Monday, September 25, 2006

Gore for President

I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe I’m just setting myself up to be disappointed, but I can’t help it. Gore is going to run, I can feel it.

This isn’t just about An Inconvenient Truth. I didn’t even love the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it was thorough, compelling, and right on point. But for a film that was hyped to sound the trumpets and rally the masses against global warming, it just seemed to come up short. I thought it was going to inspire people to leave the theater, buy an energy star air-conditioner, and a dozen compact fluorescent bulbs on the way home.

(I was even ready to start handing out my ISI Solar business cards right outside the theater).

But it didn’t. His big message at the end…

“we need more political will…”

Political will? Really? That’s all the film was aiming for? No specific ways people can make a difference? He couldn’t aim any higher than us just needing more political will??

I spent the next few weeks talking to people who had been overwhelmed by the film, thought it was great, but hadn’t done anything differently in their lives. I would jump into all the important solutions I wished Gore had explored at the end. But it was too late. The movie was done, and people had left the theater. Their attention spans were gone.

Gore had let perhaps the greatest opportunity in human history to mobilize the American public against climate change slip through his fingers.

But now he’s starting to make up for it.

In response to the criticism that the film didn’t explore more inspiring solutions (apparently I’m not the only one who’s been saying it) Gore gave a speech in New York last week where he focused only on potential solutions. And he’s got some good ones.

Like the “Electra-net,” a new model for energy infrastructure that incorporates more renewable distributed generation, like solar and wind, into the grid.

(Also strikingly similar to the Solar Savvster’s post on New York City’s blackouts)

And the “Connie Mae” foundation, where lower interest mortgage rates would be made available to carbon neutral buildings.

He also talked about restructuring state and federal taxes by changing payroll taxes to carbon emission taxes, so that instead of companies having financial disincentives to hire more workers, they’ll have financial disincentives to produce more carbon emissions.

The speech won me over. I still wish he had made brief mention of this stuff at the end of the movie, but better late than never.

And maybe that needs to be Gore’s campaign slogan in 2008: “Better Late than Never.”

Because the truth is, now is Gore’s time. He probably would have loved to talk about all of this stuff back in 2000, but he wasn’t allowed to. It wasn’t a relevant topic, and his campaign managers probably thought it would only hurt him. His go-to guys micro-managed the entire campaign for him, telling what to say, what not to say, when to smile, when to wave. It probably made him even more of a stiff.

Now global warming is relevant; it tugs the heart strings and earns him the adoration of millions. He can finally be the Al Gore he always wanted to be. The self-ridiculing jokes even give him a touch of a personality.

A very small touch… but it’s a start.

So are the clips about his son, and the shots of his early life growing up on a tobacco farm. It’s the personal side of Gore’s life that we’ve never seen, and I don’t believe for a minute that it’s coincidental. I think Gore is trying to show the human side that was always missing. And if this is his way of launching himself into the election, then he’s got my vote.

So what if he pulled his punch at the end of An Inconvenient Truth? Maybe he just wanted to leave a little something for the sequel.

Better late than never.

Don't Take My Word For It

“Don’t Take My Word For It” is a feature I’m going to include at the end of every post. It’s a link to a credible, scholarly source, for those of you looking for more info

Read the article write-up, or click here to read the full speech

Monday, September 11, 2006

Edward Norton: Solar Robin Hood

A friend of mine who lives in LA pointed this out to me, I think it’s incredible. Mad props to Edward Norton.

Norton is a huge solar enthusiast. He’s got solar panels on his house out in California. Evidently, his grandfather started a non-profit organization called The Enterprise Foundation that works to expand affordable housing in Las Angeles.

So Norton decided to connect the two. He founded a partnership between the non-profit and BP solar, it’s called the BP Solar Neighbours Program.

Here’s how it works: For every celebrity Norton gets to install a solar electric system on their house, BP donates a system to a low income family in California.

Since the program started, over forty celebrities have bought systems, including Carlos Santana, Robin Williams, Don Cheadle, and Alicia Silverstone.

