Posts Tagged ‘renewable energy’

Catch the bug: rooftop solar is highly contagious!

We’ve been hearing about the rapid expansion of solar power, and most of us have probably noticed more rooftop panels and small community solar projects in fields.  But it turns out that solar’s spread is not simply due to climate concerns or enticing economics: there’s a strong “contagion” factor, as new solar owners encourage their friends and neighbors to get on board.  Check out this animation, from northern Colorado:

According to SolarCity, the largest solar installer and leasing outfit in the US:

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California blazes a trail to the future, once again

Once again, California is showing the way forward.  This time, it’s more consequential than Hollywood’s entertainment, Silicon Valley’s new tech, or the Sixties’ social evolutions.  California is road-testing large-scale public policies that face up to the profound threat of climate change, showing the rest of us that a shared social commitment IS possible.  As fleshed out The California Code, published in the new west-coast quarterly journal, Boom:

California’s response to the drought is … nationally and globally significant. What state and local leaders did to reduce the risks, and how state residents reacted, was a very public demonstration of government’s capacity to act with reason and intelligence to a short-term ecological emergency, with a long-term vision.

California sprang to action in its fourth year of deep drought because water management professionals and state leaders recognized that California’s water-scarce condition could be the new norm. They accepted the scientific consensus that it could get considerably worse. The way out of the trouble was to convince state residents of the need for collective action and to instill behavioral changes in homes and businesses that would diminish demand and provide a higher measure of safety.

Perhaps that should not be surprising given California’s historical ability to set the national and global agenda in culture, technology, environmental restoration, and the like. It’s arguable, though, that what California is up to now in responding to global ecological disarray may be the most important contribution to human well-being that it’s ever made.

A series of remarkably astute and aggressive measures approved by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Sacramento has systematically formed a model for dealing with Earth’s new conditions, and it is proving to be effective. Among the most significant measures:

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Al Gore’s climate optimism

Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change.  The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look.  Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:

The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.

Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”  Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam.  “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”

Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:

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Big-finance mainstream seeing the light on climate

Here comes some more indication that Paul Gilding’s optimism about market forces steering a rapid transition away from carbon-intensive energy may indeed pan out.  As Exhibit A, check out this op-ed from Hank Paulson, Secretary of Treasury for George W. Bush during the economic meltdown of 2008:

For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.  This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore.

And that’s just his opening salvo.  Yowsa!  Exhibit B is even more startling; it’s a dry-as-sand financial assessment of the risks of Paulson’s “climate bubble” as it affects the world’s biggest institutional investors. Despite its “just the fact, ma’am” tone, the message is one that we can definitely get behind:

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Solar’s value to ratepayers is higher than retail price


The recent boom in rooftop solar power installations tied to the local grid has led to a lot of teeth-gnashing about how much utilities should be paying for excess electricity that they buy from distributed solar installations.  In many states, the starting point has been paying the customer the going retail rate per kWh; but utilities have been pushing hard to lower these payments, aiming for a wholesale rate instead, largely due to account for the utilities’ upkeep of transmission systems, both regional and local.  Some have even claimed that new solar can impose a net cost on the electric system as a whole, meaning installations should be limited.  A recent report commissioned by the Maine Public Utilities Commission reframes this debate in a dramatic way, by looking at the full range of costs and savings that distributed solar offer to utilities and ratepayers.  While current retail electric rates in Maine average 13 cents per kWh, the report finds that new solar capacity is worth 18 cents/kWh in the first year, and 33 cents/kWh levelized over 25 years.  The cost savings are about equally split between avoided market costs (paying for other energy sources, transmission saved by on-site/nearby use of solar, etc.) and societal benefits (health/enviro costs of pollutants, effects on overall price of electricity).  This kind of analysis could pave the way for solar to continue booming, unfettered by regulatory concerns. To learn more, check out the report, or see RMI’s summary here.


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Gilding: The End (of fossil fuels) is Nigh

The stubborn inertia of our political and energy systems in the face of stark climate change realities has been the great frustration of the past decade (or three), and is at the root of the discouragement and despair that’s growing in many of us.  Our society seems intent on waiting too long to act.  But Paul Gilding has become a leading voice for an alternate view, one that sees the past decade as prelude to a tipping point we can embrace rather than dread.  His book, The Great Disruption, laid out his view that when push came to shove with climate change, the market and the big-monied economic elites would spur a WWII-scale refocus of the economy toward carbon-neutral energy.  For the past couple of years, he’s updated the book’s themes with fresh analysis every few months, based on the latest global developments.  He’s now convinced that 2015 is the year that the “Dam of Denial” breaks, and his latest missive offers further encouragement that the long-sought disruptions are at hand:

For over a hundred years, energy markets have been defined by physical resources, supplied in large volumes by large, slow moving companies developing long life assets in the context of slow moving shifts in markets. The new emerging energy system of renewables and storage is a “technology” business, more akin to information and communications technology, where prices keep falling, quality keeps rising, change is rapid and market disruption is normal and constant.

