Category Archives: energy

Smart Air, Smart City

By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc., September 24th, 2017

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Internet of Things (IoT) platform provider Netronix, Inc. and Airthinx Inc. a leader of indoor air quality monitoring, are working together to provide cities around the world with a low cost cloud based solution designed to monitor air quality across schools, universities, hospitals and work spaces. The advantages of cloud based solutions are mapping, tracking, identification of pollutants, measurement of pollutants, data analytics using historical trends, and data mining. Cities stand to benefit from ubiquitous long term monitoring and management of air quality, in real time with instantaneous data available for quick city wide propagation, like geo-mapping incident reports of high pollution areas.

Conventional Methods

Municipalities are hard pressed to find low cost solutions. Conventional methods for collecting indoor air quality data relied heavily on expensive stationary devices. In the United States, for example, the federal government has a network of sensors on towers monitoring particulate matter. The cost of each sensor is $100,000. While in Edinburgh, the city had a single station monitoring PM 2.5 as of 2013. Thus data is collected from only a few instruments but is representative of a broad geographic area.

Interim Solutions

Moving away from conventional methods, many cities are implementing short term initiatives as first steps towards smart city transformation. In 2014, Chicago deployed 50 nodes mounted on lampposts developed with Argonne National Library and the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. Barcelona deployed a smart lighting system with embedded air quality sensors that relay information to city agencies and the public as part of their smart city initiative costing in total $230 million. Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami installed park benches equipped with a solar panel that channel electricity via USB ports to charge. Denver in partnership with Google and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) attached mobile sensors to cars throughout a city, collecting 150 million data points over 750 hours of driving time, creating a street level air quality map of the city. Dublin fitted 30 bikes with air sensors measuring carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, smoke, and particulates.

Last year, London attached air quality sensors to ten pigeons to monitor air quality over three days of flights. Louisville gave 300 local residents a sensor that fits on top of their inhaler, tracking locations of inhaler use to help residents manage asthma, collecting 5,400 data points over the 13 months, and identifying hotspots with high inhaler use in order to pinpoint areas with particularly bad air quality.

Philadelphia Transforms

Philadelphia begins the smart city transformation process with its most recent initiative to release open data from city departments. Mayor Kenney also points to ownership and accessibility of light poles and city buildings which can accommodate sensors and wireless access points spread throughout the city. With institutional players like Drexel, Penn, Wharton, CHOP & Comcast, the infrastructure to implement smart city solutions is in place.

Dr. Nasis, founder and CEO of Netronix, Inc. and faculty member of electrical & computer engineering at Drexel, shares insight into the transformation process. “A smart city is a segment of IoT. Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it, such as safety, environmental, healthcare, energy, and transportation.”

In the environmental vertical, cities can monitor air quality, water quality and weather. Across the safety vertical, meters already exist that detect gunshots to determine the precise location of the incident helping address crime prevention. Energy, another vertical, can be optimized in street lighting and power plants to keep consumption down. And in the transportation vertical, parking, bus, and traffic can be monitored to enhance quality of life.

‘Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it.’

A significant challenge of smart cities is having the tools to address compatibility within and between each vertical. Dr. Nasis cites a “holistic approach, rather than filling in the holes.” The smart parking meter experiment is an IoT solution but also an example of ‘filling in the holes.’ Without an overarching smart city horizontal in place, the initiative did not work. Dr. Nasis concludes, “for a successful smart city, each vertical and the needs of each vertical must be defined, and that requires systemic planning.”

Netronix Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Netronix, based out of Philadelphia, aims to start up 100 companies in the next decade using Netronix’s IoT platform. Smart city solutions can be developed in record time, saving 75 percent of the time and costs associated with the development and production of devices and services using conventional methods.

Information Gap

The IoT is about sharing things, interacting, and learning. An information gap leads to a certain kind of decision making. A smart platform creates opportunities to make more informed choices when investing in the city. The smart part is how you collect and make use of the intelligence. By breaking the information gap, the result is a better understanding, more thorough assessment of exposure, heightened awareness, and a complete picture of the data.

Today, the means for large scale and rapid deployment of tens of thousands of devices transforms air quality monitoring and facilitates the collection of quantitative data in any infrastructure. As a direct result of the IoT, a new paradigm emerges in air quality monitoring leading to the much-needed democratization of air quality data. Knowing about the quality of the air you breathe or the water you drink pushes people to take social responsibility.

