Many of us who have been on the ground floor of the renewable energy business are secretly experiencing the warm fuzzy feelings that precede explosive global growth. Economic opportunity of this scale happens very rarely. Recent history tells us that nothing changes on this scale ‘peacefully’ until the economics are in alignment with necessity and invention. This is a true test of a new energy reality, where climate change hits head on with abundant and cheap renewable energy. This collision translates into a $10 trillion industry that will transform the current geo-political narrative (energy, water, climate, etc.…) as we know it, and offer unprecedented opportunity for those who are on board when this train leaves the station. So, how, you ask, is this going happen… and how can I get on the train?
First, allow me introduce you to Mr. Jigar Shah, who will guide you on the path in his just released book, Creating Climate Wealth. He offers his reader a clear, engaging, easy-to-understand conversation about seizing this moment to make climate change a huge business opportunity — whether you work at the top or in the trenches — anywhere on the planet.
In this fast-paced, straight forward read, he describes in detail the opportunity in front of all of us: how to turn the biggest challenge of our lifetime — climate change — into a $10 trillion dollar new economy. He actually presents a “New Economy Plan” that identifies 100,000 businesses each selling $100 million in climate change solutions by 2020 — $10 trillion in total!
If you don’t know Jigar, I recommend you get to know a little about him. He revolutionized the solar industry by deploying the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) solar-as-service business model. This business model used 30-year old solar technology to be the catalyst for a multi-billion dollar solar industry. Even if you are skeptical of the $10 trillion opportunity Jigar portrays, it’s worth reading to understand the power of innovative business models. Jigar’s crucial message is that we need business model innovation, not just technology innovation, in order to unlock the deployment of clean technologies around the world. Shah makes a compelling case for reaching our 2020 climate change goals through 100,000 companies worldwide, each generating $100 million in sales.
Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀
A small town in Austria that had no significant industry or trade business is now thriving thanks to local renewable resources. Güssing, (population: 4,000) sits in eastern Austria. In 1988, the entire region with a population of 27,000, was one of the poorest districts in the country. It relied on agriculture, there was no transportation infrastructure, unemployment was high, and 70 percent of those who did have work were commuting to Vienna, 100 miles away. The town, where two-thirds of the working population was out of work and young people were moving away, was referred to as a dying town. Due to a lack of connections to the railway network and to the Austrian Autobahn (freeway) system, energy costs were extremely high. At the time the town of Güssing was said to be hardly able to afford its $8.1 million annual fossil fuel bill.
Several of the town leaders realized that $8 million dollars going to pay for fuel oil (mostly for heating) and other fossil fuels (such as coal for electricity) from outside the region could stay in the local economy if they could produce their own energy. However, they realized if they wanted to be energy self-sufficient the first step was reducing energy use. In 1990, the town implemented an energy efficiency program, retrofitting all public buildings with new insulation and replacing all streetlights with energy-efficient bulbs, reducing energy expenditure in buildings in the town center by almost 50 percent.
With greatly improved efficiency, the town then adopted a policy calling for the complete elimination of the use of fossil fuels in all public buildings, in an attempt to keep more money in the local economy.
HEATING WITH LOCAL RESOURCES
There is not a lot of wind in Güssing, but biomass is abundant—the town is surrounded by 133 hectares (328 acres) of forest. Some local residents, realizing that wood in the forest was decomposing and not being used, started to run a district heating station for six homes. With the success of that project, more small district heating systems were built. The mayor, who was looking for a way to revitalize the town, took notice. In 1996, the heating system was expanded to the whole town and was also generating electricity, all from renewable raw materials gathered from within a five-kilometer radius through sustainable forestry practices.
Then, in 2001, with the help of the federal government, Güssing installed a biomass gasification plant, that runs off of wood chips from wood thinned from the forest and waste wood from a wooden flooring company. This was the first utility-scale power plant of its kind in the world. The plant uses steam to separate carbon and hydrogen, then recombines the molecules to make a form of natural gas which fuels the city’s power plant. It produces on average 2 megawatts of electricity and 4.5 megawatts of heat, more than enough energy for the town’s needs, while only consuming one-third of the biomass that grows every year. The town also has a plant that converts rapeseed to biodiesel, which is carried by all the fueling stations in the district.
