ClimateCast Logo over Indian solar panel
Switch sooner, save sooner
May 19, 2014

$44 trillion investment needed–but $115 trillion to be saved

Switching from fossil-fuel-based to clean electricity will save money in the long run, but the investment will be more expensive the longer we wait, according to a report released last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA). It will take an investment of $44 trillion in the electric sector by 2050 to keep planetary warming under 2 degrees Celsius—far less than the $115 trillion in expected fuel savings. A slower switch to renewables means continued investment in fossil infrastructure, which will then need to be retired early to make the transition. For the United States, Greenpeace found last week that converting to renewables would save $6 trillion by 2050.

New firm aims to shorten commutes using real-time data

A new Google-backed enterprise wants to help people waste less time in traffic by giving city officials and commuters better information about busy travel routes, and encouraging commuters to travel in off-peak hours. The start-up, Urban Engines, uses GPS tracking of participants’ smartphones and card-swipe data from transit systems to diagnose in real time where the system is overloaded and tell users, who save time by avoiding congested routes and travel times. The firm is banking on the perspective that congestion reduction efforts will get further with carrots than sticks, and its system is already being tested in Sao Paolo, Singapore, and Washington, DC

Catalyzing the clean energy economy at the local level

Lancaster, Calif., Mayor R. Rex Parris is an anomalous Republican: he believes climate change must be addressed, and he’s determined to show that doing so can be good business. Lancaster—north of Los Angeles—was the first American city to develop a one-stop solar permitting process. Parris spearheaded a rule that all new homes have 1 kilowatt of solar generation on site or in their subdivision, and he attracted a Chinese bus company whose batteries are now being used for energy storage in zero net energy homes. Asked whether his climate passion conflicts with his party affiliation, Parris told The New York Times last year, “I may be a Republican. I am not an idiot.”

Turning plastic bags, used cooking oil, and inedible fat into fuel

A KLM airliner made the longest commercial Airbus flight using biofuels when it made the 10-hour flight from Amsterdam to the Caribbean island of Aruba on a blend 20 percent derived from used cooking oil. On the supply side, Honeywell UOP announced technology that is powering the largest commercial advanced biofuel facility in the U.S., with the capacity to make more than 130 million gallons per year of renewable diesel from inedible oils and fats. And scientists at the University of Illinois’ Sustainable Technology Center demonstrated that plastic shopping bags can be converted into diesel fuel through pyrolysis: heating them in the absence of oxygen.

South Asia poised for quantum leap into solar

Every village home in India will have enough solar power in five years to run a TV, a couple of lights, and a solar cooker, according to a goal laid out by the energy adviser to newly elected Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. As chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi introduced incentives to supercharge the solar power industry. In neighboring Bangladesh, rooftop solar power is being installed at the rate of nearly a million systems a year, making the country the leader in home-scale solar and employing a renewables workforce as large as Spain’s, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Climate risks coming to forefront for corporations, countries

Standard & Poor’s projects that poor and low-lying countries will become worse credit risks as the climate changes, further compounding the inequity of global warming, according to a report last week. In the U.S., 63 of the S&P 500 companies are already seeing climate change hit their bottom lines and are nearly twice as likely to foresee an impact from climate on their profitability than they did just two years ago, according to a report from the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Insurers want to reap profit, forestall losses from climate change

Opening a new front in the controversy over climate, Farmers Insurance filed nine class-action suits last week against Chicago-area cities and counties, claiming that they failed to take climate change into account ahead of last spring’s damaging floods. Their lawsuits contend that heavy rainfall has become more likely as a result of the altered climate, and that municipalities should have done more to prepare for intense storms. Meanwhile, insurance companies elsewhere are treating climate-influenced risks as a business opportunity, with more than a thousand specialized products offered to mitigate risks that stem from a changing climate.

Two energy bills stalled in gridlocked Senate

Bills that would have encouraged energy efficiency and extended various tax breaks including the wind energy tax credit stalled in the U.S. Senate last week, caught in a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the number of amendments that could be offered. Even though the bills themselves had bipartisan support, Republicans withheld the votes needed to bring them to the floor because they wanted the opportunity to offer amendments to speed the export of natural gas and single out the wind tax credit for termination.

Governor, Years producer ponder climate denial and optimism

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Years of Living Dangerously producer David Gelber agreed that climate deniers are in retreat and playing defense, in a conversation that highlighted the Climate Solutions’ annual fundraising breakfast in Seattle today. Inslee distinguished between the need to continue a conversation with people who have different policy positions, and the unrealistic aspiration for unanimity for climate action. “Sometimes you can't convince people, you just have to defeat them,” he said.

ClimateCast is a curated weekly collection of news and commentary on climate issues, written by Seth Zuckerman with contributions from other members of Climate Solutions’ Strategic Innovations team.


Sign up for Climate Solutions updates!

Author Bio

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).