New Orleans Solar Gets a Helping Hand from City Council

new orleans solarLouisiana has a choice to make on solar.

With budget holes to fill, does it want to slash the state’s paltry $57 million solar subsidies and 3,600 jobs? Or would it rather stop giving excessive annual tax breaks to local oil and gas power players which number in the hundreds of millions of dollars, ultimately blowing well past a cool billion in a couple of years?

It’s embarrassing to be asked to do that math at this late stage of global warming, no doubt helped along by Louisiana’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary of soiling the Gulf coast. It gets even harder once you calculate that Louisiana boasts some of the most polluted waterways in the U.S., while New Orleans rarely fails to make annual “Most Polluted Cities in America” lists.

One imagines these sobering tragedies recently inspired the New Orleans City Council to unanimously adopt a policy resolution (PDF) in support of a “robust local solar industry.” Noting during the adoption that Environment America had named New Orleans one of the United States’ “Top 10 Solar Cities” — for a change — resolution co-sponsor and council-member Susan Guidry explained that she looked forward to the famed port metropolis eventually becoming number one. And there’s no popular reason that New Orleans can’t do exactly that, according to Gulf States Renewable Energy Association president Jeff Cantin, who noted after the resolution that 87 percent of Louisianans want more solar, not less.

Taking all this data into account, the argument that slashing Louisiana’s Solar Tax Credit program to save “about $35 million” makes any sense comes off as laughable, no matter how many smart words you use. “The process of making these decisions has been grossly manipulated, I think, by the monopoly utilities for the sole purpose of maintaining a monopoly business model,” New Orleans-based Alliance for Affordable Energy CEO Casey DeMoss told Energy and Environment Publishing.

The Beltway-based E&E spent many smart words on Louisiana’s solar controversy, without actually delving into the actual numbers of the fossil fuel industry’s “monopoly business model.” But Louisiana’s own The Advocate was much more helpful, explaining that ” taxpayers have provided over $1.2 billion to the oil and gas industry to subsidize fracking operations since 2010,” and that in 2012 alone total oil and gas subsidies equaled $550 million. After crunching those numbers, arguing over how much, how long or how many solar systems are available for subsidization in Louisiana becomes the opposite of money well spent.

But the long game, as illustrated by New Orleans City Council’s defiant resolution, is ultimately on the side of solar. Expecting no pushback from Louisiana’s oil and gas industry, and the politicians they politically and financially support, is quite illogical indeed. But expecting them to emerge victorious, in the final analysis, is a losing bet.

New Orleans solar photo CC-licensed by Liralen Li on Flickr.

Test Drive Solar Panels with Sunmetrix’s Solar Savings Tool

sunmetrixThough solar systems can be cheaper than cars, they’re not always an easy sell. But what if skeptics could test drive solar panels in the same way they’d take a car out for a spin?

Go ahead and fire up those virtual PV panels, as that moment has arrived.

In June, Sunmetrix — a startup based in Southern California and Montreal, Quebec — plans to officially launch a new tool enabling any homeowner to try out a system online for free.

“[We] give users a chance to try solar power before they buy,” said Ozgur Gurtuna, Sunmetrix founder. “By comparing their actual electricity consumption with the expected output of solar panels, our users can see for themselves how much money they can save by switching to solar.”

By providing basic information about their home — such as their address, roof slope and level of shade — users who live in the contiguous U.S., southern Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean can use the Sunmetrix GO tool to find out how much energy a solar system (from a single panel up to a 10-kilowatt system) can produce per year. They can get a tally of how much money they’d save over the course of any given month, along with a projection for the entire year.

sunmetrix go
Sunmetrix GO makes its calculations by incorporating U.S. government satellite data (gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and atmospheric models. It took five years for Gurtuna and co-founder Simone Garneau to develop the algorithms that the tool uses to produce information.

Gurtuna said that they made a breakthrough once they were able to get access to utilities’ hourly energy consumption data.

