California’s Bold Solar Energy Vision

By Joseph Nyangon
How California’s New Rooftop Solar Mandate Will Build Additional Value for Its Customers

Luminalt solar installers Pam Quan (L) and Walter Morales (R) install solar panels on the roof of a home on May 9, 2018, in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images).

The boldest new plan yet to increase electricity generation from noncarbon-producing sources has been announced by California. Highly regarded as a trendsetter and vanguard of progressive energy policies, California became the first state to require solar power installed on all new homes. The requirement makes rooftop solar a mainstream energy source in the state’s residential market. Adopted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as an update to the state’s 2019 Title 24, Part 6, Building Energy Efficiency Standards [1], the solar mandate obligates new homes built after Jan. 1, 2020 to include photovoltaic (PV) systems.

These standards represent a groundbreaking development for clean energy. Single-family homes and multifamily units that are under three stories will be required to install solar panels. The biggest impact may prove to be the incentive for energy storage and the expected uptake in energy efficiency upgrades which could significantly cut energy consumption in new homes.

But not everyone is celebrating. Critics warn that the requirement could drive up home prices overall, further exacerbating already high housing costs in the state. For instance, in a letter to CEC, Professor Severin Borenstein of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley warned that such a plan would be an “expensive way to expand renewables” to achieve clean energy goals [2]. But in its order, CEC argued that the new rooftop solar mandate would save homebuilders and residents money in the long-term and cut energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions in residential buildings.

Few solar firms, homebuilders, efficiency experts and local governments fully understand the significance of the mandate. Buildings-to-grid integration experts speak of “turning residential solar into an appliance,”—the merging of rooftop solar, home energy management, energy storage, and data analytics into the next generation of high performance buildings that is expected to usher in a new era of sustainable development.

How could this new solar mandate help improve grid management so that these ‘new power plants’—clusters of buildings integrated to the grid—can respond quicker to load signals like water heating or home entertainment and thereby contribute to better system reliability? Of course, there are a lot for stakeholders to grapple with between now and 2020 as they come up with compliance solutions to address these opportunities. But this gap, especially, poses a significant challenge in how the new California’s Title 24 codes will affect the clean energy industry.

On the delivery side, First Solar Inc.—a U.S. panel manufacturer—and Sunrun—the largest U.S. residential-solar installer—could be major beneficiaries of the new building codes considering their established market positions in the state. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2018 puts the mid-point estimate of installed solar capacity required to meet the state’s ambitious ‘50% by 2030’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target at around 32 GW (Figure 1). California currently has an installed solar capacity of 18.6 GW, indicating that it has only until the beginning of the next decade to find technical, business, and policy solutions to realize a 50% increase in installed PV capacity. Considering that the core elements of the requirements are now technically locked in, greater cooperation with solar industry players is needed for the success of this bold energy vision.

Figure 1: AEO 2018 estimate of renewable energy generating capacity and emissions in California (2016-2050)

Here are suggestions of what needs to be done to succeed. Provision of today’s electricity services is fundamentally dependent on its transmission, distribution, and storage (TD&S) systems; these functions include business activities that support construction, operation, maintenance and in this case, overhaul California’s electricity infrastructure. According to the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), national employment in TD&S including retail service was approximately 2.35 million in 2017, with nearly 7% growth expected in 2018, mostly in manufacturing, construction, installation/repair, and operation of TD&S facilities [3]. Using these national figures as rough benchmarks for job generation, the new solar building mandate represents a major growth opportunity for the solar industry. However, there are transmission implementation challenges that could occur in the future. Orders 890 and 1000 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) require transmission providers to treat demand resources comparably with transmission and generation solutions during transmission planning. Which means that a clarification is required of whether onsite generation under Title 24 would count toward compliance with FERC’s orders.

With proper distribution and transmission planning coupled with the fact that new homes will have better efficiency overall, California could reap significant benefits from the solar mandate and pioneer in mainstreaming non-wire alternative business models associated with solar distributed generation systems. Deferring and reducing costs to capacity upgrades for distribution and transmission under a distributed utility regime, is one example. For this reason, California regulators would need to anticipate and address compliance issues that could result during the implementation period, such as concerns regarding flexibility measures, the estimated number of homes that would comply with the codes, and year-on-year market bottlenecks that may occur without rapid change in business models. Further greater stakeholder engagement and partnerships with the building industry, universities and research organizations will be needed to track progress on single–family and multi-family solar development.

