Wednesday, February 24, 2016

EcoBlocks as Climate Solution

(April 10, 2016 update:  A summary of the EcoBlocks proposal with contacts has been posted here.  On March 25, the California Energy Commission announced plans to fund $1.5 million of the project costs, contingent on approval by the full Commission.)

Achieving much greater energy efficiency in existing buildings is one of the keys to the California 2030 goal of an overall reduction of 40% in greenhouse gas emissions.  (See Climate Dispatch post:  California 2030 Climate Goals:  Energy Efficiency)

California is now working on measures to reach roughly a 17% reduction in existing building energy use.  This is double the expected energy savings of just a few months ago.  Since many buildings already have efficiency measures and many building owners will not want to retrofit their structures, the savings from buildings that are retrofitted will have to noticeable exceed 17% in order for the state to reach an overall 17% reduction

Getting existing building owners to adopt efficiency measures has been a major challenge.  As the California Energy Commission pointed out in their recent Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan, "Breaking through background noise to achieve actual engagement and resulting action is difficult." (p. 84)

One concern raised by the Energy Commission is that building owners are faced with many overlapping messages and the resulting confusion may result in inaction.

Source:  Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan, p. 85

A team from U.C. Berkeley and Stanford is working on a novel approach to induce homeowners to install a range of climate-friendly energy, water and transportation retrofits.  Rather than look at retrofits on a single home, they are concentrating on an entire square block of homes.  By retrofitting many adjacent homes at once, a number of measures that aren't practical for a single home suddenly make sense for the collection of homes.  And, all homeowners on the square block should see savings in utility bills.

The innovative "EcoBlock" project was described by Energy and Resources Group Chair Harrison Fraker at the recent Philomathia Forum in Berkeley..  According to Professor Fraker, as much as 45% of California homes are in in old-style cities and suburbs filled with square (or rectangular) blocks.  If we’re going to reach emissions mandates, says Fraker, “we really have to figure out how to decarbonize existing housing stock .. the existing building stock is a major generator of carbon emissions.”

U C Berkeley Energy and Resources Group Chiar Harrison Fraker

Professor Fraker and his colleagues have proposed an EcoBlock pilot project in Oakland to decarbonize a group of 28 homes and a few businesses.  They are hopeful the project will receive initial funding in the next few months.  If successful, the project could be replicated on blocks throughout the state and country.

The goals are impressive.  The EcoBlock pilot project will:
  • use net zero energy
  • be greenhouse gas neutral or better
  • have very low water usage
  • promote electric vehicle usage
  • incorporate energy storage
  • be rapidly deployable
This will be accomplished through a series of inter-related systems.  Solar panels will be the basic energy source, backed up by a storage in batteries, flywheels and shared electric cars.  The batteries, including car batteries, will help manage the electric load of the dwellings.  The homes will be retrofitted to achieve "deep energy" savings through lighting, window replacements and appliances.  All gas-fired appliances will be replaced with super efficient electric units.

Part of the team is a group from Sanford working on the water system.  Rainwater and greywater will be captured for reuse.  Wastewater will be treated and used for irrigation of trees and gardens.  

Professor Fraker says they will be able to reduce total home energy use from 690 megawatt hours per year to 280 megawatt hours with the energy retrofits.  The solar is expected to produce 350 megawatt hours, with the net surplus powering the vehicle batteries.  The utility and transportation savings from will be used, in part, to cover the cost of many of the efficiency improvements.

If successful, the EcoBlock could either be disruptive to the current utility structure, or could give utilities a new mission.  Creative entrepreneurs could retrofit large areas of California while minimizing or eliminating the need for traditional utility customer relationships.  Alternatively, the installation and maintenance of EcoBlocks could be a  new business paradigm for utilities as they evolve into energy and environmental servicers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Climate Comments from COP21: Youth

I was pleasantly surprised by the youth presence at COP21.  There is a new generation eager and ready to address the climate problem.

