Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Career (and New Paper) - Carbon Fighter

Hello to my small community of readers,

It's been ages since I wrote about global carbon issues, but I'm using this forum to announce I will be starting a new job soon. No longer an academic (cough), I will be working for BrightSource Energy (BSE) in Oakland, CA. BSE is a concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) technology and development company. Founded by a core group of Israeli technologists who pioneered parabolic trough CSP in California in the 1980's, BrightSource utilizes heliostat power-tower CSP technology to produce more reliable, peak renewable energy. The company has the largest pipeline of utility renewable energy contracts with 2.6 GW between California utilities PG&E and SCE. I will be working in the Originations team focusing on new and existing PPAs and utility relationships.

I also wanted to post the research paper that fellow Haas '11 classmate, Jake Carney, and I published called Credit Risk Implications and Default Mitigation Strategies For Commercial Solar Financing. Here is the paper's problem statement:

"In order to expand the financeable, addressable market for commercial and industrial solar PV systems, innovative approaches must be developed and proven to financiers to facilitate capital flows. In the current financing environment, the common practice is to account for a solar system, which has experienced a host default, for purposes of financial modeling, as having lost 100% of its future economic value. This results in a credit requirement cliff in decision making by financiers. Financiers acknowledge that loss mitigation may very well occur in the event of default, but due to uncertain outcomes, lack of precedents or lack of competitive pressures, the expected value of mitigation efforts is not given any credence – to the benefit of financiers and the detriment of developers and host customers

Leaders in the commercial solar developer community must present compelling cases to financiers regarding legitimate strategies to mitigate lost revenues. Some of these strategies may exist today in the form of regulatory programs, alternative financing structures and comparable scenarios from the real estate industry, while other strategies may need to be explored such as contract structuring, credit support, market-based solutions and policy advocacy."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Climate Change Groundhog Day Around the Corner

At last column, international representatives were converging on Cancun for the annual “big” conference on climate and carbon. The party line coming out of the conference was that “negotiations were back on track,” hopefully ushering in an era of good feeling, with supposedly more concrete plans and agreements for capping global temperature increase to occur next December in Durban, South Africa. The key outcomes from Cancun were $30B, on the way to $100B, of explicit climate financial aid, including a roadmap for fund oversight, deforestation reduction agreements and a framework for technology exchange and cooperation.

The World Economic Forum in Davos has also focused a great deal on climate and the growing role of developing economics in all things, including carbon solutions. There was plenty of finger pointing at the United States for its lack of action or leadership while China is being a hailed as the technological and economic winner in the climate “arms” race.

The Obama administration is doing its best to stay on the offensive with regard to energy policy, while not mentioning carbon or global warming, given the new Republican congress’s agenda and tendencies. In Obama’s state of the union, he called for a “Clean Electricity Standard” (CES) whereby 80% of the US’s electricity would come from clean sources. The message is a subtle shift and nod of compromise with conservatives as a CES would include nuclear and clean-coal generators. No significant goals to reduce US consumption of fossil fuels for transportation were mentioned by the President.

Obama’s new tactics are coincident with Republican calls and proposals to disrobe the EPA of its mandates, responsibilities and ability to regulate carbon emissions.

Other Articles of Interest:

· IEA Economist says chance of avoiding temperature rise is fading.

· A successful renewable energy credit market (REC) in India may supplant UN CDM market. India was the largest supplier of UN CDM credits in 2009. Participants laud shorter approval processes and looser project requirements. India program includes credits for energy efficiency programs.

· Africa hopes to benefit from UN CDM ban on industrial gas offset projects.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cancun +/- Copenhagen?

Monday marks the start of the most important carbon and climate change conference in 2010. Here's what is in store over the next 10 days:

  1. Climate Financial Aid; Status - a $30B quick start fund over 3 years has been widely discussed and contributed to, but the mechanics, “newness” of funds and the path to ~$100B a year by 2020 is still up for debate.
  2. Curbing deforestation by developing countries; Status – the UN REDD program has created a framework to incentivize preservation, which needs to be endorsed and scaled by nations.
  3. Technology transfer; Status – progress has been made conceptually in recent meetings, but IP issues remain outstanding, and India has submitted a policy proposal.
  4. Emissions governance oversight; Status – measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) framework has been proposed by India.
  5. Emission reduction commitments; Status – minimal momentum for increased commitments from key nations, especially US or China.
  6. Emissions trading systems and governance; Status – minimal discussion at this point, but learnings exist from Kyoto.
  7. Status of Copenhagen accord; Status – uncertain whether this agreement lacking international consensus can be incorporated into global accord.
  8. Kyoto expiration; Status – likely to sunset without extension, despite China suggesting such, as developed countries demand inclusive emissions constraints.

Follow the latest news from Cancun from these sites:

Monday, November 22, 2010

7 Days Until COP@Cancun

The mood leading up to the annual climate summit in Cancun feels markedly different than that of Copenhagen last year. There is either due to little hope of any productive agreements or a conscious strategy by international representatives to significantly dampening expectations. Unfortunately, the reality is likely a combination of both.

