Obama’s Clean Power Plan: A big step towards global 100% renewables

Monday, 10. August 2015

On 3 August U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector by 32% by the year 2030. This much-anticipated announcement has been greeted very favorably by a large portion of the U.S. population, and by governments and stakeholders around the world, who welcome the world’s second largest carbon producer in taking aggressive action towards mitigating climate change. As the evidence of rapid changes in our climate continue to mount, and as policymakers worldwide are digesting the latest results of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is welcome news for the U.S. to take a more aggressive position in reducing global carbon emissions over the coming decades. This is certainly a good sign for the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year, since in the past the leadership of the U.S. has been lacking in these deliberations.

The announcement came on the heels of the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Conference, held this year at the Pennsylvania State University on 26-28 July. ISES was a partner with ASES in the conference, and I was given the opportunity to address the entire conference with a plenary speech on the opening day. The focus of my talk was how solar can be and is becoming a solution to climate change, but that much more aggressive steps need to be taken globally to ensure that carbon emissions can actually start to decrease within the next two decades. This is a clear finding in the IPCC report: for the world to avoid a >20C warming above preindustrial levels by the end of this century, carbon emissions can only continue to increase for at most 10-20 years, and then they must rapidly decrease to near zero (which can be achieved by 100% renewables) by the end of the century.

Led by a new, bright, young Executive Director, Carly Rixham, ASES took some bold steps in this Conference to ensure that all renewable energy stakeholders felt welcome and engaged. Although there were still a number of technology-specific presentations, under the Conference leadership of Jeffrey Brownson and a group of very enthusiastic organizing committees, the technical sessions were organized in a way that gave Conference participants a clear understanding of the need to integrate these technologies, and in parallel to implement straightforward energy efficiency measures and net –zero energy building design, to adopt a largely electrified transportation system, and to continue R&D in improved technology efficiency and low-cost storage, in order to achieve a 100% renewable energy system. There were also forums that allowed for plenty of discussion on the key role of best practice policies and financing mechanisms, and how grass roots actions can be implemented effectively. There are many other conferences that offer opportunities for presenting the latest developments in individual technologies, but there are very few that serve as a welcome home to the broad renewable energy community. ISES is working to follow the same path in its Congresses.

Getting back to the Clean Power Plan, there are, of course, many detractors here in the U.S. Some of these detractors are driven by ideology, which is difficult to overcome. But misinformation and the fear of change, such as the loss of jobs in the coal industry and of unnecessary rises in electricity prices, is another source of resistance. Nevertheless, the arguments to counter this misinformation are available. In a recent blog by Rhone Resch, the Executive Director of the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, he points out that solar is the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., and there are now 174,000 solar jobs in the country. This is over twice the number of jobs in the coal industry! A key role of our Societies (ISES, ASES, and the other Sections and Partnering Organizations of ISES), is to spread the positive word as to how renewables are the solution for climate mitigation, as well as for a whole range of other societal ills such as air and water pollution, loss of middle class jobs, energy insecurity, and wars over fixed resources still under the ground. The sun is available to all, everywhere, and cannot become a political tool for one country to exploit at the expense of others.