Climate Suffering

December 12, 2014

This post was written by Dr. Paul Wapner, Professor of Global Environmental Politics at American University and RE-volv Board Member. It was originally published in Global Environmental Politics, Vol. 14, no. 2, May 214, pp. 1-6.

In May 2013, I traveled to the state of Uttarakhand in northern India to study the effects of climate change. I wanted to know about the lived experience of those at the frontlines of climate hardship. Meeting with scientists, government officials, and ordinary citizens, I sought to learn what it is like to live at the capillaries of global warming.

Some of the most poignant meetings were with subsistence farmers—those who grow food to feed their families and neighbors but not enough to sell commercially. Many of these people live on steep hillsides. Each morning and evening they walk down ravines to fill containers with water. Over the past few years, their lives have been especially challenging, as the summer and winter monsoons have come later in the season and been milder in intensity—an effect some associate with climate change.1 In fact, over the past five years, many of these farmers have wrestled with dire conditions, as rains have been insufficient to grow many of their staple crops and they have been forced, against their deepest wishes, to accept government assistance of wheat, rice, and kerosene.

In one of my meetings, I spoke with fifteen farmers from different nearby villages. Sitting in a two-room house that sleeps six and in stifling heat of nearly 100 degrees, we talked about the changes in weather they’ve been witnessing, the extent to which these changes may be tied to climate change, and what they think about a global problem that is pushing down on them with particularly ferocity. Even though they did not know the details, all of them seemed familiar with the term climate change and all told stories of hotter temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. Outside, the sky was clear and the soil was dusty brown. No one was optimistic about the monsoon coming anytime soon or with enough rain to nourish the newly seeded fields. They were readying for another summer of prolonged drought, wherein they would have to face a brutal reality of less food, fewer seeds, and an even more uncertain future. As we sipped tea on the concrete floor, neither the farmers nor I could imagine a scar-ier prospect. Then, a few weeks after I left, the rains came.

The rains that pummeled Uttarakhand in June 2013 were widespread. Increased rainfall extended south to Delhi, over to Western Nepal and up through Western Tibet. Uttarakhand, however, received the bulk of precipitation and suffered the most damage as floods and landslides thrashed the towns of Kadernath, Guptkashi, and Ukhimath. Here punishing rains washed out roads, inundated villages, and lopped off whole swaths of land from mountainsides. Throughout the country, the deluge killed close to 6,000 people and left over 100,000 stranded and in need of rescue.2 The Indian army lost soldiers in its attempt to evacuate trapped pilgrims (which included the downing of a helicopter returning from the pilgrimage site of Kedarnath), and tens of thousands of people’s lives will never be the same.3 Today, many of the towns have yet to be rebuilt, and there are questions if they will ever be reconstructed.4 

Scientists believe that global warming is not simply shifting the timing and intensity of India’s monsoon, but also leading to new patterns of precipitation. Higher temperatures are causing greater surface evaporation, which partially accounts for the drought the farmers in Uttarakhand have been experiencing. However, with more water vapor in the atmosphere, if and when the rains come, they pour down with greater strength and concentration. This can cause devastating floods and landslides, especially in mountainous areas.5 This is exactly what happened in Uttarakhand.

The farmers, of course, could not have predicted any of this during the interviews. Through the translator’s paraphrasing, it seemed clear that everyone assumed that the summer of 2013 would be no different than previous ones. In fact, our discussions focused mostly on the effects of heat and drought. We talked about agricultural sustainability in light of more moderate monsoons and the difficulty of farming on increasingly parched land. We discussed how they would carry on, as some of their traditional crops no longer grow in the region due to warmer conditions, and how many other crops may face a similar fate as climate change increases. We also talked about how their villages would fare as their children leave for cities seeking greater opportunity, and the challenges of being left behind by a country committed to economic might and a world that seeks affluence and comfort at all costs.

In these conversations, I heard expressions of both resignation and resilience. Many told stories of being beaten down by poverty, kicked off previously held land, and vulnerable to the whims of corporate and governmental bodies whose actions undermine their security. Others related openness to change and an ability to endure sustained hardship. Life had dealt them so many challenges that illness, misfortune, and even hunger were not events, but just part of day-to-day experience that they could endure with their humanity intact. There was something touching and admirable in their outlook. It was both fatalistic and resilient.

These are the people on the receiving end of the global North’s climate politics. They represent the face of carbon addiction. Generally, they are hidden from view. Subsistence farmers live not simply off the electric grid but also off the market, and thus are of no consequence to anyone since so much relevance these days revolves around buying and selling. Tens of millions of Indian farmers live from hand-to mouth. Hundreds of millions more live on less than $2 a day, feeding global markets that they never see and over which they have no control. Beyond the hinterlands of commodification and thus earshot yet trapped in global structures, their silence represents, what Edward Said calls, the “normalized quiet of unseen power.”6 

When the conversation turned to how agriculture could manage in these times of climate magnification—what forms of farming would be best suited to a climate age—we came back to their own practices. These farmers employ so-called “traditional organic” methods. Too poor to buy fertilizer, pesticides or genetically modified seeds, and unable to send their crops to urban markets, their practices have an infinitesimal carbon footprint. Furthermore, they engage in “fair trade,” since they share and barter with each other rather than try to squeeze merchants or salespeople along the production or distribution chain. Finally, by “lowering” their sights and striving for mere sufficiency rather than sheer productivity,7 they practice full-employment agriculture—the more mouths that need to be fed, the more people that need to work the land. On first reflection, this may sound like a sad story of desperation driving sustainability—as if the poor have no choice but to be ecological stewards. One can also hear it, however, as a message of wisdom to a world of 7.2 billion people, under the darkening specter of climate change.

Toward the end of our almost three-hour conversation, I had the translator ask what these farmers would like to tell America. What message would they like to relate to people of my country? They replied that they didn’t want US food assistance, televisions, or even air conditioners. They didn’t pine for US consumerism or the flashy lifestyles that many of us imagine all foreigners covet. Rather, they wanted US leadership. They wished the US would use its wealth to figure out how to generate energy without emissions or, as they put it, how to drive cars and run factories without pollution. They also wanted the US to figure out how to share global wealth so everyone could have education and live lives of their choosing. Most of all, they hoped that the US would model sustainability—establish ways of life that enlarged the wellbeing of everybody and everything, not simply the pocketbooks of the few, already overly fortunate. They had little faith that their own government could do such things.  

To date, scientists, policy-makers, and environmentalists have responded to climate change in two ways. First, they have attempted to mitigate it—that is, reduce carbon emissions, plant trees, and otherwise stop the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This has long been the focus of international treaties, domestic legislation, and citizen efforts. Second, recognizing that mitigation measures are far from adequate, countries have also begun adapting to climate change. Officials are devising plans to build higher sea walls, bury utility lines, and cultivate drought-resistant crops to adjust to a warming world. Events in Uttarakahand, however, remind us that there is a third dimension to climate change that is becoming increasingly familiar. This is, sadly, widespread suffering. Those living on the margins of the affluent, globalized world are illustrating that, no matter how much we try to mitigate or adapt to climate change, much human pain and misery is inevitable. Living at the forefront of climate hardship, the farmers with whom I spoke and many of whose lives are now in ruin reveal the full spectrum of climate consequences.

Climate suffering, like much hardship, is not simply a fact of life but a consequence of politics. It emerges from configurations of power that grant privilege and, like many structures, operate through the “soft knife of routine processes.”8 These processes are themselves hard to see. They stretch from the coal mines of China, tar sands of Canada, falling rainforests of Brazil, and oil deposits of Saudi Arabia to tailpipes, kerosene lamps, iPhones, rice paddies, and thermostats throughout the world. Furthermore, they constitute diminutive links in a long chain of greenhouse gas accumulation that reaches back in time—wherein “historical emissions” catapulted some into the developed world and left others in, what Mike Davis calls, “the global residuum”9 —and marches forward at a pace that is at once staggering but so dispersed that it is hardly noticed. In this sense, climate suffering is the epitome of what Rob Nixon calls “slow violence”—a “violence [that] is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but rather incremental and accretive, its calamitous repercussions playing out across a range of temporal scales.”10 To the farmers of Uttarakahand, the causal accretions may, in fact, be gradual, strewn across far-flung landscapes and temporalities, and embedded in the micro-ducts of global life, but, when they arrive, they materialize with a vengeance. Scorching drought and torrential rains may originate from everywhere and thus nowhere, but still arrive like a stiletto.

