hand, the legacy grid and the goal of providing reliable electricity to society are not simply going away. A utility needs to bring in enough revenue to pay for the grid and to support social programs like providing low rates for poor customers. Also, utilities have a responsibility to make sure there is enough electricity to meet consumers’ demand at all times. Having more customers generate their own solar power (and selling some back to the grid) makes the job of utilities more complicated, because it is harder to predict how much power the grid will demand at any given time. An argument made in solar-friendly California (captured by the infamous “duck curve”) was that large amounts of rooftop solar would actually increase the cost of maintaining a reliable grid, because a utility would need new power plants to handle the rapid increase in the demand for grid power after the sun goes down. Each of these arguments has some merit. Power grid operators in some parts of the country have found that reducing demand for electricity from the grid can reduce costs and prevent blackouts. California has enacted some reforms to its electricity system to create incentives for the types of supplies that could keep the grid balanced when solar production swings unpredictably. These reforms will encourage new technologies, but will probably also increase the costs of grid-provided power. Existential questions An even thornier question that California is wrestling with is the scope of a utility itself. If solar power achieves the magic point of grid parity, then what is left for the utility to do? How long can the existing power grid work its way around customers who install their own solar power and battery systems, thus cutting the cord to their utility altogether? Maintaining the grid requires money, which ultimately comes from electricity users. Who will be left to pay for the grid as more people cut their ties with utilities? What does that mean for electricity access for poor people in particular? Some states, including California, New York and Vermont, are proactively thinking about the overall place of the utility and a sustainable business model in a world of solar grid parity. These states are starting to view utilities as service providers, rather than just kilowatt merchants. States like Arizona and Nevada are, for better or worse, effectively kicking the can down the road. Sooner or later the moment of grid parity is likely to arrive, where cutting the cord to the grid is economical even without any subsidies. That will force a major conversation about the utility business and how to best ensure reliable access to low-cost electric power. Seth Blumsack, Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]

From Davos: Water Is a Valuable Asset – Let’s Treat It Like One

Mark R. Tercek is the president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek. Many communities around the world are running out of water. When demand outpaces supply, communities often turn to difficult and costly solutions, such as building reservoirs, importing water or constructing desalination plants. But this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I’m pushing global leaders to consider a different solution–one that could significantly accelerate progress on addressing the root cause of water scarcity around the world. Let’s tap economic forces–the power of the market–to be smarter about how we use the water we already have. By viewing water as a tradable asset, we can create water markets that encourage water users–such as cities, farms and companies–to be more efficient. The water saved can then be allocated for other uses. With half the world’s cities and three-fourths of irrigated farms experiencing regular water shortages, it’s critical that we capitalize on the value created from conserving water. My organization, the Nature Conservancy, is harnessing private capital through impact investing to do just that. Impact investing–which allows investors to align their portfolios with their values by investing in initiatives that generate financial, societal and environmental outcomes–is emerging as a fresh source of funding for conservation projects. With our impact investing unit, NatureVest, our global water experts and Australia team have created the world’s first community water trust in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. Through that program, we’re working to raise $69 million of investor capital to help balance water use in the basin so there’s enough for farmers, communities and nature. Here’s how it works: A community water trust acquires a portfolio of water rights and then collaborates with farmers, who buy and sell water allowances through a water rights trading system. Through the trust, scientists help farmers execute water-saving strategies, and farmers who conserve water can sell their remaining rights back to the trust. The trust, in partnership with local conservation organizations, then uses some of that saved water to restore degraded freshwater ecosystems. It leases back the remainder to water users, ensuring Murray-Darling farmers get the water they need while at the same time generating financial returns for investors. In the Murray-Darling Basin, we–along with local nonprofit Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group–plan to use water saved through the trust to restore more than 40,000 acres of wetlands during the next decade. Not only will this wetland restoration benefit farmers and wildlife–such as frogs, fish, turtles and waterfowl–but it also will help preserve Aboriginal cultural and spiritual sites, many of which are located in the wetland areas. This impact investment-driven solution to water shortages uses market-based strategies to encourage and reward smart water use. It generates environmental, financial and social benefits at a greater scale than philanthropy-funded efforts can while also supporting farmers and communities who rely on freshwater. Impact investing can help conservation organizations scale up solutions to a variety of other problems, as well. For instance, NatureVest leverages private capital to accelerate sustainable grazing practices in Africa, prevent urban stormwater runoff in the U.S. and help island nations restructure debt in ways that help them adapt to climate change. Embracing innovative solutions like these–and finding new sources of funding, such as impact capital–will be critical as global leaders leave Davos, ready to meet the world’s challenges head on. Images (top to bottom): Innovative market-based solutions are helping balance water use among farmers, communities and nature. © Ami Vitale; The Murray river in Victoria, Australia. © Mark Schapper; Community water trusts encourage farmers to save water. © Mark Godfrey/TNC — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]

