Pushing green energy ceilings — wind and solar hitting new highs

The sun is setting in the Coachella Valley as I type this, but somewhere on the other side of the world, I feel certain, it is shining and possibly there’s a solar panel there converting the sunlight to electricity and reducing the carbon emissions that fossil fuel power would have generated.

The spread of solar around the world is part of the story contained in figures from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.  As of 2012, the world had a bit more than 101 gigawatts of PV running around, producing the same amount of power as 16 coal or nuclear plants of 1 gigawatt each, while reducing carbon emissions by 53 million tons.

Of those 101 GW, just shy of 30 GW were installed last year, about the same as 2011, the EPIA said. What’s more important, the geographic spread of PV installations is expanding.

Thirteen gigawatts of solar are now outside Europe, compared to 8 GW in 2011, the EPIA reported. Germany is still the world leader, with 7.6 GW, while China has 3-5-4.5 GW and the U.S. has 3.2 GW. Another report from Greentech Media projects growing solar markets, about 3 GW, in Africa and Middle East in the next two years.

Meanwhile, wind energy is also hitting new highs in terms of how much power it supplies in different states, according to Pete Danko writing on the Earth Techling website.

From midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday, three wind farms in eastern Washington pumped out 16,593 megawatt-hours of power, or about 23.5 percent of the power Puget Sound Energy needed for its 1.1 million customers. Danko writes:

While wind power rises and falls with the varying wind speed – obviously – Puget Sound said its three wind farms are providing at least some power two-thirds of the time and on average are supplying about 10 percent of the power its customers use.

Texas is also breaking records on wind production. The state leads the nation in wind installations over al,l and at 7:08 p.m. on Feb. 9, those turbines were spinning away, producing 9,481 megawatts of power, 10 percent over the previous record of 8,667 MW.

The Feb. 9 high mark represents 28 percent of the load on the state’s power system.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Xcel Energy reported that wind power accounted for 16 percent of the 35.9 million megawatt hours of electricity it sold in 2012.

The missing link to drive those numbers even higher is, of course, storage. California may be taking a step toward new green energy ceilings to break with a recent decision from the state’s Public Utilities Commission ordering Southern California Edison to add 50 MW of grid storage over the next eight years.

Writing about the order on Greentech Media, Jeff St. John notes it’s a relatively small amount of storage, but provides a signal that the state is serious about integrating wind and solar power onto the grid by the 2020 deadline for reaching the state’s renewable energy goal of 33 percent.

In the context of total energy production, in the U.S. or worldwide, all these new benchmarks may be relatively small, but they reflect a vision and momentum that will continue to push renewable energy ceilings higher and higher.

 

The green learning curve: Tesla, the New York Times and commercial real estate

The Tesla-New York Times kerfuffle has been interesting to watch.

A brief recap — Tesla Motors pitched the NYT to do a road trip in its Model S all electric sedan from Washington, D.C. to Boston, using the company’s newly installed fast-charging stations at two locations on the highway between the two cities. NY Times reporter John M. Broder essayed the trip during extremely cold weather and at one point, lost all power on the car, which had to be towed. Much ink has since been spilled on both sides, with the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan admitting Broder may have showed poor judgment but had not deliberately staged the breakdown.

But in a blog on the Natural Resources Defense Council website, attorney Max Baumhefner brings up a key point — that driving an electric vehicle involves a learning curve.

“There’s an important difference between taking a car on a test drive and taking one home,” Baumhefner writes.

“Researchers from UC Davis found that drivers who leased an all-electric version of the Mini Cooper for a year quickly progressed through a discovery phase, in which they became accustomed to the car’s range, rapid acceleration, sporty handling, and regenerative braking that allows for ‘one-pedal’ driving. After living with the cars, every participant in the study reported that electric vehicles are suitable for daily use.”

Tesla is now pushing the daily driving envelope for EVs with its highway superchargers, and this also involves a learning curve, a transition in how people plan and think about road trips.

This seems simple and straightforward enough but there is always a cultural lag, where people expect a new technology to work exactly like the older version it’s replacing. We expect an electric car to work exactly like one that runs on gasoline — an expectation that’s a bit easier to meet in hybrids. We expect power from wind or solar sources to work exactly like power from fossil fuels.

