All Americans First

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The Power of Ideas

I became an American citizen in 2011 and it’s the only test I’ve ever enjoyed studying for. Maybe that’s why Trumps An America First Energy Plan is bugging me so much. It leaves a whole lot of Americans out. The America I know and love was built by millions of people who shared and developed different ideas and dreams about what America could look like. Any American energy plan that leaves out renewable energy misses out on what really makes America great, and that’s a diversity of ideas, jobs and people. We use enough energy to justify developing all ideas related to energy, energy efficiency and sustainability.

The plan is short on details, but it leans heavily toward the idea that increasing fossil fuel production will create greater prosperity for Americans and that protecting the environment is holding Americans and businesses back. It focuses on developing shale, oil and natural gas. It does not mention renewable energy at all.

It’s hard to argue against ideas, but I’ll try.

Job Killers

“A brighter future depends on energy policies that stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health.”

The idea here is that developing fossil fuel production will stimulate the economy but renewable energy will not. That’s not true.

“When renewables start to displace fossil fuels, the direct comparison suggests a net gain, which is confirmed by a look at the broader economy. Filling up a car’s gas tank and use of electricity in a fossil-fuel- or nuclear-based power grid do not generate many jobs, either in the energy sector or among its suppliers. These sectors generate far fewer jobs than average consumption spending does. By contrast, renewables and investment in energy efficiency generate more jobs than demand for other goods and services,” according to the International Monetary Fund.

Real Jobs

I can’t actually quote anything from the plan regarding renewable energy or energy efficiency jobs because they are not mentioned in the plan, but the silence speaks for itself.

Energy job numbers are a total snooze but stay awake and just scan em! The point I’m trying to make with these numbers is that renewable energy and energy efficiency is already a large chunk of the energy jobs in the United States. Any realistic plan needs to include these workers and the contributions they make to America’s energy mix.

  • Energy Efficiency – 2.2 million Americans are employed, in whole or in part, in
    the design, installation, and manufacture of energy efficiency products and services.
  • Oil and Petroleum – almost 516,000 workers nationwide
  • Solar Jobs – Just under 374,000 individuals work, in whole or in part, for solar firms.
  • Wind farms –  102,000 workers
  • Natural Gas – 88,242 workers
  • Coal electrics generation and coal fuels –  160,119 jobs
  • Hydroelectric generation –  65,554 workers
  • Nuclear generation technologies – 68,176 workers
  • Bioenergy electric generation and biofuel sub-technologies – 112,642 workers
  • Corn ethanol fuels – 28,613 jobs
  • Other Biofuels (algal biofuel, syngas, bioheat blends, landfill gas, and advanced biofuels) –  22,504 workers

We Have a Ton of Oil!

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.

There’s the idea that we are not tapping into the energy resources we already have, but the United States is already the worlds biggest oil producer. The US surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia’s oil and natural gas production in 2014. The largest oil and natural gas deposit ever found in the United States was discovered in Texas in 2016. So yes, we already do have a ton of domestic energy right here in America. From oil, natural gas, solar and wind energy. So lets recognize that…since we are already doing it!

Shale Oil and Oil Shale

We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.

The US does have a whole lot of “shale oil” (AKA tight oil), making America more oil rich than Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, shale oil is extracted through fracking. Fracking works by shooting water and sand into rock formations. The environmental impact is water contamination and earthquakes, and of course climate change from carbon emissions. Water contamination and fracking made earthquakes are real environmental bummers.

So yes, we do have a lot of untapped “shale oil,” but that oil doesn’t come without major environmental consequences. Plus, Americans are indirectly subsidizing these oil companies when they pay out of pocket for damage done to their homes through fracking earthquakes as well as polluted well water.

Then there’s “oil shale.” Yes, it’s different from “shale oil.” No, the America First Energy Plan does not specify if it means “shale oil” or “oil shale” which makes it even more ambiguous and ripe for misinterpretations.

“Even a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia,” according to the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic EIS Information Center.

That’s a lot of oil… but it’s never really that simple is it?

