US solar power is still growing fast — but it's about to hit a speed bump

Solar only accounts for a small 0.6% of U.S. electricity but since the mid-2000s, thanks mostly to Federal tax credits and cheaper (Chinese) panels, solar instillation radically increased (mostly in California). In 2017, the Federal tax credits expire and as Brad Plumer explains, U.S. solar photovoltaic growth might hit a serious speed bump, particularly for residential installation. 

 Image via vox.com

Image via vox.com

Will the solar boom be another false start–like the 1970s–or will the Federal government reinstate the subsidies before they expire in 2017? Will panels prices continue to fall, making unsubsidized or lower subsidies panels affordable? Will Obama's Clean Power Plan make the States pick up the slack? Question to be determined in the coming years.

Apple's Real Carbon Footprint Is In Manufacturing and It's Dirty

Apple Inc. released its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report this week. In the report, Apple proudly claims that their data centers are running on 100% renewable energy and that their new headquarters in Cupertino will run entirely on renewables (solar plant in nearby Monterey County). Apple is proud to claim that building operations in the USA are moving to 100% renewable. That's great. However, Apple's real carbon footprint is in the vast, vast amount of energy used and CO2 released in manufacturing all of its physical products, mostly in China. 

For example, of the 34 million metric tons of CO2 Apple claims responsibility for in fiscal year 2014, 24.8 million metric tons are in manufacturing and only 0.4 million tons are in facilities. Put another way, 73% of Apple's carbon footprint is in manufacturing, whereas only 1.1% is in facilities. Sorry Apple, switching facilities to renewables is great optics (and still worthwhile) but it is a drop in the bucket of their CO2 footprint. For Apple to meaningfully contribute to reducing global warming they will need to begin to transition their manufacturing partners to renewables. It seems they are now just taking small steps in that direction.

For now, Apple and other manufacturers, and consumers, are contributing both to the localized pollution crisis in China as well as global CO2 emissions. If Apple wants to be a leading corporate environmental steward, as statements by CEO Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives indicate, then it needs to more fully and quickly address the source of their real carbon footprint: the manufacturing of physical products.

Portland Now Generating Hydro Power in Its Water Pipes

A cool new way to get hydro power right under our cities, and they don't require dams.

The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city’s water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city’s water pipe.

Booming Rooftop Solar Power Suffers Growing Pains

No doubt there will be pains (all energy  and economic transitions experience "pains") but this is poor reporting. Nearly the entire example rests on one case, one guy and his (minor) misfortune.

Middle-class Driving Solar Revolution in U.S.

Interesting article and accompanying data that indicates that the growth in solar panel installation is being driven by the middle-class, not the upper-class, in the US. 

Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, that's not the case.

The reason? Solar leasing.

Important question: how can folks work to bring working-class folks into the solar revolution and distributed power? This is an area that sorely needs to be addressed in research and action.  

Annihilation of Space by Time: High Speed Rail Edition

 
 Alfred Twu via grist.org

Alfred Twu via grist.org

We can dream. We can dream.

Update: Sarah Laskow on Grist gives us the depressing actual state of train travel in the US. It's not pretty.

2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year...

is the Tesla Model S. It is the first time an internal combustion engine automobile has not won the award. To quell any squabbling that this is eco-hype, Motor Trend says, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

 image via motortrend.com

image via motortrend.com

 

Geoengineering, Let's Just Fiddle with the Earth

Businessman from the US conducts unregulated geoengineering experiment off the coast of Canada, dumping 100 tons of iron sulfate into the Pacific Ocean. Native American communities were told it was a salmon enhancement project. It was not.

Businessman says of international regulations:

George told the Guardian that the two moratoria are a "mythology" and do not apply to his project.

We are going to see more of these kinds of geoengineering stories and the international governance institutions need to agree on rules, norms, and regulations for these kinds of activities.

Update: The Guardian now reports that members of the Canadian government knew about and was complicit in this experiment.

The chief executive of the company responsible for spawning the artificial 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom in the Pacific Ocean has implicated several Canadian departments, but government officials are remaining silent about the nature of their involvement.

Community Solar Installation

A cool story from my town of residence, Chico, CA:

Seven homes on a north Chico cul-de-sac had solar arrays installed Saturday in a flurry of activity. Solarthon resembled the old-fashioned barn-raising its organizers likened it to, with a bit of block party thrown in, complete with a D.J. It was a fundraiser for GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit that opened its seventh office in Chico about a year ago.
 Image from Chicoer.com

Image from Chicoer.com

Nest Thermostat's True Value: Social

Nest Labs has released the Nest Learning Thermostat 2.0 nearly a year after 1.0 was released. As Nest continues to innovate in the smart, green thermostat space, marketing and perceived value has always tended towards: how much money does this save me? However, after one year of data collection by Nest, the deeper value in Nest is its social and aggregate value.

Nest is able to collect data on energy use and energy savings (read their stats here and download the whitepaper) Nest translates that into a monetary figure for average money saved. What is really exciting about Nest is its sociological implications for connected, networked based energy production, consumption, and data collection. As Nest Labs continues to collect user data we will begin to learn how people use energy and how we can improve energy efficiency and overall reduction. 