Another key step is to improve the revenue model for all generation technologies to reconcile with long-term contracts. In recent years, as solar power grew in the Western Electricity Coordinating Council region, and particularly in California, future prices of solar electricity became uncertain. Today’s electricity prices are set based on the variable cost of the marginal technology. Because technologies like rooftop solar, once built have near-zero marginal costs, this could put downward pressure on long-term electricity prices. Good news for customers and the economy! But payment for TD&S may be of risk. States have been solving this problem by implementing long-term fixed pricing systems, either through power purchase agreements (PPA) or capacity mechanisms, which carry the full-price risk of the technology. California (and New York) has proposed new revenue models that balance the pace of improvement in technology cost and revenue returns. Still, adjustments in the revenue model may be necessary in the future.

The logic behind California’s solar mandate is to reposition the market so that the bulk of generation will increasingly come from customer-sited equipment. This is significant: rooftop solar is one of the most effective customer-sited solutions for accelerating a decentralized grid and greening our electricity supply. Apart from the anticipated long-term cost-reductions to the grid, we can infer that CEC may have been guided by the growing market potential of rooftop solar when crafting the new building code energy-efficiency standards. As to the question of economic viability of the standards to the grid, detailed study is needed to take into account direct and indirect impacts.

Recently, there has been mention of the mounting problem widely known as the “duck curve”—that is, the sun shines only during the day which means that the solar energy cannot meet the system’s demands when the sun goes down or cloud cover disrupts solar energy system output. This phenomenon can force utilities to ramp up non-solar generation, thereby undermining some of the benefits of a low-carbon strategy. This concern raises a question: What happens to the value of solar energy produced as new additional capacity grows? Over-generation? Because retail competition is still limited in volume to support the anticipated market growth under the new standards, the value of the additional solar generation could decline. Furthermore, the grid would need to be prepared to anticipate and handle any over-generation. CEC is aware of the duck curve problem and included a compliance credit for energy storage in the Title 24 codes to address the issue. But this may not be enough. Options for maximizing on-site solar use should be sought as capacity grows. In addition, while greater electrification of buildings is noteworthy for the utility business model, without offering incentives to residential solar producers, for instance, in the form of affordable construction materials that socializes costs over all ratepayers and introduces new products and services that guarantee long-term profitability, the latest round of CEC building codes could raise significant grid management issues and market uncertainties thus exacerbating the duck curve problem. In brief, the role of utilities in interconnecting these ‘power plants’ and managing any over-generation issues will become more critical.

Growth from the new solar mandate and steps taken to incentivize storage and energy efficiency upgrades may not produce profits for utilities in the short term. But adoption of the Title 24 codes offers utilities opportunities for greater electrification and enables them to search for cost-effective pathways to reduce carbon emissions. In a study of grid decarbonization strategies in California, Southern California Edison (SCE) found that a clean power and electrification path can provide an affordable and feasible approach to achieving the state’s climate and air quality goals [4]. While the cost of managing the grid is an important consideration for utilities like SCE, approval of the new solar mandate is an important reminder of the changing utility industry. Power companies are developing new ways to extract value from emerging distributed solar technologies and expand customer choices. The success of the Title 24 codes will depend to a significant degree on supportive regulation. With billions of investments required for grid modernization to address the aging infrastructure issues, finding a sustainable operating model that enables utilities to recuperate costs through rates is fundamental. This is a long-term proposition and power companies should treat it as such.

Despite the challenges discussed above, California’s new Title 24 mandate represents the boldest and most inspiring building energy efficiency standards by any state to date. No doubt the questions surrounding future electricity rates, grid management issues, retail competition, investments in TD&S, design of long-term contracting via PPA mechanisms, and the impact on housing prices require significant attention. But this solar mandate can be an unprecedented energy-problem solving strategy that turns every home into a power plant as solar becomes more mainstream.

Additional Resources
[1] Rulemaking on 2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards:
[2] Email response by Severin Borenstein regarding new building energy efficiency standards rulemaking to mandate rooftop solar on all new residential buildings:
[3] The 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report was prepared by the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO):
[4] The Clean Power and Electrification Pathway: An exploration of SCE’s proposal to help realize California’s environmental goals:

FREE Facilitates Tour by the Seoul Energy Corporation of U.S. Energy Innovations

FREE facilitated a coast-to-coast tour of innovative energy applications for a delegation from the Seoul Energy Corporation (SEC). Spearheaded by CEO Jin Sub Park, the visiting team included: Jung Min Yu, Chang Woo Cho, and Yong Dae Kim.