Financial Feasibility

A significant cost to a smart city transformation is the installation process. 70 percent of city officials say budget constraints are the greatest barrier to adopting smart city solutions. In many cities, a complete overhaul poses a lofty price tag associated with the redesign of buildings and infrastructure. A cloud based solution with deployment of IoT enabled devices eliminates the once costly installation, configuration and calibration associated with industry reference instruments.

Such a significant reduction in overhead and cost per unit lowers the price of the device to a fraction of industrial reference instruments. Cities benefit from investment because there is no need to redesign infrastructure in order to adopt IAQ solutions as part of a widespread smart city plan. One incentive is real time data that anticipates future needs. For example, with built in GPS, the locations of sensors take into account the points in the city with the most exposure to air quality hazards, protecting city dwellers and workers. The data can also be reviewed by a team to determine appropriate next steps. Monitoring air quality becomes financially feasible at room level in any infrastructure.

Smart Sensors

But even with such advancements, few sensors produce reliable enough data to be used in studies or by regulations. In comparison to static monitoring, continuous monitoring enhances high temporal-spatial resolution and variability of air pollution, which so far has been difficult to address. These characteristics, the level of accuracy, precision and identification of microscopic particles in the air, are distinguishing characteristics of air quality monitors in the market. The ability to continuously monitor air quality levels in any infrastructure while preserving the integrity of the measurements, and producing never before seen analytics and information, creates better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.

 

Dr. Vasileios Nasis will be presenting at the Wharton IGEL & SUEZ Conference – Smart Utilities: Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future on September 27.

 

 

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Energy Policy Now Podcast: Where Coal Mining Brings Environmental Benefits

September 19, 2017

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Can tightly regulated coal mining help undo decades worth of environmental damage caused by the coal industry?  A Pennsylvania DEP official, and a mining executive, discuss efforts to remediate water and land in the state’s Anthracite coal region.

Pennsylvania’s economy has long been tied to its coal industry.  In the 19th century the state’s pioneering coal companies fueled America’s industrial revolution, and thousands of mining sites opened over the decades that followed.  Yet, over a century later, many of Pennsylvania’s coal mines have closed as the resource’s primacy has waned.

John Stefanko, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s DEP, and Greg Driscoll, Chief Executive of Blaschak Coal Company, look at the environmental damage that remains after mines have been abandoned, and on cooperation between today’s coal industry, and regulators, to clean up some of that damage.  The focus is on the Anthracite coal industry of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where the remains of a once large coal industry attempts to find profits, while bearing costs for cleaning up the damage of past decades.

John Stefanko is Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. 

Greg Driscoll is President and Chief Executive Officer of Blaschak Coal company in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Energy Policy Now Podcast: Electric Vehicle Market Trajectory

By John Paul MacDuffie
September 5th, 2017

The electric vehicle market has become the center of attention for the automotive industry, with overwhelming demand for Tesla’s new, more affordable Model 3 EV as just the latest sign of market enthusiasm.  Yet many perennial EV challenges remain, notably high costs and scarce charging infrastructure.  And nationally, support for EV’s has become more fragmented and, quite possibly, politicized.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now podcast, Wharton management professor and automotive expert John Paul MacDuffie offers insights into the EV market’s growth trajectory, and talks about the likelihood of the market reaching a tipping point.  In the process he tells what recent developments, such as recent announcements from France and the UK to ban gas and diesel car sales within a generation, could indicate for global EV market growth.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

 

Kleinman Cetner’s Energy Now Podcast – The Many Fronts of Trump’s Environmental Deregulation Effort

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

President Trump is moving forward with his campaign pledge to roll back environmental protections, most notably with his late March executive order instructing EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to withdraw the Clean Power Plan.  In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s podcast series, Energy Policy Now, Penn law professor Cary Coglianese takes a look at the multiple legal and political tools the Trump administration is using to reduce protections, including executive orders, defunding of agencies with environmental oversight, and use of the previously obscure Congressional Review Act.   Coglianese lays out the challenges each strategy will face, and the potential for regulations to be rolled back or to endure.

 

Closely tied to the issue of climate change is the economic outlook of the electric utility industry, which is increasingly tasked with the role of enabling the transition to clean power, yet will face lower electricity demand as a result.  In a second new episode, former Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky takes a look at the challenge that distributed energy presents to electric utilities’ profitability.  Popowsky, who is an advisory board member of the Kleinman Center, also explores the costs to consumers that could result from efforts to balance the growth of rooftop solar, energy efficiency and related technologies with the need to maintain a power grid that equitably serves all.

