DEVELOPED COUNTRIES START TO SHARE ENERGY LEADERSHIP
As developed countries’ buildings, factories, and mobility get efficient faster than they grow, they’re using less energy. America’s and Europe’s electricity and gasoline use has been falling since 2007. Australia’s electricity use has plummeted while its solar adoption per capita reached about ten times California’s. Since Fukushima, Japan’s lost nuclear output has been half displacedby efficiency, frugality, and renewables. And last year, renewables provided 10 percent of Britain’s electricity consumption, 13 percent of America’s, 20 percent of Ireland’s, 27 percent of Germany’s, 33 percent of Italy’s, 46 percent of Spain’s, 50 percent of Scotland’s, over 50 percent of Denmark’s, and 64 percent of Portugal’s. Germany’s fossil-fueled generation hit a 35-year low, renewables were its biggest power source, and its wholesale power prices were half those of 4½ years ago, with April on-peak prices below off-peak.
Yet over half the world’s renewable installations and investments last year were in developing countries, led by China. China keeps cutting its energy intensity 4–5 percent a year, adding fewer coal plants and running them less, and burning less total coal. China added more solar PV capacity in 2013 than the U.S. added since inventing it 61 years ago. In each of the past three years, China produced more windpower than nuclear power. India did the same for the past two years, has quadrupled its renewable targets, and aims to build a world-class solar industry. Both countries also have immense efficiency potential, partly because they’re building so much infrastructure and can more easily build it right than fix it later.
Renewable leadership is also emerging in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica (100 percent renewably powered for the first 75 days of this year), Guatemala, Nicaragua, Caribbean and Pacific islands, Ethiopia (nearly 100 percent and aiming to electrify the other three-fourths of its 100 million people while reducing carbon emissions 40 percent), rich Middle Eastern nations (Bahrain recently bid the world’s cheapest solar power, under $0.05 per kWh unsubsidized), and several African countries.
Coal is thus in terminal decline; Peabody’s stock is down 97 percent.
PRIVATE-SECTOR AND CIVIL-SOCIETY LEADERSHIP SUPPLEMENTS AND MAY SUPPLANT GOVERNMENTS’
With few exceptions, such as Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and usually China, government energy policies are variable in quality and erratic over time. American energy legislation has been nearly paralyzed for over a decade, leaving only executive-branch opportunities and state and local initiatives (which fortunately are far more important and often vibrant, as are military initiatives). National policy in Australia, Britain, Canada, Hungary, Japan, Poland, and Russia usually undercuts efficiency and renewables despite contrary rhetoric. The clean-energy star is rising through clouds in France, India, Korea, Mexico, and Sweden while it dims in Italy and Spain. German policy remains broadly consistent, and so successful that a major disinformation campaign claims the opposite, but has lately shifted market power from citizens back to big firms.
This fluctuating policy environment raises cost and risk for private firms, which need clarity, transparency, and consistency to invest effectively in decades-long change. Yet major firms are increasingly proposing and promoting sensible policies. Europe’s top six oil companies, led by Shell and BP, called for carbon pricing despite vehement protests from ExxonMobil and Chevron. Global firms aren’t waiting for carbon pricing; most have long used it internally. Utility giants E.ON, RWE, GDF Suez, and NRG are shifting to efficiency, renewables, and distributed, customer-centric strategies. Commerzbank, M&S, Microsoft, and SAP are already 100-percent renewably powered. Walmart, IKEA, Infosys, and others target 100 percent by 2020 or sooner, followed longer-term by Amazon Web Services, Apple, Facebook, Google, Interface, Nestlé, Philips, Swiss Re, Unilever, and many more. Now American firms are buying renewable power not just by contracts but by direct project investments—1.2 GW last year, 1.4 GW through July this year—often with the help of RMI’s Business Renewables Center or RMI’s spinoff Black Bear Energy.