Solar Power International 2017: What Happens in Vegas Can’t Stay in Vegas.

It should be a requirement that everyone in solar should attend an industry-wide conference once in their lives. Like a natural ecosystem or the grid itself, the solar industry is a vast and utterly interconnected machine. There are no silos and there can’t be, due to the basic nature of both electrical power and human society itself.

Working in one or two companies gives you a limited view as to how the whole solar show all fits together, and since the media and communications components of the solar industry are so massively under-resourced, everyone regardless of job function is inevitably put in an educational position.

As a panelist at the only session specifically devoted to communications so wisely said: “All companies are media companies.” Yes – there was only one session at SPI devoted solely to communications, which when taking into account the massive amounts of information exchanged at such an event, isn’t all that surprising. But anything not specifically addressed usually remains ignored.

low income access to community solar
Poster by Vote Solar’s Marta Tomic and Melanie Santiago-Mosier, JD: “True clean energy equity means that the benefits of solar are accessible to everyone, regardless of whether solar is installed on your roof or around the corner. So far, only 15 states and the District of Columbia have legislatively enabled community solar programs, and of these, only a few states have developed community programs and policies that provide tangible benefits for low-income households and promote their participation. This poster identifies the key barriers to developing viable community solar programs for low-income communities that stand the most to gain: http://www.eventscribe.com/2017/posters/SPI/SplitViewer.asp?PID=MTE4OTQ1MTk4NDQ#

Much of the heavy lifting in the communications department was done by the Poster Gallery, and if you didn’t get to go to the conference, this is the thing to check out. It’s all on an online Poster Gallery now, in all its glory… You have to register for a free Eventscribe account, but the information is priceless, from Commercial and Industrial topics to Policy, Storage, Finance, Residential, Smart Grid, and Technical Abstracts.

As every salesperson knows, the minute you open your mouth about your job at a dinner party, you’re asked about baseball impacts on panels, why you can’t hook up your car battery instead of buying a fancy Powerwall, or my favorite question of the week (worthy of a post of its own): if utilities are buying more renewable energy these days, why aren’t electricity rates going down? Great question there!

It’s no longer acceptable that Americans learn everything they will ever learn about clean energy from Bill Nye in fourth-grade science, and then immediately forget it. Fossil fuel companies are not stopping the direct mail onslaught anytime soon, which leads me to my first memorable number:

  • $33 trillion. This is the amount of money that fossil fuel companies stand to lose from stranded assets over the next 25 years if global society acts on climate change, according to an Barclays energy analyst. This was one of the focal points of the keynote given by CEO Dan Gregory of microgrid specialists Pos-En, a Star Wars-themed presentation that stood out for its spirit. (His son, a psychology major, suggested the theme.) I have included his slides below – not just amusing, they also bring up many intriguing themes, like the promise of expanded direct current applications. (Some say this is inevitable, and I doubt anyone in Florida or the Caribbean is ruling out any options.) The solar industry finds itself in the awkward and unique position of being both a late-stage capitalist industry and the group of people ushering in the Golden Age of renewable energy, which not only requires technological innovation but courageous social decision-making at a time when American democracy is essentially non-functional. It’s not like America is the only country to play a role in this, but we still have incredible advantages of wealth, a legacy of investing in higher education, and a commitment to technological innovation. If there were a time for an engineer’s battle cry, it would be now.SPI_Keynote_V2
  • The Technical Symposium! This was the first one at Solar Power International (after five years of lobbying by researchers) and I tell you, it was amazing. Researchers from at least eight universities and some of the most innovative companies in the business were there. I will have to do another blog post just on this. Maybe in two years we will have communications and messaging charrettes too…. Something to think about.
  • The 51st State Project. The Smart Energy Power Alliance is the cosponsor with SEIA of Solar Power International and is the entity charged with the monumental task of interfacing between utilities and energy clean tech during a period of grid modernization. They are addressing this charge with aplomb and creativity, as evinced by the 51st State Project, an initiative which aims to rearrange and re-envision utility function for a theoretical open-book state. Check it out at this link.