“Especially with time-of-use pricing, things can get complicated very quickly when it comes to assessing the utility savings homeowners can expect by going solar,” he said. “If we only use monthly averages, solar savings would be vastly underestimated.”

But when Sunmetrix won a $25,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst program earlier this year, it jumpstarted its next phase of development. Sunmetrix used the money to pay developers and designers around the world (provided by Appirio’s TopCoder network) to help construct Sunmetrix GO’s user interface — a job that was completed in less than four months.

And with the average customer acquisition cost reaching a few thousand dollars each, Gurtuna believes that the tool will help solar installers just as much as potential buyers. He claims that 70 percent of the Sunmetrix GO users surveyed in initial beta-testing of the tool said they were more interested in installing a solar system after completing the test drive.

How will Sunmetrix make money? It plans to get a share of cash-back rebates from a network of solar installers (that users can select from within the tool itself) once the solar installations for Sunmetrix GO users are complete. The company also wants to bring in revenue via rebate and sponsorship packages with solar manufacturers.

While in beta-testing mode, the startup is working on the ability for the tool to track when Sunmetrix GO users purchase a solar system, as well as the system that enables Sunmetrix’s network of solar installers to bid on projects.

“We would like them to be able to customize their cash-back rebate offerings based on the level of competition in their regions,” Gurtuna said.

And the site might end up being handy for homeowners who use their results to rule out solar completely.

“We let the numbers speak for themselves,” Gurtuna said. “If solar doesn’t yet make financial sense for a user [for example, compared to their utility rates, or their consumption profile], we tell them to wait.”

Window Street Financial Aims to Let the Fresh Air in for Solar Financing

window streetA new startup wants to disrupt solar financing by giving homeowners the opportunity to take out loans from the endowments of universities, foundations or nonprofit organizations instead of big banks.

Window Street Financial believes there’s a good chance that the kind of individual who would go solar in the first place would want to choose a lender that will put the homeowner’s capital towards specific mission-driven work.

“It’s nice to have transparency on what your money is doing in the world,” said founder Johnny Gannon, a solar product engineer and University of California – Berkeley MBA student. “Big banks aggregate their capital and you don’t know where it’s coming from… I want to eliminate the ‘wall’ in Wall Street and put a window there — so that the people who are investing and borrowing know who each other are.”

Gannon hatched the idea last fall with fellow student Ben Purvis. In January, just a few months after Gannon presented the idea to other entrepreneurs at the Oakland, Calif. solar incubator SfunCube, Window Street Financial won $30,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst program. The money paid for designers provided by Appirio’s TopCoder network to develop an early version of an online portal. Dubbed Sundowment, the site provides information about the idea for homeowners and endowments and enables endowments to track metrics such as the total dollar amount invested/earned from the solar loans, as well as the solar systems’ environmental impacts (such as kilowatts of clean energy created and million metric tons of CO2 savings).

Gannon envisions that homeowners would learn about Window Street Financial from the universities, foundations and nonprofit organizations whose endowments have signed up as lenders, as well as through a network of solar installers who would introduce the alternative financing option to their customers. (The startup is still working on developing their network of solar installer partners).

One part of Window Street Financial’s business model, Gannon says, is to make money through charging loan origination and processing fees. It would also provide services for the endowments by investing on their behalf.

“By managing that investment over time, we’ll make money,” he added.

Though capital coming from an endowment would be natural competitors with the loans offered by the big installers themselves, he says the unique offering could be attractive to installers as it might lower their customer acquisition costs for those who already have a strong affiliation to the universities, foundations and nonprofits on board.

Gannon has met with UC Berkeley officials, and hopes his university will be the first to sign up. Yet he readily acknowledges what Window Street Financial is up against.

“Endowments in general need to invest their capital in sure things,” he said. “Our barrier is trying to prove the model before conservative capital can move in.”

Window photo CC-licensed by dorena-wm on Flickr.

