Introductory Chapter: Sustainable Energy Investment and the Transition to Renewable Energy-Powered Futures
“Sustainable energy investment” is a widely used phrase and concept in the fields of finance, engineering and economics. Typically, it focuses on evaluating renewable power development and includes assessments of political and regulatory risks, energy risk hedging and portfolio diversification. Often publications on this topic contribute to the climate change response agenda: promote investments in solar- or wind-powered technologies in order to realize a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future; evaluate financial aspects of carbon budgeting and energy asset risk management; and respond to financial and climate risks associated with mitigation and adaptation policy interventions. Policymakers and energy regulators correctly perceive climate change to pose threats to energy assets, research and development (R&D), technological innovation to accelerate energy transitions and these impacts are projected to grow in the coming decades.
Concurrently, the energy sector is experiencing a myriad of challenges, from aging infrastructure, retiring workforces, years of stagnant investment to the need to attract new investment in smart grid resilience, business model innovation reforms, changing customer expectations, and more recently COVID-19 forced disruptions.
To mitigate the worst possible impacts, attention is now shifting to strategies for de-risking energy investments—for example, long-term climate-risk hedging and adaption strategies in energy infrastructure development around financing, costs, and revenue—to foster local, national and supranational systems of resource autonomy and reduce the risks of climate change. Read more>>
Photo credit: IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook
Tackling the Risk of Stranded Electricity Assets with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
The Paris Agreement on climate change requires nations to keep the global temperature within the 2°C carbon budget. Achieving this temperature target means stranding more than 80% of all proven fossil energy reserves as well as resulting in investments in such resources becoming stranded assets. At the implementation level, governments are experiencing technical, economic, and legal challenges in transitioning their economies to meet the 2°C temperature commitment through the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), let alone striving for the 1.5°C carbon budget, which translates into greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) gap.
This chapter focuses on tackling the risks of stranded electricity assets using machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Stranded assets are not new in the energy sector; the physical impacts of climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy have generally rendered redundant or obsolete electricity generation and storage assets.
Low-carbon electricity systems, which come in variable and controllable forms, are essential to mitigating climate change. These systems present distinct opportunities for machine learning and artificial intelligence-powered techniques. This chapter considers the background to these issues. It discusses the asset stranding discourse and its implications to the energy sector and related infrastructure. The chapter concludes by outlining an interdisciplinary research agenda for mitigating the risks of stranded assets in electricity investments. Read More>>
Sustainable Energy Investment: Technical, Market and Policy Innovations to Address Risk
This book examines the technical, market, and policy innovations for unlocking sustainable investment in the energy sector. While finalizing this book, the COVID-19 pandemic is cutting a devastating swath through the global economy, causing the biggest fall in energy sector investment, exacerbating the global trade finance gap, worsening signs of growing income inequality, and devastating the health and livelihoods of millions. What is the parallel between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis? The impacts of the global pandemic are expected to last for a few years, whereas those associated with the climate crisis will play out over several decades with potentially irreversible consequences. However, both show that the cost of inaction or delay in addressing the risks can lead to devastating outcomes or a greater probability of irreversible, catastrophic damages. In the context of sustainable energy investment and the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy, what ways can financial markets and institutions support net-zero-emission activities and the shift to a sustainable economy, including investment in energy efficiency, low-carbon and renewable energy technologies? This book provides students, policymakers, and energy investment professionals with the knowledge and theoretical tools necessary to address related questions in sustainable energy investment, risk management, and energy innovation agendas. Read More>>
Spatial Energy Efficiency Patterns in New York and Implications for Energy Demand and the Rebound Effect
The confluence of the threat of global climate change, increasing energy prices, and widespread adoption of low-carbon technologies have been cited as key drivers of the energy transition. Two of the scenarios exemplified by future rates of uptake of energy transition based on expectations of change in demand, and socially incremental choices that define the transition in terms of energy consumption and consumer behavior illustrate potential results under the current business-as-usual paradigm. An important area that has been overlooked is how spatial diffusion of energy-efficiency policies or complementarities across policy mixes can yield direct measurable benefits that improve overall energy policy design and performance measurement.
In this study, we applied the spatial modeling (i.e., spatial Durbin error model-SDEM) approach to analyze adoption trends for residential energy-efficiency measures. To do so, we evaluated the potential for local socioeconomic and building performance variables which influence the effectiveness of energy efficiency policies and diffusion patterns in each location in the long-term. We investigated this potential for New York state at a ZIP code level to show the ubiquitous promise and potential of this conceptualization to improve urban energy planning and management. To arrive at a practical strategy, we investigated the policy implications for energy demand and the rebound effect.
Our study shows the significant influence of the built environment and jurisdictional boundaries and their effect on energy transition capacities. As such, the paper makes a compelling case for a fundamental reconsideration of energy policy design in New York and target setting to account for specific conditions in the built environment that may constrain the uptake of energy-efficient technologies in a given jurisdiction.
