Now it is possible to imagine solar energy (photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal) contributing 20 to 30 percent of total energy on the grid in 10 or 12 years.  This is mind shattering.  This will be a jump from less than one tenth of one percent only a few years ago.  The industry is growing at an annual rate of 13 percent.  These are the words from Energy Secretary Steven Chu.  It’s sad to see him leaving the Department but he has successfully set a winning direction for his successor.

During his administration at the DOE large scale solar has become “bankable.” Investors such as Warren Buffet are taking positions in solar farms.  Power Purchase Agreements are proving successful financing tools for mid-size systems. The reliability, certainty and rate of return of solar have elevated it to investment grade.  Installed utility scale solar cost $8 per watt in 2004.  Now the cost is about $3.  The dramatically declining costs are following a track similar to what we saw in the computer industry.

Thanks to the Secretary’s “Sunshot” Program the technical / manufacturing /storage hard costs of solar are now less than the soft costs of permitting and installation.  The goal of the Program is to make solar competitive with all fossil and other forms of energy without subsidy by the end of the decade.  This includes natural gas.  Chu says “the goal is within our grasp.”

Watch this interview with the Secretary and a panel of solar experts.  Learn about the 392 MW solar tower project coming on line in California this summer and how Broward County here in Florida is making it easier for homeowners to cut the red tape on their own solar installations.  The states with renewable procurement standards will see the biggest boost to their economies.  Florida isn’t one of them.

Sam Kendall


President Obama renewed his commitment to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  His welcome words in the inaugural address committing to action on climate change and his nomination of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State certainly indicate he still feels strongly about this issue.  Senator Kerry has a long record of environmental protection.  In 1992 he attended the first world summit on climate change in Rio.

In June of 2012, the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit, Kerry delivered a powerful speech on the Senate floor.  He denounced the current “conspiracy of silence and denial on climate change” which “empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail.”

The Rio Summit organizer, Republican President George H. W. Bush said at the time, “The United States intends to be the world’s leader in protecting the global environment.”  Kerry’s concern was that we now find ourselves in a place the former president wouldn’t recognize; the conspiracy has “demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue.”

Three of Kerry’s demons were on the Senate committee that recently approved his nomination.  These three are supporters of the proposed Keystone pipeline down from Canada.  They evidently fear that Mr. Kerry is serious about reducing dependency on carbon fuels.  The State Department must approve the pipeline application before it goes to the president.  Mr. Kerry promised he will look at the science of the request and not the ideology.

Why should the US encourage continued fossil fuel combustion while risking pipeline spills?  Would it be to support the Canadians’ economic interest by having an ocean port in Texas to market their resources to the world?  The issues continue in Canada: tar sand mining ravaging the Boreal Forest, emitting tons of carbon dioxide with energy intensive extraction and contaminating water with chemical residues.  Tar sand partisans tell us building an oil refinery in Canada’s  back yard would be more expensive than plowing an 1,179 mile pipeline through the United States’ back yard.  Is something rotten in the state of Denmark?

These environmental and economic concerns go beyond our friendship with the Canadian people.  They too have a large environmental constituency which opposes tar sand mining.

On February 17, environmental and clean energy advocates will rally in Washington to “give their back” to the President and new Secretary of State.  The green grassroots need to get out and demonstrate support when national leaders challenge long-standing, powerful interests.  You can sign up for the rally HERE.

Both these men have stood up to big oil and the legacy of dirty, liquid fuels that have been a barrier to progressive change.  Rally organizers believe an historic showing of massive public support will break the old energy regime’s back.  Hope to see you in Washington.

Sam Kendall

A mutual friend told me about Bob Stonerock back in the 1990s.  Solar energy had fascinated me for years.  My friend said Bob was the master.  I knew solar would mean a cleaner atmosphere and slow the rate of turning the planet inside out mining, spilling, burning, polluting, investing and warring over the energy stored in fossilized biomass.  Only recently had I come to understand how the carbon dioxide molecules carelessly farted out the back-ends of our cars were storing up heat and creating frightening predictions about the future weather.  At the time, I was running experiments to find out whether horse or chicken manure would produce the most natural gas.

I called Bob and he invited me over to his house for a talk.  I think he must have been one of the first, or maybe THE first, to have a residential photovoltaic system in Orlando.  He told me about some of the issues he encountered to get his solar system accepted by Orlando Utilities. (OUC is now recognized for progressive renewable energy programs) We discussed all the renewable energy options waiting in abundance on the surface of the earth: solar and wind, of course, and we also talked about the energy available in living biomass.  He gave me the idea to use a small light bulb inside my experiment box to move the temperature up just enough to make those microbes pass gas.

