Clean tech’s top 10 trends

by Bruce Mason

electric vehicles plugged into solar panels• It’s virtually impossible to stay on top of the clean tech tidal wave exploding in many places on our endangered planet. It’s particularly difficult in Canada where this worldwide transition is being ignored, temporarily diverted and even foolishly subverted. Despite the counter-productive efforts of suspect politicians, greedy businesses and complicit corporate media, technology is outpacing – and hopefully, outstripping – public policy. It’s our best, although faint, hope for humanity.

Below – in David Letterman style – is a summary highlighting 10 trends that “defined and propelled the global shift to clean energy in 2014,” as noted in Clean Energy Canada’s 2015 flagship annual world report, Tracking the Energy Revolution, prepared in Vancouver by James Glave.

#10 Divestment becomes definitive

At the UN’s climate summit, investors pledged to transfer $100 billion (US) out of filthy fossil fuel into clean, renewable energy. The milestone moment included the Rockefellers and the World Council of Churches (representing 600 million people in 150 countries). Much of the work/success is at universities and growing, from Stanford to Glasgow. Religious leaders are setting the pace and tone – including Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis – calling out climate change as “cataclysmic,” “the human rights challenge of our time.” Thus, a new imperative: divest or perpetuate suffering. Inaction is no longer neutral; it is immoral, an “ecological sin.”

To break our lethargy, activists are embarking on an a clear, moral call to action, transcending politics and status quo imperatives, recalling that apartheid ended when people quit buying South African wine, diamonds and such. Some argue that fossil fuels are so deeply embedded in the very fabric of the global economy and community that investors should transform institutions from within. But divestment pressure is being increasingly applied in boardrooms, campuses, churches, as well as on the streets.

#9 Global clean energy surges while Canada lags behind

Turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric and geothermal plants are iconic, but electricity is just part of the bigger picture. The clean-economy shift includes biofuels, energy efficiency software, green buildings, electric vehicles, smart grids and more. All this is now valued at $790 billion (CAD). However our country’s market share has dipped more than any of the 24 exporting countries. It’s dropped five points to $7 billion – a mere 0.9% of the global market – from 14th to 19th place, behind the Czech Republic, losing out on $8.7 billion annually. This new opportunity is expected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2022, but Canada – thanks to the likes of PM Harper and Premier Clark – must catch up, fast.

#8 Carbon pricing the “new normal”

Ten additional countries – Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine – implemented or committed to pricing carbon pollution. All told, some 39 countries and 23+ sub-national jurisdictions have signed on. More companies/investors have spoken out on carbon pricing as a must-have. It’s no longer a question of if; instead, it’s which mechanism to choose. More governments are requiring polluters to pay massive, hidden costs, helping clean energy compete fairly. Within a couple of years, at least half of the global economy will have some kind of carbon price.

#7 The developing world plugs into renewable power

Last year, developing nations in Africa, South America and the Caribbean invested an impressive, additional 36% in clean-energy projects: $131 billion (US) – almost as much the rest of the world ($138 billion). Reading the writing on the looming climate change wall, the clear message is renewable energy is a smarter path. For example, India committed to deliver electricity to all its citizens by installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. Predictions are that world coal combustion will continue to climb, but its exponential growth is being short circuited – the path to prosperity, now lined with solar panels and other renewable energy.

#6 Wind power spreads like Canadian wildfires

Globally, governments and developers built 50% more wind capacity in 2014, the greatest number in a single year; a new wind turbine spins in service of the planet every 20 minutes. There’s enough world wind energy to meet the electricity needs of 300 million homes, enough electricity to power Canada’s economy, twice over. China houses one third of this installed capacity – something to celebrate, refuting claims that renewable energy won’t power the world.

#5 Climate diplomacy increases

A new era emerged when the world’s largest climate polluters – China and the US – stopped pointing fingers and started shaking hands at an historic agreement in November. America agreed to slash its carbon emissions below 2005 levels. China will halt its growth of greenhouse gas emissions and double renewable energy grids. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicts that by 2030, coal will still provide 30% of America’s power. However, it also acknowledges that it is likely overestimating continued coal use, underestimating growth in renewables and diplomacy.

#4 Total renewable energy increasingly more mainstream

There is growing research that humanity is raising the bar far beyond fossil fuels and studies suggest a 100% benchmark is technically achievable and cost-effective. In 2009, Stanford’s Mark Jacobson showed that the entire world can theoretically power itself without fossil fuels or nuclear plants by 2050. To that end, cities, companies and entire nations – such as Denmark – plan to meet heating, cooling, transportation and electricity requirements entirely from wind, water, sun and other clean sources; 45+ cities are working on total renewable electricity. Germany’s on track for an 80% clean grid. And Norway has a 114% renewable electricity target to export surplus. The private sector’s IKEA, Google, Apple and Unilever are keen on completely renewable energy businesses. Yet while the clock ticks, there is still some ongoing debate in some circles about nuclear power and carbon capture, horrifying climate change and absolutely essential mitigation.

#3 Tesla’s Gigafactory unleashes a game-changing revolution in batteries

Electric vehicle battery prices have plunged in five years and a supply surge will drop them even further. When up and running (2017), Tesla Motors’ five million square-foot Gigafactory plans to supply 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries for a half-million of its vehicles by 2020. That’s double the global quantity of lithium batteries available and 30% cheaper. Perhaps more importantly, energy increased storage, when wind and sun aren’t available, makes renewable power inevitable, ahead of predictions. To encourage competition, in 2014 Tesla released its technology patents. In May, it had received $800 million pre-orders for Powerwall, its home storage system and utility-scale Powerpacks, signalling an earnest, historic shift.

#2 Solar power prices drop making it affordable and doable

The costs of new wind and solar energy are declining to match nuclear and fossil energy. Over the past five years, solar-module costs dropped 73%, driving investment, additional projects and employment; 2.5 million people work in solar, worldwide. In 30 countries, electricity from residential panels is now cheaper than previous dirty options. The International Renewable Energy Agency figures solar and wind will compete directly in the majority of markets within a decade. The industry leads in recycling and disposal, but components include some “conflict materials” from sources with poor health and safety regulations. Production also generates pollution. As yet, we have no clean, reliable, cost-effective, completely pollution-free electricity source, but thankfully, solar leads the way.

#1 Renewables help stall global carbon pollution

Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated that global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy stalled in 2014, the first time in 40 years with no economic downturn. The IEA estimated that carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, virtually unchanged from the previous year, attributing this to the ramp-up of renewable energy and the payoff of efficiency policies. Still an enormous, unconscionable bill for future generations and expected to continue to rise – but some faint cause for hope, optimism and inspiration for further mitigation of climate change. See http://cleanenergycanada.org/trackingtherevolution-global/2015/#/a-new-hope/

Clean tech readers are aware of Analytica Advisor reports. Toronto-based think tank, The Mowatt Centre for Policy Innovation, confirms Canada is falling dangerously behind. The federal government and some provinces dabble with little consistency, coherence or conviction. The Centre joins a rapidly growing chorus, calling for clean technology as a centrepiece of a new national energy strategy.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

photo source: Envision Solar

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