Solar and AC and big banks, oh my!

Today’s top stories from Canary Media.
By Julian Spector

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Our latest barrage of news stories contains breakthroughs on four crucial challenges in the shift away from fossil fuels.

The easy fix to speed up rooftop solar and lower its cost

Emma Foehringer Merchant profiles one of the most impactful breakthroughs in the U.S. rooftops solar market: an online permitting system known as SolarApp. Rooftop solar costs more in the U.S. than in other countries, and a majority of the cost stack comes from soft costs,” including permitting.

Cities and counties often take days, if not weeks, to issue permits for solar installations, delaying projects and driving up costs. Emma links some of that slowdown to cutbacks in local government funding from the Great Recession and a new round of budget cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the Department of Energy decided this week to expand SolarApp after a successful test run over the last year. It could be coming soon to a permitting authority near you.

The cooler form of cooling

Global warming drives greater need for air conditioning, which releases more greenhouse gases, which drives more need for air conditioning, and so on.

A couple years back, business magnate Richard Branson announced a cash prize for anyone who could cut the carbon impact of residential cooling to one-fifth of today’s standard.

The results are in, and they hit that ambitious target. Jeff St. John explains the technological breakthroughs that made it happen.

The bad news: These highly efficient systems will cost two to three times more than a comparable unit on the market today.

The good news: The low-carbon conditioners cost half as much over their lifetime of operations.

Like so many clean energy investments, the trick is convincing customers to pay more upfront for something that will cost less over years. That’s something that policy reforms and more nuanced industry standards can help with.

Are banks doing enough to stop financing climate change?

The banking sector as a whole has started talking more about climate change —while still funneling copious amounts of money to new fossil fuel extraction. When 43 banks launched the Net-Zero Banking Alliance last week, it deserved some closer scrutiny.

Contributor Jeanne Martin argues that the NZBA did the right thing by limiting reliance on unproven carbon-removal technologies, which can be used to excuse more emissions in the near term.

But Jeanne also argues that the NZBA employs fuzzy language around which commitments are really required. It also fails to set explicit requirements to stop financing coal and other fossil fuels. 

Read to the end for Jeanne’s suggestions for a gold-standard climate commitment for banks.

A new twist in the fight against a Trump-era power regulation

I’m not going to weigh this newsletter down with too many acronyms, but this story is one of the major regulatory battles over the future of clean energy.

Federal regulators (FERC!) during the Trump administration imposed inflated prices on clean energy power plants in the 13-state PJM capacity market, if those plants benefited from state policies designed to encourage clean energy.

Grid operator PJM has a new plan to technically comply with the ruling without actually jacking up prices for clean power producers (and, by extension, electricity customers). The one and only Jeff St. John tells you how it works.

Canary in the Clubhouse!

Shout-out to those of you who joined our Clubhouse chat about the state of cleantech investing in 2021. We covered the good and bad influence of the SPAC craze for clean energy startups, which policies from Washington really matter for accelerating clean energy deployment, and what new technologies will make a splash this year.

If you want to hear my best attempt at an NPR radio voice, follow Canary Media on Clubhouse and tune in for our next event on this audio-only communication platform.

Thank you to our launch sponsors for their support.

(Image: yellow brick road“by airdiogo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.