A substantial portion of the 10,000 non-governmental accredited "observers" at the event were born after the international community took notice of the climate problem in the late 1980s.  At COP21, they weren't just observing.  They were engaged, energetic, articulate and effective.

Youth gathering for updates, strategizing at COP21

More Than Observers

Timothy Damon of SustainUS made the point that was echoed by many youth.  They will be living in the world impacted by climate change and they want their voice to be heard.

Hearing the Voice of Youth

The voice of youth was heard in many ways.  Some button-holed diplomats, some had a presence with the media, some demonstrated and some were actually embedded within country delegations.

Yann Lesestre and Leslie Tourneville of French youth group
CliMates display the message of zero carbon by 2050
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition pushes
for 1.5 degree cap and money for mitigation

Scientifically Necessary and Morally Just

Dyanna Jaye of SustainUS summed up the passion and effectiveness of youth, saying they move beyond what is perceived as possible to what is "scientifically necessary and morally just::

We Can Change the World

With over 190 countries and 20,000 government delegates, effectiveness of outside constituencies was hard to measure at COP21.  But the successful outcome reflected the hard work of many.  Jessica Olson of the Sierra Student Coalition recognized that change is possible through collaborative action.

The Road Doesn't End in Paris

Finally, Caroline Engle of the Sierra Student Coalition echoed the sentiment of many .. that COP21 is just the beginning.  Much more work lies ahead if we are going to decarbonize our future.  The youth at COP21 are ready to rise to the challenge.

Monday, January 25, 2016

This Week: Climate Events Worth Watching

I don't normally post upcoming events in this blog, but there are two this week worth considering.  Both are free to watch online.

Wednesday all day: Investor Summit on Climate Risk

Climate leaders and financial experts will gather on Wednesday, January 27 for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk.  The event  will take place at the United Nations and is co-hosted by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Office for Partnerships.

Participants include United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore, CERES President Mindy Lubber and many others.

Michael Bloomberg at COP21

Californians on the agenda include California Treasurer John Chiang, California State Controller Betty Yee, CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes and DBL Investors head Nancy Pfund.

A copy of the agenda is here.  The event can be viewed via a live broadcast on the United Nations TV website at

Friday 11-12:30 Pacific Time: The Road from Paris: Climate Solutions Investment

Building on the ideas from the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, an interactive forum on finance for a west coast audience will take place on Friday, January 29 from 11 to 12:30 Pacific Time.

One of the participants in the CERES/UN Investor Summit, Ken Locklin of Impax Asset Management, is joining California Clean Energy Fund Managing Director Danny Kennedy in hosting the Friday event, The Road from Paris: Opportunities and Challenges in Climate Solutions Investment.

Experts in climate investment and risk will discuss the policies, financial models and investment flows needed to make Paris a success for both the climate and the economy.

Registration is free at

(Disclosure:  I am one of the presenters at a breakout session in the Friday event)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Climate Comments from COP21: Scientists

At COP21 in Paris last month, I was captivated by the quality and depth of the comments and presentations from political leaders, scientists, youth, activists financial experts and many others.  I captured a variety of comments and share some of them from scientists here.  I'll be sharing more in a future post.

The Scientists:  Time to Act

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up under the auspices of the United Nations in 1988 to gather and analyze the best scientific information available and synthesize it for decisionmakers.

At a gathering at UNESCO during COP21, IPCC members did their best to convey the science as clearly as they could.  But, scientists often have trouble conveying information in a way that is understood and absorbed by policymakers and the public.  As French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte said, "Scientists are not poets."

At the same UNESCO gathering, Dr. Diana √úrge-Vorsatz, Director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University said that it is possible to limit global warming to an increase of two degrees centigrade.  However, it will be extremely difficult unless strong action is started soon.  Limiting to 1.5 degrees is even more challenging.

Elsewhere at COP21, scientists were concerned that the climate models may be underestimating emissions and impacts.  Dr. Susan Natali of Woods Hole Research Center expressed concern that carbon and methane emissions from thawing permafrost are not being taken into account in climate models.  "These emissions from thawing permafrost are going to amplify climate changes," she said.  Dr. James Hansen expressed concern that even if all emissions stopped today, there will be noticeable further warming from greenhouse gases already emitted.

