Giving Thanks for RE-volv's Supporters

November 24, 2015

Last week, RE-volv celebrated its new office in San Francisco’s historic Hearst Building. Board members, donors, supporters and friends gathered in our conference room (complete with a living wall), and spilled out into the hallway to eat, drink, and learn more about our work. Having been with RE-volv for over a year, it was a heartwarming experience for me. Working at a three person nonprofit can be challenging, but despite being small and relatively new, I have always been stunned by the incredible community of RE-volv supporters.

Our lineup of speakers included Danny Kennedy, Managing Director of CalCEF (whose office we are sharing) and founder of Sungevity and SfunCube (now Powerhouse), board members Clint Wilder, Megan Crocker, Robert Nelson and Prasanna Krishnan, and of course our three staff. What’s more, we screened a 10-minute movie telling the story of RE-volv’s first three projects, which featured testimonial from the leaders of the three organizations that have gone solar with RE-volv.

A captive audience for our video!

Watching all of these incredible people speak about RE-volv was inspiring and left me feeling deeply appreciative. Appreciative of Danny, who has been a champion for RE-volv since our first project in 2013. Appreciative of our board, who offer us so much guidance and expertise. And, of course, appreciative of my two colleagues whose hard work and tenacity inspire me daily. 

Sarah planned the event and it went off without a hitch. Her work as Associate Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy has led us to partnerships and opportunities I never imagined would have been possible. Andreas has been working on RE-volv for five years and spoke at the office warming party just two days after speaking at the White House! With 50 or more people gathered to celebrate our work and our future as an organization, it was clear that Andreas came up with an idea that people can rally around. 

As for me, telling the room about my work with the Solar Ambassador Program was empowering. We’re spreading solar across the country and training the next generation of clean energy leaders. Truly, I love creating and running a program that we’ve built from scratch. With the Solar Ambassador Program and RE-volv as a whole, it’s scary to build something new, to take a risk and say to the world, “We think this is going to work, will you support us?” But looking around the room, I knew we were in good hands. We have champions everywhere we look, and our gratitude is endless.

My favorite pic of the night: RE-volv staff poses in a selfie with Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll. For more photos, check out our photo album on Facebook.

This post was written by Gavi Keyles, RE-volv's Communications & Program Manager.

RE-volv Goes to the White House

November 20, 2015

I've been working on RE-volv for close to five years now and last week I had one of my most exciting moments to date. A visit to the White House.

The National Community Solar Partnership is an initiative of the White House and the Department of Energy, started in July 2015, to increase solar access for all Americans. We're incredibly honored to be among the 68 organizations that make up the partnership. Up until now, the partnership has been meeting through monthly conference calls. But on November 17th we came together in Washington to meet in person.

It was fabulous. We heard from Dan Utech, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; Congressman Bobby Rush from Illinois; Congressman Tony Cardenas from California; Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of Energy; and Stan Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

We heard some exciting highlights about the solar industry. For example, so far in 2015 the U.S. has been installing as much solar every three weeks as it did in all of 2008. Solar jobs are growing at a rate 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. The cost of solar has dropped in half in the last 4 years.  These are exciting facts that tell a compelling story about the incredible growth of the industry. On a more concerning note, we also heard from Congressman Bobby Rush that, in his opinion, this congress won't pass an extension of the Investment Tax Credit that's been so critical to the solar industry's growth.

A handful of us were selected to share a "success story" with the group. I spoke about our most recent campaign, the Other Avenues Food Cooperative. I described how Darryl Dea, the co-op president, had been looking for a way to go solar for eight years before finding a solution with RE-volv. I talked about how our three campaigns to date have empowered people in 38 states and 22 countries to make over 1,000 donations to our revolving fund for solar energy, the Solar Seed Fund. Ours is a story of community power at its finest. People coming together to better their own communities, along with communities around the country and the health of our planet.

I have to admit, I never imagined that I'd be invited to the White House to meet with some of the most distinguished leaders in the solar space. To be in a room full of solar pioneers that have paved the way for this industry to grow was humbling, and to be invited to share our story with them was an incredible honor.

This post was written by Andreas Karelas, RE-volv Founder and Executive Director.

Knowledge is Power

November 12, 2015

Nothing is more powerful, or has more potential to change the world, than a human mind at work. The mind is constantly taking in new information, growing, adapting, evolving, and creating—it is one of the most complex and amazing tools we have in the world. The mind’s ability to take in information, find abstract solutions, and imagine new creative ideas is at the center of its power.

Human minds and innovation are the keys to enabling us to solve the major problems of today like climate change. However, innovation requires a foundation of knowledge before it can be put to work. Education on climate change, energy efficiency, and renewables is seen as a realistic and necessary part of the solution. If people aren’t properly informed about climate change and energy solutions, how will they ever see the need to act? Without educating people about the fundamentals and dynamics of the energy field, how will they have the knowledge and understanding to join the movement and make a difference? 

I am fortunate enough to be a part of RE-volv’s Solar Ambassador Program and the University of Dayton’s Bachelor’s Plus Master’s Renewable and Clean Energy (RCL) Program, two amazing programs that are providing an educational solution by closing the knowledge gap for students on climate change issues and real sustainable energy solutions. 

Through RE-volv’s leadership summit held in San Francisco I was able to grow my knowledge in solar policy and finance, communication skills, and leadership development. Through RE-volv’s educational webinars we’ve been able to network with people in the solar industry and learn from their experiences in a constantly changing solar energy field. Working with solar installers, participating on walkthroughs on their site evaluation visits, and breaking down the dynamics of solar quotes have broadened my understanding and requirements for solar systems. Through the various community organizations, businesses, and individuals I’ve met with similar mindsets toward sustainable energy practices I’ve seen the various ways sustainable practices can impact a community. 

Being only two months into a class on energy efficiency manufacturing, part of the RCL Program, I’m already amazed with the knowledge I’ve learned and potential impact that energy efficiency has in reducing CO2 emissions. My professors lead major energy projects with drastic impacts, putting to work the immense knowledge that they have in the field. RCL students working on these projects slowly understand that you don’t have to be a genius to work in the energy field, you just need the opportunity to learn the fundamentals. 

