The Future Of Energy In 2030: California State Bar Conference On April 12th

How we generate, distribute and use electricity is key to meeting California’s environmental and greenhouse gas reduction goals.  We need to be much more efficient with the electricity we use, while ensuring that it comes from greenhouse gas-free sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal, coupled with energy storage technologies. We also need to electrify almost everything, from transportation to home heating.
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The state has ambitious goals in all these areas for 2030, including a 50% renewable energy mandate, a requirement that we double energy efficiency in existing buildings, a related energy storage target, and electric vehicle deployment goal, among others.

But with so many technology changes, uncertainty over federal energy policies, and challenges related to financing and cost, what will the grid of 2030 look like?

The State Bar’s environmental law section is hosting a conference to explore this question, on Wednesday, April 12th in downtown Los Angeles.  Co-sponsored by Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment and the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, the conference will feature:

  • Keynote by new California Public Utilities Commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen;
  • Panel on the impact of the Trump Administration on California’s energy policies;
  • Discussion of the rise of community choice aggregation as an alternative to the traditional utility model; and
  • Speakers from leading utilities, renewable energy companies, public agencies and nonprofit groups.

You can see the full agenda and register at the State Bar’s conference website.  Reduced rates are available for students and government/nonprofit employees.  Register now to secure your spot!

How Species Go Extinct: The Case Of The Woolly Mammoth

When humans first arrived in the Americas at least 13,000 years ago, they found a continent filled with huge animals (megafauna, as the scientists call them).  They included giant ground sloths, anteaters, saber-toothed tigers, and of course the woolly mammoth.

These elephant-like animals had never seen humans before and probably didn’t have much fear of them, given their relatively tiny size.  But as we know, no species on Earth can be quite as deadly as a group of human hunters with weapons.  The result was a constant barbecue, as humans dined on the mammoth bonanza and began to thrive and multiply on the new continent.

I always wondered how these humans could have knowingly killed the last few mammoths, with the species in what should have been an obvious decline.  But as it turns out, they may not have had to wipe them out completely to put the mammoth into a death spiral.

A new UC Berkeley study indicates that inbreeding from a smaller population may have done the trick:

To test the theory that woolly mammoths’ genomes changed as their population declined, researchers compared existing genomes from a mainland mammoth that dates back to 45,000 years ago, when the animal was plentiful, to one that lived about 4,300 years ago. The recent genome came from a mammoth that had lived in a group of about 300 animals on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean.

“We found an excess of what looked like bad mutations in the mammoth from Wrangel Island,” Rogers said.

The analysis showed that the island mammoth had accumulated multiple harmful mutations in its genome, which interfered with gene functions. The animals had lost many olfactory receptors, which detect odors, as well as urinary proteins, which can impact social status and mate choice. The genome also revealed that the island mammoth had specific mutations that likely created an unusual translucent satin coat.

To be sure, some people believe that the Ice Age was the real culprit in killing off the mammoth.  But mammoths had survived multiple ice ages in the past and emerged okay.  I’m sure the stress of human hunters, combined with the Ice Age, was a deadly twofer.  But the impact of hungry people with spears and the resulting inbreeding could very well have been enough to send the species into extinction.

Unfortunately, it’s not dissimilar to our current condition of a growing, hungry, meat-eating population and a rapidly changing climate.

Are Oil Companies Afraid Of Electric Vehicles?
The gas killer?

The gas killer?

They should be.  If some of the projections about declining battery costs are accurate, battery-powered cars will be much cheaper (and better) than gas-powered cars within possibly the next decade.

Electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S are already outselling similar gas-powered cars in their class, and a new generation of mass-market, long-range EVs have arrived with the Chevy Bolt, soon to be followed by the Tesla Model 3 and the new Nissan LEAF.

As E&E News (paywall) reported, one bullish study from the Grantham Institute for Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative suggested that electric vehicles could make up around 35 percent of the market by 2035 and two-thirds by 2050:

“The oil and gas industry feels that EVs aren’t anywhere past being niche products,” said Luke Sussams, a senior researcher at Carbon Tracker and one of the authors of the report. “The model shows what might happen if EVs are further along that S curve [of consumer acceptance], just before that inflection point of mass uptick.”

The scenario outlined in the report, which also includes an aggressive projection for solar energy, would see oil and coal demand peak in 2020 and fall through 2050. The amount of oil displaced by EVs could reach around 2 million barrels per day by 2025 — the same volume that caused the 2014-15 oil price collapse.

