Saturday, January 30, 2016

Challenge Accepted: Reducing the Soft Costs of Going Solar

Every year, it becomes even more affordable to “go solar.” However, one thing remains consistent: the non-hardware, or “soft” costs related to permitting, installation, and maintenance account for more than half of the cost of an installed rooftop solar array. The SunShot Initiative’s Rooftop Solar Challenge funding program is successfully reducing these costs and providing a framework for others to do the same.

Building on the success of the first round, Rooftop Solar Challenge II brings together city, county and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders to address differing and expensive processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems. With more than 18,000 local jurisdictions in the United States, each having their own photovoltaic (PV) permitting requirements, it can be complicated for consumers to navigate the solar landscape.

Teams across the country are working to simplify solar processes and reduce costs. They have successfully developed solutions in three major areas – standardizing permitting and interconnection processes, facilitating easy and cheap bulk purchasing, and supporting fast online applications.

The NYSolar Smart team partnered with state entities in New York that have influence over the installation process, such as local building departments. They developed a project-based change management platform that allowed each party to help determine the needed changes to streamline local permitting processes. By finding a common ground and creating implementation plans, the group helped New York surpass half a gigawatt of installed solar capacity, which is enough energy to power approximately 100,000 homes. The Solar Ready II team, which works with local organizations in 14 states and is managed by the Mid-America Regional Council, took a similar approach by helping local governments develop best management practices that are expected to result in more than 4 megawatts of new solar installations, saving more than $1,000 on each installed system. The Golden State Solar Impact team created the second edition of the California Solar Permitting Guidebook, which set the standard for the country’s first state-mandated expedited solar permitting requirement. The Pacific Northwest Solar Partnership team informed a building code amendment in Washington state that eliminated the need for an engineering stamp on permits for rooftop PV systems, saving customers up to $2,500 per job. These four teams made significant progress in simplifying permitting and interconnection, but they’re not the only ones.
Solar installers dressed up as superheroes to complete the installation on the KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Washington as part of the Solarize Bellevue campaign. Photo by Allison DeAngelis.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

From Davos: 6 Ways Impact Investing Is Transforming the Environmental Movement

By Mark Tercek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek.

Impact capital is revolutionizing the nonprofit world—and conservation.

Impact investing is a big topic of conversation this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland....

By using investor dollars and business principles to transform the traditional nonprofit funding model, I think we can significantly accelerate progress.

Here are six examples of impact investing deals that my organization, the Nature Conservancy (TNC), closed during the past year.

1. Arrange a LBO for Nature.
TNC purchased 165,000 extremely strategic acres in Washington and Montana to save millions of acres of wildlife habitat, protect drinking water sources and eliminate the risk of development.

The purchase price was $134 million. Impact investors provided 95% of the capital at very low-cost financing, and just 5% came from traditional donors. In other words, we did a leveraged buyout for nature. We leveraged our precious donor capital to maximize returns.

2. Partner with Samburu Warriors to Improve their Cattle Business.
We raised $25 million of investor and donor capital to start a livestock business to improve cattle grazing practices of northern Kenya’s Samburu communities.

The program empowers African communities to sustainably manage their grasslands, earn higher prices for their cattle and reduce poaching on their lands.

3. Make a City like a Forest. Save Billions.
Cities around the world face huge challenges from stormwater runoff.  During rainfall, storm drain and sewer overflows send grime, pollution and even raw sewage into nearby waterways.

In Washington, D.C., we’re using impact capital to build green infrastructure that cost-effectively soaks up stormwater right away. It’s a model we plan to use around the world to help cities save money on expensive infrastructure upgrades that take a long time to build—and to help them hugely improve their environment at the same time.

4. Put a Price on Water.
A big challenge for water is that its value is much higher than its actual cost. Using water is a steal, and it shouldn’t be.

We’re putting a fair price on this resource by creating a market for trading water allowances among farmers, cities and conservation organizations.

TNC recently closed its first round of funding—$19 million—for what will be a $69 million fund in Australia.

5. Restructure Debt to Empower Marine Conservation.
TNC used impact capital to help the Seychelles government restructure nearly $30 million of debt.
File:Victoria (Seychelles).jpg
Eskay at German Wikipedia
The arrangement allows the island nation’s government to redirect debt payments to protect their oceans and coasts from the impacts of climate change.

[According to a December 7, 2015 press release by the Nature Conservancy:
Seychelles is a nation of 115 islands in the Western Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles off the coast of East Africa and north of Madagascar.... The financing will promote implementation of a Marine Spatial Plan for the entire Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone, a territory approximately 3,000 times the size of their land mass. The deal will also ensure approximately 400,000 km2/98.9 million acres (an area larger than the size of Germany) will be managed for conservation as marine protected areas (MPAs) within five years....this debt restructuring converts a portion of Seychelles’ debt to other countries into more manageable debt held by a local entity; this is accomplished by refinancing it with a mix of impact investment and grants. The Nature Conservancy raised $23 million in impact capital loans and $5 million in grants to buy-back $29.6 million of Seychelles debt at a 5.4% discount. The cash flow from the restructured debt is payable to and managed by an independent, nationally based, public-private trust fund called the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT). Debt service payments fund three distinct streams: one for work on the ground that will help reduce risk through improved management of coasts, coral reefs, and mangroves, another to  repay impact investors, and a third to capitalize SeyCCAT’s endowment.]]