SEC is responsible for the supervision of and investment in energy policy programs in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul. In particular, the SEC leads the implementation of the innovative One Less Nuclear Power Plant (OLNPP) initiative which pursues energy reduction targets equal to the production of a nuclear power plant. The visit by the SEC delegation had the goal of observing and learning about innovative, ‘best practice’ energy technology, policy, and financing applications. Lessons learned from this tour might find their way into SEC programming in Seoul.

The tour began with a visit to the San Francisco Department of Environment to go over San Francisco’s climate goals and programming, with a special focus on the CleanPowerSF initiative and new efforts to integrate solar power and storage. CleanPowerSF is the city’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, which allows cities and counties to partner with their utility to offer clean energy at competitive rates to residents and businesses.

The SEC’s next destination was Philadelphia where it was hosted by FREE at the office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. The Deputy Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided a warm welcome letter to the delegation, encouraging the SEC to consider the Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Finance Program (PennSEF) as a model that could be implemented in Seoul – PennSEF is a partnership program between the Pennsylvania Treasury and FREE.  To illustrate how the work done by FREE could inform the operations of the SEC, FREE team members presented the lessons learned in setting up large-scale energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy, and microgrid applications such as the Delaware Energy Efficiency Bond Series, the PennSEF program’s LED Street Lighting Initiative, and a Philadelphia Solar 86 MWp Finance Opportunity. Specific attention was paid to financing and policy challenges facing the SEC delegation and how some of the innovative elements of FREE’s work could potentially help overcome these challenges. FREE made several suggestions regarding the organization of research for SEC’s Research Institute to consider, based on FREE’s own efforts to integrate a research arm into the foundation’s institutional structure. A copy of FREE’s presentation is included here.

The SEC delegation and the FREE team in Philadelphia. From bottom left to bottom right: Baird Brown, Jin Sub Park, John Byrne, Joohee Lee. From top left to top right: Jeongseok Seo, Chang Woo Cho, Yong Dae Kim, Job Taminiau, Soojin Shin, Jung Min Yu.

Members of the FREE team then accompanied the SEC delegation to Princeton University to discuss their microgrid application and thermal energy storage strategy. The Princeton microgrid system includes a district energy system that provides electricity, steam, and chilled water to power, heat, and cool the buildings on the university campus. In emergency situations, the microgrid can operate independently from the grid – during the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, the system was able to continue operation while the rest of the grid was down.  A key innovation of the Princeton facility is its capacity to sell ancillary services to the utility grid based on an automated control system that calculates optimum economic benefit of the range of services available from its microgrid.

The final leg of the tour involved a visit to an innovative community energy governance model in New York City. The Brooklyn Microgrid is a network of neighborhood relationships which relies on peer-to-peer transactions built on blockchain technology. Operated by start-up LO3 Energy, the transactive system allows for direct interaction between neighbors in trading power to each other without requiring involvement from the utility.

It was an honor for FREE to host the SEC delegation and we look forward to working together in the future.

Sustainable Energy Utilities and ESCO Financing Can Save Money and Reduce Carbon Footprints

By Kathleen Saul – Master of Environmental Studies Faculty at The Evergreen State College

Reprinted with permission from:

“The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.”   —Will Rogers

William Penn Adair, aka Will Rogers, lived at a time before the spread of electric lights, before highways criss-crossed this nation, and when only 76.2 million people lived in the 45 states of the United States (1900 data).  His words ring true today as they did back then.  Today, over 308 million people reside in the 50 states and draw upon its natural resources to power cars and buses, computers, lights, heating and cooling systems, industrial equipment and cellular phones, hair dryers and electric toothbrushes, toll booths on highways and checkout stands in grocery stores.  Energy–sourced from coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, and other sources—keeps the country buzzing.

As expected, using energy is not free.  We pay for electricity in dollars per kWh, for natural gas in dollars per mmBTU, and gasoline or diesel for a car, bus or minivan in dollars per gallon.  Those prices fluctuate depending on national policies, subsidies accorded providers, global affairs (such as wars in the Middle East), demand, and local taxes (such as carbon taxes or taxes to pay for road repairs).

