by Stephen Lacey
May 01, 2017

Stephen Lacey: As we near the May 7th run-off election between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, we consider the future of the world's leading nuclear energy power during a time of political volatility and electricity market transformation.

Then here we go again. Yesterday shots were fired, and they could mark the beginning of a new solar trade war between America and the rest of the world. Under Trump, the outcome of this one is anyone's guess. Finally, the U.K. went coal-free for a day recently. We place its significance, and with two of my favorite people, Katherine Hamilton and Jigar Shah. Katherine's a partner with 38 North Solutions and comes to us from our fair capital city of Washington, D.C. Hello, Katherine.

Katherine Hamilton: Hi.

Stephen Lacey: We're approaching 100 days of the Trump presidency. How are you and the rest of the city holding up?

Katherine Hamilton: We're hanging in and looking forward to the Climate March on Saturday.

Stephen Lacey: Melania Trump celebrated here 47th birthday in D.C. this week. Were you invited to that?

Katherine Hamilton: No. It was just family.

Stephen Lacey: In New York City is Generate Capital's president Jigar Shah. He's normally in his home studio or coming to us from his office in San Francisco, but today we have found him in the lobby of the Hilton Chelsea in Manhattan. What brings you to the Hilton in Manhattan?

Jigar Shah: Well, I was at the Sunshine bonds conference downtown and headed uptown, and got a whole bunch of traffic, and so to meet the time allotted I figured I'd duck into a hotel.

Stephen Lacey: I saw, Jigar, that you were on the Positive Podcast this week and you made the host, Positive Phil, cry with all your business acumen. Did you listen to the final show?

Jigar Shah: I did. He cried with optimism.

Stephen Lacey: That's right. I was on Nico Johnson's SunCast this week as well. We had a really good discussion about solar business models and about politics and about podcasting in general, so that was a fun one for me. Let's move on. Let's actually get into the show now, and we're going to make our way over to France, where the country's presidential election has been pretty wild. We're not going to pretend to be experts on the intricacies of French politics here, nor are we going to go overboard with parallels to the American election, as so many pundits do. But they are a little irresistible, so I'm going to offer up a little bit of background here. Bear with me. The first round of the French presidential election just took place, and now two candidates square off in the final round of voting on May 7th.

Emmanuel Macron is the former finance minister, and he represents the social-liberal En Marche! party. Marine Le Pen represents the far-right National Front party, and Le Pen's name may actually sound more familiar to Americans because she's been getting more attention here, and that's because her brand of populism, some might say demagoguery, echoes President Donald Trump. It's also reflective of U.K. politician Boris Johnson and others who've pushed Britain's exit from the European Union. Now there are a lot of very important differences between what happened in America and the U.K. and what's going on in France, but we can certainly say that anti-globalization angst is fueling a rise in populism among industrialized countries. Now with that context set, we're going to weigh in on how France's elections may impact that country's energy policy.

Because France is going through quite a radical reevaluation of its electricity mix. It gets about 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but back in 2015 current French president Francois Hollande set a policy that would roll back older nuclear power plants and set a target of 50 percent nuclear by 2025, and he wants to fill the gap with more renewables and efficiency. Now the two presidential candidates squaring off, Macron and Le Pen, are sparring over what to do with nuclear. It's part of an even bigger debate over nationalizing the energy giant EDF, expanding or limiting energy trading with the EU, and mixing variable renewables with a really high nuclear grid. Ok. I've gone on long enough. I just wanted to provide some big context there, because we haven't really covered France in the past. Katherine, talk a little bit more about what France's nuclear debate is all about.

Katherine Hamilton: So it's interesting because Macron really is centrist and he kind of wants to continue on the trajectory that they've been on, which is there are 58 nuclear plants that are nearing retirement to various degrees. He really does want to continue on that path and cap it at 50 percent of the country's electricity share by 2025. Whereas Le Pen wants to really draw back and say, "We need to keep everything we do within our borders," and she's very bullish on nuclear, on retaining that fleet, and extending the lifetime beyond even what I would think physics would support. She wants a lot more solar. She wants bio-energy. She wants a moratorium on wind. For some reason she hates wind. It's a visceral thing for her. She wants all of EDF, which is their utility, to be renationalized 100 percent so it would all be within the borders.

