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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Solar energy production has skyrocketed in recent years in the United States. With more than 49 megawatts of installed solar capacity, there are now enough solar panels to power 9.5 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Are you interested in getting on the solar bandwagon? Ultimately, determining if it is financially savvy to go solar depends on numerous factors, including the cost of electricity in your area, the price and output of the solar system, and available solar energy incentives.

Is 2018 a good year for you to go solar? Here are some tips on making an informed decision.

Understand Your Local Net Metering Laws

Net metering laws require power companies to bank excess credits for solar electricity fed to the utility grid for later use by the homeowner. For example, let’s say your solar panels generated 10 kWh of excess electricity for the grid during a sunny day and then you consumed 10 kWh of electricity at night. Under net metering laws, you would neither owe money nor be reimbursed for this power, given that you provided as much power as you later consumed.

In 2015, 43 states had net metering laws. Now, only 38 states do. In some areas, solar homeowners are not rewarded at a retail rate for the excess power they supply. Find out what the laws are in your state to better understand the return on investment of your solar system. In some areas where net metering laws are changing, existing solar system owners are grandfathered in under the old system. If the new rules haven’t taken effect yet, you still might be able to get compensated under the old, higher rate.

Consider Solar Equipment Warranties

Solar product warranties vary among manufacturers, and they are an important consideration before installing a solar system. Equipment warranties can protect you, making solar a safer long-term investment. Ask your solar installer or conduct independent research to determine product warranties, as they can vary widely by manufacturer and product. Recently, some manufacturers have been setting themselves apart by offering exceptional warranties.

Solar panel warranties, in particular, are an important consideration, as they are typically the most expensive equipment in your solar system. Over time, even the best solar panels produce less energy due to product degradation. Although all solar panels are less effective at generating electricity over time, the degradation rate varies by the panel. Performance guarantees help ensure that solar electric panels are producing at a certain percentage of their original generation capacity after a given number of years.

Currently, many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years. Some panel manufacturers set themselves apart by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years.

Most solar panel manufacturers also protect against defects. Many solar panels have a 10-year equipment warranty on the integrity of the panel. Now, SunEdison, Solaria and SunPower solar panels have a 25-year equipment warranty.

Shop around when installing a solar system to find the best price, warranties and solar equipment quality. UnderstandSolar is an excellent free service that links solar shoppers with top-rated solar installers in their area for personalized solar estimates, and EnergySage allows you to make apple-to-apple comparisons.

Take Advantage of the Federal Tax Credit and Solar Incentives

There is a federal tax credit in effect that reduces the total net cost of a solar system by 30 percent! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed, so it is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off.

If you install a $10,000 solar system, you can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This solar incentive will start scaling down in 2020. Keep in mind that some states or municipalities offer incentives for using solar.

Start with Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Although this is not a new development in 2018, it is important to consider whenever someone is going solar. Before sizing your solar system, look for ways to cut your home electricity use. Refrigerators, lighting, electric water heaters and air-conditioners are common electricity hogs. In many cases, it is worthwhile to replace old appliances with high-efficiency models.

Also, explore if you have any vampire loads that suck power even when appliances or electronics are turned off. Home entertainment and office equipment often continuously drain power. Smart power strips are a great solution to stop energy vampires in their tracks.

Consider Solar Loans

As the solar energy industry matures, there are now more solar loan products available than ever before. Solar loans make the most financial sense when the amount you pay on the loan is less than your monthly utility savings. This means that the loan allows you to save money on your solar system from day 1. Make sure to take the loan fees and interest into consideration. A home equity line of credit is another option, and the interest is likely tax-deductible.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar is multifaceted. Many homeowners choose solar because they want to do their part to help stop climate change or to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that the cost of solar has dropped so much, many install solar systems merely for the cost savings. In much of the U.S., 2018 is a good year to go solar.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Fracking harms the health of babies, study shows

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The practice of drilling into the ground to release natural gas — known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking — first made national headlines in 2011 when drinking water taps in fracking towns in Pennsylvania began catching fire because flammable methane was seeping into water supplies.

