By Wenna Wang and Haibing Ma

Source: EIA | Distribution of China's shale gas basins.

On June 27th, 5 shares of shale gas reached their daily limits at Shanghai Composite Index, the largest stock market in China, lifting the whole Oil & Gas sector above the otherwise decreasing Chinese stock market. This was stimulated by a signal from the nation’s Ministry of Land and Resources: the second round of shale gas exploration rights is expected to open for bidding in September, and this time it will be open to private investors.

Shale gas, which is natural gas found in hydrocarbon rich shale formations, is one of the most important unconventional sources of natural gas and represents a rapidly expanding trend in onshore gas exploration and production today. The deposits are mainly extracted through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Though it is not an ideal alternative to conventional energy sources, shale gas can be a key to energy independence and a lower carbon footprint, since it produces 43 percent and 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and oil per thermal unit produced, respectively. However, not everything about shale gas is an improvement, as its extraction process may contaminate ground water and release volatile compounds into the soil, while the use of shale gas will still lead to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main mining techniques used for extraction, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have been linked to various problems like water shortages, groundwater contamination, methane gas seeps, micro-earthquakes and coal fires. Sample surveys show that methane concentrations were 17-times higher on average (19.2 mg/L) in shallow wells located in active drilling and extraction areas than in wells located in non-active areas (1.1 mg/L on average). In addition, there are studies showing properties with shale gas wells were valued down due to the fracturing.

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12th Five-Year Plan, China, Climate Change, energy demand, green house gases, low-carbon, renewable energy, shale gas, sustainable development

Last week, I attended a Washington event on Arctic energy; I was hoping for some insights on the challenges ahead, namely greenhouse gas emissions, diplomatic tensions, and indigenous rights. Since Arctic exploitation hasn’t yet enjoyed a “Keystone XL” level of public attention, it seemed healthy to get some first-hand information from Arctic experts, as major oil players like Shell are getting closer to full-scale commercial exploitation. After all, a generation’s treasure chest often turns out to be another generation’s ticking bomb.

Instead, I ended up listening to lengthy presentations by analysts, consultants, fellows and executives talking about climate change “removing constraints”, “effective diplomatic work” being made, and “supply chain complexity” hampering the process, for a solid two hours. There’s a saying in the marketing industry that ‘eco-friendly’ should be the third button to push when advertising a product, after, say, affordability or quality. In this discussion, ‘eco-friendly’ was clearly the fourth or fifth button, if it was mentioned at all. One should have expected this, however, as the event invitation used no apparent irony when announcing in the same sentence that Arctic experts would examine “what nations can do to protect the environment andincrease production” (my emphasis).

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arctic, Climate Change, coal, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy security, low-carbon, peak oil, renewable energy, Unconventional oil, United States

Recent legislative proposals in a number of states across the country have reignited the debate over how  ‘sustainable’ hydropower actually is,  and if it is truly emissions free. California’s Assembly Bill 1771, which was rejected in the state legislature this past April, would have allowed large hydropower facilities to contribute toward state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). As a growing number of states establish increasingly ambitious targets for shares of energy production from renewable sources, there has been ongoing discussion about what types of hydropower should be included in these RPS schemes.

In the United States, state regulators divide hydro into two categories – small and large – depending on the facility’s installed generating capacity. For example, California considers any facility with at least 30 megawatts (MW) of capacity to be ‘large hydro’. Currently, utilities in most states can count only ‘small hydro’ toward RPS targets.

Zipingpu Dam in China's Sichuan Province

California’s Assembly Bill 1771 is neither the first nor the only proposal of its kind. As states that have implemented RPS programs scramble to reach their renewable energy targets, the movement to count large hydro towards these goals has gained momentum.  Similar bills have been proposed in California in the past, as well as in Minnesota. North Dakota currently counts all hydropower in its RPS, including power imported from Manitoba, but stipulates that large hydro facilities must have been placed in service on or after Dec. 31, 2010. Wisconsin will allow utilities to count hydropower from large facilities starting in 2015. 

