Solar Powering the Sustainable Energy Revolution

Solar Powering the Sustainable Energy Revolution

Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have served as the primary energy source to heat homes, run vehicles, and power industry and manufacturing in the United States. In the years to come, our reliance on this finite resource must diminish, and the sooner we switch to renewable sources of energy, the less likely we are to face dire economical and ecological consequences.
Fossil Fuel Addiction: Potential Outcomes by 2050

What is the price of our dependence on fossil fuels? If society continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels without any sort of significant replacement, our planet, economy and climate could be drastically affected in as little as the next 35 years.

 Global economic loss of $71 trillion on fossil fuels
 257 percent increase in annual heat-related deaths
 Sea levels will change along 70 percent of coastlines
 Oceans’ fish populations threatened by warming and acidification
 More extreme and frequent droughts
 Global temperatures rise by more than 35 degrees Fahrenheit—or even a cataclysmic 41 degrees
 Agriculture and food production severely compromised
Solar: A Sustainable Energy Source

Fortunately, the expansion of the solar energy industry in recent years offers a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. As this infographic from The Refrigeration School, “The Solar Demand,” shows, solar is the fastest growing segment of the green energy market in the United States, finding widespread application with the government, industry, and consumers; strengthening the economy by diminishing U.S. reliance on foreign oil and creating jobs; and, of course, reducing our country’s carbon footprint.
A Few Facts About the Solar Expansion

 The use of solar energy increased by more than 400 percent from 2010 to 2014.
 Thanks to government initiatives, solar projects on public land could power 6 million homes by 2020.
 Solar panels are powering everything from the aisles of numerous Walmart stores to many of the offices at Google.
 In 2012, the number of solar systems installed in U.S. homes increased nearly 50 percent.
 Worldwide, the solar industry created 2.3 million jobs in 2013.

Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about how solar is powering the sustainable energy revolution.

solar-demand-stats

The Oil Crisis Leads to Development on the Solar Energy Front

rural_solar_panelThere are numerous advantages of using solar power instead of fossil fuels, as it can be used to power up everything from power plants to households. It cuts your carbon footprint and is all together a more efficient power system compared to other sources. Yet, the world can’t seem to relinquish its dependency on oil, even though experts in the field explain that today’s oil crisis is an indication that we should look elsewhere for energy.

Some foresee a bright future for oil and gas drilling as companies expand operations to service rich oil fields. In the midst of the falling crude oil prices, oil and gas services company UnaOil opened an Iraqi strategic base in North Rumaila as a training facility for engineers and other industry professionals. Meanwhile, the Holy Grail of oil fields has been estimated to hold 100 billion barrels of oil, just a stone’s throw away from London Gatwick, and the potential for saving the UK economy and helping others recover reveals that oil as an energy source will not be replaced any time soon.

From the looks of it, petroleum still remains as the primary source for fueling vehicles and airplanes, but oil is a nonrenewable source; at some point, the world will run out of it. This period of oil’s extreme volatility is a clear cut sign that energy firms should diversify and look into other resources, such as solar energy.

As it stands, around 11 percent of the marketed energy consumption is sourced from renewable energy, which is projected to increase to 15 percent come 2040 according to EIA.gov. Global industries persistently work to increase this percentage, hoping that businesses across the sectors and even households would soon make the change to solar energy. Several solar panel manufacturers are working towards further lessening the costs of solar panel production and installation, and progress in the industry is evident as the Telegraph reveals that panels are just as affordable now as they were five years ago. The latest innovations include a new technique in producing silicon wafers. With success, the cost of solar power could decrease by at least 20 percent in the forthcoming years. In a few short years, solar energy c ould be as cheap as coal

Production costs for solar panels will lessen electricity bills for businesses as well as households and serve as incentive for them to make the move towards eco-efficient energy. Hawaii is currently at the forefront in the United States in terms of solar power usage, with 12 percent of the state’s homes having installed solar panels on their rooftops. But with further developments in renewable sources, other households in the US (and possibly in other countries) will catch up to Hawaii and invest in a power system that benefits the homeowner and the environment.

Which Final Four School Would Win the Sustainability Playoffs?

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship — aka March Madness — is down to the wire, and we thought it was a good time to evaluate the eco-friendly practices of the final four schools playing for the national title. Which of the four teams would win in a sustainability playoff? Here’s a rundown of the schools and our winning prediction.

Duke

Duke University in Durham, N.C., is one of the schools included in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges, thanks in part to its commitment to being carbon-neutral in 10 years. Campus initiatives include:

  • All new construction requires LEED certification. There are currently 29 buildings meeting the standards.
  • The Green Dorm Room created by the Students for Sustainable Living is decked out with 20 eco-conscious items, showing how students can offset carbon dioxide emissions in their own living quarters.
  • Undergraduate degrees are available in ocean, earth and environmental sciences.
  • A fully functional campus farm educates students on food issues.
  • Styrofoam has been banned from Duke eateries.
  • The Climate Action Plan has eliminated coal use and introduced solar power on campus buildings.
  • $50,000 yearly Green Grant Fund.
  • Funding to support transportation alternatives.

