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A Matter of Time: Three Ways to Clarify Emissions Data

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 03:00

Who is the world’s fastest runner? It depends on timing — and whether we’re deciding based on speed, stamina, or something in between.

Climate pollutants have a similar story (as described by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, or IGSD). Each pollutant that warms our planet has a different potency and lifetime in the atmosphere — not unlike the pace and endurance of different runners.

Yet for most climate emissions metrics, it’s like putting a sprinter and marathoner in the same race — with an arbitrary distance that could suit some better than others. Efforts to improve these metrics have faced decades of inertia, but science-backed alternatives could accelerate action across the pollutants.

The CO2e Metric: Issues and Inertia

For simpler decision-making, emissions are often reported in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) — where each pollutant is related to CO2 based on its Global Warming Potential (GWP) factor. If one ton of emissions causes 10 times as much warming as one ton of CO2, that pollutant would have a GWP factor of 10.

However, these factors can vary drastically over time. As we see below, different metrics can present vastly different pictures of methane’s impact.

Picking one time-specific CO2e metric is like asking all runners to compete in a 5k, no matter their strengths. But that’s exactly what global climate authorities have done — choosing 100 years, or GWP100, as the default for decades.

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Efforts toward alternatives are nearly as old — from a 2009 scientist panel to many different research studies. More and more sources are highlighting the underappreciated importance of non-CO2 emissions, from a recent Shayle Kann podcast to a Bloomberg explainer and groups like RMI, IGSD, Environmental Defense Fund, Climate Central, Clean Air Task Force, and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition. Yet the 100-year CO2e values remain ubiquitous in business and country commitments as well as key technology scenarios — discounting or disregarding the opportunity to cut emissions of other pollutants.

Fortunately, there are many ways to clarify this opportunity. Here are three suggestions.

Recommendation 1: Track Separate Climate Pollutants (and Their Temperature Impacts).

Though long-lived CO2 has caused the most warming, other pollutants have contributed nearly half of the total. Many pack the short-term punch of a sprinter — particularly methane (CH4), black carbon (from soot), and some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Even hydrogen has a brief warming effect when the H2 gas is leaked — though “green hydrogen” from renewable energy is much cleaner than fossil fuels. 

Curbing climate change demands rapid reductions of all pollutants, both long- and short-lived. While CO2 is often the focus, cutting short-lived pollutants could avoid up to 0.6oC of warming by 2050 — keeping global climate goals within reach, saving millions of annual air pollution deaths, and helping to avoid near-term tipping points like melting ice caps. As a result, leading climate scientists have called for separate tracking of separate pollutants — just as sprinters and distance runners have separate races.

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Recommendation 2: Two Timeframes for Inventories

When emissions must be combined, GWP100 is far from the only option. Some decision makers (such as in New York State) have begun to use a 20-year GWP, which is long for some transient pollutants (like black carbon) but more suitable for methane and HFCs. Reporting both values (GWP20 and GWP100) could emphasize both short-term and long-term climate impacts — similar to rating runners by their 800-meter dash time as well as the 5k.

Leading researchers have suggested this, and some sources have taken heed — like a major report on coal mine methane from Global Energy Monitor. Other tools allow users to toggle between GWPs, such as RMI’s OCI+ tool (Oil Climate Index plus Gas) and affiliated Climate TRACE data. While not perfect, this recommendation expands on existing practices and is especially useful for emissions inventories, for countries and corporations alike.

GWP*: Accuracy with an Asterisk

Other approaches aim to avoid picking specific timeframes. A key example is GWP-star (GWP*), which improves on single-GWP temperature models by incorporating all timeframes into a short-term and long-term component (or for runners, a “short distance” and “long distance” rating).

However, GWP* has scientific and ethical issues for emissions inventories, with different values for a ton of emissions depending on past trends. The math is better for narrower cases of emissions reductions, which focus on the emissions change rather than the total inventory. But given the potential for misuse and confusion, we recommend other alternatives that are more broadly applicable.

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Recommendation 3: The Full Curve for Context

Sometimes, it’s better to have the full picture. Fortunately, many existing tools can help visualize the climate impact of each pollutant over time — akin to plotting a runner’s rating across every possible distance. This option could support analyses where nuance matters, such as the timing in buildings' embodied and operating emissions or temporary carbon storage.

Above all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure — and curbing climate change now and later requires dual action for both timescales. Dual action requires dual metrics — helping decision makers see the value in cutting short-lived emissions from oil and gas, landfills, or air conditioners as well as long-lived CO2.

To do so, we need separate emissions data for each climate pollutant — not in pre-defined CO2e as is often the case. Like with runners, it’s time for pollutants to get their separate tracking — and there is no time to waste.

The post A Matter of Time: Three Ways to Clarify Emissions Data appeared first on RMI.

Forging a Clean Steel Economy in the United States

Thu, 03/09/2023 - 03:00

In a big year for climate action, 2022 saw the United States double down on strategies and mechanisms to accelerate its economy toward achieving net zero. These incentives at the state and federal level (including the CHIPS and Science Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act) promise to slash emissions across key sectors, strengthen communities, and provide new development opportunities. This is a critical boost for US heavy industries, particularly the iron and steel sector, which need both regulatory and economic instruments to transition effectively.

The US steel industry claims one of the cleanest global emissions footprints due to its high recycling rate of scrap. Roughly 70 percent of the steel made in the United States comes from this recycled scrap (known as secondary steel) and is produced in electric arc furnaces (EAFs, also known as mini-mills).

The collection, sorting, and market for scrap is well executed, with a recycling rate between 80 and 90 percent. But the supply of scrap is fundamentally limited by the rate at which steel-containing products like cars, buildings, and whitegoods reach end-of-life. This means that even as scrap-based suppliers expand and attempt to move up the quality ladder into sectors like automotive, achieving a net-zero steel sector will still require investments in new low-emissions ore-based primary steel. In fact, the handful of ore-based steel assets in the Midwest disproportionally accounts for approximately 73 percent of the sector’s emissions due to the higher energy use and reliance on coal.

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The picture is similar globally, with an even higher reliance on ore-based steel. However, industry first movers are already working to lower emissions through carbon capture or renewable hydrogen pathways to meet demand appetite from buyers.

This momentum, fueled by public-private partnerships, indicates the appetite, particularly for naturally advantaged regions, to claim market share in low-emissions differentiated steel. The provisions in the IRA and other federal support combined with local supply chains and a strong skills base provides US producers with a window of opportunity to produce the most cost-competitive low-emissions steel globally (Exhibit 2) — thus improving the US trade balance.

Decision Point

The global steel production emissions intensity has steadily trended upwards over the past 10 years, mainly due to new production in China. Conversely, the US steel emissions intensity has been reduced by 17 percent since 2014, due to an increasing share of production from EAFs and energy optimizations at integrated facilities. These steps, along with setting corporate climate goals, indicate movement in the right direction. If we dive a little deeper however, evaluating climate alignment at the corporate level for US producers (Exhibit 3) relying on blast furnace technology — it is clear that a major technological shift is required to converge to a 1.5°C trajectory.

Given that nearly half of the primary steel assets face major investments this decade to extend their operational lifetime, the choice to transition to direct reduction technology utilizing natural gas could be the first step to maintaining sustainable development for the Midwest, helping the region compete with less traditional production bases set to spring up elsewhere in the country.

Encouragingly, subsidies offered by the hydrogen production tax credit (PTC), provide an opportunity to leapfrog to renewable hydrogen utilizing this same direct reduction technology (Exhibit 4). This could shift the most cost-effective production locations to those that combine low-cost iron ore with high renewable energy capacity factors (instead of low-cost fossil fuels), inviting new regions in the United States to establish low-emissions steelmaking. A similar trend is occurring globally as these naturally advantaged regions explore options to integrate into a new low-emissions steel supply chain.

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US blast furnace operators have employed a strategy of owning and operating upstream coal mining and coke assets to avoid fossil fuel price fluctuations. Switching to direct reduction technology with natural gas, however, may expose producers to this volatility. At their peak, natural gas prices were 2.5 times higher than historic averages and have yet to subside (Exhibit 5 compares energy costs). To have assurance around feed and fuel prices, producers could look to apply the same business model with renewable hydrogen as it allows for longer-term price stability given its low-marginal cost nature.

Acting Now to Ensure US Competitiveness

The US steel industry has been here before. In the 1960s, a new technology (basic oxygen furnaces) offered steelmakers lower costs as well as improved environmental and safety performance. US operators were slower to adopt this technology than international peers, eroding competitiveness. The result? The US steel industry went from importing less than 2 percent of steel in 1950 to 17 percent just 25 years later. This caused the shutdown of approximately 75 percent of the US blast furnace fleet from the mid-1970s through 2000.

The industry finds itself in a similar position today. Given recent technology pilots and continued cost declines in renewables and electrolyzers, hydrogen-based steelmaking has become a viable alternative. Recent federal policy support in the form of the hydrogen tax credit has now pushed hydrogen-based steelmaking to cost parity in the US. By working with state policymakers, local communities, workforce and other stakeholders (Exhibit 6) US steelmakers can this time lead the adoption of this new technology.

This ecosystem approach builds on other key initiatives needed to transition the US steel industry. For example, the signatory banks of the Sustainable Steel Principles are well positioned to help provide the required financing for their clients, RMI is working with steel purchasers to aggregate clean demand, and localized organizations like ORVI are mapping regional development potential associated with specific asset transition. By working across this range of stakeholders and initiatives US steelmakers can create a stronger, more resilient, and low-emissions industry.

The post Forging a Clean Steel Economy in the United States appeared first on RMI.

EV Batteries 101: Supply Chains

Wed, 03/08/2023 - 09:03

This article is part of a series about EV batteries and the EV battery supply chain.

As demand for electric vehicles (EVs) continues to grow, many are concerned that we won’t be able to produce enough batteries to power these EVs. This concern stems from problems in today’s EV battery supply chain.

The term “supply chain” describes the process by which a product is made and delivered to a consumer. Problems in the EV battery supply chain can slow EV production, create higher costs, and ultimately slow adoption of this critical technology. To electrify transportation, this supply chain needs to be robust, sustainable, and affordable.

This article describes the EV battery supply chain, its current challenges, and work underway to improve it. If you’d like to learn about what goes into an EV battery and how they work, check out the first article in the series: Clean Energy 101: Electric Vehicle Batteries.

The steps in the EV battery supply chain

The steps involved in producing and using an EV battery fall into four general categories:

  • Upstream: Mines extract raw materials such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite.
  • Midstream: Refiners and processors purify the raw materials to create minerals that are ready for use in technology.
  • Downstream: Battery manufacturers assemble the batteries and sell them to automakers, who place them in EVs. Some automakers like Ford and Stellantis have formed partnerships with battery manufacturers to produce their own batteries for the vehicles they sell.
  • End of Life: When batteries no longer serve their original purpose, they can be reused or recycled.
EV battery supply chain challenges

To keep up with demand for EVs, policymakers and the public and private sectors need to answer the following questions:

Where will we get the raw materials for EV batteries?

There are likely sufficient reserves of minerals in the earth’s crust to satisfy future demand for EV batteries but scaling up mining is a lengthy, expensive process. Also, mining often negatively affects the environment, public health, and human rights (more on this below).

There’s also some concern that we won’t build and open mines fast enough to keep up with demand. Fortunately, recycling and reusing batteries, practices that are expected to grow in the next decade, can help offset the need to mine new raw materials.

How will we protect human rights and local environments?

Around the world, mining is linked to human rights abuses, such as the use of child and forced labor. Many mines lack basic worker safety measures — endangering workers’ lives — and extraction often comes with an environmental cost. Mining practices often cause surface and groundwater depletion, soil contamination, biodiversity loss, and other negative consequences that can last for centuries.

How can we better monitor the EV battery supply chain to ensure that local communities and ecosystems are protected?

Today, few automakers and battery manufacturers know where their battery minerals come from and how they’re extracted (although that can be remedied with more investment). As a result, human rights abuses and environmental damages often go undetected. A growing coalition of stakeholders are working on these issues, including activists and advocates, policymakers, regulators, those in the automotive industry, and others. Many in the extractive industry have also expressed a desire to address these issues. These strategies are wide-ranging:

  • “Battery passports” are expected to improve supply chain transparency. These passports, when adopted, may help manufacturers certify where battery minerals are sourced and verify that these sources are following globally recognized ethical practices.
  • Public/private partnerships and assurance processes are also proving to be powerful tools. Organizations like the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance bring together industry, affected communities, governments, and others to provide an independent third-party verification and certification against a comprehensive standard for all mined materials. This process provides “one-stop coverage” of the full range of issues related to the impacts of industrial-scale mines.
  • Automakers are making commitments to ensure that the materials they use are ethically sourced.
 Can we increase the resilience of the supply chain?

The EV battery value chain is dispersed around the world — battery minerals travel an average of 50,000 miles from extraction to battery cell production. At the same time, much of the mineral supply is concentrated in just a few countries. These factors make the supply chain more vulnerable to disruptions such as changes in alliances and trade agreements, wars and conflicts, new international regulations, and natural disasters. By strengthening our partnerships with other countries, improving regulations, devoting more resources to domestic battery production, and increasing battery circularity, we can strengthen the supply chain to make it more resilient.

