An Ominous Prediction For American Utilities

A recent article from businessinsider.com describes a very real threat to the future of American utilities.

This prediction comes by way of a team from England’s Barclays Bank. The team has concluded that solar power will be ultimately responsible for decline and eventual disintegration of the powerful energy companies in America.

So how could the currently very small solar energy industry take down the large utilities?

The final knockout punch will come by way of a one-two combination; solar pv and battery storage. In recent years, the combined cost of a solar power system with a back up battery system was cost prohibitive. This is beginning to change. In fact, in states where electricity costs are relatively high, payback periods for complete solar power systems can be less than ten years. Many homeowners will obviously choose ten years of energy payments rather than pay their local utility forever.

It’s estimated that solar energy production increased 30 fold in the U.S. from 1,000 MW in 2005 to 30,000 MW in 2013. While this is still just a fraction of the total energy needs of the country, prices for solar panels are starting to be on par with conventional energy costs.

Affordable batteries has been one of the main things holding back the mass adoption of solar power. Prices for solar power batteries have been falling drastically, along with prices for solar panels. Grid Parity – the term for when the price of an alternative energy source like solar costs the same as conventional energy is what this all boils down to.

The Barclays team predicts that solar pv plus battery storage will see grid parity for the first few states in the next two to four years. Most of the rest of America will save money by ditching their utilities for solar by the end of the next ten year period.
grid parity prediction
Initial solar installations are actually speeding up the demise of the big power providers. Every new solar customer is one less customer for the utilities. This decrease in revenue gets passed along as increased costs to their current customers, forcing even more people to consider switching to solar power.

Of course, this analysis from Barclays does not touch upon the considerable power and influence that the large electric utilities have in America. They surely will not easily let go of their grasp on an industry that has proven very profitable for many decades. It’s safe to say that the financial experts from Barclays have also considered the fact that free enterprise should trump all. Technological advancements have changed many industries. The energy industry is simply becoming the latest example….a long overdue one.

The Potential Of Solar-Powered Roadways

Technology has been created to be able to transform our roadways into miles of solar power generation.

Scott and Julie Brusaw have been working on the idea for most of a decade now. Their idea has gained much attention in recent years, especially in the form of two rounds of funding from the Federal Highway Administration.

Their Solar Roadways system is based on the idea that there is enough roadway space to supply the United States with more than enough energy. Mr. Brusaw found that if the 72,000 square kilometer of asphalt and concrete that the U.S. has is covered in solar panels, it would produce more than three times what the country uses.

The primary motivation and inspiration for this project is to drastically cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Brusaw wants to do his part to help eliminate the 50% or so of emissions that are produced when fossil fuels are burned to create electricity.
solar roadways
The technology is fairly simple. Solar panels are embedded in tempered, interlocking glass panels. These glass panels have been thoroughly tested for traction, impact, and load capabilities.

It’s easy to conclude that the scale and scope of this project seems unrealistic. While this may be true, the Brusaws have received considerable and credible attention. They have won awards and nominations from GE’s World Of Technology, the IEEE Ace Awards, NASA, and Google’s Solve for X.

In addition to seeking government funding, the couple are also fundraising via Indiegogo. A prototype parking lot is in the works. The plan is to then sell to consumers and eventually get the government on board.

Even if all of our roadways do not eventually become energy producers, this project can still have a massive impact wherever it gets implemented. We need as much solar power as possible.

Solar Roadways is just another great example of the versatility and potential that solar power has. It can be easy to argue that we are still in the beginning stages of different solar power applications.

We’ll need to see all types of solar applications being deployed much sooner than later to experience a better, cleaner future for all of us.

Big Business Is Impeding The Solar Power Revolution

It’s sadly ironic that the large solar companies that are making residential solar power happen in a big way are also impeding its true potential.

The reason for this is fairly simple – these companies have considerable overhead and investors that need to see a large enough return on investment. Unfortunately, this is just business as usual. If these companies call themselves “Green”, they’re referring to money not the environment.

SolarCity, SunRun, and Verengo are just a few of the leading residential solar power players in the industry. There are quite a few others that also offer the same payment schemes to every potential customer. Unwary homeowners can easily get sold on the idea that a long term solar lease is actually beneficial compared to the alternatives. Actually, the alternatives are obviously not mentioned by these companies.
solar leasing
While these companies are managing to get thousands of people producing clean energy, they are also perpetuating the myth that solar power is too expensive. The fact of the matter is that the true cost of solar power is much lower than what these companies are charging. Again, these companies need to make a large enough profit to continue expanding with their business model. Many homeowners who look into getting pricing from these companies will assume that this is simply what solar power costs.