As the afternoon light grew dim, digital recorder in hand and following the pat procedures of social scientific questioning, I grew confused about scholarly inquiry. I found myself wondering who was interviewing whom, where the boundaries of climate suffering ended, and what kind of hands hold the weapons of climate violence. To be sure, my “subjects” sat around me while I asked queries with as much clarity and respect as I could. I had, of course, received approval of my IRB11 and worked to be mindful of crossing ethical boundaries—I did not want my research to cause harm. And yet, as I practiced my honed research methods, distinctions started to blur. I was not simply questioning others in a disinterested or somehow politically neutered way; instead the encounter both pained and humbled me. It hurt to see those most dependent on stable weather try to scramble to adjust to a changing climate. It troubled me that, while I would soon fly home burning more fossil fuel than these farmers use in a year, they would continue moving hoes through stubborn soil and gazing up at the sky for signs of an uncertain future. I must also add that I felt honored to be welcomed by the “sustainable ones,” having just flown in from the broader unsustainable world. I thought of their faces as I read about and watched videos of the torrential monsoon rains just after my visit, and today continue to imagine what it must be like for those villagers swept away by a force not of their making. There are both physical and emotional dimensions to climate suffering and, while I may be largely immune from more acute material hardship, I nevertheless feel the trauma of climate change. I now know that I was not simply gathering data to report back to my Northern colleagues, but joining the wider world of climate adversity.

As I was leaving the interview, a farmer approached me. He grabbed my translator’s arm and had her relate a final message to the US. He wanted me to know that I shouldn’t pity him or the others. Everyone, sooner or later, was going to be in the same boat. As he put it, if climate change had come to rural India, it will eventually come to America. He wished me luck.

-Paul Wapner
 

Solar Powers our Food in Central California

November 19, 2014

This post was written by Kasey Kokka, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Kasey and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

The energy crisis has spurred numerous attempts to develop technologies to alleviate the effects of diminishing deposits of fossil fuels.  The agricultural community in Central California can help pave the way towards this goal. Unlike the tech giants in Silicon Valley or the entertainment industry in Southern California, the Central Valley’s farming lifestyle has led to growing demand for alternative energy. The arguments for going solar are obvious, as they would allow for clean technology to be implemented, and help to create jobs (and possibly a growing industry) in a community that suffers from a low employment rate.  

Switching to solar panels would give consumers a greater range of options as opposed to solely relying on PG&E for energy distribution, and spark interest in investing in renewable energy technologies. The Central Valley also faces other challenges such as air quality and pollution. Continued reliance on petroleum oil will only hinder progress towards obtaining a cleaner environment. Implementation of renewable energy would improve the power supply and provide environmental benefits. Taking this into consideration, it adds to the already impressive amount of benefits that can be gained from using solar technologies. 

It is therefore vitally important to fund projects that support solar energy. The Central Valley has golden opportunities to implement energy technologies that are clean and renewable. As a member of the Sundogs Solar Club at my university, I have seen various proposed projects that have great potential. Alternative energy can have its rightful place in the Central Valley, but it must be given the necessary funding in order to allow these projects to proceed and be completed within a necessary timeframe. Aside from my university experience, I was born and raised in the Central Valley and have seen firsthand the potential of solar energy. It is my hope that the Central Valley will be known for quality produce, AND renewable energy!

-Kasey Kokka

Power of the People in Ohio and Beyond

November 13, 2014

This post was written by Ryan Schuessler, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Ryan and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

The University of Dayton has been making great strides in the areas of sustainability. Over the course of just one short year, the university signed on to the President’s Climate Commitment, pledging to be carbon neutral by 2050; announced that it will begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool; and through a generous donation, founded the Hanley Sustainability Institute with the intent of “extend[ing] sustainability education across multiple disciplines, creating innovative learning opportunities for undergraduates and graduates, enhancing faculty and student research while expanding community and corporate partnerships and experiential learning.”

With all of this progress taking place on campus, it’s easy to forget about the major setbacks that have happened at the state level. For those not familiar with Ohio politics, the state government recently passed two bills that have severely hurt the solar and energy sectors. The first of these bills is OH SB 310, which froze Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for two years while a committee determines whether or not Ohio should have a renewable energy portfolio at all. The second bill is OH HB 483 which tripled property line setbacks for wind turbines on any new commercial wind farms in the state. Combined, these bills have effectively killed the renewable industry in Ohio for several reasons. First, solar retailers are not going to simply wait around for two years while Ohio figures out what it wants to do with the energy portfolio. They will move to markets that are more stable and where financing won’t change in the middle of the project. Second, the value of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) have dramatically decreased. The immediate effect is apparent in the sharp decline in Ohio solar generation growth post SB 310, which dropped from 1 MW per month to 100 kW per month.  

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? When it comes down to it, we the people of Ohio are responsible for these setbacks because we failed to vote into office people who understand the importance of diversifying and expanding our energy infrastructure. I realize that this is coming a bit late as we just had our midterm elections, but it is our responsibility to elect officials who understand the important issues. Ohio is the first state to freeze its renewable energy portfolio. I would hate to see other states take similar steps in the wrong direction.

The second takeaway is that while utility scale projects have been set back in the state of Ohio, we don’t have to wait for government support to enact change in our own institutions. This can include businesses, places of learning, and community centers. Investments in energy efficiency are the cheapest and most cost-effective method of reducing energy bills and carbon emissions alike. Energy service companies make their profits by analyzing a building or manufacturing plant’s utility use and determining ways to make their energy use more lean.

Finally, the idea of community supported solar in Ohio is a perfect way to show that people are passionate about creating a more diverse and advanced energy economy, reducing both utility costs and carbon emissions. Despite the challenges presented by the Ohio state government, it is still possible for people to make a difference. It’s our responsibility to vote in officials who will represent the people, but we are also responsible for making progress when the government doesn’t.

-Ryan Schuessler

Hope for Change

November 4, 2014

This post was written by Charlotte Ahern, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Charlotte and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

The midterm elections are here, a U.N. Panel “Issues its Starkest Warning Yet on Global Warming," and the Paris Climate Conference is quickly approaching. We are in the midst of a pivotal point in history, so much so that I feel extremely overwhelmed thinking about the world’s future in sustainability.

One of the greatest motivators on Villanova’s campus this fall has been the Kill the Cup competition: the nation’s largest reusable cup contest, encouraging sustainable behavior on college campuses throughout the month of October. What started out with a small group of students has spread to a campus-wide movement to reduce our waste. Additionally, on Campus Sustainability Day, the first ever “Mount Trashmore” revealed the vast amount of unnecessary trash we generate through displaying the waste collected from the two main buildings over a 24-hour period.

Villanova is a Catholic institution, founded in the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity, love, and, most of all, a dedication to serving others. The University’s commitment to service and social justice are its defining principles that draw a great number of students to the school, including myself. Yet, the link between environmental justice and social justice is missing in the culture on campus, particularly in terms of energy. While issues of waste receive proper attention at Villanova, energy consumption and efficiency go largely unaddressed.

This summer, I took a class called “Environmentalism and the Poor” at Middlebury’s School of the Environment that has since changed the way I think, particularly about environmental issues. While Climate Change affects everyone, it disproportionately affects the poor--the same people that are largely underrepresented in public debates, and have done little to contribute to the causes of climate change. Though the renewable energy movement has grown, the impoverished are largely left out of the equation. Renewable energy is not only the most economically beneficial option, but also creates jobs and ensures resiliency.