There was just too much for a 600-word post but these are my initial thoughts. Happy to talk to anyone about these initiatives and I hope that everyone does indeed get a chance to attend an SPI event, or the American Solar Energy Society conference in Colorado next month.

 

 

 

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Why I Started the Greater Phila. Renewable Energy Society

Greater Philadelphia Renewable Energy Meetup

Philadelphia, PA
247 Members

Making the clean energy transition: it’s going to take all of us!We are a social/networking Meetup/social/networking for folks who work in the region on renewable energy and …

Check out this Meetup Group →

 

In January 2016, while working in sales for SolarCity, I started a new group in Philadelphia to promote renewable and clean energy based on a very successful organization I had seen in Colorado, called CRES.

The Colorado Renewable Energy Society is a statewide, volunteer-run catchall organization with the broad-brush mission of promoting clean power. I volunteered with them in 2015, and was inspired. Large enough to have multiple chapters with well-attended meetings, CRES is a collection of tinkerers and DIYers, clean energy technical, sales, and entrepreneur types, political advocates and government officials, quietly radical utility employees, videographers, writers…It was a curious, fertile, and energetic mix. Jargon-heavy conversations were balanced with the notes of visionaries, and the personality types bounced off each other well.

CRES had been around for a long time, and had been one of the primary drivers behind the passage of Colorado’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard of 30 percent, the then-highest in the nation and one of the greatest impetuses to clean power development in Colorado. Like Pennsylvania, Colorado is one of the most heavily loaded fossil-fuel “energy states” in the country, but unlike Pennsylvania, it has taken advantage of its renewable resources as well, and has developed a thriving clean energy economy.

It was a real-life example of what I’d read in Richard Lester and David Hart’s very good book, Unlocking Energy Innovation: How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System. Written in 2012, it spelled out the social conditions for development of an “innovation system” in clean energy, similar to the systems that American policy and industry historically colluded to promote information technology, oil and gas, nuclear power, or healthcare technology.

According to Lester and Hart, a clean energy innovation system does not arise spontaneously from consumer will or popular interest – it is fostered through institutional arrangements that make it possible, each taking a role in an extended period of time diagrammed into four stages of energy innovation:

lester and hart one

They identified a number of these institutions and social arrangements (some you already know, like government research funding, and some that are “under discussion”, like utility regulations) that made this possible, but also some of the current obstacles to advancement at each stage of the process:

lester an d hart two

Developing the innovation ecosystem in Philadelphia and the region – seeing which obstacles we could address – is why I started the Greater Philadelphia Renewable Energy Society. Working for a solar company at the time that was only allowed to interconnect with the electric company in the suburbs, I knew that regionalism was needed for this to cohere (hence the “greater.”) I also knew that there were solo clean energy fans floating around out there like spare electrons. I was hoping GRPES would be a nucleus for them.

Philadelphia has very different resources than centers of energy innovation in the country. Our social resources are different, our economic resources are different, our history and knowledge are different. We don’t have Massachusetts’ liberal state government, or the earnest billionaires of Silicon Valley. To develop our regional clean energy economy, it is important for us to determine what those resources are, and build a popular movement to support them. Clean energy innovation is a vast field, with needs as diverse as its potential. Our fossil-fuel twin, Texas, is the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and a place one would expect to be hostile to renewables – but it’s also our nation’s largest producer of wind energy*.

