Life Beyond Coronavirus: Four Reasons for Hope. One Call to Action.

Future brighter than our past

Coronavirus will be with us for a while, complete with social distancing and masks on our faces – somber reminders of the difficult times we now face.  To buck up our spirits, let’s focus on building a future that’s brighter than our past, starting with climate change… and solar power.  Here are four reasons for hope – and one call to action – to end the climate crisis before this decade is out.

Four reasons for hope

1.  The green economy is underway.  Solar and wind power are now the technologies best able to compete in most electricity markets – including our own –even without the need for taxpayer subsidies or other government aid.  With each doubling of renewable energy capacity, production costs have fallen by 15%-20%.  Now renewable electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels in two-thirds of the world’s energy markets.  Electricity-based light transportation is not far behind.  Meanwhile, efficiency gains have cut global energy demand growth from 3% to 1% annually, and there’s room to shrink it further still.

2.  Carbon emissions are peaking and renewables are surging.  Forty-nine countries accounting for 36% of the world’s carbon emissions saw their emissions peak in 2017 or before.  In Europe, fossil energy demand peaked in 2006 and has fallen 17% since then.  In the U.S., coal’s share of electricity production has fallen by two-thirds in just 12 years, while renewables share has doubled since 2010.  Solar installations are leading the way, increasing by 23% in 2019 alone, adding 13.3 gigawatts, more than new wind or natural-gas installations.  And last month, renewables surpassed coal in U.S. monthly power generation for the first time.

3.  Addressing the climate crisis helps our economy.  Estimated costs to GDP for completing the renewable energy transition are just 1%, compared to at least 30% if no transition takes place.  Human health costs alone equal $100 or more for each ton of carbon emitted.

4.  Job numbers are in our favor, too.  The green economy already employs 9.5 million Americans – that’s 10 times more jobs than in the U.S. fossil fuels industry.  Globally, 80% of people live in countries with no domestic fossil fuels production.  It’s estimated that 17 million more jobs will be created in finishing the transition to renewables than will be lost in fossil fuels, with the added income and capital flows staying mainly in home markets.

The stakes have never been higher.  As fossil fuel interests lose their grip over the world’s energy markets, they are flexing what political muscle they have left.  They already get government subsidies almost as large as the taxes and royalties they pay.  Now they are looking for ways keep $20 trillion in carbon assets from becoming stranded in the years ahead.

One call to action

In the end, fossil fuel companies will lose this fight to decarbonize our global economy.  A virtuous circle is forming around a renewable energy system that’s more decentralized, sustainable, resilient and secure.  Consumers are taking charge with lifestyle changes and smart, carbon-cutting purchasing decisions.  But this alone won’t stop fossil fuel interests from trying to block needed policy reforms is the outcome we can least afford!

Therefore, this call to action comes in the political arena, where carbon emissions caps and renewable energy targets are now being set.  The goal is to retire centralized, heavily subsidized, command-and-control approaches that shaped our energy policy in the past.  An energy future is within our reach where backyard solar arrays, commercial windfarms and grid-connected battery storage systems shape how electricity flows through our communities.  But only if we also seek out elected officials and utility commissioners who share this vision of the future!

This election year could mark the turning point, so it’s time to get involved.  Meanwhile, we can always vote with our pocketbooks – one solar array, one home storage battery, one electric vehicle, one electric heat pump at a time.  In all these ways, the power is in our hands to make a difference!

On Earth Day: A Lot Of Progress, a Lot Of Work Still To Do

On Earth Day the clean Connecticut River is a reminder of what we can accomplish

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we need look no further than our own Connecticut River to see what good can happen when lawmakers, civic groups and ordinary citizens band together.  What once was called “the world’s best landscaped sewer” is now the nation’s first, and only, National Blueway!  The same can-do spirit that made this jewel of New England fishable and swimmable again now needs to be put to work on fighting global climate change.

To be sure, we’ll need international treaties, federal laws and state regulations to carry out a coordinated battle plan.  But, just as ordinary citizens were the foot soldiers in hauling trash and diverting sewage away from the Connecticut River, the global warming fight also starts with changes we can make in our own backyards and in our daily lives.

Three years ago, transportation surpassed electricity as the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.  This makes switching to electric vehicles and non-carbon electricity sources the most effective and practical ways to shrink our daily carbon footprints.

The good news is that EVs are fast becoming the most affordable transportation option, thanks to falling battery prices and fewer moving parts to maintain.  Better still, solar power (along with wind) is on track to becoming the nation’s cheapest source of electricity by 2025 (surpassing natural gas) – even without solar tax credit extensions or new fees on fossil fuels.

Our Earth Day generation was the first to recognize the dangers of global warming; it may also be the last to stop it from spiraling out of control.  Now is the time to double down on our efforts to build a 21st century grid and transportation system that puts carbon emissions in permanent decline!

If the last 50 years has taught us anything, it’s that government intervention can’t do this all by itself.  Earth Day reminds us that the power is in our hands to make a real difference!

As always, Solaflect Energy is your backyard partner to build on 50 years of environmental progress and help achieve a more sustainable world. Thanks for your support and ‘commitment to the cause’ as we head into the next 50 years.

Happy 50th Earth Day everyone!