Through my internship with RE-volv, I hope to generate a new wave of interest, connecting and reinforcing the relationship between social and environmental justice through the Solar Seed Fund and solar education events. Similar to the Kill the Cup Competition and Mt. Trashmore, RE-volv’s mission empowers people through collectivity and a shared vision. Through a shared hope for collective energy, I believe solar energy will reach impoverished communities within the United States, and across the world.

-Charlotte Ahern

Photo from Huffington Post.

Boulder’s Pioneering Transition to Municipalize its Electrical Utilities

October 30, 2014

This post was written by Steven Roberts, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Steven and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

Here in the city of Boulder, we are looking to be the pioneers of an exciting transition to municipalize our utilities.  The transition is being called the “electric utility of the future” and for those unfamiliar with this idea, (which is likely as it is one of the first of its kind), municipalizing our utilities means the city of Boulder will control and supply its own electricity generation.  Yes, that’s right: in 2013 the city of Boulder voted to be one of the first cities to provide energy locally and to move entirely away from relying on monopoly utility companies.  The pioneering transition embodies the community’s goal of lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.  The outcome will not only supply citizens with greener energy but it will also give the citizens of Boulder a greater say on where their energy comes from.

The main motive behind the transition is to become less reliant on fossil fuels and more reliant on renewable energies—currently, Boulder receives 90% of its energy from fossil fuels. The current utilities provider has not been moving fast enough to meet the demand for change. It will not be an easy transition but in a city that receives 320 days of sunshine each year, has constant winds blowing across its valleys and is even looking to implement hydropower, the opportunity to become a city relying mostly on renewable energy is ripe. If Boulder municipalizes utilities, the expected energy supply coming from solar energy will increase from 2% to 50%!

Boulder is already hitting resistance as Excel tries to sue Boulder for a breach of contract while also complicating the purchasing of the city’s current energy grid, built by Excel. The early actions of Excel reveal that the city’s pioneering transition will not be easy, but, if successful, will be a game changer.

The benefits of municipalizing energy here in Boulder will be quickly realized. First, it will democratize energy decision-making and will provide the citizens of Boulder direct control over and involvement with their energy future.  Imagine being a citizen with the ability to choose your energy mix, and what portion of your energy comes from solar, wind, or coal!

Secondly, municipalizing our energy will decentralize energy generation and management—citizens will be able to manage and reduce their energy use as effectively and efficiently as possible. Furthermore, energy providers will be able to compete and innovate without having to compete against a goliath.  

Lastly, expected benefits include cleaner energy at a lower utility cost, resulting in decarbonized energy in Boulder while simultaneously reducing energy’s internal and external costs. Combating climate change at a cheaper cost—where can I sign up?

Ultimately, if successful, municipalizing utilities in the city of Boulder will bring an inspiring transformation to the way we look at the lights in our house and the energy we use.  Soon enough the citizens of Boulder will stand on top of the Flatiron Mountains and see open fields of solar panels and wind turbines and the lights in our heads will flicker on and we will realize, this is how we empowered our community.  

Maine: the land of lobster, pine trees, whoopie pies… and solar power?

October 21, 2014

This post was written by Amy Schmidt, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Amy and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

Having grown more in tune with the energy world during my time as a Solar Ambassador, I now hear my campus buzzing about the prospect of solar. Everyone from facilities management, professors, and fellow students responds with enthusiasm and interest whenever I bring up the RE-volv model and the “snowball effect” its unique Solar Seed Fund will have on the renewables market. 

While not a highlight of its tourism scene, the most Northerly state in the continental union boasts an exciting, progressive, and supportive environment for renewable energy development. As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Maine employs a carbon emissions permit auction which yields substantial revenue dedicated to reducing fossil fuel use, through both efficiency measures and incentives for transitioning to renewables. Efficiency Maine (EM), the third-party organization that handles RGGI income, offers attractive residential solar project financing options. This extra incentive drives many Mainers to embrace the economic and climatic benefits of solar, with data showing rapid growth in solar installation.

In Maine’s cold climate, hot water production accounts for a substantial portion of residential energy use. Solar thermal systems offer a great solution to this energy drain, and are being rapidly embraced by Mainers. Over one thousand solar thermal systems were installed with financial support from EM in the state between 2002-2012; as a testament to the ever-increasing growth rate of the industry, almost a fifth of those systems (230) were installed in 2012 alone

These numbers fail to capture the total expansion of solar capacity, however, since residences and businesses have financing options, such as federal support, beyond those offered by EM. Given current decreases in the cost of solar thermal, who knows how many more of these projects are now underway? 

On campus, the energy management department hopes to one day heat our campus pool entirely with solar thermal. We have already had success with a system that supplies hot water to one of our smaller academic buildings -- quite appropriately, the home of our environmental studies department! 

With the help of federal, regional and state support, the future of solar energy in Maine certainly looks bright…no pun intended. 

-Amy Schmidt

Solar Innovation in Public Transportation

October 14, 2014

This post was written by Kasey Kokka, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Kasey and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

Solar energy has grown tremendously and continues to create a positive impact in our society. We have seen a tremendous implementation of renewable technology in communities that seek to transform the energy crisis into a sustainable future. Organizations such as the International Institute of Sustainable Transportation (INIST) have helped create opportunities for this purpose. As an engineering student, I have had the pleasure of being introduced to several promising new technology developments that inspire a push towards clean/renewable energy.

Solar panels have been used for industrial and home improvements. Public transportation with built-in renewable energy systems can help decrease the reliance on fossil fuels, and greatly extend the utilization of solar technologies. INIST is currently developing projects for solar-pod cars as an effective means of energy efficient transportation; they are in the process of implementing this system within San Jose, CA. The founders, Christer Lindstrom, Ron Swenson and Loren Kallevig, have partnered with a group of students and faculty from San Jose State University to include ideas from a variety of backgrounds and create conceptual models that serve as potential designs.

INIST gained considerable publicity by displaying their work at the 2014 Intersolar Conference in San Francisco, CA. This was a fantastic chance to show how solar energy can be applied to transportation with their project that has been dubbed the “Spartan Superway”. The prototype involved an automated control system that had made use of solar panels on top of the pod car’s connecting structure. The monorail-like system had a plethora of visitors, which gave significant promise to INIST’s projection for future designs. The project was a joint collaboration with California State University, Fresno; they concentrated on mathematically modeling the HVAC system for the proposed pod car. While still a conceptual presentation, it gave solid running ground for INIST’s continued efforts. As a member of the Fresno State team, I had the pleasure of obtaining a wonderful insight into product development within the realm of solar energy. This experience was useful for both scholarly and professional purposes. The ability to combine classroom theory with practical applications made for an undoubtedly effective system of communication for insightful ideas.

As with any engineering project, INIST continues to design for maximum efficiency of the solar panels in use, as well as keeping costs to a minimum for the public. Staff collaboration at INIST has led to some breakthrough ideas for tackling these issues in the most productive manner. The engineers, designers, and planners will continue to concentrate to develop the project to its utmost potential. Every major city involves some form of public transportation. The possibility of constructing a system such as INIST’s will enable renewable energy to have its proper place in creating a sustainable environment.

-Kasey Kokka

 

Photo: INIST's "Spartan Superway."

 

Colorado’s Potential for Solar Energy

October 8, 2014

This post was written by Edward Grasinger, one of RE-volv's '14-'15 Solar Ambassadors. Read more about Edward and the rest of our Solar Ambassadors here.

It has caught my attention that many citizens of Colorado are in favor of achieving environmental sustainability, especially by the use of solar energy. Compared to the rest of the United States, the southwest states by far have the highest standing for solar energy output; Colorado just happens to be among one of those states in the southwest. Colorado is definitely one of the top progressive states with regard to renewable energy. 

Since Colorado is located in the southwest region of the country, it has a relatively sunny climate. During the summer, sunlight is mostly abundant during the morning and fairly available in the afternoon due to the occurrence of convective thunderstorms that form over the Rockies at this time of day; so sunlight availability tends to fluctuate throughout the day during this time of year. During the winter season, Colorado receives a good portion of snowstorms. These snowstorms can last anywhere from 1 to 3 days, which can serve as an interference to the availability of sunlight in this region. But in general, Colorado receives roughly 300 days of sunlight a year meaning that, for the majority of the year, there is plenty of sunlight to provide solar energy.

