We’ve had plenty of distressing environmental news lately, so it is exciting to see an environmental success. As a result of acid rain, Lake Colden, high in the Adirondack mountains of NY, was declared fishless 32 years ago. It was recently announced that a reproducing population of brook trout was discovered there. This is the first time that a self-sustaining fish population returned to a sterile high Adirondack lake without stocking.
This success resulted from a combination of good policy and technological change. Amendments to the US Clean Air Act and NY regulations helped reduce acid rain, but the shutting of coal plants has also contributed to the improvement in water quality.
Although coal was initially displaced by natural gas, Forbes now states that renewables are competitive with or cheaper than new fossil fuel plants in much of the U.S.
Thank you for supporting clean air, clean water, and the continued development of the solar industry!
Many of us live in Northern New England because we love the winter recreation that the region offers, and many others discover that the winters are long unless one embraces the recreational opportunities provided in the region. However, these recreational pursuits are in peril. A new article from Climate Central (“ON THIN ICE: How Climate Change is Shaping Winter Recreation” — https://www.climatecentral.org/…/report-on-thin-ice-climate…) shows that we are in the crosshairs.
Winters are heating up, with serious consequences for America’s cold-weather sports economy. To many Americans, a mild winter may seem like a pleasant prospect. This article refers to Burlington, VT as one of the most rapidly warming winters, with the winter average temperature increasing 7 degrees from 1970 to 2018.
Of course at Solaflect, we believe that solarizing our lives is one of the fastest and most impactful and meaningful ways to slow the rate of climate change for the benefit of our children and grand-children. Please spread the word and feel free to contact us.
Check out this video on our work with our partners at Protect Our Winters.
P.S. For Climate Nerds
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the earth has warmed approximately 1 degree Celsius since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. How is this consistent with Burlington winters warming 7 degrees? Of course, there is a lot of local variability in climate change depending on a huge variety of factors. However, there are large scale variations that play a role in the rapidly warming New England winters. Less than 30% of the earth’s surface is located between the 45 degree Latitude lines and the two poles. The Vermont border with Canada is 45 degrees latitude. As you have certainly seen in news reports, the poles are warming the fastest of any part of the earth, but they represent a small fraction of the total earth area. As we are located halfway between the equator and the North Pole, our climate is changing significantly faster than the global average. In addition, winters are warming much faster than summers. The warming of New England summers is approximately in line with the global average temperature increases, so the annual average temperature increase in New England is much lower than the seven degree increase seen in Burlington winters, which are only 1/4 of the annual average.
For the Winter Recreation Climate Nerds
Having grown up in Vermont, the graph I’ve attached pretty much encapsulates my life. In my earliest days, about 1 in 10 winter days got above freezing at the top of Mt. Mansfield, but now that is up to 1 in 6 winter days (trend line on the blue graph). The number of winter days where it has stayed above freezing for the entire day at the top of Mt. Mansfield (red graph) is nearly SEVEN TIMES greater in the last decade of my life compared to the first decade. This means rain events, freeze-thaw cycles, and melting rivers and lakes.
These changes are minor inconveniences for those of us that love winter recreation, and they will impact our economy which is heavily dependent upon winter recreation. However, these changes are just canaries in the coal mine. We are “playing with fire”, as there are large scale climate patterns that could get severely disrupted by continued climate change, but there is a lot of uncertainty about how fast or how dramatically these patterns could change.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…” said Daniel Burnham back in 1907. Well, Boston sure wouldn’t have disappointed the famed architect and planner of cities with its ambitious new plan to be 100 percent carbon free by 2050. On the heels of Massachusetts’ commitment to have 80% of electricity supplied to the state come from zero-carbon fuels by 2050, Boston is upping the ante.
The takeaways from the recently released report by Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission make for an interesting read – see full summary below. Several key learnings, however, can help guide and inspire those of us living far from the bustle of the city. With an eye to our own respective carbon footprints, nuggets to perhaps inspire changes at home:
Getting to carbon zero requires maximum energy efficiency and 100 percent clean electricity
Buildings account for more than two-thirds of the city’s emissions
Homes must switch from oil and gas to electricity from carbon-free or renewable resources
29% of Boston’s emissions come from the transportation sector, and 75% of those emissions from private passenger vehicles.
The trend toward electric vehicles means we’re likely to see a 40% decline in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
The technology to make all of these changes already exists, and should become cheaper.
Making these changes should also create jobs, lower utility bills, and increase home values, while making the city more climate resilient.
Good for Boston for laying down the gauntlet.
At Solaflect, we often talk about an average family’s overall energy usage breaking out as roughly 40% transportation, 40% heat, and only 20% general household power usages. Traditionally, solar has really only targeted that 20% slice, but with the increasing availability and quality of electric vehicles and mini split heat pumps, those two 40% slices of the pie are where the sea changes in electrification are coming. And where does all that clean electricity come from? Well, at least for those who have the space, and place a value on simply paying less for electricity, let alone solar – there’s the Solaflect Tracker.
