It’s a big week for renewables. Here are some of the newsmakers

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Major solar projects and partnerships announced at SPI while climate week in New York prompted more clean energy and zero carbon emission commitments from major companies — not countries — everywhere.

This week thousands of solar industry stakeholders are in Salt Lake City, Utah at Solar Power International and other renewable energy stakeholders are convening in New York for Climate Week. When big events like this happen, often companies make serious announcements. Here’s what’s happened so far.

Utility-scale solar developer Intersect Power said that it has acquired 5 shovel-ready projects that it plans to start building in 2020. In all, the projects total 1.7 GW of solar power capacity. The projects are in California and Texas and Intersect has partnered with big players, including First Solar, which will supply its Series 6 modules and NextTracker, which will provide its NX Horizon solar trackers that come with intelligent control software. Signal Energy, a Chattanooga-based contractor is also working with Intersect on the engineering, procurement and construction activities for the projects.

On the residential solar side, Electriq Power said that it signed a volume agreement with an unnamed solar manufacturer to deliver a white labeled version of its PowerPod, which typically includes an 11-kWh lithium-ion battery; either a 5.5 kW hybrid DC-coupled or AC-coupled inverter; the Electriq View (Electriq’s Energy Monitoring Platform); and a 10-year warranty with daily cycling of the battery. The contract also calls for Electriq to provide system integration, product packaging, testing and certifications, communications, firmware, software portals, a Network Operations Center (NOC), and associated user apps. 

Also on the storage front, Stem Inc a company that produces artificial intelligence (AI)-driven energy storage services, announced that is has expanded its presence in the Massachusetts wholesale market through a partnership with Kearsarge Energy L.P. 

Stem said it will work with Kearsarge Energy on large-scale storage projects co-located with solar. Stem also will assist with project management and leverage its Athena AI platform, which will support optimization, wholesale market services, production of solar 

The Northeast, particularly Massachusetts, is a stronghold of activity in promoting and incenting long-term, sustainable solar for clean, renewable energy. The SMART program incentivizes solar + storage project owners with a fixed kilowatt rate for solar production, as well as a bonus “adder” for co-located energy storage systems. These projects also can participate in the wholesale market to unlock greater value through ISO New England.

In the C&I market, CS energy said it has completed the Cinnaminson Township capped-landfill solar project for Public Service Electric and Gas in New Jersey. The 13-MWdc project is built over a Superfund site and CS energy said the 25-acre project is part of PSE&G’s Solar 4 All program, which is concentrating on turning landfills and brownfields green by building solar farms on otherwise unusable sites.

Also in C&I, Standard Solar announced it has acquired a 7-megawatt (MW) portfolio of distributed generation (DG) solar projects for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District (LEUSD) in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

The intricacies of solar project development will be discussed at POWERGEN International, set to hit New Orleans, November 19-21. Register today!

Standard Solar will finance, own and operate eight projects that are currently planned for phased development with all systems expected to be online in 2020. The projects include a 3 MW ground-mount array at the West Riverside Landfill, a 75-acre capped landfill, for which the property has been leased from the Riverside County Department of Waste Resources (DWR).

Climate Pledges

The province of Quebec announced it has agreed to support and increase the use of low- and zero-emission commercial vehicles, joining Canada, the province of B.C., and the City of Vancouver.

The pledge came as California-based CALSTART, the Government of Quebec, and the City of New York hosted a Drive to Zero workshop event at Climate Week NYC, which explored ways to increase the use of low- and zero-emission commercial vehicles in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada.

The pledge encourages countries, jurisdictions, transit providers, and manufacturers to work together to lower—and eventually eliminate—emissions from the commercial transportation sector. Transport is responsible for roughly 25% of Canadian emissions, with freight transportation making up around 10% of that number.