Bob had dedicated much of his life and resources to demonstrating that energy use doesn’t have to sicken us or the planet.  His was the first solar house I had been inside.  Afterwards he generously gave me his old leaf shredder.  I used it to break down various leaves and plants I was using in my experiments.  Eventually I moved on from natural gas to make practical, uncomplicated biodiesel fuel.  Bob even knew which restaurants would leave their used cooking oil outside their back doors (at night).

Bob with Volt Back of Stonerock house FREA---Tower of Power

1. Bob with his new Volt last year. 2. Rear of house

with PV panels at top, pool panels under and inside

  hot water panels on left. 3. Stonerock “Tower of Power.”

Presently bob is president of FREA.  Last week on one of the days when Orlando’s January temperature was ten degrees above normal, the Orlando Sentinel published his guest column about climate change.  You can read it here.

I’ve always thought global warming was all about the numbers of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere.  In the article, Bob does the addition for us.  I’m sure you know the result:  droughts across our food producing mid-west, the north and south poles melting rapidly, a Franken storm in the northeast causing billions in economic loss, acidification of the oceans reducing the fish catch, Greenland’s glacier slipping into the sea.  Guess what? Climate change has only just begun.

So what can Florida citizens and government do?  Here’s what some others are doing:

In 2009, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey organized a system of capping and trading CO2 emissions with regularly required reductions.  It’s called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The governor of New Jersey has withdrawn the state as he was disappointed that the original criteria have not been met.  The other state representatives are continuing to engage on the issues and appear determined to find the adjustments that lead to the desired reductions.  In the meantime, new, renewable energy industries in those states have been leading the economic recovery.

California is taking action, too.  2013 marks the beginning of their CO2 emissions capping system.  Companies that can’t reduce their emissions below the cap must purchase allowances.  The first auction is already sold out.  Each year the caps will be lowered.  The allowance money is being distributed back to electricity rate-payers whose bills are expected to rise to pay for the newer, clean energy systems.  In 2011, California already had an installed capacity of 19,745 magawatts of renewable energy and was producing 333 million gallons of biofuels.  In that same year, Florida had installed capacity of only 1,421 megawatts of renewable power and produced 39 million gallons of biofuels.  The only area where Florida came close to matching Governor Brown’s state was with installed biomass power.  We had 1,195 megawatts to their 1200.

But cap and trade is just one way to reduce emissions.  A tax on carbon is another.  The Canadian provinces of Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta have all instituted their versions of carbon taxes.  In the US, Boulder, Colorado was the first municipality to enact a carbon tax.  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California levied a carbon tax in 2008 and Montgomery County, Maryland added a carbon tax in 2010.

Which method will Florida legislators agree to?  Or will they?  As Bob says, we all must stop making excuses for continuing to use fossil fuels.  We must work individually and through government (together) to end the dependency.

Sam Kendall

Candidate Mitt Romney said, ” President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.  My promise is to help you and your family.”  What exactly was he trying to tell us when he concluded his acceptance speech with these words?

My first thought was that he was letting us down.  His own capacity and fortitude in the face of challenges doesn’t seem to match that of the American public.  It sounded like he was saying that climate change is too overwhelming for him and so he’s going to stick to the issues he can comprehend; namely, the fossil-fuel-based society he and the rest of us grew up in.  If I understood him correctly I was greatly disappointed.  I hope he clarifies his position soon.

Foremost climate scientist, Richard Hansen, just released a report demonstrating the virtual impossibility that the extreme weather events of recent decades could be caused by natural variability.  He has tracked the predictions he made in the 1980s concerning future weather events with observations made during the past few decades.  Those predictions have become facts for all of us to observe: the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, the droughts in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and the agricultureal disaster across the US in 2012, when 60% of the country experienced drought.

Richard Muller, a scientist long in denial that human activity is affecting climate, recently announced a change of mind.  Refusing to rely on existing research, he did his own work going back 260 years and found that temperature rises always accompany increases in CO2.  His report is interesting because he addresses and refutes all the “legitimate” objections to climate change theory.