There is a lot to learn in the energy field, but once you can understand its interconnectedness (energy distribution, efficiency, renewables, policy, etc.) the amazing potential that is unleashed can have a huge impact. The Solar Ambassador Program and RCL are doing an amazing job at building this foundation of knowledge, teaching the foreign language of the energy field, not only preparing students to enter the energy business but also provide them with the tools to excel in their positions and even start their own energy-focused organization or business. 

For many students and individuals who want to go out and use sustainable energy to change the world, they lack the necessary understanding required to enter the energy field because there aren’t enough opportunities out there to allow them to do so. While the Solar Ambassador Program and RCL Program are great starts, there is a need to expand these programs and to develop similar models and organizations to spread the word of climate change and sustainable solutions, and close the knowledge gap that we are facing. Once we can collectively close this gap by building foundations of knowledge, hard work and determination are all that’s left to change the world. 

This post was written by Ryan Shea, one of RE-volv's Solar Ambassadors at the University of Dayton. Meet RE-volv's Solar Ambassador teams.

Voting Smart

November 3, 2015

Through natural selection, humans have evolved into the most dominant species on this planet.  We have essentially removed ourselves from our original place in nature through human intelligence, the development of modern society and our continually advancing technology.  Unfortunately, our electoral system does not function like evolution, as in it does not naturally select elected officials who would best represent and serve our society. This is a result of "rational ignorance", which is the perception that the cost of educating oneself about an issue enough to make an informed decision outweighs the potential benefit from that decision. Smart choices for the country depend on an informed public, but there is no simple solution.

In a Democratic Republic, the power comes from the people, who vote to elect representatives to serve their interests and act on their behalf.  The strength, stability, and effectiveness of a Democratic Republic are dependent upon civic involvement.  But in our political system, most politicians are paid well, receive generous pensions, and wield great power.  Our electoral system favors candidates who are often not the best people to improve our country and the lives of the American people. 

The simplest way to increase civic involvement is to encourage it at an early age so it becomes a habit.  

It’s understandable that an individual might not have all a comprehensive understanding of every issue in order to make informed decisions at the polls.  People often discount how significant their votes are when they consider how many other people are voting.  The issue is that so many American citizens are voting without doing a lot of research, so the types of politicians needed to effectively manage our republic are not being elected.  Until the American people realize that political ignorance is not rational, this country will not operate at full potential.

Climate inaction is also a result of rational ignorance.  Many ignore the issue because they do not perceive it as an immediate threat, but the long-term impacts are starting to be observed.  This is why RE-volv’s mission is to educate people about solar energy and climate change, which is much more impactful than only installing solar panels.  As a Solar Ambassador, it is my responsibility to spread this knowledge to Villanova students and faculty and to the community of St. Asaph’s Church.  By educating people about these issues, I hope that they will be able to make more informed decisions when voting in upcoming elections.  If each American citizen spent a bit more time to vote informed, everyone in this country would see the benefits. I encourage you all to spend a little extra time doing personal research before the next time you vote.

This post was written by Nick Kraus, one of RE-volv's Solar Ambassadors at Villanova University. Meet RE-volv's Solar Ambassador teams.

Hacking the Future

October 29, 2015

After an exciting few days at the 11th Hour Connect conference last week, I was even more inspired at the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative Cleanweb Hackathon. For a day and half, about 25 students and hackers of all kinds got together to hack clean energy solutions. I had to check it out.

The apps they developed were awesome. One team built an app that shows how much solar we need to avoid climate change and actually mapped it out geographically. Another team mapped out where all of the carbon pollution comes from by region. Another built an app that would allow you to program energy saving settings for their college dorm fridges based on what they were storing. Other groups focused on emissions in China, food deserts, food waste, tracking water usage, community solar and more. And they were all brilliant ideas!

While there was a handful of small cash prizes handed out, I don't think the students were motivated by the prizes. They did it for the love of it. For the love of hacking. For the love of creating solutions to serious challenges. To think that a group of students sitting in a library with laptops and some snacks for a day and a half can craft simple elegant solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges is extraordinary. What a bright future it will be if folks like this, focused on making a contribution, are just getting started.

This post was written by Andreas Karelas, RE-volv Founder and Executive Director.

Connecting the dots to make a better world

October 27, 2015

Last week I had the esteemed honor of attending the 11th Hour Project's CONNECT Conference in San Francisco. I've never been to an event like this before. In a nutshell, the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation hosts a big two day event once a year to bring their grantees together, showcase all the incredible work that's being done, discuss important topics of the day, and celebrate successes. While the challenges we face are so daunting, hearing the stories of the organizers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers of all kinds made me feel optimistic that we're on the right track.

RE-volv received its first grant from 11th Hour earlier this year after winning the Open IDEO Renewable Energy Challenge, so this was my first time at the event. I must say, I was inspired. The first day I participated in a break out session for organizations working in clean energy, climate and equity. I got to reconnect with some old friends from APEN, Communities for a Better Environment, Earthjustice, Greenlining Institute, Institute for Local Self Reliance, NRDC, Pacoima Beautiful, Resource Media, Rocky Mountain Institute, The Solutions Project, Vote Solar and many others. It was an intimate discussion that allowed us to speak candidly, share our dreams and challenges, and learn from each other's experiences. Most of all it was thrilling to be surrounded by people who I look up to, who have been fighting the fight for longer than I, and who are "making a dent in the universe" as Steve Jobs put it. The second day we got to hear from people representing all of 11th Hour's focus areas. 

The biggest take away from the conference for me is that we're all in this together. The issues of equity, human rights, climate, food safety, ocean health- these are not separate issues. They are so intricately woven together that for any of us to succeed in our work we must recognize the intersection of these issues and integrate this understanding into our daily focus. And what's beautiful to see is that the shift is happening. Across the board, dedicated people are making enormous headway on building solutions, shifting institutions and culture, and together, we are turning the tide towards a more sustainable and equitable world.

Thank you to the 11th Hour Project and all the people who worked so hard to bring this event to life. It was wonderful.

This post was written by Andreas Karelas, RE-volv Founder and Executive Director.

