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Ever wonder what people who have been reporting on climate change think about it? Scott Thill, long-time writer and rabble-rouser for outlets like WIRED, Salon, Grist, and AlterNet, talked to 1BOG this week, delivering a wake-up call for even those of us paying attention to what’s happening to our environment. Obviously we here at 1BOG are big on all things solar, but we’re also very aware of the need for a larger scope when looking at what value we’re adding to the world so Scott’s insights are particularly awesome.
For the record, Scott has been reporting on climate change for more than ten years so he’s got some chops when it comes to what’s what. He also runs the online mag Morphizm, where he covers climate change (of course), economy, politics, and, once in a while, produces amazing pieces of smart pop culture (see this and this). Cool bonus factor: he’s a big fan of the Pixies and David Lynch. Read our interview with him below.
When did you first start reporting on climate change? What was the first story you did on the topic? How did it come about?
I became interested in the topic during grad school in the 90s, but it became a daily obsession after 9/11. Once I became an official freelance journalist in the early 00s, I started writing and reporting foundational articles on the economic recession, climate refugees (“envirogees”), exponential warming (“exponology”), extreme weather, mass extinction, geoengineering and much more for AlterNet, Salon and my own site Morphizm. But this year I shut down most of the pop and culture coverage I’ve written for Wired and others in favor of mostly enviro and economic research and reporting. We’re in a race against time, and losing.
In your view, how has the conversation changed over time? Has it become more sophisticated? White noise? Too splintered?
It’s become a redundancy that should insult any intelligent person paying attention to the world. Progressives like myself and millions more spent much of the 90s popularizing the science and “reality” of climate change. That disappeared into a haze of hyperconsumption, fuel-burning war and lethal apathy during the Bush/Cheney years. Now we’re back to square one, which is getting past the ridiculous discussions of how “real” global warming might be to actually talking about what the hell we’re doing to about it. But we’re way behind: We should have talked about that years ago, and actually be DOING it now. And we’re not. I would say that discussion has become more sophisticated in that it has grown from an echo chamber of anti-science misinformation to admitting what we’ve known for decades. But I wouldn’t call that progress.
As someone who has written about climate change for a while now, is there anything that rankles you about current media coverage of that topic?
See above. I would add that media coverage of climate change, but really anything, is nowhere near as important as viewer understanding of who owns any given media property. That’s crucial. Once you know who owns the media, which are really only a few multinationals, then you realize that their media coverage of anything reflects their own political and economic interests, which are often the opposite of their viewers. The only silver lining to this is that newer generations, and more and more of the older ones, have dispensed with the usual media “authorities” for those they can trust to tell them the truth. This has synchronously occurred with the rise of digital media, which has made disseminating the truth and science of global warming easier than ever.
There are a lot of subsets to climate change – energy, endangered species, urban impact, and more. Getting into the weeds a bit, where should people be most concerned?
Mass extinction. It is an entirely real possibility, whose probability has increased with each year. Stephen Hawking said, years ago, that he was worried climate change would turn Earth into Venus, a human-free hellscape created by global warming. Our species are dying off like crazy while methane, CO2 and worse are evaporating what ice we have left to keep the Earth cool. We are seriously at risk of annihilating the environment in which we can functionally exist. This is not to say that this is a separate issue from all of the important ones you mentioned. The most important thing any Earthling can do is to realize that all of these issues are inextricably connected, mostly because we are all lucky souls spinning on a statistically improbable paradise in the void of space. Why would we destroy that? Because we are, faster than we can fix it.
Do you think that we’re capable of making the changes we need to make? What obstacles do we need to overcome/beat down?
Of course! We can do anything. But first we have to, especially when it’s hard. But an immediate pullback from consumption, waste and pollution is mandatory. This is not an incremental process. This is an existential crisis. We need to rethink everything we do, as individuals, as communities, as nations, as Earthlings.
I have done this for years now, and you would be surprised, especially if you’re a privileged American, how easy it is to immediately and significantly downsize your carbon footprint. Sierra Club and other Big Greens have realized this by shutting down the lethal coal industry, which has no future. Administrations around the world have realized this by funneling billions into solar and other renewable industries and pulling back subsidies for death-bringers like the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors. Individuals have realized this by driving electric cars, buying less plastic crap that has to burn gas just to get here (before it quickly ends up in a landfill), decrying cattle consumption and factory farming, (two heinous climate change culprits), heavily monitoring water consumption, weatherizing their lives, and much more. That’s barely a start, but we can get there if we live every day looking for ways to make our lives, and therefore the lives of those around us, healthier and greener. It has to be done, so we might as well not cry about it.
What is one thing that companies like ours should do to help the climate change cause?