Dr. Youba Sokona, Vice-Chair of IPCC offered hope, saying that it is possible to limit climate change.  However, like his colleagues, he emphasized the need for swift action.

(All photos by Michael Paparian)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

COP21 - The Deal is Done

The COP21 climate deal is done and it provides a very strong foundation for addressing climate change.

I spent the past two weeks watching the proceedings.  Though not inside the negotiation huddles, I could sense the seriousness and dedication of many involved as I watched diplomats scurry to private sessions with a clear sense of purpose.  Many others provided support as needed, whether it be a nudge from Al Gore, a talking-to from Bianca Jagger or an autograph from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bianca Jagger
Arnold Schwarzenegger

I was very impressed by the youth in attendance.  They were articulate, passionate and effective.  I heard youth representatives engage with United Nations and country leaders as they pushed hard.  They know they are inheriting an earth with problems and they know they'll have to take over addressing them.  As Kentucky native Caroline Engle of the Sierra Club Student Coalition said, the "road doesn't end in Paris."

Caroline Engle of Sierra Club Student Coalition
In response to a question about youth access to decisionmaking COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres recognized that youth will very soon be the leaders at future COP sessions.  She said her home country of Costa Rica placed three youth within their official delegation to learn how the intricacies of international diplomacy works.  "This process is something you learn by doing .. not in books," she said.
Christiana Figueres receives canoe paddle from Indigenous
group from Panama asking that we all
"paddle in the same direction"

I attended many sessions on financial issues.  Effectively deploying funds, providing loans to low carbon companies and countries, and assuring that investment capital gravitates towards carbon solutions is drawing the attention of business leaders.  Heike Reichelt of the World Bank told one gathering that the next generation of portfolio managers will be looking at the impacts of their investments, not just the standard risk and return numbers.  As Mindy Lubber of CERES said, "this agreement is what business and investors were looking for, sending a strong signal that the low-carbon global economy has officially arrived."

Mindy Lubber of CERES

For most observers, the deal is about as good as you can expect from a diverse group of nearly 200 countries.  The deal acknowledges that we need to do better than limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees farenheit (2 degrees celsius) and addresses many of the issues environmental leaders pushed for.  It was bittersweet for island-naitons and other low-lowing areas because even aggressive implementation will lead to sea level rise that is likely to devastate large areas.

The deal represents a turning point.  The world has finally recognized what the scientist have been telling them for years ... the Earth is in trouble and humans have the power to limit the damage.

I heard scientists continue to raise alarms.  Melting permafrost may release enough methane to trigger accelerated temperature increases worldwide.  Greenland and parts of Antarctica may be approaching tipping points where ice melt is irreversible and sea level rise could be even higher than the three to six feet predicted for the next century.  Several scientists complained about the challenges of presenting information in a way that is understood by policymakers,  "Scientists are not poets," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte at a session on climate science hosted by UNESCO.

Valerie Masson-Delmotte:  "Scientists are not poets"

Getting the deal was just the beginning of addressing the problem.  Now countries large and small need to rapidly decarbonize their economies.  The cars of the future -- a fairly near future -- will not run on fossil fuels.  Natural gas will give way to electricity for heating homes and food.  Better planned cities will help us move more efficiently.  As Governor Jerry Brown told COP participants, we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life ... friendship, beauty, art may need to take the place of commoditization"

California Governor Jerry Brown at COP21

I'm still absorbing and pondering what I learned over the past few weeks and plan to write more about my observations.  For now, it's a good time to savor the success of Paris and get ready for the challenges ahead.

Kenyan and Maasai tribe member Mary Simat:  "Women are the keepers of mother earth"

All photos by Michael Paparian

Thursday, December 10, 2015

COP21 - Some Images

Much is going on at COP21 as the negotiations enter the final phase and the media is covering much of this.  There is anxiousness as some of the final issues are addressed.  We should know more in the next day or two.  In the meantime, here are some photos I've taken in the last few days.
Australian youth with a message for negotiators

From a scientific presentation.  The good news, is it may
take many years to completely melt.  But ...