The boldest new plan yet to increase electricity generation from noncarbon-producing sources has been announced by California. Highly regarded as a trendsetter and vanguard of progressive energy policies, California became the first state to require solar power installed on all new homes. The requirement makes rooftop solar a mainstream energy source in the state’s residential market. Adopted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as an update to the state’s 2019 Title 24, Part 6, Building Energy Efficiency Standards, the solar mandate obligates new homes built after Jan. 1, 2020 to include photovoltaic (PV) systems.
These standards represent a groundbreaking development for clean energy. Single-family homes and multifamily units that are under three stories will be required to install solar panels. The biggest impact may prove to be the incentive for energy storage and the expected uptake in energy efficiency upgrades which could significantly cut energy consumption in new homes.
But not everyone is celebrating. Critics warn that the requirement could drive up home prices overall, further exacerbating already high housing costs in the state. For instance, in a letter to CEC, Professor Severin Borenstein of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley warned that such a plan would be an “expensive way to expand renewables” to achieve clean energy goals. But in its order, CEC argued that the new rooftop solar mandate would save homebuilders and residents money in the long-term and cut energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions in residential buildings.
Few solar firms, homebuilders, efficiency experts and local governments fully understand the significance of the mandate. Buildings-to-grid integration experts speak of “turning residential solar into an appliance,”—the merging of rooftop solar, home energy management, energy storage, and data analytics into the next generation of high performance buildings that is expected to usher in a new era of sustainable development.
How could this new solar mandate help improve grid management so that these ‘new power plants’—clusters of buildings integrated to the grid—can respond quicker to load signals like water heating or home entertainment and thereby contribute to better system reliability? Of course, there are a lot for stakeholders to grapple with between now and 2020 as they come up with compliance solutions to address these opportunities. But this gap, especially, poses a significant challenge in how the new California’s Title 24 codes will affect the clean energy industry.
On the delivery side, First Solar Inc.—a U.S. panel manufacturer—and Sunrun—the largest U.S. residential-solar installer—could be major beneficiaries of the new building codes considering their established market positions in the state. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2018 puts the mid-point estimate of installed solar capacity required to meet the state’s ambitious ‘50% by 2030’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target at around 32 GW (Figure 1). California currently has an installed solar capacity of 18.6 GW, indicating that it has only until the beginning of the next decade to find technical, business, and policy solutions to realize a 50% increase in installed PV capacity. Considering that the core elements of the requirements are now technically locked in, greater cooperation with solar industry players is needed for the success of this bold energy vision.
Here are suggestions of what needs to be done to succeed. Provision of today’s electricity services is fundamentally dependent on its transmission, distribution, and storage (TD&S) systems; these functions include business activities that support construction, operation, maintenance and in this case, overhaul California’s electricity infrastructure. According to the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), national employment in TD&S including retail service was approximately 2.35 million in 2017, with nearly 7% growth expected in 2018, mostly in manufacturing, construction, installation/repair, and operation of TD&S facilities. Using these national figures as rough benchmarks for job generation, the new solar building mandate represents a major growth opportunity for the solar industry. However, there are transmission implementation challenges that could occur in the future. Orders 890 and 1000 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) require transmission providers to treat demand resources comparably with transmission and generation solutions during transmission planning. Which means that a clarification is required of whether onsite generation under Title 24 would count toward compliance with FERC’s orders.
With proper distribution and transmission planning coupled with the fact that new homes will have better efficiency overall, California could reap significant benefits from the solar mandate and pioneer in mainstreaming non-wire alternative business models associated with solar distributed generation systems. Deferring and reducing costs to capacity upgrades for distribution and transmission under a distributed utility regime, is one example. For this reason, California regulators would need to anticipate and address compliance issues that could result during the implementation period, such as concerns regarding flexibility measures, the estimated number of homes that would comply with the codes, and year-on-year market bottlenecks that may occur without rapid change in business models. Further greater stakeholder engagement and partnerships with the building industry, universities and research organizations will be needed to track progress on single–family and multi-family solar development.
Another key step is to improve the revenue model for all generation technologies to reconcile with long-term contracts. In recent years, as solar power grew in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council region, and particularly in California, future prices of solar electricity became uncertain. Today’s electricity prices are set based on the variable cost of the marginal technology. Because technologies like rooftop solar, once built have near-zero marginal costs, this could put downward pressure on long-term electricity prices. Good news for customers and the economy! But payment for TD&S may be of risk. States have been solving this problem by implementing long-term fixed pricing systems, either through power purchase agreements (PPA) or capacity mechanisms, which carry the full-price risk of the technology. California (and New York) has proposed new revenue models that balance the pace of improvement in technology cost and revenue returns. Still, adjustments in the revenue model may be necessary in the future.