I suppose Mr. Romney could “help you and your family” by providing government financial support for the farm families who saw their corn fields dry up this summer or he might put a cap on food prices when this years shortages drive up food prices in the future.  He could have the Corps of Engineers build a sea wall around Norfolk, Virginia, where rising sea levels have flooded streets and home basements consistently for the past six years.

Dealing with climate change is going to take committment, imagination and perhaps sacrifice.  The immensity of the problem requires that all of us, working through government, prepare for the consequences and act with the greatest urgency to slow and stop GHG emissions.

Mr. Romney leaves me questioning whether he can provide the leadership for what may be the most problematic environmental challenge the nation and world has ever faced.

Sam Kendall

Interview with Mark Thomason of PluginRecharge.com
by Tammy Odierna

The electric car is anything but dead in Central Florida.  A promising technology that has existed for decades, it is becoming more feasible for Florida residents.  Proponents of electric vehicles (EV) tout that its electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs are advantageous to typical internal combustion engines.  For example, electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels. EVs also emit no tail-pipe pollution, provide quiet, smooth operation, and allow for greater energy independence for the United States.

However, EVs don’t come without their share of roadblocks.  Their mileage is limited per charge, and the infrastructure for charging stations is still being developed.  Batteries are expensive and the initial cost of EVs are far more costly than a traditional gas-fueled vehicle.

Mark Thomason is the former Director of Business Development at Palmer Electric.  As such, he was involved in marketing, selling, and overseeing the installation of over 100 public and private EV charging stations in Central Florida and worked with several companies to install them for theme parks, hotels, local governments, and utilities. Mark now works for Symantec as the Product Strategist for Backup Exec. He is also the owner of a Nissan Leaf and the author of the popular online blog, Plugin Recharge.  Mr. Thomason is an active member of Get Ready Central Florida (GRCF) which is a coalition of state and local governments, utility providers, businesses, and electric vehicle enthusiasts who are committed to preparing Central Florida for the early release of highway-ready, plug-in electric vehicles.

FREA: You have stated that Orlando is “ready for EV.”  Could you further explain what you mean by this?

MT: Here are the BIG things that we’ve accomplished in Orlando since 2009 which made us THE early adopter city for EVs in Florida:
– Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Rocky Mountain Institute to become a “Get Ready” city.  This focused our efforts on properly rolling out EVs in our metro area.  (www.PlugAndGoNow.com)
– Signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Nissan…which made Orlando the launch city in Florida for the Leaf.
– Held several public Stakeholder Meetings to get people educated and involved.
– Seized the opportunity to be a “ChargePoint America” city that helped seed our Public Charging Infrastructure.

Because of these early efforts, Orlando is now nationally identified as an early adopter city for Electric Vehicles.  Here are a few examples:
– The first Chevy Volt sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q3 2011
– The first Nissan Leaf sold in Florida was in Central Florida in Q4 2011
– We’re in the “First Wave” EV Cities in a Roland Berger/Rocky Mountain Institute study.
– We’re a target city for the launch of the Ford Focus EV in late Summer 2012.
– We’ve got a Fisker Automotive Dealership which has delivered many Karmas to Central Florida residents.
– Frito-Lay in Orlando has 10 fill electric Smith Electric delivery vehicles dropping off snack food around town. – At the end of 2011, there were over 150 public charging stations deployed around Orlando.

FREA: In your opinion, what are the three biggest advantages to owning an EV?

MT: EVs are Cleaner to Operate: Much lower CO2 emissions, no oil changes, no coolant flushes, no tailpipe emissions, no off gasses from refueling, no need to truck explosive fuel across the nation, no need to run dirty refineries, no need for inefficient tankers to transport oil across the ocean… and occasionally spill in the ocean, and no need for offshore oil platforms that occasionally spill massive amounts of oil in the ocean which destroy ecosystems and our food and tourism.

EVs are Cheaper to Operate: Even though electricity is currently more expensive than gasoline (~$4.75/kWh for an equal amount of energy in 1 gallon of gasoline), electric vehicles are 5 times+ more efficient than gasoline cars since they don’t waste ~80% of their energy making heat…which gets you nowhere.  Another benefit of EVs making little waste heat is that for people who park their cars in their garage at night, EVs can help lower their A/C cost since they no longer park a very hot engine in the garage.  On the subject of maintenance, EVs have very few moving parts (typically less than 10) which means there’s less to break…they also have no oil changes, timing belts, coolant flushes, spark plugs, exhaust pipes, etc….which means YOU also save time by not taking it someplace to get it maintained either.
EVs use Domestic Fuel: The US generates electricity using many domestically sourced fossil fuel (uranium, coal, natural gas) and a growing number of renewable electricity sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower), which means we don’t have to export billions of dollars each month to other countries.  This greatly improves our trade deficit and national security while lowering the need for defense to secure the oil coming to our country.

