05/20/10

  09:54:31 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 453 words  
Categories: Solar News

National Academy of Sciences Calls for Urgent Action on Climate Change

This week the National Academy of Sciences - the premier scientific body in the United States - issued a series of reports on climate change.  They are compelling reading, arguing that action needs to be taken now to restrict carbon emissions and to adapt to climate changes that cannot be avoided.

Here are some relevant quotes from the NAS press release announcing the publication of these studies:

  • “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems,” [one] report concludes.  It calls for a new era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on “fundamental, use-inspired” research, which not only improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change.
  • An inclusive national policy framework is needed to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to shared national goals.  Toward that end, the U.S. should establish a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that sets a limit on total domestic emissions over a set period of time and provides a clear, directly measurable goal.  However, the report warns, the longer the nation waits to begin reducing emissions, the harder and more expensive it will likely be to reach any given emissions target.
  • A carbon-pricing system is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions.  Either cap-and-trade, a system of taxing emissions, or a combination of the two could provide the needed incentives.  While the report does not specifically recommend a cap-and-trade system, it notes that cap-and-trade is generally more compatible with the concept of an emissions budget.
  • Some impacts [of climate change] – such as rising sea levels, disappearing sea ice, and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events like heavy precipitation and heat waves – are already being observed across the country.   The report notes that policymakers need to anticipate a range of possible climate conditions and that uncertainty about the exact timing and magnitude of impacts is not a reason to wait to act.  In fact, it says boosting U.S. adaptive capacity now can be viewed as “an insurance policy against an uncertain future,” while inaction could increase risks, especially if the rate of climate change is particularly large.
  • Adaptation to climate change should not be seen as an alternative to attempts to limit it, the report emphasizes.  Rather, the two approaches should be seen as partners, given that society’s ability to cope with the impacts of climate change decreases as the severity of climate change increases.
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05/19/10

  10:16:37 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 406 words  
Categories: Solar News, Electric Cars that Run on Sun

Time to Change Our Fuelish Ways

Oil rig disaster in the Gulf of MexicoWe have all seen the horrific images coming from the Gulf of Mexico as an oil rig disaster morphs into an environmental catastrophe far exceeding the Exxon Valdez nightmare of 20 years ago.  Millions and millions of gallons of crude oil are spilling into the Gulf, defying the best efforts of the oil company, BP, to stop it or the federal government to contain it.

News reports indicate that there will be more than enough blame to go around, but what is the root cause of this disaster?

Gas pump addiction

Certainly the major driver is our own nearly insatiable demand for more and more oil to fuel our daily lives.  Whether gasoline at the pump or petroleum-derived products like those plastic water bottles we use in ever increasing amounts, oil plays a big part in many facets of our lives.  But make no mistake, oil consumption in the form of the gasoline or diesel that we burn in our cars and trucks is the reason that oil drilling continues to expand, and to expand into more dangerous and environmentally fragile settings.  In fact, oil accounts for more than 95 percent of all the energy used for transportation in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Nissan Leaf EV

It doesn’t have to be this way.  A new generation of Electric Vehicles - whether pure EV’s like the Nissan Leaf, or Plug-in Hybrids, like the Chevy Volt - is coming online and will begin to show up in dealers’ showrooms all across this country over the next 12 months.  These EVs will be practical, and with proper incentives in place, affordable for regular consumers who could not afford already existing EVs like the Tesla Roadster.

Coal-fired power plant

But we need to go one step farther.  The majority of electricity in this country - more than 50% here in Southern California - comes from burning coal.  We can, and we must, do better.  Fortunately, there is a solution for the “fuel” problem for EVs - and that is locally generated solar power.

Solar charging station

Solar-powered charging stations - whether at home or in public spaces such as parking lots - could allow these EVs to be re-charged by clean electricity making them truly Zero Emission Vehicles from the “well-to-wheels.”

At Run on Sun we are working with a number of clients to design and install solar power systems to fuel this next generation of EVs.  If you are thinking about getting an EV for your personal or fleet use, we encourage you to contact us.

05/13/10

  08:39:10 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 216 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar News, Utilities

New Kerry-Lieberman Climate Change Bill - Flawed, but a Start

Rarely in life do we get all that we want and nowhere is that more the case than when dealing with the legislative process in Congress.  The long awaited Senate climate change legislation (now referred to as the Kerry-Lieberman bill) was unveiled yesterday to decidedly mixed reviews.  Most galling in light of the disaster presently unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is the inclusion in the bill of additional subsidies for off-shore oil drilling.  Also galling are the inclusion of massive subsidies for the construction of new nuclear power plants.  By comparison, support for renewable energy sources is relatively modest.

But this is a process, and the introduction of the bill at least gets the process rolling.  Most importantly, the bill sets out a path for substantial reductions in emissions of GHG (compared to 2005 levels for covered sources):

4.5% by 2013
17% by 2020 
42% by 2030 and

83% by 2050.