This whole thing is tricky. It not only speaks to nuclear but everything that they produce, because they export 72 terawatt hours for every 32 terawatt hours that they import, so they export more than double what they import. In the EU there's a system. It's a grid system, and if you try to close off your borders, I think the costs are going to go up for one thing. You just won't have as efficient a system. I think the nuclear debate feeds into that. Remember, Germany has stopped their nuclear power program, and they are not happy with the fact that France's fleet sits on the other side of the river to them. They would like for France to also decommission their fleet. It really does speak to whether they're going to stay within this sort of larger grid, larger EU, or whether they really want to close off their entire system.

Stephen Lacey: Jigar, tell me what your perspective is on this nuclear transition in France and how it plays into the current political climate.

Jigar Shah: Well, I think that it starts from the premise that too much of anything can be bad, even good things. I mean, I think too much wind and solar can be bad, and in this case too much nuclear can be bad. What ends up happening is you end up having a lot of instability. That's why the French government has sort of agreed to reduce the nuclear percentage from 75 to 50 and replace it with doubling the wind and solar capacity by 2022. Also I would say that France, as much as it's a country, within the U.S. context it's a state, and figuring out how it better trades electricity across Europe matters. It actually allows for cheaper integration costs of their existing nuclear but also of solar and wind, right?

I think that's the sort of technocratic reality, which is what they passed into law in 2015. From the politics standpoint you just have this weird thing where they're hugely pro-nuclear, hugely anti-wind, and amazingly pro-solar. For whatever reason these groups always love solar. Le Pen loves solar as well. But they don't actually embrace the full totality of the change of the grid, right? They're not fully embracing battery storage, fully embracing demand response, grid edge technologies. They're sort of continuing to run the grid by telephone, which is what we did 20 years ago.

Katherine Hamilton: I would say also from the political standpoint, they have a parliament too, and they have parliamentary elections in June, and we'll kind of see, if Macron wins, what kind of coalition he's able to develop. Because remember: his party is not an actual political party. He made it up. It's called En Marche! EM, Emmanuel Macron. It's just a brand new thing that he created to become this extreme centrist. He's going to have to pull together a bunch of folks on either side, and parliament is going to really dictate what either of these presidential candidates would actually be able to get done.

Jigar Shah: I think that's right. I also think that in the end, this is being driven by economics, right? People have to remember, the French economy is largely government-driven. I mean, something upwards of 40 percent plus of the entire GDP of the country is controlled by the government. EDF or Areva, these are all sort of names that are really state-owned enterprises to a great extent, right? The economic burden of the nuclear industry is not sort of on private balance sheets like it is in the U.S. It's really on the French government balance sheet.

Stephen Lacey: Well, let's say Macron wins, and he pushes for the targets that Hollande put in place. They need to double their current capacity of wind and double their current capacity of solar. I believe wind is at 12 gigawatts, solar's at 7 gigawatts, and they have to double that through 2022. They're pretty far behind right now. They're probably a decade behind where they need to be in terms of growth rates. There'd probably have to be some other reforms. I don't know what those would be. Even the sort of modest reforms that both Hollande and Macron have put in place, France is going to have a hard time achieving those.

Jigar Shah: Right. I mean, I think that the lesson that we've learned in the last few years is that this stuff actually can be done quickly, right? As soon as you actually have a real mandate from the government, there are ways in which to solve these problems quickly. I think the challenge here has been just the fact that the French government is so involved in EDF and Areva means that they actually can't just make quick decisions. There can't be a winner and loser because in this case the loser is always the taxpayer.

Stephen Lacey: I know I said that I wouldn't draw that many parallels between the U.S. and France, but there is one other one that I've noticed and it may be a tenuous one, but I can't help but bring it up. Marine Le Pen has said that she wants a return to glory for the French nuclear industry, and that means keeping old plants open, expanding new plants, and basically maintaining the status quo for nuclear and ensuring that France continues to get 75 percent if not more of its electricity from nuclear power.