Dept. of Uh-Oh: some irreversible melting may have started.

COP 21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres is presented
with an oar by indigenous representatives from Panama,
urging that we all "paddle in the same direction"

Generations space - the publicly accessible area

Outside the entrance to the restricted COP21 zone:  Apples are
handed to participants on their way in ..
makes up for the item shown further down

The United States Pavilion includes a high-tech globe projecting
a variety of images of climate impacts

Sean Kidney of Climate Bonds Initiative explains state of the
 market at a meeting at OECD headquarters

California State Senator Fran Pavley, author of the landmark
California climate law, AB32

U S Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is still smiling!
One way to get attention of negotiators:  Advocacy
group hands out chocolate with messages on back

Non-governmental organization representatives
get ready to meet with COP21 leadership

But sadness remains over November events in Paris.  I visited the site
of the Bataclan nightclub where emotions and sadness remain high

This is the bicycle of a young victim
who will never have a chance to ride again

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

COP21 - Mayors, Governors, Sheiks and Scientists

What's it like to be at COP21?

There's a lot going on and a common complaint is that it is not possible to participate in everything of interest.  The negotiations are being covered by the media.  People continue to be optimistic about a deal in Paris, but there remain issues to negotiate, including enforcement, when and how to update national climate plans, financing for mitigation, adaptation and renewables, and several others.  We got word today that the final agreement may take place a day or two after the final scheduled conference day of December 11.

It's not just negotiations, it's more like the "olympics" of climate change, with many things happening simultaneously and all of it at the highest levels.  The negotiations over the COP21 agreement are just one of many activities.

Here are some examples of perhaps 20 events I've attended in the past few days.

California Governor Jerry Brown seems to be everywhere and appears to have the stamina of a marathon runner.

At an event with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Saudia Arabia Oil Minister, Ali Al-Naimi and others, Brown recited facts and figures about California and world climate issues, including the estimate that there is about 20 years worth of fossil fuels left to burn at current rates before we exhaust the amount that can be burned and avoid cataclysmic climate change.  Brown and jump easily from facts to philosophy.  He said that countries working together on climate will make it possible to address many non-climate issues: "learning to solve this (the climate) problem can teach the world about solving other problems."

Calif Governor Jerry Brown and Saudi Oil Minister 12/8/15

At another event with over 500 local officials, he said states, provinces and localities have a responsibility to push and inspire our nations.  He also went into detail about how we need to "change our carbon intensive way of life" and suggested that friendship, beauty and art need to take the place of the commoditization of our lifestyles.

Mayors are a major presence and are pushing hard for national action by their governments.  Over 400 Mayors are in attendance, including California Mayors from Oakland, Chula Vista, Santa Monica, Richmond and elsewhere.

Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines said, "Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by forty percent wid.  That's the future tat cities and states are creating."

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie 12/8/15

Leaders of countries large and small are in attendance and actively participating.  I saw Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands describe how his country is already being ravaged by extreme weather and rising seas.  He lamented that it is hard to convey a message that his country is facing life or death.  "We are very, very fragile," he said and are being impacted by pollution his people did not cause.  Other Pacific island nations are looking for funds to relocate their populations as seas rise.

Cook Island Prime Minister Henry Puna 12/7/15

At an event about climate science, one of the leading world scientists looking at climate change, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, lamented that it is challenging to convey the gravity of the issues in ways that are understood by policymakers.  "Scientists are not poets" she said.

Scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte 12/7/15.

The paparazzi would have a field day around COP21.  Rock stars, movie stars, world leaders and seemingly just about everyone his here.  Fitting two categories is former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been quite blunt about the need for bold action on climate.

What's it like Inside COP21?

It is really several events in one.  There is a secure "blue zone" where the negotiations take place, the media congregates, organizations and countries display their materials, and many gatherings and events take place.  The adjacent "green zone" is open to the public and also has many events and and displays from organizations and governments.

