Tag Archives: National Geographic

Solar industry heating up in California

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: I still burn fossil fuel in my car, but my home and my electric bicycle are powered by the sun.  In Benicia, call or email Dave Hampton of Diablo Solar – Dave and the crew did a great job on my home.  – RS]

Solar industry is heating up again after stumbling during recession

Northern California companies are part of the energy surge
By Mark Glover, 11/08/2014
Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing.
Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing. | Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee file

The solar power industry, viewed more than a decade ago as a game-changing, jobs-producing juggernaut in California, took its lumps during the recession.

But now it’s coming back with a vengeance, both here and globally.

Some California solar system installers say they have work backlogs. New deals to build new solar power-generating arrays are being announced regularly. And the nation’s No. 1 solar installer, San Mateo-based SolarCity Corp., recently created ripples industrywide, announcing a loan program that lets homeowners finance and buy their rooftop solar systems. It also announced an offering of what it calls the nation’s first solar bonds.

“Inch by inch and now leap by leap, solar is growing and creeping further into the mainstream … and California is a center point for what we’re seeing now,” said Alfred Abernathy, a Bay Area energy analyst.

That growth is fueled partly by a sunnier economy, falling manufacturing costs, federal tax incentives and increasing consumer and corporate enthusiasm for renewable energy. Solar also has boomed far beyond California’s borders, spreading in China, Japan and Europe.

For perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the United States currently has about 16 gigawatts of installed solar power, or enough to power more than 3 million average American homes. Through June this year, California accounted for nearly half – 7 gigawatts – of the national total. A gigawatt is a unit of power equal to 1 billion watts.

By contrast, China’s solar power supply is more than 23 gigawatts, and it has set a goal of 35 gigawatts in 2015. Japan surpassed 14 gigawatts early this year and is working toward a goal of doubling that by 2020.

Sacramento’s solar hotspots

The industry’s hot streak has rippled throughout the Sacramento area.

SolarCity, which employs more than 500 locally, plans to move its rapidly growing sales staff into 60,000 square feet of space at 1000 Enterprise Way in Roseville’s Vineyard Pointe Business Park next month.

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive noted that if his company’s Sacramento-area operations alone were considered a single company, it would be among the largest solar firms in the United States.

Last month, Folsom-based 8minutenergy Renewables LLC received approval to build three solar projects of up to 135 megawatts in Kern County. Collectively called the Redwood Solar Farms, it will be developed on 640 acres of farmland. Construction of the first phase is set to begin in December, with energy production expected to begin in mid-2015.

Roseville’s SPI Solar, which warned in an early 2013 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that there was “substantial doubt as to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” has found new life since closely aligning operations with LDK Solar Co., its China-based parent company. In recent weeks, SPI has signed a blizzard of solar development agreements in China (regarded as the world’s No. 1 solar market), Japan and Europe.

David Hochschild, one of five commissioners on the California Energy Commission and an expert in renewable energy, acknowledged that solar energy was once regarded as a relatively exotic technology that was outside the mainstream for most consumers. But that perception is changing, and he envisions solar’s growth path similar to what the mobile phone industry experienced nearly a generation ago.

“I think the future is very bright, and I think that we will eventually reach the point where solar panels are as ubiquitous as cellphones,” he said.

Driving the growth

A combination of factors is propelling solar forward in California.

For one, an improving economy has helped. Sales and installations of residential and commercial solar systems nosedived during the housing meltdown but are on the upswing now.

Mark Frederick, president and CEO of CitiGreen Solar in Auburn, says his company is backlogged with orders from commercial clients. “My experience with businesses is that they are willing to invest (in solar) when they have had three good years in a row, and we have been seeing that.”

Hochschild cites another major factor: “In the past, the barrier has been cost, but it’s no longer a barrier.”

Improved methods of solar panel production have dramatically reduced manufacturing expenses, said Hochschild. In 1980, solar panels cost around $35 per watt to produce, he said. That fell to around $5 a watt in 2000 and currently stands at around 70 cents a watt.

Low cost was not always considered a plus in the solar industry. China’s overproduction of solar panels was cited by some energy experts as one of the factors producing a soft market in 2012. But the international playing field has shifted.