Five years ago, Beth and Sandy decided to install a Solaflect Tracker on their property in Norwich. They were pioneers, the first people to take the plunge with Solaflect. While solar energy options had been around for decades, the Tracker did something revolutionary: it tilted and moved with the sun throughout the day, resulting in the capture of 40% more energy than the traditional fixed PV panels. “We had been considering solar for a long time,” Beth says, and they already had a solar hot water system on the property. “We’d been hemming and hawing and Bill stopped in. We signed up a week later. Bill has a lot of integrity and that meant a lot to us. There was a personal component to all of this.”
Within a couple of months of the installation, “our electric bill was virtually zero. We started putting electricity back into the grid quickly.” Beyond the financial benefits, the couple watched how much energy their Tracker was generating, how much CO2 they were keeping out of the atmosphere, or how many trees they were saving in real time. Seeing the interactions between the sun, the weather, and the home’s energy generation and usage on a moment-by-moment basis was a fun side-effect. The Tracker, Beth admits, “is high on the cool factor.”
When it came time to install the Tracker in a sun-drenched spot behind a cluster of coniferous trees, the couple was excited…almost as much as the Solaflect team. “We had everyone from Solaflect here: interns, staff, family, etc.,” recalls Beth. “Everybody was really trying to do their best. They were working out a few little bugs. We tried to facilitate the process as much as we could while staying out of the way,” says Sandy.
Soon, they realized they had a problem every homeowner would love to have: they were producing more power than they were using. They recognized that they were putting a lot of energy generated by the Tracker back into the grid. Opportunity was knocking, and they were ready. They installed a heat pump on the property, which they could run with solar energy. And they added a hybrid-electric car, secure in the knowledge that their Tracker would cover the cost of charging it throughout the year. One of the benefits of being the first adopters of Tracker technology has been the chance to share their experience with friends and neighbors. “We followed-up with people after installation, and some of them have gone solar after hearing from us,” Sandy says.
The question they get the most from others is, “How many years will it take for the Tracker to pay for itself?” Beth laughs as she notes, “You never ask that question when you buy a furnace or any other appliance; it is unique to solar.” For their part, the couple chose to ask a different question. “As warm and fuzzy as solar is, it is also a financial layout,” Beth says. “We wanted to know what the return on our investment would be.” They did their homework, and their math showed an 8-10% return on investment, “better than the market. It is a safe investment that is adding value to your home.” She sums it up like this: if you are spending $100 less on power each month, that frees up $100 more for your mortgage payment. “People in Norwich get that,” Beth adds, “and realtors are catching up, though they don’t yet sell that as much as they could”.
Five years into their solar lives, Beth and Sandy shared one more detail that wasn’t part of the original plan. “Solaflect has become family.” “One of the technicians, Mike, would come out to check the Tracker or tweak a small detail. We’d invite him to stay for a beer… or dinner,” Beth says.
On the heels of the United Nations global warming report issued earlier this week, Solaflect founder Bill Bender submitted a letter to the editors of several local newspapers around Vermont and New Hampshire, which should be in newsprint shortly. Given the urgency of the topic, and on the chance newsprint doesn’t make it across your doorstep, we’ve shared a copy of his letter below:
“The latest international climate change report makes it clear that three-quarters of human-caused global warming has occurred in my lifetime. We are just starting to see the impacts that have been predicted for decades, including more wildfires, extreme flooding, more intense storms, melting glaciers, migrating viruses, and mass human migration caused by depleted livelihoods. In the past decade, the earth surpassed average temperatures seen any time since the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. In general, land warms more than oceans, and winters warm more than summers. As a result, New England winters are one of the most affected parts of the mainland U.S. Average winter temperatures are approximately 5 degrees warmer in a bit more than a century, and on current trends, the increase will be much more this century. In the first two decades of my life, there were only 5 winter days when the top of Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield stayed above freezing all day. In the last two decades, there have been 29 such days, nearly a six-fold increase. This is only one of millions of data points that indicate how the earth is warming.”
The recent report indicates that we are rapidly approaching the last decade in which we can head off catastrophic impacts for our children. The $5 trillion dollar fossil fuel industry is trying its best to muddy the waters by spreading false information.
Nonetheless there is hope; the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions over the past decade to 1992 levels despite a much larger economy, and there are thousands of solar homes in VT and NH. New England should be a global leader in the switch to a cleaner economy, but we are lagging far behind the speed necessary for this transition.
For the sake of our children, please support a dramatically faster transition to clean and renewable energy sources, both personally in your home and business, and politically at the ballot box.”
At Solaflect, we’re passionate about making the planet a better place for our kids. No, really: our work to develop cutting edge, affordable renewable energy solutions is driven by a fervent desire to counter the threat of climate change (and all the creepy crawlies that it may be bringing) with actions that make a difference to all of us.
Nobody wants ticks, ash borers, and mosquitoes taking over the neighborhood — but those are just symptoms of something much bigger and more disturbing taking place, and they’re timely if painful reminders that the clock is ticking, and that our work to put a solar tracker in every backyard really can make a difference.
Get in touch with us to find out if backyard solar could be your way to help combat climate change — and maybe, just maybe, do your part to keep those pesky the ticks at bay…