In recent years concern over global climate change and the impact of energy use on climate has forced many people to take a harder look at their energy consumption patterns.  Appliance manufacturers have introduced more efficient versions of popular brands.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy worked to develop labels to make it easier for consumers to choose more energy efficient options.  Automobile manufacturers have increased the miles per gallon achieved by many small cars.  As a result, the energy consumed by each American has gone down over time.

But there is more to be done.  We have to turn our attention to the structures housing the computers and refrigerators, HVAC systems and televisions.  We need to look at personal residences and businesses.  This work starts with an energy audit.  After examining the structure and its energy profile, an energy service company (ESCO) provides a list of different options for making the home or business more energy efficient, how much each option will cost, and the amount of energy each will save.  The business owner or resident can determine how much invest.  They may decide just to replace light bulbs or may choose to invest in a new heating and cooling (HVAC) system, to replace leaky windows, and to add insulation to the attic and basement.  They will contract with the ESCO to do the work and to pay that ESCO based on how much money they save on their energy bills, from the start of the project until the total cost of the work has been repaid.  Figure 2 below illustrates a simple example:

Figure 2: A Simplified View of a New Way to Finance

If previous energy bills totaled $100 and new bills total $75 dollars per month, $25 per month (the hatched portion of the graph) will be paid towards the cost of the heating and cooling system, windows, and insulation.  There is no large up-front investment to worry about.  The bills are no higher than before the work was completed and, in the end, the building will be more energy efficient.  After the work has been paid off, bills will be reduced to $75 per month.

This same type of financing arrangement can also be applied toward renewable energy projects.  Rather than having to buy solar panels on credit, interested parties can work with a solar company which will install the panels and take the money that would have been paid to an electric company as the installment payment for the panels.  After a period of time, the interested parties become the owner of the panels and the electric bill drops to zero (theoretically).

The Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) has built on this model to help increase the energy and water use efficiency of prisons and schools in Delaware, invest in renewable energy systems, and reduce the energy use of households.  The SEU, a tax-exempt entity, tapped the private bond market to raise $72.5 million with which to implement large scale, long-term sustainable energy measures.  These projects involve four interrelated contracts: a) A program agreement; b) A guaranteed savings agreement; c) An installment payment agreement; and d) An indenture (Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU): The Business Model of the SEU  The program agreement describes the contracted relationship between the SEU, the ESCO(s), and other participants in the program.  It provides details about reporting requirements and monitoring programs, as well as specific targets for the programs.  The guaranteed savings agreement follows an audit by an ESCO and outlines the appropriate energy, water and other conservation measures, or renewable energy or distributed energy system installations that will be undertaken to reduce consumption.  The installment payment agreement details the plans for payments from the participant to the trustee.  The trustee works on behalf of the bondholders.  In the case of the Delaware SEU, the SEU is the trustee.  The relationship between the bondholders and the trustee is outline in the indenture.  Because the model relies on contractual agreements, the risk to any one party has been reduced.  Setting targets at the outset and providing monitoring throughout the life of the project both help ensure success of the energy efficiency and conservation projects.  Any deviations from the energy efficiency and conservation plans can be identified early and can be corrected.

In the case of the SEU, the figure looks slightly different than Figure 2 above.  Figure 3 shows that the Aggregate Guaranteed Savings over the life of the project will far exceed the Aggregate Payments made toward the project.  Thus, the concept is the same.  Regardless of the source of the funds, there is no large up-front payment and the contractually guaranteed savings will exceed the payments made.

Figure 3: Large Scale, Long Term Deep Retrofits (Source: Sustainable Energy Utility, SEU – The Business Model of the SEU)

Projects using this type of financing approach also have been implemented in Thane, India as part of the Campaign for Renewable Energy under Dr. Sanjay Mangala Gopal ; in Sonoma County, California and in Pennsylvania (See  Small scale, short-term projects can benefit from this approach, as can large-scale, long-term ones.   We can then put the money back into our pockets as Will Rogers bade us to do many, many years ago.

