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Utility Solar Installations to Grow Despite Tariff

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Utility Solar Installations to Grow Despite Tariff

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Solar Energy Batteries on the Rise

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Solar Energy Batteries on the Rise

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Say hello to more solar panels, Sunshine State homeowners!

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”

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Say hello to more solar panels, Sunshine State homeowners!

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Rich countries invested less money in renewables last year. U.S. cities are picking up the slack.

Here’s some bad news: A new report shows that U.S. investment in renewable energy fell by 6 percent last year. Ready for the good news? Six percent ain’t too shabby considering President Trump spent his first year in office announcing plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, slapping tariffs on solar panels, and reneging on decades of environmental policy.

In fact, despite federal setbacks, the report called the U.S. “relatively resilient.” Compare that 6 percent drop to Europe and the U.K, which saw investments in clean energy fall by 36 percent and 65 percent, respectively. The U.S. and its neighbors across the pond face a similar set of obstacles: the end of subsidies for renewables, growing interest rates, and policy uncertainties. In the U.K., the massive drop in investments coincides with the end of a big subsidy for renewables. By comparison, China invested 10 percent more in renewables than it did in 2016, and added 53 gigawatts of capacity — that’s equal to more than half of the world’s total renewable energy capacity.

One reason for U.S. resiliency? Our cities are stepping up to the plate. “The rise of solar power over the past decade has been largely driven by cities,” the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center found in a recent report. Researchers looked at the total solar photovoltaic capacity installed by 20 major cities across the U.S. and found that, as of the end of last year, those cities alone have more solar energy capacity than the entire country had installed by the end of 2010.

Grist / Environment Texas

Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, Phoenix, and San Jose were the top five producers of solar photovoltaic capacity in 2017. But the report also highlighted 18 “Solar Stars” — cities that had 50 or more watts of solar installed per person. Honolulu is the shiniest of those solar stars, with three times as much capacity as the next runner up: San Diego. Fresno, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Tucson, Arizona were close behind.

The groundswell of support for renewable energy in American cities is linked to the goals laid out in the Paris agreement. In 2017, Dan Firger (a member of Grist 50 2018) teamed up with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown to launch a Bloomberg Philanthropies project called America’s Pledge. Since the project went live, 110 cities and have pledged to cut emissions, 13 leading academic institutions have signed on to reduce their environmental footprints, and even local businesses are taking steps to mitigate their impact on the climate. In all, this coalition accounts for half of the spending power in the U.S.

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Rich countries invested less money in renewables last year. U.S. cities are picking up the slack.

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African Americans will pay a steep price for Trump’s new solar tariff

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

Last week, a 30 percent tariff that President Donald Trump tacked onto imported solar panels kicked in. Industry experts are predicting it will end up costing the U.S. 23,000 solar jobs in 2018 alone. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how precisely the new tariff will impact domestic solar panel sales and jobs, but GTM Research expects it to slow the residential solar market by nearly 10 percent between now and 2022. That could affect the number of solar jobs in the future, especially where the power drill hits the rooftop — more than three-fourths of solar jobs in the U.S. are in demand-side sectors such as installation.

The United States was enjoying a 168 percent growth rate in solar jobs since 2010, according to the 2017 Solar Jobs Census report released last week. African Americans in particular have seen a burst in solar workforce participation over the past few years, constituting 7.4 percent of the workforce in 2017, compared to 6.6 percent the year before and 5.2 percent in 2015.

This, of course, is hardly proportional to the general working-age black population, but African Americans were the only racial group to see their share of the solar workforce significantly expand between 2016 and 2017 — every other group, save for whites, saw a drop.

In fact, the entire solar industry saw a decline in jobs last year, losing an estimated 9,800 jobs from 2016. This was the first year the solar census recorded a drop-off since it began tracking job numbers in 2010. The anomalous solar jobs increase found among African Americans is driven in part by the widening list of jurisdictions with large black populations that have adopted new solar policies — states like New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., according to the report.

The National Solar Foundation

The depression found otherwise across the industry can be attributed to the cool-down in solar projects in states like California and Massachusetts, where solar already had a stronghold. There was a surge in solar power development in 2016, when there was something of a panic about federal solar tax credits expiring that year (Congress later extended those tax credits).

However, the solar market was rattled once again in 2017 when two solar power manufacturing companies, the bankruptcy-headed Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to adjust the prices of imported solar panels via tariff because they claimed they couldn’t compete. This is what triggered Trump’s decision in January to levy the tariff, based on an ITC ruling in September that sided with the two companies.

