Electric Cars Take Over Greenest Vehicles List

Electric cars have taken over this year’s Greenest Vehicles List published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The 19th annual environmental rankings published on greencars.org featured nine electric vehicles (EV). The following vehicles comprise the Greenest List for 2016:

For the third year in a row, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive tops the Greenest List. Toyota’s Prius line continues to perform well, with the new Prius Eco nabbing the 4th spot, while the Prius C and original Prius claim spots #8 and #9. For the first time ever, the Greenest list is completely populated by plug-in and hybrid vehicles; not a single vehicle with only an internal combustion engine appears.

“The 2016 scores are in, and plug-in electric vehicles are outpacing all other vehicle offerings in terms of environmental friendliness. Fortunately, the electricity sector is slated to become cleaner over the life of model year 2016 vehicles, thanks to the Clean Power Plan, and that has bumped up electric vehicles’ green scores this year. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that how green your electric vehicle truly is depends on the electricity it uses to charge,” said ACEEE Lead Vehicle Analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.

The newest additions to the list are the Volkswagen eGolf and the Kia’s Soul electric vehicle, which claim the #5 and #7 spots respectively. This year marks the first time a Kia vehicle has earned a top spot since 2009. The improved 2016 Chevrolet Volt also nabs a spot this year (#11) thanks to significant increases in fuel economy and its new streamlined vehicle design.

Modern clean diesels have repeatedly placed well in ACEEE’s annual ranking. However, following the EPA announcement that Volkswagen had cheated federal emissions standards since 2009, greenercars.org suspended its Green Scores for all affected VW, Audi, and Porsche diesel models.

Greenercars.org also identifies practical options in each class among the top widely available, automatic transmission, petroleum-fueled models, since many of the vehicles on the Greenest list are not widely available. The Greener Choices list include the Chevrolet Trax and the GMC Canyon.

Berkely Lab Study Finds RPS Policies Save Money

In 2013, there were $2.2 billion in benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions and $5.2 billion came from reductions in other air pollution for states with renewable portfolio standards (RFS) according to a new study. “A Retrospective Analysis of the Benefits and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards,” evaluates the benefits and other impacts of RPS policies and was conduced by researchers from U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

RPS report from NRELRPS policies require utilities or other electricity providers to meet a minimum portion of their energy output with eligible forms of renewable electricity such as wind and solar power.  The report finds there are 29 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., with RPS policies in place and they have been a driver for renewable electricity generation in the U.S. over the past decade. Many states are currently considering whether to extend, eliminate, or otherwise revise existing RPS policies and the goal of the report is to help officials evaluate their programs.

“Our goal was to estimate the magnitude of RPS benefits and impacts at a national-level, using established methodologies, while recognizing that individual states can perform their own, more-detailed assessments,” said NREL’s Jenny Heeter one of the report’s authors.

In addition to evaluating environmental benefits, the study also assessed other impacts. The research estimates that RPS policies supported 200,000 renewable energy-related jobs in 2013, saved consumers up to $1.2 billion from reduced wholesale electricity prices and another $1.3 to $3.7 billion from reduced natural gas prices.

This work was a follow-up and complement to an earlier study by the two labs that focused on the costs of state RPS programs to-date and that noted the need for a full understanding of the potential benefits, impacts, and costs of RPS programs. To that end, this most recent study provides a point of comparison for estimates of RPS program costs. The researchers are planning a follow-up effort for the coming year to evaluate the costs and benefits of RPS programs prospectively, considering scheduled increases to each state’s requirements as well as potential policy revisions.

The Climate Trust

As the new year has kicked off, The Climate Trust has released its prediction list of 10 carbon market trends to watch in 2016. The trends range from climate change playing a larger role in federal decision making to increased carbon market linkage and momentum in conservation finance.