So what’s the basic message that we’re getting from the large solar power companies? It’s something like this – We can have a clean, renewable power revolution, reduce air pollution, create jobs, and improve the overall economy….only if we can make a ton of money first.

Many of the homeowners who have had solar installed on their homes over the past few years have done so because they pay some of the highest rates in America. It’s easy for the large solar leasing companies to offer payments that are less than what these homeowners are currently paying. Had these homeowners done a bit of research, they would have learned that they could have acquired their own financing and saved a good deal of money compared to the lease arrangement.

What about the millions of American homeowners that pay a little closer to the national average of about 12 cents per kilowatt hour? Many of these people have been approached by the large solar companies. The leasing companies often have to turn these people down (or homeowners say no first) because they can’t beat their current rates. The reality is that solar power makes financial sense for many of these homeowners. Had they looked into the true cost of self-financed solar, they could have said yes to solar.

Many banks and credit unions now offer government-backed, green energy loans at competitive rates.

So what’s the true cost of residential solar power? Well, its much less than what the large leasing companies are charging. It’s also less than the current nation average for conventional energy. It’s quite possible to pay no more than 10 cents/kwh for solar power right now.

The basic problem is one of awareness. The good work being done by the smaller solar companies that are truly looking out for their customers’ best interest will be heard. That word of mouth will start to spread more quickly than the mass marketing campaigns of the larger companies. Real value will triumph over misleading marketing.

While solar power installations have dramatically increased in the last few years, there’s still much to be done. Once the word gets out that the average homeowner can pay less for solar power than what they’re currently paying, we’ll start to see the solar power revolution truly take off.

The Supreme Court Upholds Good Neighbor Provision In The Clean Air Act

In a major victory for the Environmental Protection Agency (and the health of millions of people), the Supreme Court upheld a provision in The Clean Air Act.

The addition to the EPA’s Clean Air Act is called the Good Neighbor Provision. This provision basically calls for states to be held accountable for any air pollution from industrial sources that affects the residents of nearby states. The EPA originally proposed this idea as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) in 2011.

Major polluters will no longer be able to avoid being held accountable for air pollution that travels “downwind” to another state. These polluters will be forced to add more pollution control systems. As costs continue to climb for the more pollution intensive sources of energy, like coal, we can look forward to seeing more coal power plants getting shut down.

Of course, these polluters ignore the human costs of doing business.

According to the findings of the EPA’s CSAPR, the implications of this rule can improve the health of millions of people –

Health Effect Number Of Cases Avoided
Premature Mortality 13,000 to 43,000
Non-fatal heart attacks 15,000
Hospital and emergency department visits 19,000
Accute bronchitis 19,000
Upper and lower respiratory symptoms 420,000
Aggravated asthma 400,000
Days when people miss work or school 1,800,000

This adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars in health benefits. The states will save this money by avoiding the major health expenses that air pollution can cause.

When will the dirty fossil fuel polluters realize that the sooner they switch to renewable energy sources, the less it will cost them in the long run? Solar power has already surpassed grid parity at the utility level.

These short-sighted companies are probably looking at the costs of switching to renewables and are not happy with the numbers they see. They’d rather stick with the status quo, because it’s cheaper in the short term. Capitalism seems to be extremely miopic – unable to see past quarterly profit statements.

Things are changing. This recent Supreme Court decision is another small step in the right direction. Pressure from the EPA is forcing polluters to realize that their days are numbered.

Real change would call for the shutting down of coal plants as quickly as possible. This, unfortunately, would require considerably more drastic and extreme measures from the government, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The White House Continues To Support Solar Deployment

The White House staff and President Obama continue their support for the implementation of solar power throughout the country by announcing a “Solar Summit“.

Although it could be easily argued that the President could be doing more to promote solar energy, he has actually done more to promote solar than any previous administration. Of course, solar power was not economically viable during the very green administration of President Jimmy Carter. The decision is that much easier today as solar power makes complete sense economically.

