Marrakech Reflections: the University of Minnesota at COP22
We are winding up the final day of COP22, the international gathering of 190+ nations of the world in Marrakech, Morocco, with the goal of carrying forward the Paris Agreement on climate change. This COP, or Conference of the Parties, marks the 22nd year of efforts to build international cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (UNFCCC). It is the first COP meeting since the historic Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4, following the approval of at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions—including the U.S. Marrakech has built a conference center resembling a sprawling, modern conference center tent city. Like previous COPs, the “Blue Zone” tents hold the official negotiating sessions, dozens of country pavilions, and high-level representatives from many nations including the U.S. The Green Zone is open to all participants and includes a cacophony of languages, speeches, songs, art, and orderly demonstrations by civil society, innovative businesses, and others. The University of Minnesota’s official U.N delegation for week two of the COP includes 3 professors (myself, Gabe Chan, and Melissa Hortman) and 7 graduate students (please see other blogs here.) Our study abroad program has been supported by the Humphrey School, the Institute on the Environment, as well as the Learning Abroad Center.
I arrived in the beautiful city of Marrakech with trepidation, wondering how the U.S. election and President-elect Trump’s stated intentions to walk away from the Paris Agreement would be received. The Paris Agreement was possible in large part due to the active participation of the United States, in particular the bilateral agreements President Obama forged with China and India, for the first time committing the largest emitting countries to significant CO2 reductions. These agreements and the structure of the Paris Agreement, with each country bringing its own self-determined climate action plan or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the table, created the foundation for a global agreement with virtually every nation participating. How would the world react if the U.S. were to back out of its commitments, would it threaten to unravel the global consensus?
The answer I heard repeatedly in Marrakech was mostly positive but tempered with realism. At COP22 nations, civil society, business leaders and others are more determined than ever to move forward. The most commonly heard words: momentum, urgency, and action.
While the U.S. election was mentioned as a possible obstacle by almost everyone at the COP, many inspiring speakers insisted that global action on climate change is both necessary and inevitable. My highlights start with Bertrand Piccard, about whom the great grandson of Jules Verne has said: “Everything great that has ever been achieved in the world is the result of exaggerated ambitions.”
Piccard conceived and flew the Solar Impulse solar-powered plane around the world, although the aviation industry thought it was impossible to fly that distance without carrying fuel. Piccard said that innovation requires breaking old paradigms. He compared internal combustion engines, leaky homes, and incandescent lightbulbs—which waste roughly half their energy—with our new smart phones. Our energy systems rely on 100 year old technology, and if we break through to new energy innovations, “imagine the market growth, jobs, and wealth creation.” Thus, Piccard suggested, the new President must promote renewable energy in order to “make America great again.” Significantly, Piccard’s innovation for economic growth argument does not even mention climate change. When asked how he flew virtually without sleep for 3 days, Piccard closed with these comments:
“We are prisoners of our habits, our beliefs, our certitudes. As soon as we jump out of our comfort zone, through the magic of adventure, you can learn what you are capable of….When you fly Solar Impulse it’s like science fiction—no fuel, no sound—you are in the future—then you land and you are still in the world that burns millions of barrels of oil a day and that is the hardest part.”
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spoke to the need to keep “fundamental optimism” that we will move forward. Regarding the U.S. election he said “If US decides not to lead, then China will step up and lead the world” on tackling climate change.
Jonathan Pershing, the lead U.S. negotiator, speaking in Marrakech, stressed his belief that the US economic community, business community, state and local government communities, and civil society will continue to move in the direction set by the Paris Agreement. “Heads of state can and will change, but I am confident that we can and we will sustain the durable international effort to counter climate change…Markets are moving and countries are following. Prices for renewable energy are continuing their dramatic fall.”
Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry made an emotional pitch to COP22 attendees: “Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the first place. No one has a right to make decisions that affect billions of people based on solely ideology or without proper input….climate change is bigger than one person, bigger than one president.” Kerry asserted that an overwhelming majority of US citizens know climate change is happening and are determined to keep the Paris commitments.
Matt Rodriguez, California Secretary for Environmental Protection, said the federal election is unlikely to affect the trajectory of clean energy and carbon reduction in California, because it has momentum, it is “working,” and it has partners from around the world.