Why is Energy Efficiency Stalling in the U.S.?

energy efficiencyWhy are more Americans relaxing energy efficiency? Maybe because they’re too comfortable setting their sights too low.

The venerable polltakers quizzed over 2,000 Americans for a week in February and found less of them are turning off lights, replacing appliances, going low-watt and taking shorter showers than in years past. They still constitute a majority over those who do no such things — 75 percent this year versus 79 percent last year and 82 percent in 2012 — but it is nevertheless a “diminishing” one.

Filtered by gender, women beat men in reducing hot water 46 percent to 33 percent, while men have taken more pains to seal inefficient floor gaps and buy smart TVs. Variations also occurred regionally, notably in the drought-ridden West, which installed way more low-flow showerheads than their less parched American compatriots in the East, Midwest and South. Yet still all of the Americans that Harris polled “would appear to have their wires crossed,” because 62 percent considered themselves literate in energy and efficiency, despite the fact that a paltry 11 percent of them have actually conducted an energy audit or evaluation.

“Even though understanding of energy sources remains at historical levels, in the last few years fewer consumers are taking steps to reduce energy consumption in their homes,” spokesperson Carol M. Gstalder hedged in a statement. “As energy prices drop, so do consumers’ commitment to energy-saving decisions from replacing light bulbs and water heaters to installing solar.”

Speaking of, Harris Poll found that solar energy kicked butt on every other form of energy it suggested to respondents. Seventy-eight percent felt that solar’s benefit outweighed its risk — what, if any, there is — while 69 percent of respondents felt it is the best energy technology for the environment overall. Wind predictably arrived closely in second place, with 75 percent of respondents feeling that its benefit outweighed its marginally higher risk, while 60 percent felt it had the most positive environmental impact.

Meanwhile, much less efficient (and much dirtier) also-rans like natural gas, nukes, coal and oil struggled to gain popularity. (No one understood biomass enough to make an impression. Poor biomass.)

But it is indeed America’s aging, creaking demographics –from what Harris calls “Matures” to better-known “Baby Boomers” — who tend to think that natural gas and coal actually have a future. It’s not a stretch to argue, without the use of the Harris Poll, that it is Generation X, starved of the green leadership they have deserved since the Reagan Revolution crashed into the Great Recession, and Millennials want most to run America on solar and wind.

Which one hopes is the ultimate point of all of this data mining in the first place. Let’s cross our fingers that The Harris Poll is indeed as “highly regarded throughout the world” as it says it is, because the statistical common sense it is receiving from the American people, especially on solar and wind, desperately needs to be translated into immediate policy and financial support, from Main Street and Wall Street to Congress and the White House.

Lightbulbs photo CC-licensed by Tony Webster on Flickr.

SfunCube’s Emily Kirsch on Building a Solar Startup Haven in Oakland

Silicon Valley has been losing appeal as the “it” place to launch a startup. As large swaths of land in the area are increasingly taken over by mature tech companies like Facebook, which hired the famed Spanish Guggenheim Museum architect Frank Gehry to design its new sprawling office space in Menlo Park, many entrepreneurs are finding themselves priced out of the area.

But less than 45 miles away, and across the bay from San Francisco, sits Oakland, Calif., the most racially diverse city in the country. The city is in the midst of a renaissance: Downtown neighborhoods once deserted and crime-ridden now bustle with hip bars and innovative restaurants.

Helping to feed the city’s rejuvenation efforts – and make Oakland a top choice for California solar startups with a tech bent – is Emily Kirsch. Kirsch is CEO and co-founder of the Oakland-based incubator and accelerator SfunCube (Sfun stands for “solar for universal need”).

SfunCube’s incubator, which currently headquarters 16 companies, is a collaborative co-working space for solar startups. The accelerator is a nine-month program during which SfunCube invests in a startup and provides the company with free office space and access to an array of services, including legal and financial, to help speed the companies to scale. There are four companies presently enrolled in the accelerator program.

