A Good Reason to Go Solar in Texas Now: Some Solar Incentives End this Week

solar panel installers

Update, May 15: We’ve heard from SolarCity and readers in Texas and want to clarify this post: As of Friday, May 16, SolarCity will not be able to offer the current, historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations in Texas. We’ve made several changes in the text below to reflect the correct details.

Everything is bigger in Texas, as they say, and that’s certainly true of the state’s solar plans, too. Despite being the traditional heart of the oil economy in the U.S., the Lone Star state was also the eighth-biggest solar market in 2013, installing 75 megawatts of solar capacity last year, and providing an estimated 4,100 solar jobs.

But all good (and big) things must come to an end, at least in part, and we’ve just learned that SolarCity has exhausted its allotment of Oncor Electric Delivery‘s solar incentive fund as of tomorrow, Friday, May 16.

Until Friday, new home solar customers in Oncor’s Solar Photovoltaic Standard Offer for homes are eligible to receive $538.79 per kilowatt of installed solar capacity, up to 10 KW — which means that a homeowner who’s planning to go solar anyway but hasn’t signed up for a solar installation yet can still save as much as $5,300 on a home solar system, in addition to other state and federal incentives. And not to mention the savings from getting your energy directly from the sun instead of from fossil fuels.

If you want to take advantage of SolarCity’s historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations, now is a great time to go solar in Texas.

If you’re outside of Oncor’s service area, it’s still a great time to go solar, and you should look up your state’s solar incentives and find out how easy it is to get solar panels installed on your roof today.

Utilities Get a Five-Point Roadmap to Prepare for a Home Solar Future


140507-ey-solarIt’s a race against time, as our distributed energy future catches up with the exponential climate change predicted in the White House’s recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment. But these days, even the bean counters at Big Four accounting firms like Ernst & Young are throwing down the renewables gauntlet. Specifically, to utilities hanging on to last century’s dirty business.

“For the electric power sector, the question is not if or even when the change will come, but rather, how fast,” warned Ernst & Young’s competitively named “From Defense to Offense: Distributed Energy and the Challenge of Transformation in the Utilities Sector” (PDF). “Distributed energy is on a trajectory to become a cheaper source of power than bundled utility service offerings that are based on today’s power supply portfolio.”

Inaccurate temporal projections aside, Ernst & Young predicts distributed energy will reach parity with average utilities rates by 2020. That transformative year is coming more sharply into focus the more we scrutinize it. Thanks to the current rate of renewables adoption, President Obama’s green advisor John Podesta explained after the National Climate Assessment was released, 2020 also happens to be the year the White House’s greenhouse gas reduction plan will bring emissions down 17 percent below 2005 levels. Anchored in all of that numerical soup is an economic, and environmental, constant: Distributed solar as de facto infrastructure is heating up the grid.

“This is already — I don’t want to use the word ‘crisis,’ but a severe emergency,” Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Peter Rosegg said of some Oahu neighborhoods so heavy with rooftop solar that “they’re causing backward power flows at the sunniest times of the day,” according to Greentech. Accelerated adoption empowers accelerated innovation, which is why HECO recently launched one of the largest solar energy storage proposals on earth to reserve all of that sunshine for a rainy day. Meanwhile, calls to make Toronto and other cities paragons of distributed energy are going viral, while the sector’s growth is scheduled to break $150 billion in 2018.

The utilities’ one-way street is being remodeled, argued Ernst & Young, whether they like it or not. “The current integrated one-way model, comprising generation, marketing and trading, transport, distribution and retail, will become multidirectional, with both conventional and new entrants as well as ‘prosumers’ — consumers who are also producers — acting as generators,” its report predicted. “Utilities must be ready to move quickly to gain competitive advantage. A strategic options roadmap and a dynamic strategic planning process that enables change are essential.”

Ernst & Young’s five-point roadmap is relatively simple. Utilities need to position themselves to compete by transforming to a more competitively “efficient and effective utility operating model”; reboot the grid as a “distributed, digital and dynamic system that provides two-way communication between customer locations and the utility”; struggle to “the fullest extent possible” to achieve “full cost recovery of legacy assets to recover investments made and costs” before distributed generation changed the energy game; spend more time increasing “their customer knowledge”; and, most importantly, “innovate and accelerate” to a “business model that “captures and provides value in connection with distributed energy.”