That kind of echoes what we're hearing from the Trump administration in a return to glory for coal. You have an administration that's doing everything it can to sort of protect the status quo. While meanwhile things are changing very rapidly to erode the economics of coal, and the same thing's happening in France. Technology competition is eroding the economics of nuclear power. Very different situations, but if we are going to draw political parallels I think there are similarities what Le Pen is advocating for and what the Trump administration sees as its priorities for preserving the energy mix in the U.S.

Katherine Hamilton: Yes, and both of those are unsustainable economically. What she's proposing, I don't know how you support it. I think she would drive her country into bankruptcy, and I think the same would happen in the U.S., especially given that the president wants to have these huge tax cuts here. I think both of them are going to need to think about: How do you do this in an economically sustainable way?

Stephen Lacey: You know, what's interesting to me is that whatever happens here in this election, both candidates are going to be really supportive of solar. That's going to change France's electricity mix no matter what, right? I mean, you might keep old plants open under Le Pen, you might build a couple new plants, but she's been explicit in her support of solar and so that inevitably, at the right levels, has an impact on wholesale power markets, and will inevitably have an impact on nuclear energy generation down the road. Kind of an interesting mix of technologies. Even though she is not supportive of wind, she's been very blatantly supportive of solar. It looks like France, no matter what happens, will be sort of a mid-player in the global solar mix.

Jigar Shah: Yes, and I think France is also the leading voice around the sort of super-transmission projects across Europe, right? Because of its position on bodies of water. The cheapest way to building transmission capacity is in the water. Right? To expand the amount of power that they can trade between themselves and the U.K., themselves and Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and other places. I mean, I do think that France is going to play an increasingly large role around how transmission policy impacts the decarbonization of Europe.

Stephen Lacey: That's right, and we will see a significant transmission expansion under Macron. I mean, he's said that inherently in a renewables expansion, a transmission expansion would take place and there would be more European trading. Inevitably if you rely more on domestic renewables, France could become a net energy importer as well, which is what Katherine was talking about in the beginning. France is a major net energy exporter, and as the resource mix change, if it changes dramatically that could also reverse. It has implications for the way that France interacts with the EU, which is always interesting to me because now renewables development has these broader geopolitical implications that may not have been as strong before.

Just when you thought U.S. politics couldn't get any more uncertain, we have ourselves another potential solar trade war. This week Suniva, a crystalline silicon manufacturer that makes cells and modules based out of Georgia, filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission asking it to consider new tariffs on imported solar cells and minimum prices on imported solar modules. The requested tariffs are really big. 40 cents per watt for cells, and a minimum price of 78 cents per watt for solar modules. That would effectively double the price of modules here in the U.S., it would decimate the economics of many utility-scale solar projects currently in the pipeline, and make America the most expensive solar country in the world.

But, argue Suniva, it would allow the U.S. manufacturing base to flourish once again and encourage international companies to set up shop here. This is a big deal, not just because the tariff levels Suniva is suggesting are high, but because of the way it's filing the complaint, which gives President Trump a ton of power to exercise his judgment. We're going to explain all of that. First, how does the way Suniva filed this complaint, under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act, make it so unique? Katherine, what is Section 201?

Katherine Hamilton: So under this section it's domestic industries that feel like they're seriously injured or threatened by increased imports from some competitors of that industry can petition for import relief. It's short-term basis and it's outside of the border treaties. It could impact anything coming in in a specific industry sector if it's an import from anywhere. When they do this they need to get a petition from a trade association or a firm or a certified or recognized union or a group of workers, or they can get it from congress, or they can just come up with it on its own.

What they then have to do is they have to make an injury finding within 120 days, and then come up with its own remedy and transmit this report, or recommended remedy, transmit the report to the president with these recommendations. Then the president can take a determination on that. The president can decide to take their recommendation if they're finding is affirmative, or he can decide to do whatever he wants to do. He has an enormous amount of latitude. I'm curious about what Jigar thinks about this too, because this does seem to be short-term but also Suniva has a tiny piece of manufacturing. I don't even quite understand how they're able to file this given that it's supposed to be for a sector, a broader swath rather than just one company.

Stephen Lacey: And as of yet, the solar industry has not banded behind Suniva's complaint. Solar World, the German manufacturer that set in motion the anti-dumping case of the Commerce Department in 2011, is being very cautious about this one. I suspect because this is such a broad-base complaint, that it would apply to cells and other solar materials from all over the world. Solar World imports materials from a bunch of different countries and so this would inevitably raise their costs as well. That's something that I think we're all going to start to figure out.