All companies within SfunCube’s 14,000-square-foot, industrial-chic office space are working to bring solar’s soft costs down through software and finance solutions.

emily kirschKirsch started SfunCube’s incubator in 2013 with co-founder Danny Kennedy, who also co-founded the Oakland-based solar installation giant Sungevity. Kirsch’s previous experience includes being the lead organizer for a green-collar jobs campaign at Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and serving as a fellow at the Young Climate Leaders Network.

Kirsch and Kennedy brought the first company into SfunCube’s accelerator last year.

Already SfunCube’s companies are gaining traction. Among them are incubator companies like Mosaic, which uses a crowdfunding investment platform to help customers own their own solar system, and the now-acquired Sunible, which provides an online service for homeowners to compare solar installers and get quotes.

And earlier this month, SfunCube accelerator company UtilityAPI, which uses software to grab homeowner electricity usage data from utilities as a way to quickly take care of an early step of the solar process, won $30,000 from a U.S. Department of Energy solar business competition. spoke with Kirsch about how she is helping fledgling solar companies navigate the turbulent life of a startup, and what SfunCube is doing to bring more gender and ethnic diversity among industry entrepreneurs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s different about SfunCube’s incubator and accelerator compared to those dotting Silicon Valley and other tech hubs throughout the country?

A lot of incubators and accelerators try to cover many industries and end up being broad, but not very deep. At SfunCube we are solar-specific. Because we are exclusively focused on solar our investors, mentors and business service partners, like lawyers and accountants, know the solar industry. Being able to share their experience with a new generation of solar entrepreneurs has brought tremendous value in a way that a mentor, or investor, or a lawyer who isn’t in the industry couldn’t do in the same way.

We also run our incubator and accelerator together, which is unique. The companies in the incubator and accelerator benefit from the collaborative ecosystem we have instilled here.

What solar business currently coming out of SfunCube’s accelerator program do you think could have the greatest impact for residential solar?

One startup about to graduate from our nine-month accelerator is UtilityAPI. UtilityAPI has automated the process of getting utility bill data from utilities. As it is now, if I want I to go solar today, and my home has the right conditions for it, the first thing I have to do is send 12 months of my utility bill history to the solar company. If I have paper bills, I have to mail them. Solar companies also spend a lot of operational costs as far as the staff time that’s required to access that data.

UtilityAPI solves this problem. UtilityAPI instantly downloads utility bill and usage data. They built algorithms and scrapers to automatically download bill history as long as the potential solar customer authorizes them to do so. So they take a process that can take hours, days, even weeks or months, and turn it into something that can happen in seconds.

What do you look for when picking a solar company to join SfunCube’s accelerator program?

We call it the three M’s. The first “M” is the management team. The team is first and foremost because we know the business model is going to change. Business plans pivot. That’s normal and to be expected. If the management team is solid, we are confident they can weather those transitions.

The second “M” is market opportunity. You have to be able to make money. You could have an idea that is game-changing, but if you aren’t going to make money, then you don’t have a business and nobody is going to invest.

And the third “M” is the financial model. How is their product or service sold? How quickly is the startup able to scale?

Not everyone can build a successful business. What warning signs do you look for if a solar company is going to fail?

We worry most about breakdowns in the team. We can help, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Also, the market has to be there and the financial model has to be scalable.

sfuncube workersCleantech startups still face a harsh environment when it comes to securing funding, especially from venture capital. How would you describe the current investment climate for solar?

I was recently at a venture capital event and talked with a couple of investors who said, “Oh, you’re in solar? Yeah, we invested in that back in 2012. We got burnt. I haven’t looked at it since.” There is a common experience of hardware investments gone bad, given the dramatic price drop that we saw in silicon around 2012. So that turned investors off.

But we are seeing a shift back toward investments in solar, especially because of the opportunities to make a substantial and relatively quick return on software and finance solutions, which inherently have much lower capital expense costs compared to hardware.

