AB32=Smart Growth

Picture of Route 374, Death Valley, California, USA - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

Though its title is one only a bureaucrat could love, the new Economic Analysis of California’s Climate Change Scoping Plan is chock full of reassuring conclusions about how implementation of AB32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) will affect the economy.

Quick refresher:  AB32 calls for California to reduce its emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  It will achieve this feat through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation and land use policies, and a regional cap-and-trade program.

The Air Resource Board reckons that, if all of the mandated carbon-reduction measures are implemented, California’s economy will continue to grow by 2.4% a year, the same rate it would grow without AB32.  And get this:  Implementing AB32 will reduce our fuel costs by 4.9% by 2020 (because we’ll be using less fossil fuels)-this should come as welcome new to anyone who remembers Enron or the sky high oil prices during the summer of 2008 (and to anyone who suffers asthma or other respiratory illnesses made worse by car exhaust and power plant pollution).

Here’s some more good news:  Small businesses (which employ 54% of the state’s workforce) will not bear the burden of AB32 regulation and will suffer negligible net job loss.  Some types of small business (namely energy efficiency and alternative energy) are expected to grow.  We hope to be one of them.

–Erica Etelson

The People’s Petition

350 in a Crowd

What do novelist Barbara Kingsolver, actor Ed Begley, Jr., singer Bonnie Raitt and NASA’s chief climatologist, James Hansen, have in common?  They’re among the first to sign the People’s Petition to cap greenhouse gas emissions at 350 ppm (the upper safe limit of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere).

Be a star, and sign the petition today.  If you really want to be a rock star, forward this post to your friends, family and co-workers, and post it on your facebook wall. As we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we need to do more than buy bamboo salad tongs or even solar panels–we need to make everyone understand that 350 is the most important number in the world for polar bears, for our children, for ourselves.

–Erica Etelson

Reason No. 4 Why We Need Solar: Cloud Control

I thought I was done blogging on why we need solar – after all, climate politics, toxic plankton and geopolitical conquest seem like reason enough.  But on Tuesday, Greenpeace released a report called “Make IT Green” about the Dark Side of “cloud computing” (the dreamy new term of art for the internet).

The IT industry has a reputation for striving to be clean and green.  But the truth is, the internet is powered by coal.  That’s because electronic data is stored in massive, energy-sucking server farms and data centers.  Although Google is taking steps to green its power mix by becoming a wholesale electricity buyer, other industry giants tend to site their data centers wherever electricity is cheapest-and that usually means in areas served by coal-fired power plants.

The IT industry generates two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  With the cloud expected to grow dramatically in the years ahead, Greenpeace calls on the IT industry to reduce its emissions 25% to 40% by 2020 (aka “The Year of the Cloud”).  It can achieve this only if it uses its enormous financial leverage and growing political power to increase the mix of renewable sources of electricity.  As a residential solar installer, Sungevity can’t offer to adorn the roofs of their server farms with solar panels, but we certainly join with Greenpeace in urging these companies to tap the exploding renewable energy sector instead of following a business (i.e. coal)-as-usual model.

And there you have it-Reason No. 4 why we need solar:  As the number of PCs and modems and cell phones explodes, so too must the number of photovoltaics, or all the “smart grids” in the world won’t save us.

–Erica Etelson

Reason No. 3 Why We Need a Solar Revolution

Reason No. 3 is sponsored by VoteVets.org, which has launched a $2 million ad campaign in support of a clean energy and climate bill.  Watch their one-minute ad called “Tough” and forward it to anyone you know who calls themselves a patriot.

The VoteVets ad clarifies a simple truth:  Over the next few decades, we’re going to follow one of two paths.  We will either waste money and lives fighting for every last drop of recoverable oil on the planet and then, when fossil fuels finally run out, witness economic devastation the likes of which we’ve never imagined.  Or we will devote our financial and human resources to a clean energy infrastructure that will help us transition smoothly to a post-carbon economy.  Which will it be?

–Erica Etelson

Reason No. 2 Why We Need Solar

phytoplankton bloom Shrimp Eat Iron Experiment

In my last post, I took a pretty dim view of the looming climate legislation battle.  Treehugger has a different and more upbeat take, reporting that 22 high-on-health-care Democrats have already whisked off a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressing for clean energy and climate legislation this year.