Image credit: Flickr/Yann Caradec

Image credit: Flickr/Yann Caradec

“The Trust pays close attention to market signals throughout the year, identifying areas where we can have the greatest impact,” said Sean Penrith, executive director for The Climate Trust. “Each year, we look forward to putting together our team’s collective knowledge and sharing our industry insights.”

And the top trends….

1. Carbon pricing will play a key role for many jurisdictions worldwide as they plan to meet their emission reduction targets from the Paris negotiations. Roughly one quarter of the world’s emissions now fall under some form of carbon pricing system.

2. In Oregon, policies related to clean energy will take center stage in 2016. Importers of transportation fuels will be under obligation to comply with the state’s Clean Fuels Program in 2016. This program is designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels 10% by 2025, by integrating more low-carbon fuels (like ethanol and biogas) into the fuel supply.

3. Climate Risk Gets Real for Private Industry. Beginning with the groundswell at Climate Week in New York in September 2015, and becoming more strident at the Paris climate summit, it is clear that the era of managing and disclosing a corporation’s exposure to climate risk has arrived.

4. Addressing climate change will play a larger role in federal decision-making and political platforms in 2016. With the energy created by the COP21 gathering in Paris still buzzing around us, a presidential campaign well underway, and a little more than a year left for members of the Obama Administration to leave their full mark on history, it seems clear that 2016 will be a year of climate action.

5. Increased U.S. carbon market linkage as states prepare for the Clean Power Plan. The final draft of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan was released in 2015, with 24 states filing a lawsuit against the plan questioning EPA’s authority. The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. In fact, many of the states involved in the lawsuit are still drafting compliance plans; 24 other states launched a countersuit in support of the Plan; and George Bush’s EPA chief reminds the states that EPA’s authority has been upheld by the Supreme Court twice before.
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Nova Scotia Supports Ocean Energy, Wildlife

As offshore wind begins to take off, many organizations are concerned about the impact on ocean life. Last week, the Nova Scotia Legislature passed the Marine Renewable Energy Act (Bill 110) as a means to ensure that ocean renewable energy has appropriate licensing and environmental protections in place to protect marine life.

Novia Scotia is looking at tidal energy as a clean energy tool and along with technological developments in this sector, companies are also developing offshore wind farms and wave technology. According to WWF-Canada, Nova Scotia has significant tidal energy potential, and the province has plans to develop enough energy using tidal turbines to power a quarter of the province’s homes. The Bay of Fundy has some of the highest tides in the world, with more water flowing in and out of the bay with each tidal cycle than the output of all the world’s freshwater rivers combined.

Cape Split © Sarah Saunders / WWF-Canada

Cape Split © Sarah Saunders / WWF-Canada

This productive area provides a home for 22 species of marine mammals, including endangered North Atlantic right whales, more than 130 species of birds, and a wide variety of fish and invertebrates. Properly harnessing these tides could help reduce the province’s dependence on fossil fuels, but development cannot compromise this ecologically rich habitat, says WWF-Canada, which supports coastal economic activities, including fishing, aquaculture and ecotourism.

In response to the approval of Bill 110, David Miller, WWF-Canada President and CEO said, “WWF-Canada strongly supports and commends the province of Nova Scotia for their work to revolutionize their energy grid while protecting ecosystems. The Act not only promotes renewable energy, but it recognizes the need to ensure that renewable energy projects do not have substantial impacts on nature. We applaud the government of Nova Scotia for paying attention to the importance of habitat maintenance and protection.”

WWF is promoting a 100 percent habitat friendly renewable energy future by 2050. This Act is one step towards achieving that goal.

#COP21 Participants Commit to Energy Transition

Over the weekend UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) attendees made commitments to accelerate the ongoing energy transition through several initiatives discussed during the Lima-Paris Action Agenda Focus on Energy (LPAA). New analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds that achieving a 36 percent share of renewable energy by 2030 would result in half of all emission reductions needed to maintain a two-degree pathway, while energy efficiency measures could supply the rest.