Solar is still a male-dominated industry that lacks ethnic diversity. What is SfunCube doing to identify and cultivate more diversity among its solar entrepreneurs?

SfunCube participates in initiatives like C3E, which is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and MIT that supports the leadership of women in clean energy. Through that network I have met a number of female co-founders and CEOs that have started solar businesses.

We recently hosted our annual solar hackathon where more than 100 developers, designers and solar experts from across the Bay Area and around the country hacked solar solutions using data sets from our sponsors, like Enphase, Sunrun and Sungevity, along with NREL. We intentionally target developer boot camps and design schools that are focused on supporting women and people of color from programs like Women Who Code and Black Founders, both organizations dedicated to diversity in tech.

Racial and gender diversity is important to us. We are in Oakland, Calif., the most ethnically diverse city in the country. Our entrepreneurs, and the solar industry as whole, should reflect the communities that we live and work in.

Get Ready for the Next Green Jobs Boom: Energy Storage Jobs

energy storageUnleashing the solar power industry has helped added jobs to the American economy at 10 times the national average. The energy storage wave will do the same.

JuiceBox Energy recently inaugurated a storage installation class for its 8.6 kWh system (pictured at left), job-training Northern Californian installers on lithium-ion batteries, multiple PV configurations and a “hands-on” site design. Earlier that month, Juicebox installed its first solar battery system in a California home, financed through the property-assessed-clean-energy program (PACE).

With the energy storage industry about to take off on Main Street and Wall Street, people noticed. “The energy system of the future integrates batteries into the residential solar markets, and it’s exciting to see this new JuiceBox Energy Storage System leading the way” CALSEIA president Brad Heavner said after JuiceBox CEO Neil Macguire announced the benchmark at a CALSEIA meeting.

Pull back from Juicebox’s local microcosm, and you find the broader macroeconomics hard at work. In the same May, American panel efficiency champ SunPower deepened its partnership with storage upstart Stem, who together announced that their behind-the-meter battery systems were available for commercial customers. “It’s a market pull,” SunPower general manager Ivo Steklac explained, according to CleanTechnica. “Our customers are asking for these solutions.”

Stem CEO John Carrington said that the growth rate of these solutions, and therefore his company, currently installing 10 megawatts of batteries across 140 sites, is “remarkable.” It’s also worth noting that Tesla Energy, powerfully outshining both Stem and Juicebox on the news cycle’s radar, sold out of $800 million in Powerwalls shortly after announcing them, over $600 million of which went to utilities. Powerwall runs toward $400 while Juicebox hovers closer to $1000, but their respective price tags mean little compared to the number of jobs their mere existence promises. More and more people are going to have to learn to install these storage solutions, whether they come from Stem or anyone, as they unlearn skill sets from a 20th-century energy model that no longer exists.

“We are rapidly building the JuiceBox certified installer network,” sales VP Greg Maguire said — reminding that June and September classes are already scheduled.

You and everyone else paying attention, Greg.

Energy storage photo courtesy of JuiceBox.

EnergySage Continues to Expand Its Online Solar Marketplace

florida solarPartially kickstarted by an incubator fund from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, online solar marketplace pioneer EnergySage recently secured $1.5 million in private funding, on the heels of a fiscal year that tripled its revenue and registrations. Not bad for a renewable energy upstart.

The new round of seed funding, which brings the Boston-based comparison shopper’s overall haul to $4 million, comes from Launchpad Venture Group, which adds its Gail Greenwald to EnergySage’s board of directors. That should be enough to expand its online solar marketplace beyond the 30 states in which it now has a footprint by the end of this year.

“This new funding will enable us to expand our reach, connecting with more communities countrywide to bring desperately needed simplicity, transparency and choice to the process of solar energy shopping,” CEO Vikram Aggarwal said in a recent flurry of EnergySage press releases trumpeting its good news. “The solar industry is growing, but it’s not meeting its full potential because solar is a complicated topic and a serious investment, and people haven’t had easy access to the data and unbiased information they need to truly evaluate all of their options.”