The Solar Energy Industries Association took umbrage, saying that such tariffs would not save those two solar companies from bankruptcy, but would “create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving.” The trade group was joined in opposition by organizations that tilt conservative and promote free-market policies, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose International Relations and Federalism Task Force director Karla Jones wrote before the ITC decision:

Over 38,000 solar workers are employed in manufacturing positions at firms domestically making solar components like inverters, racking systems and more. Guess what happens if one doubles the price of solar panels in America? This thriving industry will quickly succumb to tough competition from natural gas, coal and other forms of energy. Those 38,000 manufacturing jobs might disappear if artificially high input costs price the entire industry out of existence. Just ask the domestic steel industry, which blends tens of thousands of domestic jobs after the last successful Section 201 petition slapped tariffs on imported steel.

Since Trump followed through on the tariff, one major question has been whether it would impact urban-scale projects, especially with the spread of solar power developments for low-income households and community-shared distribution. Also, will the steady growth in employment for African Americans in urban centers now be blunted due to the expected rise in solar panel costs?

As the NAACP recently noted in the launch of its new Solar Equity Initiative, low-income households spend more than twice as much of their take-home wages on lighting and heating their homes than do middle-class and wealthy households, and nearly 70 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Which means they live with those plants’ air pollution. Scaling up and pricing down solar costs could help alleviate those problems.

It’s too early to tell what impact this will have on city-located solar jobs with the tariff just kicking in this week. The bulk of the cost of solar projects is mostly in labor, permitting, and installation, even for systems in low-income areas. The cost of panels is usually less than 15 percent of the total cost of these kinds of projects. Still, the future is somewhat uncertain for some organizations that have committed to spreading solar to poor families.

One organization grappling with this issue is Civic Works, a Baltimore nonprofit. It just completed the pilot phase of a new solar initiative that installed solar panels on the rooftops of 10 houses in several low-income communities, including Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray, who had asthma, was arrested before he was later found dead in police custody.

A loan from the City of Baltimore’s Energy Initiative Loan Program gave the nonprofit the capital to cover all the upfront costs of solar installation on the houses it’s serving. Civic Works will receive additional help from the 30 percent federal solar tax credit to recoup some of those costs, which is generally how low-income solar is financed. Many of the nonprofit’s workers are people who’ve been incarcerated and unemployed. However, nonprofits usually are working on very thin-margin budgets in this game, and can’t afford anything even a little financially surprising.

“Our suppliers have told us, ‘Don’t worry, we have tons of solar panels already,’ so it’s not something that’s going to affect us immediately, but it will down the line,” said Earl Millett, Civic Works’ chief operating officer. “To get the project done that we just did at the end of 2017, we needed everything to pull together perfectly, and we still had just a little wiggle room in the economics.”

Millett continued: “The economics are tough to work out with any solar project, though, and doing it on low-income homes adds an extra complexity. But it’s something people are working to overcome, because having a large segment of our population miss out on the benefits of solar just because they’re low-income residents shouldn’t be acceptable.”

Anya Schoolman, executive director of Solar United Neighbors of D.C., said the the real impact of the tariff will be felt on large utility-scale solar projects, like the fields of panels you might find on undeveloped land or in a desert. Solar United Neighbors has been working to spread community solar and also embarked on a project to rest solar panels on the roofs of 220 low-income households in D.C., at no cost to the homeowners.

“The tariffs are going to be an issue, but it’s one of the smaller variables,” said Schoolman. “We have many other variables to consider such as permitting costs [and] interconnection costs, which are what the utility companies charge, and those things end up making a bigger difference.”

However, the blow to the larger utility-scale solar projects is not insignificant. According to Schoolman, those projects, some of which are now on hold because of the tariff, were just beginning to compete with coal and natural gas. The 2017 Solar Jobs Census found that 86 percent of surveyed solar businesses said the tariff would negatively impact their company. The census also reported that 78 percent of project developers and 70 percent of companies that do installations would decrease their solar activities under new trade restrictions. This was all before Trump imposed the tariff. Since then, one major solar project in Texas has been stalled, according to Utility Dive.

The tariff directly affects only jobs in the manufacturing industry, which account for roughly 15 percent of the solar industry. The installation sector, by comparison, accounts for roughly 52 percent of the industry. Neither Millett nor Schoolman thought the tariff would have any real impact on installation jobs in their programs, at least not immediately, despite the prospect of panel prices slightly rising. Both the installation and manufacturing sectors experienced job losses in 2017, according to the Solar Jobs Census.

Stacey Danner, who ran a company that financed solar panels for low-income households in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said he didn’t understand why Trump would kick the solar industry while it was down with this tariff.

