Fossil Fuel Giants Acknowledge Climate Change and Begin to Adjust

Traditional fossil-fuel-centric entities are acknowledging climate change and investing in clean energy. This marks an important turning point, and if they believe the future is in clean energy, we should take notice and build on the existing successes, for example the recent boom in community solar in multiple states.

Community solar has seen wide success. Forty-two states have at least one active farm, and there were “…1,226 cumulative megawatts installed through Q2 2018.” Nineteen states have policies and programs to encourage the growth of community solar, and while community solar benefits everyone with lowered pollution and cost savings, increasingly, there are projects that target benefits specifically to low income communities.

Exxon keeps tabs on the outlook for different energy types, and the future is bright for renewable energy. Between 2016-2040, they expect solar and wind to lead the way in global growth. The oil giant has also been in the news recently as shareholders pushed the company to report the risks climate change poses to its business model. And Exxon isn’t the only company; Chevron invested in five solar projects and has announced a commitment to renewable energy. BP has also made some moves: “…much of the company’s strategy update focused on clean energy, which BP said would amount to around $0.5bn of its $15bn-$16bn capital expenditure programme… BP recently bought a $200m stake in Europe’s biggest solar developer.” Shell, another major player in the industry, took things further, pledging to “reduce its net carbon emissions 20% by 2035, and 50% by 2050.”

Although critics correctly point out that these numbers are not large compared to these companies’ overall revenue and we need more action to get where we need to be, there’s a lot of value in what these traditionally conservative and fossil-fuel-focussed organizations are doing. The underlying lesson is that they have acknowledged climate change and the shift in our energy industry and are beginning to adjust. If even the companies that sell fossil fuels are making these changes, it seems like we should pay attention and make changes too. We have the technology and the models we can use for success.

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Wildfires in California and How to Build a Resilient Power Grid

Some say the effects of climate change are already upon us. The wildfires in California this year are the most destructive on record. There are already 80 dead and 1,000 missing, and the fires are still going. Changing precipitation patterns, higher summer and spring temperatures, and earlier snowmelt are creating longer wildfire seasons and drier conditions for more intense burns. Aside from what’s going on in California right now, we can expect more droughts, fatal heat waves like the one in Europe earlier this year, more intense hurricanes, water supply shortages, flooding and erosion from sea level rise, and more impacts that we can’t yet predict. The question looms ever larger – what can be done to fight climate change, and how do we prepare for it?

We’re seeing the consequences of how we generate and use energy, and we know things will get worse if we continue with business as usual. How much carbon we emit will impact how extreme the changes we face will be. In addition to changing our fuel source and trying to mitigate future damage, we also need to increase the resiliency of our power grid. It needs to be able to respond to disruptions, bounce back from disasters, and function more independently than it does now.

Community solar solves both the short term need to cut carbon pollution, and it also increases the resilience of our power grid in the long term. Solar farms reduce dependence on the long and interruptible supply chains that currently feed our natural gas and oil power plants. It is also much more flexible to install than other types of power generation. Solar systems are increasingly being installed with batteries and in Massachusetts the new SMART program incentivizes projects that include batteries which provide backup for the grid and support production during peak demand and brownouts. Community Solar has a promising track record so far, and it’s ready to scale up and provide power to much more of our population than rooftop solar or wind farms are. Last year alone our installed capacity nearly doubled from 387 MW to 734 MW, with more in the works and encouraging signs for its growth in many states.

The impacts of climate change have begun, and they’re impacting our safety. We have solutions we can use to mitigate the damage, and we’ve started planning ahead for how to recover. It’s more important than ever to think about our energy future and take action with the tools we have.

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Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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Midterms and the Future of Clean Energy

In light of the recent midterm elections, it seems like a good time to look at what makes good energy policy and what we might expect as a result of voter choices going forward. Policy plays an important role in the success of clean energy. As more states set targets for a future powered by renewables, there’s some trial and error in how to integrate new types of shared power to the existing grid, as well as how to support their growth and ensure ratepayers see the benefit of cleaner, less expensive energy. Community solar, when it’s supported by a state’s policies, is a very accessible and relatively inexpensive solution to these challenges.