Mapping the statewide resources of Pennsylvania onto an innovation schema is beyond the scope of this post, but GPRES is continuing to develop this community under the leadership of Mark King and Leslie Craigmyle with new meetups promoting Solarize Philadelphia and National Drive Electric Week. If you are in the Philadelphia region, join them here. Or just read our posts on our Facebook group. So far, the group has turned out to precisely what I had hoped: engineers, financial analysts, sustainability professionals from related fields like college-campus sustainability. With organizing help from Robin Xu and Thomas Flaherty, we’ve already hosted meetups on:

  • Electric Vehicles (with test drives!)
  • Solar home tour
  • Energy Retrofits as a Anti-Poverty Strategy
  • 350 Philadelphia’s clean-energy SEPTA campaign
  • The State of Sustainability in Higher Education
  • Clean Energy at the Democratic National Convention and the 2016 election

..And there is so much more to talk about!

 —–

*The Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard was originally created by Senate Bill 7 and signed by Governor Bush in 1999, which helped Texas eventually become the leading producer of wind powered electricity in the U.S. The RPS was part of new laws that restructured the electricity industry. The Texas RPS mandated that utility companies jointly create 2000 new MWs of renewable energy by 2009 based on their market share. In 2005, Senate Bill 20, increased the state’s RPS requirement to 5,880 MW by 2015, of which, 500 MW must come from non-wind resources. The bill set a goal of 10,000 MW of renewable energy capacity for 2025, which was achieved 15 years early, in 2010.

The Winter of Worst-Case Scenarios

Sometime last fall, a thunderstorm knocked over a massive old tulip tree and washed it into Wissahickon Creek almost whole. It traveled down the swollen river until it reached the waterfall where the river runs under Ridge Avenue. It got stuck on the lip of the waterfall for months, and transferees at the bus stop right next to it could watch as it slowly died.

Its weight and roots holding it precariously in place, the tree remained at the lip of the waterfall for most of the fall, winter, and into the spring. Torn from the ground and balanced in the center of a plunging river, this tree maintained the same timetable as its brothers on the bank as the seasons cycled: its leaves turned from green to orange to brown and then fell off at the exactly the same time. It can take years for a tree to die. Most of the time you don’t know it’s happening. Sometimes you do.

I decided to finally read The Limits to Growth after the election, after hearing too many references to it from my fiance and live-in apocalypst Mathew J. Davis.

Limits to Growth is an economics book with a premise I knew about but had chosen to not to read, thinking it too preposterous to be correct…or rather, its assumptions too cynical for the karmic crowdsourced Alinskyite mythology that keeps me going.

Limits to Growth is a 400-page piece of realllly bad news that spells out why all those dystopias you see in movies are a sure bet. The book documents the working out of the worst math problem of all time: determining how much longer our species has before we use up the resources required to continue on in industrial fashion: heavy metals, water, the components of concrete, precious metals like platinum. America’s fertile topsoil (now known as the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico).

The main considerations in the model include:

  • How many people are on the planet
  • How much of the materials are left, and how difficult it is to get them
  • How much each person uses
  • How much of the material is recycled

…at a global scale.

This is such a colossal modeling project, involving demographics, materials science, and thousands of feedback loops. I’ll spare you the details. It was thorough, and convincing, and was written in a detached tone that made you wonder what kind of sedatives the authors had to be taking.

The bad news is this: social change and technology can alter the length of time we have left, but they are merely delaying an inevitable population crash. Believing that either of these forces will be salvation defines our American foolhardiness. Even in the best case scenarios – if human beings evolve spiritually with record-breaking speed and develop miraculous levels of cooperation, enlightened decisionmaking, and self-sacrifice, the graphs mostly look like this:

futurism-got-corn-graph

You can read about how well their predictions, originally made in 1971, are holding up here.

The election in November made me many different types of angry, but the grittiest of those types of anger was the “what have you done?” variety.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???!”

In most movies ever set on a spaceship, there is usually a scene of two fools fighting each other with projectile weapons who nearly get everyone on board killed. Gone are the days when Americans can blame the people in power for screwing over our country. Americans elected this douchebag themselves. By direct vote.

They were the people who look at a panel of lights they don’t understand and, because they are mad that their 4,000-square-foot home and two SUVs have gotten them into debt, say “I DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS BUTTON DOES BUT I’M GONNA MAKE THOSE MEXICANS PAY!” and slap them all haphazardly.