Since then, fracking has been linked to earthquakes in Oklahoma and a myriad of health issues. Proponents of fracking say the practice has reduced energy costs and has created thousands of jobs. But environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, say that for people living near sites, fracking can have severe health affects such as respiratory illnesses and cancer.

A new study from the journal Science Advances found that infants born to women living near fracking sites in Pennsylvania were especially vulnerable to adverse health outcomes. “As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities, it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits,” said Michael Greenstone, a coauthor of the study and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, in a press release. “This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and … the health of babies.”

The researchers analyzed vital statistics of more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013. They studied infants born to women living 1 kilometer (or slightly over half a mile) away from fracking sites, as well as women living within 3 kilometers (or less than 2 miles), and women living between 3 to 15 kilometers (or less than 2 miles to 9 miles) away.

They found that fracking reduces the health of infants born to mothers living within 3 kilometers from a fracking site. But for mothers living within 1 kilometer, the affects were acute. The probability of low infant birth weight, meaning the infant weighs less than 5.5 pounds, increased to 25 percent.

Studies show that low birth weight can lead to infant mortality, asthma, lower test scores while school-age, and lower earnings as adults. The study also found that mothers whose babies may have been exposed to nearby fracking sites tend to be younger, less educated, and less likely to be married — factors that can also lead to poor infant health.

But there are significant differences between the mothers who give birth close to fracking sites and those who don’t. Black mothers included in the study were more likely to live nearest to fracking sites, exposing their infants to higher risks of pollution. “This difference arises because over time, more wells were drilled near urban areas such as Pittsburgh, where higher numbers of African Americans live,” the authors wrote. Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, has 63 active fracking wells. Many other fracking sites are located in lower-income communities.

Nationwide, between July 2012 and June 2013, as many as 65,000 infants were exposed to pollution from fracking, because their mothers lived within 1 kilometer of a fracking site.

“Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero,” said coauthor Janet Currie, who is a economics and public affairs professor at Princeton University, “it should not be surprising that fracking has negative effects on infants.”

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Fracking harms the health of babies, study shows

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Whole Earth Discipline – Stewart Brand

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Whole Earth Discipline

Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, RestoredWildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary

Stewart Brand

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 15, 2009

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


An icon of the environmental movement outlines a provocative approach for reclaiming our planet According to Stewart Brand, a lifelong environmentalist who sees everything in terms of solvable design problems, three profound transformations are under way on Earth right now. Climate change is real and is pushing us toward managing the planet as a whole. Urbanization?half the world?s population now lives in cities, and eighty percent will by midcentury?is altering humanity?s land impact and wealth. And biotechnology is becoming the world?s dominant engineering tool. In light of these changes, Brand suggests that environmentalists are going to have to reverse some longheld opinions and embrace tools that they have traditionally distrusted. Only a radical rethinking of traditional green pieties will allow us to forestall the cataclysmic deterioration of the earth?s resources. Whole Earth Discipline shatters a number of myths and presents counterintuitive observations on why cities are actually greener than countryside, how nuclear power is the future of energy, and why genetic engineering is the key to crop and land management. With a combination of scientific rigor and passionate advocacy, Brand shows us exactly where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offers a bold and inventive set of policies and solutions for creating a more sustainable society. In the end, says Brand, the environmental movement must become newly responsive to fast-moving science and take up the tools and discipline of engineering. We have to learn how to manage the planet?s global-scale natural infrastructure with as light a touch as possible and as much intervention as necessary.

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Whole Earth Discipline – Stewart Brand

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Climate change makes hurricanes like Harvey more likely.

The only problem: That’s not what the data shows.

In “the early days of all of the Obama administration regulations, everyone said the sky is falling, we’re going to have to fix all of these plants simultaneously,” energy consultant Alison Silverstein said during a panel last Friday. “Um, not so much. It turns out that when people have to actually do a job they find cheaper ways to do it.”

Silverstein, a veteran of the Bush administration, was tasked by fellow Texan Rick Perry to write a Department of Energy report analyzing the data on coal plant closures. But she found that regulations and renewable energy did not play a significant role in shutting down coal-burning power plants. The aging plants were instead condemned by cheap natural gas and falling electricity demand.

According to Silverstein, the Energy Department pushed back on her results, which did not support the hoped-for conclusion. Her draft report was leaked to the press in June, and the DOE released the final report in August, largely unchanged.