Solar World did kind of say, "Yeah, we support taking action against unfair trade practices but we're not ready to step up and support this petition." Not to hijack your question here, Katherine, but I'm just actually curious, Jigar, if you can tell us a little bit about the difference between Section 201 itself and how an anti-dumping or countervailing duties case works at the Commerce Department. Because as I described in a piece yesterday, the Commerce Department process is more like a scalpel, and Section 201 is more like a hammer.

Jigar Shah: I don't know that I'm going to be able to answer the question in great detail except to say that what we went through the last time was specifically around a country, and there was a lot of sort of legal work to be done, right? There had to be diligence completed. Department of Commerce employees had to actually review data. They had to decide which companies were providing how much dumping. There was a lot of bank-and-forth, but more importantly there was also an ability to sort of say you can't front run the decision so that anyone who bought panels sort of in the last 60 days or 90 days or six months could have retroactive duties. There's a lot of complication. It sort of took two years. Where this is sort of a 120-day process, so it's much quicker. I mean, the more that I look at it the more that I think that this is actually just a scheme on behalf of Suniva to get money.

I don't actually think that this is genuine in any way. Although they might be dumb enough to allow Trump to do something stupid. Basically under the trade case that we went through earlier, a bunch of money was assembled in the duties that were paid by the Chinese companies. That money is trapped at the Department of Commerce. That money doesn't go to SolarWorld to actually pay them for the harm that was done to them, unless there's a deal that struck between the Chinese companies who paid the payments and SolarWorld. SolarWorld's been trying to get that money and the Chinese companies have not released it to them. My sense is this is actually a play by Suniva to say, "Cut us in on that deal and actually pay us that money, and we'll make this go away."

Katherine Hamilton: Doesn't Suniva have to prove in this 201 filing that the reason they're going bankrupt is because of trade practices? It doesn't have to be necessarily an unfair trade practice in and of itself, but that it has sustained injury, serious and substantial injury as a result of our trading practices. I don't know if they're going to be able to parse that within their bankruptcy.

Stephen Lacey: It does. Jigar, I don't know that I can comment on your speculation there, and basically what I can only comment on is what the 580-page petition says and what Suniva is willing to say in carefully calculated words to the press. I think it remains to be seen what their motivations are, but we can assume based upon the filing itself that yes, they believe that broad trade practices, from Asia specifically but from other countries, have damaged the industry broadly in the United States.

Jigar Shah: But that makes no sense. They're owned by the same parent company of Suntech.

Stephen Lacey: Right. Well, we can get into that. I'm trying to explain what they are claiming, and they are claiming industry-wide injury, and so therefore they believe they have cause to file this Section 201 petition which will enable them to issue tariffs from products all over the world. They have a very high bar, though, at the International Trade Commission, so they have to prove serious injury. That is a higher bar than what SolarWorld had to prove during the anti-dumping and countervailing duties case. Nonetheless, yes, Katherine, that is basically what they're claiming. They're claiming industry-wide damage, not just damage to themselves.

Jigar Shah: Yes, and I don't know that the bar is that high. In these trade cases it's actually quite subjective and my sense is that if they wanted to follow through with it and the Trump administration wanted to follow through with it, they could get it done. I honestly don't see the endgame here. If you're playing chess here, I just don't see it. Right now the Chinese companies have no incentive to settle with SolarWorld, just because they hate each other. Suniva's creating an event by which the Chinese companies would get benefit out of settling with SolarWorld and releasing that money that the Department of Commerce is holding, and cut themselves in on it. I can't see any other reason for why they would take this step. It doesn't actually help Suniva. It certainly doesn't help Suntech in China. It feels like there's really no other play here.

Stephen Lacey: Well, that settlement is a big question. I don't remember all the details of that settlement, but basically the settlement is around 60 cents per watt on average for modules. Is that correct? What Suniva's asking for is significantly higher than that settlement that we got a while back.