But let’s turn now to what a certain one-celled creature has to say about climate change and the need for a solar power revolution:  Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported on the results of their efforts to create iron-rich phytoplankton blooms that could sequester carbon dioxide.  The researchers were able to generate massive blooms by dumping liquid iron into patches of ocean.  So far so good.  Except the iron-fertilized phytoplankton was found to harbor high levels of a toxin that is fatal to seabirds and marine mammals and can sicken humans who consume tainted shellfish.

Phytoplankton is the base of the marine food chain, so poisoning it doesn’t seem like such a hot idea.  The results of the 12-year experiment are a major setback to scientists who held out hope that fertilizing the oceans with iron could be a silver bullet in the fight to stop climate change. As lead researcher Charles Trick conceded, “It is an indication that we are not masters of nature when it comes to large-scale ecological manipulations.”

So what do poisonous plankton have to do with solar power?  The experiment should serve as a wake-up call:  We shouldn’t be wasting resources and time pursuing dangerous and improbable high-tech carbon sequestration schemes when we have proven, reliable and safe technologies like wind and solar that will prevent us from generating so much darn pollution in the first place.

There are all kinds of dicey ploys floating around, from geo-engineered trees and crops to shooting clouds of sulfur into the atmosphere.  There’s no need for desperate measures (yet).  Let’s start with what already works and reserve apocalyptically dangerous strategies for if and when there’s no other option.

–Erica Etelson

Reason No. 1 Why We Need Solar Power

One of these days Congress is going to try to pass some kind of climate bill, and the word around the Beltway is that politicians with ties to the fossil fuel industry will dig their heels deep into the earth’s crust to eviscerate it.  In other words, if you think the health care brawl was tough, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (and remember, the Senate passed the health care bill back when it had a filibuster-proof majority).

The climate bill/international treaty we need to stop catastrophic global warming is one that rapidly brings atmospheric carbon levels down to 350 ppm.  But the numbers floating around the Hill are more in the neighborhood of 450 ppm or no upward limit at all.  Legislating 350 ppm is the climate equivalent of a single payer health insurance system-it’s what the experts say we need and the pundits say is a political non-starter.

So if we don’t get the climate bill we need, where does that leave us?  It leaves us at the mercy of private industry (just like the health care bill leaves our well-being in the hands of private insurers).  Having just watched Capitalism: A Love Story, that proposition strikes me as pretty grim indeed.   On the other hand, there are some businesses (and we like to think Sungevity is one of them) that are deeply committed to selling goods and services that help people and businesses reduce their carbon footprints, and there’s not a climate skeptic in the world who can stop us.

By bringing solar down to a price that any homeowner can afford, solar companies are driving nothing less than a renewable electricity revolution.  If the government won’t do it, and the utilities won’t do it, we will…with your help. Become a solar evangelist by telling everyone you know about your solar lease, and help homeowners outside of California find local installers or PACE programs that offer assistance with financing.

Solar power alone won’t get us to 350.  But in conjunction with wind power, energy and fuel efficiency, and whatever climate bill or treaty does eventually pass, solar will be a big part of the solution.

For the rest of this week, I’ll be blogging on the theme of why we need a solar revolution–even the phytoplankton agree, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post.

–Erica Etelson

Fun (and not so fun) on-line tools

We know, there’s no shortage of ways to waste time on the computer, and we’re not trying to get you in trouble with your boss–but before you get back to work, take a look at three useful tools for folks who are concerned about climate change:

Have you calculated your carbon footprint lately?

The CoolClimate carbon calculator covers it all–transportation, energy, even the food you eat and the stuff you buy.  Be sure to check out the feature that lets you compare yourself (or your small business) to other households or businesses–but remember, even if you have the smallest footprint of any American, you’re still generating tons more carbon than most people in the world, so don’t skip the “Take Action” link.

The Good Widget

After calculating your carbon footprint, you might feel a bit despondent, so here’s something to renew your optimism.  The widget below, courtesy of the Carbon War Room, shows the number of solar watts being installed in the US.  Relax and enjoy the lovely vision of the flickering, ever-rising number.

The Wicked Widget of the West

Last but not least, prepare to get depressed again when you check out the Atmospheric CO2 widget which, like the solar widget, is endlessly ticking upwards.  And on that note…use the tools, share them with your friends and turn off your computer when you’re done.

–Erica Etelson

Bill Gates’ One Wish for Humanity

At this year’s TED conference, Bill Gates issued a clarion call for “energy miracles” that will bring global carbon emissions down to zero.  Gates’ philanthropic focus has been on education, vaccines and malaria but, in his 2010 TED speech, he said that his one wish for the next fifty years is not to pick the next President nor to discover a silver bullet vaccine–it is the global deployment of zero-emissions energy technology at half the current price.

