The Grid: Renewables On the Rise

  • August 2, 2018
  • INK Team

In The Grid, your monthly clean energy resource, INKers Mallory Baker and Mya Wilkes share the biggest industry news and advice for marketers communicating within this constantly shifting space. This month, we talk Scott Pruitt’s resignation from the EPA, utilities making renewable energy commitments, and an in-depth report that shows clean energy on the rise in the US.

Breaking: Pruitt out, Wheeler in 

On July 5, news broke of the resignation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt was currently under several investigations for scandals and spending abuses, so many had already predicted his tenure would come to an early end.

So, who’s the new guy? Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist and aide for well-known climate denier Senator Jim Inhofe. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Wheeler said he plans to continue Pruitt/Trump’s anti-regulations policy agenda, while shoring up the agency’s transparency. He’s also attracting scrutiny on all sides for his former lobbying ties.

How is he doing so far? Wheeler quickly got to work making peace and calling for more transparency. In a recent EPA staff-wide memo he said, “We exist to serve the public. As such, the public should trust our work. We are committed to earning and maintaining the public’s trust through transparency and accountability in our actions and civility and fairness in our public participation processes.”

Just as quickly, Wheeler continued rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations. His first action as acting administrator was to lessen coal ash regulation. This week, he announced a plan to weaken Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. Wheeler has also said he will roll back clean air and clean water rules.

Take note: Wheeler (so far) has been an unexpected lesson in successful reputation management, allowing him to carry on with the Trump-administration’s wishes while rebuilding trust in the EPA.

Want to keep track of the environmental policies disappearing under Wheeler’s leadership? The New York Times keeps a running list here.

Trending: Getting ahead of the regulation

This past year has brought increasing demands for state renewable energy commitments. Most recently, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote, “the sooner California sets the target of 100% renewable and zero-carbon energy, the better.” But it doesn’t stop there. Just a few months ago, a new report found that more than half of utility customers prefer renewable energy and natural gas sources.

After embracing coal for decades, what are utilities to do when facing abrupt change to the core of their businesses? Some (incorrectly) think it just takes a little rebranding magic. Utilities are rapidly making voluntarily commitments to add more renewable energy to their portfolios, allowing them to set the terms and timelines for investment. Beyond the environmental benefits, these commitments do a lot for brands as they often draw positive headlines and satisfy their customer base. You probably already know there’s a “but” coming here.

While these commitments may alleviate concerns in the short-term, a lack of real effort has the potential to draw even more negative attention. There are also a few other hidden “benefits” to a hollow rebrand. If voters feel satisfied that their local utilities have vigorous renewables strategies in place, they feel they can sit back, relax, and oh, fail to vote for state renewable energy standards (which often include repercussions for failing to meeting targets.)

The lesson here? If you talk the talk, be ready to walk the walk. Consumers can be forgiving after major missteps (think: Pepsi, Apple, United Airlines), but it’s hard to recover from deception. When making any sort of commitment to shareholders and your community, the best practice is to keep your word. As the old saying goes, happy customer base, happy life. Right?

FYI: New Tool From “Renewables on the Rise”

Advocacy organization Environment America has released a new report titled Renewables on the Rise, analyzing the growth of renewable energy in the United States through 2017. Our favorite highlights include:

  • America produced 39 times as much solar power and 4.6 times as much wind power as it did in 2008
  • Renewable energy prices continue to fall. From 2009 to 2017, the levelized cost of energy from wind and utility-scale solar fell by 67 percent and 86 percent, respectively.
  • Utility-scale battery energy storage capacity in the U.S. grew 17-fold from 2008 to 2017 (in megawatts), adding half of its total capacity in 2016 and 2017.
  • While the US population has increased by more than 20 million, the country uses around one percent less energy than in 2008, in significant part due to more energy efficient lighting, appliances and cars.
  • The average American uses nearly 8 percent less energy than in 2008

The Renewables on the Rise report also comes with an interactive map where you can click through states and see their individual growth in wind and solar, electric vehicles, and battery storage. Check out the map here.

Renewables on the Rise map

Hot Summer, Cool Finds:

Union of Concerned Scientists – ExxonMobil’s Support for a Carbon Tax is a Sham

The New York Times – The $3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery

Engadget – Liquid metal battery could lower cost of storing renewable energy

Fast Company – This island nation is making the fastest-ever shift to renewables

If you missed July’s edition of The Grid, you can check it out here. While you’re at it, check out other clean energy resources here. INK can also be found anywhere on social media at @heyINKco.

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