In 2004, the state of Colorado passed a ballot that set a state-wide Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which is a mandate that aims to increase energy production from renewable energy sources. These include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and other alternative sources of energy to fossil fuels or nuclear energy. By the year 2020, Colorado must provide at least 30% of its energy produced from investor-owned renewable energy sources. The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard also requires that investor-owned utilities and municipal utilities provide some of the power that is generated from their renewable energy utilities. Currently, an increasing number of homeowners and property owners are installing solar panel systems on the roofs of their buildings without concern of having to pay for the equipment up-front. Instead, they are paying by way of equipment leasing or power-purchase agreements. 

Another feature of Colorado to be aware of is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden. NREL is the general laboratory for research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The NREL’s main mission is to develop renewable energy and efficient energy technology and spread knowledge that addresses the nation’s energy and environmental objectives. At the NREL, scientists work to create technologies and innovations that provide alternate, cleaner, and more efficient ways to power our homes. The NREL has made many accomplishments in the development of technologies and inventions pertaining to solar energy, most notably the quantum dots technology that boosts the efficiency of solar cells. One benefit of the NREL is that they offer numerous opportunities to work or form partnerships with any industry, organization, government, researcher, or educator in working towards a sustainable and renewable energy future.

All of these factors give Colorado a good reputation regarding its capableness in becoming a solar powered state. One of the many and most common trepidations people have about going solar at home is their concern with whether or not they can afford the equipment or installations. But today, the prices on solar photovoltaic panels are decreasing and solar energy is becoming more widespread to more and more people. There are many federal government incentive programs and plans along with utility incentive programs in Colorado that provide options that can assist people in saving lots of money on solar equipment and installation.  

A list of solar power financial incentives can be found here.

Since many people in Colorado are willing to reform their state’s ways of producing and using energy, I think this year’s solar ambassador campaign to have people go solar will be a success.

-Edward Grasinger

The People’s Climate March and Why it Matters

October 1, 2014

I was on the fence about attending.

I was going to a wedding in Maryland the day before the march and already had a ticket back to San Francisco for the next day. I knew it was going be costly to switch my flight and require an early morning journey to get to NYC on time.

I had reservations about going not only for logistical reasons, but for ideological reasons, too. I’ve been to a lot of climate marches, but how much of an impact have they really had? Our demands at the marches have been the same for almost a decade and they have not been met.

About a week before the march I had the privilege of having breakfast with my friend Paul Wapner, a former professor of mine and a current RE-volv board member. Paul recounted a story for me. He was listening to a singer talk about her experience marching for peace during the Vietnam War. “People said those marches didn’t matter. Well, they mattered to me,” she said. In other words, regardless of the direct shift in the policies that resulted from the march, it was deeply meaningful to her as an individual to be able to join with her peers in solidarity.

The same week I met with Paul I had a chance to visit the Lincoln Memorial. On the steps of the monument is a plaque commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Aug. 28, 1963. Here is another instance where the effect of the march was not an immediate change in policy. However, that march and that speech changed the way American’s perceived race relations forever. This cultural shift opened the door for the sweeping civil rights policy changes that took place in the years following.

So perhaps the effectiveness of a march is not a measure of its impact on policy but rather its ability to move people in an emotional way- in other words, to have a cultural shift, which necessarily precedes policy shift, as the civil rights movement showed us.

Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for 30 years. It’s not like elected officials don’t realize there’s a problem. And they certainly see that people are upset about it. I didn't think that another march would motivate them to action.

Instead I thought about what the impact on our culture would be. With this in mind, I realized I had to be there.

And I’m glad I went. Not because of the statements made at the UN Climate Summit after the march. Because of the chills that the 400,000 of us felt marching arm in arm down the streets of Manhattan, screaming for action and justice; the deep comfort we all shared seeing the size and dedication of the movement; and for the incredible impression it made on the world as every major news outlet streamed images of almost half a million people taking to the streets in the name of our planet. These impacts are beyond measure.

This march was different than any other march I've been to, not just because of its size, but because of who was there. People representing a myriad of issues and groups all came together under the climate banner. People marched representing Indigenous peoples, front-line communities, labor, students, peace and justice organizations, vegans, various political affiliations, faith communities, the scientific community, and more.

Climate change doesn't have boundaries. The havoc it will cause is global in nature. This march demonstrated what I believe could be the silver lining of climate change: that for the first time in history, all of the human race will unite in common cause to preserve the planet we call home.

Now back in San Francisco, I remain truly inspired. I met students at the march from Dayton, OH who had bused for 18 hours to be there and then turn around and head back. The citizens of the nation are hungry for ways to take action on climate change and this march proved that. We’re ready to do what it takes.

And in order to succeed in shifting the cultural perception of climate change we need to continue to keep up the pressure. We need to continually remind the citizens of the world the fierce urgency of now. And if we work together in solidarity, as we did September 21st, we will certainly succeed in our efforts. -Andreas Karelas

Following the Sun from New York to California

September 26, 2014

 It was like she was performing a winning monologue in a play—impassioned, dynamic, loud and impossible to tune out. Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan now at UC Berkeley “brought down the house” as the keynote speaker at REFF West, ACORE’s annual conference that brings together some of the most important players in the renewable energy finance and development arenas, which was held last week in San Francisco.

Granholm criticized congress and urged her attentive audience to “go around,” not to rely on Washington to promote renewables and take charge of the transition but instead to innovate and continue to go through the private sector. It was early in the morning on a Tuesday but she managed to wake up the room. The former governor was oozing with passion, her entire body involved in the speech that set the ball rolling for a room of innovators, investors and others to spend two days discussing the future of renewables—which, given our current global climate crisis, equates to the future of the world.

I was sitting in the back of the room, a conference volunteer and representative for RE-volv, technically not even two days into my service as the new Communications Director at RE-volv. As recent graduate of Northwestern University, the opportunity to attend a conference like REFF West was simultaneously exciting, rewarding and a little intimidating.

I left the conference with a few key takeaways: firstly, I am on a learning curve. While I’ve studied environmental policies and have done my fair share of reading in preparation to start with RE-volv, the world of solar finance and even solar technology is more complex than I could have imagined. Secondly, I left the conference confident in the future of renewable energy. The industry is in good hands, hands dedicated to changing the way we power our homes, schools and businesses, and dedicated to curbing the use of deadly fossil fuels.

Lastly, and most importantly, I walked away from San Francisco’s Palace Hotel Wednesday night riled up and bursting with excitement to get started at RE-volv, to be a part of changing the world for the better and fighting climate change from the ground up, truly from the grassroots. Not only was I able to think more about how important it is to work every day to tackle climate change, but I also was inspired with the confidence that renewables are leading the way to actually tackling it.

Throughout the conference I got to hear from some of the most important figures from all aspects of the renewable energy industry. I listened to software innovators, like Mosaic’s Billy Parrish, talk about the role of apps and IT in shaping our country’s energy future. I learned about the exciting and inspiring future of electric vehicles from key figures at Tesla, BMW, the NRDC, Sierra Club and UC Davis. I was enraptured by discussions over regulatory policies and taxes, the future of utilities and how banks have warmed up to financing renewables after years of avoidance. What’s more, I spent lunches, networking breaks and receptions mingling with representatives from all around the industry. Happily, so many of them were impressed and enthused by hearing about RE-volv.

On Sunday, September 21st, which happens to be my 22nd birthday, tens of thousands of people, maybe even hundreds of thousands, are joining together to raise their voices and call upon world leaders to take action against climate change. New York, right next door to where I grew up, is the epicenter. Solidarity marches are planned in cities across the US and the world, including right here in the Bay Area, my newly adopted home.

As I start my year with RE-volv, my dedication to promoting the role of solar energy in fixing our planet renewed by REFF West, I am stunned by the infectious, fiery calls to speak up and get serious about the environment. And at RE-volv we are here to spread that fire, to light up one person after the other with an appetite for change. Through crowdfunding, RE-volv gives the chance for everyone to be involved in curbing climate change—it gives people the power to make a difference regardless of circumstance. The seed is spreading, the sun is shining, and the world is waking up. I can’t wait to jump in and be a part of growing the movement with RE-volv this year.