Don’t Take My Word For It

“Don’t Take My Word For It” is a feature I’m going to include at the end of every post. It’s a link to a credible, scholarly source, for those of you looking for more info

Click here to see the Solar Neighbors page on the BP website

Friday, September 01, 2006

Q & A

Couple of good questions after my last post:

"to power the entire country with solar, we would only need about 10,000 square miles of solar panels."Any idea what the cost of that would be?I heard somewhere that a nuclear power plant costs $10 billion to build. How many nuclear plants would it take to power the whole country?Just wondering about the economics as they stand right now.

First of all, let me say that I don't know what exactly 10,000 square miles of solar panels would cost, but it would probably be in the ball park of $7.5 trillion (I just crunched some EIA stats, I didn't just whip that off the top of my head, I promise) But that's irrelevant, because it's not going to happen. Solar has a lot more potential as distributed generation. I brought that figure up to show how much potential energy there is in sunlight.

As for nuclear, it's hard to say how much it costs because you could build a 10 megawatt plant or a 50 megawatt plant. I couldn't even give you a figure of what it might cost per watt, but I guarantee you that if you google it, whatever cost you find won't factor in how much it costs to cart the radioactive waste around the country to find a place to bury it. And if the whole country was on nuclear power, that'd be a mess.

Here's another good question:

Is there any expectation as to how long state and federal financial incentives to go solar will last? As hybrid cards have become more popular, federal financial support (in the form of tax rebates) is being phased out, after only a few years. Is there a fear that the same thing will happen with solar power incentives?

This is actually a great question. Yes, New York State is going to be putting less funding into solar next year. (This information isn't public yet. But it will be, and when it is, remember where you heard it first) The rebates should remain where they are, but with a smaller piggy bank, some jobs might find themselves on hold until the following year.

Which is stupid, but the reason why it's stupid requires a bit of explanation.

Contrary to what some people think, it's not the government's job to make solar a slam dunk. It's the industry's job to make solar a slam dunk. It's the government's job to support the industry, and that's what the rebates are designed to do. If the rebates aren't effective, then it creates conditions where solar is overly-dependent on the incentives. And that's not sustainable.
Let me give you an example:

The best success story for solar energy is in Japan. The government put some aggressive, hefty incentives in place - rebates, net metering, and low interest loan financing. The package was sufficient enough to drive the industry towards economies of scale, and the incentives slowly tapered off. But only after they effectively stimulated enough economic growth to drive the cost down. A few years ago, the incentives finally tapered off altogether, and now the price of solar is actually cheaper than standard electricity. No one even misses the incentives, they don't need them.

That's what a government should do.

For another example, take a look at California. You can say what you want to about Ah-nold, but Schwarzeneger got it right. He campaigned on a platform that included a powerful solar law, and he delivered. The state put together a 10 year, $3 billion incentive plan, with the rebates slowly tapering off over the course of the ten years. It includes rebates, expanded net metering, and even a mandate requiring newly constructed homes to present solar power as an option to buyers (It'll go in the brochure right next to the marble countertops).

It's a great plan. For the incentives to be effective, they need to stimulate the market towards economies of scale, then slowly taper off. And that's what California's plan will do.

New York's incentives, while decent, haven't been massive enough to warrant tapering off already (Our incentive funding is about $5 million - California's is 600 times more). The industry isn't close to being competitive with standard electricity. For the rebates to contract now would make them a band aid over the last few years.

But installers aren't bumming yet. It's not a dead issue, a lot can still change. Plus, the incentives are still good enough that the market will be fine next year.

But if we're thinking down the road... then yes...we're bumming

If you're a homeowner contemplating going solar, now's the time. Grab the rebates while you can.

Don’t Take My Word For It

“Don’t Take My Word For It” is a feature I’m going to include at the end of every post. It’s a link to a credible, scholarly source, for those of you looking for more info

Click here to read about California's new Million Solar Roofs Law