Energy Policy Now Podcast – How U.S. LNG is Changing the Global Gas Market

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

In 2016 the first shipments of US LNG left from a terminal on the Gulf Coast, opening a new frontier of opportunity for the US natural gas industry and, on an international scale, contributing to the development of a truly global gas market. This globalizing market is eroding traditional buyer-seller relationships, including those of the U.S. and its allies, with implications for political balance.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now podcast, Kleinman Senior Fellow Dr. Anna Mikulska explores the geopolitical implications of a global natural gas market, and potential impact or U.S. foreign relations and policy.

In addition to her work with the Kleinman Center, Dr. Mikulska is a nonresident scholar in energy studies at the Baker Institute for Energy Studies at Rice University. Her research centers around European energy markets and energy policy.

PSR Presents: The Business of Sustainability

By Samantha Freeman

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On Saturday, November 19th, my Management 100 team hosted a conference in John H. Huntsman Hall on behalf of Penn Sustainability Review. This conference, The Business of Sustainability, explored the intersection between business and sustainability. Our keynote speaker was David Cohen, Chairman of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and an Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. Our panel included Morgan Berman, CEO and Co-Founder of MilkCrate; Melissa Lee, CEO and Founder of The GREEN Program; Jason Halpern, CEO and Co-Founder of Gridless Power; and Emily Schapira, Campaign Director for the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA). Together, these speakers and panelists answered the long-standing question: How can the sustainability efforts of businesses both small and large lead to significant change?

My team, Flight Club, kept two main goals in mind when planning this conference. We wanted to 1) promote the discussion of sustainability issues among the Penn population, and 2) increase name recognition and interest in PSR. With over 130 Penn students in attendance, the conference successfully raised awareness for the academic discourse community PSR has created. Furthermore, the dozens of questions received for the panel and several students’ newfound interest in writing articles post-conference revealed that sustainability is a topic that truly sparks the curiosity of the Penn population. We are so excited to see how PSR will keep bringing this enthusiasm to new heights over the next few years.

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Around 1 pm on Saturday, students began entering F85. They happily stacked their plates with Chipotle burritos and Zesto’s Pizza, then found a seat and waited for introductions from Lori Rosenkopf, Vice Dean of the Wharton Undergraduate Program, and Julianne Goodman, Editor-In-Chief of PSR. Following these introductions, David Cohen spoke for twenty minutes on Comcast’s commitment to sustainability and future of sustainable investments for businesses. Comcast’s LEED-certified buildings were one point of focus. Comcast Center, in downtown Philadelphia, utilizes high-performance glass and sunscreens and water-saving fixtures to reduce expenses and energy consumption. As Comcast builds more structures like these, the corporation remains committed to delivering its services in a manner that lessons its environmental footprint.

Around 1:50 pm, the panel began its discussion, moderated by Penn graduate student Emily Newton. As the panelists shared the stories behind their businesses and how they got involved with sustainability, one thing became clear: All a person needs to start building an idea is a personal commitment to the issue at hand. For Morgan Berman and Melissa Lee especially, an independent goal to live more sustainably blossomed into a plan for a company that would allow others to do the same. Following the initial round of questions, audience members were welcome to ask their own. Several students were interested in hearing the answer to this question: What small things can I do? As they learned from the panelists, regardless of how miniscule the activity may be (for example, carrying a reusable water bottle over a plastic one), anything counts, and every great decision can have an even more substantial impact.

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My team thoroughly enjoyed working with PSR over the course of the semester, and we hope everyone who attended our conference found the experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as we did. If you are interested in learning more about the featured businesses or want to know what you can do to promote sustainability, please reach out to our panelists, whose contact information is listed below. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Julianne Goodman, Hersh Solanski, and Elena Rohner for their guidance, and we thank you all for flying with us.

 

Panelists’ Contact Information:

Morgan Berman: Morgan@mymilkcrate.com

Jason Halpern: Halpern@gridless.com

Melissa Lee: Melissa@theGREENprogram.com

Emily Schapira: eschapira@philaenergy.org

Upcoming IGEL Event: Bridging the Gap Between Public Health, Energy Efficiency & Poverty

By Shaunak Kulkarni

On November 30th, IGEL will be sponsoring a networking and education event hosted by the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), in conjunction with the students in Wharton’s MGMT 100 course. The event is meant to explore the intersection of public health and the energy efficiency/clean energy industries as well as bring together a broad coalition of community and national voices from non-profit, public, and private sectors across these industries. The Philadelphia Energy Authority is an organization created by Mayor Nutter and City Council in 2010 with the goals of improving energy affordability and sustainability for the City, holding long-term energy contracts, and educating consumers.