Jigar Shah: Right, but there's no reason to ask for any settlement. I mean, that's a stupid thing, right? The fact that they put that into the 580 pages signals to me what their move is. Right? This particular petition has nothing to do with the previous case. There's actually no legal way for them to tie the two together. The fact that they even reference that pad of money and how they wanted a piece of it as part of their remedies means that that's what this whole game is about.

Stephen Lacey: Let's get to two things. I want to get to the politics of this, and Katherine, I'm really curious about how this plays into Trump's agenda. First let's talk about how this impacts the downstream market. I just explained that 78 cents a watt for modules, again, would double the price of modules that utility-scale developers are currently paying for. There are a lot of developers that are now bidding at 4 or 5 cents per kilowatt hour for PPAs, and that would decimate the economics of those projects. You're looking at some pretty serious impacts here. Do you want to comment, Jigar, on what you think the downstream impact would be if, say, the ITC or the Trump administration agrees with those price thresholds?

Jigar Shah: Sure. I think the better way of saying this is: the last time this sort of thing was done was when the Bush administration put tariffs on steel in 2002, which amazingly Wilbur Ross was a part of, who's now the Department of Commerce Secretary. In the final analysis most academics believe the action had unintended and perverse effects on the U.S. steel industry. The downstream markets in the U.S. steel industry lost 200,000 jobs and roughly $4 billion in wages from February to November of 2002 as a result of the 201 tariffs.

On top of that, the steel industry actually shrunk. The manufacturing industry shrunk from monthly steel production of 8,000 metric tons a month down to 6,800 metric tons a month. In fact I think the data shows that this is actually the wrong way to protect an industry. It not only has enormous downstream negative impacts. In this case more jobs were lost in the downstream steel industry than all of the jobs in the steel industry. It also actually didn't even help the steel manufacturers.

Stephen Lacey: Let's get into the politics of this. Katherine, Trump, his camp at least during the campaign actually called out Section 201 as it related to protecting the steel industry. Of course Trump has not talked at all about the solar industry, but now Suniva has basically handed this to him on a silver platter and said, "You want to do something about trade? Well, now you have your opportunity." This seems to be an easy win for the Trump administration, assuming the ITC actually finds serious injury and agrees with Suniva. Then of course the president can just do whatever he wants. How does this fit into his trade agenda and do you think, even though he hasn't really talked about solar, it'd be something that he'd want to act on?

Katherine Hamilton: Yes. There are a couple hurdles they have to get over. One is that the petition first needs to be taken up, so they need to grant the petition first. There's some political pressure you can put on with the industry and with their congressional champions to try to push back on that. Then if the ITC takes up the case and presents a report, depending on what that says, it just totally depends on who the president is listening to. You're right that it does fit into the narrative, but I don't know to what level this rises to his radar and his people's radar screen. It just really will depend on who he's listening to at the time, and if you look at his group of folks that he listens to on the business side, it could go either way on who he's listening to at any given time. I just have no predictions on what he would do. You're right, it feeds into his narrative about taxing imports, but I don't know that there's any clarity as to what he would actually do.

Stephen Lacey: John Gurley yesterday, a trade lawyer and partner at Arent Fox, who's worked on high-profile trade cases, said he put action over 50 percent, but he said he was also careful about not knowing what the Trump administration would do. There's just a lot of natural volatility in Trump's decision-making and it's very unclear, but he said that when cases like this are brought there's a really good chance that action will be taken.

Jigar Shah: I agree.

Stephen Lacey: Take that for what it's worth.

Jigar Shah: I talked to Lynn Fischer Fox, who was actually at the Department of Commerce during the trade cases and now is a international trade attorney at Arnold & Porter. She sort of said the same thing, that if this really gets all the way through the process it's likely to be found that the president actually has the right to do something. I think this president doesn't really care about the downstream impacts of solar. I think he would actually do stupid things here. I mean, I think that my advice here is that the Chinese companies, who basically have control of these funds that they put forward in paying their duties, should cut a deal with Solar World and Solar World should cut in Suniva and we could all get on with our lives.

Stephen Lacey: I hear hammering behind you. Are you in the middle of a module assembly factory?

Jigar Shah: Yeah.

Stephen Lacey: That's what it sounds like.

Jigar Shah: This Hilton lobby has suddenly gotten very busy. A big busload of people I think just came in.