The Power Is In Our Hands

Reflections on the time of Coronavirus from Solaflect Energy

The coronavirus is fast emerging as the defining moment of our time.  While we do not yet know how long this tragic event will last, or how many lives and income may be lost, it is sure to change how we think about security, investments and the fragility of life on earth.  As we take this time to pause and reflect, there are positive lessons we can draw from our response to the coronavirus.  Here, from a solar perspective, are three takeaway points to carry into an uncertain future:

Security starts at home

‘Social distancing’ has become the watchword of the coronavirus, reminding us that security starts at home.  In our self-imposed quarantines, many of us are finding just how dependent we are on food, energy and product supply chains that extend well beyond our property lines.  Solar power – especially when connected with battery storage, electric vehicles and domestic heat pumps – keeps our energy supply chain right at home and under our control.  Whether it’s storm-related power outages, cyber attacks on the grid, or shelter-in-place emergencies, home-based solar power ensures that we will always have access to safe, affordable and reliable electricity.

Safe investments pay you back

Ripple effects of the coronavirus have rocked the stock market, painfully reminding us just how volatile and risky these investments can be.  While we all hope for a speedy market recovery, it’s worth recalling that not all investments pose such serious downside risks.  Solar power offers much more stable and predictable returns, based on how many kilowatt-hours of electricity (and gallons of gasoline if we get electric vehicles) we avoid purchasing over the 25-year lifespan of a typical solar array.  Our Solar Trackers take roughly 10 years, depending on your utility and sun at home, to pay back at present, after factoring in the current 26% federal tax credit.  The remaining decade and a half of their operating lives generate what some call “pure profit.”  (Others just think it’s just the right thing to do, no matter how the numbers add up!)

The climate crisis still awaits us

If the coronavirus constitutes a ‘Black Swan’ event that the world did not see coming, the climate crisis poses an even greater existential threat that’s been hiding out in plain sight.  While the coronavirus will pass eventually – and hopefully soon – the climate crisis is, unfortunately, here to stay.  Perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from this ongoing saga is that early action heads off the worst possible outcomes.  While we’re off to a slow start in combating climate change, it’s not too late to meaningfully bend the curve on projected global warming.  Solar power, in effect, acts like a vaccine to help keep the earth’s temperature down.  The more solar we inject into the global energy system now, the more we will be able to flatten the warming curve and make the world a better and safer place for ourselves and future generations.

As with the coronavirus, we’re all in this together.  The power is in our hands to make a real difference!

Please email info@solaflect.com, call us at (802) 649-3700, or text (802) 308-3018 if we can help you think about solar or home battery storage as a means of gaining better control of your energy needs in this uncertain time.


Solaflect is carefully adhering to Vermont's evolving coronavirus safety requirements and performing Tracker service and installations, as possible, with the following guidance:

MANDATORY HEALTH & SAFETY REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL BUSINESS OPERATIONS

Phase 1: Effective April 20, 2020

1.1 Outdoor Businesses & Construction Operations

  • Those who exclusively or largely work outdoors (such as civil engineering, site work, exterior construction, skilled trades, public works, energy and utility work, mining, forestry, environmental monitoring, landscaping, painting, tree work, parks maintenance, delivery work, etc.) may resume operations with a maximum of 2 total workers per location/job.
  • Interior construction may occur in unoccupied structures, adhering to social distancing standards, with no more than 2 workers maintaining social distance between them whenever possible.

All businesses must follow Vermont Department of Health and CDC guidelines:

  • Employees shall not report to, or be allowed to remain at, work or job site if sick or symptomatic (with fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath).
  • All employees must observe strict social distancing of 6 feet while on the job.
  • Employees must wear non-medical cloth face coverings (bandanna, scarf, or non-medical mask, etc.) over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others. In the case of retail cashiers, a translucent shield or “sneeze guard” is acceptable in lieu of a mask.
  • Employees must have easy and frequent access to soap and water or hand sanitizer during duration of work, and handwashing or hand sanitization should be required before entering, and leaving, job sites. All common spaces and equipment, including bathrooms, frequently touched surfaces and doors, tools and equipment, and vehicles must be cleaned and disinfected at the beginning, middle and end of each shift and prior to transfer from one person to another.
  • No more than 2 people shall occupy one vehicle when conducting work.

BUSINESS CUSTOMER & GENERAL PUBLIC MASK USE

Customers, and the public in general, is encouraged to wear cloth face coverings any time they are interacting with others from outside their household.

Brook Trout Discovered in Once Sterile Adirondack Lake

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.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Generator Report and Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

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!

The Winters we Love are in the Crosshairs

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.

Bill Bender
President, Solaflect Energy

(Photo credit: Albert Lew/flickr)

Inspirations from our Big City Neighbor to the South

“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.

The Solar Tracker Became Family

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. 

Time is Running Out

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.”

Go Solar, Stop Bugs

backyard solar
Backyard solar: an affordable way to combat global warming

While scientists may argue over the degree to which the rise in bugs is directly related to the heating planet, the headlines last week were ominous: Tick and Mosquito Infections Spreading Rapidly, C.D.C. Finds.” “Illnesses From Pests More Than Triple. All it takes is a walk in your back yard to confirm: the ticks are back with a vengeance, this year poised to be worse than any previous.

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…