In February 2016, PEA launched the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, an initiative to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency in key sectors: city buildings, the school district of Philadelphia, and low-income residential housing. Philly is the poorest big city in the nation and has one of the highest rates of home ownership, with an extraordinary number of low-income homeowners. Philadelphians also have a very high energy cost burden compared to other cities, increasing rates of chronic childhood asthma and lead poisoning, and are often in serious need of major home repairs or maintenance. This event will spotlight programs and organizations that engage at the intersection of energy and health and highlight specific initiatives that address poverty, healthy homes, housing preservation and household expense reduction.

This week’s event will be hosted at the PECO Energy Hall on November 30th, starting at 11:30am. IGEL is the generous sponsor of the event, providing lunch box catering. Three speakers will present in a TED-talk fashion and host a small Q&A panel session afterwards. Students from Wharton’s MGMT 100 course helped coordinate and organize the event. PEA hopes that this event will foster conversation and influence change regarding the intersection of energy and public health in Philadelphia.

After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy

By Eric W. Orts, Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Faculty Director, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership

October 10, 2016

David Orr asked me to serve as a rapporteur for the conference that he organized (with a little help from his friends) at Oberlin College and was held from October 5-7, 2016, and I happily agreed. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership was one of the first of a number of other organizations to agree to co-sponsor this conference, but the work of attracting a remarkable group of leading experts fell mostly to David and his staff. And what an impressive group they assembled! I have gone to conferences relating to the topic of climate change for more than twenty years, and this was by far the most impressive group of its kind. Headline keynotes were given by celebrity “top influencers” including Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Steyer. In addition, the top executives of organizations including the Sierra Club ad CERES attended, as well as such other well-known names as Gar Alperovitz, Robert Kuttner, Hunter Lovins, and Bill Ritter.

My charge here is to attempt to review the overall course of the conference and to distill some of the major themes. My apologies in advance to anyone at the conference who may feel that I give them short shrift. Inevitably, my own intellectual bias will intrude in selecting the most important themes, but I hope to be as objective as possible in my reporting role. I will also try to be brief.

The conference divided roughly into three parts which were addressed on each day. Of course, different speakers crossed over into different areas, but in general there was an attempt to follow an agenda of organization that would lead to cumulative learning and engagement. Day 1 was devoted to a series of presentations on “theory.” Day 2 focused on elements of the post-carbon “next economy.” Day 3 considered “politics.” This report will follow this division, with transitional keynotes discussed as bridges between the categories.

Day 1: Theory

Elements of the theory needed to make progress on addressing the very large problem of global climate change were addressed by various presentations. These elements included the following.

Vision of sustainability. One must have a working definition of the goal one seeks to accomplish, and perhaps the best reference one can give here is to David Orr’s most recent book, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (2016). Both economics and politics are necessary to engage, as well as the science providing a background understanding of the challenge. A social transformation is needed to wean human civilization from the destructive use of fossil fuels—namely, coal, oil, and natural gas—and to replace them with renewable energy—such as solar, thermal, wind, and others. Making progress in greater efficiency and conservation in the use of energy is another imperative.

Systems approach. The study of interactions between the natural environment and social behavior and organizations requires a theoretical orientation appreciative of systems, rather than a reductive focus on linear processes. The “next economy” requires innovative new design and reform at both micro (local) and macro (global) levels.

Ethics and values. A general theoretical challenge is to incorporate a new sense of sustainable values and ethics into the social processes of business, work, capital markets, politics, and government. Views of business and markets as concerned strictly with “profit maximization” are inconsistent with this moral requirement. Seeing government as only a game used by people to gain power and influence is similarly impoverished.