FREA: What would you say are the biggest disadvantages?

MT: Range: Outside of the $90,000 Tesla S which has a 300 mile range, most affordable EVs only go 70-100 miles on a charge.  While 70-100 miles is MUCH more than most of us travel in a day, owning a car that limits you to this range is not acceptable to most people.
Recharge Availability: For people with a single family home, owning an EV is great because you can conveniently charge at home.  However, for the people that live in an apartment or condo, getting access to a charging station means convincing someone to install one…and that can be a challenge until EVs are more popular.
Price: Just like flat panel TVs were much more expensive than tube TVs 15 years ago, first generation EVs are more expensive than gas powered cars…and just like flat panel TVs are very affordable now, EVs will follow suit.  The main reason EVs are expensive now is because the batteries they use are built in new manufacturing facilities, are highly engineered, are tested in all environments.  However, most of this investment is upfront costs, so EVs will fall in price quickly if people adopt them.
As a forth reason, EVs are New & Different and the people are very conservative in this economy: Buying a car is the typically the second largest purchase people make, so people want the most from their investment and want it to do everything they want…that’s why many people bought big SUVs.  While owning and driving an EV is very similar to a gas powered car, they are more limiting than gas powered cars. You just have to appreciate the advantages more than the disadvantages.

FREA: It’s said the EV is great for the environment since it’s not fossil
fuel dependent, leading to less CO2 emissions. However, opponents state that electricity plants needed to charge the cars are mostly coal powered, which still leads to C02 emissions. What would you say to this?

MT: Quoting a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientist on this very topic: “Nearly half of Americans live in the BEST regions where charging an EV on the electricity grid emits LESS global warming pollution that driving even the best hybrids (>50 mpg)”. Only 18% of the population lives in a region where electricity is dirty enough that equal a car getting 31 mpg…and there are very few cars that get 31 or better MPG.

Unlike gas powered cars that get more inefficient with each mile you drive them and generate MORE CO2 as they age, EVs get cleaner as they age. This is because the US is shutting down more old dirty coal power plants and installing more renewable energy power plants.

FREA: Approximately how many miles can you drive before needing to charge?

MT: Just like a gas powered car, range varies widely by the way you drive. I have a Nissan Leaf and I can comfortably drive 75 miles around the city and not worry about recharging.  The longest trip was 110 miles using a short 2 hour charge at my destination.  Most days I don’t go more than 40 miles, so I rarely have to use public charging.

FREA: How long does it take to re-charge an EV and how do you envision a future highway charging infrastructure will look?

MT: On a typical day driving 30-50 miles, it takes my Nissan Leaf less than 3 hours to recharge. Since I have a single family home with a charger installed in the garage, I plug my car in at night when I get home and it’s ready with a full battery in the morning.

On the topic of highway charging, I think that fast charging stations (DC) will slowly be added near highways to quickly recharge drivers who want to keep driving. It will be an incremental change. You can see this in action on the West Coast starting in Oregon here.

FREA: Currently, how many charging stations exist in the Orlando area?

MT: There are over 150 public charging stations in the Central Florida area. You can find a map of charging stations here.

FREA: What are the maintenance costs associated with owning an EV? How often do you need to change the batteries, and what is the cost?

MT: The maintenance cost requirements for a Nissan Leaf are very small – just semi-annual tire rotations and annual brake fluid replacements; no oil changes, coolant flushes, belt replacements, automatic transmission fluid, air filters, etc. As for battery life, most new EVs sold today have long warranties on their batteries…  for example, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt both have 100,000 mile/8 year warranties…  so there’s less risk that you’ll be stuck with a defective battery.  As for replacement cost, I’m guessing the batteries will be 60% cheaper in 8 years…  if not more.

FREA: What type of rebates and incentives are available in FL if you purchase an EV?

MT: Florida doesn’t have any incentives for purchasing an EV (unlike many other states including Georgia). So Florida residents can only take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit worth up to $7500.  If you lease an EV, most manufacturers factor the tax credit into your lease payments.

FREA: Where should those interested in purchasing EVs go to get more information?