-Gavi Keyles

 

Photo: More than 7,000 gathered in Philadelphia for the first Earth Day in 1970. What will New York and cities across the country look like tomorrow?

A Year in Review

July 16, 2014
Let’s rewind to the summer of 2013. I had recently graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Master’s in Public Policy, specializing in Environmental Policy, Economic Policy, and International Security, and I was enthusiastic to start my career in the environmental sector and grow professionally. But where to begin? At first, it seemed like my only option was to become a policy researcher or analyst, and work my way up the ladder and hope to make an impact through policy. I was feeling rather disheartened, especially since I had just spent years learning about the immediate and global threat of climate change and I wanted to hit the ground running to do everything I can to help protect our environment.

Then I came across New Sector Alliance, an organization that provides fellowships to prepare emerging talent from across the nation for high-impact careers in the social sector - exactly what I was looking for! I applied and was accepted as a Resident in Social Enterprise, then packed my bags and flew across the country, and began my service for RE-volv in September. Throughout the year, I applied what I learned during my training with New Sector Alliance to support RE-volv’s growth and help build organizational capacity. Now as I reflect on my year of service, it’s remarkable to see how much I’ve learned and accomplished.

Working for a small start-up nonprofit presented a unique and exciting opportunity. I was able to gain substantial experience in a number of different areas - communications and marketing, strategic planning, web design, event management, crowdfunding, and more - and I was able to have a measurable impact on the growth of the organization. Helping RE-volv complete its second project, a 22 kW solar installation for the Kehilla Community Synagogue, was particularly rewarding; I helped manage our crowdfunding campaign that raised $56,070 from hundreds of donors across the country and around the world, and I even helped install solar panels on their roof! This past year has been undeniably valuable for my professional development, and it was just as valuable to be able to work closely with Andreas, the Founder and Executive Director of RE-volv, who is incredibly passionate and driven, and has empowered me to continue working in the renewable energy sector to maximize my impact.

To be honest, when I first joined RE-volv, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the energy sector; Energy Policy was a separate specialization at my college, and there wasn’t much overlap in my Environmental Policy coursework. I knew about the various renewable and nonrenewable energy sources available, their general advantages and disadvantages, and policy obstacles, but I didn’t know about the feed-in tariff mechanism, net metering, community choice aggregation, or a plethora of the other important policies, models, or programs that will shape our energy future - all of which I learned during my service at RE-volv. This made me realize how integral RE-volv’s solar education component is to the adoption of solar energy and our country’s transition to a clean energy powered society.

Most importantly, my time with RE-volv has renewed my passion and commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability, and expanded my perspective regarding effective solutions. Rather than focusing on policy-oriented action, I have a greater drive to help fuel the citizens’ movement through empowerment, education, and direct action.

Although I am leaving RE-volv, I feel as though I will always be a part of the RE-volv family, and I am thrilled to watch the Solar Seed Fund grow and help more communities go solar!

Students Stepping Up

July 9, 2014

As you may have heard, RE-volv just launched a new program to empower college students to take action on climate change. The Solar Ambassador program will train a cohort of students around the country to organize solar energy projects on their campuses and in their communities.

As outreach coordinator, my first job was to survey the scene. Having researched the existing sustainability programs on American college campuses, I’m excited to report that students are stepping up and driving campus sustainability projects and climate action campaigns nationwide.

Student-led sustainability efforts are nothing new. Try searching for “1970 campus recycling” in Google and the majority of your results tell stories of student-initiated programs. Look up the history of Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC): in 1988, a group of students from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill placed an ad in Greenpeace magazine inviting other students to join them in a fight to change the planet; the enthusiastic response from campuses nationwide motivated them to organize Threshold, America’s first national student environmental conference, in 1989. The latest wave of student leadership has simply taken things to the next level. They’re picking up the pace, diversifying their efforts, and commanding institutional support.

National Mobilization
I have to applaud Energy Action Coalition, the 30 youth-led social and environmental organizations working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement. In just under a decade, the coalition has hosted national four Power Shift summits, and coordinated on collaborative campaigns like the Campus Climate Challenge, Power Vote, and the campaign to stop Keystone XL. Another leader in the activism arena is Fossil Free. Since being called to action by 350.org, students have launched fossil fuel divestment campaigns at more than 300 colleges to date.

Campus Sustainability
I also have to highlight the range of student-led campus sustainability programs: student-grown and local food, tray-less dining, campus compost and recycling programs, bottled water elimination and reduction strategies, eco-houses, inter-residence hall energy-saving competitions, and bicycle shares. These are more than protests of policy; they’re practical, programmatic initiatives, requiring student participation on a daily basis, in the most mundane moments of campus life.
You can check out “Generation E: Students Leading for a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future,” a publication from NWF Campus Ecology’s Climate and Sustainability Series, for a more comprehensive report on how eco-representatives and other on-campus groups are providing education, incentives, and support for greener living on campuses nationwide.

Solar Innovations
College students have been producing solar race cars for the American Solar Challenge and solar houses for the EPA’s Solar Decathlons for over a decade, and so far in 2014 we’ve seen a number of intercollegiate competitions in which solar innovations took center stage. University of Colorado Boulder students developed a revolutionary solar toilet for the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” an effort to develop a next-generation toilet that can be used to disinfect liquid and solid waste while generating useful end products, and unveiled the project in India in March. In April, Cal Poly’s environmental engineering team took second place at an International Environmental Design Contest in April with its design of floating solar panels for a hypothetical copper mining operation in the southwestern U.S. In May, at another environmental design contest, a team of University of New Hampshire Seniors took top prize with a TiltOne power point tracking systemfor solar panels.

We actually got to meet some impressive student innovators from San Jose State University yesterday, at the Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco. Outside of the intercollegiate competition circuit, their interdisciplinary team has developed a model for an innovative solar-powered Automated Transit Network. They unveiled their “Spartan Superway” at the Maker Faire in May.
There’s no telling what our nation’s college students will come up with next, but it’s certainly exciting to speculate about what these innovations might mean for the world and, more directly, for the solar sector.

Solar on Campus
The AASHE website has information for on-campus solar PV dating back to a 20 kW installation at New Mexico State University in 1980. Their database shows 11 solar photovoltaic installations on college campuses at the end of 2000, and 59 by 2004. Fast forward to 2014: 552 solar photovoltaic installations on 326 campuses in 46 states and provinces, with a total capacity of 191,577 kilowatts and an average capacity of 352 kilowatts. From the 2002-2003 student organizing efforts of Greenpeace UC Go Solar (which culminated in a Green Building Policy and Clean Energy Standard and the founding of California Student Sustainability Coalition) to Yale’s Project Bright, students have been both activists for and contributors to this important work. 

As renewable energy sources, along with other sustainability initiatives, are recognized as competitive advantages for schools, what was once a fight is becoming more and more of an opportunity. Yale’s Project Bright exemplifies the potential of students taking an active role in on-campus solar: with a three-year loan from the Yale Office of Sustainability, a student-led group of trained students are installing panels themselves. Check out this Yale article from the Yale Daily News for more details.

Students at over 50 colleges have voted to increase their own annual or per-semester fees in order to fund clean renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Some schools are maximizing the impact of these projects by establishing revolving loan funds. Two Macalester students wrote a how-to manual called Creating a Campus Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund: A Guide for Students, and had it published by American Association of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2007.

On deck: RE-volv Solar Ambassadors
Are you a college student? Do you want to grow the clean energy movement, accelerate your career, and organize solar projects either on campus or in your community? Check out our Solar Ambassador Program for the 2014-2015 academic year. Learn how to maximize your impact with RE-volv.

 

By Maggie Belshé

Clean Energy Good News - June 2014

July 25, 2014

A vlog by RE-volv staff to share all of the good news surrounding clean energy! Be sure to tune in monthly!