Stephen Lacey: They're just curious about what you're talking about with this explosive trade case.

Jigar Shah: Exactly. Sorry, guys.

Stephen Lacey: No problem. The last piece I guess I'll ask about is the geopolitical piece, and it's also very speculative. You have this moment in time when the Trump administration is considering walking away from the Paris climate deal, and of course there's a lot of debate within the administration itself about whether to stay or whether to go. This is causing consternation among the Europeans in particular, but also the Chinese and the Indians.

The climate policy has been really baked into geopolitics and into international diplomacy, and now all of a sudden you have this potential decision where Trump could say, "We're going to slap tariffs on solar products from around the entire world." This adds another point of contention in an already strained relationship as it relates to energy and climate. Either of you have any thoughts on that? It just seems to me that there are broader implications to this decision beyond just the tariffs themselves, that it feeds into this broader question about how Trump and the administration will engage on energy and climate policy.

Katherine Hamilton: Everything is so uncertain, and I think one of the things that has been the most damaging is the kind of capriciousness and one day saying one thing and the next something completely different and different people saying different things within the administration. What that creates is this lack of credibility when we say something. Yesterday the president said one minute that he was going to pull out of NAFTA, and the next minute he said he wasn't. I think all of this feeds into this sense of "Are we even to be believed?"

Jigar Shah: Well, I mean, and Rick Perry was very clear at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference, said he was all about exporting LNG. The countries that came together against the steel tariffs are the EU, Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, many of whom actually want to buy this LNG from the U.S. My sense is their LNG negotiations are going to be quite a bit more complicated if they move forward with the 201 petition here.

Stephen Lacey: Well, I suspect that we're going to have some heated debates over this one coming up. Let's go into our third topic just very briefly. We're going to talk about a coal-free Britain and coal-free Europe and coal-free other countries. Since 1882 when the first coal plant opened in Britain, the country hasn't gone a day without burning that black rock. Last Friday marked the first 24-hour period when not a single electron was generated domestically. It's part of a trend both in Britain and in most of Europe. Two thirds of British coal plants have shut down in the last five years in fact, and just a few weeks ago Europe's biggest utilities said they won't build anymore coal plants after 2020. Are we about to see a wave of industrialized countries go coal-free permanently? Jigar, is Britain's coal-free day an important marker or just a good headline for journalists like me?

Jigar Shah: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. I start with sort of Jess Shankleman's piece from last week that we referenced around the fact that several EU countries are going to be coal-free over the next five to seven years. I think that's a big deal because it basically starts to destroy the coal supply chain, it starts to get people recognizing that there's really no sort of hope for that left, and it starts people transitioning to what's next, whether it's gas or new transmission lines or other things. Right? I mean, I've said for a long time that ...

I mean, one of the reasons I don't want California for instance right away increasing their balancing, grid to Oregon and Nevada right away, is I want to force them to be knowledgeable about grid edge technologies and all these other solution sets. I do think that the coal-free day is a very great headline, but it really requires the U.K., which has the, frankly, I think the most modern grid system in the country from a regulatory standpoint, to really start to allow all these innovators to price properly their technology into the marketplace.

Katherine Hamilton: It shows that there are a lot of inexpensive and flexible solutions. I mean, certainly renewables are getting cheaper by the minute, but there are all kinds of storage and there's certainly cheap solutions through transmission and smart grid and demand response and more integrated markets. I think this speaks to you can do it. Five years ago the U.K. was 40 percent coal and today they're 9 percent. By 2025 they're going to shutter all their plants. That is a big deal and it shows that you can do it in a way that is economically viable. I had coffee with Sonia Aggarwal this morning, who's been doing a lot, and she's been on the show before. You all may remember. She's been doing a lot of work with countries in the EU and all around the world on: What does your energy future look like?

Every EU country except for Poland and Greece has committed to no new coal plants after 2020, and they have to be phased out by 2030 in order to keep within the two degree targets. Canada is coal-free. I asked her because a country like Poland is 90 percent coal, and that's why they've opted out of this agreement to go coal-free. I ask her: How did they feel? Did they envision a world in which there isn't coal anymore? She said, "They're not there yet." Countries that are very coal-heavy, it's hard for them to envision it. I wouldn't think if Britain can go from 40 to 9 in five years and we're at 30 percent in the U.S. and we're dropping precipitously, it can be done. Part of this is just finding cheap solutions.