It’s a tall order, but that’s evolution for you. Adapt or else.

Infographic: The Environmental Costs of Lighting Your Home


lightbulbsIt goes without saying that lighting is essential to our lives — but how often do we think about the costs of that lighting? Sure, we think about it when we have to go replace a burned-out lightbulb (which, when you switch to long-lasting LEDs, you’ll only have to do once a decade or so), but that’s about it.

The folks at Daisy Energy, an Ontario-based solar and wind installer, have compiled an infographic that spells out the financial and environmental costs of lighting your home.

The infographic is posted below, but in a nutshell, their research shows that a powering single 100-watt incandescent lightbulb for a year costs CAN$96.36 (US$87.95) over those 8,760 hours. The environmental costs for that year’s worth of power is as follows:

  • 721 pounds of coal, or
  • 145 pounds (or 29.9 therms) of natural gas or
  • .0439 pounds of uranium-235

If you were to use renewable energy to power your home, then you’re going to need:

  • 8 days, 17 hours and 14 minutes of rooftop-sized solar or
  • 2.336 hours of one utility-scale wind turbine.

“That’s a lot of coal” is the first thing that comes to my mind on seeing those figures. But what’s missing from this infographic? A couple of important elements: First, what are the climate impacts of those various energy sources, and second, couldn’t you do it a lot cheaper and a lot greener with something other than an incandescent bulb?

Fortunately, both of those are pretty easy to address. First, Wikipedia gives us an easy way to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of different energy sources. Here’s how the 876 kilowatt-hours of electricity for your year-long 100-watt bulb stack up in terms of grams of carbon dioxide:

  • Coal: 919,800 grams
  • Natural gas: 388,068 grams
  • Nuclear: 57,816 grams
  • Solar: 28,032 grams
  • Wind: 8,760 grams

Powering your bulb with solar panels is almost 33 times greener than with coal, and almost 14 times greener than with natural gas. And with no semi-eternal nuclear waste to dispose of!

Of course, these are all pre-supposing the use of the vastly outdated 100-watt incandescent bulb. If you were to use a 21st-century kind of light source, notably a compact fluorescent or LED bulb, we could slice all of those economic and environmental costs down significantly: a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb draws just 22 watts of power, and a similar CFL draws just 26 watts.

Next time you flick on your light switch — or better yet, next time you go to replace a bulb — keep in mind just how much it costs you and the planet to keep the lights on.

The infographic from Daisy Energy is below; click the image for a larger version.

Light bulb cost infographicLightbulbs photo CC-licensed by Andrew Carr on Flickr.

Connected Home Technologies are Ready for Prime-Time, but Need a Boost


*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
smart thermostatWhat’s the state of home energy management? Given the rise of connected home technologies in addition to the growing number of service-providers that are helping bringing those technologies to market, it’s a topic we’ll be exploring more often in the coming months.

Navigant Research just hosted a webcast on the topic, looking at the state of the home energy management market, discussing some of the new players in the market, some of the new technologies on offer, and where the market will go from here.

Neil Strother, a senior research analyst at Navigant, started the discussion by saying that there’s one main driver for consumer adoption of connected-home technologies: Although home energy management (HEM) product manufacturers and service providers promise greater convenience, increased security, and saving on energy bills, people are primarily interested in saving money.

And although these technologies have been around for more than a decade in some form or other, Strother said the market is still in its early stages, and uptake among consumers is slow.

Case in point: The Nest smart thermostat, which many credit with bringing this aspect of home energy management to the masses, as about 1 million thermostats as of March 2014, or about 1 percent of the market. Despite this small market share (and quick rise for a four-year-old company), Nest Labs was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

So there’s plenty of room to grow for the connected home. Strother presented a slide that shows both a menu of options for HEM technologies as well as the evolution of company approaches: from utilities using paper bills to compare one customer’s home energy use with neighbors’ bills all the way up to a network-connected home energy management system that communicates with local utilities to reduce energy demand during peak energy-use times — in other words, demand response, which can keep utilities from browning out or firing up their dirtiest power plants, and save their customers money by reducing power during the most expensive rate times.

energy management optionsNew Players Expanding Energy Management’s Reach

There are a number of companies across industries that are trying to gain a foothold in this potentially huge market, Strother said. Most prominent are the security companies — ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, among others — and telecoms like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. Some of these companies are partnering with utilities as a way of tackling a complex project and bringing different strengths to bear.

