Peter Fox-Penner

Peter Fox-Penner

Peter Fox-Penner is a Professor of Practice in the Questrom School of Management and the Director of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy. His research and writing interests are in the areas of electric power strategy, regulation, and governance; energy and climate policy; and the relationships between public and private economic activity, including corporate social responsibility. He is the author of Smart Power, a book widely credited with foreseeing the future transformation of the power industry now used and cited all over the world, as well as other books in this area. He also teaches courses on sustainable energy and electric power in the Questrom School of Business. The work of the BU Institute for Sustainable Energy and Peter’s projects through the Institute can be viewed here. In addition, he is Chief Strategy Officer of Energy Impact Partners, a director of Lighting Retrofit, Inc., Academic Advisor to The Brattle Group, and a Senior Policy Scholar at the Georgetown Center for Law and Public Policy.

Photo Credit: Glen Canyon Dam and Colorado River - Page, Arizona by user Jim Trodel

Renewable Energy Around the World and At Home

Around the world, renewable energy is making headlines: last May, clean energy supplied almost all of ...

Around the world, renewable energy is making headlines: last May, clean energy supplied almost all of Germany’s power demand for one day, while Portugal ran entirely on renewable energy for 107 hours straight. We asked some of our authors how these accomplishments will affect the way other countries think about renewable energy, and what this means for the US. Check out what they had to say below. 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Renewables are already being taken seriously by the marketplace, but ultimately it’s a matter of economics: fossil fuels don’t pay their true cost—including the costs associated with emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants—and so it’s not a level playing field. A carbon tax (like the carbon tax effort I’m part of that will be on the ballot in Washington State in November) would help internalize those external costs and give a boost to renewables and conservation. It’s still going to be a long time before the USA operates entirely on renewables for a day or more—it’s a big country and we’ve got a lot of coal and natural-gas power plants—but the sooner we start moving in that direction the better!
-Yoram Bauman, author The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

It is great to see these milestones achieved, but I think even more important climate policy and achievements are now starting to be seen on the horizon. There is a new wave of policymaking focused on 80 percent or even complete decarbonization of energy by 2050, travelling far beyond the 2030 date in most official goals and plans, including the U.S. Clean Power Plan. While the 2050 works are in their early stages, and most are closer to visioning exercises than actionable plans, this is the next phase of planning and operations for no-carbon energy. Thirty-five years is a very long time to plan forward, but it is within the life span of many large energy technologies and nearly all of the buildings that are in existence today. Every year we move towards 2050 we lock in more of the system that will be in place, or already retired, by that year, so it’s really the right time to start working on this. Almost makes you want to start singing that old Fleetwood Mac song, the theme of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Google it, you twenty-somethings.
-Peter Fox-Penner, author Smart Power Anniversary Edition

Many press reports said Portugal and Germany were getting all their energy from renewables during these short periods of abundant wind and sunlight. But it’s important to remember that we’re really talking only about electricity, which currently represents about 20 percent of global final energy usage. The other 80 percent of energy usage occurs mostly in transportation, agriculture, industrial processes, and in heating buildings, and currently requires liquid, gaseous, and solid hydrocarbon fuels. We have a big challenge ahead of us in electrifying those areas of energy usage. Continue reading Richard's full post here.
-Richard Heinberg, co-author Our Renewable Future

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Cutting Back: IP Authors Reflect On Their Carbon Footprints

With the end of COP 21 and the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, it’s not just countries that are thinking about how to reduce emissions—individuals are...

With the end of COP 21 and the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, it’s not just countries that are thinking about how to reduce emissions—individuals are reflecting on how their habits and actions impact climate change as well.

Island Press authors shared what they’re doing to reduce their carbon footprints and, in some cases, what more they could be doing. Check out their answers and share your own carbon cutbacks—or vices—in the comments. 

Jason Mark, author of Satellites in the High Country:
Very much like the Paris Climate Accord itself, ecological sustainability is a process, not a destination. Which, I'll admit, is a squirrely way of saying that I'm doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint. I ride my bike. I take mass transit. Most days my car never leaves the spot in front of our home. Most importantly, I have sworn off beef because of cattle production's disproportionate climate impact. The (grass-fed, humane) burger still has a siren song, but I ignore it. 