The Scale of the Energy Access Gap

By Benjamin M. Attia
Access to electricity is a key catalyst correlated with economic development.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently estimated that over 1.5 billion people do not have access to affordable electricity, representing one quarter of the world’s population [1]. In the absence of aggressive new policies and significant financing, it is estimated that that number will drop to only 1.3 billion by 2030 [1]. The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, which is working toward a goal of global universal energy access by 2030, estimates that approximately 600 million of these unelectrified people live in Sub-Saharan Africa [2]. This number is expected to rise to approximately 645 million by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario due to expected explosive population growth [2, 3]. This widening gap of energy access is a complex and multidimensional problem and represents an important hindrance to economic development and social change in the developing world.

Historically, the access gap since the initial commercialization of electricity has “consistently been between 1 and 2 billion people… as grid expansion has roughly paced global population” growth [4]. This suggests that the access gap is a reflection of a persistent lack of equity in distribution. In fact, in 1983, Krugmann and Goldemberg famously estimated that at 1983 global consumption levels, the “energy cost of satisfying the basic human needs” of every person on the planet was well within the available supply of energy resources [5, p. 60].

Today, the consumption and distribution inequalities are even more pronounced. In 2011, the average American consumed 13,240 kilowatt hours (kWh) per person per year, while the average Ethiopian consumed only 56 kWh [6]. Further, across all of Sub-Saharan Africa, annual per capita kWh use is one-sixth the load requirements of a relatively efficient American refrigerator [7]. Globally, the poorest three-quarters of the world’s population comprise less than ten percent of total energy consumption [8, p. 5].

The inequities that underline energy poverty and energy access are also fundamentally connected to climate change. Looking ahead, the world’s demand for electricity is estimated to increase by more than 70% by 2040, and the World Bank and IEA estimate that a doubling in installed energy capacity will be necessary to meet the anticipated growing demands of emerging markets [9], [10]. Despite the accelerating paradigm shift to low-carbon and renewable energy generation technologies, there is a paradoxical irony to the link between development and climate change which has left the poorest countries with the lowest contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the most vulnerable and most susceptible to the effects of climate change [11, p. 591, 12]. As markets evolve to value avoided GHG emissions [13, p. 215], reconciling the joint–and possibly conflicting– goals of development through universal energy access and combating climate change will accelerate, but at present, the inequity in energy access is only further exacerbated by the parallel inequities with respect to climate change adaptation measures.

Many scholars agree that access to electricity in itself is not fully sufficient to bring about the required economic and social development to break the cycle of poverty [14, p. 1058, 15, p. 2194]. It has also been widely settled that access to electricity is a key catalyst correlated with economic development and that a lack of electricity access is a key bottleneck to growth [16], see [17] for comprehensive rebuttal]. However, approaches for tackling the problems associated with energy poverty are often difficult to scale up because of the difficulties associated with navigating this uneven technical, sociocultural, agricultural, and institutional landscape, and, as will be demonstrated below, the multidimensionality of energy access inhibits scalability of any one catch-all solution.

The IEA estimates that 30% of those without access to electricity would best be served by grid extension, 52.5% would be best served by micro-grids, and 17.5% would best be served by stand-alone energy systems [3, p. 14]. There is a clear need for investment in rural electrification initiatives at all three levels and a clear gap in understanding routes and sinks for effective impact investing [3, p. 14]. National grid extension programs and firms selling small energy systems are generally much better funded than the community-scale solution of micro-grids, despite their significant potential market share and niche ability to provide scale benefits, rapid deployment, flexibility of business models, and energy storage, security, and reliability [3, p. 15]. The micro-grid space is rife with opportunity to build markets, innovate new business models, develop new financing mechanisms, and provide the sustainable development benefits of renewable electrification and increased economic potential.

As one development professional put it, “If rural [people] have power in their lives, they will have more power over their lives” [16]. Access to electricity is not the answer to the greater global problems of poverty and inequity, but can be a good place to start.

