John Farrell

John Farrell is the author of Energy Self-Reliant States and a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where he focuses on renewable energy policy.

Solar Power

Gainesville, Fla., becomes a world leader in solar power

Beating out Japan, France, and China in solar installed per capita, this small city proves you don't have to be big to go big on solar power.

Federal tax credits may handcuff clean energy development

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Clean energy advocates should cast aside their worries about increasing Republican scrutiny of energy subsidies.  The clean energy industry’s foolish reliance on tax incentives has already handcuffed its expansion. Unlike the leading nations in the clean energy race, the United States has no coherent energy policy.  Rather, its energy market is balkanized by 50 distinct state policies and overlaid with poorly conceived federal tax incentives.  Federal tax incentives have one redeeming feature.  To get a tax incentive only takes one vote …

Bigger subsidies make bigger solar a bad bet

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Americans seem unable to resist big things, and solar power plants are no exception. There may be no reasoning with an affinity for all things “super sized,” but the economics of large scale solar projects (and the unwelcome public scrutiny) should bury the notion that bigger is better for solar. In fact, smaller scale solar and the right solar policy could get more solar for the dollar and more public support for renewable energy. There are three problems with large-scale solar …

Solar power can fit on existing land use

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. While large-scale solar creates contention between environmental advocates and renewable energy proponents, the truth is that there are thousands of acres in already developed land where solar can easily fit.  This infographic explains a few of the many places solar power can fit, not even counting rooftops.

Here comes the sun – the chart Paul Krugman left out

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Nobel economist Paul Krugman made waves last month when his column “Here Comes the Sun” noted that the rapidly falling cost of solar electricity – “prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year” – meant that “solar is now cost-effective.” It’s close. But it depends on what’s meant by “cost-effective.” The first step is translating solar prices into electricity prices.  Installed costs for solar have dropped dramatically, from $8 to $10 per Watt just a few years ago to …

Solar Power

Group purchase gets residential solar to grid parity in Los Angeles

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. Back for a second round, the Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles has organized another group purchase of residential and commercial solar PV, bringing the lifetime cost of solar well under the cost of grid electricity even for individual homeowners. The savings from the group purchase are enormous. With prices are around $4.40 per Watt installed for solar, Open Neighborhoods gets residential solar for $2 cheaper than the average residential-scale solar prices reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association for the …

Solar for Schools? Not so easy with tax-based solar incentives

You’re a city manager hoping to cut electricity costs at sewage treatment plant, a school administrator looking to power schools with solar, or a state park official needing an off-grid solar array for a remote ranger station. But unlike any private home or business, you can’t get 50% off using the federal tax incentives for solar (a 30% tax credit and ~20% from accelerated depreciation).  That’s because the federal government’s energy policies all use the tax code, and your organization is tax exempt. What about a public-private partnership?  The private entity puts up some money and gets the tax benefits, …

America and Germany Getting Their Clean Energy Just Desserts

Germany is the unquestioned world leader in renewable energy.  By mid-2011, the European nation generated over 20 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power alone, and had created over 400,000 jobs in the industry. The sweet German success is no accident, however, and the following pie chart illustrates the results of a carefully crafted recipe for renewable energy. As the chart illustrates, more than half of Germany’s enormous renewable energy generation is in the hands of “ordinary people,” according to the German Renewable Energy Agency.  This outcome is more than golden in color, but has been a gold-clad …

Renewable Energy

America’s energy future: iPads vs. typewriters with guns

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project. As Americans transition their electricity system to the 21st century, they should ask this question: Does it make sense to pursue strategies such as accelerating the development of new high-voltage power lines that reinforce an outdated paradigm of electricity delivery, or should scarce energy dollars be spent to add new clean, local energy to the grid in the most cost-effective manner? Fossil-fuel power lends itself to centralized power systems, requiring long supply lines (rail or pipeline) to provide a constant supply …