These are important mileposts and if enacted, would send a clear signal that emissions must come down and the cost of emitting GHG will continue to go up.  Hopefully that would be sufficient economic incentive to spur industry changes that would allow us to meet and exceed those targets, sooner than mandated.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has a very thorough review of the bill’s provisions - you can find it here.

05/11/10

  07:09:20 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 106 words  
Categories: Solar Rebates, Solar News, Electric Cars that Run on Sun

Will your next car be electric? It should be, and it should Run on Sun!

The future of personal transportation is the electric vehicle.  Whether it be an all electric car like the Nissan Leaf, or a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, the way forward is clear, and with oil flowing unabated (and unabatable?) into the Gulf of Mexico, the impetus to transition away from fossil fuels for getting around town has never been more compelling.

Electric vehicles - combined with a solar power system to fuel them - produce zero emissions and run for pennies a mile.

Check out our new webpage on electric cars and learn how we can turn your next car into one that can Run on Sun!

05/08/10

  01:29:57 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 790 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, LA Renewable Energy Society (LARES), Solar News, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, NABCEP

Report from May 5th Stakeholders Meeting

LA County held a Stakeholders Meeting on May 5 to discuss the present state of development for the LA County Energy Program.  The vast majority of the two hour presentation was focused on energy efficiency measures and how those will be developed and deployed.  Only secondarily was support for solar installations mentioned.  Our report on the meeting follows the break.

This meeting, like the previous Stakeholders Meeting last December (read about it here), was held in the Board Meeting Room at MTA headquarters.  While there were a number of solar industry folks on hand - notably Zoe Starr (head of the LA Renewable Energy Society), Ron Mulick (President, SoCalSEIA) and Joia Gibble (LARES member) - the majority of the audience either came from the Cities or from the building efficiency industry - notably Dan Thomsen (President & Founder, The Building Doctors).  The presentation reflected that audience, focusing on how the LA County Energy Program will pull together many different programs and rebates around home retrofits and efficiency upgrades, with AB 811 funding being merely a part of that equation, and support for solar an even smaller part.

This distinction between the energy efficiency aspects of the program compared to the energy generation portion was never more apparent than in the discussion of consumer protection and the need for contractor credentialing.  Indeed, contractors looking to work in the energy efficiency sector must have at a minimum a BPI Building Analyst certification, while additional credentials, such as being a HERS II Whole House Energy Rater will be required for other aspects of the energy efficiency program.  What about contractors doing solar power installations?  What credentials must they have?  "Only those required by the California Solar Initiative” was the response.  When it was pointed out that the only requirement for being listed under CSI was to send your contact information in to the website, the consultants designing the system simply looked blankly back and observed that they really had not thought of that issue.  How can that be?  After all, energy efficiency measures are small potatoes, dollars wise, compared to solar installations, and yet the folks designing the Program have way more to say about contractors doing efficiency work than those installing solar?  Where are the consumer protections there?  In side conversations after the meeting it was stressed that the program should consider requiring NABCEP Certification for all contractors who are participating.  Such a requirement would protect consumers from shoddy workmanship and help raise the professional standards of the solar installer industry in LA County - a win-win situation to be sure.

Some additional details that emerged from this meeting:

  • Eligibility criteria - the criteria for qualifying for AB 811 funding (or PACE funding [for Property-Assessed Clean Energy] as it is more generally known) are coming into focus, and some consumers will be left behind.  Here is what we know now:
    • Funding applicant must be the owner on the title; if multiple owners, all must join the application;
    • Single family or multi-family housing (up to 4 units) only at this time;
    • Property must not be subject to any involuntary liens;
    • No delinquency on property taxes in the past five years;
    • Must be current on mortgage payments;
    • Loan to property value must not exceed 10%;
    • Debt to property value must not exceed 80%.

It is that last criteria that we anticipate excluding the most potential participants.  Given the steep drop in property values since the LA County peak in 2006 and the time it takes to build equity in a home through mortgage payments, our calculations indicate that anyone who purchased their home after 2002 will be excluded on this basis.

  • Interest rates - at present, they are anticipating 8-9% at the outset of the program.  Although aware of SB 77 recently signed by the Governor, the speakers were unable to assess what impact, if any, that bill would have on program interest rates.

In any event, it is now clear that what will be presented to the County Board of Supervisors on May 25 will be a framework and nothing more.  Assuming passage on the 25th, the program staff will continue to work out the details while the validation lawsuit proceeds.  If all goes well, the first loans are expected to be provided sometime in September.

Thus, the LA County Energy Program remains very much a work in progress.  Will high interest rates and overly restrictive participation criteria doom the program to failure?  Will a lack of proper solar installer credentialing allow for shoddy work and unhappy consumers?  Will a failure to provide timely progress payments on solar jobs exclude small business owners - even those with the most sterling credentials like Run on Sun - to the benefit of the VC-funded national players?  Or will the Program achieve its potential to usher in a new wave of green jobs and greener homes?

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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