[1] “World Energy Outlook 2014,” Paris, France, 2014.
[2] SE4ALL, “Energy for all: Financing Access for the poor,” in Energy for All Conference, 2011.
[3] M. Franz, N. Peterschmidt, M. Rohrer, and B. Kondev, “Mini-grid Policy Toolkit: Policy and Business Frameworks for Successful Mini-grid Roll-outs,” EUEI Partnership Dialogue Facility, Escheborn, 2014.
[4] P. Alstone, D. Gershenson, and D. M. Kammen, “Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access,” Nat. Clim. Chang., vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 305–314, 2015.
[5] H. Krugmann and J. Goldemberg, “The energy cost of satisfying basic human needs,” Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 45–60, 1983.
[6] C. Kenny, “If Everyone Gets Electricity, Can the Planet Survive?,” The Atlantic, 2015.
[7] “Power Africa Annual Report,” 2014.
[8] J. Tomei and D. Gent, “Equity and the energy trilemma Delivering sustainable energy access in low-income communities,” International Institute for Environment & Development, London, United Kingdom, 2015.
[9] “World Energy Outlook 2015 Factsheet,” Paris, France, 2015.
[10] R. K. Akikur, R. Saidur, H. W. Ping, and K. R. Ullah, “Comparative study of stand-alone and hybrid solar energy systems suitable for off-grid rural electrification: A review,” Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev., vol. 27, pp. 738–752, 2013.
[11] A. Yadoo and H. Cruickshank, “The role for low carbon electrification technologies in poverty reduction and climate change strategies: A focus on renewable energy mini-grids with case studies in Nepal, Peru and Kenya,” Energy Policy, vol. 42, pp. 591–602, 2012.
[12] J. Byrne, Y.-D. Wang, H. Lee, and J. Kim, “An equity and sustainability-based policy response to global climate change,” Energy Policy, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 335–343, 1998.
[13] U. Deichmann, C. Meisner, S. Murray, and D. Wheeler, “The economics of renewable energy expansion in rural Sub-Saharan Africa,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 215–227, 2011.
[14 A. Bhide and C. R. Monroy, “Energy poverty: A special focus on energy poverty in India and renewable energy technologies,” Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev., vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 1057–1066, 2011.
[15] B. Mainali and S. Silveira, “Financing off-grid rural electrification: Country case Nepal,” Energy, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 2194–2201, 2011.
[16] D. Mans, “Back to the Future: Africa’s Mobile Revolution Should Inspire Rural Energy Solutions,” Huffington Post, 20-May-2014.
[17] L. A. Odarno, “Negotiating the Labrynth of Modernity’s Promise: A Paradigm Analysis of Energy Poverty in Peri-Urban Kumasi, Ghana,” University of Delaware, 2014.

Post-Paris Agreement: FREE’S Focus on Subnational Climate Action

By Job Taminiau and Joseph Nyangon
Accelerating climate action and finance at subnational level based on the Paris Agreement.

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 21 (also known as the Paris climate summit) closed in Le Bourget, France after two weeks of intense negotiations, with negotiators agreeing on a landmark “Paris Agreement.” The conference took place from November 30 – December 12, 2015 and was attended by a delegation from the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment (FREE). The FREE delegation included Dr. John Byrne, Chairman and President, and Dr. Job Taminiau, Research Principal of FREE. This blog post briefly discusses the outcome document of the negotiations and highlights the experience of attending COP-21.

FREE’s Participation in the COP process
The FREE delegation participated in official side events, interviews, discussions, and meetings throughout the second week of the negotiations. Overall, the FREE delegation was very impressed by the ‘can do’ attitude of, particularly, the subnational actors that were present at the COP. In fact, these subnational actors, on more than one occasion, highlighted their willingness to not only follow-up on negotiators’ progress to seal a deal but to champion and “ratchet-up” local climate action as a viable pathway for future climate change mitigation and adaptation.

FREE co-sponsored and co-organized two side events at the conference. In a side event on the potential contribution of cities to address climate change, co-sponsored and co-organized by FREE in collaboration with the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP, University of Delaware) and the Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples (or simply “Climate Alliance”), the Global Covenant of Mayors, and others, Dr. Taminiau offered a perspective on subnational climate change innovation, leadership, and governance by drawing from examples of ‘solar city’ strategies. Such a project could offer a substantial improvement in a city’s energy profile: for example, a high density, vertical city like Seoul could supply 66% of daylight electricity needs for the year and 35% of all-hours annual electricity needs from the use of 30% of the rooftop real estate available in the city. The Europe-based Climate Alliance was a very suitable partner for this message: the organization works with more than 1,700 cities and municipalities spread across 26 European countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

COP21_Paris Agreement_FREE_John_Byrne_Job_Taminiau_Paris_AgreementL-R: Dr. Taminiau and Dr. Byrne at the Paris climate change conference

Flanked by among others, Camille Gira of Luxembourg European Union Council Presidency; Magda Aelvoet, Minister of State, President, Federal Council for Sustainable Development, Belgium; Tine Heyse, Deputy Mayor of Ghent, Belgium; Josefa Errazuriz, Mayor of Providencia, Chile; Julie Laernoes, Vice-President of Nantes Metropole, France; Marie-Christine Marghem, Belgian Federal Minister of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development; and Ellý Katrin Gudmundsdottir, Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, Dr. Taminiau argued that cities are well positioned to help bend the carbon curve. “Cities could be the power plant of the future,” he added.