BECOMING A MODEL COMMUNITY
In 2007 the New York Times reported Güssing was the first community in the European Union to cut carbon emissions by more than 90 percent, helping it attract a steady stream of scientists, politicians, and eco-tourists. One year later, Güssing built a research institute focusing on thermal and biological gasification and production of second-generation fuels. That same year a solar manufacturer started producing PV modules in Güssing, producing 850 megawatts of modules a year and employing 140 people. Several other photovoltaic and solar thermal companies have relocated to Güssing, installing new demonstration facilities in the district.
The little town has become a net energy producer—generating more energy from renewables than it uses. Altogether, there are more than 30 power plants using renewable energy technologies within 10 kilometers of the village. Now the goal is to take the lessons from the small town of Güssing and make the entire 27,000-person district an energy-self-sufficient net producer.
Currently around 400 people come to Güssing each week to visit the numerous demonstration plants.
Even Austria’s favorite celebrity, former California governor, and renewable energy advocate Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Güssing in 2012. “Güssing has become a green island,” he said when he spoke at the Güssing renewable energy demonstration plant. “You have built your own district heating [system]. You are generating your own electricity. You are operating a biomass power plant, produce synthetic natural gas from wood and develop new fuels at the research lab. I have seen all of this with my own eyes. Everyone should follow your example. The whole world should become Güssing.”
The town now has 60 new companies, 1,500 new jobs, and annual revenues of $17 million due to energy sales, all resulting from the growth of the renewable energy sector. The downtown has been rebuilt and young people now picture themselves staying there in the future. And other areas are following Güssing’s lead. More than 15 regions in Austria are now energy independent with regard to electricity, heating, and/or transportation. The town of Güssing has shown that not only is a high-renewables future possible, but also economically advantageous.
Schwarzenegger must agree, because when he left he said, “I’ll be back.”
Top image courtesy of Shutterstock. Second Image courtesy of Güssing Renewable Energy.
Rocky Mountain Institute Since 1982, Rocky Mountain Institute has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit http://www.rmi.org for more information.
I’m in the credits on page 2 and my article is published in full starting on page 26. The full report is downloadable as a PDF. Click here to download — you may need to click again when a new window opens.
I would like to thank Hussein Abaza, who is the former Chief of the Economics and Trade Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a person who has contributed unstintingly in the service of our civilization in several UN organizations for over 30 years.
I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation to Veerle Vandeweerd, Director, Environment and Energy Group Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme.
Grateful thanks also to Marjolaine Côté, Special Assistant to the Director Environment and Energy Group Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme.
Thanks due to Serena Bedwal, Environment and Energy Group Bureau for Development Policy United Nations Development Programme
The psychology of the present paradigm is very odd indeed.
It approximates the following statement; Blame 47% of the population, the mostly blue-collar working people and taxpayers for the combined failures of the banksters, a few corporations and some inept government regulations — and then at length, when some of the 47% complain about getting blamed for a situation not of their creation, just default to calling them ‘victims’ in the pejorative sense of the word.
Oh, and let’s make the 47% pay to fix the damage they didn’t cause.
Those who were the first to benefit from the $12.8 trillion dollars of corporate welfare — are among the first ones to criticize 47% of Americans, most of whom;
“pay a great deal of tax on their earnings, property, and goods purchased. They also work hard to make a living in a country where median household income has declined to a level last seen in the mid-1990’s.” — Simon Johnson
In a general way, I take these developments as a sign that the formerly deep roots of American egalitarianism are getting shallower and we are now seeing the beginnings of a class-based society.