Reflect for a moment on how earth-shattering (or, should I say, “earth-saving”) Gates’ epiphany could be:  Here’s one of the wealthiest and most influential individuals on the planet asserting what we climate freaks have been trying to communicate for the past decade–that if we want to have a life-sustaining planet, we can and must get to zero.  And when Bill Gates talks, people with money listen.

Gates begins the talk with a simple math equation even I was able to understand:  Global CO2 levels = # of people on the planet  x services people use (eg. electricity, food) x energy required per service x CO2 per unit of energy.  As you might recall from 4th grade, if the product of an equation is zero, at least one of the factors being multiplied must be zero.  Of all the factors, the only one that could conceivably be reduced to zero is the amount of CO2 per unit of energy.  To do so will require major advances in the scale and reliability of five energy technologies–solar PV, solar thermal, wind, nuclear and carbon capture.  Gates believes we must work intensively on all five fronts by investing heavily in research & development and creating market incentives to move away from fossil fuels.

We couldn’t agree more (with respect to the first three energy technologies on Gates’ list).  Dubious and unsafe technologies aside, we applaud Gates for embracing the gravity of our energy predicament and using his platform to inspire innovation.

Free carbon diet workshop for East Bay residents

The Ecology Center and the City of Berkeley have teamed up to put on a workshop on How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in 2010.  The workshop will be held on February 25 from 7-9 pm at the Unitarian-Universalist Church at 1924 Cedar St.  in Berkeley.  You’ll learn how to reduce your own footprint and local resources available to help your friends and neighbors get on board.  Can’t make it?  Don’t fret–check the Ecology Center calendar for future workshops.

Get ready for Energy Independence Day!

Month one for Sungevity has been full. Our terrific team has achieved a lot – hundreds of interactive quotes sent out to customers to understand their solar options and half a dozen installs. When we look back on this time, the greatest achievement may well have been the first sale of a solar electric system to a customer entirely over the Internet!
Special note: We were a bit surprised when the first customer to buy a system entirely online and without ever talking to us was 85 years old. And there we’d thought we’d be selling to the technorati…turns out the technorati can be fabulous octogenarians.

As busy as we have been, the next month will likely be even busier. We expect more and more people to come to Sungevity.com to receive their free iQuote. If you are reading this, please pass the web site on to a friend who may not yet have heard of the opportunity to get their sunshine online – especially in California. We will be serving Marin to Livermore to San Jose as of mid June.

Our current initiative is to celebrate July 4th as Energy Independence Day…by installing solar! We’ll be out and about in San Ramon on the 4th, helping to get the word out about solar.

Here at Sungevity, we always like to keep the larger picture in mind. We need more than just individuals going solar–we need to get our politicians to support the solar industry as a solution to climate change. Looking at the landscape in the real world, the next month is going to be a big one for solar.
• The US Senate is considering a bill brought forward by the House that would extend the Federal tax credit on solar.
This is a critical incentive to support the industry – if it does not pass we fear that much of the new investment in the space will stop and many of the forecast green jobs will not be created.

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 6049, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 by a vote of 263-160. The bill provides a six-year extension for both the commercial and residential Industry Tax Credit. The bill also raises the residential Industry Tax Credit from $2,000 to $4,000 – something that will help continue to make solar affordable for even more homeowners.

The Senate will take this bill up after the Memorial Day recess (they are out of session until June 2). The White House has already issued a Statement on Administration Policy suggesting a veto on H.R. 6049. The Senate will likely make several significant modifications in order to pass the bill and ensure White House acceptance.

Not a lot has happened in the last decade on this front, and Americans are the worse for it. We’re feeling the pain at the gas pump and in our energy bills and we turn on our air conditions to combat the summer heat. The rest of the world has started to cap carbon emissions and promote clean energy. Germany (a country with the solar potential of cloudy Maine) is host to more than 50% of the world’s solar installations…
At this time, the most important thing we can do is let our representatives know that we care and that we are watching their progress. We’ll keep you posted on this issue. Let’s provide solar energy to power that light at the end of this tunnel. Shine on!

Resources:

SEIA http://www.seia.org/breakingnews.php

VoteSolar http://www.votesolar.org

Green for All http://www.greenforall.org/resources