Finally, a welcome boost to momentum came from 300 businesses who signed an open letter to the president-elect this week in support of the Paris Agreement. The business and investor community, including Minnesota companies General Mills, Aveda, and Sheerwind, reaffirmed their “deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.” The companies said they “want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy….Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”
While the speeches have been inspiring and focused on the positive, participants are not naïve about the repercussions of the U.S. election. Around the COP numerous discussions with informed experts analyzed the different scenarios for U.S. actions on climate—all very uncertain. As the President-elect’s transition team begins its work, it shows a bifurcated approach that is characteristic of the uneasy alliance in the campaign itself. The split is between Trump’s media allies who provided an echo chamber for many of his personal and campaign statements, and the Republican Party leadership “establishment.” It is unclear which camp will be his ultimate influencers.
The new administration has stated its intent to reverse the centerpiece of the U.S. climate plan, the Clean Power Plan. This could come in the form of repealing rules promulgated under the Clean Air Act, defunding the EPA’s clean air program, or an unfavorable Supreme Court decision. In the short term, research shows we are already on track to achieve significant reductions in coal power emissions, and many planned coal plant retirements will likely continue for economic reasons regardless of the rule.
Commentators and participants at the COP2 have a broad range of opinions about how the Trump presidency will affect the Paris Agreement. Some suggest that he is unlikely to follow up on this campaign pledge, and are hopeful that, like many comments he made during the campaign, he may not plan to act on those statements and his position on climate change and the Paris Agreement could “evolve.”
Others think it is likely a “first day issue.” If the new administrative wants to back out of the Paris Agreement, there are several possible pathways, all facing different legal, political, and diplomatic barriers. Perhaps the most straightforward approach is to sign an Executive Order that cancels out President Obama’s ratification of the Paris Agreement. The exit could not take effect until 2020, because it requires three years from entry into force of the Agreement, followed by a one year waiting period.
Another more complex but potentially more permanent approach would be rescind US participation in the UNFCCC which was signed by President HW Bush in 1992 and ratified by the US Senate. If the US were to withdraw, it would require a Senate vote to reinstate.
A third approach would be to simply ignore the Paris Agreement, by not participating in UN COP meetings or negotiations. This would be likely accompanied by defunding or reducing the authority of the key government agencies charged with leading the negotiations and implementation (State Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Energy (DOE)).
Another option would be to ask the U.S. Senate to take a vote on the agreement with the intent to defeat it. However, this could be very unpopular with conservative U.S. Senators who could find it a lose-lose political proposition. If they voted against the global climate agreement, they risk criticism from many of their constituents and targeting by environmental advocates. If they vote for it, they face the threat of a primary challenge from the Tea Party or others in the Republican Party who oppose it.
Trump has sent some signals that this will be an area for early action. However, there seems to be a possible middle path forward. His background and history are focused on negotiating “deals” to achieve his goals. He could give 1-year notice as a negotiating strategy, and then use his leverage to accomplish trade goals, which were a top priority in the campaign. “He seems to be an opportunist, not an ideologue. He takes positions that are expedient to take in any one political moment,” said a Sierra Club top attorney in an interview in Marrakech with E & E (Environment & Energy) news.
Other Republicans have suggested he use the agreement for positive diplomatic ends, to help build stronger alliances with other countries. While the outcome is uncertain, two things seem likely: first, the Trump administration will attempt to weaken or slow efforts to reduce coal plant emissions, which may not overcome the market forces driving more renewable energy, more natural gas, and less coal generation; second, Trump will likely target climate finance obligations and reduce U.S. contributions to less developing countries.
Some experts at the COP have suggested that the Paris Agreement will continue through its implementation phase over the next four years, and the remaining parties could ramp up ambition beyond what the U.S. would have accepted. Then after the next presidential election, a new administration could join again, but with more stringent carbon reduction, finance, and other obligations than the US would have otherwise faced. This could put the U.S. at a disadvantage, as its emissions may rise during the Trump administration, forcing more costly mitigation later. But it could have the additional salutary effect of strengthening the Paris Agreement so it is more likely to meet the ambitious targets limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees.