This post comes by way of a recent DailyKos.com article. According to the author and many environmentalists, any significantly aggressive push for renewable energy playing a much larger role in a comprehensive energy plan will be denied. Apparently there is still too much power in the hands of the leaders of the fossil fuel industry. Their efforts to maintain the energy status quote is obviously a considerable force that influences many, congress being no exception.

The Daily Kos author astutely observed that while the Solar Summit’s objectives might seem like “small potatoes” at first, the large variety and number of different initiatives can actually make a significant impact over time. This idea is vital for the renewable energy movement in general. There is no one silver bullet. In order to eventually become a 100 percent clean energy society, we will have to utilize all forms of renewable energy at every single level.

solar summit

Comparing the official whitehouse.gov’s press release with the Daily Kos article reveals a noteworthy omission. The Daily Kos article does not mention one of the bullet points in the original press release that calls for continued pursuit of natural gas. This makes good sense. After all, what does natural gas have to do with the deployment of solar power? Everyone realizes that we are still relying on fossil fuels for our energy needs at least in the short term. There’s no need to highlight this fact in an initiative that is supposed to be all about solar power.

Here’s a brief outline of goals of the Solar Summit –

  • Funding Regional Solar Market Pathways: A 15 million dollar pledge to help reduce policy barriers for commercial solar.
  • Providing Technical Assistance For Federally-Assisted Housing: A goal of 100 megawatts of renewable energy for subsidized housing by 2020.
  • Launching an “On-site Renewables Challenge” as part of EPA’s Green Power Partnership: A continued push for on-site renewable energy production from schools, businesses, and local and state governments.
  • Sharing Best Practices with a “Solar Deployment Playbook”: Helping businesses go solar.
  • Advancing Solar by Partnering with the Rural Utilities Service: Helping rural communities adopt distributed solar.
  • Leveraging Financing Tools to Deploy Solar: Providing $2.5 billion in loan guarantees.
  • Launching a Capital Solar Challenge: Identifying locations for solar installations for federal and military agencies.
  • Continuing to Support Solar Deployment at Military Installations: The Pentagon is committed to installing 3 gigawatts of renewable energy at military bases.

As you can see, the Solar Summit entails solar programs that are numerous and varied. While more can and will eventually be done, all of these initiatives will definitely add up to being a significant part of the solar solution.

If nothing else, these programs will give the solar revolution the increasing momentum that it needs.

The Plan To Convert America To 100 Percent Renewable Energy By 2050

Mark Jacobson, a Stanford Scientist, has proposed a plan to convert all 50 U.S. states to clean, renewable energy by the year 2050.

The plan is called The Solutions Project. To help better promote his plan, Mr. Jacobson brought along actor Mark Ruffalo, film director Josh Fox, along with five other key members that represent the eight in total board of directors.

The Solutions Project is doing much to help combat the widespread misinformation that we are doomed to have to continue to rely on dirty fossil fuels. The fact is that there are a plethora of renewable energy sources that can more than provide for all of our needs. These alternatives are actually much cheaper to utilize in the long run as well. The project consists of a custom-tailored state-by-state mix of ten different means of producing energy. These methods include residential PV systems, commercial/governmental PV systems, solar PV plants, wave device, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal, onshore wind, hydroelectric, offshore wind, and tidal turbines.

Click on the image of the project below to check out their website….

This plan aims to address three major issues that are each monumental challenges; global warming, air pollution, and energy insecurity. Jacobson put it very succinctly – “drastic problems require drastic and immediate solutions.” Of course, it seems abundantly clear to me that air pollution is the most pressing of these problems. Annually, millions of people worldwide die from air pollution. This type of pollution takes more than 59,000 American lives every year.

As ambitious as this plan might seem to the pessimists out there, it is completely viable. This is because it does not seek to change the system. In fact, from a capitalistic viewpoint it makes good sense. Sure, there will be winners and losers. The powers that be do not have to be the latter. The sooner that they realize that a switch to renewable energy sources means good business over the long term, the sooner that this plan will work. In the meantime, there is much that local cities/governments and people can do to help jump start this renewable energy revolution.

It really is encouraging to know that we have the technology to make this plan work. We have the ability to preserve a livable environment for future generations. No one has to lose here, we can have a clean environment and economic prosperity at the same time, despite what the powers that be might say.

Duke Energy To Continue To Stick With Coal

How sadly ironic that the utilities in Florida continue to ignore their state’s namesake.

