Greenpeace has nothing against night time, but we have to say: these days we’re kind of into the sun. That’s why in advance of this summer solstice, the day the sun shines longest all year, we are taking a little time to give props.
And we’re not the only ones. Countries the world over are shifting toward renewable energy, with solar projects taking an increasing slice of the electricity generation pie. In some developing countries, renewables like solar are leapfrogging older technologies and fossil fuels altogether.
And it’s no surprise. Renewable sources, like hydro, wind, and solar are abundant, they can be installed across scales (from the household to the large utility), and they don’t have the horrible public health and climate implications of coal, oil, and natural gas.
But sunlight. More energy reaches earth as sunlight in one hour than all of humanity uses in a year. And we actually have the wherewithal to harness way, way more of it than we already do. So what are we waiting for? That’s obviously a rhetorical question.
Here is a list of solar energy projects in the U.S. that we think are making that question a lot less rhetorical right now.
Put Solar On It
Solar Mosaic is one of the companies leading the solar revolution in the U.S. The company has partnered with dozens of other organizations to provide people in every state the tools they need to install solar panels on buildings in their communities. The project, called Put Solar on It, has already garnered a lot of attention. This solstice, the coalition will be supporting a national day of action to get the word out. Check here to see how you can get involved.
Lancaster: The Solar Capital of the Universe
There can be no arguing that a combination of renewable-friendly legislation, technological and innovative knowhow, sunny cities, and a history of leading paradigm shifts makes California the capital of the solar revolution. But one mayor in California will only be satisfied when his town is recognized as the solar capital “of the universe.” R. Rex Parris (who is a Republican by the way) is pushing to make the desert city of Lancaster the first city that produces more electricity from solar energy than it consumes on a daily basis. Among the ways he’s achieving that goal is by mandating that every new home be equipped with solar panels or their equivalent. More power to him.
Not everybody is able to put photovoltaic panels on their homes. They might live in a cloudy part of town, or they may not own their properties. But one type of legislation makes it possible for those people to buy into shared solar systems, conventionally known as “solar gardens” and have a portion of the energy produced sent to their homes. It’s pretty convenient. Colorado is among the states leading the charge toward solar gardens, but frustratingly, some states have defeated legislation that would make it possible.
Apple doing it right
Tech giant Apple has made good on a few big time solar investments. It powers its entire iCloud with two massive solar farms in North Carolina, and its data centers in Nevada are set to be powered by solar as well. It is very close to having 100% of its energy powered by renewables. In 2010, it was only at 35%.
It may not be known for being the sunniest place in the world, but Portland is definitely one of the leading American cities in the race to go solar. Among the city’s great contributions to the national renewables transition is Solarize, which was originally led by neighborhood assoications to buy solar panels in quantity and make them available to residents at low cost. Solarize initiatives have spread to cities and states across the U.S. Greenpeace has supported Solarize Charlotte in North Carolina, the heart of anti-solar Duke Energy and ALEC obstruction. Solaraize Charlotte has already mobilized hundreds of people.
Gainesville’s feed-in tariff
Cities or states can elect to pay owners of solar panels when they feed excess energy from their panels back into the grid. The policy, known as a feed-in tariff, made Gainesville, Florida one of the world leaders in per capita solar installations. It also produced revenue for suppliers with a lot of roof space, like city schools and libraries. Unfortunately, because of controversy (some of it trumped up) that the feed in tariffs were no longer paying off for the city, Gainesville is granting no contracts in 2014. But still, in a state that has been pretty bad at converting to renewables (despite ample sunshine), that city stands out.
This year, Governor Cuomo of New York committed about $1 billion to sweeping market-based solar programs across the state. His stated hope is to modernize the state’s grid and create a solar marketplace by promoting business, including a successful bid to lure Elon Musk’s Solar City manufacturing operations. Already, the state hosts more than 400 solar companies, providing over 5,000 skilled jobs to New Yorkers. (And while we’re on the subject of Solar City, what about its purchasing of panel manufacturer Silevo? That’s big news!)
There’s the great tool by Sustainable CUNY called the NYC Solar Map, that provides info on just about all of the rooftop solar installed in the city, with testimonials by owners and assistance for people who want to do the same (it’s pretty cool to play around with). The map is super detailed and shows that 2/3 of the rooftops in Gotham are suitable for solar. If that happened, it would double the entire solar output of the United States and meet half of the city’s peak demand.
Utility Scale Solar growing up
Enormous solar projects that provide electricity like conventional power plants are going online all over the country. They point to the future of utility-scale renewables projects but have also been criticized on environmental, economic, and social grounds. One project that we’re watching optimistically is now under construction. It’s the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, which is being built in a partnership between First Solar Electric and the Moapa Paiute tribe. The Moapa Paiute have long battled with a polluting coal plant, Reid-Gardner, which belches coal smoke into their air to power Las Vegas about 50 miles away. The Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power has already contracted with the plant for 25 years.