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carbon sinks, hydropower, large hydro, low-carbon, renewable energy, renewables, small hydro, sustainability

Worldwatch presents the Wind & Solar Roadmap to energy and government officials in the Dominican Republic. (From Left: Hon. Pelegrin Castillo, National District Representative; Manuel Pena, National Energy Commission; Maria Eugenia Salaverria, Energy and Climate Partnership of Central America; Mr. Enrique Ramirez, National Energy Commission President; Alexander Ochs; Mark Konold; Mr. Omar Ramirez, Executive President of the National Council for Climate Change and the Clean Development Mechanism

Yesterday the Climate & Energy Program of the Worldwatch Institute officially launched its first Sustainable Energy Roadmap in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Roadmap, which was completed with financial support from the Energy & Environment Partnership in Central America (EEP) and with guidance from the National Energy Commission of the Dominican Republic (CNE), focuses on strategies the government of the Dominican Republic can use to begin moving toward a more sustainable energy future.

The Worldwatch research team worked with 3TIER, a renewable resource mapping company, to develop detailed solar resource assessments for the country’s two major cities, Santo Domingo and Santiago, as well as wind resource assessments in six provinces. The report also explores the potential for distributed and centralized renewable power generation in the country, job creation opportunities from renewables, and challenges facing the integration of renewable energy into the existing electricity grid. It then examines the Dominican Republic’s energy regulatory framework and the current status of the country’s financial sector for supporting renewable energy growth. Finally, the Roadmap contains strong and actionable recommendations the government can follow to begin ramping up the presence of renewable energy, drawing down its dependence on fossil fuel imports and creating an energy future that is socially, environmentally and financially more sustainable.

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Caribbean, Climate Change, Dominican Republic, energy, energy security, low-carbon, renewable energy

Following up on the recent blog I wrote about low-lying island nations, I spent part of last week getting a more direct experience with one of these countries. The United States Institute of Peace welcomed former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed for a conference on Monday, June 25th in Washington, D.C. Nasheed was ousted last February by a coup under controversial circumstances. Though he expressed regret over losing the unique stature and influence he had as head of state, Nasheed is still extremely active in the country, pushing for new democratic elections and actively promoting “The Island President”, a documentary narrating his story and seeking to cast light on his unique fight for the survival of his country and the establishment of a functioning democracy after centuries of authoritarian rule.

“Anni”, as he is better known by people of the archipelago, has not left behind his ideals in the presidential office, particularly with regard to climate change. When he touched on the topic of climate change at last week’s conference, the former President called it, as he very often does, “a very serious issue happening right now.” With an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, and the world’s lowest natural peak at an astounding 2.4 meters, the archipelago is indeed at the forefront of climate disruption and sea-level rise. Attempting to shame the rest of the world into taking action to mitigate carbon emissions, in 2008 Nasheed launched an ambitious plan for carbon neutrality. The plan seemed achievable: it tapped into the archipelago’s ample wind and solar energy resources, completing the mix with biomass to meet the modest energy needs of this country of 400,000 people, which has a low reliance on electricity and (understandably) almost no cars. Even the country’s most prominent and energy-consuming economic sector, high-end tourism, started bringing itself up to speed. Nasheed’s government planned to offset aviation emissions, which make up the lion’s share of the archipelago’s carbon footprint,  by using the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme. Finally, as “The Island President” abundantly documents, the Maldives also took the lead in making the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) a force to reckon with in international climate summits.

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climate, Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy, energy policy, Green Technology, low-carbon, low-lying island nations, Maldives, Nasheed, renewable energy, sustainable development, sustainable prosperity, UNFCCC

With the United Nations “Rio+20” Conference fast approaching, the word “sustainable” is more present than ever – including in our own State of the World 2012 publication – sometimes to the point of excess. For low-lying island nations, however, “sustainability” is more than the mild, consensual definition of the United Nations: it is really about maintaining the environmental conditions necessary to sustain human life as we know it. Many countries, regions, and cities fear the potential consequences of runaway climate change, be it desertification, droughts, or increasingly frequent storms. What makes the cases of countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Micronesia, and the Maldives so unique is that their very existence as sovereign states is at stake, and some of their younger citizens might live to see that existence brought to an end – the IPCC (2007) has predicted 0.5 to 1.5 meters of sea-level rise before the century is over.