Post-Paris: We Need Better Emissions Data for Better Decisions

Because cities produce 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, they are central to climate change mitigation. While they can’t be solely responsible for reducing emissions – rural areas have an impact, too – they can make a big difference. Even prior to the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) convening in Paris, the international community had been looking to cities as the potential champions in the absence of agreement among nation states to reduce greenhouse gases. Motivated both by the COP21 negotiations and the estimated economic costs – localities stand to lose $4 trillion by 2030 due to severe weather and environmental changes – city governments are already taking mitigation and adaption steps. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the quality of the information used to make decisions. For example, urban planners in India are carefully scrutinizing data. By 2050 the country will see a significant demographic shift with 40 percent of its population living in cities, causing planners to more closely analyze data to map out their resiliency strategies. The country is also on pace to move from the fifth largest emitter of carbon dioxide to the third by the end of 2015. Given the demographic shift and what we know about cities being the overall contributors of greenhouse gases, the country could continue moving higher up the largest emitter list. Officials in India are trying to better understand what data are telling them so they can address the new scope of services needed to support human, natural and financial resources resulting from rapid urbanization. The country will need infrastructure improvements, to address transportation issues – most notably private vehicles – water pipelines and sources of electricity. Worldwide, most local governments face these types of challenges. Urban planners may not really know if what they’re doing to address sustainability works – especially with regard to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Emission reduction targets to keep the global average temperature under 1.5 degrees Celsius down from 2 degrees – one of the outcomes from Paris – are based on local inventories of materials that produce greenhouse gases. Inventories are estimated through mathematical calculations: multiplying the intensity of an activity that produces emissions, such as automobile usage, in an area over a period of time. The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories has become widely accepted as a standard reporting system. Local, national and international organizations use this bottom-up model to report, characterize and analyze greenhouse gas data. The protocol also includes guidance to understand the full life cycle emissions of a product to support focused efforts on greenhouse gas reduction opportunities. Organizations can monitor the effects of these reduction efforts over time and can use them for worldwide comparisons. The protocol is a positive step toward emissions reductions but because it relies on estimates and few direct measurements, it can’t capture the full picture of elusive emissions, human error or other variables. This leaves urban planners in the unenviable position of making plans and investing resources that may not actually support the sustainability and resiliency they’re seeking. The only true way to know whether localities are doing enough to cut emissions is through the comprehensive and unadulterated direct collection of data. Weather forecasts are created using a very broad series of instruments collecting data from space, the atmosphere, oceans and the ground. Thousands of direct observations – not estimates – are taken daily to tell you if you should wear a coat, carry an umbrella, take your ice scraper, or most importantly, to brace for even more severe weather. The same scrutiny of climate conditions isn’t used for longer-term decision making. It should be, and it is possible. Taking direct measurements from satellite, airborne and ground-based systems can tell everyone from scientists to urban planners the types of greenhouse gases at a national level and down to a city level, too. These direct measurements can tell the story of where those gases originated and where they go. And it is possible to do all of this in real time and automatically send the data to those who need it. Combining autonomously collected ground data with measurements taken from both space and the atmosphere will provide richer, more accurate environmental intelligence. This will be critical in the years following COP21, during which parties agreed to reevaluate emission targets every five years. Transparency will be important going forward. The agreement establishes an “enhanced transparency framework” to “build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation.” Attention will now shift from pledges to monitoring, reporting and verification and future meetings will be more informed about the effectiveness of December’s agreement. The technology is ready to support this transparency framework. Now the decision to redirect resources to these more efficient and accurate collection capabilities must be made to maximize the benefit later. — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]

Don’t Lose Sight of Climate Achievements in Paris

In the lead up to the COP21 climate talks in Paris, we heard from scientists that our planet was on course for a global temperature increase of 4.5 degrees Celsius (8.1 F) by 2100. We heard that if we failed to intervene, we were condemning future generations to a life unlike our own. We’re now at the midway point of COP21. Despite the media noise and political bickering, we have no reason to be anything but confident that we will reach an agreement that bends that trajectory toward a more habitable future – hopefully moving from 4.5 to 2 degrees of warming. This alone would be an amazing accomplishment. Once this is in place, we’ll have an opportunity to ratchet up those commitments in order to reach 1.5 degrees (which many see as the next big milestone), but this reduction to 2.5 degrees alone is a huge first step. Last week, 150 heads of state convened in Paris in an unprecedented show of global collaboration. Now it’s time for others to put that sentiment into action. The presidents are gone; the princes are gone; the prime ministers are gone, too – but the climate experts are grinding forward here in Paris, and successfully. On every front where Forest Trends is tracking developments, we’re seeing major progress: the private-sector front, the Indigenous Peoples front, and the formal negotiating front. Negotiators and Ministers gathered in Le Bourget must seize the opportunity to make history this week We’re seeing ambition and climate action leadership from unconventional places, namely on the private-sector front and at the sub-national government level. Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (including California and state governments in Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Peru) are adding emissions reduction pledges of their own to those made by the world’s national governments assembled at COP21. Yesterday in Paris, Forests Trends and some of our partners hosted California Governor Jerry Brown, who spoke about innovative subnational action to reduce deforestation and promote low-carbon land use. Meanwhile, global brands like Unilever, Marks & Spencer, and IKEA continue to set an example for the rest of the private sector, making ambitious pledges in the last week to increase their sustainable sourcing efforts and/or shift their operations to 100% renewable energy. When it comes to zero-deforestation commitments, programs like our Supply Change initiative will continue to track the impact of pledges and progress toward meeting them, in the process encouraging companies to make good on their promises. On the indigenous front, our partners from the forest community have eloquently advocated for the adoption of financing mechanisms that Forest Trends pioneered. Both Fermin Chimantani, leader of Peru’s Amarakaeri Community Reserve, and Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, leader of the indigenous federation COICA, have been blitzing the venue with calls to harness climate finance to save endangered rainforests. On the negotiating front, we’re encouraged that the current Paris draft provides for countries to make forest protection a part of their climate action plans. We’re also inching closer to seeing the adoption of clear, concise language that sends an even stronger political signal in favor of utilizing forests’ natural ability to fight climate change. So ignore the noise and the often-divisive media narratives, Negotiators and Ministers. This week is your chance to make an unprecedented and potentially planet-saving achievement. — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]