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How the Pandemic Is Derailing Our Carbon-Neutral Future

image credit: ID 130253687 © Destina156 | Dreamstime.com

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.”

Supply Chain Disruptions

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.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Discussions

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 4, 2020 12:25 pm GMT

Thanks Karen.  I am hoping that the temporary pause in the journey to a renewable and efficient energy future will be more than made up by political resolve and action in the new administration.

Biden is making the right noises.  This will take a leap of faith. But, what is the alternative?

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Aug 4, 2020 4:36 pm GMT

Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark! Agree 100% with everything you said. Any thoughts on how those of us observing and writing about these issues can help move the process along? 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 5, 2020 4:34 pm GMT

Hi Karen - My stock answer to that question is "Vote".  And encourage others to do so.  I think that is the priority right now.

It is really simple. But it is amazing that so many fail to do so.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 5, 2020 9:44 pm GMT

Note that if you want to take it a step further-- you can help make sure people around you are registered to vote, and help them figure out the logistics of going to vote or getting their ballots to mail in if the COVID situation would prevent them from going to a polling station. 

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Aug 12, 2020 5:39 pm GMT

Mark and Matt, completely agree, every vote matters.

Dr. Soumitra Mukhopadhyay's picture
Dr. Soumitra Mukhopadhyay on Aug 4, 2020 5:53 pm GMT

Thanks Karen for your insightful writing in present scenario..It's a fact that many project owners of RE have put the project progress on HOLD due to various reasons as pointed out by you in the writing..In India also, many projects are on HOLD and Government have decided not to implement new projects for next 1.5 years..This is bad news for us, mainly who are working in the field RE..We will be happy if this situation gets over as soon as possible..

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Aug 10, 2020 3:04 pm GMT

Thanks for reading and responding, Dr. Mukhopadhyay. I, too, hope to see a fast conclusion to our current situation. 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Aug 10, 2020 8:22 pm GMT

I am delighted to see the derailing of a carbon-neutral future. The concept has no particular merit and is an attempt to stampede the population into lining the pockets of the "green energy" mafia.

The objective of energy production is to provide reasonably priced and reasonably clean energy so businesses and citizens have more money in their pockets to spend as they see fit. Forcing the populace to provide never-ending stipends to green energy is not justifiable.

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Aug 11, 2020 8:17 pm GMT

Thanks for reading and commenting, Michael. I understand your perspective and appreciate your sharing it. However, I believe this issue isn't just about energy production/provision but also about protecting this planet and the health of everyone living on it. To me, that seems like a justifiable reason to have carbon-neutrality as a goal. 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Aug 12, 2020 12:47 am GMT

Existing climate models are intrinsically incapable of predicting the distant future of the planet's climate. The defect lies with the underlying techniques of achieving mathematical solutions as well as defects in modeling the chaotic nature of the climate. 

Spending trillions of dollars on ill-fitting and unreliable green energy is not justifiable as the underlying basis for the expenditures is essentially conjecture.

The economically wise use of energy achieves superior results, with the happy byproduct of a cleaner environment. The profit motivator is why the approach works. By contrast, governments dictating solutions invariably fails, with the population worse off economically.

The green energy movement needs to work on competitive solutions and refrain from stampeding the population. Additionally, a broader viewpoint recognizes that a rational mix of energy resources achieves much better results than the single minded pursuit of "perfection".

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 12, 2020 3:27 pm GMT

"Existing climate models are intrinsically incapable of predicting the distant future of the planet's climate. The defect lies with the underlying techniques of achieving mathematical solutions as well as defects in modeling the chaotic nature of the climate."

No reputable climate scientist attempts to predict the precise effects and timing of increasing levels of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere, and all appreciate the chaotic nature of global weather patterns.

Climate, however, is not weather - it doesn't respond chaotically. In fact, the overall effect is extremely predictable, and is based on undisputed laws of physics. Specifics can't be predicted precisely, mostly because a lot depends on policy decisions of unpredictable humans. So scientists provide error bars - ranges of what will likely happen, based on what is happening now.

These are basic techniques in statistical analysis. What's your background in climate science, Michael?

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Aug 12, 2020 11:41 pm GMT

In point of fact, the models are attempting to predict the planets's temperature in the distant future.

The models are attempting solutions to an armada of nonlinear partial differential equations that may or may not properly represent the chaotic nature of the climate. The various elements within the models may or may not properly represent physical parameters. A characteristic of non-linear models is that all manner of divergent solutions can arise from small parameter changes.

Ordinarily, confirming model validity relies heavily on testing. That is not possible with climate models. Attempting to replicate the past using the models invariably degenerates into playing games with select parameters. That also does not inspire confidence.

Statistical analysis of results from inferior models is a pointless exercise. Error bars are also meaningless.

In point of fact, major organizations are claiming a temperature rise of X degrees will occur in Y years and we are all doomed unless trillions of dollars are spent on the green agenda.

In my view, there is no good reason for hysteria concerning the climate and CO2 is not an existential threat to humanity. Wisely produce and use energy because it is good for the environment and economy. 

What is your background advanced mathematics?

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