Retailers are similarly trying to build on their existing relationships with customers to expand into home energy management. The home improvement chain Lowe’s has partnered with AlertMe on its Iris HEM platform, and rival Home Depot has begun selling smart lighting, thermostat and other energy management technologies in its stores, though it has yet to develop a full platform or partner with a service provider for energy management services.

The cost for these products and services has been an obstacle to growth, Strother said. For example, broadband companies with HEM platforms are offering comparable plans for between $45 and $50 per month, plus an additional $200-$350 one-time cost for the hardware. So until customers see the benefits of home energy management, the market will likely only grow slowly.

Real-World Savings from Connected Homes

Each of the presenters during the Navigant webcast offered some real-world examples how much energy use can be reduced through home energy management technologies, particularly using a demand-response program.

Strother offered the example of NV Energy’s mPowered program, which provides homeowners in Nevada with a free smart thermostat, online access to manage their thermostat, and an energy optimization service. The program saves NVEnergy customers money while also reducing the load on the grid during peak-demand times. Strothers said that participants in the mPowered program reduced their air conditioner use by 12 percent and their overall electricity use by 6 percent over the year.

Scott Hublou, a senior vice president at EcoFactor — a smart-thermostat service provider, which also helps administer the NVEnergy mPowered program — offered the example of a study his company conducted on HVAC performance in customer homes. Using EcoFactor’s pattern-recognition software on 10,000 homes, the company was able to monitor heating and cooling patterns over time, and when the software detected irregularities in HVAC performance, EcoFactor would dispatch service technicians to check the systems.

Hublou said the system had a 98 percent accuracy rating when identifying problems with home heating and cooling, and correctly identified needed repairs early, saving significant money on major repairs down the line. At the time the EcoFactor system identified the problems, 68 percent of the homeowners hadn’t noticed any issues, and 80 percent of those fixes were cheap repairs. As an additional benefit, Hublou said that 65 percent of the repairs made resulted in overall energy efficiency gains in those homes.

Finally, Lela Manning, the Energy Programs Supervisor at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) explained the utility’s Manage-Act-Save program, which is currently in the first phase of an extended home energy management and demand response project. As of 2013, the utility has launched an online game-like tool to encourage family members, friends and neighbors “compete” to save energy — earning points, badges, bragging rights and eventually monetary rewards like gift cards in the process. (We offered a look back in January on how utilities use gamification for energy savings.)

manage-act-saveThe next phase of Manage-Act-Save, Manning said, involves deploying 15,000 smart thermostats to residential customers and 24,000 combinations of smart meters and smart thermostats to small-to-medium-sized businesses. Together, these will help SDG&E learn what works and what’s possible with helping customers save money, reduce their energy use and lighten the load on the electric grid at the same time.

And just as these pilot projects show the potential from home energy management, they are also spreading awareness about the technologies involved, and helping to expand the market at the same time.

Smart thermostat photo CC-licensed by Aaron Paxson on Flickr.

8 Misconceptions that Prevent Homeowners from Going Solar


*Last Modified: June 16th, 2014

Lack of education and awareness prevent homeowners from going solar.
This year for Earth Hour, we teamed up with Mike Holmes to help educate homeowners on the many benefits of adopting solar energy. Mike Holmes created an “I Will if You Will” video, stating that “If 5,000 people sign up to learn more about solar, I will donate $5,000” to an environmental protection fund. The campaign began in early March and continued until April 22nd, Earth Day. We launched this campaign with the hope of educating homeowners on how they can do their part this Earth Hour and make a change that can not only benefit the environment, but also benefit themselves in the form of significant savings.

We had a strong response to the campaign, with hundreds upon hundreds of people signing up to learn more about solar — but unfortunately we fell short of our 5,000-person goal. While it is too bad that we didn’t achieve this goal, we are continuing to educate homeowners about the many benefits of going solar, and it’s becoming clear that a lack of awareness and education for homeowners who may be interested in going solar is one of the biggest obstacles we face on our path to a clean energy future.

