America’s preferences for energy have changed substantially over the past decade, with natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency all recording big gains. Now, a new report from BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy sheds light on just what happened over that time and suggests what may lie in store over the next 10 years.
In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless is joined by Ethan Zindler, head of Americas for the research service BNEF, and Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a coalition of companies and trade associations from the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors.
The topic is the eighth edition of the “Sustainable Energy in America Factbook,” which the two organizations publish each year. This latest report chronicles the transformation in energy taking place in the U.S. not only for the year 2019 but also for the last 10 years. It’s full of details regarding the improving energy productivity of the U.S., the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy, the impact of record U.S. gas production on electric power supplies, and the often-overlooked advantages of energy efficiency.
Bill talked with Ethan and Lisa about these developments, and what may lie in store over the next decade or so for gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency, including how sustainable commitments to gas will be given growing concerns over carbon emissions from that fuel.
Bill Loveless: America's preferences for energy have changed substantially over the past decade, with natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency, all recording big gains. Now a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council on Sustainable Energy, sheds light on just what happened over that time, and suggest what may lie in store over the next 10 years. Welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I'm Bill Loveless. Our guests today are Ethan Zindler, the Head of Americas for the Research Service BNEF, and Lisa Jacobson, the president of the Business Council on Sustainable Energy, the coalition of companies and trade associations from the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors. The topic is the eighth edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which the two organizations publish each year. This latest report chronicles the transformation in energy taking place in the US, not only for the year 2019, but also for the last 10 years. It's full of details regarding the improving energy productivity of the US, the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy, the impact of record US gas production and electric power supplies, and the often overlooked advantages of energy efficiency. We talked about these developments and what the future may bring for gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency, including how sustainable gas will be, given growing concerns over carbon emissions from that fuel. Well, here's our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Lisa Jacobson, Ethan Zindler. Welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.
Lisa Jacobson: Well, thank you. It's just really a pleasure to be here again.
Ethan Zindler: Thanks for having us.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, we've talked separately on different occasions but never together. So this should be, I look forward to the conversation here. Well, we're here talking about this new report on sustainable energy. Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy have been producing this report for some eight years now, but this one stands out as a look at a decade's worth of activity in sustainable energy in the United States. But first, Lisa, let's make sure everyone understands what's meant here by sustainable energy.
Lisa Jacobson: Well, thanks, Bill. And yes, it's tremendous. This is a report that's looking back on the 2010s, really a decade that I think has been defined by sustainable energy resources. And when the BCSE looks at sustainable energy, we look at it very broadly. But our core sectors of focus at the Council have been supply side and demand side energy efficiency, natural gas and the broad portfolio of renewable energy resources. However, you know, obviously there're many technologies that can help meet our energy, economic and environmental goals. And the factbook covers US energy broadly, it covers the power sector, all the resources that are contributing to our electricity mix. It covers transportation, covers buildings, it covers industrial. So it is a really broad based look, at the energy resources and energy marketplace of today.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. And what are the categories when we, again when we're talking sustainable energy?
Lisa Jacobson: Well, from the BCSE's point of view, we've really focused on commercially available sustainable energy technologies. And again, that's efficiency, natural gas, renewable energy. Obviously now we've the whole intersection of information technology, new technologies that are being very helpful to integrate clean energy, like energy storage, we look at CCS, you know, we're looking very broadly at all of the resources we're going to need, for today and going forward.
Bill Loveless: And Ethan, let's talk a bit about the results. What've we seen? What is the picture that's been depicted here about sustainable energy in the US over not only the past year, but over the decade?