EnergySage’s online marketplace tackles those problems by aggregating data on over 250 solar system installers to help commercial and residential consumers tailor solarization to their specific needs and costs. It also facilitates “partnerships with businesses, municipalities, non-profits, utilities and a variety of other organizations striving to promote clean energy adoption,” Aggarwal explained, reportedly shortening installer sales cycles by 70 percent while achieving a 20 percent discount compared to the market average. EnergySage also claims a solar adoption rate of two to three times the “industry norms.”

From the first quarter of last year to 2015, EnergySage tripled its revenue and registrations across 30 states, while teaming up with partners as different as The Solutions Project, Staples, World Wildlife Fund, Clean Air Council and Connecticut Green Bank, among many others. It also recently won the backing of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, after receiving an award from governor Andrew Cuomo for solar expansion in his state. By all appearances, its relatively simple business model seems to be improving upon what can be a complicated renewable energy purchase, while generating a return on investment that is attracting high-profile clients as well as homeowners hungry for clean living.

“Beyond delivering substantial value to the consumer, the EnergySage marketplace has also proven to reduce customer acquisition costs for installers by more than 50 percent,” Aggarwal added. “Because installers are able to more quickly and easily connect with purchase-ready customers, they can increase close rates and reduce sales cycle times. The marketplace is transforming the solar industry into one that is not only highly efficient, but also scalable.”

How Shared Solar is Giving People the Power in France

shared solarOn the first day of school in Bourguébus, a community in Calvados, the new first-graders stand in the schoolyard open-mouthed. The other teachers, parents, and students are already used to the peculiar roof of their school. Since August 2012 the building has been covered in solar panels. Officially inaugurated in May 2013, it is the first success of Énergie Partagée—in English, “Shared Energy”—a community investment fund for renewable energy.

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on FuturePerfect and is licensed under the Creative Commons.]

It all started in 2010 with a small group of citizens who wondered which energy model they ought to endorse for their country. Their region, Lower Normandy, historically bears the mark of nuclear energy. The highly controversial nuclear power plant of Flamanville will be the home of France’s first European pressurized water reactor, which has prodded citizens like Valérie Haelewyn into action: “We wanted to come up with something different in our region. The topic of energy offered us an opportunity to take back control over our own home, to shape our children’s future.” Énergie Partagée embodies the idea of inter-community action in the scope of a large civic project: private actors such as associations, citizens, and businesses join forces with public authorities.

Local, but not alone

The initiative was quick to identify three schools on the southern plane of Caen, a community of several towns totaling 8,500 inhabitants. A shared-interest co-op with the name Plaine Sud Énergie was founded in June 2011 with the valuable support of ARDES, the regional association for the development of a solidary economy—one that is characterized by or involves a community of responsibilities and interests. It raises public-private funding for the purpose of installing solar panels on school roofs. The participating communities and their citizens fund the project by underwriting the co-op shares.

But that is not enough. Patricia Oury, co-manager and co-founder of Plaine Sud Énergie, says: “It is hard to start this all by yourself. We were unable to finance the three installations without help; our starting capital was insufficient to obtain any bank loans.” This was where Énergie Partagée got involved. In June 2012, the association purchased shares in the capital of Plaine Sud Énergie in order to increase the investment volume.

The story of this project illustrates what Énergie Partagée wants to do: provide leverage to local champions of renewable energy. The citizens’ capital raised by Énergie Partagée funds projects to generate renewable energy as well as to increase energy savings and energy efficiency. On the one hand, Énergie Partagée is an association that supports project administrators and creates networks between energy activists. On the other hand, it is a financing association, which has been authorized to collect and manage contributions from citizens for investment purposes since 2011.