In the final days of the COP, the draft Marrakech Action Proclamation is taking shape with negotiators. This was intended to be the “COP of Action” but may end up as more of a statement of intent to continue taking action. A recent draft welcomes the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement, reiterates the urgency to act on a warming climate, and recognizes the extraordinary momentum this year has seen. The draft recognizes specific needs and special circumstances of least developed countries and those particularly vulnerable to climate change, and calls for the “highest political commitment’ to combat climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve adaptation; additionally it pushes for urgently raising ambition, strengthening cooperation, and increasing the flow of finance.
A final theme of the Morocco draft is a positive call for action and implementation, which will bring opportunities for prosperity. In a nod to the election, it specifically calls on all non-state actors, like U.S. states and cities, to “join us.” As we return to the U.S., at the top of my mind will be two final points: that the U.S risks losing its global influence by standing on the sidelines, and that progress on climate action will be up to states, cities, businesses, universities, and local communities in this power vacuum. As I return home, I will focus on how we can help enable those local, state, and regional efforts to fill that leadership gap.
Wind and solar energy projects could bring 5,000 new jobs to rural Minnesota: Energy Transition Lab report measures the impact of federal and state policies to expand renewable energy
Minnesota has undergone a remarkable transformation in its energy landscape over the past decade. Coal, once the dominant fuel source for Minnesota’s electric utilities, has given way to new types of energy resources — wind and solar among them. While Minnesota’s state energy policies have been a large driver in the shift from fossil fuels to renewables, the federal Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit have played a major role in shaping the state’s clean energy economy while keeping rates affordable for utility customers, according to a new report from the Energy Transition Lab.
The report “analyzes real proposed projects, not theoretical ones,” says Ellen Anderson, ETL’s executive director. “Extension of federal policies for wind and solar development are helping Minnesota residents, businesses and schools save on their energy bills and procure locally-produced wind and solar energy,” says Anderson.
Among the report’s highlights:
- The clean energy economy is continuing to expand in Minnesota, providing low-cost energy, creating jobs and economic impact.
- Federal and state policies, especially extension of the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit, are helping Minnesota see significant new renewable energy projects, jobs, ratepayer savings and economic benefits.
- Modeling shows that planned additions of wind and solar projects in the state will result in approximately $7.09 billion in direct investment, over 5,000 jobs related to construction alone and 3,987 megawatts of newly installed energy capacity.
- Distributed generation of solar energy has almost doubled in the past two years, with businesses citing the ITC as a major driver in their success.
“These projects will not only expand renewable energy in Minnesota, they will create more than 5,000 jobs and over $7 billion in direct economic impact in 18 mostly rural Minnesota counties,” says Anderson.
In September the Energy Transition Lab convened and hosted an informal Energy Storage Strategy Workshop in partnership with the Energy Foundation and a number of key local and national storage and utility industry leaders. Workshop partner and co-facilitator, Strategen Consulting, provided technical assistance and case studies of storage projects from around the country and is working to analyze specific energy storage use cases in Minnesota.
The goal of the workshop was to identify and prioritize key electric power sector challenges in Minnesota which can potentially be addressed cost-effectively by energy storage. Additionally, the workshop served to inform Minnesota stakeholders about various grid services energy storage can provide such as reliability, peak shaving, efficiency, flexibility, power quality, and renewable energy enhancement.
The workshop was the first of its kind in the nation, bringing together a diverse set of key Minnesota energy ecosystem stakeholders in an informal, small group meeting format to form hypotheses for how energy storage can be locally deployed across electric power sector silos, and to develop methodologies and approaches to evaluate its cost-effectiveness. The Energy Transition Lab and Strategen Consulting envision this informal approach as a potential model that can be expanded to other states looking to evaluate if and how energy storage can be integrated into their electric power sector.
The workshop included several presentations on energy storage which can be accessed below:
- Energy Storage 101 by Edward Burgess and Janice Lin of Strategen Consulting
- Energy Storage 101 PowerPoint
- Minnesota Energy Landscape by Christine Andrews of the Energy Transition Lab
- Minnesota Energy Landscape PowerPoint
- Global Trends in Energy Storage by Lon Huber of Strategen Consulting
- Global Trends In Energy Storage PowerPoint
See the resources below for additional information:
The University of Minnesota is tapping into a new source of power. With approval from the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents last week, the U’s Twin Cities campus will purchase two megawatts of community solar garden subscriptions from Minneapolis-based Geronimo Energy, LLC.