“Estimates vary, but turning oil shale into gasoline or diesel may lead to three or more times as many heat-trapping gas emissions than conventional oil,” according to the UCSUSA.org. “At present, oil shale is not a commercially viable product in most of the world, as the same processes that make it dirty also make it expensive.”

So yes, we have a ton of oil shale and shale oil, but they shouldn’t be lumped together. Neither will lead to energy independence or a sustainable future for our children. Neither is the key to a sound American energy policy.

“Natural” Gas

The America First Plan doesn’t say this, but I do know that there’s the mistaken idea that natural gas is a better choice for the environment. Maybe because it has the word “natural” in it? Despite the name “natural gas” it’s not necessarily any more or less natural than coal or oil. And yes, we have a ton of it, or at least enough to last about 93 years. Natural gas is made up mostly of methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas way more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks during the extraction process, leading to more greenhouse gas emission.

So although natural gas releases less carbon dioxide than coal power plants, it’s not a better solution for the environment. So just disregard the word “natural” when you think about “natural” gas. It’s about as natural as all the other fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are really just ancient plants and animals that turned into “fossil” fuels over millions of years. They’re not unnatural, but they’re also not the great for the environment.

American Energy For All Americans

I agree with the idea that we need to get our energy from right here in the United States. We should be tapping into our resources. I just think we need a long term, sustainable plan that recognizes that fossil fuels are a great source of wealth and prosperity for many Americans, but also that fossil fuels are frying our planet.

In many ways, America itself is just an idea. People all over the world dream of coming to America. There’s room for all American’s ideas and dreams. My big idea is that my kids will have kids one day and they’ll talk about how lucky they are that our generation ended climate change and created a whole lot of prosperity for all Americans. My idea is that we can work out an energy plan that works for everyone. More about that soon… so until then, go outside!

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Turning Towards The Sun

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“US homes contribute one fifth of climate-change-causing-carbon-emissions,” according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Real Change

If there was a master plan for slowing climate change, reducing pollution and giving our children a fighting chance at an inhabitable earth, would you get on board? I certainly am not the master of this master plan, but I’m hoping to show you how you can be a part of it. Using solar power, solar storage and electric cars I think we have potential to make real change right inside our own homes and families. I’ll do my best to break it down for you here.

Homeowners

If You Own Your Roof

If you own your roof and it’s suitable for supporting solar panels (it has enough sun exposure, the roof is strong and new enough and there are no HOA restrictions etc) then you’ve probably already started considering solar panels. If you haven’t committed yet, I’m guessing you’re still working out how you’re going to pay for it.

Now stop reading and put your home address into Google’s Project Sunroof search bar. It’ll show you how much money you will save over 20 years by converting to solar. Plus, they’ll connect you to a bunch of solar companies.

Neat, right? Now keep reading.

Buy it outright – You can buy solar panels with cash which usually saves you the most money in the long run, but it requires an up front investment.  Plus you may qualify for a 30% federal tax credit on what you spend through 2019. Some states also offer incentives. Tax codes are complicated! Make sure to talk to a professional tax advisor before you make any decisions based on tax credits!

Finance it – You can buy the solar panels but finance the purchase. Some people finance it using a home equity line of credit or a solar loan. You pay back the loans principle and interest over time. You may qualify for the 30% tax credit even when you finance it. Again, complicated tax codes! Talk to a professional tax advisor!

Lease it – With a solar lease, you lease the solar panel system the same way you would lease a car. You basically pay for the system over a set period of time and you can choose how much money to put down. With a lease you do not qualify for the federal tax credit. It’s a bummer. Talk to a professional tax advisor!

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – With a PPA the solar company puts the solar panels on your property at no up front cost to you, but they own the panels. You pay a fixed monthly cost to the solar company, usually less than the electricity bill would be for the same amount of energy. At the end of the contract you can buy the panels at a discount or extend the contract. Since you don’t own the system, no tax credits for you! You get the drill… Talk to a tax advisor!

Things You Should Know

During the day solar panels use the sun to generate power (stop rolling your eyes, I knew that you know that already!) But did you know that without power storage (I’ll get to that in a minute) the power your panels generates needs to be used right away or sent back to the power company?