6. Bring Nature into Investment Portfolios.
TNC created the Conservation Note, a new financial product that allows investors to make loans to conservation projects.

Investors earn a below-market fixed rate of interest together with an environmental return. Since its initial offering, investors have purchased more than $42 million in Notes.

A Bank for Nature 
To finance deals like these, TNC and JPMorgan Chase formed an investment bank called NatureVest. NatureVest is a TNC unit that structures investments and raises capital from investors who want to fund projects that deliver both environmental and financial returns.

Impact investing has huge potential to scale up solutions to the big challenges we’ll be focusing on this week in Davos.

By Mark Tercek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek.
The Nature Conservancy

Valuation of expectations: A hedonic study of shale gas development and New York’s moratorium

This paper examines the local impacts of shale gas development (SGD). We use a hedonic framework and exploit a discrete change in expectations about SGD caused by the New York State moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Our research design combines difference-in-differences and border discontinuity, as well as underlying shale geology, on properties in Pennsylvania and New York. Results suggest that New York properties that were most likely to experience both the financial benefits and environmental consequences of SGD dropped in value 23% as a result of the moratorium, which under certain assumptions indicates a large and positive net valuation of SGD.
File:Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Tower 1 crop.jpg
by Andrew Boslett, Todd Guilfoos, Corey Lang all of the University of Rhode Island, USA; 214 Coastal Institute, 1 Greenhouse Rd., Kingston, RI 02881, USA.
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (JEEM) via Elsevier Science Direct www.ScienceDirect.comVolume 77; May, 2016; Available online 23 December 2015; Pages 14–30
Keywords: Shale gas development; Hydraulic fracturing; Hedonic valuation; Expectations; Rational expectations; Moratorium; Difference-in-differences; Border discontinuity

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rapid, affordable energy transformation possible - NOAA, CIRES study: Wind, sun could eclipse fossil fuels for electric power by 2030

The United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand, according to a new study by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

The study used a sophisticated mathematical model to evaluate future cost, demand, generation and transmission scenarios. It found that with improvements in transmission infrastructure, weather-driven renewable resources could supply most of the nation’s electricity at costs similar to today’s.  “Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald, co-lead author and recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder.

A high-resolution map based on NOAA solar irradiance data shows a snapshot of solar energy potential across the United States.
A high-resolution map based on NOAA weather data shows a snapshot of wind energy potential across the United States in 2012. (Credit: Image by Chris Clack/CIRES)

(Credit: Image by Chris Clack/CIRES)
The paper was published online in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Although improvements in wind and solar generation have continued to ratchet down the cost of producing renewable energy, these energy resources are inherently intermittent. As a result, utilities have invested in surplus generation capacity to back up renewable energy generation with natural gas-fired generators and other reserves.  “In the future, they may not need to,” said co-lead author Christopher Clack, a physicist and mathematician with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Since the sun is shining or winds are blowing somewhere across the United States all of the time, MacDonald theorized that the key to resolving the dilemma of intermittent renewable generation might be to scale up the renewable energy generation system to match the scale of weather systems.
So MacDonald, who has studied weather and worked to improve forecasts for more than 40 years, assembled a team of four other NOAA scientists to explore the idea. Using NOAA’s high-resolution meteorological data, they built a model to evaluate the cost of integrating different sources of electricity into a national energy system. The model estimates renewable resource potential, energy demand, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the costs of expanding and operating electricity generation and transmission systems to meet future needs.
A new weather-driven NOAA model suggests wind and solar power could become a dominant source of electricity. (Credit: Flickr Commons).
(Credit: Flickr Commons)
The model allowed researchers to evaluate the affordability, reliability, and greenhouse gas emissions of various energy mixes, including coal. It showed that low-cost and low-emissions are not mutually exclusive.  “The model relentlessly seeks the lowest-cost energy, whatever constraints are applied,” Clack said. “And it always installs more renewable energy on the grid than exists today.” 

Even in a scenario where renewable energy costs more than experts predict, the model produced a system that cuts CO2 emissions 33 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and delivered electricity at about 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour. By comparison, electricity cost 9.4 cents per kWh in 2012.  If renewable energy costs were lower and natural gas costs higher, as is expected in the future, the modeled system sliced CO2 emissions by 78 percent from 1990 levels and delivered electricity at 10 cents per kWh. The year 1990 is a standard scientific benchmark for greenhouse gas analysis. A scenario that included coal yielded lower cost (8.5 cents per kWh), but the highest emissions.

At the recent Paris climate summit, the United States pledged to cut greenhouse emissions from all sectors up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The new paper suggests the United States could cut total CO2 emissions 31 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 by making changes only within the electric sector, even though the electrical sector represents just 38 percent of the national CO2 budget. These changes would include rapidly expanding renewable energy generation and improving transmission infrastructure.

