energy moments 2014

As we wind down the year 2014, there have been a few moments – some forward thinking and others outright overdue – in the world of energy that we can look back on and be thankful. Overall, countries around the world took a good step forward in the direction of a cleaner planet, more conscious leaders and further engaged people.

In the spirit of being thankful – and a bit of reflection (remember the World Cup?) below are five of the biggest events in 2014 that shaped the year in energy, in no particular order:

1. The UN Climate Summit

Way back in September 2014, the world briefly united to discuss the actions needed to flight climate change at the UN Climate Summit in New York.  It’s hard to admit that an event that didn’t end with a new global strategy to combat the effects of climate change was a great success, but it did ignite interest and hope in the movement. Some 400,000 people gathered in Manhattan when the group organized a march, which influenced hundreds of smaller gatherings around the world. In addition, 40 businesses, many big multinationals such as Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Proctor & Gamble, committed to doing their part as well. In the end, the summit threw down a gauntlet to the leaders of the world that climate change is something we’re all paying attention to and expect action on.

The summit also focused on next steps for the Green Climate Fund, a financial institution created last year by the United Nations to combat climate change. So far, the U.S has committed $3bn to the fund, adding to a list of at least 10 other countries, including France, Germany and South Korea that had previously pledged an amount that matched the U.S.

2. U.S.-China Deal

At the end of the APEC trade summit in China in November, President Obama announced a climate change agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that would cut both countries' greenhouse gas emissions by close to a third over the next two decades. Under the deal, the United States would cut its carbon emissions between 26-28 percent – from levels established in 2005 – by 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions no later than 2030 and would also increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent by 2030.

The landmark announcement marked the first time China has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. The announcement no doubt was influenced by the UN Climate Change Summit, and hints at a more progressive future where each country will evaluate what can be done to curb the harmful affects of pollution.

3. The 2014 Men’s World Cup

It may be painful for Brazilians to think about the end result of the 2014 Men’s World Cup championship this past July (yes, it really did happen, it wasn’t a dream!) but one good thing did come out of those games: the eye-opening reality of energy supply and demand. Earlier in the year, Brazil endured harsh criticism of its reliance on hydropower amid a horrible drought, and the bad press continued during the World Cup when it was evident that peak load management was lacking and energy for the games wasn’t guaranteed.

The energy teeter-totter evident in Brazil this year underscores the need for continued efforts and investments in energy infrastructure, such as in demand response. Investment in other forms of clean technology is already starting to take root and it will be interesting to see what 2015 will bring to the people of Brazil.

4. Solar Domination

It was a great year for renewable energy – none more so than the solar market, which saw report after report providing good news for the booming industry. This article by ComputerWorld outlines some of the reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which stated that by 2050, PV panels could produce 16 percent of the world's electricity, while solar thermal electricity is on track to produce 11 percent. In addition, it was noted that solar power could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than six billion tons over the next four decades.

Bloomberg also reported on solar’s banner year, noting that, “After years of struggling against cheap natural gas prices and variable subsidies, solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states -- in 2016, according to a Deutsche Bank report published this week. That’s assuming the U.S. maintains its 30 percent tax credit on system costs, which is set to expire that same year.”

The evolution of solar technology will surely continue to make an impact in 2015 and the issue of grid storage will be an interesting topic to watch as countries and cities begin to fully integrate renewable energy into the grid.

5. Maturing Energy and Cleantech Investments

Clean energy, cleantech, Energy IoT; call it what you will, the world of energy and cleantech are finally being seen together in the eyes of investors. As cleantech reporter Martin LaMonica noted in his reflections from a panel of venture investors at the Energy Symposium at the Harvard Business School in October, a shift in funding has appeared - away from early-stage venture capital and towards large corporations and strategic investors. This shift may be seen as a bad omen by some, but if more and more of the world’s business leaders are signing up for cleantech –whether by government incentives or their own diversity efforts – that signifies momentum.

In addition, claims by entrepreneur and policy expert Dr. Holmes Hummel add hope to cleantech’s future by pointing out that with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, states have a leadership opportunity to “decarbonize the power sector.” The need for cleaner power was made clear in the federal plan; we’ll see what comes of it in 2015.

Overall, 2014 offered us an opportunity to remain hopeful and envision a bright future for the cleantech and energy industries. Let’s be thankful for that at least. Leave the real work to be done in 2015 and for now, just pass the gravy.