Solar Future: The Next Step is on Us

October 19, 2015

For some time the renewable industry has been the ‘beneficiary’ of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC) and, in effect, renewable energy projects have become prolific. That, however, may be about to change. 

On the state level, multiple municipalities around the US have already begun to defund renewable programs, from wind energy to solar. In North Carolina, a current 35% tax credit for investments in renewable energy will expire at year’s end. Though investments have generated nearly six times in spending what they consumed in taxes, representatives from the state have decided to do away with the credit on claims that the industry can flourish without governmental help.

Cuts in solar funding have begun around the world as well. In 2012, Germany cut nationwide solar funding by 25% and the UK is beginning to take a similar stance. According to internal revenue figures, renewable energy is good for business. We know it is good for the wellbeing of the earth. So why are these cuts so common around the world?

For the most part, the sources are allegedly politics and competition. Due in part to a highly centralized structure, utility electricity is heavily monopolized. This centralization is threatened by alternative sources such as solar, which is a significant reason for defunding renewables. Additionally, renewables are debated heavily in the energy sector and in governmental spending. This makes alternative energy a bone of contention which is used widely in politics to advance certain agendas. Certainly this is a skeptic’s response to the issue, but it holds a grain of truth which must be addressed in order to advance a more sustainable and responsible future.   

As an up and coming generation, it is our responsibility to address these concerns. Though these problems are rooted deep within the inner workings of our current state of affairs as a nation, there are changes that can be made by students like Solar Ambassadors and others who understand the importance of renewable energy. 

Firstly, the next body of both politicians and voters will come from among us. Working passionately and thoroughly to educate others and ourselves on solar technologies and their corresponding effects can only yield a more pro-alternative agenda in the future. Additionally, we have to take advantage of benefits that are in place now. The ITC is set to expire in 2016. While it is still in effect, the more quality, sustainable systems can come to fruition the better. Historically, technology has proven to be a bandwagon sort of phenomenon, so the closer solar comes to being commonplace, the more people will buy into it and realize the tremendous benefit it has for the individual and for the world as a whole. The next step is on us.

This post was written by Thomas Gill, one of RE-volv's Solar Ambassadors at Villanova University. Meet RE-volv's Solar Ambassador teams.

Learning to Better Tell Our Story with the Rose Foundation

October 16, 2015

Yesterday, the RE-volv team had an exciting adventure! We drove up in my biodiesel-powered automobile to the beautiful campus of Sarah's alma mater, UC Davis. We were lucky to have an alum on the team to help us find our way around campus.

Enjoying the beautiful campus with the Rose Foundation's Karla James.

We were delighted to join a room full of inspiring nonprofit environmental organizations for the Rose Foundation's Grantee Convening. We participated in a training led by the talented John Kenyon, who did a fantastic job teaching us a variety of nonprofit communications skills focused on the theme "Telling powerful stories, engaging your community, and measuring success." In particular we focused on the art of storytelling. While so often we're taught to present facts and statistics, what really sticks in people's minds are stories. As John said, "if I hear a bunch of facts today, I'll forget them tomorrow, but if I hear a story, I'll remember it for 30 years." This really stuck with me.

In addition to learning about communications, which sparked a whole bunch of exciting ideas for us, it was also fantastic to reconnect with the Rose Foundation staff and to connect with members of the Rose Foundation community we hadn't met before. A ton of collaboration opportunities came to light, as tends to happen at these types of events, and it was inspiring to hear about all the exciting work being done by our fellow movement builders.

At RE-volv, we are truly honored to be a part of the Rose Foundation community and to have received funding from them for the last two years. To me, what makes the Rose Foundation such a special organization is their focus on building community among and investing in their grantees. This training, provided free of charge to grantees, is a way for the Foundation to ensure that the organizations they support financially have the tools and skills they need to be effective. Also, through the Rose Foundation's annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival and other events the Rose Foundation has created a community of partners, supporters and grantees that feels more like a family. 

Huge thanks to the Rose Foundation for all your support, and especially for a fantastic convening yesterday!

This post was written by Andreas Karelas, RE-volv's Founder and Executive Director.

U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Supports RE-volv

October 14, 2015

It’s a big deal. As a solar organization, receiving support from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is like the San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Madison Bumgarner telling a minor league pitcher he’s got a good arm. We’re on the map now folks!

RE-volv is thrilled and honored to be working with the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, a program established in 2011 to “drive research, manufacturing, and market solutions to make the abundant solar energy resources in the United States more affordable and accessible for Americans.” Specifically, the SunShot Initiative seeks to drive down the cost of solar to be fully cost competitive with traditional sources of energy by 2020 - I’d say their plan is working. The price of solar is currently competitive in California, Hawaii, Texas, and Minnesota and a few other states.

How do the Energy Department and RE-volv’s journey intertwine? First, about six years before RE-volv’s executive director Andreas Karelas was born, President Richard Nixon signed The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 into law on the heels of the oil crisis. The act consolidated America’s three energy administrations, added nuclear energy management responsibilities, and established/incorporated many national laboratories and research centers. The history is a complex one so I encourage you to read more about it here. Fast forward to 2015, when Andreas was fortunate enough to be invited to present to the U.S. Department of Energy in June because of RE-volv’s membership in the White House’s National Community Solar Partnership.

At this time, the SunShot Initiative Catalyst Business Innovation contest was underway, giving anyone with an idea related to solar tech development and deployment the opportunity to pitch that idea and turn it into reality. RE-volv attended the Energy Department’s engagement event at Oakland solar incubator SFunCube (now Powerhouse), met some incredible SunShot staff and advisors, received pitch feedback, and then submitted a darn good pitch.

Here I am now, with emails in my inbox from - does it get any cooler? Over the next three months, as a winner of the SunShot Catalyst Business Innovation contest, we are now working with topcoder and the Energy Department to build out our web platform. On RE-volv’s new platform, which will host crowdfunding campaigns for community-based solar projects, donors will be able to track their donations to the revolving fund with a personalized portal, and anyone will have the opportunity to apply to run a crowdfunding campaign for a nonprofit or co-op in their own community. We’re thrilled to present our platform to the Energy Department in December. Stay tuned!