Learn more about the featured stories:
Solar Roadways: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlTA3rnpgzU&feature=kp
Clean Power Plan: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule
EPA rules: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060001219
PV Market first: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/A-PV-Market-First-Residential-Solar-in-the-US-Exceeded-Commercial-Installa
Wisconsin: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/business/262881711.html
Pennsylvania: http://www.pa.gov/Pages/NewsDetails.aspx?agency=Governors%20Office&item=15724#.U6B1-PldUf0
Japan: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/05/fukushima-japan-rebuilding-communities-with-solar-commits-to-a-100-percent-renewable-energy-by-2040
Germany: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Renewables-Surged-to-74-of-German-Demand-Last-Sunday

The World Cup, Solar, and Optimism for the Future

June 26, 2014

With billions of viewers, the World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world.

I always get excited at World Cup time, but this year I have more to be excited about than just the soccer.

When we turn on the television to see our favorite teams take the field, we’re greeted by more than the battle of soccer giants. The World Cup features digital billboards along the walls of the field to feature advertisements from its official sponsors. Here we see typical ads for credit cards, beer, fast food, soda, cars, and solar — wait, solar?

That’s right. This year’s World Cup is showcasing solar alongside the world’s biggest brands trying to catch our attention. Yingli Solar, a Chinese panel manufacturer, now has its brand reaching billions of viewers around the globe.

As it turns out, this is not Yingli’s first foiree into the soccer world. The company was also a World Cup sponsor in South Africa four years ago (see photo below). Research from MEC Global indicates that consumer awareness increased 30 percent after their first 2010 World Cup sponsorship. 18 percent of those surveyed said that Yingli was now their preferred brand for solar panels, and 11 percent expressed intentions to purchase products from the company. As part of their 2010 sponsorship, Yingli partnered with FIFA to build 20 solar-powered Football for Hope Centers across the African continent.

This time around, Yingli’s gone the extra mile so that “one of the biggest stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil will certainly be the sun," according to their website. Yingli worked with Brazilian-based companies Light ESCO and EDF Consultoria to provide a combined more than 1 MW of solar panels to power Arena Pernambuco and Maracana Stadium. The impact of these installations goes beyond the event: when the stadiums are not in use, the clean solar energy will be delivered to the local grid through Brazil's net energy metering program.

I get excited when I see a highway billboard ad for a solar company. It shows that the industry is maturing and becoming more mainstream. Well, it doesn’t get more mainstream than being a major sponsor of the world’s most viewed sporting event. And it doesn’t take a fortune teller to see the future for solar: the writing is literally on the wall.





Written by Andreas Karelas and Maggie Belshè

Student on Staff

June 19, 2014

I’m a 90’s kid from the Bay Area. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” was right up there with “treat others the way you want to be treated” in my elementary education, and I grew up to be an up-cycling enthusiast, eco-product aficionado, all-organic kind of girl. Yet for a long time I was a solar skeptic. Not feeling scientifically or financially capable of any large contribution to the industry, I waited for the day when the proliferation of solar power became technologically and economically feasible. I assumed that when it happened, I’d know.

Fast forward to last week: the internet was overflowing with buzz about solar roadways (so cool!) but beyond that, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard news from the solar sector. When I scored an interview with RE-volv, I was astonished to discover how accessible rooftop solar had become. RE-volv uses crowd-funding to finance rooftop solar for community centers and nonprofits. With no upfront cost, the organizations RE-volv works with pay for the technology with interest over a 20-year lease. The lease agreement consistently saves them 15% on monthly electricity bills while generating enough revenue for RE-volv to fund 3-4 additional installations over the next twenty years.

RE-volv offers organizations a unique opportunity to help others by helping themselves. It’s called a revolving loan fund, and it means that when I contribute a hundred dollars to help a community organization switch to a clean energy source and save money on electricity, their lease payments magnify my donation to as much as four hundred dollars over the next twenty years.

Having just joined the RE-volv team, I’m eager to learn as much as I can about the movement I’m contributing to. I can understand why opponents of the latest EPA regulations are concerned that rules threaten the electric utilities industry, but check out this article on Bloomberg View: “Obama Isn’t Killing Power Plants, The Sun Is”!  The reality is that after countless years of electric utility companies essentially holding monopolies over the power they provide, an ever-increasing number of roof-top solar installations is challenging the system—with or without these regulations, providers are going to have to adapt. Change is scary, but we’re talking about institutional change versus climate change here. And we’re talking about an institutional change that creates jobs: Every $1,000,000 invested in coal creates 7 jobs—investing the same amount in natural gas creates only 5 jobs, but investing it in solar creates 14.

With so many ways to go solar, consumers are in a position to step up as power players and reshape the energy economy. Solar roadways may be a radical innovation with the potential to change the world, but rooftop solar is a mature, reliable technology bringing people clean energy and savings today.

Written by Maggie Belshé

Years of Living Dangerously

June 11, 2014

Along with 550 others hosts across the US, Julia Kim and Andreas Karelas hosted a 350.org watch party for the Years of Living Dangerously last month  in San Francisco. Kim and Karelas, who work at RE-volv wrote this review about the viewing party they hosted. (RE-volv is a nonprofit that empowers people to finance community-based solar energy projects by donating to a revolving fund. RE-volv raises awareness about solar energy through its community-based solar projects and outreach programs.)

30 friends and climate activists came to see the premiere of “Years of Living Dangerously,” the new series about climate change produced by James Cameron. Through captivating stories, the first episode scratched the surface of this global issue, demonstrating the breadth of climate change and its undeniable linkage to economic, political, and social disruption.

After the screening, we had a lively discussion with our event participants. The show evoked mixed reactions from our attendees. Some thought the stories glazed over important details, while others thought that it was a creative way of engaging the general public. What we came to realize was how incredibly valuable and necessary it is to have events like this, where climate activists get together in person to share their opinions and learn from one another.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion:

Who is giving the message? The issue of climate change has become so politicized that it can often be divisive with a general audience. The show follows a story of a Christian climate scientist who is able to reach a crowd of climate skeptics since she shares the same religious beliefs and is from the same area as her audience. When people hear about climate change from someone who shares their worldview or comes from a similar background, it’s much more credible. To reach as many people as possible, the climate movement needs messengers that can relate with many different audiences.

What’s the message? Some attendees felt that that the show could have better demonstrated the severity of the climate crisis. This prompted an interesting conversation. To those of us who understand climate change, messages that speak to the urgency of the situation may motivate us to action. But for many who are skeptical, fear-based messaging does not have the intended reaction. Instead, it pushes the two camps further apart. Reaching a certain audience ultimately comes down to crafting a message that resonates with their values. In our opinion, the show made a good attempt to touch on a variety of values by sharing stories regarding economic security, climate induced conflict, and habitat destruction.

Focus on Solutions. The biggest criticism from the group was that the show focused on problems without providing solutions. Since it was only the first episode, we hope that solutions will be a large part of the remainder of the series. But this is an important reminder for the movement; we have to provide people with opportunities to take action. Otherwise, if the solutions are out of our hands, we’re left feeling disempowered by the scale of the problem. Thankfully, opportunities for people to directly affect change exist, such as 350.org’s divestment campaign or crowdfunding local solar projects through RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund.

Originally posted on 350.org

How to Go Solar If You Can't Put Panels on Your Roof

May 14, 2014

An acquaintance recently told me about her experience investigating solar for her home. A solar company told her that in order to go solar, she would have to cut down the trees that shade her house -- an unfortunate trade off. If your house is shaded, your roof is facing the wrong direction, or you’re a renter, you join the many Americans that can’t go solar at home.

What to do?

Thankfully, depending on where you live and your motivations are, there are lots of ways you can support the solar energy transition underway.

Donate to a Revolving Fund for Solar Energy
Revolving loan funds are not a new concept, but applying them to solar is. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has pioneered a model that allows people to donate to its revolving Solar Seed Fund that finances solar projects for community-serving nonprofits and cooperatives. The idea is simple: Each community saves money on its electric bill while paying back the cost of its solar array -- with interest -- over time. RE-volv reinvests the payments from one project into the next three or more. If you live in Portland, you can also support the City of Portland’s solar revolving fund program called Solar Forward.

