* The news roundup below is completely based on my personal interests and selection, with focus on the news in Japan and the US due to my limited time and expertise.
(Source: USDOE, SSL Program)
- (Japan) Renewable energy deployment accelerated thanks to feed-in tariff (FIT). The skewed tariff structure however caused unbalanced growth of renewables.
- (Japan) The government finally decided to end highway toll discount (March 2014). It was introduced as an economic stimulus measure, only causing a shift from public transit to automobile and thus more traffic congestion and GHG emissions.
- (Japan) A carbon tax took effect in October. It gives good incentives for people and businesses to save energy and shift to cleaner energy source.
- (Japan) The Energy Conservation Act was amended to broaden its target. The world's toughest mandate now covers building materials and technologies leading to cut power consumption during peak periods.
- (Japan) JR Central geared up to start work on maglev train construction. The actual construction is expected to kick off in fall 2014. It could further reduce air and auto trips along the most populated urban corridor in Japan.
- (US) EPA finalized a new GHG emission standard for new power plants (mostly to regulate coal power plants), and is looking at making a similar regulation for existing ones.
- (US) Most traditional light bulbs are now banned (Canada as well). LED and CFL are expected to replace them.
- (US) Power providers continued to retire coal-fired power plants due to the shale gas boom. This is currently a major driver in reducing GHG emissions in the US.
- (US) 2012 GHG emissions were the lowest in nearly 20 years, due to more renewable energy, natural gas, and energy efficiency.
- Shale gas may not as bad as previously suggested. It could be a good stopgap measure until more energy efficiency and renewable energy are deployed.
- Offshore wind development and demonstration is picking up the pace in Europe, Japan, and the US. It may be the next primary renewable energy source as photovoltaic and traditional wind power development saturates.
- The world continues to make very little progress toward legally-binding GHG reduction reduction target or policy.
- (US) Congressional gridlock continued on almost anything. The Obama administration suggested incremental, patch-work policy approach in its Climate Action Plan, but ultimate solutions such as a carbon tax require congressional approval.
- (US) Cellulosic ethanol continues to be unsuccessful in commercial production, clouding the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
- (US) High-speed rail projects continued to face difficulties, most notably in California. It is time for the government to focus on supportive roles and let private developers build the system as in Japan's maglev train and Florida's All Aboard Florida.
- (Japan) The Abe administration lowered its GHG reduction target based on the assumption that no nuclear power will be available and energy demand will decline only by a small margin in 2020. However, the previous target of 25% reduction from the 1990 levels is still achievable in my view, as both assumptions are flawed.
- (Japan) TEPCO's answer to the nuclear accident and subsequent power shortage is to build more coal power plants, while electricity demand continued to fall and renewable energy development accelerates.
- (Japan) National GHG emissions continued to rise. Electric sector sans nuclear power is to be blamed, offsetting reductions in other emission sources.
- (China) China became the largest GHG emitter in the world in 2007 (or 2010), and the emissions just kept rising. In addition to the notorious dependency on coal for power generation, the inefficient and ever-growing steel industry is becoming more problematic.
- Electric vehicle sales are yet to catch fire. While Tesla is thriving, other ventures such as Fisker struggled and filed for bankruptcy. Let's see how things turn out over the next several years.
- (US) California is about to launch its own cap and trade program. Due to the failure in Europe, its effectiveness is doubtful at best.
- (US) Energy Information Administration (EIA) finally revised its long-term energy demand forecast up to 2040. The key changes are the downwardly revised demographic, economic, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) forecasts. I still think it overestimates the energy demand, but the revised forecast could deter some highway and power plant construction.
- (US) Nuclear power plants face difficulties in maintaining competitiveness, and some utilities decided to phase out the aged reactors.
- (Japan) Electric utilities made a move to restart a number of nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority is taking a rigorous look at the safety enhancements, and is likely to authorize restarts for several reactors in spring 2014.
- (Japan) New national energy plan now position nuclear power as an important base load source. This is a dramatic shift from the previous administration's decision to phase out all nuclear power by sometime in the 2030's.
* I labeled nuclear-related news neutral, as it is good from climate policy perspectives, but not so good from general policy perspectives.