Nevertheless, in September, Perry submitted a rule requesting subsidies for nuclear and coal plants, citing Silverstein’s report for support. It was “as though they had never read it,” Silverstein said. Not a bad guess.

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Climate change makes hurricanes like Harvey more likely.

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Bad news: Global emissions are on the rise again.

The only problem: That’s not what the data shows.

In “the early days of all of the Obama administration regulations, everyone said the sky is falling, we’re going to have to fix all of these plants simultaneously,” energy consultant Alison Silverstein said during a panel last Friday. “Um, not so much. It turns out that when people have to actually do a job they find cheaper ways to do it.”

Silverstein, a veteran of the Bush administration, was tasked by fellow Texan Rick Perry to write a Department of Energy report analyzing the data on coal plant closures. But she found that regulations and renewable energy did not play a significant role in shutting down coal-burning power plants. The aging plants were instead condemned by cheap natural gas and falling electricity demand.

According to Silverstein, the Energy Department pushed back on her results, which did not support the hoped-for conclusion. Her draft report was leaked to the press in June, and the DOE released the final report in August, largely unchanged.

Nevertheless, in September, Perry submitted a rule requesting subsidies for nuclear and coal plants, citing Silverstein’s report for support. It was “as though they had never read it,” Silverstein said. Not a bad guess.

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Bad news: Global emissions are on the rise again.

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Wind energy over the oceans could power the world, geophysicists say.

Sorry to ruin the party, but a report from the Food Climate Research Network casts doubt on recent suggestions that pasture-raised cattle could sequester massive amounts of carbon in the soil.

By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.

The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.

Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.

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Wind energy over the oceans could power the world, geophysicists say.

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Renewables now provide a quarter of the world’s power.

A new report from the International Energy Agency surveys the growth of hydropower, wind, and other forms of renewable energy and finds they’re catching up to coal (still the world’s largest source of electricity). At this rate, renewables are expected to provide 30 percent of power generation by 2022.

Hydropower provides the most renewable energy, but the growth is in solar. One wrinkle, though: It can be misleading to focus on the number of panels installed, because solar only works when, ya know, the sun shines. So keep in mind that, while the graph below shows how much new “capacity” we are adding to the system, only a portion of that gets turned into electricity.

IEA

Denmark is leading the way on clean energy installations (shocking, I know). The Scandinavian country currently generates 44 percent of its electricity from wind and solar, and by 2022 it’s on track to get 77 percent from the same sources. (VRE, used in the graf below, stands for “variable renewable energy” — the term of art for wind and solar plants that we can’t switch on as needed.)

IEA

If renewables keep growing as forecast, we’re going to need bigger electrical grids (to move electricity from places where it’s generated in excess to places where it’s needed) and better ways to store energy.

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Renewables now provide a quarter of the world’s power.

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Hurricanes keep bringing blackouts. Clean energy could keep the lights on.

When Hurricane Irma scraped its way up the Florida peninsula, it left the state’s electrical grid in pieces. Between 7 million and 10 million people lost power during the storm — as much as half of the state — and some vulnerable residents lost their lives in the sweltering days that followed. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of electrical workers from around the country rushed to the Sunshine State to repair damaged substations, utility poles, and transmission lines.

But in Palm Coast, on Florida’s eastern seaboard, midway between Daytona and St. Augustine, Jim Walden never lost power. As he and his wife listened to debris clattering off their roof, 24 solar panels and 10 kilowatt hours of battery storage kept their lights on and their refrigerator cool. Over the ensuing days, as electric utilities struggled to return power to Florida’s storm-wracked communities, the only thing Walden and his wife missed was their air conditioner (which would have drained their batteries too quickly).

“It worked flawlessly,” Walden says of his solar-plus-storage system. “We had plenty of power for the fans to keep us cool and the lights when you walk into the bathroom at night. The wife would even run her hairdryer off of it.”

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Walden’s setup — which draws power from the sun during the day and dispenses it at night, with or without the help of the grid — is an illustration of how we might reimagine our electrical system to be more modular, resilient, and renewable-powered. We’ve already been struggling with the question of how to build (or rebuild) our grids to better accommodate solar- and wind-generated energy. But this month’s run of record-making Atlantic hurricanes has made finding an answer — one that will help us better weather the storms of the coming century — even more urgent.