Citizens shape and fund their own energy model

Among other things, the mission of Énergie Partagée is to build citizens’ capital—in other words, to make investments more meaningful by bringing those who provide funds and those who use them back together. The French co-operative bank Nef is one of the founding members of the structure. Haelewyn and her husband also invested money in Énergie Partagée: “What impressed us was this smart way to use money. It made us rethink the notion of investment. We realized that this model can make a difference in our very own community.”

The concept puts investing citizens into the driving seat of energy policy. “With Énergie Partagée, people choose where their money is going. They decide to promote a certain energy model,” explains Marc Mossalgue, who coordinates the movement. Oury confirms: “It turns citizens into spin doctors of change. In the case of Plaine Sud Énergie, the communities would never have gotten involved in this sort of project on their own.” According to Haelewyn, raising awareness is key: “The mainstream media never cover initiatives like this one, and that is why people don’t believe in them. This project proves, however, that you can make a difference. Right in your own community.”

And you can do it in an efficient way, too. Today, the schools of Bourguébus, Garcelles, and Saint-Aignan generate solar energy—in the first year of operation to the tune of about 70,000 kilowatt-hours. The region is not exactly known for its sunshine, but Oury is optimistic. The output is fed into the general grid and sold to Electricité de France, EDF. The energy company agreed to purchase electricity at 40 cents per kilowatt-hour over 20 years. This way, the investment will break even within 15 years. But solar energy is a difficult industry. Today, prices are closer to 17 cents per kilowatt-hour. Many are frustrated with the feeble pricing and legal framework, including Oury: “It would be impossible to balance the budget at today’s prices. We must use the success of this project to appeal to the public and its power to influence things.” She is convinced that people in the region are closely following the debate about the energy revolution.

Tackling challenges collectively

In addition to being a financing lobby for renewable energies, Énergie Partagée has also tackled the far more difficult task of raising awareness. The project Plaine Sud Énergie fuses educational and commercial approaches in powerful symbolism. Students in grades four and five explore the topic of energy with the help of questionnaires, experiments, and field trips to exhibitions. But the children are not the reluctant ones: “It is mostly the parents who hold us back psychologically. When I started presenting the project, I realized that many parents thought I was from a different planet,” says Oury. Today, she works on fostering a dialogue across the age groups, in the hope that she can change minds for the long term. The road is still long, but she knows that the faculty stands firmly behind the work of Plaine Sud Énergie.

Thanks to Énergie Partagée, the south of Caen generates solar energy as well as a movement toward a new system and a new way to perceive personal responsibility—valuable tools to tackle the collective challenges of our times. Valérie Haelewyn summarizes: “Basically, the topic of energy raises one question: What do we together want to make of tomorrow’s society? Énergie Partagée provides a beautiful answer to this.”

School photo CC-licensed by Energie Partagée.

Barnabé Binctin studied journalism in Paris and, once graduated, actively campaigned for citizen journalism. Today, he works for the environmental magazine Reporterre.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Across the Pond, What’s the State of the U.K.’s Solar Market?

UK solarIs the U.K.’s solar market heating up? You bet your Union, Jack. At least, for now.

Strong public support for solar is lighting up Britain. Even its conservative MPs are on board, despite the fact that Britain’s increasingly right-wing government scrapped all renewable obligation support for solar farms over 5 megawatts on April 1, according to the U.K.’s Solar Power Portal. The Portal also noted that the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has since 2012 routinely and comprehensively tracked public opinion on solar, and nearly always found that about 80 percent of its constituents are in favor of it. “The latest wave shows that 81% of Brits support the rollout of solar,” it added.

You can add those obvious numbers to a new report from Colorado’s IHS Inc., which spotted an “unprecedented solar boom” in the U.K., thanks to 110 PV projects with a combined capacity of 1.6 gigawatts that were completed in the first quarter of 2015 alone. Sure, they were hurriedly built before the government’s aforementioned renewable obligation support program expired; “in fact, some of these projects received their permits as late as early February of this year,” explained IHS senior analyst Josefin Berg.