Below is a list of common misconceptions people have about solar energy, which we present as a way to help educate homeowners and the public at large.

Misconception #1: Solar leasing options aren’t actually no-cost.

Many $0 cost options exist in both the US and Canada

There are many solar leasing options available that require homeowners to put no money down. Solar providers like PURE will install a solar system on a homeowner’s roof for zero cost to the homeowner. In most cases, the maintenance to the panels will be taken care of by the solar provider, so the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about any costs associated with upkeep to the panels. Methods of payment or usage of the energy varies from country to country. Some states in America allow homeowners to directly offset their electricity bill, while in certain areas in Canada, homeowners are sent a yearly check.

Misconception #2: Solar panels are too expensive.

The average price of a solar panel has declined by 60% since the beginning of 2011

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past 40 years, especially in the past 10 years. There has been more than a 99% reduction in solar panels since 1977. Today, a solar panel system usually costs between $15,000 to $40,000, before rebates, tax credits, and other incentives. If purchased outright, the return on investment is quite strong and is actually more beneficial than a number of typically “good” investments, such as the stock market and some bonds. The numbers change across North America, but solar energy is widely recognized as a very strong investment with a healthy ROI.

Misconception #3: Solar Energy increases electricity costs.

The solar portion of the program adds less than a fraction of 1 cent

A common misconception, typically in Ontario, Canada, is the idea that the Feed-In Tariff program is increasing Ontario homeowner’s electricity bills. Numbers from the Environment Commissioner directly dispel this myth. In Ontario, 43% of the total electricity bill is made up of power from generators such as Bruce Power. The wind and solar portion make up 3% of the monthly electricity bill. The Feed-In Tariff program (FIT), which includes all types of renewable energy in Ontario, increases the average homeowner’s monthly electricity bill by less than $1.50. The solar energy portion of the FIT program adds less than a fraction of a cent to the average Ontario homeowner’s monthly electricity bill.

Misconception #4: Solar can only be installed on new roofs.

Panels can be removed and re-installed easily

Many homeowners believe that they can only go solar if they have recently had their roof re-done. If a homeowner is in need of a new roof, it is always recommended that they get their roof re-done prior to installing the panels. However, a roof does not need to be brand new in order to install solar panels. Many solar providers will remove and re-install the panels if a roof repair is needed down the line, or alternatively, a homeowner can hire a contractor to take care this.

Misconception #5: Solar is highly subsidized compared to other energy production.

When the construction of nuclear or coal energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs

Another strong misconception is that solar is being subsidized by the government more than other types of energy production. This belief is so far removed from reality as to be laughable, except that it’s such a serious mistake. The government subsidizes coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear through tax dollars, and when the construction of energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs. A number of studies have compared how the U.S. government has subsidized different methods of energy production over the decades, finding that fossil fuels and nuclear receive much greater levels of support than solar.

Misconception #6: Solar energy is at a standstill.

The solar energy industry is expanding and shows no signs of slowing down across North America. 2013 alone brought a 41% increase in America’s solar energy output. Canada is no different: By 2025, Canada hopes to have more than 35,000 jobs created in the solar sector and to displace 15 to 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Misconception #7: Solar only makes sense in areas that receive constant sunshine.

America has 3,900 % more sun than Germany. Germany has 6,000% more solar than the US.

Many people believe that solar energy is only efficient in places that constantly get direct sunlight. Germany, the trailblazer of solar energy, produces more than double the energy that America and Canada produce, with less sunlight. For example, on a sunny day in late August 2013, 59.1% of Germany’s electricity was produced through renewable energy, 11.2% of this came from solar.

us solar vs germany

See the rest: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

Misconception #8: The savings aren’t worth it.

The average Californian homeowner who went solar in 2011 will save approx. $34,260

We conducted a report in 2011 looking at the average homeowner who went solar in America in 2011. During this time, when solar was more expensive, the average homeowner could most likely save $20,080 off their net electricity costs over 20 years. This figure reflects the full savings that homeowners will realize after their panel system is paid off.

how much does solar save?

See the rest: How Much Does Solar Cost?