“the emergence of global megabanks was not a market outcome; these banks are government-sponsored and subsidized enterprises, propped up by taxpayers. (This is as true in Europe today as it is in the US.)” — Simon Johnson
All of the above are egregious enough in their own right. But what I take greatest offense at are those corporations which having made poor decisions, then line-up to receive billions of corporate welfare — whereby the government effectively rewards those organizations with heavy doses of cash for their poor performance — while corporations and companies which made good decisions all along are comparatively weakened.
It is a sure sign of the apocalypse, when corporations which invested in better decisions do not receive federal ‘reward’ money, but lesser performers do. No lasting good can come of this state of affairs… in fact, it is to weep.
“On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources. They have grown more slowly, and with greater inequality – just the opposite of what one would expect.” — Stiglitz
As there are massive profits to be made in the resource industry, the concerns of other stakeholders are shouted-down or otherwise derailed in the name of progress. After a few years other sectors of the economy begin to drift, which allows escalation of the fundamental problems inherent to this kind of economy.
The usual solution to the inevitable slowing of a resource-based economy is to facilitate ever more extraction — in the hopes that more resource dollars will stimulate growth and compensate for the lack of progress in other sectors.
Time and time again this fails to work and to make matters worse, other sectors of the economy grow weaker in almost direct correlation with mounting resource exports. Manufacturing often takes the greatest hit.
Moreover, resource-rich countries often do not pursue sustainable growth strategies. They fail to recognize that if they do not reinvest their resource wealth into productive investments above ground, they are actually becoming poorer. Political dysfunction exacerbates the problem, as conflict over access to resource rents gives rise to corrupt and undemocratic governments. — Stiglitz
The government line on this is usually; “We should concentrate on what we do best.” Which is fine except that in so doing, the rest of the economy slowly slips toward the day when the government must then announce; ‘The majority of the resources are gone, we now must rebuild our economy from scratch.” This is when economists are finally consulted and listened to — but are then expected to solve the entire problem by the weekend, with nothing more than a magic wand and an algebraic/transcendental incantation.
Resource-based economies should commit to robust and long-term economic development throughout the economy well before such cantrip is required.
Real development requires exploring all possible linkages: training local workers, developing small and medium-size enterprises to provide inputs for mining operations and oil and gas companies, domestic processing, and integrating the natural resources into the country’s economic structure. Of course, today, these countries may not have a comparative advantage in many of these activities, and some will argue that countries should stick to their strengths. From this perspective, these countries’ comparative advantage is having other countries exploit their resources.
That is wrong. What matters is dynamic comparative advantage, or comparative advantage in the long run, which can be shaped. Forty years ago, South Korea had a comparative advantage in growing rice. Had it stuck to that strength, it would not be the industrial giant that it is today. It might be the world’s most efficient rice grower, but it would still be poor. — Stiglitz
The problem of course, is how to fund the necessary investment in the non-resource economy. And what level of funding do non-resource sectors enjoy at the present? Less than you might imagine.
Of all solutions, the simplest usually work best. Which is why a nominal export tax is a necessary ingredient to any resource-based economy to assist the national economy maintain a quantitative balance.
After all, taxing natural resources at high rates will not cause them to disappear, which means that countries whose major source of revenue is natural resources can use them to finance education, health care, development, and redistribution. — Stiglitz
There is little need for domestic resource taxes in nations where the majority of resources are exported. Such ‘recycling’ of citizen’s money adds little ‘new money’ to the economy and irritates voters, while the most efficient economic performance enhancement available comes from export tariffs and FDI.
Both export tariffs and FDI revenue streams represent new money entering the system which means unlike domestic taxation, citizens are not paying for other citizens employment programs — foreign interests will be paying that bill.
In those countries where exported resources contribute measurably to GDP, export tariffs need only be nominal to be successful. When all of the revenue generated by those tariffs is used to fund expansion of the non-resource sectors, many economic indicators will begin to show positive signs.
When resource-based economies implement a 5% to 8% export tariff on every exported tonne of coal/metals/minerals, or barrel of oil, their economies will fire on all cylinders — and with little complaint from the rapidly growing and resource-hungry nations.