Cheers to clean power adopters, activists and evangelists

Cheers to clean power adopters, activists and evangelists

Image of hands toasting wine glasses
ShutterstockEva Orlova
A toast to the future.

Bottoms up! Actions by local actors — a.k.a. cities, states and businesses — are pushing the United States closer to realizing the promise of the Paris Agreement on reducing emissions and limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius. Even though the federal government has abdicated its leadership role.

That's the optimistic conclusion of a report (PDF) released this week by the America's Pledge initiative, aka the climate action group fronted by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. You can consider the analysis a teaser for the invite-only Global Climate Action Summit in September, organized by the pledge team along with a baker's dozen of well-known NGOs. 

The analysis out this week offers some prescriptive guidance of how to accelerate progress, and it won't surprise you even remotely that at least four are explicitly focused on the clean power transition. Those suggestions involve:

  1. Doubling down on renewable energy — So far, 29 states (from both ends of the political spectrum) have set goals for their own electricity mix. Virginia and New Jersey are among the latest to speak up. And from a civic standpoint, it's hard to argue with the $25 million solar plant that will boost Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 3 percent renewable energy now to 25 percent by September. 
  2. Accelerating retirement of coal power — Since 2010, about 270 coal-fired power plants have been shut down, primarily for economic reasons. But the pace of closures isn't fast enough, especially in regulated markets where ratepayers can help prop up those that aren't financially viable, according to the report. One plan to watch: Xcel Energy's proposal to accelerate the retirement of up to one-third of its coal fleet. 
  3. Retrofitting building for energy efficiency — Programs continue to crop up all over the place. One example is Retrofit Chicago, which has helped reduce electricity consumption at 88 participating commercial buildings across the city by up to 18 percent.
  4. Electrifying building energy use — When many people hear the word "clean power" they automatically think about renewable electricity. But shifting the heating and cooling loads of buildings away from fossil fuels is a growing concern, especially considering the growing body of data about the impact of methane (a huge part of the natural gas production process) on the climate.

By the way, even though cities get a lot of attention for their proclamations about renewable energy and zero waste commitments, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that plenty of innovation is coming from rural America.

A report (PDF) published this week by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association estimates that the 900 electric co-ops that it represents are purchasing nine times as much solar power today as they did just five years ago. The average project is also much larger: 1 megawatt versus 25 kilowatts in 2013. 

Here are five articles and blog posts that might charge you up:

  1. Congress gets educated. On energy storage, that is. This NRDC perspective is a good update on the state of state projects and policies. Now, federal lawmakers are trying to bone up.
  2. Facebook brings the sun to Oregon. The giant social media company is teaming up with Pacific Power to develop more than 437 megawatts of solar power, including more than 100 MW near its data center in Prineville.  
  3. Strange but true. Scientists are studying the consequences of a "wind drought" in Britain that has slowed turbines to a crawl.
  4. Clarity on efficiency. Here's what New York state could do to reduce energy consumption more quickly.
  5. Mohawk plants a solar flower. The commercial flooring company is sponsoring the installation of 10 SmartFlower systems around the United States. The first one is taking root in Bronzeville, Illinois — renowned for its concentration of African-American businesses. 

Finally, a moment to be self-promotional: The nomination window is shrinking for our VERGE Vanguard Awards, honoring innovators and pioneers in clean energy, zero-emissions transportation and the circular economy.