From left to right: Nick Nuttall (Moderator), UNFCC; Jean-Marc Ollagnier, CEO, Accenture Resources; Steve Howard, CSO, IKEA; Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, IRENA; Rachel Kyte, incoming CEO, SE4All; Khaled Fahmy, Minister of Environment, Egypt, Chair of AMCEN

From left to right: Nick Nuttall (Moderator), UNFCC; Jean-Marc Ollagnier, CEO, Accenture Resources; Steve Howard, CSO, IKEA; Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, IRENA; Rachel Kyte, incoming CEO, SE4All; Khaled Fahmy, Minister of Environment, Egypt, Chair of AMCEN

“With the energy sector accounting for some two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, the decarbonisation of energy must be at the heart of any effort to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “The energy transition is underway worldwide but more action is needed. To scale up efforts to the level needed, we must utilise all available technologies, increase ambition among all actors in all regions of the world, and mobilise the funds needed to enable the transition.”

The announcements included new initiatives emerging to help further drive this transition including:

  • The Global Geothermal Alliance launched during the event. This Alliance is set to achieve a 500% increase in global installed capacity for geothermal power generation and a 200% increase for geothermal heating by 2030. The world contains vast geothermal energy potential, proven across nearly 90 countries. However, almost 90% of this remains untapped with roughly 12 GW installed so far. What was only an idea a year ago, is now a partnership of 36 countries and 23 institutions with an action plan in place to guide its success.
  • The Africa Clean Energy Corridor aims to boost renewable power deployment, reduce carbon emissions and support sustainable, climate-friendly economic growth. By facilitating a larger electricity market, the initiative could attract sufficient investments to meet half of all power needs in eastern and southern Africa by 2030. At COP21, IRENA and its partners announced efforts to develop a clean energy corridor in western Africa as well.
  • The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Lighthouses initiative announced that Saint Lucia is the 29th island to join the initiative. Since its launch in September 2014, 18 SIDS have developed roadmaps for deployment of renewable energy, USD 150 million has been mobilised for renewable energy projects on SIDS, and 18 MW of renewable energy has been deployed. The initiative will also announce a new pilot project development facility to help develop more bankable projects.
  • To meet climate objectives, renewable energy uptake would need to increase six-fold from current levels. This would require global annual investment to nearly double to exceed USD 500 billion in the period up to 2020, and more than triple to exceed USD 900 billion from 2021 to 2030. The Sustainable Energy Marketplace was launched to provide a matchmaking platform for renewable energy projects and investors to connect. The Marketplace expects to house 100 projects by the beginning of 2016, and to mobilize USD 10 billion in project financing over the next 3 years.

These initiatives are the latest in a series of renewable energy announcements made during COP 21 including the African Renewable Electricity Program; Breakthrough Energy Coalition; and the Mission Innovation initiative.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds for a Clean Climate

A new bill was introduced in the U.S. this week in conjunction with COP21: the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2015. If passed, it would help the U.S. meet its climate goals. Introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), the Act would also create more than 1 million jobs. The Clean Energy Victory Bonds would begin as low as $25 and the funds raised would be invested in clean energy. The bill is endorsed by Green America and the American Sustainable Business Council who have been touting clean energy bonds for several years. A similar act was introduced in 2012 but failed to gain momentum.

clean energy victory bondsTodd Larsen, executive co-director of Green America, said of the bill, “This bond fills a real need for individual and institutional investors, offering them a low risk opportunity to invest in clean energy sectors such as solar, wind, second generation biofuels, electric vehicles, and residential and commercial energy efficiency programs. It will also provide the incentives companies need in the clean energy sector to maintain the United States’ leadership and create over 1 million jobs in the U.S.”