Subsidization of solar projects in China and Japan helped turbocharge the industry in those nations, to the point where Hochschild says the United States is the world’s No. 3 solar market, behind China and Japan, respectively. In China’s case, it went from being a relatively small builder of solar installations to a major builder in just several years.

That has benefited Roseville’s SPI Solar, which is now finding substantial work overseas due to its relationship with Chinese parent LDK. Xiaofeng Peng, SPI’s chairman, says SPI is now “one of the largest photovoltaic development companies in (China’s) market.”

Hochschild said California’s solar market also has benefited from Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for a third of California’s energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2020. Also helping the solar industry are federal tax credits of 30 percent for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels by Dec. 31, 2016.

Tax credits also played a role in SolarCity’s recently announced solar financing plan, which analyst Abernathy called a “game-changer.” “On one level, it’s a variation of the old-fashioned car loan.” Under the company’s MyPower plan, consumers take out a 30-year loan to purchase their rooftop solar system, rather than leasing it, which is the norm. The benefit of buying the system is that the homeowner gets the 30 percent federal tax credit, instead of the solar company.

Some red flags

For all of solar’s promise, energy analysts warn that the industry’s history is laced with periods of boom and bust, dating back to the 1954 invention of the world’s first practical solar cell by scientists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

Already, there are some red flags.

In Japan, where subsidies and a favorable tariff policy created a solar boom following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, energy analysts are now citing a glut of renewable-energy businesses and applications for solar facilities. Some fear that the industry could collapse under its own weight. Japan solar investors who were betting on relatively high renewable-energy rates over the long term are now voicing concerns.

In Europe, Germany was the embodiment of solar power expansion from 2010-12, installing a whopping 22.5 gigawatts of capacity. However, solar power installations have declined for two years, accompanied by significant job losses in the industry. Renewable-energy advocates have blamed the German government for enacting policies that restricted tariff benefits and put unreasonable restrictions on utility-scale installations.

SolarCity’s Rive dismissed concerns about the solar industry and its past history, stating that the recessionary dip in California occurred in manufacturing, not in the growth of solar companies.

As further evidence of the increasingly mainstream interest in solar technologies, a handful of major U.S. companies are now offering their workers substantial discounts on solar installations for their homes, making it another employee benefit like health care. The discounts will be available to 100,000 employees of four companies – Cisco Systems, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and National Geographic – part of a program announced last month by the World Wildlife Fund.

To insiders like Rive, that’s yet another sign of the solar industry’s momentum: “Now, more people are educated on it. More people are getting it.”

    As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been “Hugely Underestimated”

    Repost from TruthOut
    [Editor: a good summation of the latest evidence that runaway anthropogenic climate disruption continues to escalate.  A new study reports that climate change is ”worse than we thought” because it is happening ”faster than we realized.”  – RS]

    As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been “Hugely Underestimated”

    October 20, 2014, By Dahr Jamail
    Climate change
    (Image: High altitude, air pollution via Shutterstock)

    As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.

    A major study recently published in New Scientist found that “scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate,” and said that ACD is “worse than we thought” because it is happening “faster than we realized.”

    As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.

    Climate Disruption Dispatches

    The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.

    This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.

    It is good that even the more conservative scientists have come aboard the reality train, because a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-led (NOAA) study published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has provided yet more evidence linking ACD with extreme heat events.

    To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet’s wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels,” according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.

    Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.

    Meanwhile, the situation only continues to grow grimmer.

    NASA announced that this August was the hottest globally since records began in 1880. Days later, NOAA confirmed this and added that 2014 is on track to become the hottest year on record.

    Shortly thereafter, NASA announced that this September was the hottest since 1880.

    And emissions only continue to increase.

    Global greenhouse gas emissions rose this last year to record levels, increasing 2.3 percent.

    The effects of all these developments are especially evident in the Arctic, where sea ice coverage reached its annual minimum on September 17, continuing a trend of below-average years. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice coverage this year is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978.

    Equally disconcerting and symptomatic of the aforementioned, 35,000 walruses crowded onto land near the Northwest Alaska village of Point Lay late last month, when they couldn’t find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice.

    Earth

    The European Space Agency announced that, due to billions of tons of ice loss, a dip in the gravity field over the Western Antarctic region has occurred, making even gravity itself the latest casualty of ACD.