Michigan State

Spartan colors aren’t the only thing that is green. Michigan State is also among the universities in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges. Lou Anna K. Simon, the President of Michigan State University, is on a mission to increase sustainable prosperity. The school’s efforts are unstoppable as they research, teach and implement eco-friendly practices and improve the quality of life on campus and around the world. In five years, MSU hopes to reduce gas emissions by 45 percent. Other highlights include:

  • Member of Chicago Climate Exchange.
  • Offers 15 majors that focus on the environment, including environmental engineering and ecological food and farming systems specialization.
  • Green study abroad opportunities.
  • Home to numerous centers for advanced study in community and economic sustainability.
  • Provides on-campus and off-campus community-based green initiatives.
  • Received a $7.8 million grant to help African nations develop sustainable farms.
  • MSU researchers protect endangered tapirs, build robotic fish and turn waste into energy.
  • Grows food year-round using solar energy.
  • Grows food for dining halls on a student-run organic farm.

Wisconsin

Even though UW-Madison didn’t make it into the 2014 Princeton Review’s guide, it is serious about water, energy, transportation, materials conservation and waste elimination. Ambitious initiatives are being launched by the university’s Office of Sustainability along with the program, WE CONSERVE.

  • #Wisconservation promotes a 24/7 sustainable lifestyle. The initiative enables people to participate in open discussions on their blog as well on social media.
  • Skill Share Fair teaches sustainable skills like bike maintenance, growing herbs and composting.
  • MOOC Discussion Groups focus on environmental issues like climate change, deforestation, energy, the earth and other conservation topics.
  • Undergraduate and graduate certificates in sustainability are available.
  • The study abroad program offers sustainability abroad programs.

Kentucky

Although the University of Kentucky missed Princeton Review’s list as well, it has been making massive efforts to put in place a sustainability program that advances ecological integrity today and in the future. Recently funded projects include:

  • Outdoor recycling project.
  • Creation of Office of Sustainability.
  • Reusable water bottles for first-year students and water bottle filling stations.
  • Student paid internship programs.
  • Pedalpalooza to promote bicycle use.
  • Undergraduate research grants.
  • Solar PV installation on campus.
  • Storm Water Management Research Project to implement solutions.
  • Rain Garden Project.

Drum Roll Please…

Recognition goes to both Wisconsin and Kentucky for their growing efforts in environmental conservation. But the final comes down to Duke vs. Michigan State. Both have a rich history in promoting sustainability and continue to make huge strides. Winning by a last second 3-pointer against Michigan State, Duke takes the sustainability title this year due to the yearly $50,000 administration investment in green initiatives, a large number of active environmental student organizations and the commitment to being carbon neutral by 2024.

Visit The Dig for an insider’s guide to March Madness and the Princeton Review’s Guide for the report on 330 other schools of higher education that are committed to the future of sustainability.

 

Anne-Marie Pritchett is a freelance writer, storyteller and idea girl who has lived in six states and two countries. She has a great passion for sustainability and dancing in the rain. She writes handwritten letters to her parents and believes that music can connect souls.

 

Rent-A-Roof Schemes – Free Solar Panels Affecting Mortgage?

In the UK recently there has been a lot of buzz about mortgage lenders refusing mortgages and re-mortgages on homes that have solar under the rent a roof scheme. Is there any truth in this, are people actually finding themselves unable to get a mortgage?

Prior to April 2010 there were no free solar installations in the UK, in fact there were very few paid solar photovoltaic installations. Two years later there were some 300,000 domestic solar systems installed on people’s homes.

There are no official figures that show how many of these installs are paid and which are free. Reza Shaybani, chairman of the British Photovoltaic Association recently estimated there to be around 30,000 systems installed for free under the rent a roof schemes. Installer A Shade Greener, one of the largest free installers has given a higher estimate of around 50,000. Given the number of companies who have offered free systems during this period and considering the claims of the number of installs from their websites I would say the number was closer to 50,000.

 

Lenders and roof leases

To date there only seems to be one case where there has been a problem; this is the case of the Welton’s, published some time ago in the Guardian. This same story has been regurgitated ad infinitum with no new examples of anyone not being able to get a mortgage due to having a “solar lease”.

The issue stems from the fact that when these leases were introduced the mortgage lenders were unsure of how they would affect the mortgage process. The solar industry was consulted and a set of guidelines were introduced that both the lenders and installers would be happy with.

 

Have there been any mortgages or re-mortgages issued under the rent-a-roof scheme?

The term rent-a-roof is a bit of a misnomer, as you are not technically renting out your roof. There is a lease agreement in place that covers the airspace above the homeowner’s roof. This is in place to ensure that the panels are never obscured and that the installer has access if maintenance and repairs need to be carried out.