EV battery supply chain disruptions

Even the best-run supply chains encounter bottlenecks from time to time. These include:

  • Extreme weather (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes that impact energy inputs and disrupt infrastructure like pipelines and shipping routes)
  • Geopolitics (e.g., the war between Russia and Ukraine)
  • Changing trade alliances between countries or regions
  • Corporate consolidation: Today, when one of the many companies involved in the battery supply chain experiences a disruption, others are affected. As EV demand rises, it’s likely that there will be a few big players that will oversee more parts of the process. Thus, if one (or more) of these companies experience disruptions, the effects will be greater.
  • A change in materials needed due to new technologies: Battery chemistries and designs are changing quickly; many of them use alternative and more abundant materials. These changes will affect the supply chain network and the countries and companies involved.

We need a robust EV battery supply chain in order to respond effectively to disruptions.

Current efforts to strengthen EV battery supply chains

The US government is investing in strengthening EV battery supply chains using a variety of legislative tools:

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

Passed in November 2021, the IIJA provides funding for the programs and initiatives listed below, which are designed to address the above issues.

The CHIPS and Science Act

Passed in August 2022, the CHIPS and Science Act will fund American semiconductor research, development, and production, which will help decrease our reliance on China for the semiconductors used in EVs and many other technologies. Two programs will fund research and development in advanced manufacturing and materials with a total of $2 billion.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

Passed in August 2022, the IRA focuses on improving clean energy manufacturing and recycling; industrial decarbonization; critical materials processing, refining, and recycling; incentivizing domestic production; improving supply chains; and electrifying heavy-duty vehicles. The Act:

Understanding how the EV battery supply chain works and the challenges it faces will help us make effective policies to improve it and reduce the harms associated with it.

The post EV Batteries 101: Supply Chains appeared first on RMI.

EV Batteries 101: The Basics

Wed, 03/08/2023 - 09:00

This article is the first in a series about EV batteries and the EV battery supply chain.

In the United States, transportation contributes more climate-warming emissions and air pollution than any other sector. To reduce transportation-related climate pollution and avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must rapidly improve infrastructure for non-motorized ways of moving, and we must transition vehicle transportation to use electricity instead of fossil fuels. We must electrify the way we move.

The good news is that we are making progress — an increasing number of people are buying electric vehicles (EVs) and many governments and employers are replacing their gas-powered trucks, vans, and buses with ones powered by electricity.

However, to speed up EV adoption, we’ll need to improve the ways we mine, process, and assemble the materials that go into an EV battery. Understanding how an EV battery works can help policymakers make informed decisions, help people choose an EV that best meets their needs, guide investor resources, and equip the private and public sectors with the tools they need to develop efficient and effective technologies.

To speed up EV adoption, we’ll need to improve the ways we mine, process, and assemble the materials that go into an EV battery.


This article answers four common questions about EV batteries.

1. What kind of batteries do EVs use?

Most electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries and regenerative braking, which slows a vehicle down and generates electricity at the same time. The types of EVs that use batteries include:

  • All-electric vehicles, also known as battery electric vehicles (BEVs), are completely powered by electricity. To recharge, the vehicle can be plugged into a wall outlet or charger.
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are powered by both electricity and an internal combustion engine (ICE). Unlike older hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs can be operated on electricity alone. The gas-powered engine is available for longer trips when charging is unavailable or unreliable.
  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), like PHEVs, are powered by electricity and an ICE. However, an HEV cannot be plugged in to charge the battery. Since they cannot operate on electricity alone, they are not nearly as efficient as BEVs and PHEVs.

There are several types of lithium-ion batteries, with lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries being the most common ones used in EVs. Like all batteries, both NMCs and LFPs have their strengths and shortcomings:

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All batteries have their own unique chemistry, each of which has its tradeoffs. There’s no overall “best” battery for all EVs.

2. Why are lithium-ion batteries used in EVs?

Lithium-ion batteries are used in EVs because they:

  • Have high energy density: They can store a relatively large amount of electrical energy into a smaller and more lightweight package than other battery technologies.
  • Perform well at high temperatures and can withstand low temperatures without being damaged.
  • Have a low self-discharge rate, meaning that the battery holds its energy well even if it’s not used for days or weeks.
  • Are able to withstand many charge cycles while retaining almost all of their original capacity.
3. How do lithium-ion batteries work?

Lithium-ion batteries, like all batteries, store energy and convert it to electrical energy when in use. This electricity is produced by the movement of electrons, which are small particles with a negative charge that are found in all atoms.

Chemical reactions within the battery move these electrons from one electrode to another. There are two electrodes in a battery: the anode (a negative electrode) and the cathode (a positive electrode). Electrons start off in the anode and then move to the cathode through an electrolyte medium, which can be either liquid or solid.

When the battery is in use, the electrons move from the anode electrode to the cathode electrode; when the battery is charging, they move from the cathode to the anode.

To explain this movement, imagine that an electron is a person taking a bus to the grocery store. The anode is the person’s home while the cathode is the grocery store. The electrolyte medium is the bus itself, the tool that gets the person from point A to point B. The food the person buys at the grocery store is the electricity.

Another key component of a battery is the separator, a thin, porous membrane that, as the name implies, separates the anode and cathode electrodes while enabling the lithium ions to move from one to the other. It also prevents short circuiting, which happens when an electric current flows down a wrong or unintended path.

4. What minerals are used in lithium-ion batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries usually include lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite. There is considerable concern about the effects of mining these minerals on local communities and landscapes. Some mines use child labor, lack safety measures to protect workers, and negatively impact the surrounding environment.

The rest of this 101 series will explore where these critical minerals come from and how we can source these minerals in a just, equitable, and safe manner.

The post EV Batteries 101: The Basics appeared first on RMI.

New Jersey Just Announced Big Climate Actions. How Far Do They Go?

Mon, 03/06/2023 - 14:44

Last month, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy significantly ramped up his state’s response to the climate crisis by announcing a suite of measures designed to incentivize clean energy and boost resilience. The new initiatives come less than a year after RMI released the New Jersey Scorecard, which found that the state had “substantial work to do” to meet its target of cutting emissions in half by 2030.

Governor Murphy’s proposal includes six pillars of action, which are intended to reduce emissions from the electricity, transportation, and building sectors while increasing support for residents vulnerable to climate change-induced flooding. If enacted fully by the state, RMI’s Energy Policy Simulator shows that the pillars will get the Garden State over a third of the way closer to its 2030 goal when compared to its current policy scenario, and over 50 percent closer to its target of reducing emissions 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050 (known in New Jersey as the 80×50 target). Enacting these pillars will also increase jobs, economic investments, and health benefits.

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The six pillars are outlined below:

  • Pillar 1: Executive Order No. 315 pulls the 100 percent clean energy target from 2050 up to 2035, along with support for a statewide Clean Energy Standard
  • Pillar 2: Executive Order No. 316 sets a 2030 target to install electric space heating and cooling systems in 400,000 homes and 20,000 commercial properties, and make 10 percent of all low-to-moderate income (LMI) properties electrification-ready
  • Pillar 3: Executive Order No. 317 directs the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to plan for the Future of the Natural Gas Utility in New Jersey
  • Pillar 4: Allocates $70 million in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction proceeds towards medium- and heavy-duty EV incentives
  • Pillar 5: Sets the state on the path to adopt Advanced Clean Cars II, which would require all new cars and light-duty truck sales to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2035
  • Pillar 6: Proposes the provision of enhanced flood protection for homeowners, businesses, and infrastructure

Without the pillars, New Jersey’s bankable climate policies are largely composed of the Climate Energy Act of 2018, offshore wind tax credits, and the adoption of Advanced Clean Truck rules. This policy scenario only got the state 60 percent of the way towards climate alignment, defined by RMI as a 46 percent reduction from 2005 emissions by 2030. If fully implemented in the state, the addition of these pillars would accelerate New Jersey’s progress to 72 percent of the economy-wide reductions needed to meet 2030 climate alignment.

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In this graph, a 46 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 is indicated by 100 percent climate alignment.

While the governor’s non-binding executive orders lay out a possible climate leadership path, all eyes will be on how and when the state legislature moves to adopt the recommendations and commitments. This is especially true for the proposed Clean Energy Standard and Advanced Clean Cars II, both of which require additional legislative action to be implemented. Recent RMI analysis shows that these provisions are two of the highest-impact policies that a state can enact to achieve their climate goals. In New Jersey — where the transportation and electricity sectors account for 44 percent and 16 percent of current emissions, respectively — these two policies alone account for 64 percent of the anticipated emissions reductions in 2030. Adopting these policies in New Jersey through legislative action, along with the solid start towards building electrification outlined in Executive Order No. 316, would get the state significantly closer to climate alignment.

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Compounding Economic and Health Benefits

Beyond carbon emissions reductions, full enactment of the governor’s pillars will bring new clean jobs, substantial economic investment, and better health outcomes to the residents of New Jersey. From renewable energy construction and operation to clean heating and cooling system installation, enacting the six pillars is expected to create an additional 12,000 jobs in the state, per Energy Policy Simulation modeling.

In addition, the state’s plan primes consumers to take advantage of federal funding through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). RMI analysis found that if New Jersey were to fully leverage IRA tax credits to meet their climate targets, they could see over $20 billion invested in the state. Not only will this keep investment dollars in-state, it will also lower the federal tax burden of residents in one of the highest-taxed states in the nation.

Governor Murphy’s proposals are largely aligned with RMI’s suggestions to make the most of IRA federal funding — for example, the new and improved clean energy tax credits within the IRA make a Clean Energy Standard extremely cost-effective, and state incentives for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles can be stacked on federal incentives included in the IRA to strategically boost uptake.

Finally, the electric vehicle incentives and sales targets would replace nearly 3 million pollution-emitting vehicles with electric models by 2035, resulting in less overall air pollution and over 3,500 fewer asthma attacks per year. High-use roadways and freight corridors tend to run through low-income communities of color, which means these neighborhoods bear the disproportionate burden of tailpipe pollution. These proposed transportation provisions would supplement the state’s 2020 Environmental Justice Law to reduce pollution in New Jersey’s overburdened communities, which primarily focuses on facility siting.

Building Momentum in the Garden State

Governor Murphy’s recent announcement builds on nearly two decades of climate leadership in New Jersey. In 2007, the New Jersey legislature passed the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA) establishing a target to reduce their emissions by 80 percent from their 2006 levels by 2050. Murphy supplemented the GWRA — colloquially known as 80x50 — in 2021 with an interim target to achieve a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

He also tasked the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to draft a roadmap outlining the ways that the state could equitably and cost-effectively meet these aggressive targets. Developed in 2019 with RMI analysis, the resulting Energy Master Plan included seven strategies ranging from increased efficiency within the transportation and buildings sector to broad decarbonization of the state’s energy system.

Despite the ambitious proposals put forth in the Energy Master Plan, RMI’s June 2022 New Jersey State Scorecard showed that the state was still falling short of these economy-wide targets based on their current policy scenario. Specifically, RMI’s research found that additional and accelerated investments in building and transportation electrification would be needed to meet 80x50 and interim targets.

Governor Murphy’s six pillars take that recommendation in stride, with dedicated funding for electric vehicles and clean heating and cooling. However, even with these bold policies considered, New Jersey has work to do to achieve its 80x50 target. The governor and other state policymakers must continue to drive emissions reductions, leveraging historic IRA federal funding wherever possible to ensure that solutions are cost-effective and equitable.

Details About This Analysis

RMI used our Energy Policy Simulator to model the actual emissions reduction impact of these policies, if implemented fully. Pillars 1, 2, 4, and 5 together account for an additional 6.5 million metric tons (MMT) per year reduction in CO2e in 2030 when compared to New Jersey’s current policy scenario. By 2035, the impact of these new policies and investments increases to 15.6 MMT per year, and by 2050 they account for an additional 26.8 MMT per year of CO2e reduction beyond the current policy scenario.

More details about the current policy scenario can be found in the State Climate Scorecards Methods and Documentation.

The post New Jersey Just Announced Big Climate Actions. How Far Do They Go? appeared first on RMI.

Navigating the Financial Industry’s Blurred Lines Between Climate Commitments and Greenwash

Wed, 03/01/2023 - 14:53

As climate commitments among large financial institutions have rapidly become the new normal, so has the criticism of those targets. A Reclaim Finance report in January that revealed members of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) have continued financing fossil fuel expansion echoes a common refrain from the NGO and activist community: target setting is still disconnected from real-world financing and the ambition required to reach 1.5°C scenarios. Below, we share our latest insights on the state of play in climate targets among the world’s largest financial institutions, noting the ongoing tension between meaningful progress and persistent gaps in ambition and action.

Climate Commitments Rise; Interim Targets Increase by 5X

Net-zero targets are a relatively new phenomenon. For example, GFANZ, an alliance for financial institutions committed and working towards net zero, was created in 2021. In the same year, RMI’s Coming into Alignment report found that 38 percent of the world’s largest financial institutions (LFIs) had made a net-zero commitment. Since then, our data shows a significant increase to a 73 percent commitment rate by the end of 2022. This shows how net-zero commitments are quickly becoming a strategic imperative for financial institutions.

However, a commitment to net zero only accounts for a small portion of work to be done and doesn’t necessarily mean an institution is on track to supporting a 1.5°C scenario. An important next step to underscore proposed ambition is the setting of interim targets; in other words, specific decarbonization goals to reach before the critical 2050 date. This is another area where we have seen significant improvement from financial institutions. In 2021 only 12 percent of LFIs had set an interim target, but by the end of 2022 this number increased to 65 percent. This increase now represents an impressive 89 percent of LFIs with a net-zero commitment having also set an interim target.