“If you’re talking about jobs and building the industry, then this isn’t the way to do it because you’re throwing workers from thriving businesses in a nascent industry out,” he said. “Now they are back at square one, which puts them back on unemployment and back on welfare rolls. And I thought that what this was what Trump’s policies were supposed to prevent?”

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African Americans will pay a steep price for Trump’s new solar tariff

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New U.S. Solar Tariff to Stall Solar Energy Growth


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New U.S. Solar Tariff to Stall Solar Energy Growth

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The cost of installing solar energy is going to plummet again.

Toward the end of the last ice age, about 19,000 years ago, the sea rose in several large spurts, according to a new study of coral reefs that grew during this period.

This contradicts assumptions that sea level rises gradually. Instead, coral fossils show sudden inundations followed by quieter periods. This offers new information that supports the theory that glaciers and ice sheets have “tipping points” that cause their sudden collapse along with a sudden increase in sea level.

Researchers at Rice University surveyed deep-sea coral fossils in the Gulf of Mexico, scanning their 3D structures to analyze them for growth patterns. Coral likes to live close to the surface, so it grows slowly when sea level is constant. But when sea level rises quickly, the coral grows vertically to try to stay near the surface, forming terraces.

“The coral reefs’ evolution and demise have been preserved,” lead author of the study, Pankaj Khanna, said in a press release. “Their history is written in their morphology — the shapes and forms in which they grew.”

Whether the future is written in these forms, too, remains to be seen.

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The cost of installing solar energy is going to plummet again.

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Solar Powered Airplane ‘Explores The Impossible’

When you get on an airplane to fly across the country – or even across the ocean – you probably don’t think too much about how much fuel is actually being used by that airplane you’re sitting on. You probably also don’t think about exactly what the environmental impact of that one flight might be, not to mention the collective environmental impact of all of the flights that happen around the world each and every day. The numbers add up pretty quickly!

According to this article, one flight from New York to Phoenix consumes approximately 6,900 gallons of fuel.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 100,000 flights around the world each day. If you do the math, that’s approximately 3.7 million flights per year throughout the world.

This data adds up to a whole lot of fuel usage and contribution to the world’s pollution problem – not to mention any other environmental issues that go with the petroleum and transportation industries.

An impulse for a solar powered airplane

Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are trying to change the conversation on clean energy and the possibilities of solar powered airplane transportation. Image credit: Solar Impulse SA

If we’re looking honestly at ways to significantly reduce our impact on this earth, reducing fuel use is certainly one area worth looking at. We can buy hybrid and electric cars now, but the options aren’t so simple for flying. We have our choice of airlines, but the planes are all pretty much the same. For now, anyways.

Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are trying to change the conversation and prove that energy doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Piccard (a psychiatrist and explorer with an avant-gardist vision) and Borschberg (an engineer and entrepreneur with managerial experience) have set out to achieve something that sounds pretty much impossible with our knowledge of energy and technology today. Piccard and Borschberg are attempting the first around the world solar powered airplane flight, using no fuel with absolutely no harmful emissions.

Can you imagine if every flight around the world every day could make that claim? How would that change the world?

Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

That famous quote is most certainly appropriate in this inspiring story. Instead of huffing and puffing about the state our planet is currently in, Piccard, Borschberg and their team are doing something about it. They are pouring everything they have into demonstrating that solar technology can do far more than power a few lightbulbs in your home – it can power the world if that’s where we set our intentions.

Solar Impulse 2

Solar Impulse 2, a completely solar powered airplane, is the result of the dreams of these two men. This airplane is powered only by the sun, with absolutely no fuel or polluting emissions. And there is no back-up to the solar powered energy.

This solar powered airplane has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, the weight of a typical family car and the power of a small motorcycle. Solar Impulse 2 is the largest aircraft ever built with such a low weight. Even though the plane has a huge wingspan, the pilot is the only person that can be on the plane – so every flight is a solo flight.

A lot of work went into the design and construction of Solar Impulse 2. It took 12 years of research and development to develop this aircraft, which is powered by dozens of environmentally friendly products and processes.

Some of these features include:

Ultralight material
Solar cells
Energy dense batteries
Lightweight LEDs
Low density thermal insulation
Energy efficient electric motors
Smart energy system
Protective resins

This amazing 360 degree video below shows you what it’s like for this aircraft to take off and land – and see the inside of the cockpit

Solar Impulse 2 sets record for solo flights

The Solar Impulse 2 took its maiden flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, Oman on March 9, 2015. They have since made it quite far along in their journey and will soon make it back to Abu Dhabi and complete their around the world flight goals.