According to a recent Tampa Bay Times article, Duke Energy, a major utility in the Sunshine State, is happy with status quo of dirty energy.

More than 100 people showed up in protest in front of Duke Energy’s Florida headquarters with 5,500 signed petitions. The petitioners call for a move away from dirty coal and for more expansion of renewable energy sources like solar power.

Another recent protest, this one at the University of Florida, called for the college to generate 100 percent of its power from clean, renewable sources.

Florida solar proponents

Both of these protests fall on mostly deaf ears as the powers that be in Florida continue to supress clean energy like solar. A recent example of this type of action came from Republican Rich Workman of Melbourne, Florida. As Chairman of the House Finance and Tax Committee, he blocked a bill that would have given tax breaks to businesses that install solar panels.

The story seems to be fairly obvious here. Power, control, and greed are helping to keep dirty sources of energy in place. We have viable alternatives. We have options.

What we need are decisions based on common sense, not common cents. When will the powers that be realize that money does not matter in a world that no one can live in?

As far as the Sunshine State is concerned, it lags well behind in solar power adoption compared to many of its neighbors. Solar power has the potential to supply much of Florida’s energy. Utility scale solar is economically viable. Cost effective energy storage technologies are being devoloped as well. Solar power can’t and should not be ignored any longer.

The good news is that homeowners have much more power to affect change. While they may not be able to dissuade a large utility from using coal, homeowners can do their part by generating their own clean energy by installing solar panels on their roofs. Florida laws might not be as friendly towards residential solar compared to other states, but it can definitely still make economic sense for those Floridian’s considering a switch to solar.

It may take awhile, but Florida will eventually catch up with the solar revolution currently happening in many of the states in America. The revolution will continue. After all, a clean liveable environment is the only one that can be economically prosperous over the long term.

Critical Levels of Air Pollution in China

In a recent article from Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek, The World Health Organization released a report that stated that 40% of the 7 million people killed by the effects of air pollution in 2012 lived in China.

As shocking and horrifying as this statistic is, it should come as no surprise. After all, China produces the world’s stuff. This requires massive amounts of energy, most of which is still produced from coal. China’s leaders vow to “declare war on smog” while coal plants continue to be built to guarantee economic expansion.

Overall, 3.7 million people died from outdoor air pollution in 2012 alone.

China Air Pollution

This is obviously not just China’s problem. We’re all in this together, especially as the world continues to get smaller and more interconnected. In this increasingly global society, everyone is responsible for everyone else’s pollution. Also, significant amounts of China’s pollution will find its way around the world as well.

Ironically, China has been a major producer of solar panels for years now. Apparently market conditions have not been favorable enough in China to prevent the majority of them from getting exported to other nations like the U.S.

I’m hopeful that the economics will start to make enough sense real soon to adopt solar on a massive scale. As of this post, solar power reached grid parity through much of Europe.

There is much that American can do to help spur solar power elsewhere around the world. We need to take the initiative and lead by example by installing as much solar and renewable energy as quickly as possible. It’s already starting to happen.

It’s just a shame that we had to wait this long.

The Potential Of Solar Power

It may come as a surprise to some, but solar power is by far the largest source of energy that humanity has access to.

There are many graphics that have been produced to highlight this fact, but none has done the job of expressing this idea as well as the graphic made by Richard Perez, a Research Professor at the University of Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. Here is the image –

solar-energy-potential


According to the graphic, the Earth receives about 23,000 terawatts of energy per year from the sun. This is an astounding amount of energy compared to the 16 terawatts that the world currently uses. Capturing a tenth of one percent of this energy would give us more than we would need.

It’s important to note that the four larger circles, representing the polluting and non-renewable sources of energy (coal, uranium, petroleum, and natural gas), are total recoverable amounts. The numbers associated with these four sources of energy will eventually decline, as opposed to the yearly guarantee of 23,000 terawatts that we receive from the sun every year.

The good news is that word is getting out to the powers that be that solar is now as affordable, if not cheaper than conventional energy sources. “Grid Parity” has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. In order for solar to finally catch up and surpass other energy sources, across the board implementation must occur. Utility scale, commercial, and residential solar will soon grow at exponential rates.

It’s fitting that this first post is about potential. The potential that homeowners have to do their part to speed up the solar revolution is very exciting. I am happy to do my part to help make sure homeowners receive the most cost effective solar solutions possible.

Here’s to the future! It looks bright from here.