Saturday, December 24, 2011

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A Christmas Wish (or 4)

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 01:06 AM PST


christmas wish

I was planning to write a post along these lines, but then got the comment below from a reader the other day, which nails what I was thinking about. So, I immediately thought, “Why not just use this?” With permission, here’s the comment reposted, with slight modifications:

I want to wake up on the 25th to the following news report.

Congress/Senate/President have agreed to go green. Starting on Jan 1, the US will start the following policies:

  1. National feed-in tariff (FIT), with rooftops and parking lot projects receiving a 20% bonus on top of the normal FIT. The FIT will be tiered to promote local ownership. For projects that product less than 3x annual use by a building/campus, the utility has 1 month to connect the system to the grid. After that, they start paying 10% of the FIT (based on rated max production), increasing an additional 10% each month until connected (to a max of 150% of FIT).
  2. Carbon tax on coal, oil, and gas. Starting small and going up each quarter. See the carbon tax post for the messy details on import taxes etc.
  3. End all special tax breaks/loopholes for coal, gas, oil, and nuclear. Stop all government funding/breaks to said groups.
  4. Funds raised by (2) and saved by (3) will be used to train vets to install green energy and conduct energy efficiency projects. And then pay those vets to do said work on government buildings, schools, base housing.

There is more, but I’ll stop there, the wishing star has it’s work cut out for it with just those.

Happy Holidays to All

Happy Holidays from us here at CleanTechnica as well! -ZS

Christmas tree & bulb via shutterstock

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U.S. Solar Energy in 2011

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 04:56 PM PST


While I’m planning to do my own cleantech 2011 roundup, this U.S. solar energy industry roundup from the people who know the industry best is quite good, so I thought I’d reshare it (everything after the image is from SEIA):

solar power 2011

Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industry in the United States.

WASHINGTON – Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, today published the following review of the U.S. solar energy market in 2011:

“In contrast to some of the recent headlines, the solar energy industry is a strong, thriving industry in the United States that is creating jobs and lowering costs for the consumer. In 2011, a number of myths about the solar energy industry circulated nationally. Let's set the record straight. Here are seven truths about this thriving American industry:

1.      Solyndra did not kill the industry. In fact, the solar energy industry is expanding rapidly and has become a highly competitive, thriving industry in the United States. Solyndra's high-profile bankruptcy in August was an anomaly in what proved to be the industry's most successful quarter on record. Although Solyndra couldn't compete, the rest of the industry grew by 140 percent in the last year and costs came down by 40 percent. America discovered that one company's failure does not reflect an entire industry. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans feel it's important to develop and use more solar in the U.S., according to an independent national poll conducted a month after Solyndra declared bankruptcy.

2.      Today, U.S. solar is an economic force: employing more than 100,000 Americans at 5,000 businesses across all 50 statesThe solar industry proved itself to be a strong job creator in the United States. The vast majority of the 5,000 companies that make up the industry in the U.S. are small businesses, engines of growth for our economic recovery. These are real people in real solar jobs as reported by The Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census 2011. The solar value chain includes engineers, sales people, and other administrative professionals as well installers, roofers, electricians, plumbers and contractors – skilled labor professions hit hard by rampant unemployment in recent years – now finding new opportunities to put their expertise to work in the solar industry.

3.      The solar industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy.The solar industry set a record for installations and achieved 140 percent annual growth in thethird quarter of 2011. In fact, more U.S. solar electric capacity came online in Q3 2011 than in all of 2009 combined; Q4 2011 is forecast to be even larger as solar becomes a cost competitive choice for more homeowners and businesses across America.

4.      Consumer, business and industry support for solar continues to grow. Solar's growth is leading to rapid innovation across the spectrum – from factory improvements to new financing and sales mechanisms – that allow more and more Americans to turn to solar energy. Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Johnson & Johnson, Safeway and others are powering their businesses with solar. In addition to GE's investment in new manufacturing in the U.S., 2011 also welcomed new household-name corporations to the solar industry, with Warren Buffett's MidAmerica Energy, Total Energy and Google all making sizeable investments in solar in 2011.

5.      Solar is now affordable for more Americans. Today, there are 1.5 million households using solar water heating and enough solar electricity to power 730,000 homes. And solar is becoming more affordable every day with technology innovation, scaled up manufacturing, faster installation techniques, and new financing options. The price of solar panels dropped 40 percent since the beginning of 2010 and the average installed system price dropped 14.4 percent from Q2 to Q3 in 2011 alone.

