Obama Highlights Renewable Energy Victories In SOTU Speech

President Barack Obama, during his eighth and final State of the Union address - fresh on the conclusion of a year of global climate change agreements, Clean Power Plan action and opposition, and the wind and solar tax credit extensions - told the Washington, D.C., leaders and the Americans watching at home that they would be “pretty lonely” if they still wanted to deny the effects of climate change.

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it,” the president said as he began the speech’s segment on clean energy. “You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

At the recent 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, 187 countries agreed on what the White House called “the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.” Included in the provisions of the agreement is a mutual goal of keeping a global warming increase “well below” 2°C, as well as keeping track of countries’ progress through what the Obama administration called a “rigorous, standardized process of review.”

As the camera intermittently panned to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, the president mentioned wind and solar energy, in particular, as opportunities for “American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future.”

“Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history,” Obama said. “Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills and employs more Americans than coal - in jobs that pay better than average.

“We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy - something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth,” continued Obama.

Three years ago, the president made a promise in his State of the Union address: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Specifically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final Clean Power Plan, first proposed in 2014, was issued in August 2015. The EPA plan calls for lowering carbon emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 by phasing out or improving the efficiency of coal- and oil-fired power plants while increasing the development of renewable energy. The federal plan has long been met with supporters such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), but a number of lawsuits have also been filed against the initiative, including one from a coalition of 24 states in October 2015.

In December, Obama signed into law an omnibus spending bill that will extend both the production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit for wind and solar, respectively. According to AWEA, since 2008, the PTC has helped more than quadruple U.S. wind power development: from 16.7 GW to 70 GW of installed capacity as of November 2015.

In the lead-up to the president’s final State of the Union, AWEA highlighted recent progress of the wind sector, including “adding more capacity than any other energy source” in 2015. CEO Tom Kiernan remarks in a statement that the wind industry’s growth “is something that should make all Americans proud.”

In response to the State of the Union, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, notes that solar generation has increased thirty-fold and the cost of solar has gone down by 70% since Obama came into power in 2009.

“As an industry, we look forward to carrying out President Obama’s vision for solar development during his final year in office and well beyond,” Resch says in a release.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which has launched efforts in support of the PTC extension over the years, says in a statement, “This is a time to celebrate President Obama’s climate legacy and a time to organize to ensure this legacy is as strong as possible.”

However, he notes a challenge lying ahead: “It will be critically important to ensure the influence of corporate polluters on our government is minimized by rejecting misguided trade pacts at the same time as we take steps to get corrosive fossil fuel money out of politics for good.”

To sum up the speech’s segment on combating climate change, the president offered the following:

“None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve - that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”


U.S. Solar Jobs Sector Has Grown 123% Since 2010

The U.S. solar industry added more than 35,000 new jobs in 2015, bringing the country’s total to more than 209,000, according to The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) sixth annual National Solar Jobs Census.

This figure represents a 20.2% growth in solar industry employment since November 2014. Solar employment grew nearly 12 times faster than the national average employment growth rate of 1.7% in the same period, says TSF.

“Employment in solar has grown an extraordinary 123 percent since 2010, adding approximately 115,000 well-paying jobs,” says Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at TSF. “Our Census findings show that one out of every 83 new jobs created in the U.S. over the last 12 months was in the solar industry - 1.2 percent of all new jobs.”

TSF expects solar employers to add another 30,000 jobs over the coming year. The expected increase of 14.7% would bring the count of U.S. solar workers to 239,625 by year-end.

The solar installation sector is currently larger than some well-established fossil fuel generation sectors, including the oil and gas extraction industry (now employing 187,200), the oil and gas pipeline construction industry (129,500), and the coal mining industry (67,929).

The National Solar Jobs Census 2015 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership. The report, derived from data collected from more than 19,000 U.S. businesses, measured employment growth in the solar industry between November 2014 and November 2015. The margin of error for establishment counts at ±0.85% and employment at ±1.99% at a 95% confidence interval.

“Census 2015 shows that solar company growth has been remarkably consistent over the last five years, despite an uneven jobs recovery in the U.S. over the same period,” says Philip Jordan, vice president at BW Research Partnership. “Indications point to this sustained, upward trajectory continuing apace in the months and years ahead as the U.S. transitions to a clean energy economy.”


EPA’s Clean Power Plan Is Viable, Cost-Effective

M.J. Bradley & Associates has published a comprehensive modeling analysis of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final Clean Power Plan (CPP). The study finds the controversial plan can achieve significant reductions of carbon pollution from the nation’s power sector while preserving a diverse energy mix.