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Some institutions have set general, overarching targets for their interim decarbonization, but others have strengthened their targets further by specifying ambition and pathways for key high-emitting sectors. These sectoral targets are also a growing trend: our data finds 60 percent of LFIs with an interim target also had sectoral targets set by the end of 2022. Power, oil and gas, and automotive sectors were the most common sectors addressed. Overall, our data shows interim targets are emerging fast, but are characterized by a heterogeneous mix of ambition levels, sector coverage, and preferred metrics.

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Credibility In Question

While our data on climate commitments is signaling notable progress, the climate community continues to scrutinize how credible this new ambition is. As noted in the Reclaim Finance report, the fossil fuel sector is an area of particular interest. Any target that allows for financing of fossil fuel expansion cannot be considered 1.5°C-aligned, as 1.5°C scenarios have no room for new oil, gas, or coal. As such, scrutiny on the differences in ambition and composition of financial institution targets, as well as the gap between ambitious targets and the financing reality is merited. The Sierra Club exposed the financing reality of large banks since 2016 and found fossil fuel financing to be on an upward trend despite the COVID-induced decreases in 2020. Since many of the top financiers mentioned in such reports have set climate commitments, their credibility is rightly being questioned.

This question of target-setting credibility extends to target coverage and measurement. The World Benchmarking Alliance found that out of 400 financial institutions studied, less than 2 percent had interim targets that covered all financing activities. This lack of coverage restricts how much a target will likely achieve. If only lending activities are on track to be Paris-aligned, for example, other financing activities running at business-as-usual have the potential to diminish progress. Attention has also been called to the types of metrics being used in some targets: intensity-based targets, as opposed to absolute emissions reduction targets, could lead to banks meeting their targets while emissions continue to grow.

It has become clear that the progress being made isn’t quite enough. Given all the gaps being exposed along the way, greenwashing has become a main concern when we look deeper at financial institutions’ commitments.  

How Can FIs Avoid Greenwashing Criticism?

As noted in our Six Trends to Watch in 2023 blog, there is increasing scrutiny (regulatory and otherwise) on greenwashing. New and refined regulation and voluntary standards, as well as client and activist attention, will raise expectations on a diverse range of greenwashing topics, including fund-labeling, disclosure, and climate-related risk management practices. Banks using target-setting as a channel for good publicity are therefore walking a thin line between demonstrating their commitment and being accused (publicly and privately) of using targets as a greenwashing tool.

As 2030 looms, we are reaching the point where it is imperative to see a distinguishable change in the way financial institutions operate if they claim to be on the road to net zero. To start, targets should be updated to address as many of the lingering concerns as possible. Additionally, it is up to these institutions to publish clear transition plans that show how they will implement their commitments from here on out. Commitment has become commonplace, but it is time for climate action to gain the same traction. Targets do not have to be greenwash, and the necessary changes are possible.

Commitment has become commonplace, but it is time for climate action to gain the same traction.


It’s Time to Back Up Commitments with Action

We have already seen examples of progress that reach beyond mainstream target-setting and greenwashing concerns. For example, shortly after the launch of the Sustainable Steel Principles (SSP), a comprehensive methodology for measuring and disclosing climate alignment in the steel sector, several of the SSP signatories — ING, UniCredit, and Société Générale — together with two other commercial banks signed a mandate letter for €3.3 billion (approximately $3.5 billion) in senior debt for H2 Green Steel, the development of a hydrogen-powered green steel plant. This shows how sectoral climate commitments can begin to shape financing decisions that have the potential to accelerate transition.

While a black-and-white approach to fossil fuel financing can miss some key nuance, other tools are available to reduce emissions in this sector. Cutting finance for fossil fuel expansion is one essential step, but managed phaseout strategies are also required to wind down existing fossil assets in a controlled and financially feasible way. The $20 billion package of public and private finance to shift Indonesia away from coal, and toward clean energy, sets new precedent for large-scale transition financing.

Projects like these are paving the way in the right direction and prove that there is no excuse to greenwash. The financial sector is providing examples of progress, but there is so much more work to be done.

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Wholesale Electricity Market Reforms Can Help India Achieve Its National Climate Targets

Wed, 03/01/2023 - 11:17

India recently released its 2023 budget (the Union Budget), outlining the government’s key priorities for the coming fiscal year. Green growth is a core foundation of the budget, which allocates INR 35,000 crores (US$4.2 billion) for capital investments toward energy transition and net-zero objectives. This money will go toward initiatives such as viability gap funding for battery energy storage and plans to develop pumped storage projects. The Union Budget investments into green growth are laudable but achieving the country’s climate targets will require addressing structural issues that continue to challenge India’s power sector.

Currently, the scheduling and dispatching of power generators is not optimized, leading to economic strain for distribution companies (discoms) across the country. In June 2021, the Ministry of Power proposed a Market-Based Economic Dispatch (MBED) mechanism to address this and to help integrate the next generation of renewable energy assets needed to meet the country’s 2030 targets.

How Can MBED Drive India’s Green Growth?

Currently, discoms self-schedule generation at the state or regional level and lack visibility beyond their generation portfolio, resulting in reliance on inflexible long-term contracts and dispatch of generators with high variable operating costs. Self-scheduling hinders grid flexibility, limiting the ability to react to seasonal or geographic variability of generation, and creating curtailment risk for renewable energy generators.

Under the MBED proposal, discoms and generators will submit bids to a national market operator that will rank the bids on a country-wide basis based on price and provide a day-ahead dispatch schedule. Establishing optimization of scheduling and dispatch on a pan-India basis will have multiple benefits, including addressing renewable energy curtailment events, broadening the scope of balancing, and realizing system cost savings.

Currently, states with a high concentration of renewable energy generators witness curtailment of electricity, especially during the monsoon season. For example, in 2021 Andhra Pradesh reported approximately 1,350 instances of wind or solar generators being curtailed with over a third of these curtailment events occurring during the monsoon heavy month of July. Andhra Pradesh aims to accommodate 120 gigawatts of renewable energy projects, however frequent occurrences of curtailment caused by system limitations pose a financial risk that could impact future investments in the sector. MBED can minimize the risk of renewable curtailment by expanding the geographic area of dispatch from the state level to the national level.

The power grid is also required to be kept within specific frequency parameters to maintain balance. MBED can help broaden the scope of the balancing area, which can address challenges in states with a growing concentration of renewable energy generation. The regional and national balancing potential is significantly higher than most of the individual state’s balancing potential. By broadening the scope of coordination from state level to national, balancing reserves can be shared across regions reducing the overall volume of balancing reserves required to meet system demands. Renewable energy-rich states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will benefit from having access to balancing resources beyond their state borders and potentially lower the discoms’ investments in necessary reserve capacities.

Centralized scheduling and dispatch under MBED can have additional benefits for system operations. By reallocating from the highest to the lowest cost generation on a pan-India basis, MBED may lower the average cost of supply of plants. Based on RMI’s analysis, the efficient dispatch of a pooled generator proposed through MBED can result in potential cost savings of INR 1.5–4 crore (US$184,000–US$491,000) per day. These savings are impacted by technical and operational constraints and will vary across states.

SCED—The Launch Pad for MBED

The savings projected from MBED are consistent with the findings of the Security Constrained Economic Dispatch (SCED) pilot conducted by Grid-India beginning in 2019 that aimed to optimize scheduling and dispatch of participating thermal interstate generation stations. As of February 2022, 49 plants were participating, and the pilot successfully demonstrated savings of close to 2 crore (US$241,000) per day. The success of the pilot has resulted in the Ministry of Power announcing an expansion of SCED to regional thermal plants, including implementing day-ahead scheduling. SCED can potentially evolve into MBED as it promises to create an integrated wholesale market where generators and discoms across India can participate.

Globally, improved coordination across generators and distributors via wholesale markets has demonstrated economic and environmental benefits. The Western Energy Imbalance Market (WEIM) is a voluntary real-time energy market in California and the surrounding states that finds low-cost energy to meet consumer demand across participants. Since its inception in 2014, the WEIM has surpassed INR 16,000 crore (US$ 2 billion) in benefits and avoided over 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The establishment and expansion of the WEIM can serve as a model for India for determining a pathway toward successful pan-India scheduling and dispatch coordination via MBED.

Building off two decades of evolution, India needs to ensure that the right electricity market structure is in place to develop a reliable, flexible, and cost-effective power sector. Optimizing scheduling and dispatch through MBED is an important next step in market development. However, additional measures should be taken to ensure transitioning to MBED is a success. A robust transition plan outlining the structure and responsibilities of how the market will operate, as well as a pathway for assessing and meeting technological readiness is key. A process for the financial transition for discoms should also be developed. Transparent, consistent, and standardized data reporting will be necessary for evaluating the efficiency of national wholesale market operations.

The budget intends to put India on track to achieve predefined national targets, including meeting 50 percent of the country’s power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Reforming electricity markets is necessary to ensure the power sector is well suited to integrate higher levels of renewable generation and maximize the economic and environmental benefits realized through the Union Budget expenditures. These steps can establish India as a global leader in this innovative sector and put the nation on a pathway to net zero by 2070.

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Women Making Change

Wed, 03/01/2023 - 07:00

RMI is made up of more than 600 passionate, committed, climate change experts — 57 percent of whom identify as female. March is Women’s History Month, when we celebrate women’s contributions to society. Meet some of the women of RMI who are working to change our world for the better and to create a clean, sustainable future.

Women (and children) are on the front lines of this existential threat and must therefore be an integral part of the solution. I am a Caribbean woman, myself, and I am on the front line of climate change, living the everyday realities of it in a small island developing state. Women like me can represent the unique needs of other women and children through our work in the field.

Charlin Bodley, Manager, Global South Program

Charlin Bodley leads RMI’s Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network, advocating for increased gender equality in leadership positions across the energy sector in government agencies, utilities, regulators, and private sector entities. She is also supporting a project to offer energy policy recommendations to the Turks and Caicos government, and co-leading on RMI’s Energy Transition Academy’s Caribbean Fellowship Program. Bodley loves the people-centric nature of her work, and the potential that it has to positively impact lives.

Globally, women are significantly impacted by climate change. And we need all perspectives included to tackle this global challenge — but women have often been excluded and are underrepresented in fields like energy. For me personally, I hope to make an impact on tackling climate change so that my daughters will have opportunities to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.

Kaitlyn Bunker, Principal, Global South Program

Kaitlyn Bunker supports Caribbean islands in accelerating their clean and resilient energy transitions. People in the Caribbean region are some of the first to experience direct impacts of climate change, and Bunker is inspired by the actions they are taking to transform their energy systems in order to contribute as little emissions as possible, while meeting local priorities like lowering the costs of electricity, becoming more resilient in the face of increasing hurricanes, creating local jobs and local ownership of the energy system, and more.

It is important that women work in fields to solve systemic problems like climate change not only because it affects them and their families firsthand, but also because diversity in the workforce at all levels is a critical prerequisite to ensure we achieve a climate solution that is fast, effective, and globally relevant.

Alessandra Carreon, Manager, Carbon-Free Transportation

Alessandra Carreon works on fostering affordable and accessible EV adoption and charging. Her work also informs the development of responsible and sustainable value chains for EVs, which often source raw materials that come from economically vulnerable regions or whose processing can pose environmental and human rights risks to communities. Carreon says she is driven to work toward a clean energy transition “while ensuring the benefits of the transition reach everyone — especially historically marginalized communities that are often the last or least likely to enjoy those benefits.”

As a women’s school graduate, I can confidently say that we need women in every field — climate change is no different. Women’s perspectives are crucial in developing new, community-oriented solutions to this issue. Women will be (and already are) on the front lines of devastating climate impacts, which means that they have a vested interest in fighting the root causes.

Molly Freed, Senior Associate, US Program

Molly Freed is currently pushing policymakers and stakeholders in various American states to adopt bold and equitable climate policy. As each state has its own set of challenges and opportunities, she finds it fascinating to figure out their unique decarbonization pathways. Freed is optimistic about the historic opportunities presented by the Inflation Reduction Act. “It’s truly a gamechanger for states, from environmental justice to economic development,” Freed says.

Our team often walks into conference rooms as the only women speaking as keynote speakers or panelists. I was really inspired by how [our managing director] Ting handled this during a conference. She would use two minutes in the beginning of her speech to acknowledge that she is the only female speaker at the conference, and she would point out that most of RMI’s Beijing research team are female and we deliver leading thought pieces that everyone should pay attention to.

Yihan Hao, Principal, China Program

Since Yihan Hao began at RMI, she has worked to help move China toward zero-carbon focusing on green buildings, green power trading, methane mitigation, rural/agriculture decarbonization, supply chain decarbonization, and transitional finance. For Hao, the most exciting thing about her role is witnessing real-world changes that are driven by her team, especially when the key policymakers and corporate leaders recognize their work in public settings.

Women have to lead the charge in the fight against climate change because the future of our families as well as our next generation is at stake here. We are powerful change agents, and our unique contributions and perspectives can be the key to unlocking the solutions to the energy transition.

Radhika Lalit, Principal, Climate-Aligned Industries

Radhika Lalit is currently leading RMI’s work on decarbonizing the cement and concrete sector. She also helped launch RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance and led the design, creation, and implementation of the Global Cooling Prize, an international competition to develop a climate-friendly residential cooling solution. “I get really excited when I’m able to see the direct climate impact of my work,” she says.

The movements for environmental justice have often been led by women, particularly women of color, because the harms of fossil fuels and of climate change disproportionately fall on the communities least responsible for the problem. Equity and justice are indispensable parts of the solution; the energy transition and its benefits must center on marginalized groups, including women and particularly women of color.