Written by Sarah Brinker, RE-volv Associate Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy

Feeling the Power of the Desert Sun

September 11, 2015

Last week, the annual Burning Man festival took place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert among strong winds, strong sun, and enough dust to make the inside of my tent look like it was a snow globe. Despite initial reservations, I attended the festival for the first time. The week was full of surprises, and as I rode my poorly decorated bike around the playa (the colloquial name for the desert, which is actually a dried up prehistoric lakebed), I found myself surprised to come across something familiar from my 9-5 life…solar panels! Solar panels on art pieces, on vans, near tents…solar panels everywhere!

There’s a lot of lore about Burning Man, a lot of assumptions and skepticism. Katie Herzog at Grist admits that most people’s hatred for the 70,000 person event is relatively reasonless. But she does note one point of criticism that is certainly valid: Burning Man has an enormous carbon footprint. After that post sparked an uproar from the Burning Man community, Katie put out a piece about Burners who care about the climate and how they hope to promote climate friendly solutions at Burning Man. You go, climate-conscious burners. But Katie failed to mention the incredible clean energy heroes of Black Rock City who are already doing so much to make Burning Man less carbon intensive and teaching others how to do the same.

Clean Energy Solutions in the Most Unlikely of Places

In my own camp, AquaZone, the incredible work of one dedicated camp member, Charles Henry, made our water-themed camp totally solar-powered. A 2kW solar array provided light for the whole camp and our groovy water bar, and powered a recharging station for electronic devices. I felt extremely proud to be a part of a solar-powered camp, and a pretty elaborate theme camp at that. Who says you need a fossil fuel powered generator to run a camp at Burning Man?

AquaZone was nestled in one of Black Rock City’s many “villages,” or clusters of camps based on a particular theme. Alternative Energy Zone, or AEZ, is “a Burning Man Community Free of Generators.” They held a DIY renewable energy workshop and provided resources and information on renewables in Black Rock City.

In 2007, Burning Man was green-themed, and out of it came our good friends, nonprofit Black Rock Solar. The crew threw a happy hour for people who work with or are interested in solar, and they also offered solar tours around the Playa. Check out their photo round up of solar panels on the playa.

A Bright Future Ahead

To say the least, I was feeling inspired. As a young person working with renewables, and as a first-time Burner, I was amazed to see how creative people could be with solar and renewable energy solutions. Katie Herzog is right--Burning Man is carbon intensive. As someone who cares about reducing carbon emissions, it was hard for me to watch as fossil fuels burned into the night just so we could be dazzled by a fire-spitting giant metal octopus or play giant flaming skee ball. But there’s a lot more to the story than that, just like in the rest of the world where there is a lot of clean energy good news to balance out the fossil fuel bad news. I feel confident that with Black Rock Solar and AEZ leading the way and teaching people how to green their burns, and with other conscientious burners doing their part and spreading the word, Burning Man will continue to become more sustainable.

Thin film solar sits on top of a '62 Airstream, gleaming in the Black Rock Sun

As I was getting ready to leave the desert on Sunday and head back to San Francisco, my awesome rideshare drivers, Craig and Deb, asked me and my friend to help pack everything up. The final task was to remove the long thin film solar panel on top of their vintage Airstream trailer. “We didn’t turn on the generator even once!” Craig told me, delighted. I was delighted, too. I had a great time, and I come back to RE-volv refreshed and more determined than ever to work for clean energy solutions and to inspire others to do the same. Cheers to a great first burn, and cheers to solutions.

Written by Gavi Keyles, RE-volv Communications & Program Manager

Training the Next Generation of Clean Energy Leaders

August 25, 2015

At RE-volv, we see raising awareness about the benefits of solar as a critical component of our work. While many people can save money by going solar, not everyone knows about it—it’s part of RE-volv’s mission to change that. We do this by creating solar education materials, through outreach events, and with our Solar Ambassador Program.

What’s the Solar Ambassador Program? 

RE-volv trains teams of students at universities around the country to develop solar projects in their own communities. They find local nonprofits and co-ops in their community that want to go solar and sign them up for a lease. They find local solar installers to do the installation. They run a crowdfunding campaign to raise the upfront costs of the installation. They host solar education events in the community and on campus and raise awareness about the benefits about solar energy with community members.

This is the second year of the program and we have a fantastic group of students. We have teams from University of Dayton, UC Santa Barbara, Swarthmore College, Villanova University, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. These students are the next generation of clean energy leaders.

Smiling students and RE-volv staff at the end of a great few days of learning!

An Inspiring Retreat for Students and Staff

To prepare the students for a year of working with communities to build their own solar projects, we decided to bring them together before school started to give them the tools they will need to be successful. Each team sent one student, the Project Lead, to a four-day leadership training retreat in Tomales Bay, California. 

The retreat was held at Marconi Conference Center on the shores of Tomales Bay. Beautiful nature reminded us all why we work to protect the environment.

Here’s what the students had to say about it:

“The retreat helped me to fully understand RE-volv's Solar Seed Fund model.  I am excited to bring solar to North Philadelphia, knowing that our project will build further momentum toward a full transition to renewable energy.” –Laura Rigell, Swarthmore College

“Meeting my fellow ambassadors and the RE-volv staff in a relaxed yet collegiate setting was a great way kick off the Solar Ambassador Program.  I can already visualize the solar system on the roof of our project, and I know exactly what needs to be done in order to get it there.” –Nicholas Kraus, Villanova University

“It was amazing to be with peers who care about climate change as much as I do. One of my favorite takeaways was that stories beat statistics when educating and connecting people.” –Anne Barlas, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"During the Leadership Summit I enjoyed learning about the power of educating a community through crowdfunding. I am eager to raise awareness about our solar project in Dayton, as well as unite the local community with solar education." – Ryan Shea, University of Dayton

“I learned so much about solar financing, the solar industry, and RE-volv as a whole. I'm so excited to have the opportunity to work with Andreas, Gavi, and Sarah-it's going to be a great year!” –Kaylan Lamb, UC Santa Barbara

Hanging out with the Ambassadors on the shores of Tomales Bay. From left to right, Ryan, Anne, Kaylan, Nick and Laura.