Questions about reliability have dogged renewable energy from the beginning. Simply put, when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, you’re not getting any energy from those sources. Our grid, by contrast, is set up to provide constant, unwavering power around the clock. We’re only just starting to address the challenge of reconciling these two basic facts in one functional system. (Hint: The solution involves batteries). But according to a Department of Energy report, wind and solar power have not made the U.S. power grid less reliable, even as the amount of renewable energy loaded onto it has shot up.

But the grid is getting less reliable overall. Thanks to perpetual delays in updating old infrastructure, the United States sees more power outages per year than any other developed country — costing an annual $150 billion in lost productivity.

And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Even as Florida’s lights turn back on, the Atlantic keeps serving up hurricanes like Maria, which left all of Puerto Rico in darkness that could last as long as six months. Overall, the average number of annual weather-related power outages doubled from 2003 to 2012, a Climate Central report found.

One basic improvement the United States could make to its power grid is moving power lines from above-ground utility poles to protected underground conduits. This is how Germany rebuilt its grid after World War II, and now it suffers very few outages, says Blake Richetta, the U.S. VP for German clean-energy company sonnenBatterie. The country has fewer than 12 minutes of blackout per customer per year, compared to the 244 minutes that plague Americans.

But moving America’s 300,000 miles of transmission lines underground would be an epic investment of time and labor — just the sort of massive infrastructure project we’ve been putting off.

Florida utilities did invest in some storm-hardening of their power infrastructure in the past decade, replacing wooden poles with concrete ones and placing them closer together as a response to hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005. The state’s largest investor-owned utility, Florida Power & Light, spent $3 billion on improvements over the last decade, including an $800-million smart-grid project completed in 2013 with backing from the Department of Energy. The initiative involved deploying more than 4.5 million smart meters, sensors, and flood monitors, all networked together to give the utility real-time information on how power is moving around the grid.

Those moves helped lessen the damage Irma caused, according to Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy. During the hurricane, several power substations were able to shut down when flooding monitors indicated equipment was at risk, saving the utility several days of work and possibly millions in equipment repair.

Still, Silagy’s company had to deploy around 20,000 workers in camps across the state to patch power plants and transmission lines in the days after the storm. And a utility spokesperson told ABC News that parts of the electrical grid on Florida’s west coast will require a “wholesale rebuild.”

“This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the longest and most complex in U.S. history,” VP of Communication Rob Gould said.

Clearly, Florida — and the rest of the country — still needs to do much more. And according to Jim Walden, it’s going to require a change in attitude for many Americans.

“It’s amazing to me that we live in the Sunshine State, and it’s hard to get people interested in solar power whatsoever,” he explains.

Walden himself got interested because he wanted to save money on his electric bill. Later, with the help of a $7,500 federal tax incentive, he installed his own battery storage to become more self-sufficient, especially during power outages.

The solutions to our collective energy troubles, however, will also need to be collective. One way that could look is scaling up from individual battery-powered homes to networked storage hubs that could act as regional power sources, flexibly responding to the changing demands of the grid.

As one urban resilience expert, Thaddeus Miller, told ProPublica, increasing the defenses of our cities and systems will require deeper changes than any we’ve embraced so far. “Fundamentally, we must abandon the idea that there is a specific standard to which we can control nature,” he said.

That means, for instance, changing the way we think about resilient infrastructure. Rather than working to prevent flooding at all times with high-investment levees and reservoirs, we could work to build facilities that are better at weathering flooding without being totally compromised. These “safe-to-fail” approaches would leave less of a mess after a storm blows through.

Because storms are going to blow through places like Florida, and they’re likely going to get stronger.

“We lose electricity quite often here, believe it or not — there are thunderstorms that can come up and knock power out,” Walden says. “Just to have electricity during those times is a great comfort.”

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Hurricanes keep bringing blackouts. Clean energy could keep the lights on.

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Here’s how the avocado-toast bubble will burst.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”

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Here’s how the avocado-toast bubble will burst.

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Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with record-breaking rains.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”

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Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with record-breaking rains.

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