Donate Solar to a Community Center of Your Choice
If a nonprofit is interested in going solar mainly to decrease its electricity costs over the long run, their best bet is to buy a system outright. Of course nonprofits are often cash-strapped and already rely on donations from supporters for their ongoing work. Everybody Solar is a nonprofit working to help other nonprofits raise the money they need to purchase their solar energy system and save money for years to come.

Invest Your Money in Solar
A very exciting development for solar is the wave of organizations allowing people to invest money in solar energy projects and get it back, sometimes with a return. Groups in this space include MosaicSunFunderCollectiveSun,VillagePowerWiser Capital, and a few others. Even SolarCity is now getting into the space. While most of these are for-profit companies, there is also a cooperative working to offer its members a return -- the Energy Solidarity Cooperative.

Subscribe to a Local Solar Project
“Solar gardens,” or shared solar projects, allow people to subscribe to a solar energy project somewhere in or nearby their community. The energy produced by the solar array then gets credited to your electricity bill. The concept is gaining traction and programs are being developed in a number of states including Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California. The Solar Gardens Institute andClean Energy Collective are two of the groups working in this space. California recently passed a law, SB 43, that will allow utility customers to sign up for shared solar projects, but the details aren’t all worked out yet, so stay tuned.

Community Choice
In California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Ohio, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, there is a policy in place calledCommunity Choice Aggregation (CCA). Community Choice allows a city or county to set up an agency that’s in charge of buying electricity for the community. The utility still delivers the power, but through a CCA program, the community gets to pick what type of energy it wants to buy -- a great way to support clean, renewable energy. The real promise of CCAs is that the revenues from the sale of electricity stay within the community and can be deployed to build local clean power, creating cost savings for customers and local jobs. For more information on exciting CCA work happening in California, check out the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

Start Your Own Community Solar Project!
In addition to all these great organizations that make it easy for you to join the rooftop revolution, there’s always the option of setting up your own community solar project. University Park Solar did this in Maryland by forming an LLC to allow community investors to finance a local solar project. In addition, you can do what the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative did. This group of neighbors in Washington D.C. organized a group purchase of solar to get a big discount. For more resources on do-it-yourself community solar, visit the Community Power Network.

Haven’t Explored Solar at Home yet?
While these are all fabulous initiatives, there are still plenty of solar-ready homes out there and yours could be one of them! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you could save money on your electric bill and protect the environment by going solar with one of the many solar leasing companies. Sungevity, a residential solar leasing company, will even donate $750 to RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund, and give you a $750 discount, if you sign up through this link: sungevity.org/re-volv. That way, you can go solar and help the community!

When it comes to climate change, we don’t have much time to switch from a fossil fuel-based society to a clean, renewable energy-powered society. In addition to fighting the dirty energy systems in place, we have to rapidly build the clean energy infrastructure we need, and that takes a movement. When I look at all the work going on around the country to build renewable energy in our communities, I see that movement taking shape and it gives me great joy.

If you’re not inspired yet, check out this video of RE-volv’s latest people-powered community solar project:

By Andreas Karelas
Originally posted on Shareable

Crowdfunding Solar with a Twist - A Revolving Fund to Serve Communities

April 21, 2014

According to Bloomberg News last week, crowdfunding solar could become a $5 billion investment vehicle in the next 5 years. This exciting development will connect people who want to invest their money responsibly with solar projects that need financing. SolarCity, the biggest U.S. solar power provider by market value, is getting into the space presumably to finance their residential and large commercial project arms.

However, some projects that are harder to finance might not benefit from this development. Small nonprofits and cooperatives are often underserved by solar financiers since they have a harder time taking advantage of solar tax credits, may not have qualifying credit ratings, and pose high transaction costs.

Fortunately, the power of crowdfunding is also being used to provide solar financing to these outlying organizations. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has developed a new way to crowdfund solar for community-serving organizations. RE-volv has pioneered a revolving fund to finance solar energy projects for nonprofit and cooperative community centers.

RE-volv's model is simple. Money is raised through donations to seed a revolving fund that recycles the investment from one project to the next. Through a 20-year solar lease, community centers save money on their electricity bill while paying back the upfront costs and a small amount of interest to RE-volv. The lease payments are then reinvested into solar projects for other community centers, allowing the revolving fund to grow perpetually.

Last week, RE-volv received interconnection approval to turn on its latest project - a 22-kW installation at the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. With energy savings from solar power, Kehilla can devote more resources to better serve the community.

Community-based solar projects do more than just save the community money; they raise awareness about the benefits of solar. When people see their local community center go solar, it can change their perception of the technology and its viability.

This is an exciting moment for solar energy. As costs drop and innovative financing models like crowdfunding are implemented, solar will be deployed rapidly around the country. Let’s make sure that our vital community centers are able to take part in this transformation.

By Andreas Karelas

Now you can get solar panels at Best Buy

April 1, 2014

There was an era when putting solar panels on your roof was a time- and money-sucking hassle on par with remodeling your kitchen. But the cost of going solar has been dropping fast. The latest signal of the industry’s move into the mainstream came last week, when Oakland, Calif.-based SolarCity announced it would begin to sell solar systems out of Best Buy, alongside big-screen TVs and digital cameras.

“There are a lot of people out there with unshaded roofs, paying high electricity bills, who just don’t know this is an option for them,” said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity’s vice president of communications. The move into Best Buy “gives us a chance to have that conversation with more people.”

The company is the biggest installer in the country’s biggest solar market, California, a state that earlier this month broke its all-time solar power production record twice on two consecutive days, churning out enough electricity from solar panels to power roughly 3 million homes. Just since last summer, California’s solar production has doubled, according to the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid. There’s a lot more growth where that came from, Bass said.

At 60 Best Buys in the solar-heavy states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon, customers can sign up to have SolarCity equip their house with solar panels free of charge. SolarCity retains ownership of the panels; it sells homeowners the power they produce at a rate the company says is roughly 10 to 15 percent lower than the standard utility rate. Homeowners get cheaper, cleaner power, while the company makes money on the energy sales; excess power gets sold back into the grid. It’s a business model SolarCity has already used successfully at Home Depot, but Bass said it’s only recently that costs have gone down enough for the company to try to take a bigger bite out of what it sees as a market of millions of homes nationwide. (Only about 400,000 U.S. homes have rooftop solar today).

Since 2010, the cost of a solar system for a typical mid-sized home in California has dropped by a third, from close to $30,000 to around $19,000 today, based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and SolarCity, as the chart below shows. That makes it easier for companies like SolarCity to gather the up-front capital needed to invest in solar systems, and thereby allows them to offer the electricity at a competitive rate. SolarCity’s move into Best Buy is “a big deal,” said BNEF solar analyst Stefan Linder, because it signals a shift in how solar companies are able to pitch their panels to potential buyers.

“It used to be that you considered solar as a capital project,” like a major home renovation, Linder said. “But distributed energy companies have gotten good at marketing it as a consumer good” like any other piece of electronics.

Thanks to engineering and manufacturing advances, the biggest savings have come from declines in so-called “hard” costs: The panels themselves and the hardware used to mount them and send their power into the grid. Progress has been slower on ancillary “soft” costs: The cost of municipal building permits, for example, and installation labor. In 2010, the total cost of a solar system was about evenly split between soft and hard costs. Now, soft costs are the main expense, making up about 65 percent of the total. That’s in part because installers work under a complex patchwork of different state and city building laws, and also because in most cases the various steps in getting a solar system up and running — panel sales, installation, maintenance, financing, etc. — are handled by different companies.

In other words, the biggest roadblock to getting more solar on U.S. rooftops has little to do with technology, and more to do with regulations and business operations.

“Right now, it’s all about reducing soft costs,” Linder said.

SolarCity’s approach to that problem has been to gradually take over the full range of required services (“vertical integration,” to use the Economics 101 jargon), the same way Apple owns or directly manages everything from parts production to iPhone maintenance.