The renewable energy learning curve is obviously a very long one, requiring significant changes in how we think about power generation and transmission, but the transition is underway, as evidenced by a press release that popped into my email box on Tuesday.

CoreNet Global, a major professional group for the commercial real estate developers, sent out a press release with a policy statement advocating that its 7,900 members worldwide prioritize designing zero-net buildings.

“We support the principle that smart and responsible energy policies and practices reduce corporate carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions, (and) we encourage our members’ companies to drive energy efficiency to optimal levels with net-zero buildings as a top measure of long-term success.”

Net-zero buildings are defined simply as commercial buildings that produce as much electricity as they use.

Noting that industrial and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the statement emphasizes the “tangible benefits for companies and management teams which prioritize energy efficiency and take steps to reduce the carbon footprint. They will realize meaningful return on investment financially, socially and environmentally.”

Think about a built environment — factories, warehouses, stores, malls, where net-zero construction is not the exception but the norm – and how that would affect our everyday thinking about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

A lot of people in California could soon be climbing that learning curve. Our building codes are targeting net-zero standards for residential construction by 2020 and for the commercial sector by 2030.

 

 

California’s green Energy Commission

Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pack the California Energy Commission with appointees with deep backgrounds in renewable energy on both the state and federal level.

Brown filled two empty seats on the commission today, naming David Russell Hochschild and Janea Ashanti Scott to the board, which is responsible for establishing and implementing the state’s energy policy. It also has final approval on most large power plants in the state — anything more than 50 megawatts, renewable energy or fossil fuel.

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Seen here in a 2007 picture, Hochschild’s most recent gig was as vice president of external relations at Solaria Corporation, a solar panel manufacturer in Fremont.  Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, when he was mayor of San Francisco, appointed Hochschild to the city’s Public Utilities Commission, where he served from 2007 to 2008. He was also  executive director at PV Now, a coalition of solar companies; and co-founder and director of policy at the Vote Solar Initiative, a grass-roots solar advocacy group.

He was a special assistant to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown from 1999 to 2001 and program director at The President’s Award, Port Alfred, South Africa from 1996 to 1997.He has a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard.

Meanwhile, Scott has most recently been living back east, in Arlington, Va., since 2009, while working as deputy counselor for renewable energy and special assistant to the counselor at the U.S. Department of the Interior. In that post, she was a speaker at last October’s Southern California Energy Summit in Palm Springs.

Before working at the DOI, she spent almost a decade at the Environmental Defense Fund, as a staff and then senior attorney. During a stint with AmeriCorps, from 1996 to 1997, she worked on the San Francisco Urban Service Project.She has a law degree from the University of Colorado and a master of science degree in earth systems from Stanford.

Both Hochschild and Scott are Democrats and, if confirmed by the state Senate, will earn $128,109 per year.

Hochschild and Scott will be joining current commissioners, and Brown appointees, Andrew McAllister, Karen Douglas and chair Robert B. Weisenmiller.

The Energy Commission has a meeting on Wednesday this week, with a mixed agenda reflecting the extent of the issues it decides, from energy efficiency regulations to whether to allow changes to BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar project, now under construction in San Bernardino County.

 

California and LEED — No. 9 or No. 1?

The U.S. Green Building Council has tallied up new LEED buildings certified in states across the U.S. last year to see which are the most green-friendly, but the results, released on Wednesday may seem to some a bit skewed.

The organization that established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system for energy efficient and sustainable building design — and made it the gold standard for public and corporate buildings across the country — bases its top 11 list on square footage of LEED-certified space per capita.

On that basis, Washington, D.C., with 110 new LEED buildings totaling 22,246,445 square feet leads the pack with 36.97 square feet per capita. We’ll rack that up to government buildings, such as the LEED gold U. S. Mint Building (below)  and other national groups going green with large projects, and the district’s relatively small population.

There are only so many residents you can fit into a 10-mile square. Most of the people who work in D.C. and use those new buildings probably live in the surrounding suburbs.

Meanwhile, California, with 540 new LEED projects totaling 54,252,993 square feet only narrowly made the list at No. 9. Our per capita in 2012 was 1.46 square feet. Even though the state is absolutely No. 1 in number of projects and total square footage, we are penalized by our nation-leading population.