Educating and evangelizing not just your solar business but the entire solar and renewables sector to the public is beyond crucial. Being confident and proud that you are part of an industry that is looking to make the world a better place. Disseminate any and all information widely and often on new and old media about the gains solar is making in efficiency, production, implementation and innovation. I can’t think of a good reason why any company, but much less a solar one, shouldn’t be aspiring to becoming a zero-waste, zero-carbon, beyond green operation. Every corner of the renewables industry should be rapidly approaching these goals with due speed. Walk the walk.
But given our current economic reality, I would add that it is imperative that the solar sector loudly make its economic case to institutions, families and, well, everyone. Just yesterday, I convinced someone to liquidate a $100,000 retirement portfolio invested in dirty or lame companies, and all I had to do was point to the recently stunning financial performances of First Solar, SunPower, Solar City and many other companies, including the Chinese manufacturers that have pretty much owned the market. Now that person has $100,000 invested in renewables, and will actually make money instead of seeing negative returns over the last five or more years.
Many people have pensions and portfolios invested in stuff they hate, and don’t even know it. If the renewables sector gives them the tools and information to take charge of their portfolios and pensions and immediately divest from the fossil fuel and dirty energy sectors, they will be rewarded with billions in funding and repair of this damage will greatly accelerate. And we’ll all be better off, in the end. Fingers crossed!
“Fighting fracking is unbelievable.” That understatement comes from Sharon Wilson, or TXSharon as she’s become known among the anti-fracking brigade. We got to know her when she decided to go solar through 1BOG, and we’ve been learning from her ever since.
Sharon’s commitment to anti-fracking started slowly after fracking began to happen around her in early 2000. Like everyone else in her Texas town, she thought fracking would be a great economic boon. “I thought I’d get rich,” she says. “I just wanted to hear about the money; didn’t want to hear about the environmental impact. But what was happening around me was so horrific that I couldn’t ignore it.”
One of the things she couldn’t ignore is among the most confounding problems with fracking: the toxic waste, which causes severely high risk of contamination – air, groundwater, soil, you name it. Beyond the immediate problem of the waste itself is the problem of what exactly to do with it. How do you transport millions of gallons of hazardous liquid? It takes 200 trips for trucks to get rid of a million gallons of water, and the average well produces anywhere from two to ten million gallons. And then you have to find a place that can process it, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In April, for example, a Pennsylvania hazardous waste plant rejected waste from the Marcellus Shale because it was ten times too radioactive for their landfill. That’s saying a lot.
And that’s just the stuff they get out of the ground. An estimated 20-85% of fracking fluids can remain in the ground – a fairly wide margin that reflects just how little we understand about this burgeoning Gold Rush-like trend. In some cases, like the Marcellus Shale, all that nastiness eventually surfaces and pollutes the land irreversibly. It can also be spread over farmland, which is what Sharon observed. The pollution from fracking isn’t just a trite concern for a few environmentalists, either. Germany recently banned fracking in order to avoid polluted ground water that would impact the growing of hops and wheat used in their beer, and France is following a similar path to protect their vineyards (and, you know, quality of life).
But back to our heroine, Sharon. A turning point for her, and what brought solar into her frame, was a huge solar convention in Dallas in 2011. She managed to corral a busload of executives from the convention for a tour of the shale extraction zone that she was living in. Solar wasn’t a viable option for her area at that time, but the executives promised to contact her as soon as incentives became available.
Cut to April 2013 when Sharon flipped the switch on her own panels and saw her bills go down almost immediately. It’s still new though so she’s examining the short- and long-term costs and benefits, and solar is just one thing that she’s doing to wean herself off of dirty energy. She uses a wood-burning stove in the winter, and now her hot Texas summers will be cooled by AC at least partially covered by solar. “I wanted to show people that there is a pathway to dramatically reduce fossil fuel usage so you don’t have to create what they call a ‘sacrifice zone,’” she says.
A sacrifice zone, in case you were wondering, is an area that is exploited so that we can pollute. Chris Hedges covers this in depth, but it’s an important “other” factor when it comes to fracking. We have the immediacy of toxic waste and resulting disasters, but there is a passivism implied in the idea behind sacrifice zones – which include the people living in the area being sacrificed – that is hard to swallow. That’s why Sharon does what she does. She has seen firsthand what fracking can do, and she’s educated herself to the point of testifying about oil and gas bills – and even a solar bill. She’s been invited from groups as far as South Africa to show them how to organize and fight fracking.
“People are just deceived,” she says. “There are accidents and horrible impacts that result from fracking every day. If people knew what it was really about – or even how little we actually know about the long-term impact of fracking – they would be up in arms, too.”
If you’d like to learn more about Sharon’s efforts to fight fracking, visit her blog at www.texassharon.com.
For more information on pollution from fracking, a good place to start is Hydraulic Fracking 101 at Earthworks.
Remember when you had to call different airlines to find the best airfare? Or comb the Sunday paper looking for ads promising a cheap flight to your favorite destination? Sure, you could have used a travel agent – for a fee. And then came Expedia.com, who rocked your world and sent you flying anywhere for the best price with no additional fees. Suddenly a massive headache was taken out of traveling.