Everything you do to others, you do to yourself.

My post-election anger and depression lingered around all winter, and I mostly just read books, collected a paycheck, looked at rowhomes, and begged Mat to stop telling me the news. On the spring time side of the year now, I can remember that human nature is not as callow as it seemed in January – all nations considered – and that it is our American culture that is sick. Culture can change almost instantly.

I emerged because spring showed and dragged me out of the door. I also work for an 85-year-old who is more productive than I am, whose fierce and relentless commitment to her own life and story shames me. If I were very old I would take comfort in knowing that I won’t be around to see how human beings respond to climate disruption. But I am 41 and wondering: what could Philadelphia teach the rest of America about survival, and even joy?

Who knows what this mood even means? I’ve never seen so many prepper Facebook posts in my life – but is that just a sign of the fact my cohort of friends have hit midlife? I remember reading Jane Jacobs’ brilliant last book when it came out – Dark Age Ahead, about the decay and collapse of our country’s cultural and civic pillars. It rang true, but I wondered how social science can be affected by the shadow thrown across our minds by our own mortality.  It is impossible now to separate the feeling of the Earth dying from the cellular processes inside of us. Children hardly know what to do now – they explode with rage or lapse back into any form of narcosis to which they have access.

I don’t have any answers. But I am going to go find some.

They could stop another Muslim ban: don’t forget the judges!

Tomorrow is Election Day, and as I have spent more time than the average bear with all the judge candidates, I offer my perspective. I’m always impressed and inspired by the judges that run for office in Philly. They are usually deeply committed public servants and it’s hard to say which ones are right for this time and place.

If there is any doubt that judges have the capacity to make positive change, then look at those who have fought the Trump travel ban on the federal level.
Here’s three I recommend, in case you haven’t had time to look into it:

Dan and his family have devoted their practice to healing families and getting women out of domestic abuse situations. He is one of the only judge candidates endorsed by Philadelphia NOW and I am proud to support and campaign for him. He was appointed by Gov. Wolf to his seat last year (this election is a retention election) and is also endorsed by Liberty City, AFSCME and all the other local heroes.

mark-cohen-civil-unions-bill
Mark B. Cohen for Court of Common Pleas – Usually you have to guess at the political leanings of judge candidates – not so with Mark. As a Democratic state rep., Mark had the commitment to social justice that we all wish the national Democratic party still had. His exhaustive Wikipedia page spells out everything he’s ever stood for, and it’s a laundry list of every fight against oppression: raising the minimum wage, protecting labor against GOP tactics, advancing civil rights, reforming the criminal justice system through drug law reform, and more. He was awarded a “Hero for the Environment” award from PennEnvironment for his 100 percent voting record.

ellenEllen Ceisler for Commonwealth Court – If you don’t know Ellen, you should. She is remarkable. She’s been on the municipal bench for ten years and is now the first woman to run for statewide Commonwealth court since the last century! There are a lot of reasons I recommend her, but here are two reason: for eight years, Ellen was director and deputy director of the Office of Integrity and Accountability at the Philadelphia Police Dept., a concern very much in the news. After that, she then served as the Director of the Special Investigations Unit of the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office where she initiated and oversaw investigations into municipal waste and fraud. Apparently, she doesn’t take easy jobs.
Here’s a nifty graphic about why Commonwealth Court is important – she’ll be up in November too in the general.
courts

How is shoveling snow like supporting Krasner for D.A.?

Being a good neighbor is one of the most important things you can do in life. More than the practical activities of shoveling the sidewalk or keeping an eye on the street is the underlying commitment. You watch out for your neighbors and they watch out for you. If you feel that there is someone hurt or in trouble you do something about it, because what happens to one of us, happens to all of us.