Grady Gammage, author of The Future of the Suburban City:
I drive a hybrid, ride light rail to the airport and don’t bother to turn on the heat in my house (which is possible in Phoenix).  My greatest carbon sin is my wood burning fireplace.  I don’t use it when there’s a “no burn” day, but otherwise, I have a kind of primordial attraction to building a fire.

John Cleveland, co-author of Connecting to Change the World:
We just installed a 12 KW solar array on our home in New Hampshire. At the same time, we electrified our heating system with Mitsubishi heat pumps. So our home is now net positive from both an electricity and heating point of view. We made the solar array large enough to also power an electric car, but are waiting for the new models that will have more range before we install the electric car charger.  The array and heat pumps have great economics.  The payback period is 8-years and after that we get free heat and electricity for the remainder of the system life — probably another 20+ years.  Great idea for retirement budgets!

Dan Fagin, author of Toms River:
Besides voting for climate-conscious candidates, the most important thing we can do as individuals is fly less, so I try to take the train where possible. I wish it were a better option.

Photo by Bernal Saborio, used under Creative Commons licensing. 

Darrin Nordahl, author of Public Produce:
The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and how we produce food in this country is responsible for much of those emissions. From agriculture, to the fossil fuels needed to produce bags and boxes for pre-packaged food, to the burning of gas and oil to transport both fresh produce and pre-packaged food, I have discovered I can reduce my carbon footprint with a simple change in my diet. For one, I avoid processed food of any sort. I also grow a good portion of my vegetables and herbs and, thankfully, local parks with publicly accessible fruit trees provide a modicum of fresh fruit for my family. We also eat less meat than we used to and our bodies (and our planet) are healthier because of it.

Yoram Bauman, author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change:
I try to put on warm slippers or other extra layers around the house in order to not have to heat the house so much, but I still like to take long hot showers. (Maybe those two things are connected).

Rob McDonald, author of Conservation for Cities:
I try to pay attention to my daily habits that make up a lot of my carbon footprint. So I bike to work, or take mass transit. That gets rid of the carbon footprint of driving. I also try to only moderately heat or cool my home, so I’m not burning a lot of energy doing that. The biggest component of my carbon footprint that I haven’t managed to cut is for travel. I have to travel once or twice a month for my job, and unless it is a trip in the Northeast (when I can just use Amtrak!), I am stuck travelling. The carbon footprint of all that air travel is huge. I try to do virtual meetings, rather than travel whenever I can, but there still seems to be a big premium people place on meeting folks face to face.

Emily Monosson, author of Unnatural Selection 
We keep our heat really low in the winter (ask our teenage daughter, it's way too cold for her here!) and I hang my clothes on the line in the summer. Because it’s so cold, I love taking really hot long showers. I should also hang my clothes in the winter too, and ditch the dryer. 

Jonathan Barnett and Larry Beasley, co-authors of Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs:
We both live in a town-house in the central part of a city – on opposite sides of the continent: one in Philadelphia the other in Vancouver. Our neighborhoods have 100% walk scores. We each own one car, but don’t need to drive it very much - most of the time we can go where they need to on foot.  We wrote our book using email and Dropbox. What they still need to work on is using less air travel in the future.

Jan Gehl, author of Cities for People:
I live in Denmark where 33% of the energy is delivered by windmills. A gradual increase will happen in the coming years. As in most other countries in the developed world, too much meat is on the daily diet. That is absolutely not favorable for the carbon footprint. It sounds like more salad is called for in the future!

Photo by Katja Wagner, used under Creative Commons licensing. 

Suzanne Shaw, co-author of Cooler Smarter:
Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living provides a roadmap for consumers to cut their carbon footprint 20 percent (or more). My approach to lowering my carbon footprint has gone hand in hand with saving money through sensible upgrades. Soon after I purchase my 125-year-old house I added insulation, weather stripping and a programmable thermostat. When I needed a new furnace, I swapped a dirty oil furnace to a cleaner, high-efficiency natural gas model. And now have LED bulbs in every fixture in the house, Energy Star appliances throughout, and power strips at my entertainment and computer areas. This summer, I finally installed solar panels through a 25-year lease (zero out-of-pocket expense). In the month of September, I had zero emissions from electricity use.  Living in the city, I am fortunate to have access to public transportation and biking, which keeps our household driving to a minimum.