6.      Growing markets bring increased competition. Global trade in solar products has benefitted the United States by expanding export opportunities for domestic manufacturers, creating jobs and driving down costs. In fact, the U.S. was a net exporter of $2 billion in solar products in 2010. As global competition intensifies, the need is even stronger for open markets operating on rules-based trade principles and for governments and private parties to follow the framework of internationally-negotiated trade rules.

7.      Uncertainty remains as a successful investment mechanism expires. Congress left Washington, D.C. without continuing the important 1603 Treasury Program, a program that provides flexibility in how developers finance projects. This program, which allows the market to choose winners and losers, was the single most effective policy for deploying a dozen energy technologies in the last year. The program has spurred completion of more than 22,000 energy projects across all 50 states and attracted $23 billion in private investment. The industry will push to renew this successful program when Congress returns in January 2012.

Solar works for America and 2011 was a record year for the U.S. solar industry. Although the past year presented challenges to the solar industry, with American ingenuity, hard work, and smart and consistent energy policies our industry is on track for another record year in 2012.”

Rhone Resch, President and CEO
Solar Energy Industries Association

Solar panels image via shutterstock

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Inspire the Choir, Shush the Denier: A Climate Communications Manifesto

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 04:27 PM PST

This is why I wish Johnnie Cochran was a Climateer: he could sell the rhyme in the title of this post. If you don't know who he was, then a) you're young; and b) he was the lawyer who got OJ Simpson off the hook for murder. One of his key arguments was "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit!" and it delights me that someone once walked the Earth both brazen and charming enough to rhyme someone's shackles away. It's like Dr. Suess conjured a lawyer and it came to life and it was Johnnie Cochran.

Alas the titular rhyme isn't his. Rather, I made it up to convey my view on climate communication and I want it to weasel into your head.

I'll work up to its meaning. Let's start with a question which causes much twisting of hair and drooping of heads:

How can we change deniers' minds?

Here's the answer: we shouldn't try. Two reasons:

#1 It's impossible

If someone doesn't want to believe there's a danger, arguments won't change their mind. Beliefs mingle with emotions and egos in ways that make them impervious to argument. A denier's more likely to assume the messenger's an idiot rather than consider the message. Here's a review of the evidence.

#2 There's an easier way to create change

Consider other movements, like civil rights. In the sixties, many whites, especially white southerners, opposed civil rights. Let's call them skeptics (to be generous). Question: did the civil rights movement succeed because skeptics changed their minds? Answer: mostly not. Some did, eventually, but that came later. How did the civil rights movement happen then?

Answer: sympathizers got louder (the Volume Theory)

Civil rights supporters started more openly criticizing previously unopposed positions, both in public and private life. As a result, Uncle Cletus stopped feeling so free to wax racist around the Thanksgiving turkey. As the voice of civil rights got louder, Uncle Cletus got softer, until a new norm took hold: it was okay and even good to support civil rights, and increasingly icky not to. It was this new norm that changed the tide.

Civil rights happened not because folks changed sides, but rather because the sides changed volume: one got louder and the other consequently softer. Let's call this the Volume Theory.

This is how most movements happen. Consider India's struggle for independence. A few thousand Brits ruled 300 million Indians. Most Indians didn't like it, but they were silent because they felt powerless. But then Gandhi convinced his fellows of something which in retrospect is silly-obvious: there was no way the British could oppose 300 million obstinate Indians. So Indians got obstinate and the Brits left.

The Volume Theory makes sense in light of what we know about behavioral change. We're willing to do what we see others doing and unwilling to do the opposite. It's called Social Proof, and most of us don't realize the extent to which it holds sway in our lives. If I don't know any vocal civil rights supporters, I won't be vocal either. Silence reinforces itself and the status quo along with it.

If you doubt the Volume Theory, do an experiment: gather a group of old white southerners, get them trusting, tipsy, and talking about civil rights. You may hear some ugly sentiments (to be fair it's not just Southerners — I can turn at least one member of my own "progressive" northern family into a white supremacist with three Manhattans and the right conversation starter). The old attitudes aren't gone; they're just quiet and retired.

Let's circle back to Climate Change. Many are worried about it, as well we should be. But we're also too quiet. Nearly all of the non-experts I know who care about Climate Change avoid it for fear of feather-ruffling. Even many experts keep quiet.

A key point is that those who want action on Climate Change outnumber those who don't, and it has been so for years. This means the pro-action side can dominate if we choose. We have only to raise our voices.