Top US Solar Cities Made Possible by Policy as Much as by Sunlight


*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
top us solar citiesContrary to popular belief, it’s not the amount of sunshine that drives solar energy growth. Instead, smart local and state policies, utility leadership and strong state renewable portfolio standards are key to that growth, according to a recently released report analyzing solar capacity in 57 U.S. cities.

The total sum of installed solar capacity for all 57 cities currently exceeds the amount installed across the entire U.S. at the end of 2008.

“Solar power is growing much faster than many would have imagined, thanks in great part to local officials who have recognized the environmental and economic benefits,” said Rob Sargent, the energy program director at nonprofit organization Environment America and a lead author of the report titled Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.

And the top 20 cities with the greatest solar capacity — an amount that collectively weighs in at over 890 MW — is greater than the entire U.S. capacity just six years ago, the report found. Here’s another tidbit from the report: Though its combined geographic area comprises 0.1 percent of land in the U.S., its total installed solar capacity represents 7 percent of U.S. capacity.

Researchers drew from a variety of data sources — including utilities, city and state governments, grid operators, nonprofit organizations and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV database to rank the 57 cities as of the end of 2013. Only cities where more than a negligible amount of solar had been installed were eligible to be included in the analysis.

The report ranked the top U.S. solar cities as follows:

Principal City State Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity (MW)
Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity Rank
Los Angeles CA 132 1
San Diego CA 107 2
Phoenix AZ 96 3
San Jose CA 94 4
Honolulu HI 91 5
San Antonio TX 84 6
Indianapolis IN 56 7
New York NY 33 8
San Francisco CA 26 9
Denver CO 25 10

Source: Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.While each city’s path to solar has varied, the report breaks down common factors that has helped facilitate growth, such as:

  • Commitment to specific solar installed capacity goals, such as what San Jose, Denver and Portland are doing by installing solar on their public buildings
  • Passing building codes that require new structures to be “solar ready,” thus making installation easier
  • Implementing policies that reduce the “soft costs” of solar, such as
    • Chicago residents can get solar PV permits in under a month, thanks to its Green Permit Program
    • Portland and San Francisco residents can apply online for permits
    • San Jose has cut down its permit application to one page and reduced the permit application fee
    • Philadelphia reduced its permit fees down to the cost of labor (cutting out the costs of labor in the process)
  • Partnerships with local utilities, such as in Seattle’s partnership with Seattle City Light, where renters and apartment dwellers can participate in virtual net metering through buying solar panels in community solar gardens located off site
  • Strong state, local and federal policies (among states, Hawaii, California and Delaware are the strongest)
  • States can streamline permitting, and set rates that make installing solar attractive
  • The federal government can continue to use tax credits and other incentives

Even cities located in states with no renewable energy standards can emerge successful with the right combination of supportive local and state policies. Such is the case of New Orleans, ranked by Environment America as No. 11 nationwide.

The city’s investor-owned utility, Energy New Orleans, turned things around from zero installed capacity in 2007 to a total of 22 MW over seven years — in part from reducing the amount of paperwork needed to apply for a solar permit from 50 pages to two pages, as well as requiring that net metering be allowed. Louisiana also passed solar tax incentives in 2007.

New Bedford, Mass., is one city that’s linked solar growth to more than just a healthy economy. With a low income population, one might guess that the city would not prioritize renewable energy. Yet in 2010, it established an Energy Office tasked with installing 10 MW of solar power by 2015.

“New Bedford’s renewable power program is strengthening our city’s economy, our education system, and our environment, while saving taxpayers considerable money in the years ahead,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

How did it do this? The city shrewdly linked its solar development goals to progress on other socioeconomic issues it wished to improve on, including brownfields use, education, job training and local industry growth. Specific projects included:

  • Creating a program to promote solar farms development on brownfields land
  • Setting up a solar farm on brownfields land next to a school where teachers will take students out to the land to learn about renewable energy, as well as solar industry job skills
  • Installing solar on a group of public buildings, including a gym, three schools and a government agency

As a result of this multi-pronged approach, the city is now on track to accomplish its goal over a year ahead of time.
“Every city in America should be doing what we are doing here in New Bedford,” Mitchell concluded.