Racial relations in this country feel so dismal right now because of the seeming breakdown of this commitment. Black children are being shot or thrown in prison on a daily basis, and faced with overwhelming evidence of this problem, many white people are looking the other way. Most of us are horrified but just have no idea what to do. Police culture seems incapable of transforming itself from within, and the Left is still rubbing its sore ass after the last election. Structures in our society keep us disempowered, segregated, and isolated from each other, and although social media has given us a thorough education about police brutality, it has also made us all millions of powerless bystanders, watching helplessly as men, women, and children are murdered for being black in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Many of us already know about the prison industrial complex and the devastation wrought on communities by the “war on drugs,” but this vast edifice seems immovable, cruel, and accountable to no one.

However, there is an opportunity right now for significant change and transformation in the district attorney’s race. Larry Krasner has pretty much put his life on the line to run for office as an unapologetically anti-fascist candidate for top cop. This happens unbelievably rarely (never before in Philadelphia) and his campaign has come at a time when people are desperate for the kind of leadership he has shown throughout his career.

snow_brewerytown_cruz.2e16d0ba.fill-735x490
Snow shoveling is excellent for your heart! (Brewerytown during the great blizzard of 2016)

His campaign has union support, 500 volunteers, thousands of small donors, and, surprisingly and fortunately, air support from billionaires who don’t want to see our country trend any more towards Nazism. I am supporting Krasner for DA because he is the only candidate who would upend an unbelievably corrupt criminal justice system built on profiteering and exploitation for profit. Justice makes us safer, as his campaign slogan goes, but what makes us really safe is trust. I support his campaign because I believe black lives matter, and I believe that they are not being treated as sacred. This is our chance to get off the sidelines.

There are so many candidates in the race that Krasner could conceivably win this campaign with as little as 17,000 votes, although I am sure they have a higher goal than that. If activists in this city can’t get 17,000 votes together to fight the prison industrial complex, then what the hell have we been doing all these years?

Just give one day next weekend, or take a day off next Monday or Tuesday and help out at the polls. Or phone bank! Or email your friends and remind them. Or tell someone under age 30 about what this race means, and make sure they know where to vote. 

All the hours and locations for volunteering for the next week are on Facebook here.

The phone banks are run out of 1221 Locust, and there are canvasses in the NW, South Philly, and West Philly (GO WEST PHILLY!!!) Please join the campaign. Your help is still needed, even a week out.

As important as skepticism is, we can never lose our ability to recognize authenticity and opportunity when we see it. The moment we lose that, we are done for. Krasner has never changed his stripes, in a long career of fighting for the powerless. I think Michael Coard said it best, in this very thoughtful and honest video:

“Larry believes in prosecution, not persecution. For the first time in my entire life, as a voter, I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. I’m not voting and hoping that this guy will do the right thing…He’s going to do the right thing for everybody.”

Pacific marine businesses look to net investors with Fish 2.0

Note: One of my projects right now is helping develop socially and environmentally responsible businesses in the seafood and aquaculture sector through a nonprofit called Fish 2.0, based out of the Bay Area. What Fish 2.0 does is connect impact investors (a growing sector) with seafood and aquaculture startup and seafood tech (yes this is a real thing). It’s an unique and much needed model for ensuring continuation in global production of protein sources. This is the kind of work they do:

Thirty entrepreneurs from around the Pacific Islands participated in a workshop as part of a global business competition that connects seafood businesses with investors in Fiji on November 8-10.

Source: Pacific marine businesses look to net investors with Fish 2.0

Nicetown Gas Plant is a Terrible Deal for this City

My testimony at SEPTA’s board meeting, Nov. 19, 2016. Good coverage of the meeting – thanks to Meenal Raval – is here at the 350 Philadelphia blog. 

democracy

Hello. My name is Hannah Miller; I’ve covered the energy industry as a journalist for several publications, and worked in operations and sales for two solar companies. I live in South Philly and ride SEPTA daily.

