Last month, Bloomberg shared insights into the Ceres report urging global investors to move $1 trillion annually by 2030 into renewable energy investments. That’s the amount of investment that Ceres has identified to prevent humanity from pushing the global temperature increase past the 2°C mark.
Okay: so as Bloomberg points out, that may not really be the number. Solar PV prices keep falling, total investment may actually be twice as much as we think it is, etc. But, quadrupling the global investment—that’s what it’s gonna take.
What’s wonderful to me about the report and the Bloomberg share of it is that this conversation is happening at all. While those of us fighting for a balanced energy portfolio and a clear plan toward a net zero energy future feel like everyone is, well, fighting us, it is important to observe that this conversation is happening. That fact alone means that society as a whole is light years ahead of where we were on that path to net zero even five years ago.
So, take heart.
However, that doesn’t mean we should stop leaning in to push for what many think we can’t do and many know we can. We haven’t quite reached the tipping point where civilization will just roll to net zero on its own without us pushing. But what should we push on?
- Investment. Ceres and all of the other brilliant people who are pushing the conversation on investment are—may I humbly say—absolutely right. Lack of capital for projects will stop any relatively new industry in its tracks. Fortunately, there are many creative opportunities at hand.
- Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy. While the federal government may have quashed hope for funding a solar system (PV or thermal) on one’s home through residential PACE, the ability to finance investments in efficiency and renewables for one’s business through on-bill property tax financing is alive and well. Colorado passed a measure allowing just that in 2013 and it promises to open many doors.
- Retail Investor Opportunities. As Bloomberg points out and as crowdfunding illustrates, many folks want a piece of the renewable energy pie. Making investment opportunities available to investors at all levels is crucial. Some firms are beginning to offer “fossil-free” fund options; what we need are “fossil-free, EE/RE heavy” funds.
- Old School, New Opportunities. There are many, MANY channels through which to obtain funds. For example, Energy Intersections recently completely a Roadmap for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, providing guidance on how they can best leverage renewable heating and cooling technologies—like solar thermal and ground source heat pumps—for their stakeholders: Colorado agricultural producers. We found many opportunities, and many funding sources, as well. For example, the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants and loans are a good but under utilized resource for this kind of project in Colorado. New Rural Utility Service rules (RUS) may open more doors. Explore what is under our noses.
- Efficiency. Investment in efficiency must be counted toward this goal. Climate change is fundamentally a zero sum game. Negawatts—the saving of energy vs. the production and consumption of energy—are a huge energy resource. This resource can be tapped everywhere and the U.S. has astounding reserves. We can’t have this conversation just about energy generated: it must be an integrated portfolio discussion and efficiency is part of that portfolio. We must factor it into our investment strategy.
- Thermals & Transportation. Recently, someone in New York proposed that the City meet more of its heating and cooling needs with… wait for it…. renewable electricity generated by solar PV. Okay, I get the intent. But renewable thermals such as solar thermal (75% efficient), ground source heat pumps (400% efficient—yes really), and others offer off-the-charts energy conversion efficiency for serving heating and cooling loads. Yet, how we meet those thermal loads efficiently and renewably continues to be a conversation for dark alleys—not the bright lights of board rooms and legislative sessions. The same has been true for transportation, although this conversation seems to be changing more rapidly and the efficiency questions are different. The thermal conversation is changing more slowly, and resistance is huge. Well, we need to get over it. These technologies haven’t seen the hockey stick in innovation or the plummet in cost because they aren’t getting attention or policy. That doesn’t mean they are valid. There are political and societal forces at work here beyond my comprehension: but, in Colorado, we use over 40% of all end-use energy for heating and cooling—more than any other kind of energy use. Again, we can’t just talk kilowatts. We should talk about thermal and transportation. We should invest in them. We should make them part of the portfolio.
Finally, collaboration. This one calls for a BIG lean in.
If you haven’t noticed, we are all in this together. I, for one, like the fact that my daylight alarm clock automatically starts dimming up at 5 AM. (Okay, not always the 5 AM part.) I like stepping out of the house when I really must go somewhere and it is 12 below and I can hope in my car rather than walk, bike or take a bus like usual (okay, maybe not the 12 below part). You know what I really enjoy. Sewing… including with synthetic fabrics. And skiing. Yep, my long skis are plastic.
I like fossil fuels and utilities and all of the things they bring into my life. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have all of that gone. But, I also know that—as fast as we possibly can—we need to move away from fossil fuel combustion. We need a plan and we need to work together.
Anyone who calls one group or company in this struggle a “black hat” and another group or company a “white hat” should be ashamed of themselves. (I did it today for lack of a better term and slapped my own wrist.) Or, at least it should give them pause. At the moment, I honestly can’t think of a company, organization or political party that is all one or the other. Again: we are all in this together. We must treat everyone at the table with the respect we know we are due (yes, Bobby, even if they started it!). We must bring win-win solutions to the table. Someone must stop the finger pointing first. Why not you? Why not me?
If we want investors to invest, we have to bring legitimate options. That means bringing a full portfolio of opportunities to the table, without contention, and collaborating with all of the relevant parties. That kind of innovative spirit will get us to a trillion dollars in no time flat.