For low-lying island nations, climate change and sea-level rise are not really a matter for debate, but already a threatening feature of everyday life (Source: The Atlantic.com)

Whether that prediction turns out to be overly optimistic or gloomy is still to be determined, but low-lying island nations are not passively waiting to find out. Despite their remarkably low carbon-footprints, they are trying to lead by example when it comes to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions: while an international treaty would only, by the timeline set at the 2011 climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come into force in 2020, the Maldives and Tuvalu (among others) have pledged to become carbon-neutral by that date. But these nations have understood that due to natural – as well as political – inertia, more emissions and increased sea-level rise are already locked in. This is the basic reasoning behind the islands’ adaptation policies, which are only as varied as they are extreme. For instance, though the President of Kiribati Anote Tong admitted it sounded “like something from science fiction”, the country seriously considered building offshore floating islands and higher seawalls last year, for a total cost of about US$ 3 billion – quite a challenge for a country with a GDP of US$ 200 million in 2011 (about US$ 6,000 per capita).

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Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, electricity, emissions reductions, energy, green economy, Kiribati, low-carbon, low-lying island states, Maldives, negotiations, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development, Tuvalu, UNFCCC

As we described last week, there is a growing consensus that the time is right for a global shift to sustainable energy solutions. The Worldwatch Institute, in partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), is taking a leading role in facilitating this shift through the creation of the Renewable Development Index.

Countries enacting renewable energy support policies or targets as of 2011 (source: IPCC SRREN, 2011)

Countries worldwide are recognizing the significant role that renewable energy can play in their national development. As of early 2011, nearly 100 countries had set targets for wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable energy sources. Governments aim to utilize these technologies to meet a host of development priorities, including reducing carbon emissions, expanding energy access, enhancing energy security, and creating new jobs and industry opportunities. At both the national and sub-national levels, they are using a variety of policies and measures to support centralized and decentralized renewable energy installations and to work toward achieving wider national development goals.

Despite the many forces working in favor of renewables, growth within the sector remains constrained. Although renewable energy technologies accounted for roughly half of the newly installed power generation capacity during 2010, they were responsible for only 16 percent of global final energy consumption and close to 20 percent of electricity generation that year. Government support policies, adopted by 118 countries as of early 2011, continue to be one of the most significant forces driving renewable energy deployment.

To more efficiently harness the potential of renewables to meet national goals, decision makers must have a better understanding of the effectiveness of support policies in overcoming existing barriers. Countries continue to face challenges in the renewables sector, including gaining public acceptance and buy-in, mobilizing financing, attracting investment, building local capacity, and facilitating collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Worldwatch is partnering with IRENA to help governments develop policies aimed at best utilizing their renewable energy potential as a way to meet national growth and development goals. As a first step, the project seeks to identify barriers constraining renewable energy deployment. It will then develop strategies that can help policymakers overcome those hurdles. Finally, the project aims to develop a set of renewable energy indicators, with the goal of helping countries assess the effectiveness and efficiency of renewable support programs. Because there is no one-size-fits-all policy for promoting renewable energy, fully inclusive indicators can help to inform the policy community in a more objective manner.

In the development arena, well-designed high-level indicators, such as the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI), have been influential in shifting the discourse away from one based solely on domestic economic growth, providing the basis for a deeper understanding of national progress toward overarching development goals. The Renewables Development Index aims to achieve a similar goal in the energy arena, steering the discourse away from conventional fossil fuel energy usage and toward cost-effective and more environmentally sound approaches to meeting global energy needs.

Worldwatch has actively engaged key actors from leading institutions in the international energy community on this initiative. Through a series of interviews, meetings, and workshops, the Institute’s Climate & Energy team will facilitate the development of this new and influential tool.