So the most important thing each of us, as individuals, can do is speak up and convince others to as well. This goes especially for everyday folks who aren't already considered partisans. Everyone expects Al Gore to talk Climate Change, so that's nothing new, but if someone who's never spoken up before suddenly starts bringing it up at dinner, ears will perk.

Beware: others will try to discourage you, often with good intentions. I recently listened to a marketing pro tell a sustainability group to avoid mentioning Climate Change because it's too divisive. It's common marketing advice and it's wrong. Creating change isn't like selling widgets. The obstacles to success are different. Pepsi lovers don't feel pressure to avoid talking about or drinking Pepsi in the presence of Coke drinkers, for example. Marketing pros aren't aware of the silence problem so they give bad advice.

The silence problem can only be fixed through exposure. Every time I speak plainly, a listener feels freer to follow suit. Our silence allows deniers to advertise their beliefs and implies to the undecided that there's no problem. It's Uncle Cletus redux.

Inspire the Choir, Shush the Denier

Now we come to my mantra. When we speak up, we won't try to change deniers' minds (because we can't). Instead we'll help create a new norm where it's good to call for action and not good to resist it. We'll speak to inspire those who already want action to raise their voices too ("Inspire the Choir"), and a side effect will be to shush deniers.

Our ability to pull it off depends on our not looking like mad harpies, which means that, while we'll be insistent and strong and plain, we'll also be patient. Don't back down, but neither fling insults. "Dignified Relentlessness" is a good phrase to keep in mind.

If you're not used to raising your voice, you may have initial discomfort, but

  1. It will soon feel better than the powerlessness so many endure. That's been the case for me, in spades.
  2. Once we realize how much power we have, we'll feel great.

A few more words about when, where and how to bring the subject up.

First, and obviously, when someone denies that climate change is a problem in the company of others, speak up. You needn't be an expert. Just say that 99% of all climate scientists agree we've got a problem and it's not a conspiracy and it seems foolish to pretend there's nothing to talk about. If you want talking points, check this out.

Less obviously, when you're discussing future plans, and Climate Change might affect them, say so. Example: in seminars I ask about the effect of Climate Change during the Q&A. A few weeks ago, I went to a forum where my city's water planners presented their plans. My city gets more than 90% of its water from snowpack, and snowpack has shrunk 15-30% in recent decades. The trend will accelerate with Climate Change but that wasn't factored into the strategy, so I asked about it and it changed the discussion. I made it easier for everyone to discuss it and it was prominent in the rest of the Q&A. This tactic is especially nice because you can influence a lot of people with only a tiny effort.

Another issue to watch out for: Climate Change is so thorny that it triggers something called Motivated Avoidance, which refers to our tendency to actively avoid the most difficult topics.. because ‘ignorance is bliss’. I'm still learning how to counter it but here's what I've learned so far:

  1. Avoid apocalyptic language. It's good to insist that we have a serious and urgent problem of the highest order, but don't say stuff like: "If we don't act now, we're all gonna die!"
  2. Use repetition. Keep bringing it up. It'll annoy those who are trying to avoid the subject, but don't worry about that. Keep bringing it up.
  3. Address the avoidance issue head on. Acknowledge that we don't want to talk about Climate Change because it's so difficult, and say you don't blame anyone for not wanting to talk about it, but that confronting it is healthy and right so you insist on talking. As Churchill said of Germany's push toward Britain in WWII: "It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour." Make it clear that you're not going to stop pressing.
  4. Make confronting the problem the noble thing to do. For guidance, study Churchill, who excelled at preempting Motivated Avoidance by making his listeners feel proud to confront their problems. For example, he famously said in a speech to the House of Commons that "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." It made adopting his plan feel like the brave choice (which it was).
  5. Emphasize hope.

So: talk. It's critical and anyone can do it. You needn't be an activist, sit in a tree, lash yourself to a gas pump or lay siege to a congressman's office. You just need to talk. It'll ruffle feathers, but that's ok. Change doesn't happen without ruffling and you'll be doing it for the best of reasons.

Time is dear, so don't delay. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

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Google’s Driverless Car Gets Patent

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 04:16 PM PST


Many have been waiting for this news. While I’m not exactly sure what I think the future of Google’s driverless technology will be, it’s obviously something that gets us dreaming. Here’s the latest news on Google’s technology, via sister site Gas2:

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Vermont Aiming for 90% Renewable Energy by 2050

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 03:55 PM PST


vermont renewable energy

This post was originally published on Climate Progress and has been republished with permission.