MT: The best thing someone should do is to GO DRIVE ONE at your local Chevy or Nissan dealership. That experience will change your mind about EVs. Outside of that, there are MANY good resources on the Internet, including local resources like www.PlugAndGoNow.com and my blog at www.PluginRecharge.com.  Other good resources are www.gas2.org and www.plugincars.com.

FREA: This is great, Mark. Many thanks for taking the time to share this info on the state of EVs in Florida!

Interview by  Tammy Odierna

A new survey in March by the Yale Project on Climate Change and Communication indicates that more Americans are now taking a serious look at the implications of an overheated atmosphere.  Democrats, Independents and Republicans will all be listening to what candidates have to say about Climate Change in the upcoming contests.  Survey administrators say the increased interest in the phenomenon is probably due to the fact that impacts are no longer viewed as happening somewhere else around the planet.  Americans are having to deal with droughts in Texas, Flooding in New England, rising sea levels in Norfolk and and more extreme and devastating heat lasting longer.  Climate Change is no longer seen as “global” but happening in our own back yard.

The most surprising survey result for me was the answer to whether greenhouse gases should be regulated.  Sixty-seven percent of Republicans now say they should be.  The Obama Administration has toned down its use of the words global warming during this term.  Instead, it is working behind the scenes on renewable energy research and implementation including loan guarantees.  However, some Republican legislators and presidential candidates are still ridiculing the concept.  They might be wise to start listening to their constituencies.  Sixty-three percent of Republican registered voters now say the government should provide tax rebates for clean energy projects and fifty-four percent say fossil fuel industries should be held accountable for “hidden costs.”

This is encouraging news.   It’s possible that the end of this recession will be the beginning of a new society made safe and sustainable by a growing renewable energy attitude and implementation.

Read the survey results here:  Yale Survey

Sam Kendall

Recently I ran across an article in North American Clean Energy where an economist was saying that grid parity is the only reason why the use of photovoltaic solar energy will become widespread.  Personally, I believe that this is largely true in the U.S.  In this country, it is usually all about money, and it is also all about short-sighted thinking.  Florida and the other 49 states largely live in denial of the real reason to adopt renewable energy sooner rather than later.  The real reason is the risk of consequences of human-caused climate change.

On NPR on 4-5-12, they did a segment on an article in Nature about a possible mechanism for the global warming that led to the end of the last ice age, where glaciers melted and the sea level rose.  Whatever started the process led to a release of Earth’s sequestered carbon dioxide and magnified the greenhouse effect.  Quoting the news story which describes the carbon dioxide release:  “…that’s a process that has taken about 8,000 years. And…research found that the amount of CO2 it took to end the ice age is about the same amount as humans have added to the atmosphere in the past century.”

Once again, human alteration of the air has been reported in the mainstream news media.  I estimate that at least about half of the people in this nation live in denial of the fact that humans are so numerous and so invasive that now we are having a profound effect on our atmosphere.  This effect is a fact, because you can look up the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and compare it to the amount of extra carbon dioxide that we are adding to it each year.  Simple arithmetic will show you that we are causing the entire measured yearly rise in the atmospheric CO2 level.  The deniers apparently have not done the arithmetic to see for themselves.  Personally, I think this is tragic.

What is it going to take before Americans get serious and stop pouring megatons of CO2 in the air from burning fossil fuel?  Since Americans live by crisis, my guess is that if a large chunk of Western Antarctica suddenly breaks off, falls into the ocean, and raises the average sea level about two feet, this might be enough to cause a critical mass of Americans to stop using fossil fuel.  That’s because many municipalities such as Miami would quickly be gravely injured.

If we were wise, before such a disaster occurred we would all quickly change over to using renewable energy exclusively.  Renewable energy is the only source of power that does not increase net CO2 in the air and  does not cause a net thermal gain in the environment.  Again, greenhouse gases and net thermal gain from our fuel sources are huge problems lately, and renewable energy saves us from generating both.  And this is not the only reason for switching to renewable energy.  Both fossil and nuclear energy sources are fraught with so many other types of ongoing pollution including the danger of catastrophic pollution that it is compelling to phase them out as soon as possible.

The Florida Renewable Energy Association believes that we can make the switch to using renewable energy completely over a relatively short period, and we will be elaborating on this in the near future.  So stay tuned, and keep planning for your own personal renewable future.

Robert Stonerock, Jr., M.D.

President of FREA

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