Ethan Zindler: So it's been, I mean, it's been a pretty remarkable decade, I suppose that the thing that I find most intriguing is, you know, I think people used to assume that when you talk about something like the energy sector, it you know, you can't see major changes in years or even one decade, it's a multi decade kind of transformation. And yet, if you look at the volume of changes that we saw over the last 10 years, it just is an affirmation of how quickly some things can change. The first thing I'd notice that you know, is that the US economy has become more productive in how it uses energy overall on the most macro basis. So over the course of the last decade, the economy grew, each of the 10 years of the decade, not, to be clear, not spectacular economic growth as you know but we've been growing since the Great Recession. But demand for energy in half those years actually fell year on year. So, there's not necessarily this sort of one to one relationship at all between economic growth and energy consumption. And that is a reflection of the fact that the US is finding more ways to be more efficient all the time. And I think it's important to note that there are a lot of other changes, we'll talk about those as well. But you know we have traditionally been a pretty profligate user of energy compared to other countries. So there's all kinds of opportunities for improvement. Everything from the, you know, the replacement of light bulbs, which everyone kind of couldn't see and feel and think about, but boilers and digital technologies to improve how we understand the flows of electrons, all kinds of things that've dramatically made it easier, even basic stuff, like more retrofits of homes and new technologies around installation, all that kind of stuff has really been important. So that's just the first major thing that we saw over the decade, but it shouldn't go over looked because frankly, often efficiency, kind of gets, you know, short shrift in some these kinds of--
Bill Loveless: Yeah. And I was going to say I think often the term or the phenomenon of energy productivity is overlooked.
Ethan Zindler: Yeah, you know, I think it's something that is a major feather in the cap of the US, over the last 10 years. So, the other thing though to note has been on the power sector. We've just seen a really rapid decarbonization over the course of the decade and that has been directly attributed to, A: the top line hasn't been growing so we're not using any more electricity generally speaking, but, B: we're seeing huge growth in the amount of both gas and renewables. And in both cases, the primary victim of their growth has been coal. So our coal generation levels have fallen by just about half, since about a decade ago, which is a pretty incredible decline. Coal probably accounted for well less than a quarter of our generation for 2019, or it did for 2019 I should say, and certainly will be even lower in 2020. The number of coal plants that are retiring has continued to go up, there's been over 200 gigawatts of coal that's come offline in the last 10 years or so. So, that fundamental shifting has been really, really important. And then the last thing, just telling a totally separate point is overall consumers were given a lot more choices in how they consume energy, how they think about energy in terms of monitoring it through things like thermostats, even choices at the pump, in terms of how they fill up their cars, what kind of drive trains they want. There is what we call in the report, the empowered consumer who is enjoying the benefit of all these options, and that's resulting in lower prices as well.
Bill Loveless: You know, Lisa, one of the-- we hear so much these days about renewable energy and people's expectations of renewable energy theory. Depending on who you talk to, Green New Deal, a lot of other people, there's different expectations of renewable energy going forward over the year. Talk to me a little bit about, what the findings here are on renewable energy over the past decade and how that might be informative for, you know, examining this topic.
Lisa Jacobson: Sure. Well, I mean, that's a really exciting area and very strong results over the decade. I mean, we started the decade with renewable energy at about 8% of the generation mix. We ended at about 18. Of course, that includes Hydro and all the other portfolio, you know, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, waste energy. So, we have many choices when it comes to renewable energy. But clearly, in the last several years, what has been dominating growth, has been wind and solar. And they've benefited from some pretty important policies at the federal level including tax policy. And I think, when we look at what has been driving renewable energy growth, it's, you know, a range of factors. Clearly in the decade, the state renewable portfolio standards, other state and local incentives kickstarted the movement, plus federal tax credits and those where we had had for about 20 years, on and off year after year, we had a few years of extensions where business investment could plan. And we saw the results, you know, and we're still seeing them today in terms of the growth of renewable energy. So, we looked at renewables now, and it is in the mainstream, and it's everywhere in the country. And consumers are demanding it increasingly, we saw 13.6 gigawatts of corporate PPAs signed in 2019. It was basically non-existent at the beginning of the decade. So, we're, looking at our mix, renewables are nearly on par with our nuclear fleet. So this is a very important segment of the power sector. And, you know, we're encouraged by the lessons that we learned over the decade and now, you know, want to work collaboratively to see how we can accelerate it even faster.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. What will renewables depend upon in order to enjoy that kind of growth going forward? I mean, the impression I get is that policy matters, but maybe it doesn't matter quite as much as it has in the past as the technology has become more efficient, as the price is going down, those types of things.