Vermont is known for its lush Green Mountains, idyllic farm landscapes, and progressive politics. What many people may not realize is that Vermont has a pretty active secessionist movement too.

Vermont isn't likely to secede from the U.S. But it is undertaking an ambitious renewable energy program that could at least put it on a path toward "energy secession" — developing a road map for procuring 90% of its heat, electricity and fuels from renewables by 2050.

Under Vermont's new governor, Peter Shumlin, regulators are developing the state's first comprehensive energy plan in over a decade. And this one is certainly forward-looking.

Vermont currently gets about 25% of its electricity from renewables — mostly biomass and hydro. But officials want to diversify technologies, address under-served markets like heat and fuels, and dramatically improve efficiency in all sectors. The state released its final comprehensive plan for 2011 last week.

Vermont has already embraced a modest transition to renewables, implementing a feed-in tariff in 2009 and developing a renewable energy standard (heat and electricity) of 20% by 2017. This latest plan, which just went through an extensive public commenting period, takes these efforts to the next level.

After Vermont received a devastating surprise pummeling from Hurricane Irene in August, state planners have taken the experience to heart, using it as one of the central drivers in the state's new energy plan.

In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, the need to align local, regional, and state policies across agencies and departments to support thoughtful and resilient growth in our downtowns and villages has never been more acute. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development, with the support of the Climate Cabinet, will complete a review of the state's designation programs in 2012.

Prior to Tropical Storm Irene, the state had already set a goal of 5% reduction in energy usage across state government. Now that the state faces significant infrastructure repair and rebuilding, energy usage in our state buildings is even more central to our planning. The CEP recommends that the state sharpen its focus on efficient buildings while strategically deploying renewable energy systems.

…We recommend the midcentury goal while recognizing that we must pursue our goals responsibly, ensuring overall energy costs for our businesses and residents remain regionally competitive. But we must also act boldly to protect our environment and our economic security.

Kudos to Vermont for considering such a bold vision for the future and taking a real step toward independence.

Vermont solar panels via shutterstock

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Low-Tech We Love: Solar Bulbs Powered by Bleach Light Up Homes in the Philippines

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 03:37 PM PST

Editor’s note: for our long-term readers, you know that we’ve covered this low-tech clean energy light bulb solution a couple times before, but it’s always worth another look, I think, so here’s an update. (Extra note: as you can see in the first post linked above, the idea originally came from a Brazilian engineer.)

solar bulb

Think of renewable energy, and you think of high-tech, major projects — wind farms, solar farms, dams. Think of solar energy, and you’re likely to think of banks and banks of high-tech solar panels.

But renewable energy (including solar) doesn’t have to be high-tech. Any technology which harnesses the sun can help improve people’s lives and keep the use of fossil fuels down. And so it is with the solar bulb, a great piece of low-tech kit pioneered in the Philippines by local NGO the My Shelter Foundation.

They call it a ‘Liter of Light.’ Check out this video, and you’ll see why.

40% of the Philippines’ population lives on less than $2 a day, and many can’t afford electricity. Homes are frequently cobbled together from corrugated metal with no windows, leaving Filipinos stuck in the dark even on sunny days.

But the solar bulb changes that – with no consumption of electricity and almost no cost. My Shelter Foundation take a one-liter bottle from a soft drink and fill it with a mixture of filtered water and bleach. They cut a whole in the roof and cement the bottle in place. And as the sun shines, the light is refracted by the bleach particles in the bottle and shines out into the room.

Eduardo Carillo, a resident of a poor area in the capital Manila, told the Guardian: “Before we had the bottle light, the walkways to our house were so dark and going inside made it even darker. The children are no longer scared – they are happy now and they laugh because they can play inside during the day instead of playing in the streets.”

Of course, such a simple solution is always going to have downsides, and the solar bulb has a pretty major one – it doesn’t actually store the energy the sun provides, meaning that when it gets dark outside, it gets dark inside too. But while coping with candles or spending a lot of money on electricity to get light in the evening isn’t easy, it’s better than having to do so all day long. And by reducing electricity consumption, the solar bulb is making a small contribution to fighting climate change too.

You can donate to the Liter of Light project here, or to read about how more conventional solar power is transforming the lives of poor people in Bangladesh, read World Bank Bringing Solar Power to Over 1 Million Homes, Shops in Rural Bangladesh.

Source: The Guardian | Via: BusinessGreen | Picture: Liter of Light project

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