Navigant Research Blog

Take Control of Your Future, Part III: Rising Number of Carbon Emissions Reduction Policies and Regulations

Jan Vrins — May 16, 2016

Energy CloudMaggie Shober and Rob Neumann also contributed to this post.

My recent blog discussed seven megatrends that are fundamentally changing how we produce and use power. In the second part of the series, I focused on the power of customer choice and changing demands. Here, we will discuss the rising number of carbon emissions reduction policies and how this trend is fundamentally changing the power industry.

What’s Happening with Carbon Emissions Policies Globally?

The long-term impact of the Paris Climate Agreement will be significant. This agreement will focus on limiting global warming to well below 2°C (3.6°F) by the year 2100. Each nation sets its own target for reducing emissions and updates that mark each year. A record number of countries (175) signed the agreement on the first available day. Governments must now ratify and approve the agreement, which could take months or years. The agreement goes into effect once 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions formally join. It’s clear that the tone and tenor of the Paris Climate Agreement is providing a guiding light for nations to reduce emissions.

The biggest news was the full commitment of China. The country, together with United States, was one of the first to sign the final Paris Climate Agreement. The United States and China account for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. It does appear that China is serious about reducing emissions, since the country has made significant investments in renewables, electric vehicles, green cities, and more. Already the world leader in wind power, China is set to overtake Germany this year in solar power (see chart below).

Renewable Energy Growth in Major Economies

Jan Blog 3

(Source: World Resources Institute)

We see that other countries are not waiting. This week, Germany announced a €17 billion ($19.2 billion) campaign—that’s right, billions—to boost energy efficiency. The ultimate goal is to cut the country’s energy consumption in half by 2050. This is part of meeting domestic and Paris Climate Agreement emissions reduction targets. The campaign could prove bearish for European Union (EU) carbon prices if it reduces demand for power and heating in Germany, the top economy (and emitter) of all the EU’s 28 member states.

Many other initiatives at the regional, country, state, and local levels are currently being designed and implemented in support of carbon emissions reductions, accelerated by the agreement. Importantly, the EU is seeking swift approval and implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement at the United Nation’s Bonn Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany this week.

U.S. Carbon Regulation

And then we have the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court until a final resolution of the case passes through the federal courts. Litigation may not be resolved until 2018, although it’s possible a resolution could be reached sooner. There has been a great deal of discussion on compliance with the CPP. Our analysis continues to show that cost-effective compliance includes a variety of options that are tailored to regional characteristics. A recent deep dive by Navigant into a southeastern state with modest renewable resources showed that trading with other states and developing energy efficiency programs and portfolios are key strategies for reducing overall compliance costs. Compliance strategies depend on existing resources; older coal resources on the margin for retirement are able to get a large bang for their buck on the emissions balancing sheet through replacement with gas, renewables, and energy efficiency.

Navigant also investigated the effects of deploying additional energy efficiency resources in order to decrease CO2 emissions in two regions: California and PJM. We found that additional energy efficiency reduces CO2 emissions, overall cost of compliance, and system congestion. The cost to serve load is reduced by 3%-5% in California and PJM. System congestion relief is also likely to occur, which further reduces the cost to serve load. This last point is important, since large, urban utilities are focused on reducing congestion points—and energy efficiency can be used as a solution.

Other Ongoing Developments

Even though the CPP is on hold, many individual states, cities, and utilities continue to move toward the CPP goals to reduce carbon emissions, plan for an advanced energy economy, and meet cleaner generation goals. The CPP parameters are being used as a guide for emissions reductions:

  • Last month, Maryland lawmakers approved the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016 (SB 921) by large majorities in both houses, increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 25% by 2020.
  • As part of the New York Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceedings, the New York Public Service Commission introduced an order that requires placing a value on carbon emissions, focusing on distributed generation portfolios, and compensating customers for their distributed electricity generation.
  • Over the past year, six states led by Tennessee (plus Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and a few other national organizations have been developing a National Energy Efficiency Registry (NEER) to allow states to track and trade energy efficiency emissions credits for CPP and emissions compliance purposes.
  • Last week, San Diego announced its pledge to get 100% of its energy from clean and renewable power with a Climate Action Plan that sets the boldest citywide clean energy law in the United States. With this announcement, San Diego is the largest U.S. city to join the growing trend of cities choosing clean energy. Already, at least 12 other U.S. cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, Burlington (Vermont), and Aspen, have committed to 100% clean energy. Globally, numerous cities have committed to 100% clean energy, including Copenhagen, Denmark; Munich, Germany; and the Isle of Wight, England.
  • Meanwhile, many utilities are decommissioning or converting their existing coal plants and investing in utility-scale renewables, as well as distributed energy resources. As example, AEP is in the process of decommissioning 11 coal plants, representing approximately 6,500 MW of coal-fired generating capacity as part of its plan to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The company is simultaneously making significant investments in renewables, with a total capacity of close to 4,000 MW by mid-2016.

What Does This All Mean?

The sustainability objectives of government, policymakers, utilities, and their customers are more closely aligned than ever before. In my last blog, I discussed how customer choice and changing customer demands are shifting toward supporting sustainability. States and regulators will continue to discuss how sustainable targets can be met without affecting jobs and the access to safe, reliable, and affordable power. And utilities will continue to evolve to support cleaner, more distributed, and more intelligent energy generation, distribution, and consumption.

Recommended action items for states and utilities include:

  • Understand the possibilities, costs, and full impacts of low-carbon generation and distributed energy resources (energy efficiency, demand response, and others).
  • Implement a workable framework and develop an integrated plan to move toward lower emissions goals, since it’s likely that decreased emission requirements will be in place in the near future.
  • Leverage existing state and neighboring utility designs and efforts to develop joint plans, policies, and goals.
  • Implement (pilot) initiatives that include renewable energy and other low-carbon generation into a reduced emissions framework while also incorporating energy efficiency and distributed generation as resources into the decreased emissions planning process.

This post is the third in a series in which I will discuss each of the megatrends and the impacts (“so what?”) in more detail. My next blog will cover shifting power-generating sources. Stay tuned.

Learn more about our clients, projects, solution offerings, and team at Navigant Energy Practice Overview.

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