I’m bullish on electric vehicles overtaking gas-powered ones for two reasons: first, electric vehicles are superior to gas-powered ones in terms of performance and convenience (less maintenance and easy home fueling if you have a garage); and second, battery prices have declined remarkably just since 2010. I remember the days of $1000 per kilowatt hour in battery prices that year; now Chevy reportedly bought batteries for the Bolt at $165 per kilowatt hour.

But the oil industry may not be taking this challenge that seriously. I know someone who works at Chevron, and he told me had presented some of his superiors with an analysis on the “threat of EVs.” But the company, in his words, is run by old-style Texas oil guys.  Oil is all they know, and they’re not in a position to transition the company dramatically to a completely different product.

My guess is the oil industry will have another decade or so of a good ride, but they’re facing diminishing market share. Policies like California’s low carbon fuel standard and zero-emission vehicle mandate won’t help them either.

If I worked for an oil company, I’d be advising them to figure out how to make money off this new paradigm.  It’s coming more quickly than they may realize.

Wednesday Webinar: Economic Impacts Of California’s Climate Programs On The San Joaquin Valley

SJV Impacts Cover_Page_01Back in January, Berkeley Law and labor market researchers released a report on the economic and employment impacts of California’s ambitious climate policies on the San Joaquin Valley.  The Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs on the San Joaquin Valley addressed compliance and investment costs as well as the benefits across the region.

Ultimately, our research team found that the economic benefits of California’s major climate programs exceed costs.  It was the first comprehensive, academic study of the costs and benefits of these policies on this economically and environmentally distressed region.

To discuss the findings, the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) at Berkeley Law will host a one-hour webinar with the report authors on Wednesday from 1 to 2pm.  In addition to yours truly, the webinar will feature:

You can register for this event here.  Hope you can tune in and ask your questions!

RIP Chuck Berry

One of the founding giants of rock-n-roll music passes away at 90.

My L.A. Times Op-Ed: How To Avoid Wasting Measure M Dollars On Bad Projects

Metro_Rail_Blue_LineMeasure M is one of the most promising ballot measures to pass in Los Angeles County in recent years.  It offers $120 billion in long-term sales tax revenue to fund transportation projects — the kind of money that can help transform mobility in the region.

But the money brings perils, too, which I describe in a Los Angeles Times op-ed today:

If history is any guide, L.A. transit leaders have a habit of prioritizing politically expedient projects over ones that would benefit more riders. Faced with NIMBY opposition, our leaders too often cave.

Just look at the Expo Line from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, a route that remains hampered by slow travel times after transit leaders failed to give the train priority over automobiles along city streets. Additionally, failure to push through with adequate development projects along the route denied this expensive rail technology an easy ridership boost.

Will transportation leaders similarly compromise away good Measure M projects until they go bad?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand what a “good” project entails. Cost-effectiveness — using the fewest dollars to move the most people the greatest distance — is key. Projects should attract maximal ridership, based on existing population, job density and service quality. Potential ridership, based on the feasibility of building more housing, retail and offices within walking distance of stations, is another crucial determinant. (The failure of the anti-growth Measure S in the recent L.A. election adds even more weight to this component.) Finally, projects should maximize reductions in overall driving miles, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The piece details some immediate tests facing Metro leaders and offers recommendations to ensure that they make smart decisions. The long-term future of LA in many ways will be determined by these short-term actions.

Trump’s Budget Assault On The Environment

If there’s one area where Trump is likely to have legislative success, it’s probably the budget and taxes.  A partisan majority of Republicans in Congress will go along with any tax and spending cuts, leaving Trump in a good position to get his way.  And his current budget proposal is nothing less than a full-scale assault on environmental protections and public health.

It’s a bad combination of Trump’s seemingly genuine antipathy to government regulations and his party being captured by big polluters in the oil and gas industry.

My UC Berkeley Law colleague Dan Farber runs through the numbers on Legal Planet, but they basically include massive cuts to environmental enforcement, restoration and monitoring, including on climate data, as well as eliminating research in clean energy.

The last part on clean energy cuts is particularly frustrating.  I’ve blogged before about the success of ARPA-E, the most important governmental agency you’ve never heard of.  It’s the “moonshot” agency that is funding breakthrough technologies in batteries, solar power and other vital technology.  Since 2009, it has provided $1.3 billion in funding to more than 475 projects, of which 45 have then raised $1.25 billion in private sector funds.

So of course Trump and his allies want to eliminate the agency completely.

But all is not yet lost.  The budget will go through a lot of sausage-making in Congress, and even many Republicans are invested in some of these programs, given the benefits they provide their districts.

