Tag Archives: U. N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

SolarPower

Benefits of solar: Will anybody listen?

Arizona is about to begin an important discussion on the cost benefits of solar energy. The discussion is scheduled for May 7 as part of a series of workshops the Arizona Corporation Commission has scheduled to examine the impacts of innovation on the utility business model.

This workshop comes on the heels of last year’s acrimonious debate on net metering. That dispute focused on whether rooftop solar owners place an unfair burden on non-solar customers through a “cost shift” that left “traditional” customers holding the bag for the majority of costs to maintain and operate the utility infrastructure. Absent from those deliberations, however, were any consideration for the value of solar.

Up until now, all the fuss has been about determining the value of the green electron to the utility and comparing it to the cost of the cheapest alternative. Attempts to expand the dialogue have largely failed to include the environmental attributes of solar and other non-energy benefits.

Witness the wisdom of 18 Arizona state senators who earlier this year voted for Senate Resolution 1003, which calls for the nullification of all rules, including clean air and water requirements, imposed by the EPA.

Yet the continued burning of fossil fuels is feeding such societal and climatic disruptions as the bark beetle infestation in old-growth pine forests in northern Arizona, the decreasing water flowing through our rivers, dams, canals and into our cities, a record drought that is devastating farmers’ crops, incomes and livelihoods and resulting in wildfires that destroy property and claim lives.

Recent events clearly illustrate that the impact of climate change isn’t limited to wild animals or the polar ice. The impacts are being felt everywhere — food and water supplies, the economy and our health. It’s a threat to our way of life.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report (Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability) last week. The report was written by 300 experts from 70 countries and based on 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers. The report reveals in no uncertain terms that the continued burning of fossil fuels at present rates will cause more floods, droughts and violent storms as CO2 emissions drive up global temperatures and feed climatic changes.

In the face of the overwhelming evidence, the discussion in the Arizona Legislature actually included the purported positive impacts of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption. That “debate” ignores the evidence that the amount of CO2 produced by fossil fuel consumption exceeds the ability of living organisms and other natural processes to remove it and store it in other forms.

Now, the conversation shifts from the myopic Legislature back to the hearing rooms of the Corporation Commission, where the cost benefits of solar energy is on the agenda.

Minnesota is just concluding a similar process and have come up with a formula to establish a value for solar electrons. The Minnesota formula includes several actors, including avoided costs of fuel purchases, new power plant construction and avoided transmission capacity.

More importantly, though, Minnesota assigns a methodology and cost to environmental impacts. This process for the first time will put a utility on the hook for the environmental harm it causes. In other words, instead of shifting the costs of environmental damage caused by their operations onto society those environmental damages now come with a price tag to the utilities.

The Minnesota formula may end up requiring utilities to pay more for a net-metered solar electron than the current retail cost of electricity. While that may sound like a bad deal for utilities, it could prove to be the incentive utilities need to reduce the carbon intensity of their delivered electricity, which in turn would reduce the value of solar.

It is hard to image Arizona following suit – after all it is pretty clear that science and politics don’t mix well at the Legislature. But any discussion that doesn’t place a value on our environment is promoting a cost-shift of massive portion. And it is society and the planet – not fossil-fueled utilities – that will bear the crushing burden.

Jim Arwood served six Arizona governors in various capacities managing federal energy programs, culminating in his appointment by then Governor Janet Napolitano, as Director of the State Energy Office in 2006. After nearly 25 years serving the state of Arizona, Mr. Arwood retired from government service in 2010 and today consults for a variety of energy related organizations and serves as Director of Communications for the Arizona Solar Center.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Science & Technology Facility, SmithGroup, Carbon Measurements

Carbon as the New Metric for Measuring Building Performance

The design of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Science & Technology Facility along with on-site generation of renewable energy and purchase of green power has yielded a carbon reduction of 95 percent or 6 lbs/sf/yr.

The stakes are high! There is an increased sense of urgency to address the problem of global climate change. As has been well-documented over the past few years, ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions have been attributed in large part to human activity. The situation was stated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Fourth Assessment Report issued in February 2007. In reality, emissions are accelerating at a much faster rate than even the IPCC has predicted over the last eight years.

As documented in the report, there is agreement among the scientific community that a 2o C (3.5o F) rise in temperature constitutes a tipping point where the damages of global warming will be irreversible. This equates to an atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm). The current CO2 concentration level is around 386 ppm. CO2 represents greater than 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. If we add in all other sources, we may currently be reaching an equivalent CO2 concentration of 430 ppm. As you can see, there isn’t much room, especially considering the CO2 concentration curve is accelerating.

Building Industry
The building industry is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas inventory through both direct (project site) and indirect (source) emissions. Source emissions account for a majority of building sector impacts and are those that are generated elsewhere, mainly by fossil fuel-based power plants, as a consequence of our actions. The Architecture 2030 Challenge has indicated that buildings account for more than 48 percent of all energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions annually, and consume 76 percent of all electricity produced by power plants. Because we are responsible for creating the built environment, the building industry must take a leadership role in helping to solve this crisis.

New Carbon Economy
There are several options for how best to deal with climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Because carbon dioxide represents a majority of the greenhouse gases, several schemes have been created — Carbon Cap and Trade, Carbon Tax, and other variations — to deal with that element. Cap and Trade is a market-driven system where a central authority sets a limit on emissions as well as a price. The cap total is divided into allowances or permits which are allocated to participating entities based on current emission levels. Every year, the cap and number of allowances is reduced, forcing participants to either cut their emissions or purchase unused permits to offset their pollution.

Proponents believe that these systems will provide a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions. Opponents feel that imposing a cost on carbon would translate into higher energy costs. The new administration is taking up this issue currently, but no matter which scheme is implemented, there is a clear sense of urgency if the U.S. — and the world — hopes to affect climate change.

New Direction for Measuring Building Performance
Building performance is often measured in terms of Energy Use Intensity (EUI) in kBTU’s per square foot annually, or Energy Cost Savings in dollars per square foot annually. Even though these metrics are important to evaluate, they do not easily translate to environmental impacts. If we are ever going to bring the discussion to the language of mitigation, we must define a different metric for measuring building performance. I suggest that the common metric should be in terms of carbon reduction per project in pounds (or tons) per square foot annually.

As we move into this new economy, organizations and companies will most likely be required to report their carbon emissions annually and to find ways of reducing their impacts. So why doesn’t the building industry jump on board and start informing building owners of how their buildings are mitigating climate change? Owners will soon demand this as part of their organization’s commitment. Climate change must be addressed in the design and construction of their facilities. Owners will also demand to know what the design and construction industry’s experience and expertise is in addressing climate change when hiring firms.

The stakes are high and we, in the building industry, must be the leaders in providing buildings that succeed in the new carbon economy.