All that said, while I may gripe about USGBC’s figure juggling, there’s no arguing with the success of the LEED system. Almost any major city today is practically jammed with LEED projects, San Francisco being a case in point. Northern California has about 760 LEED projects.

This success is based not only on bottom-line savings on direct things such as energy use, but intangibles, such as building comfort and health of inhabitants.

Worldwide, more than 15,000 commercial projects have been certified under LEED, with more than 35,000 additional projects in the pipeline, totaling more than 10.3 billion square feet of space.

 

Getting the renewable energy mix right

I was out at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal on Wednesday, talking with students in the school’s green tech career academy about what I do as an energy and green tech reporter — ask people a lot of questions about very technical things and try to turn it all into plain English.

Most of the students said they want to work in a green tech or engineering field, so I also spoke about the importance of good communication skills and the inestimable value of being able to write clear, grammatical sentences (old school, I know, but it’s something I’m actually rather passionate about).

One of the students asked me what I thought the best form of renewable energy is, and I stopped for a second. Being a reporter, one always stops when anyone asks you what you think the best of anything is, because one cannot appear to be biased or endorsing one thing over another.

Luckily in this case, it was not a problem. What I said, in essence, is that , with renewable energy it isn’t a matter of better or worse, but rather how the different forms fit together and complement each other.  We need them all.  The wind blows best at night — so we can have renewable energy on the grid ready to go in the wee hours and early morning.  Then photovoltaic, rooftop solar comes on in the morning and peaks in the afternoon for daytime use.

Geothermal can fill in the gaps, it is 24/7 baseline power. Solar thermal technology also has the potential to fill in the intermittent gaps created by wind and rooftop. While big solar thermal projects, such as BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant, have major environmental impacts and have been difficult to perimit, their technology — using solar energy to heat fluids and run a traditional generator — provides a more reliable power source than rooftop solar.

If you add storage to the picture — and it’s coming, in the foreseeable future — you have the possibility of a grid that can, at least in theory, run almost entirely on clean, renewable sources with the inevitable economies of scale and lower prices.

This is, at least in part, the argument that some advocates are now making as California develops a renewable energy portfolio that will provide 33 percent of the state’s power by 2020. The utilities have largely loaded up on cheaper photovoltaic projects that by their very nature mean we will need some kind of fossil fuel backup to balance the intermittency of solar.

More reliable forms of renewables, such as solar thermal, are more expensive, but cost alone should not be the only factor considered.

Which brings me to BrightSource. Even as the company’s Rio Mesa project looks shaky – possibly losing a power purchase agreement to sell half the power from the plant and facing millions in mitigation costs to offset environmental impacts — investors have given the company a vote of confidence in the form of $80 million in new equity funding.

In a press release issued today, company executives announced a list of new investors –

Alstom, a global leader in the world of power generation, and VantagePoint Capital Partners lead the round. Additional investors include DFJ, CalSTRS, DBL Investors, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Technology Ventures and BP Ventures among others.

The company now has $615 million in equity funding.

Alstom is a French energy multinational and VantagePoint is a major player in clean tech investments. That major fossil fuel companies such as Chevron and BP want in also speaks volumes.

The bottom line is, every form of energy, whether fossil fuel or renewable, has some kind of environmental impact; that is the unavoidable trade-off we make for the power.

Figuring out the best value and right balance of renewables going forward will be a complex process, involving careful thought and calibration of lots of competing and conflicting factors.  Hopefully, some of the students I spoke with today will help find the solutions.

And they’ll be able to write about it in clear, grammatical sentences.

Fracking in California

Stories about fracking — the short term for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting fluids and chemicals into the earth to push out natural gas and other hard-to-mine fossile fuels — usually carry datelines from places like Pennsylvania or North Dakota, home to the massive underground shale formations that have powered the U.S.’s current natural gas boom.

But, yes, even as California pushes to meet its goal of producing 33 percent of its power from renewable sources, the state also  has about 459 drilling sites where fracking is being used. The California fracking sites are a small but significant part of the almost 30,000 on a national map at FracFocus.org, a website that tracks where the technology is being used and the chemicals and environmental impacts involved.