Earlier this year, the Solar Impluse 2 team set a record for solo flights (so far, the Solar Impulse prototype has set 8 world records). The pilot flew non-stop for 5 days and 5 nights without fuel from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii. After 117 hours and 52 minutes and approximately 8,900 km in the air, the pilot had to land the plane in Hawaii due to unforeseen battery damage due to overheating.

Image Credit: Solar Impulse SA

After many tests and repairs were completed, the Solar Impluse 2 was able to cross the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, where it landed safely. The pilots (Piccard and Borschberg both pilot the aircraft) are currently continuing on their journey around the world. This is a truly historic event to watch, as every day puts them one step closer to completing the first around-the-world trip without a drop of carbon-based fuel.

Follow along

While the Solar Impluse 2’s exact travel dates are undetermined, you can sign up to receive flash updates on the plane’s adventures here. It’s a lot of fun to keep up to date and watch where the Solar Impulse 2 is in its journey. I can’t wait to see it make its final landing in Abu Dhabi! What a great feeling that will be for Piccard and Borschberg, and what a great step forward in clean energy for our world.

A message to the world

This historic attempt to fly a solar powered airplane around the world is certainly sending all of us a clear message about our energy consumption. If we can harness the plane’s clean energy technologies on the ground in our day-to-day lives, its speculated that we could cut the world’s energy consumption in half, saving precious natural resources and improving our overall quality of life.

The pilots have made it their mission to spread this message to the general public at large, students that will shape the world’s future, key decision-makers in government and business, and entrepreneurs all around the world.

Where would you like to see solar powered airplane technology go?

Feature image credit: Solar Impulse SA

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Chrystal, publisher of

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Solar Powered Airplane ‘Explores The Impossible’ – July 28, 2016
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Solar Powered Airplane ‘Explores The Impossible’

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How to smash solar power records: Harness a heat wave

Beat the Heat

How to smash solar power records: Harness a heat wave

By on Jul 25, 2016 3:24 pmShare

California just crushed a solar energy record — thanks to the heat wave currently smothering the state.

At 1:06pm on July 12 — as the Golden State was burning in temps hitting the high 90s — its solar power plants generated an unheard-of 8,030 megawatts of electricity, according to the California Independent System Operator.

That’s enough to power 6 million homes, SFGate reports. Just two years ago, the statewide system could produce only half that amount of electricity. These record-breaking numbers don’t even take into account the 500,000-plus solar arrays installed on California’s private homes and offices, which can produce an estimated 4,000 megawatts of electricity altogether.

On July 12, renewable energy met almost 29 percent of electricity demand when it peaked at 5:54pm. That’s good news for the state’s goal of sourcing 33 percent of its power from renewables by 2020.

When life gives you heat domes, make megawatts of renewable energy, as they say.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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How to smash solar power records: Harness a heat wave

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Solar tower generates electricity from molten salt, even when it’s dark

friday night lights

Solar tower generates electricity from molten salt, even when it’s dark

By on Jul 15, 2016Share

It’s a bird (igniting in mid-air), it’s a (solar-powered) plane, it’s a new innovation in the world’s solar power repertoire: The Crescent Dunes solar energy plant, the world’s first utility-scale facility that stores solar power in molten salt, can supply electricity even when the sun don’t shine. This super-plant can even supply 10 hours of it, enough to power 75,000 homes.

Located deep in the Nevada desert, a 600-foot tower shimmers in the intense rays of sunlight reflected off more than 10,000 giant mirrors. The mirrors concentrate heat on the giant load of sodium and potassium nitrates that are sent to the top of the tower. These salts have extremely high melting points, and can reach temperatures of more than 500 degrees Celsius. Their heat is channeled towards boiling water to produce steam, which spins turbines and generates electricity when needed. When not needed, the salt is stored in insulated tanks on the ground.

Other companies have also harnessed the hidden power of hot salt. But their method heats the salt indirectly, by first heating other fluids such as thermal oil. The 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes plant manages to do it more efficiently by heating its salts directly. Scientific American elaborates:

The benefit of using molten salt as both the energy collector that creates steam and the energy storage mechanism, however, is that it eliminates the need for expensive heat exchangers to go between different fluids… Plus, the molten salt medium is cheaper, more environment-friendly, nontoxic and nonflammable compared with oil.

Developed by SolarReserve, a California-based renewable energy firm, the zero-emissions Crescent Dunes hooked up with the electrical grid in late 2015, and has ramped up its commercial operations ever since.

Molten salt technology is not new, but it does look promising. There are plans for a second plant in South Africa later this year. Here’s hoping this Superman of our times doesn’t run into too much of its special kind of Kryptonite — tortoises.


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Solar tower generates electricity from molten salt, even when it’s dark

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