solar energy

The rapid rise of the global fossil-fuel divestment movement is a very promising and heartening sign of real progress.

A growing number of people are trying to “put their money where their mouth is” (i.e., where their values are). They want to stop giving their unintentional financial support to destructive, polluting companies and industries, such as the fossil fuel industry, and to shift their support over to clean, forward-thinking companies and industries that aim to have a positive impact on our world.

Putting your money where your mouth is might involve more than just being selective about which stores you go to and which products you buy. You could be unwittingly giving some of your money to companies you don’t want to support, through your accounts and investments: e.g., mutual funds, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401Ks), or any other stock-based accounts or investments. If you look at the list of company holdings that are part of your accounts’ portfolios, you might discover that Exxon and other oil/gas companies are in there, or Walmart, or Monsanto, or Koch Brothers-owned companies (also see the Buycott campaign/app), or McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or cigarette companies… Even if you don’t have any stock-based accounts of your own, there’s a good chance that your city, your college’s endowment fund, your church, or your pension provider invests in companies that don’t align with your values. Institutions like these are increasingly being confronted by local and national divestment campaigns.

_DshqZRQ_400x400Fossil Free maintains this list of the hundreds of institutions (including colleges and universities, cities and counties, religious institutions, and foundations) that have committed to divesting from fossil fuels. They include: Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the City and County of San Francisco; Seattle, WA; Dane County, WI; Ann Arbor, MI, and many, many more. Countries committed to divest billions of dollars at the UN’s 2014 Climate Summit, and many world leaders have spoken out in support of the divestment movement; they include Desmond Tutu, Ban Ki-Moon, Christina Figueres, Mary Robinson, and even the President of the World Bank. People and institutions are divesting from fossil fuels for a variety of reasons. In addition to the values motivation, or to limit the political influence (lobbying budgets) of oil and gas companies, some are simply divesting because they feel that we’re approaching (or have already hit) “peak oil” and/or that fossil fuel reserves will soon become “stranded assets” and fossil fuel stocks are going to rapidly or drastically drop in value.

942A5VXM_400x400At the Divest-Invest site, you can pledge to divest from fossil fuels or to invest in clean stocks, and learn more about the issues and options. (Also see the links below.)

Whether or not you have any accounts that can be divested from fossil fuel or other harmful companies, you should think about investing some money in clean energy or other socially beneficial companies. If you want to switch your mutual fund or retirement accounts over to—or start a new account with—a “socially responsible investment” (SRI) fund, there are many to choose from. Going this route does not necessarily mean that you have to settle for a lower return on investment. SRI funds often perform as well as (or even better) than market averages. (See some performance stats here and here and here.) And socially responsible investing has become much more popular in recent years: U.S-based SRI assets jumped 76% between 2012 and 2014 and reached $6.57 trillion, according to US SIF. You can learn more about fossil-free funds and other SRI funds at the following sites:

A few funds that are fossil-fuel free (to date) include: Green Century Fund (both of their funds: Balanced and Equity), Green Alpha FundsParnassus Endeavor FundCalvert Investments’ Green Bond FundPortfolio 21 Global Equity Fund, and Pax World Global Environmental Markets Fund.  A couple of fossil-fuel-free indexes have been developed, as well:  FFIUS Fossil Free Indexes, and FTSE ex Fossil Fuel Index.

Note: In addition to the relatively new fossil-fuel-free criterion (which most SRI funds do not yet meet), there are a number of other environmental and social issues and criteria that SRI funds can screen for, in areas such as: pollution/toxics, nuclear power, defense/weapons, human rights, animal welfare, executive pay, labor relations, diversity, tobacco, alcohol, and many others. (When you click on the link above, select the Screening and Advocacy tab to find out how/whether various funds address each issue.) Note: It’s important that you look at each fund’s holdings and portfolio policies, as many SRI funds do include some companies that are widely seen as problematic (including oil and gas companies); some but not all of those funds explicitly try to influence and improve those companies’ policies through shareholder activism.