In identifying low-cost solutions, researchers enabled the model to build and pay for transmission infrastructure improvements — specifically a new, high-voltage direct-current transmission grid (HVDC) to supplement the current electrical grid. HVDC lines, which are in use around the world, reduce energy losses during long-distance transmission. The model did choose to use those lines extensively, and the study found that investing in efficient, long-distance transmission was key to keeping costs low.

MacDonald compared the idea of a HVDC grid with the interstate highway system which transformed the U.S. economy in the 1950s. “With an ‘interstate for electrons’, renewable energy could be delivered anywhere in the country while emissions plummet,” he said. “An HVDC grid would create a national electricity market in which all types of generation, including low-carbon sources, compete on a cost basis. The surprise was how dominant wind and solar could be.”
The new model is drawing interest from other experts in the field. 

"This study pushes the envelope,” said Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson, who commented on the findings in an editorial he wrote for  the journal Nature Climate Change. “It shows that intermittent renewables plus transmission can eliminate most fossil-fuel electricity while matching power demand at lower cost than a fossil fuel-based grid - even before storage is considered." 

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Press Release dated January 25, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

Can indifference make the world greener?

We conducted a natural field experiment to evaluate two resource conservation programs. One intervention consisted of a moral appeal message asking university employees to cut back on printing in general, and to use double-sided printing whenever possible. The other intervention tested whether people׳s tendency to stick with pre-set alternatives is applicable to resource use: at random points in time we changed the default setting on the university printers, from single-sided to double-sided printing. Whereas the moral appeal had no impact, the default change cut paper use by 15 percent. Further analysis adds two important insights. First, we show that defaults influence behavior also in the longer run. Second, we present results indicating that resource efficient defaults have the advantage of avoiding unintended behavioral responses. Overall, our findings send a clear message to anyone concerned about resource conservation: there are potentially large gains to be made from small interventions.

According to a March, 2014 version of the paper available free of charge at the authors:
find a substantial and immediate default effect. On average, daily paper consumption drops by 15 percent due to the change, and this reduction occurs the very day of the intervention. Put differently, the default determines how one third of all documents is printed. To illustrate the potential impact in a broader perspective, back of the envelope calculations suggest that a switch to a green default in U.S. offices would save 270,000 metric tons of paper ($415,000,000) annually. This amount of paper causes a carbon foot print that is in the order of 780,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalents; as a comparison 150,000 cars would need to be pulled off the roads to generate a similar reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  Second, we present findings indicating that changing the default to duplex is welfare enhancing per se, since it helps people to make the choice they seem to prefer (Johnson et al., 2012). Specifically, the magnitude of the effect does not diminish over time; more than six months after the intervention, paper consumption is still at the new lower level. The fact that people do not revert back to simplex printing in the long run suggests that the intervention does not inconvenience them. From a practical standpoint it is also important to stress that users are most active when simplex is the default. Third, we show that printing demand is independent of the default option, meaning that the drop in paper usage is only due to an increase in the fraction of duplex sheets. This result is important since it shows that using defaults as a policy tool avoids unintended adverse effects. As a comparison, Catlin and Wang (2013) find that people increase their paper usage when the possibility to recycle is introduced, and both Schultz et al. (2007) and Ayres et al. (2009) report that providing information about neighbors’ energy usage causes some individuals to increase their consumption. Finally, we show that encouraging people to use duplex printing as much as possible has no effect. This clearly indicates that trying to convince people to take responsibility, by simply asking, is inefficient.

Nudge, Nudge, Say No More
by Johan Egebark 1, Mathias Ekström 1 and 21. Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Stockholm, Sweden
2. Department of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), Helleveien 30, N-5045 Bergen, Norway
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management via Elsevier Science Direct
Volume 76; March, 2016; Pages 1–13, Available online 26 November 2015
Keywords: Resource conservation; Default option; Moral appeal; Natural field experiment

Gov. Malloy Releases Economic Impact Numbers of Modernizing the New Haven Line

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that an economic analysis performed on the Governor's proposed upgrades to the New Haven Line demonstrates that the economic benefits of replacing the commuter rail system is more than twice the cost of the project upgrades, and will be a major factor in being able to attract and retain businesses and grow jobs.

The analysis determined that while the proposed upgrades have an estimated cost of $3.9 billion, its future benefits amount to $9.7 billion - a net gain of $5.8 billion, amounting to a benefit/cost ratio of 2.51.

Further, the study found that on a long-term basis, the investments will result in over $6.2 billion in long-term cumulative business sales and output - $3.9 billion in additional gross state product and $2.8 billion in additional wage income.  The project is expected to support 4,000 to 6,000 construction jobs during the construction phase.  For every year following the opening of the new structure, the improved transportation efficiency and lower travel and shipping costs will support the creation of 2,000 to 3,100 jobs over the life of the new facility.
MNCRR M-8 at NEC Port Chester.jpg 
Environmental impact include Fleet Mix, Vehicle Miles Traveled, Congestion