In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,
“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”
Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:
1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.
“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.
2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.
In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.
“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
3. Pioneer forClimate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy. His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.
“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).
Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.
Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)
One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.
As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”
Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.
I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.
“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1.Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.”Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers
“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video
Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her plans to introduce a new “carbon fee” bill, during a press conference Wednesday in downtown San Francisco.
“I think a carbon fee is growing in popularity,” said Feinstein, after an appearance at the Commonwealth Club. Her plans follow President Obama’s SOTU call for “market based solutions to climate change,” and a growing consensus among experts in favor of using the taxation system to control carbon dioxide emissions.
By increasing the price of fossil fuel in the market…
It levels the playing field between carbon-based fuels and renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, making renewables more competitive and attractive to consumers and investors.
A portion of the “dividend” (the carbon “fee” proceeds) would be refunded to US residents.
Similar schemes have been implemented in British Columbia, Sweden and Ireland with some success. The aim is to encourage consumers to see the true cost of their energy choices. The fee represents some of the externalities of choosing fossil fuel, such as particulate pollution and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
Feinstein’s proposal was short on details, but she confirmed, “It’s my intention to introduce a fee of $10 a ton and we’ll see what happens to it.”
The Boxer-Sanders proposal is for a tax (or “fee”) of $20 per ton of carbon. Presumably Feinstein feels it’ll be more palatable to start at a lower level and gradually phase in a higher tax over several years.
Feinstein acknowledged that with other issues stealing center stage (notably saber-rattling in North Korea and the ongoing domestic gun control debate), climate change is not currently on the government’s “high priority list,” so it’s hard to predict what progress the government will achieve.
Nevertheless, Feinstein was vocal on the topic of climate change and bullish about renewable energy during an earlier interview with the Commonwealth Club’s Greg Dalton:
“People don’t really understand. They think the earth is immutable. They think we can’t destroy it, that it’s here to stay. It’s not so… As we fill the atmosphere with pollutants: methane, carbon dioxide, other things…it warms the earth. And it begins with animal habitat disappearing, the ocean beginning to rise, more violent hurricanes, tornadoes…drought is more prevalent.”
“What’s going to be the ultimate change is weather. People see weather, they see the devastation and so eventually people are going to come around to support restrictions on carbon dioxide, maybe a fee on the use of carbon to replace our deficit, our debt. A $20 fee (per ton of carbon or methane equivalent) is like $1.2 Trillion in revenue over 10 years. If you just take half that: $600 Billion.”
“I wouldn’t say there’s much (support in the Senate) but I would say this: people are coming to realize now… climate change is getting worse. Actually since 2008, ‘good energy’ has doubled. Electric cars are being more prevalent, hybrids are being more prevalent. People are saving money. Good things are happening. The question is: can we really bite the bullet and make the decision that we’re going to save the planet?”
On the Keystone Pipeline
“I’m told the area in Alberta (Canada) is bigger than the state of Florida, I’m told it’s a forested area which they mow down and begin to dig the huge giant lakes which they pour chemicals in to produce this form of tar sands oil. The earth is defaced forever.”
“Now we have to make up our minds: do we want to deface large portions of our earth forever? I don’t think so because we’re making progress on clean energy and that ought to really be where we go.”
“Some people say if the pipeline isn’t built north-south through the center of our country, they’re only going to do it east to west and send it to China. That’s not a good argument.”
“I don’t think candidly that it’s all that necessary. There will be no oil drilling off the coast of California, if Senator Boxer and I prevail, and we have so far. My emphasis would be on clean energy: the wind farms, the solar facilities and there’s so much research going on on different forms of fuel. Leave those fossil fuels alone because they pollute the atmosphere.” Read more on the country’s largest shale oil resource from KQED.
Photo by Alison van Diggelen
On Tesla’s Model S
“I sat on one (a Tesla Model S) out at the Tesla Fremont plant. I kind of dented the fender. But anyway…” (laughter)
Feinstein drives a Lexus hybrid
On California’s water shortages
“We’re on our way to a much drier climate…the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s drying up and it’s very serious…The key is: we need to store more water from the wet years and hold it for the dry years and this environmentalists don’t like. It may mean raising a couple of dams (eg Shasta)…I do believe that the time is now to have a storage water bond. The most important thing we can do for our state is to hold water from the wet years for the dry years and we should get that done (or) we’re going to lose our agriculture… I live in Washington now for a lot of the time and I can tell you the crops grown in California taste much better than most places in the world.”
On subsidies to oil and gas
“I think the day has come for subsidies to go for industries other than startups like some of the clean energy…solar. As you know, everything is “cut cut cut” back there (DC) right now. With sequestration cutting another $85 Billion before the beginning of the fiscal year and the amount goes up. So there’s going to be cut after cut after cut. And they’re big cuts. So I think we need to look at tax reform and we need to look at all those deductions and remove a lot of them and we also need to look at our entitlements programs.”
As the nation anticipates a “climate friendly” State of the Union speech from President Obama Tuesday, let’s take a look at what one of Silicon Valley’s most successful innovators and job creators has to say about the government’s role in climate change and innovation.
Last month, I interviewed Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley and asked him what specifically President Obama can do to stimulate the economy. He acknowledges that presidents can only do so much, saying,”You’re actually like the captain of a very huge ship and have a small rudder.”