The groups say the Clean Energy Victory Bonds will create major benefits:

  • Leverage $50 billion investment to provide up to $150 billion in public and private financing to fund the production of innovative energy technologies, at a time when the U.S. is falling behind other countries in clean energy manufacture and installation.
  • Help create at least one million competitively-paying jobs in the U.S.
  • Support America’s clean energy sector, helping to ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in this increasingly crucial and competitive industry.
  • Reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy, enhance national security, and limit price increases and fluctuations.
  • Provide a secure, competitive, government-backed investment vehicle for average Americans and investment institutions alike seeking a safe place for their money.
  • Offer flexible redemption options at interest rates superior to most bank accounts.
  • Help all Americans to invest in the future of their country and benefit from their investments.
  • Promote a cleaner environment through the financing of clean energy technologies.
  • Protect the health and safety of Americans by reducing local air and water pollution throughout the country.

The groups note that tax incentives for renewable energy come and go, often without predictability, leaving investors and industry scrambling. The Clean Energy Victory Bond, they say, would extend vital tax credits for a decade, giving emerging industries the support they need to develop and become increasingly competitive.

“From a business perspective, the Clean Energy Victory Bond makes great sense,” added Richard Eidlin, co-founder & VP of policy for the American Sustainable Business Council. “The market is speaking, and it’s speaking in favor of clean energy. As the world comes together in Paris to address climate change, it is more important than ever for renewable energy industries to have a new source of investment capital to build the market momentum.”

20 Countries Pledge “Mission Innovation” at #COP21

Leading up to the World Climate Summit and #COP21 that kicked off in Paris today, three major announcements were make regarding the acceleration of technological developments in clean energy and clean technologies. The first announcement came from Bill Gates about the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, that will will working directly with Mission Innovation, a “pledge” by 20 countries to commit to doubling its governmental and/or state-directed clean energy research and development investment over the next five years. More countries are encouraged to join the efforts.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 11.29.02 AMThe third announcement came from President Obama who announced the U.S. will be participating in the Mission Innovation initiative.

According to the Mission Innovation website, all new investments will be focused on transformational clean energy technology innovations that can be scalable to varying economic and energy market conditions that exist in participating countries and in the broader world. The goal of the initiative is to reinvigorate and accelerate global clean energy innovation with the objective to make clean energy widely affordable.

The Mission Innovation website states that accelerating widespread clean energy innovation is:

  • An indispensable part of an effective, long term global response to our shared climate challenge;
  • Necessary to provide affordable and reliable energy for everyone and to promote economic growth; and
  • Critical for energy security.

In line with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Mission Innovation was formed to fill accelerate the time between innovation, scale-up and commercial scale availability.

Gates Launches Breakthrough Energy Coalition @ #COP21

In Paris this past weekend, leading up to COP21 and the World Climate Summit, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, launched a new clean energy initiative, The Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Gates announced the news on his blog, “Gates Notes,” where he wrote that a global group of investors are taking innovative clean-energy ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace. The primary goal of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, says Gates, is as much to accelerate progress on clean energy as it is to make a profit.

The Principles of the Organization:

Technology will help solve our energy issues. The urgency of climate change and the energy needs in the poorest parts of the world require an aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation. The new model will be a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors. Scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs can invent and scale the innovative technologies that will limit the impact of climate change while providing affordable and reliable energy to everyone. The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles.

The foundation of this program must be large funding commitments for basic and applied research, and here governments play the key role. Only our governments have the mandate to protect the public interest as well as the resources and mechanisms to do this. We know government investment in research can lead to the creation of industries that advance the common good and are driven by private capital. We have seen big successes before with government-funded research programs in space, defense, technology, and medical research, seeding private creativity which has produced many of the innovations that define our current way of life. The political will is emerging to do this again, through aggressive increases in government funding for basic and applied energy research, which can lead to breakthrough technologies for our energy future. However, current governmental funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us.

Gates writes that the Coalition will focus on early state companies that have the potential of energy future that produces near zero carbon emissions while providing everyone with affordable, reliable energy. He also announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition will work in conjunction with Mission Innovation, a commitment by more than ten countries to invest more in research on clean energy that was also announced this weekend.

