Apple's Real Carbon Footprint Is In Manufacturing and It's Dirty

Apple Inc. released its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report this week. In the report, Apple proudly claims that their data centers are running on 100% renewable energy and that their new headquarters in Cupertino will run entirely on renewables (solar plant in nearby Monterey County). Apple is proud to claim that building operations in the USA are moving to 100% renewable. That's great. However, Apple's real carbon footprint is in the vast, vast amount of energy used and CO2 released in manufacturing all of its physical products, mostly in China. 

For example, of the 34 million metric tons of CO2 Apple claims responsibility for in fiscal year 2014, 24.8 million metric tons are in manufacturing and only 0.4 million tons are in facilities. Put another way, 73% of Apple's carbon footprint is in manufacturing, whereas only 1.1% is in facilities. Sorry Apple, switching facilities to renewables is great optics (and still worthwhile) but it is a drop in the bucket of their CO2 footprint. For Apple to meaningfully contribute to reducing global warming they will need to begin to transition their manufacturing partners to renewables. It seems they are now just taking small steps in that direction.

For now, Apple and other manufacturers, and consumers, are contributing both to the localized pollution crisis in China as well as global CO2 emissions. If Apple wants to be a leading corporate environmental steward, as statements by CEO Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives indicate, then it needs to more fully and quickly address the source of their real carbon footprint: the manufacturing of physical products.

Portland Now Generating Hydro Power in Its Water Pipes

A cool new way to get hydro power right under our cities, and they don't require dams.

The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city’s water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city’s water pipe.

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

This is a great overview of the energy transition thesis (energiewende, in German). It focuses on the German example and highlights the major disruption renewables will have on utilities markets and business models. Many drastic changes and challenges lie ahead. 

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

See also "While Critics Debate Energiewende, Germany is Gaining a Global advantage."  

 

Climate Fair Share

Interesting new website (in beta) that gives a visual story of each countries emissions reduction targets. It includes both domestic fair share as well as embedded export emissions. I like how it begins with equity considerations. This quote caught my eye:

We demand action from everyone, but we don’t believe that everyone is equally responsible for the crisis.

Powering The World's Poorer Economies

This a good overview of the debate between fossil fuel macro grid models and distributed renewables in addressing energy poverty in the developing world. The author makes the case for distributed solar, which is both a cheaper and more socially and ecological just path. 

Plummeting costs for solar and wind (and battery storage) paralleled by increasingly expensive long-distance coal and gas mean that for most developing nations, the time for grid parity has come and gone -- renewables are cheaper even on grid.

Middle-class Driving Solar Revolution in U.S.

Interesting article and accompanying data that indicates that the growth in solar panel installation is being driven by the middle-class, not the upper-class, in the US. 

Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, that's not the case.

The reason? Solar leasing.

Important question: how can folks work to bring working-class folks into the solar revolution and distributed power? This is an area that sorely needs to be addressed in research and action.  

Wind Beat Natural Gas As America's Fastest-Growing Power Source in 2012

This, in addition to renewables being the fasted growing energy sector last year. And the IEA declaring that renewables will be the worlds second largest energy source by 2015. Encouraging signs; long road ahead.

2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year...

is the Tesla Model S. It is the first time an internal combustion engine automobile has not won the award. To quell any squabbling that this is eco-hype, Motor Trend says, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

 image via motortrend.com

image via motortrend.com

 

The Great Dithering

Presidential debates do not determine actual policy, but they do set conversation agendas. After three debates this year, global climate change was not mentioned once. It's increasingly clear that the US political machine is incapable at this time to address the threats posed by climate change. Global climate change is not even on the conversation agenda.

Further, the US political elite have zero coherence on matters of an energy transition. Striking evidence of this fact is that typically celebrated capitalist entrepreneurialism, in the form of renewable, green energy technology companies, are openly ridiculed and lambasted by right-wing pundits and politicians. Yes, some of these companies received government loans and subsidies, and yes a few of them failed, but almost all US businesses benefit form direct and indirect subsidies (roads, highways, tax codes, etc).  

Global climate change is a dead policy issue in Washington, but the end around energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables is also so politicized that no policy coherence seems possible. The nascent US wind turbine industry is poised to collapse if congress doesn't renew subsidies for the industry. Contrary to the ahistorical accounts from pundits and politicians, all energy transitions involved policy guided capitalism (see English industrial revolution, or US automobile, oil boom). 

Sadly, novelist Kim Stanley Robinson is probably right, in 200 years our period will be known as the Great Dithering.

Community Solar Installation

A cool story from my town of residence, Chico, CA:

Seven homes on a north Chico cul-de-sac had solar arrays installed Saturday in a flurry of activity. Solarthon resembled the old-fashioned barn-raising its organizers likened it to, with a bit of block party thrown in, complete with a D.J. It was a fundraiser for GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit that opened its seventh office in Chico about a year ago.
 Image from Chicoer.com

Image from Chicoer.com