Microsoft and ENGIE announced that Microsoft will purchase a total of 230 MW from two ENGIE projects in Texas, bringing Microsoft’s renewable energy portfolio to more than 1,900 MW. Microsoft will purchase the majority of the output from the new 200 MW Las Lomas wind project, which will be located in Starr & Zapata Counties in south Texas. Microsoft will also purchase 85 MW from the 200 MW Anson Solar Center project, which will be built in Jones County in central Texas. Both projects will be operated by ENGIE and are expected to come on-line

Ingersoll Rand committed to what it called bold action towards sustainability this week on a global stage at Climate Week NYC in New York City.

The company and its Trane and Thermo King businesses have launched the Gigaton Challenge to reduce 1 gigaton of carbon emissions from its customers’ footprint by 2030, transforming the way the world heats and cools buildings, and refrigerates cargo in transport. One gigaton is the equivalent of the annual emissions of Italy, France and the United Kingdom combined. The Gigaton Challenge is one of three pillars of the brands’ 2030 Sustainability Commitment.

Trane and Thermo King said they would lead by example, transforming supply chain and operations to  lessen their impact on the environment. This includes achieving carbon neutral operations and giving back more water than used in water-stressed areas.

In addition, Trane and Thermo King have agreed to join the RE100 and set a 100% renewable electricity target for its entire global operations by 2040.

Intuit Inc, makers of TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint, announced it has signed the United Nations Global Compact pledge, which solidifies the company’s commitment to 1.5°C science-based emissions reduction targets. In addition, Intuit extended its commitment beyond the pledge by declaring a climate positive “50 times by 30” target that will ensure Intuit surpasses carbon neutrality to make a positive impact on the planet by 2030. Using its 2018 carbon footprint metric as a baseline, Intuit commits to reducing carbon emissions by 50 times greater than its current carbon footprint.

Is this the best we can do?

Despite the announcements, pledges and commitments, some leaders fear that it’s not nearly enough.

Andrew Steer, President & CEO of the World Resources Institute said that “while countries were expected to come to the summit to announce that they would enhance their climate ambition, most of the major economies fell woefully short.”

He criticized their “lack of ambition” and said that it stands in sharp contrast to the growing demand for action.

“Eight countries pledged a total of $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund’s replenishment, bringing the total raised so far to $7.4 billion. Similarly, smaller nations, especially the most vulnerable countries, are pushing ahead,” he said.

While not explicitly calling out U.S. President Trump, who did not participate in the summit, Steer said that the world needs “far greater national leadership on climate action – and we need it now.”

Steer did praise the private sector for moving faster than national governments, pointing out the following:

  • 87 businesses have signed onto to ambitious 1.5 degree C targets across their operations and value chains
  • More than 100 cities committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
  • The Gates Foundation, the World Bank and several governments announced $790 million to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-holder farmers
  • More than 130 banks, with $47 trillion in assets, signed onto new climate principles
  • Fifteen governments and 10 companies committed to accelerate energy efficiency by 3% per year, and others have joined a new initiative to support of zero-carbon buildings.

Corporate Accountability climate campaign director Sriram Madhusoodanan was also critical of the Climate Summit, calling it another opportunity for greenwashing. He urged governments to reject the influence of the fossil fuel industry:

Let’s not kid ourselves: If we are to rise to the challenge of this historical moment, then governments must embrace the solutions led by communities on the global frontlines and reject the profiteering agenda of the fossil fuel industry and other polluting industries that have enriched themselves while fueling the climate crisis. 

Youth have pointed out something that global movements for climate justice have been saying for decades — governments that are part of the UN climate policymaking process– particularly those most historically responsible– have been more concerned about “money” than about the lives of people impacted by the crisis today. Friday’s strike and Sunday and Monday’s protests demanding an end to fossil fuel industry interference exposed just how deep the divide is between what people want and what actions politicians are willing to take. Until the climate policymaking process changes course, the outcomes of meetings like the UNSG’s climate action summit will just be more hot air — Nero playing the violin as Rome burns.

The real hope here is in global movements of moral courage led by communities on the frontlines demanding real, just people-first solutions to build a world that affirms life and the planet and rejects global exploitation and profiteering. 

Enough press conferences and corporate sideshows. It’s time to kick Big Polluters and make them pay for real solutions.

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