Category Archives: solar energy

Parallel Multiverses

If you have been caught up in the circus that has become Washington DC since the election, and to some extent, mea culpa, it is refreshing to remind yourself that a lot of exciting and beneficial things are happening elsewhere, that in fact, we live not so much in a universe, but a multiverse. So even with the anti-science miasma currently threatening our country, there is good news to be found about the future of our species.

Of course, you’ve heard of Elon Musk, Tesla and the plans to build colonies on Mars, heck, the man is a multiverse in one body. But much is happening below the radar of popular culture and social media that suggests that many smart people in different fields remain optimistic about the future, and are busy developing ‘workarounds’ to accomplish their goals. In addition to Musk, people like Michael Bloomberg (http://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/525675189/michael-bloomberg-and-carl-pope-on-climate-of-hope) and Paul Hawken (Drawdown: http://www.drawdown.org/)

It seems clear that we have to focus on the issue of energy: how we make it, store it, conserve or waste it, use and abuse it. Without clean, renewable energy solutions, our economy will tank. Even Exxon knows, and has known, that for a fact. What and when, remains to be seen.

Actually, the centrality of energy in human endeavor has always been true, starting with the only energy we had, namely, human energy, aka muscle power. When our reach began to exceed our grasp, some proto-Elon picked up the first rock or stick or bone and used it to pound something (and/or someone, alas) into submission. (At some point, it seems clear that our ancestors began to divide up tasks necessary for survival according to gender, but let’s leave that for now.)

Eventually, it dawned on him or her that this naturally occurring object could be manipulated, possibly improved, in some way to make it more efficient. Probably tool making was a lucky accident like most scientific discoveries (or recoveries), maybe even the making of fire. Recall that amazing scene in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece, 2001, when the ape suddenly tosses a bone toward the sky. In a blink of cosmic time, we became the only species who could build machines powerful enough to launch us toward the stars. If this sounds as if I’m channeling Neil deGrasse Tyson, guilty!

Let me assume that if you’ve been following Transition Tales for any length of time, you know that I (mostly) want to focus on what is working, or could work, to benefit our society and all of us. The last seven months have been deeply disheartening, and many have been as drawn to dystopian fiction as I have (Hulu’s film based on Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, comes to mind). Perhaps you have turned to history for an understanding of how we got into this mess, and more importantly, how we get through it. And in the business community founded on settled science, I see a glimmering.

So, if like me, you’re ready to recharge your batteries, I have two suggestions.

  1. Solar power is inevitable and solar co-ops are a way to bring dedicated environmentalists together with folks mostly interested in independent energy choices. (https://transitiontales.wordpress.com/?s=solar+energy) In the Sunshine State, they are long overdue, but forming quickly with many enthusiastic supporters. Take a look at Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (I’m on a steering committee for Palm Beach County’s first co-op launching October 4): http://www.flsun.org/
  2. I suggest you sign up for Green Tech Media, https://www.greentechmedia.com/, and give yourself a crash course in what lies ahead for energy, the who’s who and what’s what. Clear effective communication: podcasts, webinars, white papers and videos, and so far, FREE. You could do worse than read this just released article that calls out Energy Secretary, Rick Perry’s forthcoming report for the BS it is. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-countries-with-the-most-wind-and-solar-have-far-fewer-outages

And if you haven’t had your fill of the Beltway Follies, this mud’s for you: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/covering-americas-climate-troll-in-chief

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Solar is coming! Solar is Coming!

For my money, I would bet [Elon] Musk can upend a stodgy electricity business with little interest in innovation before it can beat out the behemoths who control the auto industry. – Daniel Sparks, The Motley Fool

Perhaps you’ve read about European utilities entering a ‘death spiral’ because they would rather go down fighting than switch to renewables like solar and wind? Expect something similar in the U.S. in the not too distant future. I’m with Daniel Sparks (quote above) that it’s billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, along with partners like Google ($300 million in SolarCity) who will continue to give utility CEOs, and their legislative minions, agita in the years ahead and the rest of us, reason to hope and rejoice.

