EVs’ future looks brighter; clean energy ‘unstoppable’

Good news keeps accelerating for electric vehicles

Electric cars will reach cost parity with gasoline cars next year in Europe, and in the mid-2020s in the US and China, according to a new UBS report. The analysts based their findings on a tear-down of the 238-mile-range Chevrolet Bolt, which led them to conclude that the EV is $4,600 cheaper to produce than they’d previously believed. By 2025, UBS forecasts, EVs will comprise 14 percent of the global car market. Volvo’s CEO told an interviewer that his company won’t develop any new diesel engines as he sees the future lies in electrification; Volvo’s first long-range EV will arrive in 2019. Add self-driving capabilities to an EV, writes David Roberts, and cars can reduce urban congestion, but only if those autonomous vehicles are shared. The rise of autonomous EVs will devastate major car companies and Big Oil, particularly as car-sharing keeps EVs rolling for more hours per day, thus spreading the capital cost over more miles and driving down the cost per mile of transportation.

Renewable energy becomes ‘unstoppable’

Renewable energy has become “unstoppable,” writes the Financial Times, the global business newspaper of record, as clean energy becomes even cheaper, and countries from Germany to China and India embrace carbon-free power. Besides the proliferation of wind and solar power, the article cites the growth in battery factories and car-makers’ abandonment of internal-combustion R&D in favor of EV designs. Solar progress continues: to grasp the factors driving the growth in solar power and the advances needed so that the sun could supply 17 percent of the world’s power by 2035, read this two-part summary of the keynote at this month’s Solar Summit conference. In the expanding windpower sector, Wyoming coal miners can train as wind turbine technicians, and a British company is testing innovation with a 500-kW kite generator. California is pursuing its goal that all new homes meet zero-net-energy standards by 2020, while in India, solar power reached a key benchmark as the cost of new solar fell below the running cost alone for 60 GW of coal-fired power plants.

Immersed in a warming Antarctica

Visualizing the flow of ice into the Southern Ocean got a little easier this month, with the publication of the New York Times’ graphically rich package on Antarctic topography and the floating ice shelves that slow the creep of glaciers toward the sea. The warming austral climate has also quadrupled the growth of moss on the continent’s rocky shores. Melting ice will raise the ocean, flooding coastal properties in South Florida and on the Jersey shore, where investors are arguing that bond-rating agencies should consider the impact of sea-level rise on cities’ ability to service municipal debt. Global warming also threatened the world’s seed bank in Norway this year, where heavy rains and melting permafrost sent water coursing into the seed vault, but the flood was stopped before any damage was done.

Climate resolutions hit mark at shareholder meetings

Occidental Petroleum will have to assess the financial impact of a scenario that limits global warming to 2˚C, according to a shareholder resolution passed last week over the objections of company management. The decision came in part thanks to support from mammoth asset manager BlackRock ($5.4 trillion under management, including an 8 percent stake in Occidental), in a switch from its position last year. Shareholders passed a similar resolution last week at the annual meeting for Pennsylvania utility PPL, said to be the first time such a proxy vote has passed in the utility industry. Next up: Wednesday’s Exxon Mobil shareholder meeting, where BlackRock and Vanguard may back a resolution directing the firm to analyze whether it can thrive in a world with strict limits on climate pollution.

Other nations back Paris climate pact as Trump waffles

Fresh from sending his secretary of state to weaken the Arctic nations’ climate declaration, President Trump met with other leaders at the G-7 Summit in Italy and declined to recommit the US to the Paris climate accords, which led to the climate section of the post-summit communiqué coming from the “G-7 minus 1.” Even as President Trump weighed whether to abandon the pact, China, Canada and the EU formed an alliance to advance its implementation, and India signaled it would remain even if the US withdrew. President Trump released a budget proposal that would gut federal funding for energy research and sell off the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system, drawing vehement support for public power and a letter from six GOP senators backing energy research. The Department of Energy geared up to release a study next month on grid reliability, which observers said was hardwired to praise coal power, and which attracted a “pre-buttal” from green groups pre-emptively disputing its expected conclusions.

The utility times, they are a-changin’

The Bonneville Power Administration this month cancelled plans for a 500-kV transmission line along the I-5 corridor in Washington State in favor of increased energy efficiency and demand response, scrapping the long-planned $1 billion project in favor of a no-wires, smart-grid alternative. In Colorado, regulators are requiring utilities to incorporate a $43-per-ton social cost of carbon in resource planning. The single surviving nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island may close in 2019 unless it receives a carbon-free subsidy, owner Exelon said. The plant failed to make a successful bid in the mid-Atlantic grid’s capacity auction held last week. Utilities in coal country are shifting away from coal power, and even gas-fired power plants in Texas and Nebraska are having trouble staying afloat. Meanwhile, Tucson Electric agreed to buy solar power at under 3 cents per kWh, and solar-plus-storage for 4.5 cents—a feature that makes the facility’s clean energy every bit as dispatchable as a gas plant.

Evergreen State maps clean energy pathways

Climate Solutions’ Vlad Gutman-Britten reports: The office of Governor Jay Inslee just released a new study charting Washington’s path to a low-carbon economy. The study examines how to achieve an ambitious goal: cutting energy-related carbon pollution 86 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The researchers identified three different technical scenarios, all relying on heavy electrification, efficiency across all energy uses, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources. The most expensive of the scenarios, which replaces natural gas with non-fossil alternatives, would have a net cost of $80 billion over 33 years. That tops out at 0.6 percent of gross state product in the worst year—a number that does not account for the investment’s economic benefits. The most cost-effective scenario, which relied on a range of conservative assumptions about technological innovation, projects a net savings of nearly $50 billion compared to relying on business-as-usual options.

Image: A kite buggy using the same resource as the wind turbines in the background. Photo by steeedm, via Flickr

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

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).