The website is a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a group seeking to balance energy production and environmental concerns, so it avoids the politics, and goes for an informative, low-key tone.

And you can drill down into the map, showing where different drilling sites are.

The information could become important since California has its own shale formation, called the Monterey Formation, that could be the largest and richest in the nation.

According to an article on the San Francisco Chronicle website, five environmental groups on Tuesday filed a law suit against the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, charging it is allowing companies to drill mines that use fracking without first filing an environmental impact report, which they argue is required under the California Environmental Quality Act, aka CEQA.

“We’ve learned in our state-by-state fights that in the face of intense industry  pressure, state agencies need to be pushed to do the right thing,” said George Torgun, an attorney with Earthjustice. “That’s what this suit is  all about.”

While there is no fracking in our immediate area, Los Angeles County has a handful of drilling sites, and Kern County is close enough to raise red flags at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which last month held a day-long symposium on fracking and its environmental impacts.

You can find an archived webcast of the symposium here or read a staff report on it here.

The AQMD is working on new rules to deal with pollution and emissions from fracking, and the report raises the possibility that mining firms could have to make public the chemicals they are using (already requierd under federal law) as well as rules requiring companies to use the best available technology and practices to reduce emissions.

 

We got a gig! California solar takes the edge off peak energy demand

The impact of California’s utility-scale solar projects — 1 megawatt and up — helped the state get through its recent heat wave by pumping a full gigawatt of power into the grid.

The California Independent System Operator – which manages the grid — announced the high point today,  saying that three days in recent weeks, large-scale solar in the state reached the 1 gigawatt mark or higher.

One gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts, and 1 megawatt can power about 750 houses — so one gig is 750,000 houses.

The ISO is claiming that’s a new national record for solar production.

“The beauty of solar power is it comes when you need it the most,” said Stephanie McCorkle, the ISO’s director of communication. ”Right at that air-conditioning rush hour, typically we see the peak of solar.”

The Coachella Valley did its bit — with Solar Power Inc.’s 2.2 megawatt project in North Palm Springs pumping its electrons into the grid, according to Mike Anderson, a company spokesman.

What we don’t know is how much power smaller, roof-top solar installations have been generating on the local level — also taking strain off the grid because those houses are not needing extra power during peak hours. The ISO does’t track that, McCorkle said.

While 1 gigawatt is impressive, it’s still a relatively small percentage of total power demand. On Friday, solar power hit 1.076 gigawatts, but the peak demand was 40.5 gigawatts, McCorkle said, meaning solar made up 2.6 percent of power on the grid.

Think about how much power might be generated once projects such as the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight or 250-megawatt Genesis projects now under construction east of the Coachella Valley come on line.

We’ll be lighting up and cooling off the state — or at least a good chunk of it.

 

 

Climate change — just the facts

Gov. Jerry Brown today has launched a new website — Climate Change: Just the facts – that, as its name suggests, is aimed at providing California residents with concise facts on the science of climate change and talking points for dealing with climate change skeptics.

And it doesn’t mince words:

The fact is that on the key issues, the science is clear: climate change is real and happening now; human-made greenhouse gas emissions are affecting our planet; and we need to take action. Just as we reached a point where we stopped debating whether cigarette smoke causes cancer, we need to end the climate change debate and focus on how to solve the problem.

Maybe I’ve read too much on this already, but it seems to me the website, while obviously well intended, is a bit simplistic and brief in its explanations of climate change. Where it gets into specifics is on the page of talking points for dealing with climate change skeptics, for example –

“Temperatures are not actually increasing – they’re even dropping in some places.”

Climate is an overall average over a period of time (usually 30 years). Climate change refers to a shift in this average across the whole planet or a significant portion of the planet. A common denialist tactic is to point to a narrow geographic area that may have seen relatively constant or even cooler temperatures in recent years. In fact, the earth as a whole has been warming for most of the last century. According to the IPCC, “surface temperatures have increased by about 0.74°C (1.33°F) over the past hundred years,” with especially rapid warming over the second half of the 20th century. Each decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the decade before it, and 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2000. Global average temperature comes from many sources, including thousands of land and sea measurements taken every day, weather balloons, and satellites.