Nest Labs markets the Nest as, how we can save you money, but the larger, sociological implications of networked and data producing energy devices is Nest's real social value. And that is more exciting, and in the long run, more important than personal savings.

Honeywell Killed Off its Learning Thermostat 20 Years Ago

I missed this one:

Katie Fahrenbacher, writing for GigaOM back in February, reported that, according to Honeywell, the company "found that consumers prefer to control the thermostat, rather than being controlled by the thermostat” and decided to cease development. Twenty years later, however, Nest Labs entered the thermostat market with in 2011 with a learning thermostat, one that requires no programming or fiddling to save money and energy use.

This past year, the Nest has gotten huge press and great reviews. Subsequently, Honeywell has sued Nest over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming it violated a string of patents. Interestingly, technology writer and iOS developer, Marco Arment has dinged the Nest for having weak programming abilities, a downside according to Arment of a learning thermostat, though Arment generally likes the Nest in other areas.

For the past year Nest has been a great case to watch as it attempts to disrupt the thermostat industry and points to the potential to connect internet technology and energy use and reduction. 

Welcome to 3991 C.E. aka hell

I love this Reddit post: Lycerious has been playing Sid Meier's Civilization II for 10 years (not everyday) and has ended up in a nightmarish, apocalyptic world of perpetual nuclear and conventional war, global warming with oceans covering most of the land, only three mega empires left, and the remaining land is devastated and cannot support agriculture or urban civilization.

Highlights:

I was forced to do away with democracy roughly a thousand years ago because it was endangering my empire.

You've heard of the 100 year war? Try the 1700 year war. The three remaining nations have been locked in an eternal death struggle for almost 2000 years. Peace seems to be impossible. Every time a cease fire is signed, the Vikings will surprise attack me or the Americans the very next turn, often with nuclear weapons.

As a result, big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the worlds population (at it's peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm. Engineers (late game worker units) are always busy continuously building roads so that new armies can reach the front lines. Roads that are destroyed the very next turn when the enemy goes. So there isn't any time to clear swamps or clean up the nuclear fallout. 

Take That Honeywell

Nest Labs officially responds to Honeywell's patent infringement lawsuit:

Nest's new legal council Richard Lutton Jr. says,

As reported in prior litigations, Honeywell has a pattern of trying to stifle new market entrants with unfounded legal action. Instead of filing lawsuits, Honeywell should use its wealth and resources to bring innovative products to market. Nest will defend itself vigorously in court and we’ll keep our company’s focus where it should be – on developing and delivering great products for our customers.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell says, "Honeywell is worse than a patent troll," because instead of trying to get money out of Nest, Honeywell is trying to kill the competition [via The Verge].  

Solar Rising

According to new reports by the solar industry (ok, that's problematic) the solar industry had a record year in 2011. Lori Zimmer, posting on Inhabit, writes, 

The study, released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association showed that the solar industry pulled in $8.4 billion last year. Installation of photovoltaic panels continues to grow, with solar projects totaling 1,855 megawatts in 2011 alone, compared to just 887 megawatts the year before. These projects ranked the United States as the fourth largest solar market in the world, a jump that just a few years ago did not seem possible.

Not time to cut

Richard Harris at NPR reports that Congress might be planning to cut subsidies to the wind industry. 37,000 jobs could be lost and a nascent industry set back. 

When the tax credit last expired in 2003, wind farms took a big hit. But in those days, the wind turbines were largely imported. Now, the domestic manufacturing industry is growing rapidly. And that changes the politics.

and Gamesa VP says,

As the technology improves, wind becomes cheaper. Rosenberg says his company only needs four more years of tax credits, and it will be ready to compete without further federal help.

Heritage Foundation wants them ended,

We're $15 trillion in debt," says Nick Loris at The Heritage Foundation. "We have a robust energy market. And electricity demand and the demand to transport our vehicles back and forth is always going to be there. And I think that profit motive is incentive enough.

We're in debt, yes. But it is not time to cut clean energy subsidies. We need to find more ways to scale these projects and roll out new ones. At the moment, subsidies for producers and consumers help this goal. 

If you can't compete, sue

Via Matt Macari at The Verge, Honeywell International sues Nest Labs over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming patent infringements. Honeywell lists a number of patents it contends Nest violates. To me, they read like very very basic concepts related to UI and usability features, nothing extraordinary. How can other companies compete when they could be prohibited from using these features? Here is a sample:

U.S. Patent No. 7,634,504 - this patent was filed in 2006 (issued 2009) and covers displaying grammatically complete sentences while programming a thermostat.

U.S. Patent No. 7,142,948 - this patent was filed in 2004 (issued 2006) and covers a thermostat figuring out and displaying how long it will take to get to a specific setting, like temperature. The Nest definitely has this feature; it's a main selling point of the device.

U.S. Patent No. 6,975,958 - this patent was filed in 2003 (issued 2005) and covers a method of controlling an environmental control system from a remote to adjust the settings of the system.

Read the whole story over at The Verge.