Kaitlyn Ramirez, Associate, Climate-Aligned Industries

Kaitlyn Ramirez works to advance green hydrogen’s use to decarbonize key industrial sectors. She’s currently working to establish a green hydrogen hub in Mississippi and facilitate the transition away from coal-reliant blast furnace steel plants. She’s energized by the opportunity to work on first-of-their-kind, bright-spot projects that will demonstrate to other players in these industries that the opportunity to transition is already here.

With the existing gender inequality in much of the world and the associated lack of resources and information, women are more exposed to the adverse impacts of climate change. At the same time, there are fewer women in climate change-related governance and decision-making. This disparity in representation makes climate change a gender issue.

Samhita Shiledar, Manager, India Program

Samhita Shiledar is working on decarbonizing the transportation system in India, including electrifying delivery vehicles through the Shoonya campaign, promoting zero-emissions trucking, and more. She is most excited about the opportunity to make an on-the-ground impact through her team’s policy and pilots-related work and the opportunity to scale RMI’s solutions in other developing nations.

Stay tuned for next week’s article on March 8, International Women’s Day, which highlights the work RMI is doing to close the gender gap in the climate change space.

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The Hydrogen Credit Catalyst

Mon, 02/27/2023 - 03:00

A new tax credit to produce low-emission hydrogen could help bring critical technology to scale and create a vibrant economy of hydrogen production, purchase, and use, all while addressing one of our most challenging climate goals: slashing emissions from heavy industry. Clean hydrogen is necessary if we are going to decarbonize some of the most carbon-intensive parts of our economy — like shipping, aviation, trucking, fertilizer production, steelmaking, and chemical manufacturing. Just as we’ve seen with wind and solar, a tax incentive for low-carbon hydrogen can spur development of a low-cost, clean energy source.

Why hydrogen? Many heavy industries cannot electrify as quickly and cost-effectively as transportation and buildings can, and hydrogen provides a key alternative energy source that can be made with renewable energy. Hydrogen Reality Check: We Need Hydrogen — But Not for Everything

Clean hydrogen production is already happening across the world. Industries are moving quickly to scale and use this technology. Thanks to a significant down payment on clean technologies of the future in the Inflation Reduction Act, US production of clean hydrogen will now receive a substantial tax credit that could unleash a torrent of production by making clean production competitive with current fossil production.

The potential value of the tax credit, combined with carefully constructed guidance and standards, could drive historic investment into production of the cleanest version of hydrogen. Moreover, it could support an energy transition focused on establishing a resilient, clean economy that we have been working to achieve for decades.

RMI believes thoughtful implementation of this tax credit can catalyze investment and deployment of clean energy generation in a way that also supports long-term economy-wide decarbonization. A granular emissions accounting system used to define low-carbon hydrogen for this tax credit, considering the complexities of our nation’s power grid and energy market economics, can lay the groundwork for long-term clean industrial growth that aligns with a 100 percent carbon-free grid of the future.

Why Climate-Aligned Implementation Is So Important

Already, many organizations, companies, and individuals, including RMI, have outlined the high stakes of the hydrogen tax credit—emphasizing how important it is to produce hydrogen in ways that reduce, not inadvertently increase, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

One of the most economical and cleanest ways to produce hydrogen is via electrolysis directly powered by renewable energy sources. Projects connecting electrolyzers directly to solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal energy will generate zero-emission hydrogen. These “behind-the-meter” systems (so-called because they bypass electricity grids) are straightforward candidates to receive the hydrogen production tax credit (PTC).

In contrast, projects that connect electrolyzers to existing power grids will generate hydrogen with the emissions intensity of that grid. The American power grid is still heavily powered by fossil fuel generators, and gas-fired power plants are often used to meet any additional demand on grid systems. It is therefore necessary to verify that grid-connected electrolyzers are effectively procuring renewable power — rather than fossil-based power — to produce clean hydrogen that merits a tax credit.

Hydrogen electrolyzers are devices that use electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen through the process of electrolysis, creating hydrogen for a variety of industrial uses. To increase transparency and accountability, a credit trading system could be implemented to make users aware of the power sources behind the electrolysis process and the emissions associated with them.

Our guidance in this policy brief is meant to advance the strategic implementation of the hydrogen tax credit — to incentivize the scaling of clean hydrogen using low-carbon electricity generation connected to the grid. Ultimately, this will help guide public and private investments in critical technologies, clean energy resources, and market infrastructure needed to support the clean grid of the future.

Three Key Elements Could Determine Hydrogen’s Success for Years to Come

The credit requires a standard that will ensure effective reduction of GHG emissions across all states for over twenty years. For “green” hydrogen produced with electrolyzers to qualify for the credit, producers will need to prove they are consuming between 90 to 97.5 percent of zero-carbon power. This will be simple for behind-the-meter systems, but more complicated for grid-connected systems. There are three key principles that, if put in place for grid-connected projects, would ensure low emissions across geography and time: additionality; granular and emissions-accurate accounting; and deliverability. All three of these principles need to be met for producers to confidently demonstrate low-carbon, grid-connected hydrogen production and qualify for the credit.

Let us break down what that means:

Additionality: The grid reacts to new demand (in this case, a new hydrogen electrolyzer) with increased generation. Hydrogen producers must be responsible for ensuring that their added demand is met with new and low-carbon generation. If producers are not responsible for procuring new clean power, electrolyzers could functionally consume clean power from the grid that would otherwise decarbonize sectors like transportation and buildings, while carbon-intensive power backfills the pre-existing demand in those sectors.

Emissions-accurate temporal accounting: The US Treasury Department will need to decide at what temporal granularity clean power supply will be needed to match demand from grid-connected electrolyzers. This could be hourly, daily, weekly, quarterly, annually, or some other timeframe. However, because the hydrogen PTC is an emissions-based credit, the granularity chosen should reflect the most feasible, emissions-accurate timeframe.

Given that marginal emissions on every grid differ from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and so on, when clean generation and increased demand from hydrogen production are not aligned, there will be emissions induced. For example, a solar heavy grid will have low-carbon intensity in the middle of the day, so if a hydrogen producer is procuring clean energy but is not aligned during those hours there may not be significant emissions impacts. But consider that same grid at night when solar is not generating. If a hydrogen producer is drawing power while the grid is primarily calling on carbon-intensive resources, without supplying new low-carbon generation, it will result in a much higher emissions rate.

Accurate data for these interactions is critical, but often difficult to access due to hard-to-predict utility dispatch decisions. On the other hand, an energy matching system that balances produced and consumed electricity is more predictable and controllable.‌

Therefore, a temporal matching structure, such that over the given time period all demand from the electrolyzer will be matched with supply from clean generation, must be established so that the emissions impacts are as close as possible to a perfectly measured emissions system. A paper from UC Davis found that annual tracking, for example, can underestimate the real emissions impact of grid-connected electrolyzers by up to 35 percent. The more granular the matching window, the more likely the clean generation will be deployed and supply power in a way that prevents the hydrogen production demand from inducing emissions from the power sector.

Deliverability: Clean power is only as good as its ability to get to where it is needed. Therefore, any additional, temporally matched clean power must also prove it can be delivered to where the hydrogen project sits. That means it is free of congestion and able to connect low-carbon electrons to the electrolyzer itself. Without deliverability, new and hourly accounted power could be oversaturating a separate market, and the hydrogen electrolyzer will still have to draw on carbon-intensive power.

Setting standards on grid-connected electrolyzers will ensure the hydrogen production tax credit is distributed effectively and efficiently, ensuring the long-term success of the hydrogen economy and its associated clean energy and manufacturing jobs. As American industries embrace decarbonization, Treasury should ensure the standards in place provide certainty that the hydrogen produced and used is truly low carbon.

Why So Much Interest in This Specific Tax Credit?

The implementation of tax credits has long been a significant driver in the widespread adoption of clean energy technologies. However, the hydrogen tax credit standards are particularly important because, if distributed effectively, the credit could create ripple effects far beyond the important end goals of hydrogen production and industrial decarbonization. If implemented thoughtfully, this credit could drive investment in clean technologies of the future (think geothermal and long duration storage), steer international standards for clean commodities like steel and fertilizer, and reestablish the United States as a manufacturing giant by revitalizing and supporting clean industrial communities across the nation.

It is a massive investment — with the potential to grow. This credit could immediately cut the cost of producing low-carbon hydrogen and make it competitive with carbon-intensive hydrogen production, like with unabated natural gas. The tax credit can pay out as much as $3 per kilogram of clean hydrogen produced over ten years, awarding projects developed as late as January 1, 2033. In addition, the direct pay nature of this tax credit enables industries to apply without “tax equity” — a provision that should help alleviate constraints in the tax equity market and remove a barrier for many producers.

It could kickstart the next generation of emissions accounting. These standards could catalyze more granular grid emissions accounting — which is required to understand where exactly the energy used to produce hydrogen is coming from, and how dirty or clean that energy is, in a very precise way. Establishing clear principles in this rulemaking could influence and support the ongoing voluntary emissions accounting process used by so many governments and companies worldwide. This credit could support the development of the market infrastructure needed to establish a more accurate emissions accounting system. Anyone interested in renewable procurement and scope 2 emissions accounting should be paying close attention.

It could pay for rapid and smart grid decarbonization. Traditional power sector economics will be drastically altered by the introduction of incentives to produce hydrogen. Given the unprecedented scale of this tax credit, it’s going to make economic sense to produce hydrogen in volumes never seen before and at times it otherwise would not make economic sense given fluctuating power prices. We can safely assume Treasury will release regulations that govern grid-connected electrolyzers; they may even look to the European Union who recently released their own standards incorporating these three pillars. However, the stringency of Treasury’s guidance will shape what clean power is built, where it is built, and what times it generates and adds power to the grid. The hydrogen PTC is a useful carrot to help incentivize clean energy deployment that contributes to a fully decarbonized grid of the future, rather than complicates it.

If implemented with the three pillars described above, hydrogen producers will be incentivized — and paid via the production tax credit — to site their electrolyzers and their clean generation in ways that support broader grid decarbonization and flexibility. Solar will be added where hourly solar generation is lacking, wind will be built where nighttime demands and emissions are high, and storage can be sited when and where it makes the most sense. Market signals will also drive investment and deployment of clean firm generation such as enhanced geothermal, something our grid will need to rely on to achieve full decarbonization.

It is critical and possible to guide these incentives so that efficient grid decarbonization is harmonized with hydrogen production. Power sector experts should be teaming up with hydrogen experts to understand how this production tax credit will change the landscape of the grid, for better or for worse.

It can be world changing. Hydrogen is going to be used as a solution throughout the world. Synthesizing strong standards and creating transparent markets will be a top priority for nations hoping to participate in the international clean energy economy. Setting smart standards for the world’s biggest hydrogen subsidy here in the United States puts us at the head of the table as the international hydrogen market conversations develop.

What a Wonderful, Decarbonized World: The Future of Clean Hydrogen and American Industry

How Treasury decides to implement this tax credit will shape hydrogen systems and the industries using hydrogen for a long time. Large-scale projects are coming, and private industry is watching this process closely to see how they can take advantage of the financial incentives that will help them make their projects a reality. We should set effective standards from the outset, to ensure that project developers receive clear signals and neutralize the threat of long-term regulatory uncertainty.

Should qualification for the hydrogen production tax credit require producers to invest in new, local renewable power combined with flexibility to match load and demand now, producers will be set up for long-term success. They will have access to zero-cost wind and solar energy, be practiced in storage and electrolyzer ramping management strategies needed to match power on an emissions-accurate, granular temporal basis, and will be co-located to the power “supplying” their production in a way that guarantees they continue to produce clean hydrogen at low costs. In short, the hydrogen tax credit regulations will set producers up for long-term success and reward them for prioritizing long-term decarbonization. The steel plants, fertilizer production facilities, chemical processing plants, aviation fuel processors, and ships that rely on the production of this clean hydrogen will be able to count on these grid-connected electrolyzers producing long into the future, providing critical certainty in a global market where clean hydrogen-based commodities will rule the day.

New clean fertilizer production plants powered by hydrogen could support American agriculture and rural economies while helping tackle global hunger amid a food crisis. Clean hydrogen can help revive the legacy of American steelmaking by establishing low-carbon manufacturing hubs — giving workers a pathway in our energy transition and bringing revenue to regions that have suffered divestment in recent decades. The ripple effects of these certainties and sustainable growth will help families and communities thrive in a new clean energy economy.

This vision of the future hinges on the standards we establish today.

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Dispatch from Nigeria

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 11:28

The king was grilling me.

King Oba Ademola J.E. Ogunbona of Mokoloki was frustrated that his town’s solar minigrid could no longer sustain power through the night.

Let me back up. Three years ago, RMI worked with local private developer Nayo Tropical Technologies Limited to install a 185-kilowatt solar minigrid with battery storage, in collaboration with Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) in the town of Mokoloki, a short drive north of Lagos, Nigeria’s sprawling commercial capital. Across the region, ancestral kingdoms predate modern political borders and kings continue to hold authority as community leaders.

With the installation of the minigrid in 2020, the town of 200 went from having at most three hours of power every day to being able to keep the lights on through the night. Suddenly, kids were reading and studying past sunset, storefronts stayed open, and other work could go on into the evening. The minigrid also powers water purification, a bakery, and a hotel.

For the community, this was a transformational development. Mokoloki grew to around 350, as newcomers relocated, drawn by the benefits of the minigrid.

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In January, I was visiting Mokoloki with Suleiman Babamanu, our program director in Nigeria who joined RMI last year. With more than 14 years of experience developing strategies for clean energy infrastructure in Africa, Suleiman is leading a growing team focused on expanding RMI’s impact across Nigeria. Joining us was Raul Alfaro-Pelico, RMI’s senior director for the Africa Energy Program and Energy Transition Academy, or ETA — below, more on Raul’s work to expand the ETA model to Africa.