Home Solar Will Have Another Boom Year in 2014, ACORE Predicts


*Last Modified: June 16th, 2014
acore-coverCross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.

This year’s outlook for cleaner fuels is bright, according to a recent report from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). But it is much brighter for some technologies than others.

Solar and wind specifically, which remain the cleanest of the cleantechs in the emerging global renewables market, have a very promising future. The same cannot be said of less-efficient, more-vulnerable alternatives like biofuels, biomass, biodiesel and ethanol, which create cost-prohibitive emissions and demands for land and water on a planet increasingly succumbing to the expensive droughts, floods and storms wrought by climate change.

ACORE’s 2014 outlook — comprised of solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, marine energy, biomass, waste-to-energy, ethanol and biodiesel sector performance reports from their respective trade associations — found wide-ranging successes, improvements and opportunities “at the federal, state, and local levels for industry advancement and investment.” But one competitor in particular stood out the most in the Obama administration’s “all of the above” renewable energy mix.

“Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in 2013, second only to natural gas,” said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In fact, more solar has been brought online in the past 18 months than in the 30 prior years combined.”

Speaking of natural gas, it’s worth noting that the EPA has been underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas drilling sites — by a factor of 100 to 1,000. In the SEIA’s final analysis, included within ACORE’s report after wind, it is solar that remains the hottest alternative. Given that it’s powered by the sun, it promises to only get hotter.

“All totaled, solar is generating enough electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes,” Johnson said. “That’s a remarkable record of achievement, and 2014 promises to be our best year ever with growth projected at nearly 40 percent.”

That growth could accelerate now that the Department of Energy has offered $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy. Johnson told SolarEnergy.net that the SEIA is still combing through the details of the offer, which, according to Reuters, will “specifically focus on advanced electric grid technology and storage, biofuels that can be used in conventional vehicles, energy from waste products and energy efficiency improvements.” Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz specifically targeted the success of the administration’s solar investments as rationale for now “focusing on technologies that are on the edge of commercial-scale deployment today.”

Those bleeding-edge technologies are covered in ACORE’s report, most intriguingly waste-to-energy, which it noted could do better than recycling only 29 percent of the nearly 400 million tons of trash generated in the United States in 2011. But like biomass, biofuels and ethanol, waste-to-energy power is complicated by regulatory hurdles and therefore investment disincentives, involving everything from how much land and water it requires to how much carbon and methane it produces.

This is not the case with real-time renewables like solar and wind. Or even sensible-sounding upstarts like marine and thermal power, which ACORE quotes Secretary Moniz as naming the “forgotten renewables.” As climate change worsens, all are putting up numbers and attracting investment. But in the long stretch for Earth’s limited resources, solar and wind are the clear cleantech champs.

Philadelphia Solar Love: City Council Commits to 20K Solar Roofs


*Last Modified: June 16th, 2014
140402-phillyIf Philadelphia has its way, solar energy could be on its way to become as synonymous with the city as Rocky Balboa and the Liberty Bell. Recently, the city council unanimously passed a resolution aiming to install enough solar capacity to power 20,000 homes by the end of 2025 — an amount that will accelerate Mayor Nutter’s commitment to reach 57.8 MW of solar-generated electricity by 2021.

[Cross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.]

“On one hand it sounds rapid and dramatic — and it is, but if we look at the growth of solar around the country, it is very achievable if we put our minds to it,” said Elowyn Corby, a clean energy associate for PennEnvironment, the nonprofit organization that led the effort to get the resolution passed.

The 20,000-roof goal — which PennEnvironment is hoping to realize through a number of strategies, including a special low-interest loan for solar, tax credits and funding from federal and state sources — translates to an installed capacity of 120 MW. The organization zeroed in on that particular goal after consulting with a number of solar experts and individuals familiar with the range of policies and requirements needed to get the systems up and running within the city.

Many of the people Corby consulted told her that a 120 MW goal for Philadelphia solar was not as ambitious as the city could be, she said, but the organization felt it was important to make sure it set an amount that could be initially achieved as a way to create even more momentum for solar.