Lisa Jacobson: Well, I'll just start with one idea, but this is clearly something that Ethan should respond to, as well. But, you know, what we've been hearing at the federal policy level, is for certain technologies in the renewable sector, we need to modernize and expand the transmission grid, because, you know, for wind or for different technologies that are, you know, being generated, not in the load centers, we've got to have the infrastructure to get it there affordably and reliably. So, you know, the whole conversation on our electric infrastructure and transmission is really important.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, that's a tough one you think transmission, because that's not just, technology is important there. And certainly, there are opportunities to do it much more effectively and in much more modern fashion than we have in the past. But boy, trying to build a transmission line is a tough decision to make these days.
Ethan Zindler: Yeah, I mean, it always has been, and it's certainly not. And these kinds of large-scale infrastructure projects that are related to renewables are not unique to renewables. And I think it's worth noting, especially in the context of some of the conversations that we've here in town and efforts to try and speed infrastructure permitting, streamlining the new, environmental permitting processes and things like that. Those are, frankly, you know, wind and solar stand to benefit from some of that, just as much as oil and gas potentially do. And, so that actually, I think, you know, that's been something that this administration has certainly tried to focus on. And while frankly, I don't think they have renewables in mind, as they, as they suggest these potential streamlining, I think they could benefit, but more broadly I think on the policy front, there's really I mean, there's really, there's the short run and Lisa alluded, alluded to the the tax credit issue, which I think is something that has a impact on the market over the next several years. And of course, the wind industry got a, essentially a one year, sort of extension at the end of last year.
Bill Loveless: those on the production tax--
Ethan Zindler:-- on the production tax credit, that's right. But I think the longer-term issues are sort of the ones that you raised, because our view is that you know, look, give it several more years and these credits are getting less and less relevant by the day because the technology costs are coming down so much. And we've you know, our view over, out to 2050. And by the way, this isn't a factbook comment, because this isn't a fact, this is a, you know, projection, but our view out to 2050 is that you see very strong growth of wind and solar in particular in the United States, particularly paired with batteries, and that, as we get well into this decade, really the federal subsidies will not be nearly as important, but the issues that you raise around transmission and permitting, those are going to continue to be important. And you know, back to the short term, the one area where, you know, permissioning and sorry, permitting is already clearly important, is on offshore wind. And we're seeing kind of really interesting developments around that. And that has implications for the long run, because the longer the first project takes to get built, the harder it will be to build a sort of larger supply chain for offshore wind. But that's a place where I'd say at this very moment, we're seeing real hold ups on the permitting side.
Bill Loveless: Really. And that seems to be the space to watch right now in terms of wind development in the United States, the offshore.
Lisa Jacobson: Yeah, it's very exciting. You know, there was some positive movement at the state level in Connecticut recently. But yeah, I mean, it's, this alignment, of the private sector and all the relevant local, state, regional and federal entities that need to come together, to make these projects move forward.
Bill Loveless: you know, where are the holdups?
Ethan Zindler: Well, I mean, I think it's interesting that New England and New York, those are tough states to get onshore wind projects permitted. Right? So, and they've-- and particularly New England you have very high electricity prices. So, there is a motivation and the desire to go, to get greener. Right. So, you add all those things together and you need your power to come from somewhere. Certainly, resident-- residential or distributed solar is one possibility. But, you know, I grew up in Boston, I think you’re from up there--
Bill Loveless: Rhode Island, the home of the nation's first offshore wind farm.
Ethan Zindler: That's right. All I think seven or eight turbines of it. And so that's the issue is that like, when're we going to get a big project built? And that project is great, but it's, you know, it's effectively kind of a pilot and is experimental. And so, but anyway, you know, the New England challenge is, again, onshore permitting is tough, you need bulk clean energy to meet some of these goals. So offshore is a kind of, is a logical potential. We're seeing bids that have been quite affordable from international players that want to build projects, but in that case, you're not talking about sort of typical, you know, New England nimbyism, that's holding up projects, but you're talking about federal permitting that's the issue. And in that case, they continue to await the outcome of a review process from the Department of Interior that has now been delayed again. And I think that is probably finding, providing a good deal of frustration to the offshore wind industry, which was hoping to be a bit further along by now than where things stand.