RE-volv staff also had a blast! It was great to be on the shores of beautiful Tomales Bay for a few days, talking about solar with the next generation of clean energy leaders. These students are smart, passionate about clean energy, and are motivated to put in the work that’s necessary to make these projects happen. I, for one, am very excited to see these students and their teams successfully complete clean energy projects around the country this year. They already have some great projects lined up and we look forward to announcing them soon. Stay tuned!

Sending the Ambassadors back to their universities to share what they learned with their teams.

Written by Andreas Karelas, RE-volv Founder and Executive Director

What’s Rap Got To Do With It? Heartening Moments as a New RE-volv Employee

July 30, 2015

When you work at a three-person startup, work is anything short of exciting. But with RE-volv’s incredible press from the White House, Forbes, and Treehugger over the last month, a day in the life of a RE-volv employee has become even more lively than usual. 

I started at RE-volv about three months ago, spearheading fundraising and business partnerships. I was a bit nervous to go from a 250 person office and the perks that come with it (like a full IT department), to a three person “office” in a shared working space. Who would come to the rescue if my laptop freaked out? 

But as the saying goes, change is good for you. 


I have quickly adjusted to my new organization, and even to the San Francisco buzzwords and phrases I never imagined using in describing my life - startup, building a platform, pool table, dogs in the coworking space, scale, solarcoaster. I never would have thought my lifelong passion for environmental conservation would land me in solar tech, but it makes sense now--we have to work for solutions.

I am inspired everyday by the intelligence and commitment of RE-volv’s founder Andreas and program manager Gavi. What they’ve been able to achieve on a small budget with just two people blows my mind. Financing solar energy installations for three Bay Area community-serving organizations, crowdfunding more than $120,000. Two people! 

Of course, an incredible donor base, quality clients, and an insightful board help achieve goals too! Thank you to each person who has given to RE-volv and thank you to the folks from Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Kehilla Community Synagogue, and Other Avenues Food Cooperative for going solar with RE-volv. Together, you have created a revolving fund for community-based solar energy, paying it forward to other community organizations around the country.

It turns out, a recent college grad (my colleague Gavi) makes a pretty great IT department. She also has killer public speaking skills and an incredibly engaging presence. 22 years old, and she has been invited twice to speak to 80 high school students about solar at the 2015 SunPower Solar Science Academy event. #inspired.

“Have you heard the anecdote about the baby elephant?” Andreas asked me. “If you tie a baby elephant to a tree with a rope, it will only go as far as the rope allows it. As it gets older and stronger and could easily break the rope, it stays within the restrictions of the rope because it has been conditioned to do so.” Andreas’ wise daily nuggets along with his entertaining ability to perfectly rap songs, including my personal favorite, “Welcome to Miami,” set the tone for an enlivening and stimulating work environment.

Andreas and Sarah visit Facebook's cafeteria during Sustainabilty at Scale event

Andreas, Gavi and Sarah visit the IDEO office to celebrate winning OpenIDEO's #RapidlyRenewable Challenge


I’ve been channelling the inspiration from my work environment into writing compelling grants. I’m also learning about the dynamic solar industry, getting to know our current donors, and engaging new supporters. Right now, we are working hard to raise money for a full-time web developer so we can roll out a powerful crowdfunding platform that will allow us to scale nationally and give donors a way to manage their own donation portfolio. If you’re interested in supporting us, I would love to talk with you. You can get in touch at sarah [at] re-volv [dot] org.

I hope sharing my experience at RE-volv over the last three months reiterates to those who have supported and believed in us how truly amazing this organization is and is poised to become. As Steve Jobs said, “Let’s make a dent in the universe.” Together, we already are. 

Written by Sarah Brinker, RE-volv Associate Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy


It Starts with People

June 18, 2015

“We need to change culture before changing politics,” stated William K. Reilly, former head of the EPA, about arresting climate change. I attended a talk this week with Mr. Reilly and Christiana Figueres, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, about the upcoming international climate negotiations in Paris this December. The goal of the Paris Conference of the Parties (or COP21) is to come to an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid dangerous climate change.

I walked away from the talk with a few questions. First of all, why were my colleague and I by far the youngest people there – where were my other Millennials at? Perhaps they were working hard at Twitter realizing that rapid technology innovations are a driving force in thwarting climate change – more so than the slowpoking United Nations, bless its heart. And why are folks still regurgitating and analyzing the latest scientific report that climate change is real?

According to Sierra Club’s Sync Newsletter, far fewer Americans are aware of the scientific consensus about climate disruption. 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is happening and is mostly caused by human activity, and 63% of Americans believe “global warming” is happening, even if they aren’t sold on the scientific consensus. As a recent Yale University and Utah State model conveyed, nationally, just 41% of adults believe that "most scientists" think that "global warming" is happening. Either way, enough stats, let’s talk solutions.

Driving solar energy, one community at a time

Despite my questions, I walked away believing in RE-volv more than ever.

At RE-volv, we recognize that everything begins with people. That’s why we empower people to make clean energy happen. Anyone who cares about clean energy can chip in a few dollars to finance a solar energy system that goes on the rooftop of a community-serving nonprofit or co-op. Patrons of those centers see the solar, neighbors see it, and we know what studies say about that – rooftop solar is contagious and spreads more rapidly with each installation. And, these nonprofits and cooperatives save money on their electric bills and avoid emitting carbon that would contribute to climate change. By promoting a positive solution, people feel inspired and encouraged to do more for the environment and their communities.

As UNFCC Executive Secretary Figueres pointed out, Apple, Ikea, and other massive corporations have also realized it all starts with people. Their customers demand more from them and that collective base has changed how giant corporations do business. Apple has a goal to power all of its retail stores around the world with 100% renewable energy. In the U.S., Apple has achieved this and more: all of its U.S. offices, data centers and stores run on 100% renewable energy. Why is Apple doing this? It is a response to customer and shareholder demand. Yes, it all starts with people.

“Where focus goes, energy flows”

I would have liked to address the room at the talk, but the audience Q&A line was long and growing, too long by the time I had fully formulated what I wanted to say. So I’ll say it here. Stopping climate change is actually about giving green energy a go. It’s about changing culture by shifting our focus to promoting good, because where focus goes energy flows.