Watch Bill Gates’ video to learn more about why these global tech leaders launched Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Experts Present Case for Ethanol vs Gasoline

ethanol-plant-rfaLeading experts in the field of lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis and agricultural land use today responded to claims that corn ethanol and other biofuels are somehow worse for the climate than petroleum.

A panel of scientists and economists refuted the suggestion by anti-biofuel advocates that carbon accounting schemes should not credit bioenergy feedstocks for CO2 absorption based on the notion that the feedstock would have absorbed CO2 even if it wasn’t being used for biofuel. Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper, who moderated the panel, called the assertion “illogical” and said “it’s a bit like saying the wind was going to blow anyway, so wind energy shouldn’t be counted as carbon neutral; or the sun was going to shine anyway, so we shouldn’t assume that solar panels are harnessing ‘free’ energy from the sun.”

California-based Life Cycle Associates (LCA) just released a new report on how biofuels have helped reduce GHG emissions in the United States since 2008 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). “The lifecycle approach is the best metric for greenhouse gas emissions for biofuels because it takes into account the fact that this is short cycle carbon that was recently removed from the air,” said LCA Senior Partner Stefan Unnasch. “The alternative system means that you have to have global accounting of all agriculture… that’s simply impossible and the opportunities for fraud are present everywhere.” Even if such a carbon flow approach was possible, if done correctly it would show that bioenergy reduces GHG emissions compared to petroleum.

LCA scientist Susan Boland explains that their recent study actually found greater GHG emissions reductions from biofuels than expected. “We found that the RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 353 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation. These emissions savings occurred even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets,” said Boland.

University of Illinois-Chicago economist Steffen Mueller noted that much is made about land going into biofuels production. “But that land area is really relatively small,” he said. “There’s a lot of other land available that we can use to optimize sequestration potential.” Commenting on the latest Department of Energy analysis, Mueller said “…ethanol produced from corn grain and corn stover provides substantial greenhouse gas benefits over gasoline.” The latest version of GREET shows life cycle emissions for corn ethanol in the range of 63.5‒66.4 gCO2e/MJ, which is over 30% less than the 94 gCO2e/MJ for gasoline.

Meanwhile, Purdue University economist Dr. Wally Tyner takes issue with the assumption land used for biofuel feedstock production would have grown the same feedstock for some other purpose or reverted to a natural state in the absence of biofuels demand. “If we hadn’t have had biofuels in the United States, we might still be paying farmers not to grow as we were before biofuels came along,” said Tyner. “So the assumption that all of this would have happened anyway I think is absurd.”

Listen to the call here: RFA GHG conference call

RFA Urges Secy Kerry to Promote RFS

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to head to COP 21 in Paris, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is calling on him to promote the success of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen urged Kerry in a letter to highlight the role of the RFS in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encourage other countries to follow the example.

rfalogo1“On behalf of America’s renewable fuel producers and farmers across the country poised to contribute to lower carbon fuels here and across the globe, I ask you to be bold in Paris,” the letter states. “I ask that you encourage other nations to follow the lead of the United States, which has the single most effective and aggressive low carbon fuels program the world has to offer – and it has been a phenomenal success.”

Dinneen’s letter noted that although the RFS is a potent weapon in combating climate change and has a proven track record of reducing GHG emissions, the U.S. government’s actions leading up to Paris have not sufficiently embraced what he called “America’s best kept climate policy secret”. Enclosed with the letter was a recent RFA report indicating that nearly 30 countries attending COP21 have included biofuels policies and programs in their post-2020 climate action plans, but the U.S. plan does not even mention the RFS or biofuels.

In closing, the letter states, “Mr. Secretary, a very convenient truth is that renewable biofuels are poised to replace a dramatically increasing share of the world’s liquid transportation fuel. We are doing that successfully and to great benefit in the United States. With your leadership, the world will follow. But we must not be afraid to trumpet our success.”