That day, the king wasn’t the only advocate for reliable power we encountered. For example, one local shop owner explained that she started off with one icebox in her store to sell ice, sodas, water, and other chilled offerings. With steadier power, she was able to multiply that first fridge into five. But with power no longer lasting through the night, she risks losing produce and goods to spoilage.

Access to reliable electricity also helped Daniel, a metal worker, set up an arc welder — a metal working tool that uses electricity to fuse steel. The new tool let him begin assembling and repairing agricultural equipment, boosting business and helping local farmers. Not far from Daniel’s shop, a developer built a complex outfitted with 17 air conditioners — still a luxury in a region where summer can bring humid days and temperatures that spike to over 100°F.

With the benefits of reliable power drawing more residents, it wasn’t long before the original 185-kilowatt minigrid was feeding and supporting a community that had nearly doubled in size. In time, the solar system couldn’t keep up.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, I found myself seated next to Mokoloki’s king who was quizzing me about why local kids could no longer read at night because the lights were flickering out at 8 p.m.

But don’t worry, it ended well.

The original project was made possible with cooperation between key stakeholders, including IBEDC and Nayo Tropical Technologies, and supported by RMI and the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency.

Drawing on this experience, and with support via RMI’s Sharing the Power project, we’re helping Mokoloki to expand its minigrid and power the town’s growing appetite for clean energy.

Sustainable Solutions for a Fast-Growing Market

This is just one story from my inspiring trip to Nigeria. With 218 million people, Nigeria is both Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s biggest economy — so a natural hotspot for innovation in scaling clean, affordable energy. RMI is on the frontlines there, working alongside communities, developers, the government, and local partners, listening to their needs, and offering clean energy solutions. And as our success there has grown, Nigeria is emerging as the hub of RMI’s wider work across the region.

Nigeria is a natural hotspot for innovation in scaling clean, affordable energy, and RMI is on the frontlines there, working alongside communities, developers, the government, and local partners.


While traveling with the team, I also had the privilege of meeting Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In Abuja — Nigeria’s fast-growing administrative capital and home to almost four million people — we spoke about his country’s energy transition plan. I reinforced RMI’s commitment to help Nigeria reach its goal to get to net-zero by 2060, sharing success stories of our work in China, India, and Indonesia.

While in Abuja, I also had lunch with a dozen or so developers. These pioneers, focused mostly on building solar-powered minigrids across this sun-soaked country, all pointed to a real need for greater expertise inside the distribution companies — the companies whose wires send power to end-users — to better understand exactly what solar developers need to really scale up solar energy. I saw firsthand that RMI was addressing a real need, helping build the capacity inside these grid companies that is so critical, so that the developers who have the solutions can plug them — quite literally and more easily — into the grid.

Multiplying a Successful Formula

Back on the coast in Lagos — with more than 20 million residents, one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing megacities — I witnessed our partnership with the Lagos Energy Academy. RMI hosted 25 fellows from four of Nigeria’s largest distribution companies — whose wires relay power from generators to customers. This group is learning about renewables and distributed generation models, and how to incorporate both into their systems.

To be sure, RMI has no intention of marching through every country around the world, building transition plans and helping every group of developers or every utility in every market. Indeed, we recognize that every community needs to choose the energy pathway that makes the most sense for them and that we need to find ways to scale the ideas that work.

Rather we see capacity building is a critical way to scale this growth. At the same time, we have learned that in the past, much of the investment in global capacity building has failed to produce results, especially when the community is not at the center of the design process.

RMI is making progress where others have struggled. In the Caribbean, RMI has seen success with a formula that scales renewables by building capacity and. The ETA model — developed with input from Global South energy leaders — expands an economy’s capacity to develop and provides peer networking opportunities for leaders in the power sector in ways that respond directly to local priorities.

The ETA approach also fosters links between the demand side, with distribution companies, and the supply side, with developers and utilities. Helping those pieces fit together better can create clean energy deals that are better for all.

Building on those learnings and successes across the Caribbean, Raul and team are translating the model to accelerate the clean energy transition in Africa. And I’m thrilled to see that the work is expanding. Today, RMI’s Africa program extends beyond Nigeria, with projects and partners taking root in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Ifeanyi Orajaka (left), CEO of renewable energy developer Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Ltd. who partnered with RMI to build the solar minigrid at Abuja’s Wuse Market, talks about the project with RMI’s chief executive Jon Creyts and Raul Alfaro-Pelico, senior director of RMI’s Africa Energy Program and the Energy Transition Academy.

Replacing Smoky Generators with Resilient Solar

Back on the ground in Nigeria, one of the most inspirational moments of my trip was when Suleiman took us to a huge market in the center of Abuja. With 2,000 open-air stalls, where merchants sell a huge variety of wares, Abuja’s Wuse market is the heart of the local community.

Yet the market regularly goes dark. During the day, there is no power because the fast-growing load has overwhelmed conventional supplies.

Solar minigrids offer a transformative solution. Starting in 2019, RMI led a pilot project to install a solar minigrid serving part of the Abuja market in partnership with the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) and including Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency, Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Ltd., Abuja Electricity Distribution Co., and Abuja Markets.

Today, about 80 of the market’s 2,000-plus stalls are connected to this minigrid. More would like to be, as evidenced by the service disruptions I saw — and heard and smelled.

While visiting on a weekday morning, the power went off across the market around 10:30. Suddenly, merchants in every direction rolled out and fired up portable diesel and gas generators. Each one was pulled as far as possible from their stalls, linked by long extension cords. As dozens of these motors revved up the noise grew deafening, and the oily smell of exhaust filled the air.

But in the area with the 80 stalls connected to the solar minigrid, the lights stayed on, the fridges still hummed — and all with no smoke or noise.

With all the substantial power load I was seeing, I was little concerned we might witness the failure of the solar minigrid. And one of the solar connected merchants even rolled out a generator, perhaps sharing the same concern.

But both of us were proven wrong. That generator wasn’t necessary. The solar power kept delivering.

To me, this was “applied hope” in in real time: A vendor, a market, and a growing number of people experiencing first hand that the transition to clean energy is not only real and reliable, but also simply better.

When grid power fails at Abuja’s Wuse Market, most shops fire up fossil-fueled generators, spiking noise levels and air pollution.

For more on RMI’s work in Nigeria and related projects, see:

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Nigeria’s Power Sector Is Struggling — Collaborative Business Models for Distributed Energy Resources Can Help

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 06:32

This article was originally published on and reposted with permission.

Of the approximately 200 million people in Nigeria — sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy — 85 million do not have access to electricity. Although the country has an installed generation capacity of about 12.5 GW (similar to that of Portugal, with its population of just 10 million people), it can deliver only around 4 GW due to inadequate transmission and distribution infrastructure, gas infrastructure limitations, and operational issues with generation. Moreover, the country’s poor grid infrastructure resulted in more than 200 grid collapse incidents in the past decade, causing widespread blackouts. As such, the country’s centralized grid alone cannot meet its power needs.

The poor reliability of Nigeria’s power supply carries significant social and economic consequences for the country. In sub-Saharan African countries, every 1% increase in the number of power outages is estimated to be associated with a 2.86% decrease in GDP. In Nigeria specifically, more than US$26 billion is lost annually due to poor supply reliability. Prolonged daily power outages are the norm for customers connected to distribution companies, from individual households to large industrial clients. As a result, Nigerians use an estimated 22 million small-unit fossil-fuel generators to generate electricity when the grid is not operational, which represents an economic and environmental burden for the climate and customers.

An emerging business model is poised to make a powerful contribution toward helping Nigeria meet its energy demands with the potential of adding 10 GW of new generating capacity and avoiding 30 million tons of CO2 by 2030. Utility-enabled distributed energy resources (DERs) offer a unique opportunity to advance decentralized renewable energy plants by promoting and implementing a solution that benefits all parties (win-win-win) as follows:

  1. Improving the financial performance of distribution network companies (DisCos, aka electric utilities) in Nigeria.
  2. Upgrading the power supply to the 15–20 million customers in Nigeria that rely on expensive, dirty fossil fuel generators.
  3. Increasing the opportunities for developers to build DER projects.

Utility-enabled DER projects combine the strengths of private sector developers and DisCos and are gaining momentum in Nigeria. These include distributed energy power plants (typically solar PV plants with storage) that are located near the site of consumption and that complement the existing electricity supply for a given area or client. As part of the initial capital investment, the DER developer may also invest in the modernization or reinforcement of the distribution network, thereby reducing electrical losses and covering the metering gap in the targeted area.

With conventional DERs, the project developer does not seek to optimize the electricity supply already available to the customer, choosing instead to compete with the DisCo to supply cheaper, more reliable electricity units to the end customer. By contrast, power plants associated with utility-enabled DERs are designed to supply electricity during typical power outage hours from the grid or distribution company and, therefore, capitalize on the existing infrastructure and power supply capabilities.

Why is this model attractive to utilities/distribution companies?

Utilities “enable” these DER providers to not only generate electricity but also directly sell it to the utility’s customers in the designated area. At first glance, this may appear counterintuitive, as it means the electricity sales of electric utilities will drop as these activities are taken over by the DER provider. However, the right adjustments to this arrangement can make it a win-win-win model, that ultimately results in significant revenue for the DisCo. This can be achieved via a distribution network usage fee, which allows DER developers to compensate DisCos for using the existing infrastructure. This, in turn, means the utilities benefit from increased revenue compared with the (pre-DER) baseline, as they currently struggle to collect payments from customers. Furthermore, the DER developer can work hand in hand with DisCos to address the needs of specific medium to large customers and targeted areas, instead of competing for customers.

Despite the initial interest demonstrated by DisCos and DER developers, and several pilot projects currently underway, a series of market barriers hinder the full potential of Nigeria’s innovative model of electricity distribution, including workforce development needs, aging infrastructure, a lack of structured project pipeline development, and limited financing options. RMI works with DisCos and DER developers to help address some of these barriers and ensure that positive action is taken on the ground.

Seizing the opportunity

The opportunity to scale DERs is well-timed, as the Government of Nigeria recently launched an energy transition plan and office — the first of its kind in Africa — to support exactly this kind of innovation. Launched on August 24, 2022, this plan aims to add 30 GW of new capacity to the national electricity supply by 2030, with at least 30% coming from renewable energy sources, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. DERs are one of the pillars of this just and equitable transition plan, which will require an annual budget of US$10 billion through 2060.

With support from GEAPP, USTDA, UK-PACT, and other organizations, RMI is working with Nigerian DisCos and DER developers to accelerate the growth of utility-enabled DERs. We encourage investors, developers, distribution companies, and customers to explore opportunities for the adoption of this collaborative win-win-win business model, both for its financial benefits and to improve Nigeria’s power supply.

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Clean Energy 101: Reducing Climate Pollution from the Plastics Industry

Tue, 02/21/2023 - 03:00

Plastics are flying under the radar as a major contributor to climate change. While the negative environmental impacts of solid pollutants like ocean plastics have entered mainstream awareness, the general public and industry alike struggle to understand the outsize impact plastic has on climate. When considering the emissions related to plastic production, we must remember that this material is made from oil and gas. In fact, about 12 percent of global oil supply each year is used to create plastic — accounting for 3.4 percent of global carbon pollution.

Decarbonizing plastic production and disposal is essential for a safer climate future. Fortunately, there are options currently available to manage plastics’ climate risks.

How Did We Get Here?

Plastics are made from carbon-based polymers. The plastics we think of today are derived from fossil fuels, but the first plastic was made from natural polymer cellulose in 1862. Demand for materials with properties not found in nature grew and in 1907 the first fossil-fuel based plastic, “Bakelite,” was invented. After Bakelite, the discovery of fossil-based plastics exploded. Polystyrene, polyester, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyethylene were all commercially produced before 1940. Cheap to produce and versatile, plastic demand skyrocketed. As plastics became the dominant material used for packaging and many everyday items, petrochemical production growth accelerated in parallel.

Currently, petrochemical plants produce over 350 million tons/year of plastics globally. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for over half of total global primary production. Europe and the United States each make up 15 percent, while the Middle East’s share stands at 12 percent.

Plastic production plants differ in their level of vertical integration. Typically, sites are either fully integrated, co-located and operated with an oil refinery, or standalone. Even if plastic production plants are not operated jointly with a refinery, they are heavily concentrated in industrial regions with existing petrochemical infrastructure, such as the US Gulf Coast. Fence-line communities living near these facilities are predominantly marginalized and of low-income status.

The Good News: We Can Manage Plastics’ Climate Risk

The first step to reducing emissions is understanding where they are coming from within a supply chain. Plainly stated, you can’t mitigate what you can’t measure or account for. The plastics supply chain is incredibly complex covering a wide array of products and involving many producers across multiple sectors. Accurate emissions data is critical to understanding and reducing the carbon footprint of this industry.

Source data: COMET Making Plastics Emissions Transparent

Directly measured emissions data from producers provides the most accurate picture; however, innovative modeling techniques provide valuable insights into opaque segments of the plastics supply chain. For example, plastic’s life-cycle emissions begin with sourcing upstream feedstocks. RMI’s OCI+ modeling tool illustrates the vast differences in emissions intensity for various sources of crude oil and natural gas. A key factor affecting petrochemicals life-cycle emissions is the methane intensity of feedstocks, especially in the production segment. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with global warming potential over 80 times greater than CO2 over a 20-year period.