Bill Loveless: Listen, let's talk a little bit about natural gas. We've seen remarkable development of gas, over the past decade in the United States. US now is a leading producer in the world of natural gas as well as of oil. But gas is coming under increasing scrutiny these days from folks who worry about its long-term impact because of its emissions. And increasingly people are questioning the, I guess the sustainability, some would say of natural gas going forward. Talk to me a little bit about gas.
Lisa Jacobson: Well, I mean, from the BCSE's perspective, you know, we see natural gas as part of the solution set, and especially when you look at the decade and what we've achieved in terms of both power sector emissions reductions and greenhouse gas reductions as an economy, natural gas was a huge part of that story and kept prices down. You know, I think we'd have possibly been subject to a revolt in some of our policies, if energy prices skyrocketed, while we were working to deploy more clean energy resources, including gas and renewables and investing in efficiency, over the last decade. So, I think, the lower pricing of energy overall, which natural gas contributed to, significantly helped us continue down the path to reduce our emissions, and helped give the runway for policies and the marketplace to help reduce the costs of renewable technology. So, I think you know, certainly when we look at the decade, you know, very strong contributions of natural gas, in terms of achieving sustainability or greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. You know, one of the areas that's new in the factbook this year, is too many sections on hydrogen and renewable natural gas. So, there's a lot of interest in our membership, in the natural gas sectors to look at renewable thermal. And renewable natural gas, you know, traditionally from anaerobic digestion or, you know, waste products, you know, is one path, but what the attention is moving to is really, how do they accelerate and expand pipeline quality, renewable natural gas and put it as an offering to consumers. And in 2019, nine states move forward with voluntary renewable tariffs for natural gas products. I think only five states ultimately enacted those policies. But you know, just this year Colorado and Minnesota are joining that group. And, you know, I can't say what the future will bring and how, you know, that'll play a part in terms of the next phase of use for natural gas. But, you know, power to gas, hydrogen, blending into the pipeline, increasing renewable natural gas in the pipeline, can provide a pathway for large industrials and other consumers, that want to use natural gas but also need to meet, you know, green and sustainable energy goals.
Bill Loveless: So, you think that natural gas can remain a sustainable fuel over the next 10, even 20 years, but perhaps its composition, the technologies involved in the output changes.
Lisa Jacobson: Yeah, I mean, look at what's happened with renewable electricity. I mean, now it's a major driver in terms of demand for renewables, I mean, renewable thermal, certainly very much needed if we're going to achieve, you know what the science tells us we need to, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. So let's see what the market will do.
Ethan Zindler: Yeah, I guess I'd just, I mean, at first, I'd agree with Lisa, on the, you know, where were the contributions of gas to date. And in terms of where it's brought us and the importance of keeping consumer prices and wholesale prices very much in check. In fact, the US is extremely competitive. And you're right, we were producing 50% more gas than we did 10 years ago. We're a major player, we've actually were effectively a net zero importer of gas and oil in the US, which is kind of an incredible feat, all of which has benefited US, the US economy and energy security. I do think it's a fair question about where we go next. And I agree with Lisa, that I think these are other technologies that I think that the gas industry is looking at, are important. You know we've done a fair amount of research about hydrogen, we're optimistic that prices are, have come down on it, but we're definitely not there yet. And we're a long way from there in our view. So I think the question is, what's going to be reasonable next, and to my mind that, you know, that the sort of most immediate question is, should you build the next large scale combined cycle gas turbine plant, you know, in the next year or two, as we think longer term?
Bill Loveless: That's a good question.
Ethan Zindler: And I guess, if you're thinking purely on climate, you know, purely on climate, I have a hard time justifying that because, you know, within a couple of years, we're, you know, we've another 30 gigawatts of coal, that's our, they have announced they're coming offline in the next, you know, five years. Once that's done, gas will be the number one source of Co2 emissions from the power sector, that won't take very long to happen, actually. And, so then the question is, how do we, you know, balance this all out. And to be clear, you know, our long-term view in terms of our projections is, US is going to use a lot of gas unless there's some kind of policy intervention, because, we have so much gas, it's so cheap. It's so available, it's so potentially flexible and it's so beneficial to the economy. So that's the natural course that we're going to go in. But if you, if your priority number one is Co2 emissions, then I think a little bit of a rethinking will probably have to take place around that.