That’s the thinking behind today’s announcement about One Block Off the Grid. We’ve partnered with major industry heavyweights – SolarCity, OneRoof, SunEdison, SunRun, and Clean Power Finance – to bring you a multitude of options that will help you go solar in the best way possible.
No matter how hard the industry tries, going solar is complicated. Heck, even taking that first step to figure out if you even should go solar is weirdly hard – figuring out which way the sun hits your roof or how much sun will be blocked by those trees your kids love to climb. We are good at helping you figure all that stuff out, and our partners know that.
Since we started in 2008, you have been our priority – and you still are. Finding the best way to get panels on your roof has always been our mission. We literally gather around each others’ computers in excitement when we see posts from homeowners on our Facebook page and blog who are so thrilled about their experience that they can’t help but want to shout it from the rooftops.
Now, we are finally able to build this incredible new way for you to find the best solar options for your home. Here’s what this means for you:
- We can now offer an array (pun intended) of the absolute best deals in solar, whether you’re interested in saving money or time, buying or leasing.
- Our solar consultants are independent and neutral. We are still all about you and only you.
- We walk you through your options, even those detailed contracts, and you get to decide what’s best for you.
- You will, a;ways and forever, get the best deal possible. (Did we mention that?)
If you have any questions, comments are open! Or you can email me at ashley (at) 1bog (dot) org. It’s a new world in solar, folks, and we are super excited to be part of it.
The post We’re Changing The Way We Do Solar appeared first on One Block Off the Grid: The Smart New Way to Go Solar.
Despite where you fall politically, it’s hard to overlook the strides that the US military has taken when it comes to pursuing renewable energy options. With Memorial Day upon us, we thought it would be nice to give a tip o’ the sun visor to some of the more ingenious decisions that the military has made to help save the planet.
- In January 2013, the US Army made headlines by opening the largest low-concentration photovoltaic array in the world. It’s a 4.1 megawatt ground installation in White Sands, NM. And get this: you know how we’re always talking about solar being a great way to lock in utility rates? Well, the Army has essentially done just that, which helps them stay within budget targets for the foreseeable future.
- Solar Power Smackdown: Marines vs. Air Force vs. Army. Here’s some friendly competition that we can get behind. The Marines started it by introducing a portable solar power system in spring 2010. Then the Air Force got in on the action by throwing their own version of the portable system into the ring. But the Army upped the cool factor with solar-powered backpacks. That’s right, a 62-watt system in the form of a blanket that can be tucked into a backpack. It weighs 10 lbs. and can power electronic devices and recharge other batteries.
- But this is all be part of a grander plan. Recognizing that the federal government is the largest consumer of energy largely thanks to the needs of the US Army, in 2011 the US military launched a task force dedicated to helping the institution go green. In the next ten years, they’re set to invest over $7 billion in renewables to help offset 25% of their energy usage by 2025.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the topic of energy consumption and the US military, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, it’s officially summertime. Enjoy the long weekend!
Summer is just around the corner, and that means long days and lots of direct sunlight beating down on rooftops across the nation. But, hey, we want to help everyone offset the rising cost of blasting the AC so from now through May 18 we’re offering a $25 Amazon gift card for every qualified referral you send our way.
Know someone with high energy bills? Or someone who only turns on the AC for an hour a day to save money? Maybe someone with a pool? (Those things are total energy hogs!) If you do, and you think they might be ready to start talking about solar, then send ‘em our way.
Of course, solar isn’t for just anyone – yet – so here are some tips to help you figure out if your neighbor/cousin/sister’s friend’s uncle would be a good fit:
- They have high electric bills, like $100 a month or more
- Their home has large, ample roof space
- There is minimal shading surrounding their home
- They have or are planning to install appliances that will increase energy usage – stuff like hot tubs, an electric vehicle, massive TVs in several rooms
- They live in an area that supports solar
If they qualify for and receive an online presentation from one of our solar consultants, you get a $25 Amazon gift card to do with as you please. To get that referral, simply share your referral link or send your referrals to our sign up page and ask them to let our solar consultants know you sent ‘em.
We’ll begin tallying referrals on May 19 and will be in touch with your results by May 31. You can also track your referrals live on your member profile page if you need immediate gratification. Good luck, and get those gift cards!
Last month, EcoOutfitters asked 1BOG to participate in one of their Solar Chats on Twitter. Now, most Twitter gatherings involve a lot of hubbub, a troll or two, and not a whole lot of substance. Fortunately, though, the EcoOutfitters team has refined these events into well-oiled machines that are not only fun and informative, but attract a fairly massive audience. At about halfway through our chat, we peaked as the top trend on Twitter. Pretty remarkable.