Though Pennsylvania is far from being a solar leader, the city of Philadelphia itself has established a strong foundation for sun-powered energy. Philadelphia has already installed between 8-9 MW of solar, Corby says, thanks to an early stimulus from a 2008 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy [PDF] to establish policies and receive technical assistance aimed toward making solar cost-competitive with conventional electricity sources.

Since the 20,000 solar roofs resolution isn’t legally binding, PennEnvironment knows its work to reach the goal has been cut out for them.

“The biggest thing we need to do is demonstrate this is something that Philadelphians care about,” Corby said. “Things like this are much harder to do when you’re not able to demonstrate that the community is behind it — that solar is a communal vision and that people want to see it.”

PennEnvironment kickstarted its public outreach and community organizing by getting 850 residents to sign a petition for the 20,000 solar roofs goal over the course of one week. It’s also working with a coalition of partners, including PennFuture, Clean Air Council, Solar States and Community Energy to develop a working group with city council member Bobby Henon as a vehicle to coordinate its work over the next decade.

“This is just the start,” Corby said. “The resolution is a way to commit to a goal, and now we need to gather the whole community who cares about solar — and keep building.”

Philadelphia sunrise photo CC-licensed by PierTom on Flickr.

Honda Launches a Net-Zero Energy Smart Home Project in California


*Last Modified: June 17th, 2014
honda smart home“Together, our homes and our cars produce about 44 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change,” reminds Honda VP of environmental business development Steve Center, in the video overview for its intriguing Smart Home project, which opened this week on the University of California, Davis campus.

Honda’s master plan is to slash that pollution by running on sunshine.

Whether the plan works depends on the U.C. Davis resident lucky enough to shack up in Honda’s “living laboratory” and put its zero-net goals to the test. Empowered by a 9.5 kw photovoltaic system feeding a 10kWh lithium-ion storage battery, which plugs into its complementary direct-current Fit EV, Honda’s net-zero energy Smart Home is a symbiotic experiment in green living — and driving. That may seem strange in Davis, nationally lauded for its bicycling ethos and politics, but U.C. Davis’ West Village is a zero-net paragon.

“What sets Honda Smart Home apart is that it integrates transportation into the home in a very sophisticated manner, while maintaining zero net energy performance,” Honda spokesperson Matt Sloustcher told SolarEnergy, after returning from a walk-through. “We will use the home as a living lab to evaluate new technologies and business opportunities at the intersection of transportation, energy and the environment.”

Honda claims the Smart Home/Fit EV team-up chops 11 tons of C02 emissions annually, and easily leapfrogs California’s zero-net residential construction goals, residing in faraway 2025. Its user-friendly digital home management system smooths the transition to clean(er) living by modulating consumption, especially during peak demand, while the Smart Home overall reportedly consumes less than half the juice of a “similarly sized home in the Davis area.” Checking that pleasing math will be its live-in resident, of course, as well as visiting researchers from U.C. Davis and Northern California’s utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).

honda smart home dashboardThere are other bells and whistles, including a subterranean geothermal pump, carbon-reducing pozzolan in its concrete, LED lighting, passive design and more, although it has yet to nail down an Energy Star or LEED rating. But the realistic test of any optimistic Smart Home is how close it is to market, and how much it will cost homebuyers. SolarEnergy has queried Honda about these major sticking points, and will report back any update. Until then, cross your fingers for a zero-net present instead of a future.

Infographic: How the World Celebrates Earth Hour


*Last Modified: June 17th, 2014
earth hour logoMark your calendars and set your alarms: Saturday, March 29 at 8:30PM local time marks the sixth annual International Earth Hour, a time when individuals, communities, companies and cities demonstrate their concern about the planet by turning off their lights for an hour and coming together for the planet.

Since Earth Hour’s launch in 2007 as a local event in Sydney, Australia, Earth Hour has expanded across the globe, with 2014 promising to be the biggest event yet. For 2014, the organizers have launched Earth Hour Blue, a global crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platform to engage people around the world in projects that bring environmental and social benefits to their communities.

Last year, hundreds of millions of people, in more than 7,000 cities, towns and municipalities, across 152 countries took part in Earth Hour. In advance of this year’s event, we’ve created a global map highlighting some of the events and impacts from Earth Hour 2013. (Click the image for a larger version.)


 earth hour infographic

 This post originally appeared on SolarEnergy.net.