The second side event organized by the Climate Change Center Korea was titled “Preparing Action Plans for a Post-2020 Climate Change Regime in Asia.” Former prime ministers and senior government officers from Asia were among the participants in this well-attended event, highlighting the need for a new finance, markets and policy regime as well as stronger cooperation and partnerships in Asia to combat climate change. Dr. Duck-Soo Han, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Climate Change Center and Former Prime Minister of Republic of Korea called for enhanced financial and technological resources in Asia to combat climate change. Professor Haibin Zhang of Peking University and a Member of the Global Advisory Board of the Center for Climate and Sustainable Development Law and Policy (CSDLAP) offered a Chinese perspective on climate policy governance. Dr. Oliver Lah of Wuppertal Institute for Climate (Germany) examined EU-Asia climate partnerships. And Richie Ahuja, Regional Director for Asia of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) summarized work in Asian region on clean energy and clean cooking systems as low-carbon solutions.

COP21_Paris Agreement_FREE_John_Byrne_Climate_Action
Dr. Byrne presenting findings from a study on the financeability of large urban solar plants in Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo. Photo by IISD/ENB

Dr. Byrne presented findings from a six-city study on the financeability of large urban solar plants. He described results from Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo, noting financing and policy needs on the cost of installations in these cities to enable infrastructure-scale investment. Particularly, New York City, London, Munich, and Amsterdam could be successful in implementing a solar city strategy without many changes to existing policy structures. Seoul and Tokyo, meanwhile, require more modification to existing conditions in order to produce a viable project that could attract financial resources from investors. For instance, FREE’s researchers find that such infrastructure-scale solar development is financeable in 13 years for Seoul, 10 years for New York City, and 11-12 years for London, Munich and Amsterdam (Figure 1).

Solar city implementation options for the six municipalities under a 10-year financing maturity.
Figure 1. Solar city implementation options for the six municipalities under a 12-year financing maturity. [1]

The Paris Agreement: A New Direction for Climate Change Governance?
Forged by nearly 200 countries to ramp-up climate mitigation and adaptation measures to reel in planet-warming carbon emissions, the Paris Agreement marks a historic shift in climate diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement has been hailed as a monumental step in the climate change negotiation process: “For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the conference’s closing session. “This is a resounding success for multilateralism,” he declared. Key elements of the new agreement include:

  1. A goal to hold the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2°C and endeavour to reach 1.5°C” relative to pre-industrial temperatures;
  2. Successive nationally determined contributions outlining Parties’ commitments to reduce climate change emissions, to be updated every five years. Each round of commitments needs to represent a progression from previous commitments; and
  3. A regular process of review of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This “global stocktake” which informs collective efforts on mitigation, adaptation and support on technology development and transfer for developing country parties will take place in 2023 and every five years thereafter.

Six years after the 2009 diplomatic disaster of Copenhagen, the path to Paris had been well-prepared. The COP talks in Copenhagen, in no small part, collapsed due to the continued focus on a top-down, legally binding agreement with strong emission reduction commitments for which, ultimately, willingness to sign on by nation-states was low. The Copenhagen Accord (2009) and subsequent Cancun Agreements (2010) formulated a new approach revolving around a new way of target-setting of more bottom-up, self-determined, national targets. This ‘pledge-and-review’ approach yielded approval from a much larger set of nation-states, including the United States and China. A “fresh” architecture for climate action was set out to be the goal in the follow-up Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011).[2] The bilateral talks and agreements between China, the U.S., and India can also be seen as critical preparatory work that allowed for the outcome in Paris. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping met in September 2015 in Washington D.C. announcing new and strengthened bilateral and multilateral climate cooperation, including the establishment of a national cap-and-trade program in China by 2017, providing momentum for success in Paris.