All that aside, it got me thinking about the various ways we use social channels to tell stories and convey information. We’ve become so accustomed to social broadcasting that we can easily convey strong storylines, messages, and ideas in as little as 140 characters. Find an inspiring article about something you care about? Blast it out on Twitter. Somebody fracking in your town and you don’t like it? Share it on Facebook. Big news you want to shout from the mountaintops? Post it on your blog and enable sharing options, then watch it gain audience. These are all linear ways of storytelling, and they’re great – even par for the course at this point. But there is a whole other breed of social media that might be even more valuable than current incumbents, and that is the visual.
One of the most refreshing points in the Solar Chat was the discussion about how visual elements have become so surprisingly valuable beyond just friend-to-friend. A picture is worth a thousand words, and everybody’s got a camera in their pocket these days that empowers them to capture whatever inspires them, whether it’s a delicious sandwich or oil sludge drifting down a residential street. And you can take it beyond photos on the fly. For example, we here at 1BOG like to explore the possibilities of visual vs. linear storytelling with our infographics, many of which continue to circulate months after we initially posted them.
There are studies that show how long it takes a book, article, or any other piece of writing to keep or lose its audience, and the amount of time is usually measured in mere seconds. If you don’t like the opening sentence of an article, chances are you’ve already disengaged. The beauty of visual storytelling is that it provides multiple points of entry and allows people the room to find one that suits them. When someone is greeted with an image – be it graphic, hand drawn, or a photograph – they can let their eyes wander, form opinions, look for details, absorb, and share the message. They are not required to embrace or agree with someone’s words, but rather they are simply required to react to what they see.
So far this has been a good thing for solar. People regularly send us photos of their solar experience, whether it’s the panels on their roof or their meter dropping into the negatives. More importantly though, they blog about it or post it on their Facebook pages so their friends and family can applaud and encourage them. But the single most valuable thing when it comes to all this sharing is that tiny shift in someone’s mind when they realize that solar is not only possible, but something to brag about. And that happens more frequently when they see a picture of solar on their friend’s roof than when they read about it in an article.
Linear storytelling via articles and blog posts is essential in dispelling mythic boundaries and educating people about going solar. But we can’t underestimate the value of non-linear mediums – infographics, photos, even word clouds – as ways of inspiring incremental or wholehearted shifts in popular thought. Social channels are perfectly created to empower that, and we need to use it to full advantage.
Ashley is the Director of Communications at 1BOG and oversees media relations, social channels, blog content, and about half a dozen other fun things. She’s into telling stories about the importance of renewable energy and engaging in conversations that lead us all to a healthier planet. You can reach her at ashley (at) 1bog (dot) org, or follow her on Twitter at @aseashore.
Pretty exciting day here at 1BOG, and for solar in general. Our amazing parent company, Pure Energies Group, has secured $6M in funding led by heavyweight VCs NEA and NGEN. Greentech Media has a great write up about the news, “Solar Deal Maker and Lead Generator Pure Energies Wins $6M in VC.”
1BOG has been helping individual homeowners go solar for five years now, and we’ve weathered the ups and downs of the market. Now, we are beyond thrilled to be part of Pure’s vision for the future of energy.
We have more exciting news coming up that will directly impact homeowners looking to go solar in what we think is the best way possible. So, keep your eyes and ears peeled – the solar game is changing.
At One Block Off the Grid, we fundamentally understand why it’s important to educate our members about the never-ending list of why going solar simply makes sense. While we know that it will be one of the easiest decisions for a homeowner to make, we realize that it takes some of us more time to come around than others. Hey, even I’m a late bloomer about this stuff.
Lots of folks rely on a myriad of excuses not to go solar – and they are all malarkey. Naysayers gonna naysay, but after our initial post, we were inspired to take another swipe at the hilarious reasons we still hear from solar unfriendlies.
Reason #4: It’s prohibitively expensive with a significant out-of-pocket expense.
Thriving nationwide solar providers offer low upfront options with minimal capital outlay if you don’t have money to use as solar for an investment. Meaning, the homeowner would pay significantly less per month to the solar company than to the utility provider. Aw, how adorable… what an ideal utopia that would be!
Reason #5: Solar companies only provide rough estimates, then real people get screwed with the real costs.
When a homeowner is a good candidate for solar, we create customized and personalized solar packages according to that specific homeowner. Reputable solar providers are in the business of closely working with the customer to design an array and financial option that fits them best. We always aim for the highest savings, maximum panel production, and decreased carbon footprint. Solar proponents say by taking the time to create a perfectly suited answer to an ever increasing electric bill and rising carbon emissions every residence will create sustainable communities and save a lot of money in the process. Sounds about as fishy as salmon season.
Reason #6: No one sees the solar process through from beginning to end. Or, there are so many cooks in my kitchen that I don’t know who’s doing what.
