At the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris last December, nearly 200 countries pledged to go on a collective carbon diet. But as most of us know too well, New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. How does the U.S. plan to meet its carbon reduction goals, especially with the prospect of a new administration looming? What are the technological and economic innovations that will help get us there? U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz came to Climate One for a look ahead at our climate future.
“I have to say I feel pretty confident that we will be able to move forward pretty aggressively,” says Moniz. He doesn’t see the recent drop in fossil fuel prices as a deterrent. “Oil prices go up and down, and that will continue to be the case,” he says. “We have a longer-term perspective, in terms of the technology and the policies, to continue on our decarbonization path.”
Technology and innovation are key to meeting our carbon goals, says Moniz, and American ingenuity is stepping up to the plate, with renewable energy and greener transportation options.
“We are now over 400,000 electric vehicles on the road in this country,” Moniz announces proudly, “with California probably leading the way.”
To encourage nationwide adoption of climate-friendly technology, public policy innovations are needed as well. But that means finding agreement on both sides of the aisle. Can there be bipartisan support in a divided Congress? Moniz thinks so; in fact, he says, both chambers have been talking extensively about the issue.
“The innovation agenda is one that resonates very, very strongly. It's about advancing business in addition to advancing our climate goals, our security goals, our economic goals.
“So, I think this is the bipartisan message,” Moniz affirms. “This is the message that will again I think carry us across the finish line, in terms of the dramatically increased ambition we will need in the decades ahead.”
But as Hal Harvey of Energy Innovation pointed out in the second half of the program, much of energy policy is set state-by-state – with some being greener than others. Not every state is ready to throw over their incumbent power monopolies for solar and wind suppliers.
Lyndon Rive of SolarCity calls out Nevada as one state that’s been especially unfriendly to solar in its policy-making.
“The industry has done a great job of moving forward, reducing cost and making it more affordable, allowing more and more lower income neighborhoods to go solar,” Rive reports. “But then with one swipe of the pen, the PUC decimated the solar industry in Nevada. There is no solar industry. It’s gone.”
Danny Kennedy of the California Clean Energy Fund offers some good news. “The truth is, we’ve been succeeding as a clean energy industry now for over a decade, particularly in job creation,” he reports. “There are now more people employed in the solar industry than in the oil and gas extraction industry in America.”
And there’s more: “We’re lowering cost of electricity for families and businesses across the country, plus we’re cleaning the air and reducing the risks of climate change that we’ve talked about. So, a lot of good news – and that’s a global story as well.”
Part of that global story is finding ways to bring power to underserved countries, whose populations have a lot of catching up to do. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that there are more people on earth today that don’t have electricity than when Edison started,” Kennedy pointed out. Off-grid electricity is a booming market that has the potential to lift entire communities out of poverty. “And hopefully that will just grow globally as we deliver the thing we all take for granted called electricity, but which can really improve people's lives across the globe.”
But does what happens in Paris, stay in Paris? One audience member asked the panel how the U.S. and other countries will hold each other accountable to their promises.
Hal Harvey believes that, unlike previous conferences, nations will have no trouble sticking to their word this time. “Copenhagen was all about burden sharing,” he says, “and Paris is all about opportunity. And that's a 180 switch. So you don't need to have such Draconian measures when it turns out to be in your economic interest to do the right thing.
In other words, Harvey is cautiously optimistic.
“It’s not a done deal, it's not a coasting slope downhill all the way,” he warns. “I don’t want to be sanguine about this – but the wind is definitely at our back.”
Wind and solar alone may not be enough to get the world to its climate goals. But combine that with political power, economic power, and a healthy dose of will power, and we may be well on our way.
Written by: Anny Celsi
Photography by: Ed Ritger