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Sustainable Business 2018

Today’s top business trends will have big impacts

By George Harvey

The state of sustainable business appears to be up in the air right now. This is largely because of unclear policy on the part of the governments of the United States and some of the individual states. With opposition to renewable energy, potential investors have difficultly evaluating market risks. They put their funds elsewhere, and this has a somewhat depressing effect on renewable businesses.

What is not clear to some people, even including even some in the field, is that the situation is tilting rapidly in favor of renewable energy. Costs have come down far more rapidly than almost anyone might have predicted, and this drives investment in renewable energy.

Looking beyond our borders, we can see this clearly. In India, for example, the cost of electricity from new renewable sources is lower than that of about two-thirds of the existing coal-burning power plants. In the long run, there is no longer any reason to buy power from most thermal plants.

There are a number of factors that will have effects on the US business situation. These are a few:

  1. As outrageous as federal government attacks on science seem to be, the really important issue is what corporate America does. And corporate America has many leaders who evaluate potentials objectively in terms of gains or loss for their companies. There is strong support for fact-based science.
    Climate change is a very real threat to many investments, regardless of the fact that important politicians push to have it ignored. Conservative Republican leaders in the state of Louisiana, for example, have told people in nearly all coastal areas that they have to be prepared to move elsewhere because of rising seas, the result of climate change, combined with subsiding land, the result of pumping oil. This includes Cameron Parish, which had the highest percentage of Trump voters of any county in the U.S.

  2. Renewable energy has had its own branch of financing under development. Green financing specializes in projects that ordinary investors cannot accurately assess. This means that evaluations of projects for investors are improving. It also means that increasing amounts of funding are appearing at declining interest rates.

  3. Energy storage technology is improving rapidly and costs of storage are declining accordingly. The effect of this on the market can be seen in the responses to Xcel’s recent requests for bids on solar power, wind power, and storage in various combinations. The median price of bids for wind plus batteries was 2.1¢ per kilowatt-hour, precisely half of the lowest price available for electricity from combined cycle natural gas.

  4. In the very near future, as we move to deal with climate change, we will need to move away from fossil fuels to the point that nearly everything is electrically powered. Though it is not happening in the U.S. yet, in some places, such as Norway, even short range air transportation is expected to be powered by electricity.

  5. Though it may sound unbelievable, fully-automated electric vehicles could soon be delivering goods and transporting people through much of the U.S. Tony Seba, a recognized expert in disruptive technologies, has said he expects that car-owning residents of New York could get service from automated vehicles they call with smart phones that is as good as what they get with their own cars, and they could save 90% of the cost in the process. We might envision the same being true in rural areas, if we allow for having to call for the cars ten minutes before they are needed. How many of us would prefer to keep 90% of the money we spend on cars?

  6. Artificial Intelligence is expected to have profound effects on the electric grid. We can also expect it to have effects on all other uses of fossil fuels. The effects could be found in everything from heating our homes to mowing our lawns.

  7. As renewable energy sources are established, there will be new opportunities to use power at times when no one wants it. This means that a whole set of synthetic fuels and chemicals could become available, of which hydrogen is a good example. When it is burned, the only by-product is water.

  8. Our health can be expected to improve with the reduction in pollution that can be expected with reduced use of fossil fuels. With this will naturally come reduced costs for health care and insurance.

There may be good news after all. For those who wish to learn more, we suggest reading “2018 State of Green Business,” an 80-page report from GreenBiz.com (http://bit.ly/state-of-green-biz-2018).

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