Optimistic narratives and stories.   We know from studies in psychology that “optimism is functional” (see Martin Seligman’s work), and a general prescription from the conference seems to be that an optimistic attitude is best even when dealing with the very hard facts of current and impending climate change, including the relentless rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the fact that average global temperatures continue to set new records. Several presenters noted that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been progressively the warmest years on record. Fourteen of the last fifteen years have been the hottest ever recorded. Nevertheless, theoretical attitudes toward solving the problem cannot succeed if they fall victim to pessimistic despondency and inaction. New language, metaphors, and concepts are needed. My own view, for example, is that rethinking the purpose and design of business firms is needed as one part of the larger solution (see Orts, Business Persons (2015)). Various presenters focused also on a need to rethink traditional concepts such as “capital” and “eco-system services.” The meanings of “sustainability” itself and somewhat newer ideas of “resilience” are also evolving.

Measurement and accountability. Scientific assessment of progress at all levels is needed as part of the theoretical background. Progress cannot be assumed, and the Paris Agreement opens the door toward better international accounting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and various mitigation or adaptation strategies adopted by and within nation-states. Other large institutions, such as business corporations and nonprofits, should also install reliable internal accounting standards and practices, following the well-known mantra that “you manage what you measure.” Questions were raised about whether older measures of economic progress such as gross domestic product (GDP) continue to be useful—or whether it would be better to develop and follow new measures of well-being, sustainability, happiness, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.

Fairness and justice. Other key principles—emphasized, for example, by Nikki Silvestri—are fairness and justice, including especially racial justice. The phenomenon of Trump indicates also that many poor and working class whites in the United States have been hurt by current status quo policies. Everyone should be considered when making proposals for change, reform, and reinvention. Progress on climate change will not occur unless all citizens and consumers are respected and included.

McKibben Keynote

Bill McKibben provided a keynote in Finney Chapel at the end of the first day, and as a leading environmental activist (and indeed perhaps the best known activist who led the fight that shut down the Keystone Pipeline) his discussion focused on the need for a citizens’ movement to counteract the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo. McKibben struck three main themes.

Time.   First, climate change is unlike other social problems because incremental, slow progress will not be enough. Adverse effects from global warming are occurring faster than had been predicted twenty years ago. Arctic ice has melted. Ocean have acidified. Very soon, vast amounts of methane may release into the atmosphere from northern tundra landscapes. “If we do not solve [the problem] fast,” said McKibben, “we will not solve it.”

Stop fossil fuels now. According to one recent report, coal, oil, and natural gas companies own reserves that amount to four to five times the amount of carbon that can be safely emitted without blowing through the two degree Celsius average global temperature ceiling agreed as a target in the recent Paris Agreement. Another more recent report has found that current resources already being tapped by these companies will be enough to push the world past two degrees. For McKibben, and for some other environmentalists at the conference, such as the Sierra Club, this means that all expansions of fossil fuel production and distribution should be opposed and, if possible, immediately halted.

Force the change. McKibben sees the status quo, as represented by big fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and their political influence, as the primary obstacle to positive change. Citizens coming together in a broad-based movement is the only way to counter the political influence of big oil and other large energy companies. A “Keystone-ization” needs to spread to other controversies, such as the current standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Dakota Access pipeline. There has been a long string of recent victories, and McKibben makes a strong argument that these should continue. Politics at the national level also matters, and McKibben opposes Trump on grounds that his campaign denies climate science and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Day 2: The Next Economy

                  Day 2 was devoted mostly to what the “next economy” in a post-carbon world would look like. Some participants, such as Gar Alperovitz, focused on the need for new local initiatives that break with the standard model of capitalist financing and management. Many examples of creative grassroots economic development were given, and a key lesson from many presentations is that good jobs are necessary for any environmental reform to succeed. The next economy must provide for secure and well-paid new jobs, because otherwise there will be no political will to make the change from business-as-usual. At the same time, other participants, such as Hunter Lovins, argued that big companies must become part of the solution too. Unilever and Walmart were discussed as positive examples, though a general consensus appeared to support the view that most large corporations were clueless, too casual, or actively dissembling (greenwashing). This widespread lack of true engagement by most businesses in finding climate solutions needs to change.

The financial markets play a large role in the problem as well. Mindy Lubber, the CEO of Ceres, examined various success stories of institutional investors pressuring public companies to disclose risk and performance measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission has an important task to set “materiality” disclosure standards relating to climate change. Although the size of social impact investing may not yet have had a huge influence, it seems to be growing, and interest on college and university campuses regarding investment policies for endowments (including divestment) has been increasing too.

Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker provided a well-received analysis of the “carbon bubble” that he and his colleagues have found in the disclosures of fossil fuel companies. A large percentage of assets currently owned by these firms “can’t be burned” if the two degree limit is to be respected. As a result, many of these companies may be financially overvalued—on the optimistic assumption that the political will is forthcoming to curtail this business model. At the moment, however, major investors do not seem perturbed—and they appear to be betting, then, that the two degree limit will be exceeded.

As for solutions, Campanale and other pointed out that the scale of the problem requires massive government (as well as private) investment. Historical low interest rates should be used to finance as much as $70 trillion in global investment in the repair and enhancement of infrastructure, including new smart grids and the development of renewable energy sources. (This very large number compares with $60 trillion as the approximate value of all publicly traded companies in the world.) A number of presenters spoke of the need for a scale of investment to address climate change similar to the expenditures made in fighting World War II. (And one questioner usefully asked: What will be the equivalent of a “Pearl Harbor moment” to provide sufficient motivation for this scale of investment?)

The need to engage with all people, especially those who feel disenfranchised or ignored by globalization, was emphasized, including urban black and white rural populations. Religious groups provide an essential organizational nexus for transformation at the local level. And leaders such as Pope Francis can have large influence at the global level. The role of cities, which account for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, is also key. Joan Fitzgerald noted that the average greenhouse gas emissions in large cities were commonly much less that the average emissions of their countries as a whole. For example, average per capita emissions in New York and San Francisco are less than a third of average emissions of the United States as a whole.

New paradigms were also discussed, such as a need to move toward an objective of “plenitude,” as advocated by Juliet Schor, instead of economic growth. An attitude of plenitude adopts a view that natural resources should be enjoyed rather than exploited. And climate change policies need to fit into a larger strategic template that include other large-scale problems, according to Mark Mykleby and Patrick Doherty. Sustainability should go hand-in-hand with policies promoting economic prosperity and national security.

Brune Keynote

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, gave a transitional keynote speech that echoed McKibben’s call to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a primary target. He first noted an impressive record of success for environmentalists, particularly in the Beyond Coal campaign. Of 200 coal plants proposed fourteen years ago, for example, 90 percent were stopped by coordinated activism and litigation. Six years ago, there were 523 coal plants in the United States, and today more than half of them have been retired. The well-known example of stopping the Keystone Pipeline has been replicated by a string of recent environmentalist victories against similar pipelines and projects. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the overall cost of solar and wind technologies has become very competitive with, and often cheaper than, traditional coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear alternatives.

Brune then drew several lessons from his experience that provided a bridge to discussion about politics in the final day of the conference.

Keep winning. Recent environmentalist victories against the expansion of fossil fuel facilities should continue and, if possible, accelerate.

Reach out to Republicans and Independents as allies. Brune was the first to tag this theme which was later repeated by others. Many of the Sierra Club “wins” have occurred in very politically conservative areas of the country. Climate change cannot remain a cause only of one major party in the United States. Polls show majorities of Republicans believe in climate science and support transitional strategies (despite the rhetoric to the contrary expressed at the top national level). Supermajorities of the American public support policies to counter climate change as well, including many business leaders.

Get active.   People must organize and vote in order for change to happen. Solutions also must work for everyone (a repeated theme throughout the conference). Businesses that embrace climate friendly policies should be welcomed. And “what victory looks like” must include new well-paying jobs, including for unemployed coal miners and persistently marginalized populations.

Moss and Steyer Keynotes

A tag-team keynote session with Otis Moss and Tom Steyer highlighted themes of religion, race, and generational engagement as important. Moss reflected on his own effort to explain and translate environmental issues such as climate change to his religious constituents in order to make change “by any greens necessary.” Environmental justice links with racial justice in the United States, and Moss also emphasized the essential task of engaging younger people.

Tom Steyer agreed with the need to engage youth and described his efforts with NextGen Climate which, for example, has a presence now on fifty college campuses in Ohio. Steyer cited polls that indicated extremely high levels of support for clean energy solutions (around 80% of younger voters) and a transition to a 100% clean energy economy (91% of Millennials according to one poll).

Religious leaders are important as well, and the recent encyclical by Pope Francis carries great weight. Historically conservative icons such as leaders in the military provide another fulcrum from which change may be leveraged.

Day 3: Politics

It is fair to say that the outsized Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the show on the last day of the conference. The former Republican Governor of California made an impassioned case for both parties to tackle the challenge of climate change in a bipartisan manner. His catchphrase, riffing on a famous speech by Obama, was that “there is no Democratic water and Republican water; no Democratic air and Republican air.” He embodied pleas by other participants that Republicans had to come to the table, and he was hard to miss or ignore.

Sharing the stage with Tom Steyer, a Democrat who is known for bankrolling politicians who embrace climate friendly positions, the former Governor elevated California as an example that the rest of the United States could follow. Simply “copy us,” said Schwarzenegger, and I “guarantee” economic growth as well as climate progress. He compared California’s economic and environmental success to Germany’s.

In addition, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the fossil fuel companies (which he described as mostly coming from Texas) had to be opposed. He claimed, with respect to their attempts to lobby against reform, that “we terminated them.” (At the same time, he recognized the ability to work with them on climate-friendly projects such the introduction of hydrogen fuel by Chevron in California.) He reiterated a theme heard throughout the conference that policies to address climate change had to provide good jobs too. In his view, California provides an example for other states (including Ohio and Texas) that green policies can lead to economic prosperity. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger found that some of the biggest opponents of environmental policies or initiatives were in fact environmentalists. For example, proposals to build new solar plants in deserts were opposed and delayed on grounds of threats to endangered species such as tortoises.

Steyer largely agreed with Schwarzenegger on the main points. Both argued for economic growth (which was a contested idea for other participants who see a conflict emerging between growth and sustainability). Both emphasized the importance of jobs. Both made the case of a shift toward bipartisan engagement at the national level.

Earlier in the day, Robert Kuttner provided an incisive commentary on the current political situation. White working class people hurt by governmental policies for several decades appear to have become a wild card supporting the likes of Trump and his anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-science rhetoric. Commenting on “the presence of prophetic voices” at the conference, such as McKibben, Kuttner argued that the deeper roots of Trumpism had to be recognized and countered in order to establish a political consensus to address climate change.   He argued against the “liberal elitism” that embraced climate change as a major issue and yet ignored large losses in wealth and well-being of large swaths of the population. A “possible politics” to remedy the situation could focus on reducing levels of material consumption and reversing the incentives that encourage what he called “predatory capitalism.” He also echoed calls by others at the conference for a massive investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Climate change is a challenge “such as we’ve never faced,” he said, and we are “groping for analogies (but not in Trump’s sense of groping).” Kuttner concluded with one memorable quote from the conference, reflecting on the need to take our grandchildren’s perspective into account: “We need not just to be right; we need to win.”

Conclusion

Many others paid tribute to David Orr at the conference, and his inspiration informed many contributions. I will do so here as well, and mention again that these reflections are sifted through my own particular lenses. I would urge interested readers to consult sources provided at the conference for further avenues of self-edification and engagement. I will leave the last word to Orr, though, and quote the following from his new book, which I believe embraces the spirit of the conference overall:

I do not believe that we are fated to destroy the Earth by fire, heat, or technology run amok. But if there is a happier future it will come down to this: to act with compassion and energy, our hearts must be in it; to act intelligently, we must understand that we are but one part of an interrelated global system; to act effectively and justly, we must be governed by accountable, transparent, and robust democratic institutions; and to act sustainably, we must live and work within the limits of our natural system over the longterm. (Dangerous Years, p. xi)

If we are as a civilization in some measure successful in addressing the massive challenge of climate change, the Oberlin conference on “After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy” will have had some role in inspiring and informing this future success. It was a privilege to be there for the experience, for the education, and for the inspiration.

Going Local: The Impact of Renewable Energy on Circular Economy

By Sirui Ma

Moving toward circular economy, rethinking and redesigning the production and recycling cycle is crucial to diminishing externalities. In order to “close the loop”, a variety of efforts are concerned, including materials used in production, easiness to dismantle disposed products, etc. Among all efforts that contribute to a “closed loop”, introducing renewable energy to the production process is one of the most essential. The significance of renewable energy is not limited to the concept “renewable”, which is often related with less carbon emission. One other advantage of renewable energy is its peculiar characteristics: LOCAL.

Why Renewable Energy?

Carbon emission is one of the major barriers to “close the loop” since a large percentage of manufacturers are still heavily relying on burning fossil fuels such as coal and refined oil products. In the perspective of reducing carbon output into the environment, introducing renewable energy input in the production line has gained its importance more than ever before. According to EIA statistics, 1364 million metric tons of carbon dioxide was produced by coal power plants in 2015, accounting for 71 percent of carbon emission by the national electric power sector. Given the huge quantity of carbon emission by coal burning, it is intuitive to imagine how renewable energy can reduce carbon emission at an extraordinary scale.