After consulting with one of the larger installers they confirmed that they are aware of dozens of homes that have been sold with their free solar panels in place. Under the agreement the homeowner does not have to inform the installer that they are selling the house or re-mortgaging so these figures may be much higher.

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So what are the mortgage lenders views of these types of schemes?

It seems that most if not all the major high street lenders are providing mortgages and re-mortgages on homes that have free solar panels. Some of the lenders include:

  • Barclays
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • LloydsTSB
  • Natwest
  • Nationwide
  • RBS

You can see the full list of free solar friendly mortgage lenders, which contains a list of about 30 Banks and Building Societies at the time of writing.

 

Is free solar still a good idea?

Some 300,000 homes are now fitted with solar and now contribute a combined capacity of 846MW, enough to replace a nuclear power station. Free solar has allowed those that cannot afford to or do not want to invest the opportunity to lower their bills. Installing a solar PV system reduces the average electricity bill by 37%.

With the cost of solar photovoltaic systems having more than halved over the past 2 years, solar PV is a good investment with possible returns of almost a thousand pounds in the first year alone. There are also a number of self-funding schemes available that reduce your initial investment costs.

Installing solar reduces your bill; it reduces the amount of pollution and our reliance on imported power. The more solar capacity we have in the UK the cheaper our energy costs are going to be as a country and the less we are going to have to subsidies nuclear.

Written by Allan Burns, creator of Free Solar Panels UK a resource on renewable technologies and energy saving for the home.

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How Can Governments Encourage Energy Efficiency?

Almost any news website will have a section covering the latest environmental developments, and most of this section will be dedicated to renewable energy. However, improvements in energy efficiency can make a much larger difference in terms of carbon emissions, and these solutions are often much simpler and most cost effective to implement. So, how can governments encourage energy efficiency?

The issue is that whilst electricity or gas consumption is a huge problem on a national scale, an unfortunately large number of households do not feel much incentive to improve on their personal energy efficiency because their electricity bill, for example, represents only a small fraction of their overall monthly expenditure. This is where the government needs to step in, to make sure that everyone takes a few small steps to make a much bigger difference across the country. What are some of the techniques they can use to cause this change?

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Modern technology is very exciting – gadget magazines fly off the shelves of newsagents, and everyone is desperately seeking the latest phone or laptop. However, apart from the obvious financial cost of buying these items, there is an increasing environmental impact too. More powerful processors require more energy to run – long gone are the days when a cell phone could be charged just once a week, with most requiring a daily boost. This means that it is becoming increasingly important for the government to control just how much energy these products are using, otherwise producers are liable to follow the demand of consumers, increasing power consumption to make sure they’ve got the most cutting-edge products, regardless of the environmental damage. Carefully implemented controls can reduce this damage, as well as helping our finances.

The source of most of the world’s energy is the home, and in particular heating and cooling it at different times of year. Building codes can be introduced to force the property itself to be well insulated against the loss of hot or cold air. A very significant impact can be had in this area – in the U.S., for example, 70% of the electricity supply, and 36% of the natural gas supply are used by households, and nearly 90% of the increased electricity use from the 1980s to the present day was from households using more electricity. This means that the shift in electricity use is away from businesses and into homes, tying in with improved standards of living as we all leave the heating or air conditioning switched on for longer and longer. Investments in this area quickly pay themselves off – loft insulation costs only $200-$300, and will pay itself off within less than two years in energy bill savings.

Changing consumer behavior is a grass-roots approach, and rather than changing the products, if people can be made to change their behavior, demand for energy efficient products will rise and manufacturers will meet this demand if they’re trying to maximize their profits.

A common example of this is dishwashers, fridges, and washing machines – in the U.K., they have large stickers displayed prominently on them displaying their energy efficiency. Since this pushes demand away from inefficient items as people are made more aware, manufacturers are driven by the market into improving their products, saving energy. Dishwashers made in 2012, are up to 30% more efficient than dishwashers made in 1995, largely thanks to these measures encouraging technological improvements.

If consumers’ minds can’t be changed, a little cash can often help! In many cases, such as solar panels, or energy efficient boilers, even though they can offer an excellent return as an investment item, they are not at the fore of people’s minds. Governments can introduce schemes which provide extra income for those picking environmentally-friendly products – such as the 30% federal grant available across the U.S. For solar panels, or the world-renowned Feed in Tariff scheme in Germany, offering returns of 8% or more.

A careful combination of all of these measures can benefit everyone, and is a good long run approach, particularly when combined with renewable energy generation. However, great care needs to be taken in the way mandatory rules and regulations are put into place. The latest technological products have to be researched, developed and built, which takes years – if the government suddenly steps in and changes the requirements for certain products, then this could have a disastrous economic effect.

Similar rules must apply to building regulation – the construction of a large block of flats must have energy efficiency measures included as part of the design from the start of the project, and so significant changes to rules need to be phrased carefully to prevent major projects being pushed into financial difficulty. The time taken, however, is well worth it.

Article written by James Hawkins, who works for a renewable energy and home improvement company providing a boiler prices comparison in the UK.

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