The Paris Agreement marks a break from the past, representing an unprecedented inflection point in the global response to climate change. Over twenty years of negotiations have brought the international community to a point where self-determination, rather than top-down treaty pursuits, has become the new approach moving forward. In this, there appear to be at least two main elements that will shape climate change governance for the years to come.

First, the agreement provides a process for governments to ratchet-up efforts to limit global temperature rise and, for the first time, includes commitments from all key Parties to the convention. The agreement puts emphasis on registering commitments at global, national, provincial/state, local, and corporate scales, and tracks national performance over time. Every five years, beginning in 2020, each country will be required to communicate a new nationally determined contribution for reducing emissions. Potentially, this implies that the Paris Agreement could be the main platform within which climate change action at the global level is articulated for years, only to be routinely updated rather than fully redrafted.

Second, as the focus shifts to implementation, the success of the agreement lies in the Convention’s ability to engage the private sector, financial institutions, cities, and transnational and subnational authorities. Indeed, as Christiana Figueres highlighted during the 2016 Investor Summit on Climate Risk, the Paris Agreement was “clearly the easiest of the components”. [3] Noting the Paris Agreement as the “starting line”, Christiana Figueres continued that the real challenge is to take all the “fantastic intentions” and move them to actual implementation. Similarly, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized the gravity of the challenge that lies ahead: “We have an agreement. It is a good agreement. You should all be proud. Now we must stay united – and bring the same spirit to the crucial test of implementation. That work starts tomorrow”.[4]

COP_21_Paris_Agreement Celebration_Christiana Figueres_Laurence Tubiana_Ban_Ki_moon_François_Hollande
L-R: Laurence Tubiana, COP 21 Presidency; UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; COP 21/CMP 11 President Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister, France; and President François Hollande, France, celebrating the conclusion of the event. Photo by IISD/ENB

The Bottom Line: Paris Agreement Implementation Requires Subnational Creativity, Innovation, and Leadership
The FREE delegation proposed ‘polycentric’ strategies to COP-21 as a viable way forward for the international community. The proposal is based on ideas and models developed and implemented by FREE, such as the promising contribution of the Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Finance Program (PennSEF), the innovative character of the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) model, or the transformative potential of ‘solar cities’. The proposal titled “A Polycentric Response to the Climate Change Challenge Relying on Creativity, Innovation, and Leadership” highlights the critical importance of subnational actors, particularly cities and other municipal agents. [5] Relying on a wide and diverse landscape of actors to address climate change, the proposed focus on ‘polycentric’ strategies could capture and scale-up the innovation, leadership, and creativity taking place.

FREE has well-established experience with sustainable energy financing programs and, through research such as on solar cities, is actively developing options for transformative change. The SEU model, for instance, has been implemented in the U.S. state of Delaware (with a second bond issuance planned for the near-term) and in Washington, DC and is being actively explored in India and Korea. The U.S. White House in an announcement made by President Obama recognized the SEU model for its promise of transformative change and capability to lower energy use and carbon emissions while improving state economic development. Other programs, like PennSEF and planned future projects, combine innovations in finance, policy and market approaches and are needed to mobilize necessary levels of climate finance and fulfilment of existing commitments of the Paris Agreement.

Concerns linger as to, for instance, the observation that much more needs to be done than is currently pledged by the nation-states in order to meet the two degree target (the so-called ‘ambition gap’). The bottom line of the Paris Agreement therefore is that implementation will require the mobilization of state and non-state actors to perform substantial technical, methodological, and policy efforts to support the accord when it enters into force. A critical factor in this is the leveraging of financial resources to drive transformative change. FREE plans to assist state and non-state actors in developing these capacities. Recombination and careful consideration of the policy-market-finance interaction is at the foundation of FREE’s project portfolio and can deliver a critical contribution towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

[1] Byrne, J., Taminiau, J., Kim, K.N., Seo J., and Lee, J. (2015). “A solar city strategy applied to six municipalities: integrating market, finance, and policy factors for infrastructure-scale photovoltaic development in Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment.
[2] As mentioned on the UNFCCC website:
[3] As discussed at the 2016 Investor Summit on Climate Risk. The Summit seeks to sustain the momentum from Paris and was organized by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Office for Partnerships.
[5] This position paper was authored by Dr. Job Taminiau and Dr. John Byrne in their respective capacity at the Center for Energy & Environmental Policy (CEEP, University of Delaware).