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Uncommon headlines: Rising Republican star (Chris Christie!) embraces solar

Solar panels on an Oakland rooftop. (Photo by Solar Mosaic.)

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris "Chris" Christie (R) signed into law an effort to expand the state's fast-growing solar industry. ThinkProgress has the wonky details.

New Jersey has the second-most solar installations in the country, behind only California. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association:

In the first quarter of this year, 174 megawatts of new solar capacity were connected to the N.J. grid. Cumulatively, more than 775 megawatts of solar has been installed in the state, enough to power about 130,000 homes.

That kind of growth is hard for any politician to ignore.

Read more: Politics, Solar Power

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U.S. lays out the welcome mat for solar on public lands

Adelanto is a desert town northeast of Los Angeles. The average high in Adelanto is 75 degrees; it's in the high desert, so it gets a lot of sun. Yesterday, the L.A. Department of Water and Power put that sunlight to work.

The Department of the Interior today announced plans to make that practice far more common throughout the West. The New York Times reports:

After more than two years of study and public comment, the Department of Interior on Tuesday identified 17 sites on 285,000 acres of public lands across six Southwestern states as prime spots for development of solar energy. Agency officials said the government would fast-track applications for large-scale solar energy installations at those sites in the hope of speeding construction of thousands of megawatts of renewable, non-polluting electricity generation. …

But officials said they were fencing off more than 78 million acres of public land from solar development because the areas have less solar energy potential, do not have immediate access to transmission lines or pose a threat to important archaeological or cultural sites, endangered species, scarce water resources or other environmental values if developed.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Politics, Solar Power

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Why we pay double for solar in America (but won’t forever)

I often get flak when I publish research on the cost trajectory for solar (my "Rooftop Revolution" report estimates 100 million Americans reaching grid parity by 2021). About half think I’m too conservative, and half think I’m too overconfident that solar will continue to drop in price by 7 percent per year indefinitely.

But I’m not alone in perceiving an enormous cost reduction opportunity for solar in the United States. An article in Forbes last week suggested that we can "Cut The Price Of Solar In Half By Cutting Red Tape."  It provides a chart (reproduced below) like one I published in March, that shows how a similarly sized residential solar array in Germany costs 60 percent less than one built in the U.S.

Read more: Solar Power

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Baseball’s All-Star Game: So green, you’ll forget the game doesn’t matter

Photo by Rich Anderson.

Baseball fans will gladly tell you why tonight's All-Star Game doesn't matter. Even when the Bud Selig-tie-game debacle led to a contest that determined which league played host during the World Series (basically always the American League) it didn't make a whole lot of difference to the outcome.

So here's something that matters anyway: The All-Star Game is very, very green.

Very green. So green, uneaten hot dogs will be composted.

The Royals, in conjunction with Missouri Organic Waste, will divert organic waste from food prep and from the suites to composting. Uneaten food will be collected and donated to Harvesters.

So green, the toilet paper is made from recycled paper.

Paper products in the restrooms contain post-recycled content such as the toilet paper (30% post-consumer) and paper towels (up to 73% post-consumer).

So green, the power used in the stadium will be offset.

120,000 KWh of energy used during the All-Star Game and related events, including the Home Run Derby, the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game and the All-Star Futures Game will be offset with Green-e Certified Renewable Energy Credits supplied by Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

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How to put solar panels on your roof, even if you don’t have a roof

sun over solar panelRight now, if you want to embrace the solar-power revolution, you have to have a roof and a lot of money -- or at the very least, a roof and a good credit score, so you can finance a solar system or work with a leasing company like SolarCity.

A bill advancing through the California legislature would change all that and make it easy for anyone who pays a utility bill to become a solar customer. Senate Bill 843 has passed the state Senate and just got approval from a key committee in the Assembly. As GigaOM reports:

The bill ... aims to enable people who don’t own homes, or own homes that don’t have suitable roofs for solar panels, to buy clean power and offset their utility bills. They could sign contracts with owners of solar power projects for a portion of the power produced, and the amount they pay for would show up as credits on their utility bills. The proposed program would be available not only to consumers but also businesses who are customers of the three big investor-owned utilities.

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America: Awash in sunlight and oil

America is like this pelican, except likely to survive.