Musk argues that too much government regulation can stand in the way of innovation, especially in the auto industry; and is generally in favor of minimal government intervention in the economy. On climate change, however, he was forceful and described our oil based, carbon intensive economy as creating a “crazy chemical experiment on the atmosphere” with likely catastrophic consequences. He concludes that taxing carbon is vital.
Elon Musk: Well sometimes…I don’t think the government tends to stand in the way of innovation but it can over-regulate industries to the point where innovation becomes very difficult. The auto industry used to be a great hotbed of innovation at the beginning of the 20th Century. But now there are so many regulations that are intended to protect consumers…I mean the body of regulation for cars could fill this room. It’s just crazy how much regulation there is. Down to what the headlamps are supposed to be like. They even specify some of the elements of the user interface on the dashboard…some of these are completely anachronistic because they’re related back to the days when you had a little light that would illuminate an image. So we had to reserve space on the instrument panel of the Model S for where all of the indicators…that a car would have…you know you’ve got these little lights…
Alison van Diggelen: Check engine or whatever…
Elon Musk: Yeah…all these little things. There is a whole bunch of them. ‘We can’t have anything else in that space. ‘ But how about we have one space and render a different graphic? ‘Oh no, because people are expecting to see them in this space.’ Nobody is expecting to see them in that space.
Alison van Diggelen: So you can’t argue with these regulations?
Elon Musk: Well you can argue with them, but not with much success. (laughter). You can actually get these things changed, but it takes ages. Like one of the things we’re trying to get is: why should you have side mirrors if you could have say, tiny video cameras and have them display the image inside the car? But there are all these regulations saying you have to have side mirrors. I went and met with the Secretary of Transport and like, can you change this regulation…? Still nothing has happened and that was two years ago.
Alison van Diggelen: So you’re banging your head against the wall…
Elon Musk: We need to get these regulations changed.
Alison van Diggelen: So talking of government, President Obama is obviously trying to do what he can…if you had five minutes with President Obama, what would you advise him for one: stimulating the economy and entrepreneurship and (two) creating jobs. Is there one thing if he could successfully get through that would be a big stimulus?
Elon Musk: I think actually…the reality of being president is that you’re actually like the captain of a very huge ship and have a small rudder (laughter). If there was a button that a president could push that said ‘economic prosperity,’ they’d be hitting that button real fast…
Alison van Diggelen: Full steam ahead.
Elon Musk: You can imagine…the speed of light, how fast they’d be pressing that button. That’s called the re-election button. I’m not sure how much the president can really do. I’m generally a fan of minimal government interference in the economy. The government should be the referee but not the player. And there shouldn’t be too many referees. But there is an exception, which is when there’s an un-priced externality, such as the CO2 capacity of the oceans and atmosphere. So, when you have an un-priced externality, then the normal market mechanisms don’t work and then it’s the government’s role to intervene in a way that’s sensible. The best way to intervene is to assign a proper price to the common good that is being consumed.
Alison van Diggelen: So you’re saying there should be a tax on gas?
Elon Musk: There should be a tax on carbon. If the bad thing is carbon accumulation in the atmosphere, then there needs to be a tax on that. And then you can get rid of all subsidies and all, everything else. It seems logical that there should be a tax on things that are most likely to be bad. That’s why we tax cigarettes and alcohol. These are probably bad for you, certainly cigarettes are (laughter). So you want to err on the side of taxing things that are probably bad. And not tax things that are good. Given that there is a need to gather tax to pay for federal government…We should shift the tax burden to bad things and then adjust the tax on bad things according to whatever’s going to result in behavior that we think is beneficial for the future.
I think currently that what we’re doing right now, which is mining and burning trillions of tons of hydrocarbons that used to be buried very deep underground, and now we’re sticking them in the atmosphere and running this crazy chemical experiment on the atmosphere. And then we’ve got the oil and gas companies that have ungodly amounts of money. You can’t expect them to roll over and die. They don’t do that. What they much prefer to do is spend enormous amounts of money lobbying and running bogus ad campaigns to preserve their situation.
It’s a lot like tobacco companies in the old days. They used to run these ad campaigns with doctors, guys pretending they were doctors, essentially implying that smoking is good for you, and having pregnant mothers on ads, smoking.
Alison van Diggelen: Do you have a message for the climate change skeptics and the big oil people?
Elon Musk: Well, as far as climate change skeptics…I believe in the scientific method and one should have a healthy skepticism of things in general…if you pursue things from a scientific standpoint, you always look at things probabilistically and not definitively…so a lot of times if someone is a skeptic in the science community, what they’re saying is that they’re they’re not sure that it’s 100% certain that this is the case. But that’s not the point. The point is, to look at it from the other side. To say: What’s the percentage chance that this could be catastrophic for some meaningful percentage of earth’s population? Is it greater than 1%? Is it even 1%? If it is even 1%, why are we running this experiment?
Alison van Diggelen: You’ve called it Russian roulette. We’re playing Russian roulette with the atmosphere…
Elon Musk: We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise. And what makes it super insane is that we’re going to run out of oil anyway. It’s not like there’s some infinite oil supply. We are going to run out of it. We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what. So why even run the experiment? It’s the world’s dumbest experiment (applause).
Read more Transcript Excerpts from our 2013 interview: