ESG and Energy

Clean Energy in the Age of COVID-19

April 8, 2020

Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley provides his insights on clean energy policy and economic impacts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Event Summary
Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy at University of California, Berkeley, provided his insights on clean energy policy and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in an OurEnergyPolicy webinar, Clean Energy in the Age of COVID-19, on April 8, 2020.

The world has seen dramatic improvements in air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions under the pandemic, but Kammen explained how this came from the wrong reasons—from a collapsing economy and not from adopting more clean energy sources. The current 20% unemployment rate is unprecedented since the Great Depression.

Kammen said that the COVID-19 crisis rightly has our attention, but it is unfortunate that strings of natural disasters do not invoke the same kind of international response on climate change. He said the pandemic has lessons for us that are transferable to the climate crisis: We learn that supply chains are vulnerable and that there is no substitute for brain power in the federal government or for research, development, and education. We learn that tipping points can happen fast and that individual actions add up. And we learn that we are only as resilient as our investment in those who are most vulnerable, making environmental justice “a critical feature for how we deal with these issues” and not just a “fad for the left.”

The pandemic emission reductions have happened in just a few weeks, rather than months or years, Kammen said. He explained that if the changes we’re seeing today were achieved through energy source switching, we’d already be 25%–38% of the way to our Paris target in just a few months. “If we could do this in a way that is economy-stimulating, we have in front of us right now with COVID, a fascinating lesson about how quickly things could change,” he said.

Kammen said that today, we’re seeing as fast an improvement in energy storage technologies as we’ve ever seen in solar power. He showed how regional changes in the cost of carbon could change the energy generation mix. And he also explained that as a physicist, his main concern in our current trajectory of carbon emissions is not the year in which our carbon emissions peak but the slope from which they decrease afterward. “We need not only a push to get us going [in reducing carbon emissions annually], but we critically need a way to sustain that effort,” he said.

He highlighted California as an example of constructive state climate change policies, including the state’s cap-and-trade bill, energy requirements for commercial office buildings beginning in 2030, and its requirement beginning this year that every new home meet its load with onsite energy. He said these requirements challenge industries in California and force them to innovate.

Kammen also mentioned a green stimulus open letter to members of Congress that is available for download and to sign for those interested. He said it includes many “shovel-ready” projects, including for labor and housing and public transit, that could begin right away and be completed on a timeline of months rather than years or decades.

Kammen directed attendees to more information on topics in his presentation (in addition to his presentation slides above) on the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory website (