From Global to Local

However, in the process of replacing traditional energy with renewable energy, several properties of renewable energy need to be addressed: energy density, energy storage and transportation, as well as the match-up of energy suppliers and end-users.

While it is hard to generalize the characteristics of all renewable energy, different type of renewable energy has different advantages and limits. Among all renewable energy, hydroelectric power is one of the most stable energy types with a relatively high energy density. Wind power is strong but relatively unstable due to variation of wind speed and direction. Solar power has a smaller density but overall a stable output. Based on limits and advantages of different types of renewable energy, it is essential to characterize the type of energy demand of a specific type of production and find the most appropriate renewable energy to serve a local industry. The process of determining the energy source(s) for a factory should thus be added into the “rethinking” procedure of circular economy agenda.

In rethinking and redesigning of the industry, it is also momentous to understand the characteristics in the production and transportation of renewable energy. Fossil fuel, which stores energy in a condensed form, often needs a series of energy “dilution” steps before it can be used in daily life, in the form of electricity. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is in a relatively loose form with energy density of equal or less than 1 kW/m2 in its original state. Although the energy density cannot be compared with fossil fuels, the level of energy may be used directly by households without extra steps of “dilution”. Avoiding the “dilution” process can significantly increase the efficiency of energy use. What’s more, because of global scattering of fossil fuel reserves, the energy often experiences a “long haul” before reaching users. A huge energy loss is induced in the transportation process. In the case of renewable energy, “long haul” is definitely not an ideal choice. Based on the fact that long distance transportation is both technically difficult and costly, the use of renewable energy should be concentrated on the local economy.

Circular Economy is not just about reducing the environmental externalities of an industry. In fact, reducing energy loss is also vital in the idea of “closing the loop”. By relying more on renewable energy, an appropriate match between renewable energy and end-user demand can significantly improve the efficiency of energy use. In a well-designed circular economy structure, raw materials and energy resources are all from local suppliers. Appropriate match-ups between energy suppliers and end-users should be designed beforehand. For existing manufacturers, retrofitting the energy and raw material supply based on current circumstances is also promising and cost-effective. Overall, a more efficient management system is required to approach the goal of localizing circular economy, either designing or retrofitting.

The Win-Win-Win of Impact Investing

By: Nathan Sell*

Ask not what your investment dollars can do for you, but ALSO what they can do for others, and the environment. That’s the idea behind Impact Investing, an emerging paradigm shift in philanthropy. This form of socially responsible investing generates both measurable social and environmental impact as well as returns on investment. Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy and former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs is at the forefront of linking business and the environment for a better world as he discusses in his recent book “Nature’s Fortune.” Tercek, and the new wave of impact investors are proving that your investments can make money AND do good.

Impact investing in the environment is quickly coming to scale as the value of ecosystem services to clean air and water, armor shorelines, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation is being realized. Cities like Philadelphia are leading the way in green infrastructure investment. Over the next 25 years, Green Stormwater Infrastructure will help the city to combat the extreme weather patterns as well as prevent Combined Sewer Overflows resulting in greener cities and cleaner waters for which the initiative is named.

Novo Nordisk entered China in 1994 and immediately noticed that a diet high in starch was leading to diabetes in a large portion of the population. Combined with rapid pathogen spread due to urbanization, the health of the people in China was (and continues to be) at risk. Novo Nordisk put their efforts toward alleviating some of these health concerns. By training doctors in diabetes care and prevention, the company has helped to save over 140,000 life years. The shared value of impact investment ensures companies like Novo Nordisk remain profitable while helping the communities in which they work.

Impact investing also has the potential to bring promising technologies to scale. Without investment, it’s possible that companies like d.light may never have gotten off the ground. With the help of investment, this for-profit social enterprise has been able to sell affordable solar lamps to those without reliable power. The result? D.light is bringing safe, bright and renewable lighting to people around the world, allowing students to do their homework, families to cook, and an overall better quality of life to over 34 million people.

Impact investing may prove better for people and the planet than charitable giving. Investing in businesses that do good by people and the planet can ensure the success of their mission, allowing for long term solutions, rather than a potential band-aid in the form of a grant or gift. If your investment could benefit the triple bottom line, rather than just YOUR bottom line then you’ve found the rare win-win-win scenario. The next time you invest, think strategically about what your money can really do.

*Nathan is a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and a current ORISE Fellow with EPA Water.