When President Barack Obama announced the country’s first national climate strategy, many people wondered what it would mean across the nation. Yet, the strategy may carry even more significant implications overseas.
The plan restricts U.S. government funding for most international coal projects. This policy could significantly affect energy producers and public and private investors around the globe.
As impacts from climate change become more visible and costly, leaders across the nation are responding. In the wake of projections from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science showing that Maryland could face sea-level rise of more than six feet by the end of the century, Governor Martin O’Malley unveiled a state climate action plan this week. The initiative will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also supporting job creation and economic growth.
New energy efficiency legislation has been introduced by Senators Shaheen and Portman that could come before the U.S. Senate as early as this month. This bill, formally known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761), provides goals, incentives, and support for energy efficiency efforts across the U.S. economy. Passage of this bill would be a positive step toward saving money through improved efficiency while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.
A social entrepreneur invests the little working capital she has to bring solar electricity to a community that –like 1.2 billion people worldwide– lacks access to electricity. The community used to use dirty, expensive and choking kerosene for light to cook by and for children to learn by. The entrepreneur knows she can recoup her costs, because people are willing to pay for reliable, high-quality, clean energy – and it will be even less than what they used to pay for kerosene. Sounds like a good news story, right?
Three months later, the government utility extends the electrical grid to this same community, despite official plans showing it would take at least another four years. While this could be good news for the community, one unintended consequence is that this undermines the entrepreneur’s investment, wiping out their working capital, and deterring investors from supporting decentralized clean energy projects in other communities that lack access to electricity.
The White House’s climate action plan aims to transform the U.S. electricity system in the coming decades. The President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and implement standards to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, double renewable energy in the United States by 2020, and open public lands to an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy development, enough to power more than 6 million homes.
The big question is: Are renewable energy sources up to the task of taking on a significant portion of the country’s electricity? Recent trends and data show that the answer to this question is a definitive “yes.”
Four big signs that renewable energy is ready for the limelight include:
Developing countries will need about $531 billion of additional investments in clean energy technologies every year in order to limit global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. To attract investments on the scale required, developing country governments, with support from developed countries, must undertake “readiness” activities that will encourage public and private sector investors to put their money into climate-friendly projects.
WRI’s six-part blog series, Mobilizing Clean Energy Finance, highlights individual developing countries’ experiences in scaling up investments in clean energy and explores the role climate finance plays in addressing investment barriers. The cases draw on WRI’s recent report, Mobilizing Climate Investment.
The development of Indonesia’s geothermal energy sector—and the starts and stops along the way—provides an interesting case study on how to create readiness for low-carbon energy. By addressing barriers such as pricing distortions and resource-exploration risks, the country has begun to create a favorable climate for geothermal investment.
The History of Geothermal Power in Indonesia
Indonesia holds the world’s largest source of geothermal power, with an estimated potential of 27 GW. However, less than 5 percent of this potential has been developed to date. Indonesia began to explore its geothermal resource in the 1970s, with support from a number of developed country governments. The country made some progress in advancing geothermal development by the 1990s. However, development stalled during the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and was slow to recover.
In the early 2000s, a number of barriers limited investment in the sector, including a policy and regulatory framework that favored conventional, coal-fired energy over geothermal. Plus, the high cost and risk associated with geothermal exploration deterred potential investors and made it difficult to access financing from banks.
The Indonesian government took a number of steps to try to advance geothermal development and received support from a wide range of international partners, including multilateral development banks and developed country governments. In 2003, it passed a law to promote private sector investment in geothermal, establishing a target of 6,000MW installed capacity by 2020.
Rabayah Akhter, an intern with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative, also contributed to this post.
When it comes to renewable energy, the Philippines is one of the world’s more ambitious countries. The country set out to triple its share of renewable energy by 2030 based on 2010 levels. The Philippines has one of Asia’s highest electricity rates, in part due to high costs of importing fossil fuels. Enhancing the country’s energy security and keeping power costs down have been the main drivers for setting renewable energy goals.
While the Philippines has demonstrated commitment to renewable energy, the process of achieving its goals has proven to be challenging. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in collaboration with WRI released a new report today, Meeting Renewable Energy Targets: Global Lessons From The Road To Implementation. The report documents the challenges and solutions to scaling up renewable energy in the Philippines and six other countries - China, India, Germany, Morocco, South Africa and Spain.
Successes and Delays
The Philippines’ experience--the strides and the delays--exemplifies the importance of good governance, including transparency, accountability, and participation. Without it, policies are unlikely to receive public acceptance or support. While it’s important to choose which policies to initiate in the energy sector, equally as important is fortifying the regulatory and institutional structures that back them.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy was the topic of discussion at an event last week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s China Environment Forum. Experts from the World Resources Institute and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) looked at this cooperation from a seldom-discussed viewpoint – China’s renewable energy investments in the United States.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.
Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.
This is part three of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in effective electricity governance. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.” Read more posts in this series.
Until recently, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) held a monopoly on Thailand’s power generation and transmission since the 1970s. While EGAT provided a relatively stable supply of electricity to consumers, it was unregulated, leading to inefficiencies in the sector, such as wrongly estimated fuel supply. Consumers experienced high prices, while new power projects moved forward with little public consultation, sparking social conflict and concerns over environmental impacts.
The situation worsened in 2003, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra set forth a plan to restructure Thailand’s electricity sector and privatize EGAT. Rather than improving Thailand’s electricity sector in the public interest, the plan for privatization was designed to increase capital for powerful stakeholders and upper management employees. It called to maintain EGAT’s unregulated monopoly in order to maximize profits, even at the expense of public needs and environmental vulnerabilities.
Thailand’s electricity sector seemed poised to worsen--until civil society groups stepped in.
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