    A recent analysis of 56 studies on ACD-related health problems revealed that increasing global temperatures and extreme weather events will continue to deleteriously impact human health on a global scale.

    On a micro-scale, another report showed how Minnesota’s warming (and increasingly wetter) climate is escalating the risk of new diseases in the area, according to the Minnesota Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

    Further north, warming temperatures continue to disrupt the fragile ecological balance in the Canadian Arctic, which is warming faster than most of the rest of the planet. Canada’s minister for natural resources provided a new report detailing the impact ACD is having on that country’s forests, which are being impacted “faster than the global average.”

    In neighboring Alaska, summer heat and invasive insects are taking a similar toll on interior Alaska birch trees, according to experts there.

    Wildlife populations continue to struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes wrought by ACD. In California, one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in the southern part of that state is struggling to survive as its habitat, a natural two-mile long lake, has become a smelly, severely alkaline death trap due to drought and fires there.

    Of course it isn’t just wildlife that is struggling to adapt and cope with ACD.

    Members of the Swinomish tribe, located north of Seattle, were recently awarded a large grant from the federal government in order to deal with rising seas and flooding, as they live near the mouth of the Skagit River.

    Water

    The extremes of water, flooding and drought continue to persist and escalate as ACD continues.

    In California, where record-breaking drought is becoming a way of life for much of the state, at least 14 communities are on the brink of waterlessness and are trucking in water while trying to find a solution.

    In East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County, California, the situation has become so desperate that residents are no longer able to flush toilets, fill a glass with water or wash their hands without using bottled water.

    Dairy farmers in that state are struggling to survive the drought, as the cost for feed and water is being driven up by the lack of water.

    The US Energy Information Administration announced that California’s ability to produce electricity from hydroelectric dams is being significantly hampered by the drought, which covers 100 percent of the state now. This is because the reservoirs, which create power when the water in them is released into turbines, are drying up, thus providing less pressure to spin the turbines. The first six months of this year have seen the state’s hydropower generation decrease by half.

    And it’s not just California that is experiencing drought. The better part of the entire Western Hemisphere has experienced some form of drought in recent years, according to another recent report published in the journal Science which states: “A dry spell has killed cattle and wiped out crops in Central America, parts of Colombia have seen rioting over scarce water, and southern Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 50 years.”

    Across the Atlantic, at a recent international conference that was held to discuss the growing global water crisis, experts warned that Britain must prepare for the “worst droughts in modern times.”

    In Iran, worshippers have sought divine intervention and they’re being urged to literally pray for rain.

    An excellent report by National Geographic asked a critical question: What will happen to the American West, which has been built upon the back of snowmelt, when the snows fail?

    On the other end of the water spectrum – melting and flooding – we continue to see global evidence of the impact of ACD. The aforementioned recent satellite observations from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed in October that the Arctic ice cap has melted so much that open water is now a mere 350 miles from the North Pole, which is the shortest distance ever recorded, according to scientists.

    This coincides with predictions from leading British and American polar researchers that Truthout has previously interviewed who predict the ice cap will melt completely during the summer as early as next year.

    A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists warned that several major US cities will see at least 10 times more coastal flooding by 2045, in addition to at least 11 inches of sea level rise by the same year.

    In Delaware, they aren’t waiting. There, millions of dollars have been spent to pump sand in to build up dunes along the beaches in order to create a buffer from future storms and sea level rise.

    Down in Miami, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to install new storm pumps and storm drains in order to combat sea level rise at Miami Beach. Near the Cape Canaveral area, a low-lying barrier island is getting even lower as sea levels continue to rise, so communities there are investigating ways to keep the water at bay, or to plan a retreat.

    Edmonton, Canada, is pushing forward with a $2.4 billion bill for flood prevention, as that city is seeing increasingly severe downpours.

    Southern France experienced a deluge of 10 inches of rain in just three hours, which amounted to half a year’s worth of rain in one day in Montpellier.

    In Norway, massive amounts of melt-water from streams and blue ice on mountains indicated that the ice fields and glaciers on central Norway’s highest peaks were in full retreat, and exposed rock and ice that had not been seen for 6,000 years. On that note, recent studies also show that sea-level rise over the last century (20 centimeters) has been unmatched in 6,000 years.