We won’t deny that the installation and interconnection channels can be a bit burdensome at times, but we will definitely shout from the rooftops about the practices we implement to make sure the post-sale process goes as smoothly, efficiently, and quickly as possible. We make sure to do any hand-offs to our partners as smoothly and clearly as possible and are more than happy to advocate for any of our members should things go awry. In other words, in every case possible, we strive to be that familiar face for you as you go through the solar experience.
One Block Off the Grid is solely in the business of making the often confusing, uncharted waters of solar manageable and smooth for sailing. We offer free, no obligation online consultations to inform the homeowner and deduct what the best plan would be to combating rising electrical rates and producers of dirty energy. We take all the hard work of it, so all the customer has to do is sit back, relax, and let the experts work out the best possible solution. If everything could be that easy!
Rachael Mammen is the Solar Specialist Supervisor (did say that five times fast, and it was not pretty) at One Block Off The Grid. She more thoroughly enjoys having her alter-ego as a sarcastic Captain Planet. For more satirical morsels and advocating renewable energy, follow her on Twitter at @rachaelmammen. Keep eyes peeled for after the jump there will be more tongue-in-cheek tidbits of solar misconceptions.
April 22 is a lot like February 14. All of a sudden, the things we’re supposed to be doing for ourselves and for each other are forced into an unforgiving spotlight. A lot of us balk at both holidays, claiming that we already shower our loved ones every other day of the year and, hey, we recycle all the time. Earth Day is every day, darnit.
Right. If that were the case, we wouldn’t still be debating whether or not climate change is real, or reading about the plights of everything from polar bears to bumblebees, or wrestling with the merits of solar over, say, fracking.
So, on this April 22, we invite you to do nothing short of contemplate your carbon footprint. We’ll be carpooling, walking, or biking to work, recycling our trash, composting our leftovers, debating which apex predator we’d rather save (polar bears are winning with a slight margin over tigers), and getting as many people as possible to go solar. (Incidentally, if you haven’t heard, we’re upping the game today: If you go solar by 7pm PST, we’ll give you $500. That’s green everybody can use.)
Of course, we’d love to hear what you’re doing as well! Drop us a line in the comments or email me at ashley (at) 1bog (dot) org. We even have a nifty survey you can take about what you’re doing on this greenest of holidays.
Happy Earth Day, from all of us here at 1BOG. (This is us, by the way.)
In 2012, there were 783 lobbyists representing the interests of 200 oil and gas companies. They spent just shy of $140 million, with nearly a quarter of that coming from three companies: Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Koch Industries. By comparison, the solar industry spent approximately half a million dollars in 2011 on lobbying.
It’s beyond David and Goliath, isn’t it? A fairly nascent industry is going up against heavyweights that can clobber us into next week with sheer spending power and the influence that money can buy. On top of that, we’re challenging well-ingrained habits among ordinary folks accustomed to paying their good ol’ utilities companies for energy. It’s tough to wrap your head around another way of doing things.
But as much money as the oil and gas industry have spent, they do have a crucial Achilles heel: public opinion. No matter how spectacularly humanistic their marketing campaigns are, all it takes is one photo of a duck covered in oil or a black stream of goo drifting down a suburban street in Arkansas to remind people that the real cost of oil reliance is that it is ultimately destructive to our planet.
On the other hand, solar fights the good fight. We are the solution to the problems that people see with oil. Well, we’re one solution (and we’re biased, obviously). But as an industry we can’t go toe-to-toe with Exxon in Washington – and that’s actually okay. Why? Because we know that change really starts in that place where oil and gas always flounder: public opinion.
The solar industry has known from the very beginning that transparency is our ally. But that also leaves us open to a lot of misinterpretation – both selective and genuine – as people grapple with the complexity of this new thing they’re being asked to do. It isn’t enough to be honest with your customers these days. You have to give them the tools to make their own decisions. Empowering people with information is the new way of doing things, and that is something the oil and gas industries can’t seem to grasp where as, least here at 1BOG, we strive to do every single day.
A good public relations strategy isn’t just about getting great articles or making headlines. It’s about inspiring change – a lot of change – through as many avenues as possible. Everything counts, from SolarChats hosted by EcoOutfitters to posting op-eds in major publications, or even attending town halls and HOA meetings. There are conversations to be had everywhere. So while solar might not be able to match oil and gas giants dollar for dollar in lobbying, when it comes to the public arena, we can outmatch them simply by continuing what we’re doing: educating, being transparent, and fighting the fight the ultimately ends with betterment for the planet and the people on it.
Ashley is the Director of Communications at 1BOG and oversees media relations, social channels, blog content, and about half a dozen other fun things. She’s into telling stories about the importance of renewable energy and engaging in conversations that lead us all to a healthier planet. She’s also into muay thai, so if PR doesn’t work, she’s got some flying elbows for the oil regime. You can reach her at ashley (at) 1bog (dot) org, or follow her on Twitter at @aseashore.