Stephen Lacey: One more data point in the case to be made that we have reached peak coal. In a recent show we talked about that Coalswarm report, which showed just gigawatts and gigawatts and gigawatts of projects in Asia that had been canceled or delayed. New coal plant constructions across the world fell by two thirds nearly, and the EU and the U.S. are by far the leaders in retiring existing capacity. This is also necessary, right? Going back to Europe's energy transition, the country has to retire almost all of its coal plants within the next 15 years or so if it wants to meet its pledges under the Paris climate commitment. It's happening.

That brings us to the final segment of the show. We're going to tell you something you may not know, a little piece of insight from what we're reading or what we're talking about in our daily jobs. Jigar, what's on your plate today? What are you hearing in the lobby of the Hilton?

Jigar Shah: Well, I'm hearing a lot of noise as you guys can hear, so I apologize for that. I was reading Joel Makower's recent piece on employee activism. There was a great study done by Povaddo LLC out of St. Louis, and they showed that over 65 percent of Fortune 1000 workers basically expect their management teams to buy renewable energy. Which I think is a big deal because, you know, corporate CEO's like to keep their employees happy. This is something that is rising to one of their bigger concerns and how they want their companies to show leadership.

Stephen Lacey: Katherine? What do you got for a story?

Katherine Hamilton: Yes, so this is like the convening of a couple of different things that happened this week. I was in Rhode Island at the Public Utility Commission on a panel which was really interesting, and Rhode Island is doing some amazing clean energy work up there and thinking about kind of the utility of the future. Then this afternoon I have to be on a Clean Energy Canada webinar to talk about how clean energy is moving in the states. For background on these I looked at this Union of Concerned Scientists report that just came out, and it's called "Clean Energy Momentum and the Ranking State Progress on Clean Energy." They look at states' electricity generation and technical progress on clean energy.

They look at jobs produced and pollution reduced, and they look at policy momentum and how is that going to impact how they move in the future. The states that are leading the way: California is number one, Vermont number two, Massachusetts number three, and Rhode Island came in proudly as number four, beating out Hawaii and New York, both of which I believe they were really proud to do. This is a great report. The Union of Concerned Scientists does really, really good work, and it's worth looking at to see where everybody is and what different states are doing to move forward.

One other thing I would just want to mention and I think, Jigar, you may have been at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit. I did not get to go this year, but Michael Liebreich's presentation on the future of energy, where we are, what's the state of the market, and where are we moving -- they're always really, really good presentations and it's worth going onto the Bloomberg New Energy Finance website and looking at his presentation. I know being there is probably a zillion times better, but he always gets really good data.

Stephen Lacey: Speaking of really good data and data that actually doesn't tell the most positive story, the Brookings Institution is out with a report this week looking at clean tech patents granted by the Patent and Trademark Office. In between 2001 and 2014 they doubled in the U.S. They grew at about 7 percent annually, and now all of a sudden they're declining. Between 2014 and 2016 they declined by 9 percent each year. It's hard to know if this is a long-term trend. It's at this point difficult to know exactly why this is happening.

I think one of the more obvious factors is that in the post-stimulus world, when a lot of the billions and billions of dollars that the government spent on renewables dried up, you naturally see a decline in activity here. But interestingly you see Japanese and South Korean and German companies start to dominate patents in storage and in transportation between 2011 and 2016. I don't really know what this shift means, but it can't mean anything good for American innovation. That's for sure.

Jigar Shah: It may not mean anything bad either.

Stephen Lacey: Why do you say that?

Jigar Shah: Well, I think that American innovation has always been where a lot of this energy leadership has come from. The Japanese have spent a tremendous amount of money on battery storage, and that's why Panasonic and LG Chem and Samsung out of Korea have been very successful at selling the actual cells. A lot of the integration technology, a lot of the software, a lot of the deployment is really being led by U.S. companies.

Stephen Lacey: All right, well, that's our conversation for the week. You just heard Jigar Shah. I was with Katherine Hamilton. I'm Stephen Lacey. We're the Energy Gang.