Could business-done-right leverage society into a new era of clean, affordable energy when government’s hands are tied? What if the innovative muscle and wealth of our most forward-thinking companies could reverse the damage of business as usual?

It’s energizing to think so, and there are plenty of signals that solar power will become inevitable when 1. Costs drop further and 2. The public demands it (that would be you and me).  So, I’m devoting this post to a series of annotated links in support of these possibilities. I urge you to learn all you can about solar power and how best to advocate for its adoption in your community. And if you have the wherewithal to do so, consider investing in solar, e.g. SCTY (Nasdaq).

Solar panel imageGenerating solar power isn’t difficult, especially where sunshine is abundant. Just remember, “Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.” (Source: National Geographic)  If 89-year-old Québécois, Claude Morency, can keep his kidney-shaped pool at a cozy 80°F year round with solar panels on his North Palm Beach home, so can anyone with $1,500 to invest in installation. Payback is between 1.5 to 7 years, according to Florida Solar Energy Center, a great source of cost-comparisons and other information. In fact, Morency is no newcomer to solar. As a full-time sailor, he powered his live/work sailboat with solar batteries for at least a decade.

The tricky part has been power storage for use when the sun isn’t shining (or the wind blowing, for that matter). But that’s about to change. At the moment, our condo (powered by renewables, courtesy Arcardia) also powers up our leased Nissan Leaf with a nightly plug-in. Apparently, power can flow the other way in an emergency, which is reassuring here in the hurricane belt. But it gets better, according to Elon Musk, who has announced that his company is within six months of producing a battery-pack for the home. Do I have your attention yet?

What would a Tesla home battery look like? The Toyota Mirai, which uses a hydrogen fuel cell, gives owners the option to remove the battery and use it to supply electrical power to their homes. That battery can reportedly power the average home for a week when fully charged. Employees at many big Silicon Valley tech companies already enjoy free charging stations at their office parking lot. Now imagine if they could use that juice to eliminate their home electric bill. A more practical application for your car would be a backup generator during emergencies, which is how Nissan pitches the battery in its Leaf. – The Verge

You may have heard that this revolution will be local. Actually, they usually start there.  So while Congress and state legislatures fiddle, some forward-thinking municipalities are showing us why a clean energy is the only future, and why it makes economic sense right now. See: Burlington, Vermont Becomes First U.S. City to Run on 100% Renewable Energy.

Now admittedly, Burlington, population 42,000, is probably an ideal sized city for such a bold move. Most small towns simply don’t have the financial muscle to kiss their utility goodbye and negotiate their own power sourcing. Wrap your mouth around this possible solution: community choice aggregation (CCA), a system that enables “cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis, but allowing consumers not wishing to participate to opt out.” (Wikipedia definition). Already happening in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Don’t hold your breath for Florida which is, I kid you not, attempting to ban the use of the phrase, ‘climate change.’

Not So Strange Bedfellows. Despite some pockets of open-mindedness (Go Solar Florida’s workshops, this Wednesday, March 11, 2015), one has to look beyond the Sunshine State for signs of intelligent life on this subject. And there is growing evidence the solar revolution may be fueled by people who don’t generally occupy the same meeting rooms, beginning to work together on common goals. At this moment, it matters not whether our motivation is to secure a future for our grandchildren via renewable energy, or we’re more driven by the right to choose based on our free market system. Maybe it’s time to shake hands with Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Coalition and offer a high five to Barry Goldwater, Jr. of TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed).

The sun also rises in Africa. Good news for the family of Kenyan villager, David Lodio, whose single solar panel now generates enough power to enable his children to do their homework, and for the 585 million who currently have no access to electricity.  For rural Africa (which largely skipped the fossil-fueled industrial revolution), solar power will change everything for the better. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31503424

Let me close this short chapter in an on-going solar success story with a news flash.  This morning, a solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi for the first leg of what will be a round the world flight. The Wright Brothers II?  Up, up, and away!

Lots more information in the live links throughout and here:

36% of All New Electric Capacity in 2014 from Solar

Popular Mechanics on solar energy storage