The Wall Street Journal isn't the most environmentally friendly news outlet. (For example.) (And, also: It frequently chops down thousands of trees, turns them into pulp, crushes soybeans into ink, and combines all of this into a product that is dumped directly into landfills. Can you imagine?)

You should not, therefore, be surprised to read its triumphant proclamation of the imminent end of foreign oil.

America will halve its reliance on Middle East oil by the end of this decade and could end it completely by 2035 due to declining demand and the rapid growth of new petroleum sources in the Western Hemisphere, energy analysts now anticipate.

Hooray! First paragraph! Oh, also:

By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America "could almost be nonexistent," the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

Bottom of the third paragraph. If they could have whispered it, they probably would have.

A reduced reliance on importing oil is indeed good. But primarily if it's because we're reducing oil use. That's not a runner-up.

Read more: Oil, Solar Power

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Why Congress must investigate the wasteful Solyndra investigation

Please sit down. Seriously. I will not be responsible for you passing out from surprise and injuring yourself. Today of all days, we must be careful about incurring healthcare costs.

Here's the news from Politico:

More than a year after House Republicans began investigating the $535 million Solyndra loan guarantee, the lawmaker leading the probe says it could soon come to a close. “We’re getting closer to getting closure on this,” Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel, told POLITICO late yesterday.

"What?" you will exclaim. "Am I to believe that perhaps there was no evidence of wrongdoing to be found?" Yes, dear reader. That is what you are being asked to believe. We understand your hesitance.

Read more: Politics, Solar Power

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Yes, the economy could soon run on (mostly) renewable power

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a series of billboards sponsored by FORCE, a pro-coal lobby, make the argument for coal-based power by arguing that "wind dies" and "the sun sets." Coal wants you to think renewable energy is unstable, uneven.

Bad news, coal. A massive study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) modeled the impacts of a national energy grid with renewable power comprising between 30 and 90 percent of the mix -- including the requisite generation, transmission, and storage. In short:

The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States.

That quote scratches the surface of the NREL's findings, which follow collaboration with 110 contributors from 35 organizations inside and outside the government. (The list of abbreviations used in the report itself runs two-and-a-half pages.) Another study released in 2010 found that Europe could similarly make a transition to a renewable-heavy energy infrastructure.

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Japan turns reactors back on – but bulks up on solar

Japan's announcement over the weekend that it would restart two nuclear reactors caused no small amount of consternation within the country and abroad. Seventy-one percent of the country opposes turning the reactors back on. They point out that the country has been meeting power demands just fine without the reactors online, and also note some of the challenges of using nuclear power. Such as earthquake/tidal wave combos that knock out power plants and lead to radiation leaks. That has happened before. In recent memory.

On the other hand, Japan is also moving to become a solar power heavyweight. A boom in the country's solar market may soon move it past Germany and Italy to be the second-largest in the world. Bloomberg reports:

Industry Minister Yukio Edano set today a premium price for solar electricity that’s about triple what industrial users now pay for conventional power. That may spur at least $9.6 billion in new installations with 3.2 gigawatts of capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. The total is about equal to the output of three atomic reactors. Solar stocks rallied.

Read more: Nuclear, Solar Power

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Crowdsourced solar gets a nod — and a check — from the Department of Energy

Photo by Solar Mosaic.

I was once in a meeting with a guy who sold and installed solar panels. When he asked a woman sitting next to him if she'd thought about putting solar panels on her house, she replied that she'd love to, but she couldn't afford it. His response came with the casual immediacy of the salesman: "That's what you think."

The challenge to broad adoption of solar used to be a lack of awareness. Now, it's often a lack of capital. People understand that solar promises to save on utility costs over the long term, but many are discouraged by the investment cost of installation and the time it takes to recoup. One approach to offsetting those initial costs is the revolving loan fund, a pool of money often from a government body that provides initial capital the borrower can repay from the eventual savings. Once the loan is repaid, the fund invests in another similar project.

Oakland's Solar Mosaic takes a different tack. Its process, as Greg Hanscom outlined in April, is to create a one-time pool of investors who provide initial capital -- a strategy often compared to Kickstarter or Kiva. It's brilliant in its simple adherence to the tried-and-true: You invest, money is made (in the form of reduced electric bills), you are repaid. (Currently, the pool doesn't return any interest on the loans, but it's easy to imagine that it someday could.) The company is still in its beta stage, but it has already tapped over 400 investors for five installations.