Increased renewable energy supply for petrochemical operations is another way to decarbonize the sector. In the long term, petrochemical producers like Dow, Shell, BASF, SABIC, and Linde are researching the implementation of innovative heat electrification technology such as electric crackers. The plastic supply chain is highly electrified downstream of petrochemical plants and can gain large short-term emissions benefits by maximizing renewable electricity use.

While these strategies can help decarbonize the industry, plastic producers cannot quantify and communicate the impact of incorporating these strategies in production processes without robust accounting. Harmonized greenhouse gas accounting guidance enables producers to demonstrate verified emissions reductions and market these benefits to customers. Currently, the plastics accounting landscape does not include a full supply chain guidance. RMI’s Horizon Zero team is working with stakeholders across the value chain to develop robust product-level carbon accounting guidance for plastics.

The Long Game: Reducing Plastics’ Climate Impact Goes Beyond the Production Process

Plastic emissions do not stop after consumer use. Plastic end-of-life emissions could account for an additional 16 million metric tons of CO2e emissions per year depending on the waste disposal method. About 40 percent of all plastic waste is currently disposed of in landfills — engineered facilities that receive and bury mixed waste that decomposes over time. Well-engineered landfills have low carbon emissions, but poorly maintained landfills raise concerns over land use and leaching of hazardous waste and pollution. Incineration is the next most common disposal method, combusting approximately 25 percent of plastic waste. Incineration requires less land than landfilling and reduces the risks of local water and soil pollution but produces the highest carbon emissions.

A smaller portion of plastic waste, 16 percent, is mechanically recycled. Traditional mechanical recycling involves collection, sorting, washing, and pelletizing waste for reuse. Mechanical recycling has low carbon emissions and reduces pollution, but rates suffer from insufficient infrastructure, strict and often confusing collection rules, and overall insufficient economic incentives. The unfortunate reality is that more plastic waste is unmanaged than recycled. Yet this presents an opportunity to institute best practices for waste collection and disposal from the outset.

Increasing the circularity of plastics has been the goal of many environmental groups for years. Circularity refers to the content of post-consumer recycled plastic in a finished product. An ideal circular plastics economy requires no virgin plastic production from oil. Instead, all new plastics come from recycled existing material. Several companies have set ambitious circularity targets for their products. To meet these circularity targets, firms depend on the supply of high-quality mechanically recycled resins, which are insufficient to meet demand. Innovative new advanced recycling approaches offer a potential path to meet these targets but are not a full substitute for mechanical recycling. These technologies vary by the methods employed and emissions impacts. Determining the best path forward for plastics should include reducing life-cycle emissions along with plastic waste to create a better climate future.

Where Do We Go from Here?

RMI believes that focusing on carbon accounting will provide a holistic view of the climate impact of different plastics production processes to make the best changes for a sustainable future. We will be working over the coming months to further understand and determine strategies to reduce plastics’ climate risks. To that end, we will be publishing further insights and key learnings. Please contact Meghan Peltier ( for more detailed strategies and stay tuned for evolving insights.

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Wasted Wind and Tenable Transmission during Winter Storm Elliott

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 08:25

It has been nearly two months since Winter Storm Elliott, which brought extreme cold conditions to most of the United States, causing energy emergencies across the country and electricity outages for 1.5 million households, including rolling blackouts throughout the Southeast. While some local outages were caused by downed or frozen power lines, many were caused by shortages in power supply and frozen instrumentation, including the rolling blackouts experienced by TVA in Tennessee and Duke Energy in North Carolina. These issues also ailed other regional grids, but did not lead to rounds of rolling blackouts like those experienced in the Southeast.

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Now that the snow has settled from the storm, federal and state regulators can apply some lessons that were learned. Most importantly, wind energy and interregional transmission were integral to keeping the lights on for regions experiencing energy shortages and limiting the extent of blackouts in other areas. Furthermore, RMI analysis suggests that more wind energy and interregional transmission could have potentially prevented some of the rolling blackouts experienced in the Southeast during this storm.

More wind energy and interregional transmission could have potentially prevented some of the rolling blackouts experienced during Winter Storm Elliott.


Wind Energy Was Abundant and Widely Shared

Renewables performed well across the country during Winter Storm Elliott, specifically in the regional electricity grids SPP, MISO, and PJM. Wind in these regions steadily generated electricity through the storm and experienced fewer forced outages than fossil fuel resources due to the extreme cold. In PJM, for example, preliminary data suggests that coal and gas plants were responsible for 87 percent of the forced outages on December 24, with gas plants representing a disproportionately large portion (70 percent).

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A major grid savior that prevented widespread blackouts across the eastern United States was the transmission network connecting different regional energy systems, which allowed energy to be moved to where it was needed. Inter-regional transmission is critical to allow the sharing of existing resources in tight conditions, improving grid reliability. Winter Storm Elliott made this perfectly clear: during the storm, energy originating from as far north as Canada was used across the country when fossil fuel generators were experiencing outages due to the extreme cold. Had TVA, Duke, and other regions experiencing tight grid conditions not been able to access imports from their neighbors through transmission, blackouts would have undoubtedly been far more widespread.

Regions in the Southeast that experienced blackouts during Winter Storm Elliott also experienced strong wind conditions that would have been ripe for additional wind generation had there been more wind turbines installed, shown in the chart below. Surface-level wind speeds at airports across North Carolina, for example, were recorded as high as 33 miles per hour, well above the range of wind speeds needed to generate power at wind turbines. Yet, Tennessee and North Carolina have lagged and occasionally outright opposed building new wind resources, and in 2021, wind energy in Tennessee and North Carolina represented only 0.04 and 0.4 percent of each state’s total net generation, respectively.

While wind was strong during Winter Storm Elliot, that will not necessarily be the case in every winter storm. In the face of extreme winter weather, a diversity of resources (including wind power from other regions supplied through adequate transmission) is essential to ensure that the lights stay on and to minimize the risk of blackouts when one type of generator is unable to deliver, like gas was during this recent winter storm.

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Limited Transmission Meant Wasted Renewables

Although energy was successfully shared through the existing transmission network, that network is stretched to its limits, and as a result, excess energy, specifically wind energy, was curtailed (i.e., wasted). While wind resources may be abundant locally, if excess wind generation cannot be stored or sent to other regions that need it, it will be curtailed. That’s what happened during blackouts in the Southeast during Winter Storm Elliot — the central United States had an abundance of wind energy that could not be utilized in regions experiencing energy shortages and blackouts due to insufficient transmission.

At one point while TVA was experiencing blackouts on December 23, SPP alone experienced about 3 GW of wind curtailments, shown below. That 3 GW of wasted wind power is more energy than what can be produced at TVA’s largest coal plant, the Cumberland Fossil Plant, which is planned to be retired and replaced in 2026. Had this energy been available, it could have alleviated the Southeast’s shortage, both in terms of magnitude and duration, and kept the lights on for more households during the extreme cold.

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Beyond alleviating outages, additional transmission could have provided significant financial benefit for utilities and consumers. New analyses have found that additional interregional transmission during Winter Storm Elliott could have created nearly $100 million in benefits, and that potential savings resulting from interregional transmission investments have never been higher.

Learning from This Event

Ongoing investigations from NERC, FERC, and state commissioners will provide additional insight into what exactly went wrong and what utilities can do to ensure a more reliable grid in the face of extreme winter weather. Until then, federal and state regulators can consider the following insights:

  • A diverse set of carbon-free resources (including transmission, renewable energy, battery storage, energy efficiency, and demand flexibility) are integral to maintaining grid reliability during extreme winter weather. To avoid the risk of relying on a single type of resource to ensure adequate energy supply, state regulators and policymakers need to ensure and at times require that a diverse set of resources are being considered in utility resource planning and reliability planning.
  • The US grid today is too fragmented, and more interregional transmission can both improve grid reliability and save ratepayers money. Federal regulators at FERC should consider requiring both a minimum amount of energy transfer capability between regional grids and a robust interregional planning process as it considers options to improve interregional transmission planning.
  • We can get more out of our existing transmission system today by implementing additional solutions that make it more efficient, such as reconductoring, dynamic line ratings, and other grid-enhancing technologies (GETs). These technologies can quickly and affordably increase the renewable energy uptake on the grid, which is even more valuable during tight grid conditions. Both state policymakers and FERC should be thinking about GETs and ways to get the most out of our existing grid infrastructure.

Achieving a reliable energy grid during periods of extreme winter weather is no easy feat, but reflecting on past storms can provide valuable insights about what needs to be done to ensure a more resilient and reliable grid in the face of extreme winter weather. Doing so will help ensure that when the temperature drops in the future, nobody has to worry if the power will stay on.

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Narrowing the Solar Equity Gap through Solarize

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 03:00

Residential solar has grown tremendously over the past decade, increasing from an installed capacity of just 1.4 GW in 2012 to 23.2 GW in 2021. Solar is also becoming more accessible: national data shows that the average income level of solar adopters is declining. However, despite this increase in solar for all income levels, recent census-level data shows that structural inequalities, including racial diversity and education levels, continue to hinder equitable adoption at the local level.

With support from the recent climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, local governments have an opportunity to address this solar equity gap by launching inclusive “Solarize,” or community bulk-purchasing, campaigns. When structured equitably, these campaigns can help low- and moderate-income (LMI) homeowners access solar by reducing costs and addressing marketing and outreach barriers. Key inclusive elements include partnering with local community-based organizations (CBOs) for decision-making and tailored community outreach, creating LMI-specific incentives, and using a community-driven installer selection process.

Local governments have an opportunity to address the solar equity gap by launching inclusive “Solarize,” or community bulk-purchasing, campaigns.


In 2021 and 2022, RMI supported over 20 local governments across the United States in planning and launching inclusive Solarize campaigns. In total, these campaigns helped nearly 1,200 households install more than 10 MW of residential solar. These installations are estimated to save households over $8 million and avoid over 106,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over their 25-year lifespan, equivalent to planting over 1.76 million trees. Around 65 percent of these installations occurred in low-, moderate-, or middle-income neighborhoods (defined as <120 percent area median income), compared with the national average of 43 percent.

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To help other local governments launch equity-focused Solarize campaigns in their own communities, we have compiled key takeaways and success stories from the communities that participated in RMI’s Solarize Cohort. Additionally, we created a six-step guide with accompanying resources and templates to walk communities through the full process of running a Solarize campaign.

Form Strong Community Partnerships to Drive Greater Local Participation

Inclusive campaigns are overwhelmingly based on strong partnerships with both national Solarize experts and community-level organizations. Selecting a national Solarize expert to lead a community campaign, such as Solar Crowdsource (SCS) or Solar United Neighbors (SUN), can bring decades of industry experience, remove potential governmental procurement barriers, and often accelerate campaign timelines. CBOs are also critical partners for all campaigns, as they are best positioned to make key campaign decisions on behalf of the community and help drive local participation.

Several RMI-supported campaigns built strong partnership coalitions from the early development stage, bringing local perspectives to all stages of the process:

Oklahoma City residents attend the launch event for the 2022 Solarize OKC campaign. Photo courtesy of EightTwenty Solar. Secure Additional Funding to Reduce the Cost of Solar for LMI Residents

While Solarize campaign participants typically receive a 10–20 percent bulk purchasing discount, it is typically not enough to reduce the upfront cost barrier for many LMI households to install solar. To make their campaigns more inclusive, local governments should prioritize securing funding to provide further LMI solar discounts and partner with mission-aligned financial institutions for low-interest financing. These strategies enable LMI residents to receive immediate energy savings without taking on overly burdensome debt. Solarize campaign outreach can also be paired with community solar offerings to include renters or homeowners who are unable to install solar.

Several RMI-supported campaigns integrated financial solutions for LMI residents by funding LMI installations through local funds or federal grants, using unique financing models, and offering accessible solar loans:

Identify Trusted Campaign Messengers to Reach Historically Disadvantaged Residents

Given historically inequitable solar marketing and outreach, predatory lending, and solar scams, inclusive Solarize campaigns must focus on building trust. Successful campaigns deliver education and outreach through trusted sources and use messaging that addresses the specific needs of marginalized communities. Having a mayor or other influential figures publicly support the campaign can be a particularly powerful tool in attracting earned media and reaching a wide audience. Asking trusted CBO partners to promote the campaign across their local network can also be key in reaching a priority demographic, such as LMI residents.

Many RMI-supported campaigns demonstrated the power of enlisting trusted campaign messengers, including neighboring communities, local climate advocates, public officials, and utilities:

Launch an Inclusive Solarize Campaign Today

To help other local governments run their own Solarize campaigns, RMI has released an Inclusive Solarize campaign guide. This toolkit includes a six-step guide with accompanying templates and resources to jumpstart an inclusive Solarize campaign in your community this year.

Please reach out to Jackie Lombardi ( or Ryan Shea ( for assistance or questions.

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Reality Check: Gas Stoves Are a Health and Climate Problem

Wed, 02/15/2023 - 03:00

The debate over gas stoves is raging these days, and there’s a lot of conflicting information and polarized opinions. It can be hard to sort through.

Yet in matters of public health and climate science alike, long-term, evidence-based scientific research is the gold standard to help sort fact from fiction. In the case of gas stoves, the risks to health and the climate alike are increasingly clear. New peer-reviewed research from RMI, the University of Sydney, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which I co-authored with two epidemiologists and a colleague, estimated that nearly 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States can be linked to having a gas stove in the home. This finding is an important addition to the growing body of scientific evidence and medical studies showing children living in a house with a gas stove are at increased risk of having asthma.

For policymakers and consumers alike, understanding both the health and climate effects associated with gas stoves is an essential step to guide everything from public policy about building codes to decisions about what stove to buy in the next kitchen renovation.

