Top 10 Cleantech Subsidies and Policies (and the Biggest Losers) – Ranked By Impact

We all know energy is global, and as much policy driven as technology driven.

We have a quote, in energy, there are no disruptive technologies, just disruptive policies and economic shocks that make some technologies look disruptive after the fact.  In reality, there is disruptive technology in energy, it just takes a long long time.  And a lot of policy help.

We’ve ranked what we consider the seminal programs, policies and subsidies globally in cleantech that did the helping.  The industry makers.  We gave points for anchoring industries and market leading companies, points for catalyzing impact, points for “return on investment”, points for current market share, and causing fundamental shifts in scale, points for anchoring key technology development, points for industries that succeeded, points for industries with the brightest futures.  It ends heavy on solar, heavy on wind, heavy on ethanol.  No surprise, as that’s where the money’s come in.

1.  German PV Feed-in Tariff – More than anything else, allowed the scaling of the solar industry, built a home market and a home manufacturing base, and basically created the technology leader, First Solar.

2. Japanese Solar Rebate Program – The first big thing in solar, created the solar industry in the mid 90s, and anchored both the Japanese market, as well as the first generation of solar manufacturers.

3. California RPS – The anchor and pioneer renewable portfolio standard in the US, major driver of the first large scale, utility grade  wind and solar markets.

4. US Investment Tax Credit for Solar – Combined with the state renewable portfolio standards, created true grid scale solar.

5. Brazilian ethanol program – Do we really need to say why? Decades of concerted long term support created an industry, kept tens of billions in dollars domestic.  One half of the global biofuels industry.  And the cost leader.

6. US Corn ethanol combination of MTBE shift, blender’s, and import tariffs – Anchored the second largest global biofuels market, catalyzed the multi-billion explosion in venture capital into biofuels, and tens of billions into ethanol plants.  Obliterated the need for farm subsidies.  A cheap subsidy on a per unit basis compared to its impact holding down retail prices at the pump, and diverted billions of dollars from OPEC into the American heartland.

7. 11th 5 Year Plan  – Leads to Chinese leadership in global wind power production and solar manufacturing.  All we can say is, wow!  If we viewed these policies as having created more global technology leaders, or if success in solar was not so dominated by exports to markets created by other policies, and if wind was more pioneering and less fast follower, this rank could be an easy #1, so watch this space.

8. US Production Tax Credit – Anchored the US wind sector, the first major wind power market, and still #2.

9. California Solar Rebate Program & New Jersey SREC program – Taken together with the RPS’, two bulwarks of the only real solar markets created in the US yet.

10. EU Emission Trading Scheme and Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanisms – Anchored finance for the Chinese wind sector, and $10s of Billions in investment in clean energy.  If the succeeding COPs had extended it, this would be an easy #1 or 2, as it is, barely makes the cut.


Honorable mention

Combination of US gas deregulations 20 years ago and US mineral rights ownership policy – as the only country where the citizens own the mineral rights under their land, there’s a reason fracking/directional drilling technology driving shale gas started here.  And a reason after 100 years the oil & gas industry still comes to the US for technology.  Shale gas in the US pays more in taxes than the US solar industry has in revenues.  But as old policies and with more indirect than direct causal effects, these fall to honorable mention.

Texas Power Deregulation – A huge anchor to wind power growth in the US.  There’s a reason Texas has so much wind power.  But without having catalyzed change in power across the nation, only makes honorable mention.

US DOE Solar Programs – A myriad of programs over decades, some that worked, some that didn’t.  Taken in aggregate, solar PV exists because of US government R&D support.

US CAFE standards – Still the major driver of automotive energy use globally, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

US Clean Air Act – Still the major driver of the environmental sector in industry, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

California product energy efficiency standards – Catalyzed massive shifts in product globally, but most the shifts occurred before the “clean tech area”.

Global lighting standards /regulations – Hard for us to highlight one, but as a group, just barely missed the cut, in part because lighting is a smaller portion of the energy bill than transport fuel or generation.


Biggest Flops

US Hydrogen Highway and myriad associated fuel cell R&D programs.  c. $1 Bil/year  in government R&D subsidies for lots of years,  and 10 years later maybe $500 mm / year worth of global product sales, and no profitable companies.

Italian, Greek, and Spanish Feed in Tariffs – Expensive me too copycats, made a lot of German, US, Japanese and Chinese and bankers rich, did not make a lasting impact on anything.

California AB-32 Cap and Trade – Late, slow, small underwhelming, instead of a lighthouse, an outlier.

REGGI – See AB 32

US DOE Loan Guarantee Program – Billion dollar boondoggle.  If it was about focusing investment to creating market leading companies, it didn’t.  If it was about creating jobs, the price per job is, well, it’s horrendous.

US Nuclear Energy Policy/Program – Decades, massive chunks of the DOE budget and no real technology advances so far in my lifetime?  Come on people.  Underperforming since the Berlin Wall fell at the least!