    Recent reports indicate that the Gulf of Alaska has become unusually warm, warmer in fact than since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to NOAA.

    In the Atlantic, lobsters off the coast of southern New England are moving up into Canada due to warming waters. The exotic lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is also heading north up the Atlantic coast, as warming waters are changing ocean habitats.

    In Greenland, “dark” snow atop the ice sheet is now being called a “positive feedback loop” by an expert there, as the increasing trend is reducing the Arctic’s ability to reflect sunlight, further contributing to runaway ACD.

    Recent analysis indicates that scientists could have underestimated the size of the heat sink across the upper ocean, according to a recent report. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This means that the pace and scale of planetary warming is much faster than previously believed.

    Lastly in this section, and possibly the most distressing, a recent report revealed that fish are failing to adapt to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This means that within just a few generations of fish, a mass die-off could occur due to lack of adaptation. More carbon dioxide in the oceans is adversely changing the behavior of fish through generations, which means that marine species may never fully adapt to their changing environment.

    Air

    A study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that tornado activity in “Tornado Alley” in the Midwestern United States is peaking two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, and ACD is the culprit.

    Erratic jet stream behavior is now believed to be caused by the rapid retreating of Arctic sea ice as a result of ACD. The increasingly unpredictable jet stream is being blamed for more frequent, prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, North America and Asia. This includes more and longer freezing temperatures, storms and heat waves.

    In October, California found itself in yet another heat wave, with record-breaking temperatures reported in several cities and hotter-than-usual temperatures across the state. The National Weather Service put the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego under a heat advisory and issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cancelled outside activities and sports for the better part of a week due to the extreme heat, which was the second time this school year that LAUSD has had to cancel activities because of high temperatures.

    On one day, downtown Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon, whereas the average October temperature for that city is 79 degrees. Several cities in Southern California broke record temperatures. Oxnard reached 98 degrees, breaking an almost 70-year-old record.

    Fire

    As wildfires continued to burn across parts of drought-stricken California, a record-breaking amount of fire retardant was used (203,000 gallons in one day alone) while combatting a massive wildfire in Northern California. The fire was burning so hotly and expanding so explosively, due to the prolonged drought, that firefighters found that normal amounts of retardant weren’t stopping the flames.

    It is now well known that fire season in California, as well as across all the other Western US states, is extending due to ACD.

    Denial and Reality

    The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to mitigate ACD, is not sure whether humans actually cause ACD, according to an interview recently published in National Journal.

    When asked specifically whether or not she thought human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said, “I don’t know the science on that.”

    The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well. He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was “a completely useless plan” and added that he “would not think of rejoining it.”

    Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a “soft denial” approach by admitting that ACD is real, while saying the extent to which humans have a role is still in “doubt.”

    The denial project’s success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.

    It’s no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.

    Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections – funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers – while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.

    Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which was chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: “Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.”

    In stark contrast to the “doubters” and “deniers,” the Pentagon recently announced that ACD poses an “immediate risk” to national security, according to the Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.

    Shaun Donovan, the new US director of the Office of Management and Budget, used his first speech to talk about the dangers of inaction on climate change, in regards to the federal budget. “From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can’t do; and climate denial scores – and I don’t mean scoring points on the board,” he said. “I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”

    Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted that funding ALEC was a “mistake,” and said that the group’s spreading of disinformation and lies about ACD was “making the world a much worse place.” During an NPR interview, Schmidt said, “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren. . . . And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

    The Endangered Species Coalition recently released a list of things people should take their children to go see outdoors, because if they wait too long, their kids might not get a chance to see them before they become extinct. The list includes monarch butterflies, polar bears, great white sharks, white bark pine trees and Snake River sockeye salmon.

    A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that switching to natural gas will not reduce carbon emissions very much, and could in fact increase them slightly, due to the fact that it would discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy sources. This is significant because there are many lawmakers who are ACD “realists,” including President Obama, who advocate that natural gas is a “solution” to ACD.

    A remarkable electronic dashboard created by The Guardian shows some of the key indicators of planetary health, where you can view updated snapshots of the impacts your country, as well as humans, are having on the environment.

    Lastly, possibly the most disturbing reality check of all comes from MIT’s 2014 Climate and Energy Outlook. The recently released report revealed that global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions will likely double by 2100.