I think we have enough reports and white papers about the negative effects of climate change to fill the Koch brothers’ coffers and make a lot of folks overwhelmed. So let’s start doing. Even the smallest actions make a difference. “But what can I really do?” you’re asking yourself.

Luckily I work for a place that can answer that question and empower you. Chip in a few bucks on a solar energy system for a community-serving organization. Solar is becoming cheaper by market forces and spreading. Person by person, conversation by conversation, community by community, state by state the culture around climate change shifts.

Written by Sarah Brinker, RE-volv Associate Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy



To Infinity, and Beyond: What's New in Solar Tech

June 15, 2015

As a society, we’ve become pretty accustomed to amazing innovations and increased convenience. But if there’s one field that continues to surprise and impress, it’s clean tech. Just like the rest of the tech world, clean tech is constantly innovating, changing, and pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible. And it’s being done without contributing to climate change.

Here is a peek at some of the recent technologies that are blowing my mind, and changing the way we power our planet.


I consider myself an avid traveler. I love the sound of a plane taking off (especially if I’m on it), the drive to the airport, all of it—it either means I’m about to go on an adventure, or I’m going home. But that rumble of gasoline and the sight of a plane skyrocketing into the air also reminds me of the enormous amount of greenhouse gasses being poured into the atmosphere as the plane’s fuel burns.

Air travel accounts for 5% of the United States’ total CO2 emissions, and is also a major emitter of nitrogen oxides. The transportation sector is admittedly getting greener, with electric and hybrid vehicles, biodiesel and a sizeable uptick in bicycle commuting…but what can be done to fix air travel?

Enter Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, founders (and pilots!) of Solar Impulse, a project to design and actually fly a solar powered plane. The project has spawned two airplanes powered by photovoltaic solar cells.

The prototype, or Solar Impulse 1, had its first successful flight in 2009. Piccard and Borschberg went even further with Solar Impulse 2, which is currently on course to break records. It is currently on a journey to circumnavigate the globe, which began in Abu Dhabi in March.

The plane is currently stalled in Nagoya, Japan due to weather, but the first few legs of the journey have been successful. I eagerly await the day when this experiment turns into a revolutionary new method of air travel--Airbus says that a hybrid-electric, 90-passenger plane could be ready in 15 years, and it has already built an all-electric plane for short training flights. Boeing is also experimenting with cleaner plane engines.


A lot of people reject the prospect of going solar because they worry about the aesthetics of their home. But that shouldn’t be a nonstarter for exploring going solar at home, especially when you factor in all of the enormous benefits of rooftop solar. Now, solar customers don't have to choose between form and function: you can merge your aesthetic preferences with your inclination to reduce carbon emissions and lower your energy bills.

Solar shingles, which can fit a variety of shingle styles, are on the market and are ready to power your home. These small photovoltaic panels lay flat on the roof to mimic the look of a conventional roof, only a bit bluer and shinier.

Right now the shingles are pricier than traditional panels, but if other solar technologies are any indication, we can expect prices to fall in the near future.


Sometimes we earthlings get caught up in what’s going on beneath the stratosphere, but way out in space, solar energy is transforming the way humans explore the great beyond. LightSail, a project by The Planetary Society, is a giant solar sail that moves with the energy and momentum of photons from the sun.

Down here on earth, solar panel efficiency varies depending on how much sunlight a place gets. But in space, there are no clouds, no fog, and no trees to stand in the way of solar energy. So while there may be no gas stations in space, there is a way to keep going and going, to reach infinity and beyond.

LightSail launched its first successful test flight just last week, and the team plans to do a full-fledged solar sailing attempt in 2016. And during its test mission, the solar sail took a selfie. The test run is just about over, and the LightSail team plans to launch LightSail-B next year for another test.

These incredible projects show just how versatile solar is, and how much it is contributing to every aspect of our society. Who knows where solar will take us next…?

Written by Gavriella Keyles, RE-volv Communications & Program Manager

Living the Legacy of the First Earth Day, 45 Years Later

April 23, 2015

45 years ago today, a 15-year-old girl from Brooklyn played hooky and went to Central Park to stand for something, to stand up for a clean environment. The daughter of an immigrant father and first-generation American mother, she grew up without much. She lived with seven people and a dog all on one floor of a small house in Flatbush. But she was smart, and she was precocious, and even at 15 she was tuned into the world around her. 45 years ago today, my mother took to the streets along with 20 million other Americans to mark the first Earth Day.

On Earth Day 2015, I think of my mother and my own involvement with environmental issues. What happened before my generation was here that got us to where we are today? Who would any of us be without the people who passed things down to us, from generation to generation? And how can we take what they’ve taught us and use it to build a better society?

Earth Day Then and Now

In 1970 “green” was truly green: it was brand new. The environmental movement was just beginning. As my mother pointed out, climate change wasn’t on the radar yet. “I think a lot of the environmental movement then was motivated by the proliferation of nuclear power and air and water pollution.”

Even then, though, renewable energy was far from a fantasy—my mother has a box full of protest buttons and pins from the 1970s, and her pro-solar button collection is astounding. Despite growing awareness about renewable energy, the obstacles that stood in the way of progress 45 years ago—political apathy, skepticism and an obsession with economic growth at the expense of all else—still remain in place.

The most important line of continuity from the first Earth Day to the present is the optimism, energy and passion from that day, along with the sense of collective solidarity. That sense has reemerged in the face of an issue so daunting it threatens our very existence.

I proudly walk in the footsteps of my mother’s activism, but activism is only the first step. If the streets were the most prominent staging ground for the fight for a clean environment 45 years ago, they have been replaced by the internet and the market today. I work at a nonprofit organization dedicated to driving forward solar energy for community-serving organizations. We use technology to empower communities to take the renewable energy transition into their own hands. I’m not marching in the streets today and I wouldn’t call myself a hippie, but I can’t help but wonder where I would be today had my mom not stood proudly, decked out in buttons, surrounded by her hippie friends speaking up for the environment 45 years ago.

Passing the Torch

Today we know much more than we did in 1970. We know that climate change is real and it is threatening life as we know it. It’s easy to see just that side of the story and feel paralyzed, but the other side of the story is one of hope. We are making incredible progress. We need to amplify the story of the rapid proliferation of renewable energy and slowing carbon emissions—the transition to a clean energy future is here and happening. If we lose hope now, we’ll never get there.  