“Harmonizing” California’s TRECs with AB 32 Cap-and-Trade

by David Niebauer

Now that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has lifted its moratorium on the use of renewable energy credits (RECs or TRECs) by investor owned electric utilities (IOUs) for compliance with the State’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), observers may ask themselves this logical question:  what is the future of RECs under Assembly Bill 32?

Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, authorizes the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to establish a cap-and-trade mechanism designed to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  How will RECs and GHG allowances and offsets relate to one another?  Will one mechanism obviate the other or is there a place for both in the State’s overarching environmental initiative?

To answer these questions, we need to review some history and understand the roles of the various State agencies that are tasked with implementing the sometimes-conflicting legislative and executive mandates.

California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) was established by the State legislature in 2002.  After various amendments, the law resulted in a requirement for the State’s IOUs to increase their sales of eligible renewable-energy resources so that 20% of their retail sales are derived from such resources by December 31, 2010.  According to the CPUC website, 2009 renewable energy procurement for the three IOUs in the state were as follows:  PG&E – 14.4%; So Cal Ed – 17.4%; SDG&E – 10.5%.

On September 15, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-21-09, which directed an increased renewable energy standard (RES) to 33% by 2020, made the requirement apply to all electric utilities (not just the three IOUs) and shifted the responsibility for implementing and overseeing the RES to the CARB.

However, the 33% standard was mandated by executive order, not by the legislature, which failed to pass a 33% RPS bill at the end of 2010.  Influential voices within the legislature opposed the expansion of the RES and have argued that CARB lacks the authority to proceed with RES adoption.  A 33% RPS bill is still pending in the legislature (SB 23)  which, if adopted, could pre-empt and/or modify the current CARB regulatory framework.

CARB is required by the legislature under AB 32 to regulate sources of greenhouse gasses to meet the State’s goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and an 80% reduction of 1990 levels by 2050.

Renewable Energy Credits

The use of renewable energy credits to track RPS requirements has significant momentum.  The Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS) began operation in June 2007.  It is designed to track renewable energy generation in 14 western states and two Canadian provinces.  It is a system for authenticating WREGIS certificates for each REC, which are used to demonstrate compliance with RPS goals. One REC represents one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated from a renewable resource.

On January 13, 2011, the CPUC published its final rules on the use of TRECs, lifting a moratorium on its earlier decision.  In the final ruling, the State’s IOUs can procure TRECs to satisfy up to 25% percent of their RPS, with a $50/REC price cap. Both of these provisions expire at the end of 2013, when the CPUC “will consider modifying or removing those limitations all together.”

AB 32 to trump TRECs?

CARB’s resolution adopting the RES regulations directed the agency’s Executive Officer to monitor the ongoing CPUC proceeding on TRECs and to institute a rulemaking no later than 30 days after the CPUC issues a decision on the use of TRECs “to ensure the continued harmonization of the [RPS and RES] programs, specifically incorporating provisions related to [TRECs] for all regulated parties under the RES regulation.”

But what would this “harmonization” look like?  To answer this question we must look at the current framework of the State’s cap-and-trade mechanism.

Cap-and-Trade on the Way

On December 16, 2010, CARB adopted Resolution 10-42, approving the California cap-and-trade program.  The program takes effect January 1, 2012.  In the first phase, covered entities will include electricity generation, large industrial facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) of greenhouse gases (GHG) per year, such as petroleum refineries, cement production facilities and food processing plants.  Phase two will begin in 2015 and will expand to cover all commercial, residential and small sources.

CARB will begin the program by issuing allowances sufficient to meet the capped amount.  Allowances will be reduced during the course of the program with the goal of eventually auctioning 100% of the allowance.

A facility can meet up to 8 percent of its annual GHG compliance obligation through offsets. An offset is a reduction or removal of GHG emissions by an activity (or facility) not covered by the Cap and Trade Program that can be measured, quantified, verified and approved by CARB.

CARB has set a minimum reserve price of $10/MTCO2e for auctioned allowances, but ultimately expects market prices for allowances to increase to $15-$30 by 2020.

What Might “Harmonization” Look Like?

First, it is important to understand the differences between a REC and a GHG allowance or offset.  RECs are designed specifically to encourage an increase in the use of renewable energy by electric utilities.  As noted above, one REC represents one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated from a renewable resource.  A GHG allowance or offset represents one MTCO2e.  Generating electricity from burning fossil fuels emits CO2e.  When coal is burnt, approximately one MTCO2e is produced for every MWh of electricity produced.  A combined cycle natural gas power plant will generate less than one-half the amount of MTCO2e for every MWh of electricity produced.

“Harmonization” will likely be governed by “ratepayer pain”.  Assuming that the State’s IOUs hit the 20% renewables mark established under the RPS, Executive Order S-21-09 will likely provide the framework to move to 33% by 2020.  RECs will be valuable in assisting energy generators to hit this mark.

When the GHG caps for the electricity generation sector are put into place, they will most likely take into account the “early adopter” status of the State’s IOUs.  In this way, we should avoid ratepayers from bearing an undue share of the burden of the environmental initiatives.  RECs will be used to satisfy the utilities’ new RES requirements while GHG allowances and offsets will be used to meet the emissions cap for the industry.  After 2020, when we have achieved our renewable energy goals, new goals can be implemented – whether they relate to renewable energy generation, GHG emissions or another achievable sustainability goal.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on financing transactions, M&A and cleantech.