If you haven’t tuned into Gilding before, this is a great place to start.  The new piece includes links to several of his key articles over the past two years, and will likely leave you feeling a tad—or a lot—more optimistic about our prospects.  Read on here for a few more nuggets from this most recent article:

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Post-hurricanes, northeast turns toward resilient power

The one-two punches of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy have spurred cities throughout the northeastern United States to invest in more reliable backup power systems.  These “Resilient Power” initiatives reduce reliance on generators (which too often fail when fired up) in favor of more resilient solar, fuels cells, and power storage systems that can provide benefits between outages as well.  A new Resilient Power Guide from the Clean Energy Group highlights early state-wide projects from Maryland to Vermont, which have spurred 40 municipal programs.  The first target is emergency response facilities: “More than 90 critical facilities in the Northeast – including emergency shelters, wastewater treatment plants, firehouses and other first responder facilities – will have resilient electrical systems in place to improve emergency response in the next year, and to protect neighborhoods in the next power outage.”  Click through to learn more about these trailblazing programs, then dig in a bit in your area to see how you might engage in some Zone 4 resilient investing to advance these efforts in your community.

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Crowdfunding Clean Energy

Several new crowdfunding lending platforms have made it possible for non-accredited investors to help fund clean energy projects; the loans can often be relatively small, and are repaid with interest. This article profiles several of the early entrants into this exciting new field; be sure to do a fresh web search to find new options as well. Some raise most of their money from accredited investors, or do crowdfunding only in some states, though most are eager for the new SEC rules that will open up crowdfunding opportunities more widely. Read article.

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Institute for Local Self-Reliance

For decades, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has championed just that. It focuses on local control and reliance particularly in the areas of broadband, energy, independent businesses, banking, waste (to wealth), and the public good. Each of these areas contains a deep database of articles, relevant rules and resources. Its website has numerous audio, video and written resources. Noteworthy is a searchable database of local, state and federal laws in areas of interest to local self reliance, such as composting, anti-privitization, beverage containers, etc. Visit website.

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Amory Lovins: The Future of Energy

Amory Lovins is another of our D-type thought leaders that was hard to squeeze into one category. We’ve included him as a Driver because of his lifelong commitment to working with existing corporate and regulatory structures to move toward a more sustainable energy future, but in many ways, he is also a Dreamer, envisioning fundamental changes in social, economic, and energy systems. Still, his sharp focus on how we get there from here is what stands out, and this is the work of those dedicated to pushing our current system into the future. Lovins is the co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which has pioneered innovative new approaches to automobile design, renewable energy, architectural energy efficiency, and many other key topics.

About Amory Lovins:
Wiki entry on Lovins
RMI bio of Lovins

Book and RMI program: Reinventing Fire
Amory Lovins’ book Reinventing Fire was published in 2012, and makes a case for a future powered with no need for oil, coal or nuclear energy. The book demonstrates a practical path away from our current fossil-fuel based economy, by integrating transportation, buildings, industry and electricity, combined with new business approaches and strategies.
Video: Reinventing Fire
A six-minute introduction from Rocky Mountain Institute
Video lecture: Reinventing Fire, presented at the 2011 Bioneers Conference.

Video: Winning the Oil Endgame. In this TED talk, based on his recent book by the same name, Amory Lovins lays out his plan to wean the US off oil and to revitalize the economy.

Video: Amory Lovins on a 40 year Plan for Energy. In this talk filmed at TED’s offices, Amory Lovins describes his ideas for how to wean the US off of oil and coal by 2050, in a way that is led by business for profit, without requiring congressional acts. Lovins says the key is to integrate all four energy-using sectors, as well as applying four kinds of innovation.

Book: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolutions
authored by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins
The concept of Natural Capitalism integrates the “triple bottom line” of profitability, environmental, and social responsibility into a single bottom line with an outcome of increased operational efficiency within businesses and organizations. The book is accessible via this website in free, downloadable chapters.

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Lester Brown: Worldwatch Institute, Earth Policy Institute

In 2001, Brown founded the Earth Policy Institute, with a focus on practical planning for a sustainable future. Now 80, Brown recently announced that EPI would shut down in July 2015, when he retires after the publication of his latest book, The Great Transition. With any luck, their informative website will remain alive.

Book: World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. This relatively recent book provides a thorough, concise summary of the world’s environmental crises, as well as a comprehensive set of strategies to address them. Available for purchase, or as a free PDF download.

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