Bill Loveless: You know, you mentioned storage before and the, there've been improvements in the technology. The use of storage on smaller scales is, you know, in residential and businesses is picking up and, in some places, California, for example, there's a push to incorporate much more storage into the grid itself. Lisa, what's the outlook for storage? I mean, how much can we count on it to address some of the challenges, that we face in terms of the intermittent nature of renewables and the greater role one might expect of renewables to address carbon emissions?
Lisa Jacobson: Well, I mean, I think, all the industries I work with, are looking at storage as a partner. So that's not just renewables. I mean, it's its energy efficiency, you know, how do we optimize our energy system? So, it's everything from the grid to the distribution level and in between. So storage is capturing the attention of all segments of the energy economy right now. And for good reason. I think getting the cost down, making it more adaptable to the needs of the marketplace, is the key question right now. So, you know, longer term use of storage, you know, how is that going to move from, you know, a four to a ten hour, to an extended period of time where storage can be used. And, you know, we have a lot of data in the factbook, you know it's probably one of our longer sections. And it obviously spends a lot of time on battery storage, but there're other storage options, obviously, there's pumped hydro, which is 90 plus percent of the current storage we have in the country. And then, you know, there is commercial applications, thermal storage, you know, ice making and buildings, things like that, which are, you know, beginning in certain parts of the country to be adventurous, New York city, one place in particular, but, you know, I think the primary focus clearly is on what's going to happen with battery storage. And, so, I'd just say, and Ethan can give a little finer point on this, you know, it's of interest to everybody. It's very cross cutting. And I think the question is, how can it be adapted to the needs of the energy infrastructure at this moment in time?
Ethan Zindler: Yes, so there's multiple, I mean, there's so many interesting angles on storage. And of course, maybe I'll start you know, with the so called behind the meter aspects. And I think, you know, we're seeing growing interest there. The Tesla Powerwall got a lot of media attention a couple of years ago, it's kind of faded. But there were apparently about 10,000 residential batteries and small commercial battery systems, you know, sold in California last year, and you know it's big state. So that number is not as big as it sounds. But nonetheless, you know, there's a lot, starting to go on in that area, and especially in a state where, you know, thanks to the wildfires, there is increased awareness of the need to be able to be sort of grid independent if you need to. So, there's that aspect, then yes, there's the on-grid battery plus, typically plus photovoltaics, it we're seeing those types of projects, where we're seeing, you know, bids go out at very reasonable prices, in some cases undercutting gas even, which is pretty amazing. If you think about it, and again, to your earlier question about what's the future and should you build more gas, well if you can do PV plus storage, then great from an emissions perspective, it's a better potential option. Now, there is though, one larger issue and Lisa raises it, which is, okay, so great, PV plus storage gets you, that extends your PV system, you know, into the evening hours, but like, you know, it's not uncommon that, in a system like California or in parts of Canada, where you, or Brazil for that matter, if you're highly reliant on hydro generation and if that goes down, you know for a month or two, you know 48 hours of storage only gets you so far and so, you know, pump storage also helps because that's even has a longer potential profile. But I think the kind of more macro ups and downs, batteries have trouble addressing and that's, as we've, BNEF, and this is not factbook thing but as we at BNEF have been trying to think out to like 2040-2050, it's hard to see a world where just lithium ion batteries plus photovoltaics, are able to get you to 100% zero carbon, you probably, almost certainly need some kind of technology X, in addition. And unclear what that is, people have various things they want to support, CCS, other things like that, but but it's hard to see how that does the trick entirely.
Bill Loveless: So, you're saying it'll be some time before we'll see the combination of storage and, and renewables, that could make, have a really big impact.
