Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

Liberal Bias and Climate Science

by Michael Levi Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Nuclear_Power_Plant_Cattenom

Eduardo Porter has a column in the New York Times today arguing that “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change”. (Yes, that’s a headline that he didn’t write, but it’s a good summary of the column’s message.) I’m on board with that bottom line. But his central example of liberal hostility to the “the scientific consensus” unintentionally highlights a different problem: conflation of science with values and judgment. Read more »

Why Solar Will Need to Cost 25¢ Per Watt by 2050, And How the Industry Might Get There

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, April 7, 2016
An operator inspects equipment used to fabricate the most efficient solar cells in the world, jointly developed by SolarJunction and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Daniel Derkacs/SolarJunction). An operator inspects equipment used to fabricate the most efficient solar cells in the world, jointly developed by SolarJunction and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Daniel Derkacs/SolarJunction).

This post is co-written with Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at Greentech Media.

For solar power to become truly mainstream, how much should it cost? And is the industry on track to meet that target? We tackle each of those questions in an article released today in the journal Nature Energy. In a nutshell, our answers are: for solar power to supply nearly a third of the world’s electricity by 2050, it will ultimately need to cost around 25 cents per watt (in today’s dollars), fully installed. And that target may be out of reach without a major technological shift. Read more »

Japan Should Increase Its Target for Renewable Energy, In Case Nuclear Restarts Stall

by Varun Sivaram Monday, April 4, 2016
An aerial view shows the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station, the only two units operating in Japan (Reuters/Kyodo TPX). An aerial view shows the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station, the only two units operating in Japan (Reuters/Kyodo TPX).

I’ve been traveling in Japan, meeting with government officials, power sector executives, and energy policy scholars. I thank CFR life member Bill Martin, Washington Policy and Analysis, and the Japanese Federation of Electric Power Companies for generously hosting me. Read more »

WTO Ruling Against India’s Solar Policies Previews Clashes Between Trade and Climate Agendas

by Varun Sivaram Friday, February 26, 2016
Workers carry a damaged photovoltaic solar panel at the Gujarat solar park under construction in the Indian state of Gujarat (Reuters/Amit Dave). Workers carry a damaged photovoltaic solar panel at the Gujarat solar park under construction in the Indian state of Gujarat (Reuters/Amit Dave).

This week, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel decided in favor of the United States and against India in a dispute over Indian domestic content requirements for sourcing solar power. Reading the headlines, one might worry that “The WTO Just Ruled Against India’s Booming Solar Program” or, worse, that the “WTO swats down India’s massive solar initiative.” Read more »

The Supreme Court Just Clarified Rules for Modern Power Regulation…Or Did It?

by Varun Sivaram Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court (Reuters/Gary Cameron) The U.S. Supreme Court (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government is empowered to regulate wholesale demand response, or targeted reductions in electricity use by consumers in response to peak demand. The ruling, in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) v. Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), has been hailed by a broad coalition comprising environmental activists, regulators, and companies, because demand response can reduce rates and ease strain on the grid. Read more »

Solar Power’s Paradoxical 2015 in Three Charts

by Varun Sivaram Thursday, January 14, 2016
President Obama arrives to deliver remarks on clean energy after a tour of a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) President Obama arrives to deliver remarks on clean energy after a tour of a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

This post is co-written with Sagatom Saha, research associate for energy and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama celebrated the remarkable growth of clean energy, particularly solar power, which in 2015 added 7.4 GW of capacity in the United States and 55 GW globally. However, he also omitted an equally remarkable trend: over the same year, the Global Solar Index, which tracks the overall industry, collapsed, losing nearly half its value from a mid-year high. Read more »

Now Comes the Hard Part: India’s Scope for Emissions Mitigation

by Guest blogger for Varun Sivaram Tuesday, December 22, 2015
A private security guard walks between rows of photovoltaic solar panels inside a solar power plant at Raisan village in Gujarat (Reuters/Amit Dave) A private security guard walks between rows of photovoltaic solar panels inside a solar power plant at Raisan village in Gujarat (Reuters/Amit Dave)

This guest post is co-authored by Joshua Busby, Associate Professor, and Sarang Shidore, Consultant and Visiting Scholar, at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. For further analysis from the blog, see: “How India Could Achieve Its Audacious Solar Ambitions Read more »

Budget Deal Oil-for-Renewables Trade Would Substantially Reduce Carbon Emissions

by Varun Sivaram and Michael Levi Friday, December 18, 2015
Solar panels on top of a housing complex in National City, California (Reuters/Mike Blake) Solar panels on top of a housing complex in National City, California (Reuters/Mike Blake)

This post is coauthored by Varun Sivaram and Michael Levi.

Congress is set to vote on a budget deal that would permanently end the long-standing ban on crude oil exports in exchange for temporary extensions of tax credits that support solar and wind energy. Michael wrote on Tuesday about the market, climate, and geopolitical impact of lifting the oil export ban. In this post we’re going to estimate the climate impact of the renewables tax credit extensions. We focus on 2016-2020 for three reasons: (a) it’s the period for which we have the best data; (b) beyond 2020, complex interactions with the Clean Power Plan make things much tougher to model; and (c) most important, beyond 2020, the primary effect of the ITC/PTC extension should be to make reducing emissions cheaper, and thus enable stronger policy, something that can’t be quantitatively modeled. Read more »

Oil Exports Budget Deal? Market, Climate, and Geopolitical Consequences

by Michael Levi Tuesday, December 15, 2015
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

News outlets are reporting that a congressional budget deal could end the oil export ban in exchange for extension of the Investment and Production Tax Credits (ITC and PTC) that support solar and wind energy. Here I want to lay out what ending the oil export ban could mean for markets, climate, and geopolitics. (I suspect Varun may weigh in later on the ITC/PTC extensions if and when details emerge.) Short version: Little immediate impact on anything; a possible boost on the order of a few hundred thousand barrels a day to U.S. oil production over the longer run; a factor of perhaps fifty smaller impact on carbon dioxide emissions than the Clean Power Plan and CAFE (fuel economy standards); and a mixed bag for geopolitics and trade talks. Read more »