Here we will share six simple truths to clarify the conversation about gas stoves, your health, and our planet’s climate.

1. Gas stoves pose risks to human health.

Scientific studies documenting the health risks associated with gas stove use date back decades. Gas stoves emit numerous pollutants, several of which (such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide) are known to damage our lungs and exacerbate respiratory issues.

It is also well-established that the health effects of pollution disproportionately hit vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly, as well as low-income households and communities of color. Affirming a 1992 summary study on childhood respiratory illnesses, a 2013 peer-reviewed summary report in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that children living in a home with a gas stove have a 42 percent increased risk of experiencing asthma symptoms.

Emerging research also shows that the gas delivered to stoves contains air toxins and chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen with no safe exposure level.

2. Venting is not an adequate solution.

While increased air flow is preferable to cooking without ventilation, it’s only a partial solution to the adverse health effects of gas stove pollution. This is due to several factors, starting with the reality that many kitchens simply lack ventilation. And for those that do:

  • many exhaust hoods are recirculating, meaning they shift pollutants around the home, rather than moving them outdoors;
  • ventilation hoods on the market today aren’t always strong enough to reduce pollution to healthy levels; and
  • surveys show most people don’t use ventilation even if they have it.

3. Gas stoves contribute to climate change.

Burning fossil fuels (mainly gas) in US homes and businesses accounts for roughly one-tenth of the country’s carbon emissions. Cutting this climate pollution is essential for the United States to meet its climate targets and to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Gas cooking produces over 25 million tons of carbon pollution each year in the United States, according to RMI analysis of Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. Furthermore, recent research from Stanford University found that gas stoves leak methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas, and other pollutants, even when the stoves are off.

4. There are no health-based safety standards for gas stoves.

Due to the known pollution risks, code dictates that many common household gas appliances — such as furnaces and water heaters— must be vented outdoors. Yet there is no similar universal requirement for gas stoves — they are not currently required to meet any voluntary or mandatory safety or performance standards. And while gas stoves routinely produce levels of nitrogen dioxide that would be deemed illegal outdoors, the United States currently does not have any indoor air pollution standards or guidelines.

Gas stoves are not currently required to meet any voluntary or mandatory safety or performance standards.

Gas stoves also pose the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if they are installed incorrectly and not properly vented or maintained. In January 2023, nearly 30,000 gas stoves were recalled because they could emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide while in use. Other products that could pose a similar risk to consumers, like generators, come with warning labels and increasingly have mandatory safety shut-offs.

5. Electric induction stoves are more efficient.

Where a gas stove uses three units of energy to boil a quart of water, an induction stove needs just one. That energy savings translates into cost savings for American families. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that if every stove sold in 2021 had been induction, the energy savings alone would have exceeded $125 million. The potential for households to save money on their energy bills is essential now that the cheap natural gas prices of the 2010s have given way to sharp increases in customer bills.

6. Electric induction cooktops compete with gas range performance.

In addition to being cleaner, healthier, and highly energy-efficient, today’s induction cooktops perform leaps and bounds better than old-fashioned electric coil stoves. Induction stoves can boil water in seconds, cook food precisely, and their surfaces remain cool to the touch — a bonus for anyone with children. Many renowned chefs have switched from gas to induction because of the speed, control, and precision, as well as the ability to avoid cooking with gas, which can create hot and uncomfortable conditions in the kitchen.

Climate Solutions Are Health Solutions

Climate solutions are health solutions — a key link between the two is air quality. Focusing on the air we breathe in our homes is critical, because that is where we spend most of our time. By addressing gas stove pollution, we can improve indoor air quality and benefit health, while helping the climate.


The post Reality Check: Gas Stoves Are a Health and Climate Problem appeared first on RMI.

Perspectives from an RMI Summer Intern

Wed, 02/15/2023 - 03:00

Writing this as a college student, I dreaded working an internship. I had heard the horror stories of endless coffee runs, soul-sucking proofreading, staring at a computer screen for hours on end, and the underpaid (if paid at all) labor my peers endured in order to buff up their resumes. But in January 2022, with a mere 16 or so months separating me from graduation and release into the working world, I needed an internship. More than that, however, I wanted meaningful work. Was a meaningful internship too much to ask for? Absolutely not when it comes to RMI’s Internship Program. This past summer, I got an internship experience above and beyond what I was looking for in terms of professional development, invaluable experience, excellent work culture, and chances to collaborate with brilliant and kind people.

Each summer, RMI welcomes a cohort of interns to their Summer Intern Program for around 12 weeks of integrative and consequential project work within RMI. Interns work within a variety of programs at RMI. This past summer, interns’ work included researching and producing reports on the role of bioenergy’s role in Indonesia, authoring policy playbooks, leading translation efforts for internationally funded projects, uncovering system-level risks of some advocacy strategies, researching leading-edge case studies in India’s buildings, and much more.

The RMI Summer Intern Program is a win-win situation: Interns gain experience putting their education and skills to good use as they work in a well-respected, globally spanning organization while earning competitive wages; RMI gains not only the fresh insights and substantial results from interns’ work but also the chance to hire some of the brightest rising professionals in the clean energy field. The Intern Program functions as a hiring pipeline, allowing interns to “test drive” a career at RMI.

I’ve already been floored by my experience this summer, and I cannot wait for what this next step brings!

— Raivat Singhania, intern on RMI’s Third Derivative team in Summer 2022, and currently an Associate at Third Derivative.

Interns work directly with intern managers in their program — integrating into RMI teams, experiencing what a career at RMI and in that particular program would look like, and fostering mentorship opportunities. At the end of each internship, interns present their work and summer projects in presentations open to the entire organization (and occasionally, external stakeholders).

Every intern project helps advance RMI’s mission to transform the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all. Some examples of projects interns worked on this past summer are listed below:

Michelle Lee interned with RMI’s Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN), assisting on a project to inform the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance, a process of the UN to set a new climate finance goal by 2025. Michelle stated that she started the internship with “very, very limited knowledge,” but by the end of her internship experience the CFAN team asked her to take the lead in drafting a formal submission that CFAN would submit to the UN.” Michelle explained, “I think this really represents that I was really getting the opportunity to learn, to take ownership of my work, and to participate and contribute to the team in a really substantive way.”

Anisha Krishnakumar interned with RMI’s Energy Transition Academy (ETA), creating a resource catalogue and strategy assessment for early-stage workstreams of both the Fellowship Program and Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE), two nascent programs within the ETA.

Nate Ramos interned with RMI’s Carbon-Free Buildings Team, under the Building Electrification – Equity program. During the internship, Nate identified gaps in monetizing health impacts of building decarbonization, and initiated and established a working process between the team’s regional and federal staff.

Some other projects interns were involved in this past summer included:

  • Creating financial models for distributed generators in the Caribbean (Rajat Khandelwal, Global South – Islands Energy Program)
  • Authoring the Hydrogen Policy Playbook to support the US Program’s engagement with federal and state policymakers (Catherine Fraser, US Program – Federal Policy)
  • Developing a new selection program for startups in RMI’s Third Derivative Program (Juan Estallela Giron, Third Derivative – Ecosystem Success Team),
  • Setting foundational groundwork for RMI’s work in Vietnam (Selena Galeos, Carbon-free Electricity – Global Coal Transition).

The above examples represent a fraction of the many compelling projects our 45 interns worked on in 2022. Clearly, interns add plenty of value to RMI! But what value do interns receive? Based on an end-of-program survey interns took, what interns found most valuable about the program included:

  • Seeing how much RMI is willing to invest in its interns/potential future employees via an all-expenses-covered trip to RMI offices in Boulder, CO; or Washington, D.C.
  • Having the chance to test drive a career at RMI
  • Being able to present their projects in a presentation open to the entire company
  • Accessing opportunities for mentorship
  • Having their own projects and taking ownership of their work
  • Benefitting from support from their manager, team, and intern program
  • Taking advantage of networking opportunities
  • Meeting other interns sharing the same passion for clean energy
  • Integrating into RMI teams and their work
  • Being involved in challenging but rewarding scopes of intern projects, opportunities to learn more about different fields
  • Meeting and collaborating with the kind, accomplished, and passionate RMIers!

Summing up the benefits for interns, Ariane DesRosiers, an intern on the Global South — Southeast Asia Program, said, “As someone who’s very passionate about the climate crisis and taking action on it, I found that RMI had a really good balance between both impact and theoretical abstract change but something that can be contextualized and put into practice and scaled very quickly.” She continued, saying, “The [think-do-scale] model was something I found really compelling, and I think RMI works with so many practitioners in the energy space and that kind of collaboration is something really unique.”

RMI also offers support for interns on various levels, such as accommodation flexibility with a remote intern option, competitive wages for interns, an emphasis on work-life balance, and willing RMIers ready to come alongside and collaborate with interns.

As RMI experienced massive expansion over the past year and continues to expand, the Intern Program provides not only fresh perspectives and brilliant minds to boost program work over the summer, but also the chance for RMI to bring on some of the best and brightest as we work toward a cleaner, prosperous future for all.

The post Perspectives from an RMI Summer Intern appeared first on RMI.

Clean Energy 101: Carbon Accounting

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 03:00

Accounting is back in vogue, and no, we don’t mean the boring financial kind. When organizations want to understand their climate impact, they turn to carbon accounting — the practice of quantifying and reporting an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions. They use this information to set targets for reducing emissions and to identify potential areas to implement solutions. But unlike financial accounting, carbon accounting is not yet required for all organizations — and there’s no risk of hefty fines for C-Suite executives for misrepresentation. In this article we’ll dive into how carbon accounting works and why it matters, but first we’ll look back to understand how it started.

A Brief History of Carbon Accounting

The year was 1974: the hair was big, the bell-bottoms were wide, and scientists had just published research suggesting that human-produced chemicals could cause damage to the ozone layer.  A flurry of international research and cooperation followed, culminating in the 1987 Montreal Protocol that regulates the production of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and sets targets and timelines for phasing out their consumption. It was an unprecedented success story: faced with the evidence, governments around the world came together to take swift and decisive action, and the Antarctic ozone layer is slowly recovering as a result. The Montreal Protocol was the first — and remains the only — United Nations treaty to be ratified by all 198 Member States.

Where regulating ODS was a success, agreement and action on greenhouse gases (which trap heat in the lower atmosphere as opposed to ODS that deplete the ozone layer itself) has been a slower process. One year after the Montreal Protocol, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed to “provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies,” and in 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was formed “as a framework for international cooperation to combat climate change.” But unlike the Montreal Protocol, this treaty was nonbinding, and it was not until December 1997 that the Kyoto Protocol establishing binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries was adopted.

So, what does all this have to do with carbon accounting? It was in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol (and its requirement for periodic reporting) that a number of initiatives emerged in an attempt to standardize environmental reporting, forming the basis for carbon accounting that we still use today. These included the Global Reporting Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), several technical committees of the International Organization for Standardization, and what would become the cornerstone of corporate carbon accounting: the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol divides its guidance into three scopes of emissions. Scope 1 refers to direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, such as company vehicles. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions from purchased or acquired electricity, steam, heat, and cooling. Scope 3, also known as supply chain emissions, refers to all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. Scope 3 emissions have historically been the most difficult for an organization to measure and report, which matters because the CDP estimates that approximately 75 percent of all emissions are Scope 3 emissions.

From Understanding to Impact

Today, there is a vast patchwork of standards and frameworks that organizations can use to calculate and report their greenhouse gas emissions. Some are specialized for reporting by level (national, corporate, asset, or product), by industry (such as steel, agriculture, or transportation), or even by audience (such as corporations, consumers, or investors). Using the standard of their choice (or those preferred by their stakeholders), organizations calculate their greenhouse gas emissions using data from their own processes, data collected from suppliers, and data from emissions databases.

The majority of these standards rely on an attributional accounting method, which seeks to quantify the total greenhouse gas emissions within a defined scope of responsibility, such as an organizational boundary. But there is another method — consequential accounting — that merits discussion. The consequential accounting method seeks to measure the system-wide change in emissions that occurs as a result of a decision or action, such as switching from coal-powered electricity to solar-powered electricity. Where attributional accounting provides us with an understanding of where an organization’s emissions are occurring, data-driven consequential accounting can help an organization assess their impact. Attributional accounting defines the emissions iceberg, and consequential accounting asks whether or not the iceberg is drifting toward decarbonization.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, there is no question that we will need new solutions to new (and worsening) problems. Accounting standards that are only updated every three to four years cannot evolve quickly enough to account for the impact of new climate solutions, and attributional accounting alone cannot fully account for the second-order effects of those actions. Organizations will need to shift focus from accounting exercises to accounting action. They’ll need to leverage existing business relationships to understand and influence their upstream and downstream emissions, and they’ll need to re-evaluate procurement processes to source green products and materials.

As we go, we’ll also need to redefine what it means to “buy green” and assess the global effects of changing markets. There won’t be time to evaluate the impacts of climate solutions over the course of several years — we’ll need near real-time assessments to guide future climate decision-making. And we will need to use both attributional and consequential accounting —in tandem — to assess the impacts of climate action and understand an organization’s progress toward climate goals.

Climate Policies and Commitments are Just the Beginning

Landmark legislation like the US Inflation Reduction Act is transformational in setting ambitious (and necessary) emissions reduction goals and echoes efforts we’re seeing in Europe and around the globe. We’ve also seen a slew of climate commitments from household names in the private sector, many of which have ambitious reduction targets for as soon as 2030. As these pledges come due, focus will increasingly shift from target setting toward implementation. For governments and private organizations alike, meeting these goals will require an understanding of where emissions are coming from and how to reduce them — and they’ll need an impact-based approach to carbon accounting to do so.