Negotiators in Cancun plan to focus on the relatively “simpler” issues to confront:

  1. finalizing the “fast track” $30B of climate aid for poor nations to adapt to climate change,
  2. progressing the discussion of technology sharing for adaptation and emission reductions, and
  3. establishing a broad forest preservation regime.

More ambitious topics for debate include substantial, formal emission reduction commitments from the world’s two largest emitters (China and the U.S.) as well as agreement on an emissions measurement, reporting and verification scheme.

Nevertheless, some interesting trends could positively impact international negotiations.

· Sub-global accords and proposals for carbon initiatives by cities (World Mayors Pact), states (Subnational Summit), investors and businesses.

· Recent domestic proposals for carbon limiting and trading schemes out of China and Australia.

· Concerns over the ability to obtain future concessions and agreement from the U.S. if the political shift to the right continues in 2012, which coincides with the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

15 Days Until the Climate Party in Cancun

In these last weeks leading up to the crucial climate & carbon meeting in Cancun, Mexico, there has been a flurry of activity and rhetoric. Unfortunately, it would be very premature to count on a semi-comprehensive agreement out of the conference, COP17, which may be the last chance to a) reach an agreement and b) limit the warming of our planet.

On the small island of Kirbati, comprised of low lying atolls and islands, international delegates convened and agreed to the “Ambo Declaration.” The agreement calls for funding for small island nations combating rising sea levels. Australia, Japan, China, India, Brazil and others are prepared to sign the accord; however, the US and EU member states claimed they were unable to sign onto anything.

Elsewhere in New Delhi, strides were made on one of the four major outstanding issues leading into Cancun, technology sharing. Poor, developing nations need both technologies for adapting to the deleterious effects of global warming as well as for reducing domestic carbon emissions. It’s unclear what the specifics of this “advance” were, but a technology deal has three pillars – sharing, finance and intellectual property. The last two are still tenuous as key environmental ministers have urged the deferral of the intellectual property debate until after Cancun and a technology sharing agreement has been outlined.

In the US, the shifting political winds have already retrenched the carbon hawks in DC. First, President Obama has publicly declared dead the plan to limit carbon emissions through a cap & trade program, as it has become a political impossibility. Similarly, in possible anticipation of legislative challenge to the EPA’s judicial mandate to regulate carbon emissions, the EPA is proposing now to require large emitters (power plants, refineries, large factories) to embark on efficiency measures.

Other Carbon Articles of Interest:

· India proposes palatable common ground on international oversight for emissions Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV).

· Mikhail Gorbachev’s NY Times op-ed on climate talks

· Nations may seek to use hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) reducing mechanism, which helped save the ozone layer, to address hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) a class of very powerful greenhouse gases.

· The International Energy Association (IEA) calls for nations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

UN Accord, ex USA, Reached on Biodiversity Protections

After a week of hopes and tensions, international delegates to the UN agreed to a landmark treaty to protect global biodiversity. Key aspects of the agreement include:
  • Protection of 17% of land & inland waters globally, up from 13% currently
  • Protection of 10% of coastal & marine waters globally, up from 1% currently
  • Rules governing how countries share in benefits derived in forests & sea, e.g., drugs developed from genetic material found in Amazon rain forest.
  • The US declined to join the biodiversity convention and thus are not a party to this agreement.
  • Japan is contributing $2B over the next 3 years to developing countries to help them preserve ecosystems.
Despite those naysayers who argue this agreement falls short of necessary protection levels, the fact that 193 nations were able to agree on such important environmental issues provides a glimmer of hope on the carbon front. Although not obvious from press reports, it's possible that the biodiversity accord may have created common ground and frameworks to tackle the challenge of carbon interdependency. Nevertheless, the absence of the US, in Kyoto like fashion, may only further alienate the US from the international community.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Biodiversity, not Emissions, the Focus in Japan

International delegates gathered this week in Nagoya, Japan, to continue the dialog on global climate issues. The specific focus of this convention was not to debate emissions reductions, but rather to promote the urgency of biodiversity conservation. Because a significant percentage of GDP in poor nations is reliant upon fragile ecosystems such as fresh water, corral and forests, the UN group is discussing potential conservation targets.

In Japan, conservation groups also pleaded with UN representatives to cease geo-engineering projects as they are risky and counterproductive to the focus on emissions reductions and the spirit of conservation. Geo-engineering project proposals have included fertilizing the ocean to create CO2 consuming phytoplankton, injecting seawater into the atmosphere, placing solar reflectors in space, spurring artificial volcanoes and storing carbon dioxide underground (CCS).

This week as well in Japan, Prime Minister Kan restated his country’s opposition to extending the terms of the Kyoto Protocol in lieu of a global climate agreement, as China and allies support such an action.

Other carbon articles of note:

· Mexico’s Foreign Minister says conditions not met for a climate deal in Cancun later this year.

· Achieving carbon emission targets is stretching Mexico financial resources without the specter of international aid.

· Europe on track to meet Kyoto emissions targets, but emissions from imported goods up 40%. Highlights the environmental and moral hazard of regional carbon regimes.

· Czech president claims climate change is not a threat or result of man.

· Canadian provinces seriously concerned about outcome of California’s Prop 23 vote.