Another good place to find out more on the science of climate change is the Union of Concerned Scientists webpage on Global Warming. Here, the group covers the specific findings that point to the human “finger prints” now all over observed climate changes.

In fact, heat-trapping emissions are driving the climate about three times more strongly now than they were in 1950. The spatial pattern of where this warming is occurring around the globe indicates human-induced causes. Even accounting for the occasional short-lived cooling from volcanic events and moderate levels of cooling from aerosol pollution as well as minor fluctuations in the sun’s output in the last 30 years, heat-trapping emissions far outweigh any other current climate driver.

Another good place for climate change information is  Cal-Adapt, a really nifty website put up by the California Energy Commission.  Here you can find all kinds of charts and information on how the climate may change in specific areas of the state, based on low- and high-emission scenarios.

 The site has a new Extreme Heat page that provides a range of graphs on how much more extreme heat we may be seeing. A graph for Palm Springs shows that we could be seeing progressive spikes and valleys in our extreme heat days — very erratic shifts — but the general direction will be ever upward.

In the website’s definition, to qualify as an  an extreme heat day, the top temperature for any one day — from April through October — has to be more than the 98th percentile of maximum temperatures for that day, based on temperatures from 1961 to 1990.  Five extreme heat days make a heat wave.

Last year, we had 31 extreme heat days; this year, 11 are projected (interesting to see what the actual results will be), followed by only 8 extreme heat days next year. But, the numbers really start soaring after 2050, when 43 extreme heat days are projected, and keep building toward the end of the century when the area could see an all time high of 117 extreme heat days — almost a third of the year —  in 2098.

Enlightening reading indeed for a hot summer afternoon, and one that might help people focus more clearly on solving the problem.

 

 

Might as well face it, we’re addicted to oil

I have been meditating — an occasionally dangerous past time for reporters – on the metaphor often used to describe the United States’ overdependence on fossil fuels, addiction, and what that might mean in terms of envisioning and implementing a recovery strategy.

The classic, 12-step recovery model requires putting the plug in jug — or in this case, the barrel — going cold turkey and learning to live life on life’s terms without one’s drug of choice.

Applied to fossil fuels, the standard argument against such an approach is that it’s not feasible. We don’t have the alternatives up and running to replace oil. True, for now.

That said, the model from another 12-step program — one that deals with eating disorders — might be a more useful approach, providing a number of intriguing directions to pursue. Food addictions are not well understood and, compared to alcohol, can be much more difficult to deal with because, of course, one cannot stop eating. 

One has to, instead, adopt different attitudes and behaviors around food and eating.

What would it look like if we decided to similarly change our relationship to fossil fuels?  Yes, we need energy, and fossil fuels are a major source for now, but the goal should be to reduce their use to a bare minimum – to those uses where nothing else will do — as quickly as humanly possible.

Even as our weather becomes increasingly erratic  –  and more clearly connected to fossil fuel-driven climate change –  we’ve got a lot of oil heads in Congress and corporate America in major denial about the impact of the U.S. and world’s fossil fuel addiction. And I don’t think anyone out there really wants to find out what it’s going to look like if and when we hit bottom — 12-step speak for all heck breaking loose.

One group looking for workable, timely solutions is the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, an international group with members ranging from high-level government and business representatives to nonprofits and local government groups.

Their mission is to stand up as much renewable energy as possible as quickly as possible worldwide, in both developing and industrialized countries. Their most recent publication, the Renewables 2012 Status Report, shows to what extent that is and isn’t happening.

The main take-away here is that ramping up renewables is a matter of a nation’s vision coupled with policy and commitment. The report notes:

At least 118 countries, more than half of which are developing countries, had renewable energy targets in place by early 2012, up from 109 as of early 2010. Renewable energy targets and support policies continued to be a driving force behind increasing markets for renewable energy, despite some setbacks resulting in a lack of long-term policy certainty and stability in many countries.

Last year, 71 percent of new power generation capacity in the European Union came from renewables, bringing the EU’s total renewable electricity production to 31.1 percent.