One question a homeowner considering solar might ask is, “how much of an impact will putting panels on my roof really have when I’m just one person?” The average home installation generates about 6 kilowatts of energy, whereas the average power plant generates about 667,000 kilowatts. It’s pretty easy to think that the power plant dwarfs the average house, right? But think about this: as more systems are installed, their cumulative effect creates a number of benefits for both the individual homeowner and society as a whole.
To get a better understanding of the big picture, let’s take a few steps back.
First, some facts. In 2011, energy generated in the U.S. was distributed fairly evenly among residential, industrial, and commercial categories, at roughly one-third each with residential having a slight edge over both commercial and industrial. So, although power plants generate a whole lot more power, when put in the perspective of consumption, the playing field evens out quite a bit.
But then we have that slight edge that residential has over commercial and industrial categories, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Since residential is the largest consumer of electric power, its size allows solar to make more of an impact than if we focused solely on the other sectors which makes it a natural target for reductions. However, the size of the consumption is not the only reason to focus there.
If we take a look at the three categories in another way, this time looking more granularly at their demand in monthly increments, in the “Historical peakiness” graphic below you can see that residential power consumption is also the “peakiest” on both a daily and monthly scale. Peakiness basically means the points at which demand is highest. Residential power dominates this, which means that it rules the demand sector for power as well, especially in the winter and summer months when there is a direct need for heating and cooling in the home. Why does this matter? Because “peaky” power is the most expensive power.
“Peaky” is expensive because grid operators and utilities dispatch power starting from the cheapest and moving to progressively more expensive power. The cheapest power comes from nuclear and hydro dams, then coal and wind, when available, are dispatched. Finally, natural gas turbines match the exact demand, spinning up and down as necessary. This ability to move up and down with the grid is what keeps the lights on and prevents brownouts or surges, but it is very expensive to do this. On the hottest summer days, when all of the cheapest power is already in use, demand dictates the most expensive power be purchased.
However, it does not need to be that way. As it turns out, solar generates power right at the same time it is needed the most – at the peak. For all intents and purposes, solar generation has the effect of shaving the peaks off. Take a moment to really digest that: solar works best when energy is most needed, so a solar home essentially bypasses the entire nuclear-hydro-coal-wind daisy chain. (Incidentally, this has utilities companies freaking out.)
We can actually see this in action in Australia, where solar is being added at a furious rate. For each year that solar is added, the peak summer demand has been shaved progressively downward. Since 2008, that demand has fallen by 15 percent. Furthermore, overall demand fell by 3 percent, whereas it was previously predicted to rise 10 percent! If the trend continues, it will translate into lower demand for new power plants and the transmission lines needed to distribute that power.
The implication of this trend is that residential solar is perfectly suited for reducing society’s most expensive power. That is all well and good for the altruists out there, but there is also a very pragmatic element as well: Whether you want to save the planet or not, as a utility ratepayer you are ultimately footing the bill for that expensive, peaky power in the form of higher costs in the summer and winter. Adopting solar means shaving down your demand, which in turn means that you will see some significant savings on your utility bills, and that always feels good whether it’s for the planet or your wallet – or both.
Since 2008, Tim Haines has pursued his dream of working for a cleantech company through thick and thin, and is pleased to have finally made it. He currently works for 1BOG as a Solar Consultant. For other musings, check his twitter feed @timothyhaines.
Even in this day and age, we hear a lot of pushback against solar. Apparently people still don’t think the sun can produce a lot of energy or that in 2013 we still can’t power homes with anything other than dirty energy.
But, we like to have a little fun here at One Block Off the Grid, so we thought it would be a hoot to see what it’s like on the other side of the fence (the dark, withering, nothing-grows-here side of the fence where sun is bad). So here we go. Enjoy all the excuses for not going solar, and behold the reasons that they’re bunk. We’ll be doing this on a regular basis, so feel free to contribute in the comments.
Reason #1: Ugh, it’s really too much work—and we all have so much on our plates today. Although moving to cleaner and cheaper energy does seem like a good idea to a lot of folks, it also seems like a lot of hoops to jump through. If only there was a solar advocate group that streamlined the process for going solar (ahem), someone that did all the heavy lifting and guess work for the customer, vetted the partners/installers to the highest industry standards, and gave the customer an educated, informed, viable solar solution. If only…
Reason #2: Utility companies aren’t THAT bad. We all have a serious, deep-rooted relationship with our utility provider. They never raise the rates, always have the customer’s best interest in mind, and would never inspire us to punch our cat. All that noise about rising energy costs, extraneous/nonsensical charges? Dirty energy produced by coal and other non-renewable energy sources? Just a bunch of propaganda from the solar industry yammering about rights of the sun over rights of the planet.
Reason #3: Solar is anti-tree. Solar companies recommend that homeowners cut down trees just so they can get exposed roof space. Well, yes. This one is kind of true. In order to get the most from solar panels, those gangly, leafy, shade-giving trees should at least be given a skeptical side-eye. But only if they block the southern-facing part of your roof.