But environmental and public health advocates will be starting from a tough position, and this is one area where Trump is likely to get a lot of what he wants.

It Tastes Like Chicken

Food may be the final frontier in environmental sustainability — specifically meat from animals.  Meat production entails a huge environmental cost (let alone the morality concerns).  Raising animals for slaughter involves significant agricultural production to produce the feed, which also causes pollution from fertilizers and energy inputs.  And livestock like cows produces a lot of methane, which is a super-potent greenhouse gas.

That’s why a number of startups are looking at ways to produce meat from cells and other biological inputs, rather than from the animals themselves.  Basically that means mimicking the natural process of producing meat from feed but not in an animal body.

I know it may sound weird, but if the food tastes good and isn’t bad for you, it would be a huge environmental — and economic — win.

And that’s because people are eating a lot meat, especially poultry, as the Wall Street Journal details:

U.S. consumers ate an average of 90.9 pounds of chicken apiece in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is nearly as much as beef and pork combined.

World-wide, about 61 billion chickens are raised for meat annually. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has projected that chicken—relatively cheap to produce and with few religious and cultural barriers—will soar past pork as the world’s most-consumed meat by 2020.

Duck is relevant for a different reason. China, which tops the list in global consumption, consumes 2.7 million metric tons of duck meat annually, nearly 10 times the next-largest consumer, France, according to data from the International Poultry Council. The average Chinese consumer eats 4.5 pounds a year.

Now a new startup in the Bay Area appears to have developed a decent lab-produced chicken strip:

On Tuesday, Memphis Meats invited a handful of taste-testers to a San Francisco kitchen and cooked and served their chicken strip, along with a piece of duck prepared à l’orange style.

Some who sampled the strip—breaded, deep fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast—said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety. Their verdict: They would eat it again.

And not just environmentalists are taking notice. Cutting out the animal part of the equation could allow big meat companies to save a huge amount of money.

If entrepreneurs and scientists can figure this out, they will have done the planet (and many animals) a huge service.

The Border Wall “Poison Pill” On Federal Infrastructure Spending?

The one area where political observers thought Democrats could work with Trump is on infrastructure spending.  Even Governor Brown, who got a lot of attention for savaging Trump right after the election, submitted a wish-list of projects he was hoping would get federal support, particularly high speed rail.

Trump could certainly use a big legislative achievement, and most Republicans are unlikely to go along with infrastructure spending, either because it will increase the deficit or require tax increases.  So he’d rely on working with Democrats.

But at the same time, Trump wants to fulfill his promise to build a border wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.  And if he doesn’t get money to build it through other means, it’s likely he would include it in an infrastructure bill.

Not so fast, says Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.  In a letter to the senate majority leader, he warned against its inclusion in a budget bill or else it would risk a government shutdown, per Politico.  And if it’s not in a budget bill, it may reappear in an infrastructure proposal.

Of course, a faster way to kill the wall might be to get some libertarian groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation to sue over the wall route, where it runs through private property.  I know that’s an issue in state like Texas, where the wall would bisect some properties.

So far though, Trump seems like very much the political novice he claims to be, having campaigned on promises that are hard to achieve in practice.  His unorthodox style got him an upset political win, but it remains to be seen if it’s actually going to work in the difficult process of getting major legislation passed.  And the infrastructure bill seems like just one of those tests.

Insurance As Mass-Market Energy Efficiency Strategy?

To make any lasting progress on climate change, we’re going to need to be a whole lot more efficient with the energy we produce.  That means retrofitting existing inefficient buildings as much as possible to reduce waste.

Powering the Savings MARCH 2016 CoverThe dream would be to make a home or commercial building energy retrofit as easy and scalable as rooftop solar has become.  But so far nobody seems to have figured out how to do it.  There are some promising options, which we explored in a recent policy report called Powering the Savings.

But maybe the missing ingredient has been the insurance market.  The idea is that if insurers are willing to back a home or business retrofit project, then financiers should be much more willing to bring Wall Street-type money to the effort on a mass scale.  As PR Newswire reported:

Sealed, an energy software company that empowers homeowners to pay for home upgrades like insulation, air sealing, and smart thermostats with their energy savings, announced today the implementation of a residential energy efficiency insurance policy from The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company (HSB), part of Munich Re.

This innovative program insures the performance of Sealed’s proprietary energy analytics, which both removes energy savings performance risk from homes that finance energy efficiency improvements and increases the confidence of third party capital providers.

The key here is trusted and verifiable software that can measure actual energy saved via specific efficiency measures. With software improving to do just that, these kinds of financing arrangements will be just around the corner.

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