“This is an important step for the University and our sustainability efforts,” said Shane Stennes, Director of Sustainability. “We anticipate significant savings of nearly $800,000 over the 25 year contract while supporting the development of new renewable energy resources in the State of Minnesota.”
A community solar garden is a centralized, shared solar electricity facility connected to the energy grid that has multiple subscribers. Currently being built in Dakota County, the community solar garden will produce electricity and renewable energy certificates to be provided to Xcel Energy. The University pays Geronimo fees based on the amount of the subscription and the actual production from the solar garden. The University receives credits from Xcel on the University’s electric bill based upon the production of the solar garden and the University’s subscription share of the garden.
The University has been exploring renewable energy opportunities as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. Most recently, this work has focused on accessing the emerging Minnesota solar energy market.
In 2015, the University hired Eutectics®, a local clean energy advisor, to assist the University in assessing risk and determining the financial feasibility of purchasing solar electricity through various mechanisms. At the same time, the University’s Energy Transition Lab and Institute on the Environment collaborated with three other Midwestern universities and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association on a U.S. Department of Energy–funded project called “The Solar Endowment: A PV Investment Roadmap for U.S. Universities and Foundations.” The project created teams of students that worked with University staff and faculty to evaluate solar potential, to develop financial models for solar, and to organize campus outreach.
The University is currently pursuing other renewable options in addition to the community solar subscription. Recently, the institution submitted a letter of support to the Public Utilities Commission for Xcel Energy’s Renewable*Connect pilot program. The proposed program will allow Xcel customers to designate that a portion of their electricity come from a blend of wind and solar resources. Later this month, the University is also releasing a request for proposals for on-campus solar installations at four of its campuses.
Photo Credit: Marufish (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Over the past year, the Energy Transition Lab has been involved in research regarding Duluth and Northeast Minnesota’s Energy Future. By integrating renewables such as bioenergy and solar along with Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems and energy efficiency into Northeast Minnesota’s existing energy system, the region will be able to increase local resiliency while also having positive impacts on the local economy and environment. In total, this research included bioenergy, solar, energy efficiency, district energy systems and CHP projects to show the pathways that could be involved in developing a truly integrated hybrid energy system.
In September, 2016 Ellen Anderson and Research Assistant Megan Butler traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to present the Energy Transition Lab’s work on Duluth’s Energy Future at the Energy Policy Institute’s 6th Annual Energy Policy Research Conference.
The full Duluth’s Energy Future Report is composed of chapters focusing upon three main priority areas which were identified after an extensive stakeholder engagement process in Northeast Minnesota:
- An Economic Modeling of Proposed Biomass and Solar Opportunities in Northeast Minnesota
Read MoreWorking with the Labovitz School of Business and Economics Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the Energy Transition Lab utilized an IMPLAN analysis to model the economic impacts of clean energy projects in the region. This research shows that transitioning from fossil fuels to local and regionally-sourced bioenergy and other clean energy resources has the potential to create jobs and economic growth in the city of Duluth and the heavily forested northeast “Iron Range” region of Minnesota.
- Strategies for Transforming Building Stock to Zero Energy
Read MorePartnering with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research, we developed a prototype for measuring the impact of energy efficiency measures on public buildings. Using this model we demonstrated how to transform an existing public building into a Net Zero Energy/Carbon building. This research allowed us to provide building owners with actionable, cost-effective strategies for reducing the energy footprint of existing building stock. Using this experience, we worked with local partners to develop recommendations for using energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to transform the existing building stock in Duluth.
- Combined Heat and Power Barriers and Opportunities in Northeast Minnesota.
Read MoreCHP is far more efficient than conventional power production, which wastes up to 60% of the energy value of the fuel. If we can capture the heat or thermal energy released during electricity production, it can be a valuable energy resource instead of being released to the atmosphere as wasted heat. Through interviews with organizations that have recently converted to CHP in Minnesota as well as organizations in Northeast Minnesota currently considering CHP, the Energy Transition Lab evaluated and developed recommendations for the legal, regulatory, siting, and other platforms that will enable CHP’s development.
Together, these three areas of research serve to provide a valuable resource for the City of Duluth and Northeast Minnesota to engage key stakeholders in a conversation about how they envision Northeast Minnesota’s energy future. This research will help the city of Duluth take some transformational steps towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy system. In this way Duluth, a blue-collar, industrial, coal-dependent, and extreme climate city in America’s heartland, can also serve as a model for energy transition in the United States by showing that it is possible to transition to cleaner energy systems and benefit the local economy.