The logic behind California’s solar mandate is to reposition the market so that the bulk of generation will increasingly come from customer-sited equipment. This is significant: rooftop solar is one of the most effective customer-sited solutions for accelerating a decentralized grid and greening our electricity supply. Apart from the anticipated long-term cost-reductions to the grid, we can infer that CEC may have been guided by the growing market potential of rooftop solar when crafting the new building code energy-efficiency standards. As to the question of economic viability of the standards to the grid, detailed study is needed to take into account direct and indirect impacts.
Recently, there has been mention of the mounting problem widely known as the “duck curve”—that is, the sun shines only during the day which means that the solar energy cannot meet the system’s demands when the sun goes down or cloud cover disrupts solar energy system output. This phenomenon can force utilities to ramp up non-solar generation, thereby undermining some of the benefits of a low-carbon strategy. This concern raises a question: What happens to the value of solar energy produced as new additional capacity grows? Over-generation? Because retail competition is still limited in volume to support the anticipated market growth under the new standards, the value of the additional solar generation could decline. Furthermore, the grid would need to be prepared to anticipate and handle any over-generation. CEC is aware of the duck curve problem and included a compliance credit for energy storage in the Title 24 codes to address the issue. But this may not be enough. Options for maximizing on-site solar use should be sought as capacity grows. In addition, while greater electrification of buildings is noteworthy for the utility business model, without offering incentives to residential solar producers, for instance, in the form of affordable construction materials that socializes costs over all ratepayers and introduces new products and services that guarantee long-term profitability, the latest round of CEC building codes could raise significant grid management issues and market uncertainties thus exacerbating the duck curve problem. In brief, the role of utilities in interconnecting these ‘power plants’ and managing any over-generation issues will become more critical.
Growth from the new solar mandate and steps taken to incentivize storage and energy efficiency upgrades may not produce profits for utilities in the short term. But adoption of the Title 24 codes offers utilities opportunities for greater electrification and enables them to search for cost-effective pathways to reduce carbon emissions. In a study of grid decarbonization strategies in California, Southern California Edison (SCE) found that a clean power and electrification path can provide an affordable and feasible approach to achieving the state’s climate and air quality goals. While the cost of managing the grid is an important consideration for utilities like SCE, approval of the new solar mandate is an important reminder of the changing utility industry. Power companies are developing new ways to extract value from emerging distributed solar technologies and expand customer choices. The success of the Title 24 codes will depend to a significant degree on supportive regulation. With billions of investments required for grid modernization to address the aging infrastructure issues, finding a sustainable operating model that enables utilities to recuperate costs through rates is fundamental. This is a long-term proposition and power companies should treat it as such.
Despite the challenges discussed above, California’s new Title 24 mandate represents the boldest and most inspiring building energy efficiency standards by any state to date. No doubt the questions surrounding future electricity rates, grid management issues, retail competition, investments in TD&S, design of long-term contracting via PPA mechanisms, and the impact on housing prices require significant attention. But this solar mandate can be an unprecedented energy-problem solving strategy that turns every home into a power plant as solar becomes more mainstream.
In the lead-up to the 2015 Paris climate change conference, policymakers stressed the need for creation of integrated carbon markets and called for linking new climate financing mechanisms with the United Nations-organized Green Climate Fund (GCF) based in South Korea. Both the U.S. and China have committed to accelerating the transition to low-carbon development internationally. Through a $3 billion per year pledge to GCF by the U.S. and a new annual $3.1 billion climate finance guarantee by China to support other developing countries to combat climate change, the two countries have committed to enhance multilateral climate cooperation. Read more>>
In a speech commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2009, former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger recalled how the energy crisis of 1970s awakened the world “to a new challenge that would require both creative thinking and international cooperation.” He explained that as “global demand continues to grow, investment cycles, technologies, and supporting infrastructure will be critical.” As a top U.S. diplomat in the 1970s, Kissinger is credited with promoting energy security as a third pillar of the international order through a trifecta of initiatives to bolster incentives to energy producers to increase their supplies, encourage rational and prudent consumption of existing supplies, and improve development of alternative energy sources. These efforts contributed to the establishment of the IEA in 1974 as a principal institutional mechanism for enhancing global energy cooperation among industrialized nations. Read more>>
The unconventional oil and gas boom has shaken up energy markets in the U.S. and beyond. Across many American states, the energy sector is experiencing a number of changes far larger than in its history including improvements in policies, business models, technologies, and investment options to make energy cleaner, more plentiful and diversified, cheaper to store and capable of handling increased demand more intelligently. Technological advances have significantly enhanced production of oil and gas from shale, turning the U.S. into a major oil producer, with most of the new production coming from unconventional sources. Read more>>