Superstorms: America’s new normal?

This year, the Atlantic basin had eight consecutive storms develop—the first time in 124 years. The storms—and by storms I mean big storms—have had catastrophic effects on families, communities and the economy at large. Millions of people were left powerless, access to clean drinking water was compromised and homes were destroyed. It will take decades for the country to recover from this devastation, and hurricane season is only halfway over.

And as the intensity of these storms increases, so do their price tags. Together, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit the U.S. earlier this fall, are estimated to cost $150-$200 billion in combined destruction. This is an enormous blow to the economy and to tax payers’ wallets.

To those of us on the east coast, this sounds awfully similar to destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City and New Jersey hard this time five years ago. That’s why it’s important to ask: could the devastation have been avoided, or at least reduced?

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NYC paves the path for a better future, encouraging other cities to follow

Earlier this week, New York City became the first city to devise a plan for meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Accord —the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement from which President Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from. The 1.5°C Paris Agreement-compliant climate action plan comes in response to Executive Order 26 (EO26), signed by Mayor de Blasio that reaffirms the city’s commitment to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan identifies specific strategies for reducing GHG emissions necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set forth in the Paris Agreement. Leading the charge is the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), which has been moving the city’s decarbonization efforts forward by accelerating the implementation of existing projects launched under the 80 X 50 initiative—a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050.

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Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

A little over a week ago, 20 of the world’s power houses came together for the Group of 20 summit. It was disappointing to see Trump hold firm to his decision to exit the Paris Agreement while 19 world leaders publicly reaffirmed their commitment. But something good has come out of Trump’s climate defiance, and I bet it’s not the reaction he was looking for: climate action.

The inability for the federal government to agree on climate doesn’t stop momentum– it fuels it. An enormous swell of energy and activism has swept across America. Businesses, states, cities and citizens are stepping up, creating plans to pursue lower emissions on their own.

There are now over 1,400 cities, states and businesses that have vowed to meet Paris commitments, sending a message that “we’re still in” and making enormous strides on devising climate solutions that keep the agenda alive. EDF Climate Corps' ten years of experience gives us an inside look into how companies, cities and non-profits are taking action.

Here are four ways that the private and public sector are preparing for a low-carbon future:

1. Scale energy efficiency. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency has for the most part been picked. It’s time to take things to the next level by focusing on larger-scale, portfolio-level energy efficiency projects. Last year, Shuvya Arakali worked with American Eagle Outfitters to recommend HVAC retrofits, and other energy efficiency measures that could be deployed across the store portfolio and save thousands of metric tons of CO2e each year.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

2. Invest in clean, renewable energy. Evaluate opportunities for both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects, like PPAs and VPPAs. Other procurement options includes mechanisms like green tariffs. The City of Fresno enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellow Katie Altobello-Czescik to help promote clean, smart energy initiatives including renewable generation, battery storage and demand response. Together, they worked on advancing a community-scale energy project aimed at helping local businesses and creating a net zero neighborhood.

3. Make a commitment—then execute. Be willing to set big goals and develop ambitious GHG-reduction targets that are founded upon science. Once they are set, create strategies to meet them. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The New York City's Mayor's Office of Sustainability has deployed multiple EDF Climate Corps fellows to help develop and advance strategies to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Go beyond your own company. Tackling climate change requires looking at the big picture, more than what’s happening within internal operations. Consider your supply chains by engaging suppliers and together identifying ways to reduce scope 3—both upstream and downstream—GHG emissions. This past spring, Walmart set a goal to remove 1 gigaton (1 billion tons) of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2030. Companies throughout Walmart’s supply chain now have the directive to go beyond “business as usual” to focus on emissions reductions in their operations.

It’s difficult not to feel discouraged when our national climate policy is moving backwards instead of forwards. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the country is. United States’ leadership will continue, albeit in this new form, and businesses and cities will keep continue to advance climate solutions through smart policy, forward-thinking business and cutting-edge innovation.


Follow Ellen on Twitter, @ellenshenette


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Is mainstream corporate America jumping on the clean energy bandwagon?

It’s no secret that renewable energy is becoming cheaper, and while we’ve seen companies like Google and Microsoft investing in utility-scale renewables, what about mainstream corporate America? Are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon or are they dragging their feet? As a data analyst at EDF Climate Corps, I turned to the numbers for answers. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. An analysis from our recently release report: Scaling Success: Recent Trends in Organizational Energy Management, says it all.

For almost a decade, EDF Climate Corps has been partnering with business to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency through our graduate fellowship program.

As I followed the numbers, a new clean energy trend stood out: over the last 5 years, clean and renewable energy projects have grown five-fold, with 1/3 of our partner organizations working on at least one clean energy project in 2015. Companies have been using their EDF Climellen_blog_box3-finalate Corps fellows to decipher the complex landscape of technologies, policies, procurement strategies, and financing options for renewable energy. As we tally the results for our 2016 fellowship program, we expect the focus on clean energy to continue to grow, and don’t plan on it stopping anytime soon.

Following the money

But why have we observed this recent uptake in clean energy projects? It seems to be “all about the Benjamins.” Our data shows that fellows are increasingly able to build a solid business case for clean energy projects. In just 2 years, the average payback for clean energy projects decreased dramatically from around 4 years to under 2 years and we’ve seen a surge in positive Net Present Value (NPV) clean energy projects. This tell us that clean energy projects are becoming increasingly cost competitive – a mirror image of industry trendsfig9_es_blog.

Which brings us back to our initial question – are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon? Yes, mainstream corporate America IS adopting clean and renewable energy- and they are doing it cost-effectively. The winds of change are blowing in the right direction (and hopefully through a wind turbine!) and our EDF Climate Corps fellows are proving that investment in renewables makes good business sense. However, there are still challenges to getting clean energy adoption at scale. Many renewable energy projects with large returns also require large upfront capital investments, and although the projects may have a positive NPV, some still fall outside the required payback period for corporations. We’ve seen that lack of funding and competing internal priorities are still major barriers to implementation.

How companies can continue to drive forward

And so, a new question emerges – what should companies be doing to drive clean energy projects internally? First, corporate leadership should set targets for renewable energy procurement and benchmark against their peers. Second, energy managers should pilot clean energy projects to demonstrate their viability. These pilots can serve as proof points for future projects and larger-scale investments. While navigating the complex clean energy alphabet soup (PV, PPAs, RECs, RPS, ITC, etc.) can be tough, especially given the nuances in state level policy and regulations, partnering with a third-party organization (such as a program like EDF Climate Corps, another NGO or a vendor) is a great way to accelerate your clean energy projects. You just may find that making the business case for clean and renewable energy isn’t as hard as you thought.

I invite you to learn more about what 8 years of EDF Climate Corps data tells us about trends in energy management and clean energy by reading our Scaling Success report.