Ethan Zindler: Well, no, I think in the short run, we're already going to see an impact. And I think there's there's opportunities really in the next five years. I think the question is, though, if you're trying, if you're setting a 100%, zero carbon power generation system goal, it's hard to see, the existing suite of technologies get you there. And that becomes more of a problem in the 2030s, 2040s. So, in the short run, though, like I said, we definitely see tech-- seen tenders in which PV plus storage is highly cost competitive with natural gas.
Bill Loveless: Now, Lisa, one thing that struck me, in the report was the section on corporation's increasing their purchases of cleaner power. And, as I recall it, a record 14 gigawatts of so called bilateral power purchases, were signed in 2019. Tell us about that, because, it involved not only big tech companies, but major oil companies as well.
Lisa Jacobson: Yes. I think, you know, the short answer is, economics and customer and employee demands. That's what's driving that. You know, there were a few pioneers, the Walmarts of the world that said, you know, we're going to lay the ground, we're going to fight the battles, to make sure we can have access to the power and energy sources that we want for our company and ultimately, share that with our peers. And now, you know, we've a number of data sets in the factbook that, talk about this movement, whether it be kind of green tariffs at a state level and, or looking at, you know, the data for corporate PPAs and who's driving that marketplace. But you know, I'd also just add, yes, it is renewables, but it's, also energy efficiency and increasingly, greening in their fleets. So, you know, in response to the ESG investor movement to, you know, their own corporate sustainability objectives, interest by their employees and customers, you know, the business community is stepping up.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah. You mentioned ESG governance issues, is that, that's playing a bigger, that's becoming a bigger factor for companies going forward, you must see that.
Lisa Jacobson: It's definitely being discussed a lot more around our tables. And I, you know, not my area of expertise, to be honest. But definitely, it comes up much more in terms of what we hear from kind of the C suite level, that filters into our policy, education and advocacy.
Ethan Zindler: Yeah. You know, there's a lot going on in the corporate space. And, you know, as you mentioned, almost almost 14 gigawatts of these contracts signed between large consumers of electricity and providers. The names on the list are names that your listeners will certainly recognize them in the top five are Google, AT&T, Facebook, Microsoft and T-Mobile. But as you mentioned, you know, oil companies have signed some of these agreements as well. And as Lisa mentioned, I think there's a sort of corporate effort around thinking about being greener, even from the oil companies who, have in some cases, started to either make pledges or talk about making pledges regarding, reducing their so-called Scope 1 emissions. So, the energy that is needed to get oil and gas out of the ground, rather than running a generator or some other, or buying you know, electricity from the grid that's coal fired. If you can sign an agreement to have that electricity come from renewables, then you're reducing the carbon footprint of getting the oil and gas out of the ground. So that's the, you know, the Scope 1 emissions question. So that fits kind of nicely within that, excuse me, but more broadly, 200, over 200 companies have signed on to the, what's called the RE100 commitment, which means that they plan to get all of their power from renewables. And Google is at the top of the list, a really interesting company in the sense that, they're already doing it. But they know that their demand for electricity is going to continue to grow, because they keep building servers. So, the challenge isn’t just like dealing with what they've got, its how do they keep up with what they're going to need in the future. And they've developed some some really novel ways of trying to procure the power too and including through tenders that they offer. So, that's all a really interesting area that we've seen. We see other companies make so called science-based targets where they, aim to reduce their emissions or some metric around emissions in line with the Paris Agreement or some other agreement. There's a lot more going on in this space. And one last thing I'll just say on this, which is, I'm convinced that, as someone who's in Washington, that and spends a lot of time thinking and talking to the corporates and our clients, who are doing this stuff, I'm sort of repeatedly kind of amazed at how, the groups that're supposed to be representing them here in Washington don't seem to be as inclined to kind of get that message and bring it on board. And frankly, some members of that, on the Hill who claim to be business oriented, also don't seem to be getting that message and taking that forward in terms of the work that they do.
Bill Loveless: Yeah, I've heard that before. From, again, from some members of Congress who're pushing these sorts of, you know, green energy policies that there sometimes seems to be a disconnect between what individual companies say, and what their trade associations are telling members of Congress up on Capitol Hill.