When completed, the analysis based on this small and concise set of renewable energy indicators will provide governments with a powerful new instrument to better inform domestic policymaking, implementation, and monitoring processes. The indicators can be used for steering investments, refining policy choices, optimizing the impact of limited financial resources, and understanding the outcome of policy results supporting renewable energy development.

This Renewables Development Index will fill an important void in the landscape of sustainability indicators and will help countries in their important transition to a sustainable energy future.

Evan Musolino is a Climate and Energy Research Associate at the Worldwatch Institute, an international environmental research organization. Alexander Ochs is Director of the Climate and Energy Program at Worldwatch.

Climate Change, emissions reductions, finance, green economy, low-carbon, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, sustainable development

Energy is at the very foundation of modern economies. Since the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, all countries—if at a quite different pace—have developed on the back of the production and burning of fossil fuels. There is no doubt that the comfortable lives many of us live today would not be possible without the fossil-fueled development of the past. But the merits of fossil fuels now seem less and less convincing.

Renewable energy technologies, such as solar PV, offer the potential to benefit countries around the world. (source: Flickr user Magharebia)

First, take subsidies. Currently, we throw about 10–12 times more taxpayer money at fossil fuels than we put into renewables—and those are just direct subsidies. In addition, local air and water pollution and related health consequences cost trillions of dollars worldwide. The U.S. National Research Council estimates the “hidden” costs of fossil fuels in the United States (the real costs to society that are not reflected in the fuels’ market prices) at $120 billion annually. The Chinese government believes pollution and related healthcare costs amount to 10 percent of that country’s GDP.

Then there is the volatility of fossil fuel markets, which has arguably led to enormous economic instability in the recent past. Just to give an idea of what this volatility means to some nations: an increase in the world oil price of just $10 can mean a decrease in the GDP of some small nations of 2–3 percent.

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Climate Change, emissions reductions, finance, low-carbon, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, solar power, sustainable development

By Haibing Ma

Guangdong is releasing a series of policies to ensure a green future. ©nfdaily.cn

According to media reports, Guangdong province has taken the lead in becoming the pioneer of low-carbon practices in China. Guangdong is one of 13 pilot regions—including five provinces and eight municipalities—that the Chinese government has selected to explore low-carbon development. So far, it is the only pilot region that has issued a comprehensive plan for this development and had it approved by the central government.

In January 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) reviewed and then “approved with positive comments” Guandong’s “Implementation Plan for Low-Carbon Pilot Programs.” Although this plan has not been made public, it reportedly lays out eight “key actions”:

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12th Five-Year Plan, cap and trade, carbon emission, carbon intensity, China, emission trading, energy intensity, green development, Guangdong province, low-carbon, MRV, NDRC, pilot program, statistics

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India will hold the 12th annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) from February 2 to 4. This year’s Summit is themed “Protecting the Global Commons: 20 years post Rio,” and will aim to develop a path forward towards consensus between industrialized and developing countries on governance of climate change, biodiversity, and forestry, among other issues. The Summit will assess the state of sustainable development 20 years after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in advance of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development this June. Featured speakersat this year’s DSDS will include several heads of state, among them Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as numerous ministers, government officials, and leaders from business, academia, and civil society.

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit will take place February 2 - 4, source: TERI

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit will take place February 2 - 4, source: TERI

Climate change and clean energy access will be among the focus areas discussed at the Summit, with a particular emphasis on the gap between global North and South in terms of development needs, access to technology, and responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a study by the World Resources Institute found that between 1850 and 2002, the United States contributed the greatest share of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions with 29.3 of the global total, followed by the European Union at 26.5 percent. Over the same period, India was responsible for just 2.2 percent of global emissions. While industrialized countries reached current levels of affluence by burning coal and oil, increasingly constrained fossil fuel resources and the threat of global climate change make this an unsustainable path for developing countries. While grappling with the impacts of climate change they largely did not cause, developing countries like India must also explore new paths for sustainable development.

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Climate Change, Energy Access, equity, India, low-carbon, sustainable development