Cover Photo Credit: Jim Brekke
On Thursday February 11th, the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) hosted the Energy Transition Lab Executive Director Ellen Anderson and Research Assistant Megan Butler for a presentation on Energy Storage in Minnesota and Beyond. The full presentation can be seen below:
The presentation provides an overview of the current work being done on Energy Storage in the state as well as how energy storage can fit into Minnesota’s future energy system. The talk also provides a broad overview of current applications for energy storage technology as well as how policy, technology, regulatory and market drivers affect the future of energy storage in Minnesota and how people can get involved in the new Minnesota Energy Storage Collaborative.
About the Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA)
The Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA) was formed by interested volunteer stakeholders, based on the shared view that our state and region will be a strong market for energy storage. We aspire to be a Midwest forum to share knowledge; connect industry, utilities, researchers, policymakers, regulators, experts, and clean energy advocates; and advance smart policies to support energy storage. MESA is convened by the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab with support from the McKnight Foundation.
To lead in accelerating the development of energy storage in Minnesota and the Midwest Region. Click Here to Read More About Our Vision and Principles.
What We Do
Organize and host the annual Energy Storage Summit. Learn more about the Summit here.
Monitor and comment on energy storage-related activities at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the U.S. Department of Energy. See our comments here.
Provide expert information and recommendations to Minnesota regulators and policymakers. See our comments here.
Leverage our expert membership to provide thought leadership in many forums. Click Here to learn more about becoming a member today
Support energy storage research, industry, and economic development.
The Steering Committee represents a broad cross-section of energy stakeholders and experts. Current members include:
Holly Lahd, Fresh Energy Christine Andrews, Attorney
W. John Frederick, Energy Consultant Matt Prorok, Great Plains Institute
Phyllis Reha, Par Energy Solutions Beth Soholt, Wind on the Wires
Jenny Edwards, Center for Energy and Environment (CEE)
John Kearney, MN Solar Energy Industry Association (MNSEIA)
Rao Konidena, Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO)
- Policy & Markets Barriers and Solutions Committee, focuses on overall energy storage legal, regulatory, policy, and market issues.
- State Policy Sub-Committee focuses on the Public Utilities Commission and State Legislature.
- Regional Markets Sub-Committee, focuses on MISO rules and wholesale market policies.
- Committees in Formation: Knowledge Sharing and Outreach Committee, Industry & Research Development Committee
Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA) funding is provided by the McKnight Foundation and the Energy Transition Lab. The Energy Transition Lab (ETL) is funded by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Law School, as well as by grants from the McKnight Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. ETL is actively seeking additional funding to support MESA’s work.
Come see Catching the Sun, a documentary about the race to clean energy, in Minneapolis on Thursday May 26. Catching the Sun tells the story of the global energy transition from the perspective of workers and entrepreneurs building solutions to income inequality and climate change with their own hands. The documentary is coming to Minneapolis as part of its National Screening Tour which aims to spark new conversations in over 30 cities across the United States! http://www.catchingthesun.tv/seethefilm/
Time: Thursday, May 26 7:00PM – 8:28PM
Location: St Anthony Main Theater. 115 SE Main St, Minneapolis, MN, US, 55414
The SUN Delegation is a program of the Solar Endowment project which is funded by the DOE Sunshot Initiative and managed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The University partners other than the University of Minnesota are: Purdue, University of Illinois and the Missouri University of Science and Technology. At the University of Minnesota the project is being led by the Energy Transition Lab with the guidance of the Institute on the Environment.
The University of Minnesota SUN Delegation is made up of the 52 students from Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. SUN Delegation students include both undergraduate and graduate students interested in encouraging the University of Minnesota to invest in solar.
The objective of the SUN Delegation is to encourage the University of Minnesota to install, or subscribe to, via community solar gardens, at least 1MW of solar PV for one or more of the University’s five campus locations. Read more →
Energy Transition Lab executive director Ellen Anderson and two seniors from Macalaster College explored connections between global climate change and peace at in this editorial which originally appeared as an article on the MINNPOST
Written by: Ellen Anderson, Laura Humes and Kayla Walsh Read more →