Furthermore, the analysis shows that the CPP will increase investment in cost-effective clean energy resources, such as renewables and energy efficiency, and can result in savings for customers on their electric bills.

For example, the study says states and utilities that increase investment in energy-efficiency programs will see a reduction in the costs of complying with the CPP because plants will purchase less fuel and fewer new plants will need to be built.

“This comprehensive analysis shows that, by various pathways, the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution reduction goals are very achievable,” states Christopher Van Atten of M.J. Bradley & Associates. “The nation’s electricity sector can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and employing a mix of clean energy resources will both help clean up the air and cut costs of doing so.”

M.J. Bradley analyzed 14 scenarios for implementing the final CPP. Some key findings of the analysis include the following:


Adding Renewables Could Increase Global GDP $1.3 Trillion

Achieving a 36% share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030 would increase global gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 1.1% - roughly $1.3 trillion - according to new analysis by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

“Renewable Energy Benefits: Measuring the Economics,” released at IRENA’s sixth assembly, provides the first global estimate of the macroeconomic impacts of renewable energy deployment, says the agency. Specifically, it outlines the benefits that would be achieved under the scenario of doubling the global share of renewable energy by 2030 from 2010 levels.

On Jan. 16-17, government officials from over 150 countries and representatives from the private sector, civil society and international organizations gathered in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, for the sixth IRENA assembly. According to the agency, this meeting, the first international conference held post-COP21, will help move the Paris Agreement to the next phase: action and implementation.

“The recent Paris Agreement sent a strong signal for countries to move from negotiation to action and rapidly de-carbonize the energy sector,” states Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA’s director-­general. “This analysis provides compelling evidence that achieving the needed energy transition would not only mitigate climate change, but also stimulate the economy, improve human welfare and boost employment worldwide.”

Beyond finding that global GDP in 2030 would increase by up to $1.3 trillion - more than the combined economies of Chile, South Africa and Switzerland, as of today - the report also analyzes country-specific impacts.

IRENA says Japan would see the largest positive GDP impact (2.3%), but Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea would also see growth of more than 1% each.

According to the report, improvements in human welfare would go well beyond gains in GDP - thanks to a range of social and environmental benefits. The impact of renewable energy deployment on welfare is estimated to be three to four times larger than its impact on GDP, with global welfare increasing as much as 3.7%.

Employment in the renewable energy sector would also increase from 9.2 million global jobs today to more than 24 million by 2030, the report notes.

IRENA adds that a transition toward greater shares of renewables in the global energy mix would also cause a shift in trade patterns, as it would more than halve global imports of coal and reduce oil and gas imports - in turn, benefiting large importers such as Japan, India, Korea and the European Union countries. Fossil fuel-exporting countries would also benefit from a diversified economy.

“Mitigating climate change through the deployment of renewable energy and achieving other socioeconomic targets is no longer an either/or equation,” continues Amin. “Thanks to the growing business case for renewable energy, an investment in one is an investment in both. That is the definition of a win-win scenario.”

This IRENA report builds on the agency’s previous analysis on the socioeconomic benefits of renewable energy and on REmap 2030, a renewable energy roadmap to doubling the global share of renewable energy by 2030.


Utility Plans $700 Million For Solar

Dominion Virginia Power plans to spend $700 million for new solar generation within the next four years as part of its commitment to invest $9.5 billion in clean energy generation and upgrades to the electric grid in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina by 2020.

This expenditure furthers the company’s efforts to design new infrastructure to meet growth targets, enhance reliability, and promote cleaner air and water. The company says it made $1.8 billion in similar investments in 2015.

Of the $9.5 billion total expenditures planned, $2.4 billion is slated for the company’s distribution system, $3.6 billion for transmission lines and substations, and $3.5 billion for new generation and environmental improvements. Those amounts include the $700 million for new solar generation, as well as additional funds for undergrounding vulnerable distribution lines, if approved by the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

As part of legislative action taken in 2015, Dominion committed to 400 MW of solar in Virginia by 2020. Le-Ha Anderson, a spokesperson for Dominion, verifies that the $700 million will go toward meeting that goal. Notably, Dominion announced this fall that it would develop three large-scale projects, totaling 56 MW, in Powhatan, Louisa and Isle of Wight counties.

“Our commitment to solar energy is an important part of the immediate future of our state,” says Anderson. “Technology has evolved in such a way that we see a long-term benefit for our customers and will work to lead the way in solar generation.”

Dominion Virginia Power says its electric rates remain significantly lower than national, regional and state averages - even while making major expenditures for new infrastructure. In recent years, residential rates increased by an average of less than 1% annually.