Peter Fox-Penner, author of Smart Power Anniversary Edition:
I’m reducing my footprint by trying to eat vegan, taking Metro rather than taxis or Ubers, and avoiding excess packaging.  Right now I travel too much, especially by air. P.S. Later this year I’ll publish my carbon footprint on the website of the new Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy. Watch for it!

Carlton Reid, author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars:
Our family has a (small) car but I cycle pretty much all of the time. My kids cycle to school (some days) and my wife cycles to work (sometimes). It’s useful to have the car for some journeys, long ones mostly, but having a family fleet of bikes means we don’t need a second car. Reducing one’s carbon footprint can be doing less of something not necessarily giving up something completely. If everybody reduced their car mileage (and increased their active travel mileage) that would be good for the planet and personally: win/win.

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The Missing Smart Power Chapter

Power lines were among the many casualties of Superstorm Sandy.
Power lines were among the many casualties of Superstorm Sandy. Photo by drpavloff, used under Creative Commons licensing. Power lines were among the many casualties of Superstorm Sandy. Photo by drpavloff, used under Creative Commons licensing.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post with permission. This fall, Island Press released the Smart Power Anniversary Edition, allowing me to supplement the original text with forewords from industry leaders such as Jim Rogers, Daniel Esty, Daniel Dobbeni, and Lyndon Rive. These experts joined me in expressing amazement at the rapid changes taking place over the past few years: plunging solar costs, the shale gas revolution, the new EPA regulations for power plants, the need for energy system resiliency, and how growing interests in exploring new business models have set interest in utility transformation into overdrive. In his foreword, Daniel Dobbeni writes: "Often cited in the past as a model of long-term planning, the power sector nowadays is upside down. Fast and often uncoordinated transformations reshape each and every segment of the value chain. Long gone are the days when long term energy and environmental policies were determined without paying too much attention to competitiveness issues or potential 'black swan events.'" As we near the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a storm whose magnitude may soon become the norm and not just a black swan, I am beginning to see energy resilience as one of the biggest new drivers in utility transformation. Resilience is quickly emerging as a driver important and complex enough to deserve its own chapter in Smart Power. All of us lived through Superstorm Sandy and quite a lot of other recent severe climate events. The U.S. had 11 events in 2012 with greater than $1 billion worth of damage, and in 2013 there were only nine of these billion dollar events. These climate events come with outages on an unprecedented scale, of which Superstorm Sandy was the poster child: eight million customers were without power, many for several weeks. Those events have prompted many to ask whether a different architecture of the grid, with greater use of distributed energy resources and smart grid technology would help in the response to those sorts of events. Those technologies and resources will help greatly, and should continue to grow, though I would caution against being too simplistic about it. Solar cells on your roof may be a good thing, but they won't necessarily prevent some very severe grid impacts. So, although it's not a simple topic, it's an important new driver for industry change. In lieu of my missing chapter, there are some truly notable sources on this topic I want to highlight. For those new to the topic or still learning how utilities view resilience planning, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has prepared an excellent introduction: Resilience in Regulated Utilities. Some interesting examples of how regions and utilities are addressing resilience include New Jersey's Energy Resilience Bank, New York's Resiliency Plan, and Maryland's Grid Resiliency Task Force and Resiliency Through Microgrids Task Force. For those interested in the broader overlaps between resilience and sustainability, The Solutions Journal just released a special resilience-focused issue. The special edition included articles from The Center for Resilience at Ohio State, and a piece by Peter Evans and myself discussing "Resilience and Sustainable Infrastructure for Urban Energy Systems". Our article highlights the complexity of these issues and the need for urban energy systems to not only build resilient and sustainable infrastructure, but also develop systems intelligence and broad planning efforts—many of the elements of future utilities laid out in Smart Power. There is great momentum for change in the industry, and the new driver, resilience, will play a role in shaping utilities of the future in the coming years.