There are a limited number of groups who could get accredited to be in the blue zone.  In total, according to COP Executive Secretary of COP21, there are over 20,000 accredited government representatives and 10,000 accredited non-government representatives.  In additon there are several thousand media, businesses and others with access to the Blue Zone.

COP21 Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres

At any given time, there may be a dozen or more events in the Green Zone and several dozen or more in the Blue Zone.  These events are in addition to the actual negotiations and side meetings.  As an example, today there events such as Toward a low CO2 Steel Industry in Europe, Human Rights and Climate Change, Climate Smart Agriculture, and many more.

To get into either venue, you have to pass through airport-style security.  There are plenty of lanes, so the wait to get in is minimal.  The presence of armed security is notable everywhere and there is limited vehicle access.  Most participants arrive by the local train or subway and are met by dedicated buses to the facility.  Photo badges are regularly checked inside the Blue Zone.  The badges are also color coded to indicate country representative, media, observer or several other categories.

Example of Security Badge

The COP21 site isn't the only venue for climate activity in Paris.  There are quite a few related events happening elsewhere, including a gathering of local officials from around the world, a landscapes forum and others.  I attending a briefing at UNESCO headquarters from the leaders of the scientific group looking into climate issues (the IPCC).  I'll be attending another off-site meeting later in the week at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

My waste and recycling friends will be glad to know that this is a zero-waste event.  There is a 1 Euro (about a dollar) deposit on coffee and drink cups that are to be reused or recycled.

I've also been tweeting @climatedispatch.

(all photos by Michael Paparian)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

COP21 - Midway Point

COP21 in Paris reached the halfway point of the two week session.

An initial text has been moved up for consideration by all the represented countries.  The text has hundreds of bracketed letters, words and extended language.  As Canadian delegate and elected House of Commons member Elizabeth May said on Sunday, the text is now "suitable for political negotiations."  Those negotiations have started in earnest.

Canadian MP Elizabeth May 12/6/15

Expectations remain very high for a decent deal by the end of the week.

The outstanding issues include how the agreement will be enforced, when it will be updated, whether there will be acknowledgement of aggressive oil phase out goals, how explicit the recognition will be for indigenous peoples, how the financing of projects in developing country will work, and many others.

There are many constituencies in Paris putting pressure on governments to be strong.  Over 400 mayors are attending and have been especially vocal in pushing for action.  The California mayors in attendance include mayors from Chula Vista, Richmond, Santa Monica and Oakland, among others.

Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland recognized the role and clout of mayors in a forum on local solutions, saying "If we could only power the grid with the energy of mayors, we could solve the climate problem."  She was especially blunt when asked in another forum when asked what her message to negotiators would be, saying it is "not time to be wimpy ... grow a pair."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

Youth are present and hoping their voices will be heard.  Timothy Damon of the youth group SustainUS said, "It's our future we should be more than observers."  Some youth showed their support for a goal of zero carbon emissions by painting zeroes on their faces.

Timothy Damon of SustanUS
Yann Lesestre and Leslie Tourneville of French youth group CliMates

Religious leaders are pushing for as strong as possible an agreement.  I had the opportunity to hear Katharine Hayoe speak and met her briefly.  She is an Evangelical Christian, climate scientist, professor and was named by Time magazine in 2014 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She said when we engage others on climate, we need to offer tangible, viable, acceptable & inspirational solutions.

Katharine Hayhoe and Michael Paparian

Green Bonds are getting noticed as part of the basket of financial solutions.  I like to characterize green bonds as the "flip side" of divestment.  Once entities divest from fossil fuels, they need to put their money somewhere. Putting their money to work supporting climate beneficial projects makes sense and green bonds offer one avenue for such investments. Frederic Samana of the top European asset management group Amundi said the green bond market is surging everywhere.

Frederic Samana of Amundi
The many people and constituencies gathered at COP21 have a common purpose.  As Al Gore told the assembled delegates on Saturday, "young people are looking to us to do what's right."