But despite the government’s purported disdain for renewable energy, Berg does not expect the solar market in Britain to cool off, and chances are that overwhelming public support won’t let it. Thanks to its desperate flurry, the U.K. installed more solar capacity than any other European nation last year.

But that achievement is being clumsily deflated by dissension within David Cameron’s conservative government, which is fresh off an electoral upset of Labour. Documents recently obtained by the Solar Trade Association have found that Britain’s 14 distribution network operators, which operate as regional monopolies, have projected that only 6.6 gigawatts of solar capacity will be added to the grid by 2023 — despite the fact that the nation already boasts more capacity than that now. “The future evolution of the network is clouded by uncertainty and misinformed by astonishing underestimates in the rate of renewables deployment,” STA’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene explained. Add to that ludicrous claims from Britain’s newly reinstated environment secretary Elizabeth Truss that solar farms negatively impact agriculture, and you have a nation dumbly bumbling its way to a renewable energy takeover.

But politics, like energy, is a long game, and there is simply no way that Britain can withstand the mounting onslaught of popular opinion on solar power. After all, it is the people who put the government in power, and it is the people who will take them out, once they realize that the government is servicing last century’s obsolete energy infrastructure at the expense of this century’s newer, cleaner alternatives, as climate change’s destabilizing sea rise begins to swallow the U.K.’s legendary coastlines. Even Truss has admitted that solar has an obvious home on British rooftops, if not its agricultural spaces — which as much of a no-brainer as Greene’s explanation that Truss’ witless hypothesis is based more on politics than evidence.

In the final analysis, it is just a matter of time before the U.K. comes to lasting terms with globally warmed reality. “I want to unleash a new solar revolution,” claimed Britain’s new energy secretary Amber Rudd, who was hand-picked by Cameron himself. She might want to tell that to the rest of Cameron’s government.

U.K. solar neighborhood photo CC-licensed by Tom Chance on Wikimedia.

Vancouver Ranks Last in List of Best Cities for Solar in Canada

vancouverIn our long series on the state of solar in Canada, British Columbia is held out as a leading light for solar. But according to the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation in a new ranking, Vancouver BC is dead last in supporting Canada solar with smart solar policies.

SPEC this month released the first ranking of Canadian cities’ solar policies, and found that, among 17 large Canadian cities, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto were ranked best, while Surrey and Vancouver fell to the bottom of the list.

Among the factors putting Vancouver at the bottom of the heap are the municipal requirements for home solar installations, which put Vancouver as the most expensive city in the list, and more than 20 times the permitting costs of top-ranked Cawston BC — just CAN$80 to install a 5-kilowatt system in Cawston compared to $2,255 for the same system in Vancouver.

The chart below lays out the various permitting costs in each of the cities:


Alberta as a province is only just beginning to get up to speed on solar, but Edmonton is the top-ranked city in the SPEC report.

Writing in the ECO Report, Roy Hales covers what Edmonton is doing for solar:

Jenny Hong, Senior Environmental Project Manager with the City of Edmonton, said permitting can be a significant barrier, especially for residential solar installations. Alberta is still in the beginning phases of solar adoption, but Edmonton has established an energy resilience target to generate 10% of the city’s electricity locally, such as through Solar PV, by 2035.

“As part of the energy transition strategy (which the city passed on April 29th, 2015), We will be exploring and implementing various initiatives to increase PV solar adoption in new and existing residential buildings as well as institutional, commercial and industrial buildings,” she said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Rob Baxter, the president of SPEC as well as the co-founder of solar installer Vancouver Renewable Energy, told Hales that “Vancouver is talking about being the greenest city. It seems to me that in this case you would want to have at policy that was at least as good as other cities, if not better.”

Vancouver photo CC-licensed by Cliff Hellis on Flickr.