Starting my career in renewable energy has allowed me to meet the people who are carrying on the legacy of everyone who took a stand in 1970. They are passionate, they are loud, they are innovative, and they won’t take “there’s nothing we can do” for an answer. No one should take “there’s nothing we can do" as an answer.

In reference to the celebration and demonstration in Central Park on that first Earth Day, my mother describes an atmosphere that was “friendly and positive and different. In contrast to the anti-war demonstrations, this was for something, rather than against.” 

Climate change is an issue, a problem that needs to be solved. But it’s also an incredible opportunity. It’s an opportunity to stand for climate solutions, an opportunity to strengthen communities and to gather by the millions—even billions—to reclaim our independence from fossil fuels and foreign oil, and to be reminded of our responsibility to other human beings, to the ecosystem and to future generations.

Climate change puts human creativity to the test by forcing us to innovate—how can we make our cities and towns more livable and more sustainable, how can we do it quickly, and how can we do it in a way that makes economic sense? This is the test for my generation, and I firmly believe we are ready for the challenge. As my mom advises, “Change may be slow, but it can happen.” 

Living the Legacy

Now more than ever, the feeling of the first Earth Day has to be replicated. In climate solutions there is hope, there is progress, and there is solidarity. We would be in much better shape had the investment and the political will and the awareness been in place 45, 30, 15 years ago. But there is no use in looking back at what hasn’t been done, except to learn from it and do it now.

What we can look back on is a legacy of people like my mom, who at 15 years old cared enough to skip school for the sake of a future with clean air and clean water—a future meant for my sister and me, and for our kids and for generations to come. 

We can take that legacy and bring it into the 21st century—invest in renewable energy, divest from fossil fuels, and commit to a post-carbon future that is safe and livable. We have to go beyond just speaking up and speaking out. We have to innovate and organize and demand with our votes, our dollars and our actions a world that runs on clean fuels and rejects unsustainable business practices and policies. 

Yes, the task is enormous. No, we don’t have a lot of time. But let’s stand in the footsteps of everyone who gathered together in April 1970. Let’s declare that we are here to create and not to destroy, to innovate instead of detonate, and to stand for something.

Gavriella Keyles is the Communications & Program Manager at RE-volv. She is with RE-volv as a part of the Residency in Social Enterprise Fellowship, a program of New Sector Alliance. Her mother, Claire Keyles, is across the country in New York and demonstrating that it’s never too late to make a positive impact by participating in an Encore Fellowship through Claire is serving as the Healthcare Reform Project Manager at the Osborne Association in New York City. 


Energizing the Younger Generation

March 24, 2015

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.

Middle school students begin their ascent into the realm of scientific inquiry with the help of science fair projects.  This has helped to generate a wealth of increased interest in the areas of medicine and health, robotics, astronomy, and so on.  Concentrating on renewable energy in school systems can prove to be extremely helpful in maintaining and creating innovative projects for alternative energy sources and technologies.  

Renewable energy has received its share of the spotlight for projects and ideas that cover a wide array of areas.  Alternative energy can be developed in a variety of ways:  solar-thermal, solar photovoltaic (PV), geothermal, etc.  In essence, alternative energy studies combine the hardcore mathematical grounding of engineering, along with intensive environmental studies.  The many subjects of study allow for a wide range of innovation and discovery.  These projects will require several complex approaches in order to be solved.  Students will develop critical thinking and crucial problem solving skills.  This of course is not only limited to science and engineering majors. Communications, finance, and political expertise will also be needed to help projects come to complete fruition.  Students from any background can get involved in renewable energy regardless of their academic emphasis.  

Walter Loscutoff, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at Fresno State, has suggested contacting up to six universities to build and race solar-powered vehicles.  This would enable students to get hands-on project experience, and contribute to alternative energy. Middle and high school students (and perhaps even younger) can also build their interests in green technology.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge in fall 2014 for students within the range of 9th to 12th grade to participate and use technology to develop their knowledge of bioenergy.  This is a fantastic example of sparking students’ interest in renewable energy. While there are opportunities at the national level, there is room for projects within smaller communities to reach more students.   

The majority of technology in today’s society depends on energy from varied sources.  It is imperative that the younger generation involve themselves in opportunities within alternative energy for future development of groundbreaking ideas.  With enough persistence, they will find themselves enjoying fulfilling careers that are geared towards sustainable green technology!

Biomass and Solar Energy Unite

March 9, 2015

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.

Solar energy is becoming more and more widespread and inexpensive as the years advance. However, there are those who say that solar energy will not be able to fuel the world forever since the materials to produce solar photovoltaic panels are finite and will deplete. The materials used to make solar cells in photovoltaic panels involve the use of expensive metals including ruthenium and platinum. But could shrimp and other crustacean species be the solution to the barrier of using rare and very limited materials?

According to a recent research study done at Queen Mary University in London, chemicals that are derived from the materials chitin and chitosan found in shrimp shells are shown to be effective at generating electricity in solar cells; those two materials are far more abundant and cheaper to produce than the current materials used to make solar cells. These two components could be used to replace the expensive and rare metals platinum and ruthenium that make the carbon quantum dots in solar cells, therefore lowering even further the cost of generating solar power. If these bio-derived materials can be as effective in generating power and electricity as the current metals we use now, solar energy can become even more sustainable and low-cost.

In the study, the research team used the process called “hydrothermal carbonization,” a process that involves using heat and pressure in a span of several hours to convert biomass into a more highly carbon dense material. This process helps to create the carbon quantum dots that are needed to coat the zinc oxide nanorods that make up the solar cells altogether. As a result, you now have your solar cells made purely from biomass. The research article can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, at this time the efficiency of the newly discovered shrimp-shell derived solar cells is fairly low, but further research is underway to find ways of making them more efficient. Along with the solar panels we put on our buildings, the research team believes that this newly bio-derived technology will be capable of being used in many of our widely used devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smart watches. In the not too distant future, we may just see solar and biomass work together to make solar energy a more reliable source of energy!