Twenty nine states have a mandatory amount of clean energy utilities have to use, called a “Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)” while eight more have a voluntary clean energy target. These regulations have different ambition levels and methods of reaching their goals. Of these, only nineteen states have a shared renewables program.  Shared renewables are those, like community solar, which allow everyone to participate in the benefits of clean power. Shared renewables programs allow new power sources like community solar to scale up. To compare how different states stacked up, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) made a scorecard for states with established community solar programs. They evaluation criteria included such things as if the program is accessible to underserved and low income communities, if all residents are eligible to use the program, if it promotes subscription portability and transferability (being able to “take it with you” or give it to the next resident if you move) and how much benefit residents can get from joining a solar farm.

Massachusetts has one of the strongest programs in place to allow community solar to grow. It allows offset of both distribution and supply charges, targets benefits to low and moderate income customers, and has recently changed its program to remove barriers between utility load zones. This makes farms more accessible and beneficial to more residents, and it makes subscriptions much more portable.

At the polls this week, there was more good news for the future of clean energy. With a shift in congress, Democratic leadership has promised to “resurrect the defunct select committee on climate change.” Nevada also voted for a measure to use 50% renewable energy by 2030, and has seen increasing investment in clean energy recently.

Overall, states, rather than the federal government, continue to lead the charge against climate change. Experimenting with different programs to find the best practices paves the way for other states to follow suit. And as states with strong renewable energy programs reap rewards such as economic growth, financial savings, and environmental benefits, hopefully more policymakers and voters will come around.

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Energy Awareness Month 2018 – Take Action for a Sustainable Future

October is National Energy Awareness Month! In 1991, President Bush proclaimed the month of October a time to raise awareness and take action to manage America’s energy resources sustainably. It’s an important topic, but often energy efficiency and sustainable energy get forgotten in the background of people’s busy lives. Electricity is everywhere, but we sometimes take for granted all of the things it allows us to use.  We usually don’t stop to think about electricity unless prices go up or a power plant or a new pipeline is installed nearby. How we use energy and where it comes from has a big impact on our wallets, security, economy, and the communities we live in, not to mention what future generations will have to face, so it’s crucial to pay attention and make a concerted effort towards sustainable energy.

There are some energy savings tips that get a lot of buzz – things like upgrading to LED bulbs, replacing old appliances, or washing with cold water. Efficiency is a big part of sustainability, and for most people making these kinds of changes is not too difficult. There are also programs such as Mass Save which will do free home energy audits and install free or discounted energy saving measures such as light bulbs and insulation, as well as make recommendations and educate homeowners on the energy systems in their house.

It’s important to focus on this not just at home, but also at work. As of 2012, commercial use accounted for  “…nearly 20% of US energy consumption and 12% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.” Public and commercial buildings are often fully powered even when occupancy rates are low. Measures such as motion sensors, more efficient appliances, and encouraging participation and action by the building’s occupants can help with commercial efficiency.

Bringing usage down is a good first step towards a stable, sustainable energy future, but we still get most of our power in the US from non-renewable sources. Just shy of 63% of our energy came from fossil fuels in 2017. Another 20% came from nuclear power. Even the most efficient building can’t run forever on a finite fuel source. This is where renewable energy sources come in. Once power is generated and in our homes and businesses, it’s all the same, but where it first came from makes a big difference in the price we pay, the pollution we see, and the reliability of our grid.

In 2017, 17.1% of our energy came from “renewables” – that’s anything that can naturally replenish itself after we use it to generate power. This includes things such as wood, landfill gas, solar, geothermal, wind and hydropower. Some of these issue more pollution when they’re used than others, and it will take a mix of them to meet our power needs.

Solar Farms one of Top 10 Ways to Combat Climate Change

In light of the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this week, which gives us until 2030 to cut carbon emissions to half of their 2010 level and until 2050 to be “net zero” or on balance removing as much carbon as is emitted, it’s clear we need to act quickly.

