How the Pandemic Is Derailing Our Carbon-Neutral Future
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- Aug 3, 2020 10:55 am GMTJul 31, 2020 10:34 pm GMT
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During the coronavirus pandemic, many things have had to be put on hold. Unfortunately, the push toward a carbon-neutral future is one of them. Utilities are having to put clean energy initiatives to the side as they focus on providing consistent service through the pandemic and helping customers pay their bills.
Additionally, according to an E&E News story, “Because of declining low-carbon energy investments from the pandemic, emissions could rise more than previously thought for 15 years…. And questions about the ability to meet state emissions goals…are rising.”
Efficiency Programs Reduced
Programs for things like improving insulation, lighting, smart thermostats, and appliances are supported by surcharges on utility bills. But utilities are looking for ways to cover the revenue shortfall caused by the no-shutoff mandates that were enacted early in the pandemic. Additionally, some efficiency programs involve face-to-face interaction between customers and utility employees. As a result of both these concerns, efficiency programs could be cut.
For example, according to the E&E News story, “Georgia Power, which is part of Atlanta-based Southern Co., has suspended a refrigerator recycling program and part of a home energy improvement program.” In this case, the decision was made based on safety concerns, as the program involves utility employees going into customers’ homes.
Another example provided by E&E News is that of Arizona state regulators deciding “to refund over $44 million of unspent energy efficiency-related funds to customers of two utilities to help deal with economic hardship in the wake of COVID-19.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that supply chain disruptions are another factor holding back clean energy initiatives. For example, “Factories in China manufacture about 70% of the global supply of solar panels…. In February, solar PV manufacturing facilities in China paused or reduced production because of coronavirus-related lockdowns in several key provinces.”
While China has since begun ramping production back up, the wind energy supply chain is faring less well. The IEA states, “Europe is a major manufacturing hub for wind turbines…. Manufacturing facilities in Italy and Spain have been closed…due to strict confinement measures.” Additionally, the lockdown in India required non-essential facilities, including wind turbine and solar PV component manufacturers to close. The effects have been felt in the U.S., where “multiple projects have received ‘force majeure’ notices from suppliers.”
Projects on Hold
In some cases, these supply chain issues are forcing the deployment of renewables to pause. According to the IEA, lockdown measures requiring non-essential workers to stay at home are preventing developers from completing utility-scale renewable projects. Additionally, such projects require “multiple meetings to take place in person at both the government and community levels. Various stages of a project’s development, including securing permits and acquiring land, requires significant human interaction.” More delays result when these meetings can’t happen. Finally, social distancing prevents developers from reaching local communities to gather support for these projects.
Such roadblocks put companies at risk of missing 2020 deadlines that must be met to get certain financial incentives. Forgoing them may put smaller developers in debt and the projects even further behind schedule.
Good News Ahead?
Despite these challenges, there are reasons for optimism. Many utilities are sticking to their long-term carbon-neutral goals. According to the E&E News story, “The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric utility companies, said…that its ‘member companies still are expected to collectively reduce their CO2 emissions at least 80 percent by 2050.’”
Further, rebuilding the economy post-pandemic may be the perfect opportunity to create the volume of jobs in clean energy needed to get carbon-neutral efforts back on track. In fact, in an article appearing on The Conversation, Peter Fox-Penner of Boston University states, “Once the global economy bounces back, perhaps this episode will convince world leaders to accelerate climate policy efforts, before the next climate-induced disease vector or weather event triggers yet another global economic shock.”
Has the pandemic affected your utility’s carbon neutral goals? If so, how? Please share in the comments.