Sending power back to the power company for a credit is called net metering. Net metering means you only get billed for the amount of energy you buy from the power company minus what you sent back to the utility for a credit. If you use less sun energy than you produce you get a credit for what you send the utility. Most states allow net metering, but not all.

Power Storage

With solar panels, after the sun goes down the power comes from the electric company. If you’re already running your home on solar panels and you want to take it to the level, this is where power storage comes in.

Tesla’s PowerWall, Sonnen-batterie and  Orison Intelligent Power Storage System (Orison is coming soon) let you store the power generated but not immediately used. Power storage keeps you running green at night.

Green Tech Media estimates that home power storage will grow significantly over the next five years. As power storage becomes more main stream it will hopefully get cheaper. As of today’s writing, the entry level PowerWall costs about $7,000 installed. Sonnen Batteries list price is $5,950.

Renters

If You Don’t Own Your Roof

About half of residents can’t set up traditional roof solar panels because they are renting or living in condos. If this is you, community solar can be an option. Whether or not this will work for you largely depends on if there’s already a community project operating in your area, if they are still taking new members, and if the pricing and operation will work for your particular situation. Community solar is a broad term that can mean lots of things, but here are the basics:

Community solar farm – The program is set up like a co-op. A business runs a solar farm and members pay to receive power directly from that business. With this model the business can grow as it gets more members and the solar farm adds more panels. This is truly a local business and can be set up in more ways than I can cover here.

Utility Sponsored Model: You continue to buy power from your utility company, but they charge a premium for you to buy “green” solar or wind generated power from them. That’s all fine and good if you don’t mind paying more for the exact same service, but there’s actually no way for the utility to send you just renewable power. Once power goes into the grid, you can’t separate the “green” from the “brown”. So, in this care, you’re basically paying more for exactly the same thing you were getting before. Hmmm, good to know.

Check out the US Department of Energy’s Guide to Community Shared Solar for more comprehensive information. It seems there are still kinks to work out when it comes to community solar, but hopefully it will get better and easier to access within a few years as the market develops.

Using Your Solar Generated Electricity To Power Your Electric Car

“Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions.”

– Union of Concerned Scientists

Next up is powering your electric car or plug in hybrid. This is where it all comes together.

  • First – We power our homes with solar panels powered by the sun.
  • Second – We store the power we don’t use.
  • Third – We use that power to charge our cars and light our homes at night.

This may sound like something from The Jetsons (remember that old cartoon? Yeah, I’m really old!) but it’s actually just part of Elon Musks master plan for Tesla. If this whole renewable energy thing goes mainstream, then we can make an actual dent in climate change, decrease pollution and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I tend to be skeptical on anything that sounds too good to be true, but on this one I’m definitely drinking the cool aid.

Other Random Things To Know

Photovoltaic (PV) – Sometimes you’ll hear the term photovoltaic or PV. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. The photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity.

UtilitiesIndustrial sized solar farms and wind farms are launching all over the United States. The cost of electricity from utility-scale solar farms has declined at a 20% compounded annual rate. This makes it a more attractive source of energy than coal in many countries according to the World Economic Forum’s report on Renewal Infrastructure. This means we should hopefully continue to see utilities increasing the power they get from green sources like wind and solar.

Public Companies – Google is powering the entire company with 100% renewable energy by buying power purchase agreements from renewable project developers around the world. Major companies like Amazon and even the US department of defense are getting their power from solar. These guys are on board with the master plan for sure!

A Brighter Future

So now you know the master plan. Don’t you feel like you’re in a spy movie? Anyways, this plan works for my family. We already have the solar panels and the electric car. Now we need the storage. To be honest, we’re kinda just waiting for the price on that one to come down. Maybe you’re in the same boat? Maybe you have a hybrid car already, or you’re thinking of getting solar panels. That’s awesome. Change takes time. The master plan doesn’t have to come together over night. It’s kind of like building a family. It takes time and there’s no rush. You do your best with what you have today, and hope it all comes together in the end.

Until next time…

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