Renewable Energy Reached Record High In 2015

Clean energy investment surged in China, Africa, the U.S., Latin America and India in 2015, driving the world total to its highest-ever figure of $328.9 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The report says that total is up 4% from 2014’s revised $315.9 billion and beats the previous record, set in 2011, by 3%.

Furthermore, the report says 2015 also set a record for the global installation of renewable power capacity.

BNEF says these records were set despite four influences that might have been expected to restrain such growth: further declines in the cost of solar PV, meaning that more capacity could be installed for the same price; the strength of the U.S. currency, reducing the dollar value of non-dollar investment; the continued weakness of the European economy, formerly the powerhouse of renewable energy investment; and perhaps most significantly, the plunge in fossil fuel commodity prices.

“These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices,” says Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at BNEF. “They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power, driven, in part, by the move by many countries to reverse-auction new capacity, rather than providing advantageous tariffs - a shift that has put producers under continuing price pressure.

“Wind and solar power are now being adopted in many developing countries as a natural and substantial part of the generation mix: They can be produced more cheaply than often-high wholesale power prices; they reduce a country’s exposure to expected future fossil fuel prices; and above all, they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity,” continues Liebreich. “And it is very hard to see these trends going backwards, in the light of December’s Paris Climate Agreement.”

Looking at the figures in detail, BNEF says the biggest piece of the $328.9 billion invested in clean energy in 2015 was the asset finance of utility-­scale projects, such as wind farms, solar parks, biomass and waste-to-­energy plants, and small hydroelectric schemes. This totaled $199 billion in 2015 - up 6% from the previous year.

The biggest projects financed in 2015 included a string of large offshore wind arrays in the North Sea and off the coast of China, and the biggest financing in onshore wind was for the 1.6 GW Nafin Mexico portfolio at an estimated $2.2 billion.

For solar PV, the largest investment was about $744 million for the 294 MW Silver State South project, and for solar thermal or concentrating solar power, it was around $1.8 billion for the 350 MW NOORo portfolio in Morocco.

After asset finance, the next largest piece of clean energy investment was the spending on rooftop and other small-scale solar projects. This totaled $67.4 billion in 2015 - up 12% from the previous year - with Japan being the biggest market by far, followed by the U.S. and China.

BNEF says the preliminary indications are that, thanks to this utility-scale and small-scale activity, both wind and solar PV saw around 30% more capacity installed worldwide in 2015 than in 2014. The wind total in 2015 is likely to end up at around 64 GW, with the total for solar just behind at about 57 GW. This combined total of 121 GW will have made up around half of the net capacity added in all generation technologies (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) globally in 2015.

Public market investment in clean energy companies was $14.4 billion - down 27% from 2014 but in line with the 10-year average. Top deals included a $750 million secondary share issue by electric car maker Tesla Motors and a $688 million initial public offering by TerraForm Global, a U.S.-based yieldco owning renewable energy projects in emerging markets.

Venture capital and private equity investors pumped $5.6 billion into specialist clean energy firms in 2015 - up 17% compared with the 2014 total but still far below the $12.2 billion peak of 2008.

BNEF says there was $20 billion of asset finance in clean energy technologies such as smart grid and utility-scale battery storage - representing an 11% rise over 2014, the latest in an unbroken series of annual increases over the past nine years.

The final category of clean energy investment, government and corporate research, and development spending totaled $28.3 billion in 2015 - up just 1%. BNEF says this figure provides a benchmark for any surge in spending in the wake of announcements at COP21 in Paris by consortia of governments and private investors, led by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

According to the report, China was again, by far, the largest investor in clean energy in 2015, increasing its dominance with a 17% rise to $110.5 billion, as its government spurred on wind and solar development to meet electricity demand, limit reliance on polluting coal-fired power stations and create international champions.

Second was the U.S., which invested $56 billion, up 8% from the previous year and the strongest figure since the era of the “green stimulus” policies in 2011. BNEF says money-raising by yieldcos, plus solid growth in investment in new solar and wind projects, supported the U.S. total.

Europe again saw lower investment in 2015, at $58.5 billion, down 18% from 2014 and its weakest figure since 2006. The U.K. was, by far, the strongest market, with investment up 24% to $23.4 billion. Germany invested $10.6 billion, down 42% on a move to less generous support for solar and, in wind, uncertainty about how a new auction system will work from 2017. France saw an even bigger fall in investment - down 53% to $2.9 billion.

BNEF says clean energy investment fell 43% to $4.1 billion in Canada, but a number of “new markets” together committed tens of billions of dollars to clean energy in 2015. Those markets include Mexico, which invested $4.2 billion, up 114%.

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Obama Highlights Renewable Energy Victories In SOTU Speech




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