PG&E to Smart Charge 219,000 Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (originally published in the Clean Fleet Report)

By 2020, 219,000 customers of PG&E (NYSE: PCG) may say goodbye to those trips to the gas station. No more spinning dials at the pump – $20.00, $40.00, $80.00, etc. Instead drivers will conveniently plug-in their electric cars at home or work. The fill-up will be electrons, not gasoline.

Across the country, electric utilities are preparing to offer smart charging boxes for the garage and charging stations for work and downtown locations. For a fraction of gasoline cost, you will be able to charge plug-in vehicles.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), for example, is a utility that is planning to service between 219,000 and 845,000 battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2020, under three different planning scenarios presented at Greentech’s The Networked Grid Conference. PG&E currently provides electricity to 5 million customers, including a few thousand that currently drive electric cars. Currently, most of these electric cars are 25-mile per hour neighborhood vehicles that are popular in college and university towns. A few hundred can zoom past you on a freeway, such as the Tesla Roadster.

This year, Newsweek ranked PG&E as the greenest utility in the country due to its strong commitment to customer energy efficiency programs and renewable energy (RE) programs. PG&E serves 15 million people in northern and central California with 123,054 miles electric distribution lines needed to cover 70,000 square miles of its service area. Natural gas is 46 percent of PG&E’s source for electricity, nuclear 20 percent, hydro 16 percent, and out-of-state coal only 2 percent.

Renewable Energy > Coal + Natural Gas by 2020

Renewable energy is 14 percent of PG&E’s total delivered electricity today. It will miss its legal requirement to be at 20 percent by the end of 2010 due to NIMBY roadblocks to large solar thermal plants in the desert. PG&E needs approvals to install the high-voltage lines necessary to bring utility-scale RE to PG&E customers, thereby adding to its current 18,610 circuit miles of interconnected transmission lines.

Hal LaFlash, PG&E Director of Emerging Clean Technologies, outlined how the utility will have 34.8 TWh of RE in 2010 and 77.6TWh of RE in 2020, the year when California utilities must generate 33 percent of their electricity from RE. By 2020, renewable energy may be the utility’s #1 source of energy. The RE mix will be (1) solar thermal, (2) photovoltaics, (3) wind, (4) geothermal, with bioenergy and ocean adding to the total.

With terawatts of nighttime wind power, PG&E may have more electricity at night than it needs. One million electric vehicles could easily be supported provided that they charge off-peak, preferably at night. Smart charging allows customers to plug-in; yet not have charging begin until a preferred time, such as when excess electricity is available to the grid. PG&E hopes to secure regulatory approval for time-of-use pricing so that customers have an incentive to charge at night.

Utility executives worry that people will charge whenever they feel like it. Since charging an electric car is like powering an entire home, the concern is valid. People are still buying gas guzzlers as pump prices rise, so they many may ignore price incentives to charge at night. So far, early customers of plug-in vehicles have been environmentally concerned, and have shown a preference for charging with renewables including their own solar rooftops. Automakers, utilities, and regulators are working to make it easy for new electric car customers to select night time and even renewable energy charging through web browsers, smart phones, and even vehicle dash displays.

Smart Charging and Renewable Energy

Between the electric cars and renewable energy will be a smart grid. Every vehicle charging device will include a smart meter. PG&E is leading the nation with 1.6 million smart meters now installed. It is installing an average of 13,000 per day, and will have 10 million smart meters installed by 2012.

Andrew Tang, PG&E Senior Director of the Smart Energy Web, expects 35 different models of plug-in vehicles to be available within the next two years. PG&E actively meets with auto makers to make sure that smart charging networking is compatible and in place. Only some homes and communities are now ready with dedicated 240V/30A circuits for the 4-hour charging that electric car leaders, such as Nissan recommend.

Although smart charging provides for two-way communication, electricity will only be delivered one-way from the grid to the vehicle. Mr. Tang expressed skepticism about vehicle-to-grid (V2G) being cost-effective and acceptable to customers and automakers, even though PG&E has done V2G demonstrations within its own fleet, with Tesla, with Google, and elsewhere. PG&E is looking at MW grid storage alternatives such as pumped hydro and compressed air, such as the 300MW compressed air storage in Kern Country that PG&E has applied for a federal grant. Sulfur Sodium batteries that could scale to hundreds of MW were also presented at the conference.

Infrastructure issues may be greatest in communities that are now adopting hybrid cars at fast rates. For example, in Berkeley, 18 percent of new car sales are hybrids. As electric cars sell briskly in some communities, PG&E will likely need to upgrade substations to handle the increased distribution of electricity.

With the advanced planning outlined in PG&E’s presentations and with regulatory support for time-of-use pricing, renewable energy, and high-voltage lines, PG&E will be ready to power a new generation of vehicles for a fraction of the cost of gasoline. Increasingly, these electric cars will be powered by solar, wind, and other renewables.

By John Addison who publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.