Compare those figures to the U.S. where renewable energy projects accounted for 39 percent of our new generation last year, bringing our total nationwide renewable generation — not including hydropower — to 4.7 percent, up from 3.7 in 2009.

Meanwhile, China has surged ahead with renewable development, leading the world with 282 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity. More than 20 percent of its new generation last year was non-hydro renewables.

Efforts by individual states also show that accelerated renewable ramp-up is possible. South Dakota now produces 22 percent of its power from wind, followed by Iowa at 19 percent.  In California, where utilities must generate 33 percent of their power from renewables by 2020 — the state’s three main utilities, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, have hit 20 percent or higher in power from renewable sources.

Of course, renewables are only one part of the bigger picture which must also include energy efficiency and major changes in our consumer culture and behavior around energy use.

Coming up with new ideas and approaches to such challenges will be at least part of the agenda at a high-level energy conference I’ll be attending Tuesday in Las Vegas. The 5th annual National Clean Energy Summit is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and as one might expect, he draws some big name speakers.

The opening keynote will be given by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — I’m hoping to get in a few questions about solar development in Riverside East — and President Bill Clinton will be giving the closing keynote and having an on-stage conversation with Reid.

In between there will be panels on getting off oil, fostering innovation and providing consumers with more and better energy choices.

I’ll also be visiting BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar project – thousands of mirrors circling big solar concentrating towers — to get an advance peek at what the company has planned for its Rio Mesa and Palen projects in eastern Riverside County.

And yes, I’ll be blogging and tweeting from the conference and writing articles for The Desert Sun, so this time at least, what happens in Vegas definitely won’t be staying there.

 

Think global, go green local — Part 1

I think I may have used this subject line before, but in the wake of the Rio+20 conference, it’s still relevant — perhaps even more so.

I guess what’s most surprising about Rio, or any big governmental environmental conference in recent years, is that people are surprised or disappointed when the event comes to an end without any dramatic leap forward in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.  It is 15 years since the Kyoto Protocol was signed at a UN conference on climate change, committing 84 countries to reducing their greenhouse emissions by about 5.2 percent relative to 1990 levels by this year.

Kyoto was obviously an outlier — the U.S. never signed the protocol — and everyone seems firmly determined that it won’t happen again, as each successive conference has ended with politics overwhelming urgency and science.

The Rio conference’s ending document, called “The Future We Want” is 53 pages of statements in which the participants commit themselves to reaffirming, considering, stressing, emphasizing, noting and underscoring things that sound very nice and are generally noncontroversial — like ending poverty –  without having to actually do anything.

Take statement 222 on page 42 of the document.

We recognize that the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances is resulting in a rapid increase in the use and release of high global-warming potential hydrofluorocarbons to the environment. We support a gradual phase-down in the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons.

Not exactly a stirring call to action, with a strong implementation plan, benchmarks and deadlines.

Environmental groups and officials hoping to put a positive spin on all this have pointed to the $513 billion in voluntary commitments individual countries, corporations and business and nonprofit groups made during the conference.  For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has committed $8 billion — yes, that’s billion with a b — for energy efficiency projects in Eastern Europe and Central Asia between now and 2015.

On the other hand, the U.S. State Department, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation and U.S. Trade and Development Agency have come up with a pledge of $20 million, subject to congressional approval, to provide support for  developers working on clean energy projects in Africa and are eligible for OPIC funding.  The money will be used to provide relatively small grants to help the developers get their projects to the point where they can get OPIC funds.

It’s the subject to congressional approval that is the red flag.  I’m sure no developer is going to count on this money actually coming through any time soon, if ever.

To provide some transparency and public accountability, the National Resources Defense Council has launched a new website called Cloud of Commitments to document and track all the commitments made at the conference.

In the end what Rio+20 underlines, reaffirms and emphasizes is that any comprehesive, concerted global action to curb carbon emissions and slow climate change — we can’t stop it, it’s already here — is about as likely as Congress passing a comprehensive national energy policy or rolling back federal tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels.

The way forward is for smaller, local actions that will build momentum and perhaps eventually compel larger policy changes.

Which brings me to Part 2 — check back here in the next day or two — for an upate on California’s efforts to develop community solar projects which provide true distributed generation.