Lisa Jacobson: Can I just jump in on that though, so I mean, obviously, we're here in Washington and a big part of the BCSE is federal policy and we think it's so important, our investments in clean energy, whether it be Research Development deployment, tax incentives or tax measures generally, or other forward looking energy policies. But you know, the other driver, you know, we talk a lot about the private sector, but the whole sub national movement, where cities and states, are getting much more involved in energy policy, and at the, at the end of the day, we all know, our energy policies are largely made at the state level anyway. So, a factor in the 2010s clearly has been the, you know, the active approach that cities and states have taken. So there's maybe more of an alignment, right, you know, here in Washington, maybe there's a bit of a disconnect. But when you get to the city level, headquartered in Houston, Houston way on board with helping their businesses get what they need from an energy perspective. I'm just using Houston as an example. There are many cities that we could call out that where there is that closer alignment.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. And, Lisa, do you think that, in the absence of federal policy in Washington, on emissions, on climate change, cities and states have stepped up their commitments to meet the Paris Agreement targets from-- for reductions. Is that filling the gap substantially? Is that something that can be relied on?
Lisa Jacobson: I think in the 2010s, it's certainly contributed in a significant way. I think looking out to the future, there's been a lot of, you know, kind of analysis, but it's speculative about what, without certain federal policies, driving a long term objective, whether it be, essentially we haven't even talked about this, but transportation, you know--
Bill Loveless: which is getting more attention in the report.
Lisa Jacobson: We need, we need economies of scale with commercially available technologies at a level we haven't seen before. We may need new technologies, actually I'll correct that, we will need new technologies, we can't anticipate today, and we need it to be done affordably, practibly—practically, and reliably. We need a federal partner. So, I guess I'd just leave it at that.
Bill Loveless: Yeah. Ethan, I noticed in the-- we're speaking here a day after the Democratic debates in Nevada, but I know you had a tweet yesterday, saying you expected climate change would be a big topic in those debates and in fact, it was, and suggested people read this report. I mean, in this an election year, how might this report be a useful reference for people trying to put things in perspective?
Ethan Zindler: Thanks for asking that. I mean, I-- look, we hope that just people use it to fact check some basic things like, you know, how much does it cost right now to buy solar electricity versus other technologies? You know, how much actually has been built to date? How much coal is online today? And how much is scheduling to, scheduled to come offline in the next five years, and it's not really in doubt, they've said these plants are going to close. These are some of the kind of basic facts that I hope people check. And while you've given me the opportunity, I'll also say that I really wish we could get some questions out of these debates that were a little more substantive about energy and climate, it does seem like the reporters all know they need to now ask something. So they say something like, "Hey, you know, it's really hot where I live last year, what're you going to do about climate change?" Okay, we've kind of had that question. And people've been able to kind of give their 30-second talking points, but then, how about a follow up, which is, okay, you know, Joe Biden, how is everyone going to have a union job, and you're going to continue to cut the cost of renewables to the extent that we can have it build out as far and wide as you say, it's going to happen, you know, some more nuanced questions that demonstrate an actual understanding of how the industry works, would be appreciated, because it seems like it's always just the same question. Maybe you'll get a, "Do you support fracking, are you for or against it?" we got that last night too. But again, they just never seem to be able to follow up and it's very tiresome to hear literally an hour of debate around health care, and the same issue around health care that we've heard over and over and over again, if you've been watching these debates for months now. And then everyone has the same talking points. And yet the the energy and climate discussion, we just never seem to get any more detail out of these conversations.
Bill Loveless: Well, maybe people will hear you and we'll see some improvement in some of those questions going forward. It promises to be an interesting year and it promises to be an interesting decade, certainly. Lisa Jacobson, Ethan Zindler, thank you for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Lisa Jacobson: Thank you so much.
Ethan Zindler: Thanks, Bill. Appreciate it.
Bill Loveless: Well, that's our conversation. I hope you enjoyed it. For more on Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy, find us on the web at, energypolicy.columbia.edu, and on social media, at ColumbiaUEnergy. For Columbia Energy Exchange, I'm Bill Loveless. We'll be back again next week with another conversation.