With such a tight deadline and so much at stake, it can be tempting to give up. But now is the time to double down, we still have time to take action and more and more resources to do it with. Even though at the national level the US has pulled back from efforts to address climate change, there’s a lot that can still be done and there have been some positive developments already.

Combating climate change in a timely way requires creative and accessible applications of the technology we have. According one recent article, “Solar photovoltaics are only two percent of the global electricity mix at present.” This number will have to go up to hit the 2030 deadline. Unfortunately, solar can have a lot of barriers to entry, including high installation costs and difficulty finding suitable candidates who also have the right site for an install. Community solar farms are a solution to this, and made this list of top 10 solutions to climate change. Solar farms are installed at utility scale, and offer benefits including clean energy and cost savings to the communities they’re in. They are a good solution because they have lower installation costs than fossil fuel plants or smaller scale solar installations. They also offer better efficiency, more flexible installs, and they’re accessible to more energy users than a traditional on-site installation.

Solar farms are a great solution, and they come with cost savings in addition to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So what’s holding us back? What stands in the way are mostly outdated laws regulating the electricity grid. Most of these laws are at the state level, where residents have the ability to influence policy makers with grassroots action and their votes. Another obstacle is increasing awareness and adoption of these types of projects. Several states, including Massachusetts, have laws and programs in place that support community solar installations. Massachusetts’ program is well established, and recent legislation is adding capacity in the state. Check below to see if there are any farms available where you live.

As the second biggest contributor to carbon emissions and one of the highest per capita polluters, action in the US is vital. 28% of our country’s emissions comes from energy production, and 68% of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Clean power generation has been increasing recently, and some of the states that have the most capacity installed are conservative, such as Texas and Alabama. We have the technology and the opportunity in the US to go from leading the world in carbon emissions to leading it in clean energy production and innovation.

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Solar Power from Landfills and Old Coal Plants

Photo: http://www.nepr.net/post/solar-panels-and-now-batteries-site-old-mt-tom-coal-plant#stream/0

Community solar developments have many benefits, but one that is often overlooked is the fact they provide a use for otherwise polluted or unusable spaces. Solar panel installations can be much more flexible and unobtrusive than other types of power generating plants, and existing pollution where they’re built isn’t an issue. This means that they can go on old landfills, highway medians, parking garages, and even decommissioned coal plants, to name a few of the sites that are now powering thousands of households around Massachusetts.

There are many installations already in place on landfills. For example, there’s an 18 acre landfill in Berkley, MA which is now home to an array of more than 11,200 solar panels. Chicopee, MA has 8,000 panels on 6 acres of landfill. There’s a farm on a landfill in Hudson, MA with capacity to power about 1,000 homes, and another in Amesbury with 4.5 megawatts installed. Once a landfill is full, it doesn’t have to be a waste of acreage – instead it can host clean energy to power the towns near it.

While covered landfills are a great choice for an install site, they’re not the only option. The coal plant on Mount Tom in Holyoke was decommissioned four years ago, and is now the site of 17,000 panels plus battery storage. They’re hoping to have the batteries charged by mid-October, which is a huge step forward for clean energy since one of the greatest challenges to date has been storing what’s produced and then distributing that at the times it’s most needed.

Although it’s logical to repurpose hard to use spaces like this, especially with the price of land in Massachusetts, companies are further incentivized to do so with the state’s new solar program. This week, the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU) issued an order to move forward with compensating new solar projects under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program. The SMART program incentivizes projects that make use of “rooftops, parking lots, and landfills…” as well as those that combine storage with a solar installation, which is a first.

Massachusetts’ clean energy transition is happening on sites that were previously putting out pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a win on all sides – siting solar arrays this way saves valuable land. It also turns what would have been an eyesore or a waste of land into something that benefits the residents near it with savings and clean energy, provides a revenue stream to that area, and improves the local environment by offsetting the pollution that comes from fossil fuel power production.