“Doing so enables us to drive out costs from that process,” said Tim Newell, SolarCity’s VP of financial products.

The need for the company to trim costs was highlighted on Tuesday, when the value of SolarCity shares dipped 1.4 percent after an announcement that losses for the current quarter would be deeper than expected.

Newell said the company is also preparing to offer a new product: Direct investment in solar projects. Until now, SolarCity has paid its up-front costs with money from some 40 big-time investors, including Goldman Sachs, Google, and Bank of America. That method has raised roughly $3 billion for 90,000 projects, but the company aims to grow its customer base to at least 1 million by 2018, Newell said.

“So you get a sense of the appetite for capital we’ll have,” he said.

By mid-year, individuals who are keen to hop on the solar bandwagon but can’t get panels themselves (if they live in a rented apartment or their roof is covered by trees, for example) will be able to invest in a fund that pays for the panels on other peoples’ roofs. Then they’ll receive a share of the profits from the electricity sales. With more investment up front, the systems can be even more cost-competitive, attracting more customers, and pushing solar even more into the mainstream.

Originally posted on Climate Desk by Tim McDonnell

Fostering Community Power: A New Pay It Forward Model for Solar

March 24, 2014

People can now help build solar energy projects in a brand new way. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has developed a revolving fund to finance solar projects for community centers that raises up-front costs by crowdfunding donations.

RE-volv just finished its second solar energy project, a 22-kW installation at the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. Its first project, completed in June, was a 10-kW system at the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. RE-volv works with community-serving nonprofits and cooperatives.

We’ve seen a number of crowdfunding solar models arise in the last three years, which is a great development for the industry. It gives people the ability to put their dollars directly into driving solar energy at the community level, either to earn a return or as a donation.

RE-volv is the first initiative to start a revolving fund to finance solar energy projects for community centers here in the U.S. The idea is pretty simple. Community centers save money on their electricity bill while paying back the upfront costs and a small amount of interest over time through a 20-year solar lease. The lease payments are reinvested into additional solar projects, allowing the revolving fund to grow perpetually.

The potential of the fund is massive. Once approximately 100 systems are installed, the revolving fund will reinvest the collective lease payments to build a new system each month. Each new system brings in more lease revenues, allowing the fund to grow at an ever accelerating rate.

The idea is that if we can empower people to support solar through crowdfunding, and we can educate members of the communities we serve about its benefits, we can raise awareness across the country and hopefully change the tone of the national conversation around solar energy.

Historians will look back at this decade as the moment when solar became mainstream. The economics are here. Now we have to give people the tools to drive it on their own, allow them to benefit from it directly, and show them what it looks like right in their neighborhood.

- Andreas Karelas

Distributed Bananas: A Better Way to Go

March 17, 2014

Guest post by Woody Hastings

In the debate over centralized vs. distributed energy systems, we can perhaps learn something about which one might be better for society from behavioral studies of our chimpanzee cousins.

In her book “The Egalitarians - Human and Chimpanzee: An Anthropological View of Social Organization,” Margaret Power challenges the view, based largely on observation of artificially fed chimpanzees, that the normal social behavior of chimpanzees is aggressive, dominance seeking, and fiercely territorial. All reports from natural field studies are that in the wild, chimpanzees live peacefully in non-aggressive, non-hierarchical groups.

The difference between the two is that artificially fed chimpanzees receive food only at specific times and of a limited quantity. Chimpanzees foraging in the forest receive food over greatly attenuated time periods and, when the forest ecosystem is in balance, there is no clear limit in quantity of available food. In a word, the food in the natural setting is distributed, while the food in the artificial setting is centralized.

This situation and the resulting social disorder directly mirror the situation in the human world with distributed versus centralized energy. We humans recognize limited quantities of energy all in one place in the ground (e.g., oil, coal), and powerful members of society seek to aggressively control the resources, seek dominance over the people and territory where the energy is located, and ultimately, fight wars over it.

Technology is opening up new possibilities for a more sustainable and equitable energy future, but technology by itself will not bring about changes for the better. What matters just as much is how society organizes itself to take advantage of the new technologies with institutions like Sonoma Clean Power that will enable us to get the maximum technical and social benefit out of the technology.

As technology and the right kinds of institutions enable the harvesting and sharing of free energy from the sky from just about anywhere on Earth (e.g., solar, wind), the dynamic of a peaceful and egalitarian energy destiny is upon us.

Now, have a banana. And – no fighting!

Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge

January 7, 2014

Start off the New Year right- by supporting clean energy!

It’s that time of year again when we look at our lives and think about what we really care about. Many of us will set resolutions to make personal improvements like exercising more, eating healthier, or having a better work-life balance. What if in 2014 you decided to take a few moments to help create a more sustainable world? How about instead of cutting out junk food we cut our carbon footprint?

The Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge

In order to speed the transition to a clean energy powered society we have to do more than just put up solar panels. We have to engage with each other to build a growing network of renewable energy supporters that will work for clean energy in our communities around the country.

Today we're launching the "Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge" for individuals across the United States to see who can prevent the most carbon emissions by getting their friends to support our current indiegogo campaign for local solar energy!

The challenge is to see who can get the most friends to donate and who can raise the most money for solar!

For every $10 donation you bring in, we’ll be able to replace grid electricity, that would have produced 3lbs. of carbon dioxide each year, with clean solar energy.

We have two winners for this contest.

The Biggest Carbon Loser: This person will prevent the most carbon emissions by raising the most money for the campaign.

The Biggest Movement Builder: This person will encourage the most people to contribute to the campaign.

Find out how to participate in the challenge at www.solarseedfund.org.

 

RE-volv Launches Second Crowdfunding Campaign

December 13, 2013

RE-volv launched its second crowdfunding campaign last week on Giving Tuesday and has had a strong start. The campaign already raised over 20% of our $65,000 goal, thanks to over 100 donors and supporters of renewable energy. The campaign charged out of the gate, gaining broad support and raising over $10,000 on the first day, and getting featured in 350.org, East Bay Express, Renewable Energy World, PV Solar Report, The Community Power Report, and Wind Plus Solar Energy.

We are excited to serve as a tool for climate change activists and community members to make a difference. Through our revolving model, a small act of donating money can make a large impact on spreading clean renewable energy, supporting community centers, and moving towards energy independence. Our current campaign will finance the installation of a 26 kW solar array atop Kehilla Community Synagogue’s roof, and by paying your donation forward through our revolving fund, we will be able to bring solar to 3 additional community centers in the future!

In the words of our Executive Director, Andreas Karelas, “This is an exciting moment. We can do something, right now, as a community that will make a real difference.” We want to thank all of our donors and partners, particularly the supporting organizations of our campaign: ACORE, California Interfaith Power & Light, Local Clean Energy Alliance, Sierra Club, Toyota Together Green by Audubon, and The Wigg Party. Together we are investing in a brighter, cleaner future for our communities.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our live campaign on Indiegogo, you definitely don’t want to miss out! Find our campaign at www.solarseedfund.org and donate now to join the movement!

Photo: Kehilla members at a community gathering.

300 People Come Together To Build Local Solar Project

November 21, 2013

RE-volv is pleased to announce the completion of its first solar project, made entirely possible by individuals who care about renewable energy and climate change, and seek to positively impact the environment with their dollar.

300 people from 26 states and 5 countries came together and donated to make our first solar installation possible. (Check out a video of the install above!) Thanks to our supporters, the nonprofit Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA is now entirely powered by the sun! The 10kW project will not only save the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center thousands on their electrical bill, but their lease payments will be reinvested to finance four additional solar energy projects.

The idea behind RE-volv is simple: Let’s all get together, chip in a few bucks, and create a society powered by renewable energy. RE-volv, a nonprofit organization, finances local community-based solar projects through the Solar Seed Fund—a revolving fund for solar projects that raises money through crowdfunding.

We are fueled by the dedication of the local communities we serve and the global community alike, to accelerate the renewable energy movement. As we move forward onto our second project (to be announced in the coming weeks), we invite you to join the movement! Connect with us on facebook and learn more about our efforts at www.re-volv.org.