As a civilization, we are way past the point where new fossil-fuel infrastructure should be considered a possibility. From the local health impacts to the global, from the economic burden these plants will be on SEPTA riders, to the agency’s betrayal of democratic processes, there are far more reasons to cancel these plans than to go forward, and I hope that the agency remembers its public-service mission.

There are many questionable development projects proposed in this city, but the idea of putting a gas-burning power plant smack in the middle of a poor neighborhood really takes the cake. With the respiratory-disease epidemic already faced by this part of Philadelphia – where a reported 1 in 3 children have asthma – it is morally wrong to build a gas power plant in Nicetown. It’s morally wrong to build one anywhere, but this location – doubtlessly picked by someone in Harrisburg who doesn’t have to live here – just reinforces the oil and gas industry’s utter disregard for life.

Why SEPTA – one of the cornerstones of Philadelphia’s claim to fame as a ‘green’ city – would participate in building this is beyond any logical or economic explanation, especially when the agency is building out a very successful battery-backup-storage system elsewhere. If SEPTA wants an answer to resilience concerns, it needs to look no farther than its own successful storage program, which generate revenues as well as provide peak-time power.

If SEPTA were concerned about the health of its ridership, it would be looking to clean and renewable energy to supply 100 percent of its power needs. And if it were interested in its own financial future, it would not be building gas-burning power plants. They burn a commodity that will only become rarer and more expensive for the entire life of the plant. And if it were genuinely aware of the impact of environmental racism, it would never think to put this plant in Nicetown – or in any of the other possible places they are rumored to be building plants.

So what is actually driving this decision? What is SEPTA doing? So far, the neighborhood most impacted is unanimously against this proposal. This won’t help SEPTA provide better bus service at Midvale, or train service at Wayne Junction. In fact, because of the flawed contract that SEPTA has agreed to, SEPTA is going to lose money and be paying higher prices with this than they could be if they invested in renewable energy. If SEPTA really wants to lower energy costs, there are numerous renewable energy experts, companies, contractors, and enthusiasts who could find ways for SEPTA to power its system effectively, at benefit to the whole community.

Climate change and air pollution are not things that just happen. They are the result of thousands of decision made by cities, companies, and transit agencies.

SEPTA has put forward a goal of being sustainable, and we applaud that; this goal is absolutely incompatible with building new fossil fuel infrastructure. If anything, SEPTA should be lowering its use of fossil fuels. For all the children and adults who live in the area, as well as those traveling through the bus depot or Wayne Junction, this plant is death and disease. There is no political tradeoff anywhere that will make this worth it, especially given that the plant is being shoved down SEPTA’s throat by the gas lobby, which has at least one lawyer on the board.

I used to sell Power Purchase Agreements for solar companies – similar agreements to what SEPTA is signing here. With a PPA, a customer agrees to a multi-year contract in order to lock in a low price. With solar, it was very easy for us to do this – once the equipment was in place, the fuel was free. The reason that solar has exploded in many states around is the US is comparatively, the cost of all fossil fuels is going to go up. Most of the easily fracked gas in the Marcellus Shale has already been burned, and we are in a post-peak period; the technologies required at get at more “extreme” energy will make these fuels more and more expensive as time goes on. SEPTA is buying into this game when it knows it’s going to lose. I believe the commissioners already know this.

SEPTA – and our region – have a responsibility to the future. With every bit of new fossil-fuel infrastructure we build, we put off the transition to clean energy by decades. Utilities simply don’t have the money to build gas plants and pipelines, then turn around 3 years later and junk all of this in favor of solar and wind. Once infrastructure is built, it’s there for the long haul, or at least until the cost of building it is recouped.

With almost 70 percent of its ridership and funding coming from Philadelphia, SEPTA needs to stand up to the gas companies who have a lock on Harrisburg. There are Philadelphians who develop respiratory illnesses and worse from this – it is a statistical inevitability that people will die. This is a bad deal for SEPTA, a bad deal for Nicetown, a bad deal for SEPTA riders – and the worst part is, there are perfectly feasible clean options available.