Looking Back on Solar Education Week 2015

February 10, 2015

Solar Education Week 2015 was a resounding success! Here’s a look at all of our great #solaredweek events, starting with RE-volv and Other Avenues’ Solar Energy Chat in San Francisco on Saturday, January 31st.


Community members gathered at Sunset Youth Services in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood. Other Avenues provided snacks. After Andreas and Gavi from RE-volv debriefed the audience on solar myths and facts, Terra Weeks from SF Environment and Pai Ferreira from Sungevity talked about options for going solar at home. The audience was really engaged and asked questions for over an hour. Six attendees signed up for a free quote to go solar at home with Sungevity!

Next up was an event organized by Kasey Kokka at California State University at Fresno. Kasey had professors stop by while he taught students “Solar 101,” and one professor even pledged to match the highest student donation to our crowdfunding campaign for community-based solar projects!

At the University of Dayton, Ryan Schuessler had Jeremy Chapman, VP of Business at Melink Solar, come and speak to students over pizza. Students asked questions on the solar tech and policy talk for nearly 40 minutes.


At Villanova University, Charlotte Ahern partnered up with other groups on campus. She presented on solar to the crowd, who had tons of questions.


Steven Roberts and Edward Grasinger were excited to host their event at CU Boulder! They even found some potential solar ambassadors for the upcoming school year.


To round out the week, RE-volv was joined by friends and volunteers from Cal Blueprint and CalPIRG-UC Berkeley chapter at the March for Real Climate Action in Oakland, CA. There, the RE-volv group educated march attendees about RE-volv's crowdfunding campaign for solar energy, handing out fliers and letting people know how to get involved.


This was the first ever Solar Education Week. Look out for ways to participate in Solar Education Week 2016! RE-volv’s Solar Ambassador Program will be recruiting its 2015-2016 cohort soon—learn more about the program here.

Solar Education Week is coming--get involved and spread the word about solar!

February 2, 2015

Across the country, college campuses are diving into sustainability issues: campus divestment movements, solar cars and Mt. Trashmores are just a few examples of how college students are showing the world that millennials are ready to take on the climate challenge. In 2014, a new network of campus solar rockstars was formed—RE-volv launched its Solar Ambassador Program, a year-long internship that trains students to be renewable energy leaders. February 1-7, 2015, those students are making a splash from coast to coast with coordinated solar education events. The aptly titled Solar Education Week is a national movement to amplify solar knowledge on campuses across the country, and everyone can get involved.

Students can plan their own Solar Education Week events and register them on the Solar Education Week website. So far, events are being planned at California State University, Fresno; University of Colorado Boulder; University of Dayton; and Villanova University. This is a chance for the environmental communities at these universities to spark a national conversation about solar energy, and a chance for you to do the same!

The events can come in all shapes and sizes! Host a solar jeopardy night, invite a solar industry expert to campus, or screen a documentary on clean energy. In order to build a clean energy future, we’ll need knowledgeable and excited communities ready to go the extra mile to make dirty fossil fuels a thing of the past. The first step is to make sure everyone knows what’s so great about solar—so let’s get together to teach them!

Solar Education Week comes right in the middle of RE-volv’s crowdfunding campaign to put a 36kW solar energy system on a local food cooperative in San Francisco. Solar Ambassadors, during Solar Education Week, will not only educate their student bodies about solar, but also promote a grassroots way to support solar in the community by inviting them to support the campaign. RE-volv’s unique nonprofit solar financing model builds a revolving fund for solar energy in communities around the country, and allows everyone to help build the clean energy future by supporting the campaign. Every dollar given is spurring new clean energy development in our communities.

For more information on hosting a solar education event on your campus, visit



By Gavi Keyles, Communications Director, RE-volv

Organic Food Co-op Going Solar with RE-volv's Innovative Finance Model

January 15, 2015


The Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco is an oasis. Nestled along the Pacific Ocean is this relaxing surfer town, with a tranquil neighborhood feel that’s unique in the city. For 40 years, a worker-owned cooperative grocery store called Other Avenues has been serving the Outer Sunset community with local, organic foods and sustainable lifestyle products. For 8 years Other Avenues has been looking to go solar but has had a hard time finding the financing. Now they’ve partnered with nonprofit RE-volv to finance their project using a unique community funded model.

RE-volv uses crowdfunding to finance 20 year lease agreements for solar energy projects for community-based organizations.  As these organizations pay RE-volv back, RE-volv reinvests the money into additional projects creating a self-sustaining revolving fund called the “Solar Seed Fund.” Lease payments from RE-volv’s first two projects have reduced the amount RE-volv needs to crowdfund for this project by $7,000.

Going solar has been a long-held dream for Other Avenues. “I’ve been working on this project for eight years, and it’s been difficult to find the right fit for financing this solar project,” said Other Avenues president Darryl Dea. “So when RE-volv came around it was a perfect fit for us because not only do they work with nonprofits and co-ops, but we’re able to contribute to this fund which will further create more solar projects.”

By going solar, Other Avenues is taking the next step in its commitment to sustainability. Over the life of the solar energy system, Other Avenues will avoid emitting more than 600,000 pounds of carbon, the equivalent of planting 100 acres of trees. Going solar will also save Other Avenues $335,000 in avoided electricity costs over the next 25 years. 

The partnership between RE-volv, a nonprofit, and Other Avenues, a worker-owned cooperative, demonstrates the power of communities in tackling climate change. When 400,000 marched in New York against climate change in September 2014, they demanded solutions. By crowdfunding for solar, RE-volv gives everyone the opportunity to help drive climate solutions by supporting a revolving fund for clean energy in communities. So even if someone can’t go solar at home, they can pitch in to help community-based organizations go solar.

“Other Avenues has been serving its community for forty years and has developed a tight knit community of supporters. We’re thrilled to be offering this community a way to take action on climate change and at the same time help their neighborhood grocery co-op” said RE-volv’s Executive Director, Andreas Karelas.

The campaign for Other Avenues launched January 6 and is already 22% funded. Individuals can make tax deductible donations to the campaign at




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

April 2, 2015

 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 a 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?

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, 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

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

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


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, 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 and donate now to join the movement!

Photo: Kehilla members at a community gathering.