We hear over and over how the deals available today to help people go solar are too good to be true. But here’s the truth: Homeowners can put little to no money down for a 20-year commitment to produce clean energy for a significantly more affordable rate of power due to incentives and rebates. Thanks to these options, a homeowner can become energy independent from their utility company and help decrease carbon emissions. Furthermore, there is a trusted, independent solar advocacy group that educates, informs, as well as simplifies the complicated process of going solar from gathering information to post-interconnection. Yes, and that is where we at One Block Off the Grid come in.
Rachael Mammen is the Solar Specialist Supervisor (say that five times fast) at One Block Off the Grid. She is ecstatic to flex her sarcastic muscle for this tongue-in-cheek post. For other sardonic noshes and a look into fighting the good solar fight, follow her on twitter (@rachaelmammen). Stay tuned for the next episode of Rachael’s witticisms on solar fact and fiction.
New developments in solar energy are occurring almost daily that both figuratively and literally will light the future of our nation and the world. There’s the Solar Impulse, a long-range solar-powered aircraft that just flew an entire diurnal cycle, including nearly nine hours of night-time flight. If that doesn’t capture your imagination, India just announced that they’re experimenting with solar in a whole new way: solar-powered roofs over highways. Of course, there’s also the practical innovation happening in Lancaster, California, which will require all new single-family homes to have solar panels beginning in January 2014.
The point is that whether it’s a solar-powered plane or community, the opportunities that solar brings to the world can tickle the imagination.
Think of a future where planes, automobiles, transportation systems and even more industries are powered by the sun. We’re making in-roads already, and what a difference it will make in the climate of our entire planet and in the conservation of the limited resources of our world.
The good news is that there’s a really easy place to start: your home. Thanks to innovations in solar finance, every home can be part of this new wave of energy innovation and enjoy the benefits of this new power source. It starts with a simple phone call. At One Block Off the Grid we quickly assess your current electrical bill and work with your utility company to determine if a solar system would be a good option for your home – for free.
If solar is a good option for you, we arrange for installation by the best qualified experts in your area and determine the potential savings in your energy costs. Most of the process can be done over the phone.
If you’re like me and share an enthusiasm about the future and want to be part of changing your neighborhood, our nation and, ultimately, the world, then solar is a great place to start. And the best place to start going solar is right here at One Block Off the Grid. Check out our FAQ for answers to your most pressing questions, or our Homeowner’s Lounge to see for yourself what life as a solar homeowner can be like.
Ousman Bah is the Managing Director of One Block Off the Grid.
Post provided by Ryan McNeill, president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland solar solutions firm serving the Mid-Atlantic.
You already know that installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on your home can dramatically reduce your monthly electricity bills. And with each successive year, those savings only grow with time. As utility rates rise, clean energy from the sun remains consistently free.
But as with any investment, there are start-up costs with solar energy. Even with the impressive savings potential, can you really afford paying for a new system upfront? The answer may surprise you.
These days, there exist a range of solar-related incentives and rebates specifically designed to help make the technology more affordable for average homeowners. Solar PV systems that were once prohibitively expensive are now within relatively easy reach.
Thanks to a number of local, state, and federal incentives, you rarely have to pay full price for a new solar PV installation.
Let’s take a look at some of these incentives.
1. The Federal Investment Tax Credit
The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows you to deduct up to 30% of the installation cost from your total income. Think of it as a “charitable donation” or “business expense” that you claim on your yearly taxes.
2. Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)
Certain states have renewable energy quotas in which utility companies are actually obligated to generate a certain portion of their electricity from clean power sources.
Rather than generate this energy themselves, utility companies frequently “purchase” credits from homeowners who already produce clean energy from their solar PV systems. For example, in a state like Maryland, the average payout for every 1,000 kilowatts (kW) of solar energy exceeded $200 in 2012.
3. Additional Solar Incentives in Maryland
Maryland is actually one of the most generous solar states in the country, offering a slew of additional incentives for homeowners thinking about going solar. Let’s take a look at a few:
- The Maryland Residential Clean Energy Grant Program pays eligible homeowners an even $1,000 for each newly installed solar PV system.
- The Maryland Clean Energy Production Tax Credit allows eligible homeowners to claim up to $0.0085 for every kilowatt-hour of solar energy produced (this credit only applies to state taxes).
- Maryland offers a 100% tax exemption from the sale and use of solar PV technology. This can reduce the upfront cost of a new installation by as much as 6%.
- You can also find any number of incentives at the utility and county level to further drive down the cost of your system.
A couple things to keep in mind: First, you can combine many of these incentives to really bring costs down. Second, in addition to government incentives, you might also qualify for solar financing and leasing options. Done correctly, you can push down the upfront cost to $0 while still paying next to nothing on your monthly electricity bills. It’s a pretty sweet deal any way you cut it.
Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland solar solutions firm serving the Mid-Atlantic. Ryan has written for the ASES, Energy Viewpoints, Renewable Energy World and various other publications covering the renewable energy industry.
In concept, going solar is simple: put solar panels on your roof, lower your utilities bills, and do some good for the planet. Sounds easy enough. But unfortunately it still isn’t that straightforward. I like to think of going solar as similar to buying a car in the 1900s. How do you sell a car to someone who’s not only never had one before, but never driven one and is paying a not-insignificant amount of money on something that’s still relatively new?
One of my customers, Sharon in Texas, introduced me to a great term: “explain-ee-ology.” It was actually coined by her young son who uses it to describe someone that can explain anything. I can’t explain everything, but I can explain what it takes to really help people understand why solar might be a great option for them. Because we’re all in it for the greater good, here are a few things I’ve picked up that I think should be standard practice among those of us on the front lines of solar.
- Don’t overcomplicate it. Shocking that solar can be overcomplicated, right? Part of it is because some solar consultants either don’t get what they’re selling you (hey, it is complicated), or they want to make it sound loftier than it is so that they seem smarter. We call BS on that – just keep it simple. And, of course, know your stuff.
- Listen. The best way to find out the most seamless way to help a homeowner who’s interested in solar is to just listen to what they have to say. For example, life goals play a huge part in a person’s decision-making process. Are they planning on moving soon? Having children? Maybe their job isn’t as stable as they want it to be, or maybe they want to get a jacuzzi. You don’t have to ask a litany of questions to get this information. Just listen, be sincere, and have your customer’s back. If they can’t make the solar leap right now, maybe down the road they’ll look you up when they’re ready.
- Don’t focus on sales numbers. You know that saying, “a watched pot never boils?” It’s true. If you focus on numbers only, then you miss out on the fun part – and the reason so many of us do what we do – and that is fighting the good fight. And guess what? People know when you’re treating them like a number, and they really don’t like it.
Everybody has their own style, of course, and that should always be allowed. But think about that car salesman in the 1900s trying to convince someone why they should try something totally new and wild – how did he get them off the horse and into the automobile? That’s what selling solar is all about.
Marcus Joo is a solar consultant at One Block Off the Grid. He is strongly considering adding “explain-ee-ologist” to his business cards. In the meantime, follow him on Twitter (@marcusjoo) or get to know him on Google +.
Interested in working in solar? 1BOG is hiring! Visit our Careers page or email email@example.com.
Democracy’s techno-savvy cousin, crowdsourcing, has reached the hallowed halls of Congress, thanks to California Rep. Henry Waxman and his Carbon Tax Bill. Hey, it worked for Veronica Mars fans so why not, you know, the planet?
So, for anyone who’s ever wished they could write the laws we live by, this is your shot. Of course, Waxman intends the call for action to be directed towards experts and leaders in the environmental realm but given that this is all happening online, we expect (hope) that the internet will once again act as a great equalizer.
The goals of the Carbon Tax Bill are three-fold: First, establish a carbon pollution fee for all types of greenhouse gases. Second, require major carbon polluters to obtain fee-based permits based on how much they pollute. And, finally, the bill would create a program to be jointly run and enforced by the Treasury and the EPA.
Here are the four main questions that Team Waxman is seeking guidance on:
- What is the appropriate price per ton for polluters to pay? The draft contains alternative prices of $15, $25, and $35 per ton for discussion purposes.
- How much should the price per ton increase on an annual basis? The draft contains a range of increases from 2% to 8% per year for discussion purposes.
- What are the best ways to return the revenue to the American people? The discussion draft proposes putting the revenue toward the following goals, and solicits comments on how to best accomplish each: (1) mitigating energy costs for consumers, especially low-income consumers; (2) reducing the Federal deficit; (3) protecting jobs of workers at trade-vulnerable, energy intensive industries; (4) reducing the tax liability for individuals and businesses; and (5) investing in other activities to reduce carbon pollution and its effects.
- How should the carbon fee program interact with state programs that address carbon pollution?
Who knows if this will work, but it’s cool to watch the attempt. There is a certain clout that comes from many people directing their attention to an important issue. We’ve seen what protests and marches can do, but with today’s technology, particularly social media, not only can our voices be heard – and loudly – but they also can spread fast so that the wisdom and actions of many can be understood and repeated. Crowdsourcing legislation is a great experiment to see just how impactful the collective voice can be.
Here’s another way of looking at crowdsourcing: At 1BOG, we see our work as a macro crowdsource experiment. We help homeowners across the country get solar panels to power their homes and feed electricity into the energy grid. When homeowners stand alone, they are just a drop in the proverbial renewable energy bucket. But as more and more people make the shift, and as more and more people tell their friends, they become a collective force. Pretty soon we could see what’s essentially a new type of power grid: instead of coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants providing energy to our homes, it will be a collection of our individual homes providing power to the grid. Talk about crowdsourcing energy.