We can no longer be satisfied with static inventories of emissions. When it comes to carbon accounting, we must also ask the question of impact. If we can’t ask why — and answer soon — then we might as well break out the mothballs: carbon accounting will become outdated faster than a ‘70s mullet.

The post Clean Energy 101: Carbon Accounting appeared first on RMI.

We Need More Women in Science and Leadership

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 03:00

My story as a “woman in energy” is not uncommon. Etched in my memory is my first university graduation which landed me a shimmering gold medal award for the highest recorded academic performance in the faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences. Surely, I was about to show the world that girls and women can do engineering too! Yet my dreams of becoming a locally acclaimed environmental engineer were tested time and time again.

I started teaching science at my all-girl’s high school alma mater in St. Lucia to encourage and influence the next generation of female STEM change-makers. I think I made a difference, as one of my former students — who now has a postgraduate degree in Astrophysics — credited me as being the influence for her to pursue a science degree. “My very first physics teacher, Charlin Bodley, made me fall in love with physics at secondary school,” Cheyenne Polius told the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. “Physics is a male-dominated field. It is certainly not the norm for a woman to pursue a physics degree. So, with Charlin being my first physics teacher, it showed me that it was perfectly fine for a woman to love physics and I believe this gave me a head start in my journey as a woman in science.”

Convinced by my unwavering passion to be an agent of change in the Caribbean energy transition, I again proved that the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) was not attributed to the inability of women to gain the necessary knowledge and skills. I graduated with a master’s in energy engineering, completed research on the technical and economic feasibility of a 100 percent renewable energy transition of Saint Lucia’s power sector, and earned a postgraduate degree in geothermal project management and financing. Yet the struggles of being a woman in energy persisted throughout the early years of my career.

Credit goes to the outstanding mentors along the way, such as my first manager, Judith Ephraim-Schmidt, now a member of the Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network and a leader in the energy transition. Credit also goes to the WIRE Network, which provided me with a two-year mentorship program. Having role models and being part of such a dynamic network of women in energy strengthened my persistence in the sector. Determined to create a more diverse workforce, I continue to pair my technical background with a passion for gender integration into the energy transition.

February 11 marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a reminder for the global community to recognize and invest in closing the chasm that remains in technical fields. Women represent less than 35 percent of STEM graduates, and less than a third of researchers globally. Part of RMI’s solution through the Energy Transition Academy (ETA) is to advance the mission of the WIRE Network, a community designed to support networking, technical capacity building, and mentorship opportunities for over 600 Global South women energy professionals.

While we may understand the technical pathways to enable the energy transition, a just and inclusive transition also involves complex social dynamics. Leaders must respond to the needs of diverse stakeholders including women, as gender is one critical factor that heavily influences the framing of apt responses to arresting climate change.

Despite progress through leadership, entrepreneurship, and other contributions at the community, regional, and national levels, women and girls remain disproportionately affected by deep-rooted cultural and social norms as well as climate change. Women are still largely underrepresented in STEM fields, which would equip them with the necessary skills, knowledge, and professional opportunities to drive the energy transition. Notable gender gaps persist in the energy sector, which has been historically male dominated. According to the IEA, the energy sector workforce has 76 percent fewer women than men. This is a notable difference from the total global workforce with a gender gap of roughly 8 percent. Similarly, women make up only 32 percent of the renewable energy workforce. And a closer look shows that only 28 percent of STEM positions in the renewable energy sub-sector are held by women, compared with 45 percent of administrative jobs occupied by women.

The gender imbalance in the workforce is reflected in board rooms and other leadership tiers, as women in the energy sector are far outnumbered by their male counterparts. A 2022 study of 155 countries revealed that 80 percent of senior management roles in the energy sector are held by men. Comparatively, fewer women are hired into senior roles in energy than in most other industries. In the power sector women represent only 14 percent of senior leadership and only 5 percent of executive board membership.

I have often advocated for an evidenced-based approach specific to various regions and sectors to tackle persistent gender gaps effectively. Interestingly, men and women vary in their perceptions of gender imbalances, and consequently, a stark gender imbalance in decision-making roles can exacerbate gender inequality. This is true in the Caribbean, which sometimes demonstrates even more disheartening gaps than global averages.

An Engendered Transition: Workforce Development Is Smart Economics

The selling point of orchestrating a gender-balanced transition is the power of diverse perspectives to improve business operations and drive profit. Gender balance in the energy workforce can breed innovation and provide agile solutions to more swiftly and effectively attain the paradigm shift needed for decarbonization. A study of S&P 500 companies found that companies with above-median women representation on their management teams benefit from a 30 percent higher return on equity than lower-ranked peer companies. Specifically, women’s representation on boards results in a 15 percent higher return on equity, when compared with less diverse peer companies.

In its World Energy Transitions Outlook 2022 report, IRENA estimates that a 1.5°C-aligned energy transition will result in 139 million energy sector jobs worldwide by 2030. Of those jobs, 38.2 million will be in renewable energy and 74.2 million in other energy transition-related sectors (e-mobility, energy efficiency, etc.). This provides an opportunity to reskill and upskill a balanced and diverse transition workforce. Leveraging women’s participation as agents of change can incentivize, influence, and accelerate the transition and truly leads to a win-win outcome. The radical implementation needed to convert centralized, fossil fuel-based energy systems to more innovative, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and socially responsive systems provides critical emerging opportunities for women to bring diverse perspectives and support catalytic approaches.

Despite growing research and a consequent case for women bringing diverse experience, skills, and perspectives in the power sector transition, the disparity in women’s meaningful participation persists. Inaction in closing the gender gap in the clean energy transition can be more costly than maintaining a business-as-usual approach to workforce development.

This month, RMI will publish a report on a new green jobs framework, which includes the importance of not only considering how many jobs can be created, but also for whom, and what socio-economic implications that will have more broadly.

The WIRE Network’s Mentorship Program

This is the basis for the WIRE Network. WIRE responds to the dire need to dismantle access barriers for women throughout workforce pipelines by providing professional upskilling and empowerment opportunities to its members. The flagship mentorship program focuses on formal career development and experiential learning to unleash untapped potential of mid-level women professionals in clean energy. It caters to the needs of women to provide them access to familial and professional networks to simulate valuable connections and provide peer support.

Women’s participation in the energy transition must be fostered through interdisciplinary networking, skills training, coaching, advocacy, and mentoring.


WIRE, as part of RMI’s Energy Transition Academy (ETA), maintains ETA’s approach to tailored and localized workforce development by seeking to leverage areas with strong potential for increased gender diversity. These areas include public and private sector leadership, governance, STEM, and the finance sector. WIRE is currently focused on the Caribbean, but with adequate support we hope to expand across economies of the Global South such as in Africa and in the Pacific.

Dismantling Male Dominance to Accelerate Investment

To maintain a 1.5°C-compatible transition scenario, IRENA estimates needing investments of US$5.7 trillion annually until 2030. Energy transition decisions are long-term investments and must therefore be guided by long-term logic. Research shows that women are more likely to support investments in renewable energy than their male peers. According to the “Women’s Forum 2021 Barometer,” women are more likely to make climate-positive decisions toward reducing emissions. Research also confirms that in the corporate world, boards with higher representation of women are more likely to proactively invest in renewable energy and to reduce carbon emissions throughout their value chain.

Women are typically more connected to the last-mile efforts for localized energy transition actions and are also more likely to capture new markets emerging from the energy transition. Thus, we need women entrepreneurs and leaders who can directly influence investment in renewable energy.

“Women are already taking the lead in the energy transition”, notes Raul Alfaro-Pelico, RMI Senior Director for the Global South Program, “we need to continue developing an inclusive workforce, if we want to fast-track clean energy deployment.”

Leadership Acceleration: The Role Model Effect

The glass ceiling effect is particularly evident in the energy transition workforce, with too few women acquiring leadership positions. Consequently, women role models and leadership success stories are too few to successfully attract more women to the sector. Contrarily, deliberately creating leadership pipelines of female role models and mentors through the advancement of the existing cadre of women professionals in the sector can attract more women to enter the sector.

The World Economic Forum suggests that women will choose career pathways for sectors that already employ a lot of women and that show equitable career mobility and advancement of women. We must enable women to break through glass ceilings, and equitably occupy space in the energy transition. The IEA has confirmed this, stating that “if women working in the energy sector are unable to advance in their careers, they will be motivated to change sectors.”

We must enable women to break through glass ceilings, and equitably occupy space in the energy transition.


Coincidentally, the theme for International Women’s Day on March 8 this year is innovation and technology for gender equality, and we invite you to join RMI in closing the gender gap in STEM by supporting programs designed to upskill, empower, and connect women to accelerate the energy transition and meet the ever-closer climate 2030 deadline.

Urgent action is needed to increase opportunities for women and girls to lead today, to attract a diverse workforce pipeline of tomorrow.

The post We Need More Women in Science and Leadership appeared first on RMI.

Clean Energy 101: Methane-Detecting Satellites

Wed, 02/08/2023 - 05:00

Satellites are growing in prominence as an important tool in addressing the climate crisis by spotting global emissions. There are already dozens of greenhouse gas-detecting satellites in orbit today, and both public and private institutions have announced plans to launch more in the future. Additionally, at COP27, the UN announced a new high-tech, satellite-based global methane detection initiative — The Methane Alert and Response System (MARS) — which will leverage satellite data to alert governments, companies, and operators about large methane sources to foster rapid mitigation.

As satellite constellations expand — along with the data and insights they provide — so does the nuance in how they are used. To match the right tool with the right job, it’s important to understand what each satellite is designed to do, and how their data can help decision makers meet diverse but interrelated climate goals and objectives.

For this reason, RMI’s new report and Satellite Point source Emissions Completeness Tool (SPECT) aim to help users understand and assess satellite “completeness” as it relates to identifying and tracking super-emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 85 times more potent than CO2 on a 20-year time frame. Here, we unpack the definition, context, and importance of satellite completeness as a new and powerful tool in the push to slash climate pollution.

Satellites Make Invisible Emissions Visible

A “space race to save climate” is under way, and for good reason. Alarming, record-setting years for atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane call for immediate and widespread mitigation. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and making the previously invisible emissions visible from space is critical to halving carbon emissions by 2030 as pledged in the Paris Agreement, and to meeting the Global Methane Pledge’s target to cut methane emissions 30 percent by 2030.

Understanding Different Satellite Capabilities

Different satellites are designed to monitor different things in different ways (an article in Geospatial World dives deep into this very topic). The European Space Agency’s TROPOMI, for example, can map methane, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and various aerosols as it passes daily over Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas — a significant geographic reach. Its resolution can narrow down to a couple square miles of Earth. Compare that with the GHGSat-C1 satellite, which is designed to provide high-resolution monitoring of industrial facilities down to the point-source level (such as specific oil and gas compressor stations or pipelines) at 25-meter scale. Or compare those with EDF’s MethaneSat, which sits somewhere between the two, providing global, high-resolution coverage of methane emissions regionally as well as down to the level of oil and gas facilities.

Each of these has its use case: A satellite like TROPOMI can be effectively used to “true up” a regional or national reported GHG inventory, while a satellite like GHGSat can be used to alert an oil and gas operator to a leak at one of its facilities so that it can be fixed immediately.

Pinpointing Super-Emitters

While regional-, sector-, and asset-level data enabled by satellite observations are all important, the time-bound urgency of the climate crisis led RMI to focus on the need to pinpoint methane super-emitters. Super-emitters are large point sources of methane that emit at high rates, typically 25 kilograms of methane per hour or more. Super-emitting sources can include leaking oil and gas production equipment, venting coal mines, or landfills and waste sites.

Such sources have historically proven difficult to track, yet they represent our biggest near-term opportunity to mitigate methane given their disproportionate impact and the fact that many — once identified — can be addressed quickly and cost-effectively. And new satellites with distinct capabilities are changing the game.

Defining Completeness and Understanding Its Components

A new metric of satellite completeness can help decision makers better understand the strengths and limitations of various satellite technologies — specifically in their ability to pinpoint methane super-emitters.

Completeness combines three satellite parameters in one metric to quantify the share of global methane point source emissions that can be detected:

  • Detection sensitivity, or the emissions threshold that can be detected by the satellite instrument (usually described as an emissions rate of methane mass or volume under certain conditions)
  • Spatial coverage, which is the overall geographic area covered by the satellite
  • Sampling frequency, or how often a satellite successfully completes an observation of a given area

Current satellite discussions tend to focus solely on detection limits and pay little attention to the other system attributes — or treat these attributes as independent of one another. When taken together, however, these parameters provide better comparability for the task of detecting super-emitters.

Applying Completeness to Decision-Making

Among other benefits, the completeness metric can help operators identify which instruments offer the best prospects of tackling leak detection, guide regulators in designing and implementing methane monitoring programs, and boost understanding among civil society when comparing satellites to other measurement technologies.

To understand how different technologies stack up according to the metric of completeness, we encourage you to visit SPECT.

More to Come

Methane point sources are incredibly complex, to say nothing of greenhouse gas emissions more broadly. While the completeness metric is valuable for this use case, we hope to build upon this work by addressing additional use cases and broadening awareness of how various technologies can be used to improve global climate intelligence. By making emissions sources more visible, increasing data accessibility, and acting to mitigate those emissions, we can achieve rapid progress in this decisive decade for our climate.

The post Clean Energy 101: Methane-Detecting Satellites appeared first on RMI.


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