If you would like to have an investment advisor assist you in selecting a fossil-free or other SRI fund, these are a couple of advisory firms that I am aware of:

(You can also do a web search to find firms or advisors who specialize in SRI or clean energy investment or fossil-fuel divestment and who are also based in your area.)

logoAnother way to invest your money is to make a direct investment in a social impact venture, AKA a social enterprise. One place to find some social enterprises and funds that anyone can invest in is CuttingEdgeX. Among their current offerings (which are called Direct Public Offerings) are the RSF Social Investment Fund and the Calvert Foundation’s Community Investment note at Vested.org. For a list of some other funds that are available to everyone (but with a focus on food and farming-related enterprises), also see the top section of this page.

Some people are also able to invest their money in local, distributed solar projects in their area or elsewhere (on housing, schools, etc.). These are two platforms that allow people to do that—though unfortunately, for now, most of these platforms’ offerings are only open to California residents, due to current securities regulations (which could change in the future):

(Note: Having solar panels or a small-scale wind turbine installed on your own property is another good way to invest your money and get a solid return on investment.)

Most direct investment opportunities are only open to “accredited investors” (who, basically, are people wealthy enough to endure the risk of losing a considerable amount of money on investments: an accredited investor is currently defined as someone with an individual income of more than $200,000/year or a joint income of $300,000, for the past two years; or a net worth exceeding $1 million, individually or jointly with one’s spouse). If you are an accredited investor, there are all sorts of social enterprises you can invest in, e.g., through groups like these:

And there’s yet another way that everyone can make a difference with their dollars: Move your regular (checking/savings) accounts (as well as any credit card accounts) out of the huge, greedy, bail-out banks (e.g., Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.) and into a local credit union (credit unions are non-profit cooperative banks that share profits with their members) or a small community bank that won’t charge you ridiculous fees for basic transactions with your own money; won’t gamble with your money, your mortgage, and the economy for short-term gains; and that will give back to its members and your community. There are also a few banks that have an explicit social and environmental mission (and are certified B Corporations), such as:

The Sierra Club offers a credit card with Beneficial State Bank. (Most affinity cards are affiliated with the big, bail-out banks. This is one of the few that isn’t.)

Efforts are also underway to create Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which would be treasury bonds where all the funds raised go to support clean energy in the United States. Click that link to learn how you can support this initiative.

 

Other general resources for further information:

 

Related posts:

Green Business, Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethical Finance, and Sustainable Economies

Climate and Energy-Related Solutions and Resources

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February 27, 2015
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The following are the posts on The Green Spotlight that provide information and links that are related to energy, power, fuel, and/or climate change—with a strong focus on solutions.

SLB102_Blk_LimeGrThese posts are the most directly related to such topics:

And these posts are also related to energy and climate issues, in ways that might be less obvious but are equally important:

In the near future, we will add posts on fossil fuel divestment and renewable energy investment; local power (local renewable electricity utilities, Community Choice Aggregation); reforestation and carbon sequestration initiatives; and other important efforts to slow/mitigate the progression (and severity) of climate change.

Here are a few other online resources for good information related to climate change and climate solutions:

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September 21, 2014
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Generators are typically used to provide electricity during power outages (e.g., during storms, emergencies, and related disaster-relief operations) or in off-grid situations or areas where there is no access to a built-in power source (e.g., on construction sites, on camping trips, or at outdoor events—for concert stages, food booths, etc.). So, in a nutshell, they’re mostly used for temporary, portable/mobile, back-up, or remote power needs.

Conventional generators have a number of downsides. They require gasoline (or diesel fuel), which can be expensive—especially during emergencies, when there can also be gas shortages. The stinky emissions from gas-powered generators also contribute to air pollution and climate change, and they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when placed inside a home or building, or too close to doors, windows, or vents on the outside of a building. (In fact, several people who were using generators due to Hurricane Sandy died from carbon monoxide poisoning.) Furthermore, gas generators are very loud.

Solar generators provide a smart, silent, safe, and clean alternative that uses renewable energy (no fuel = no emissions), and there are a number of products available to choose from these days. (Biodiesel or hybrid generators are other options to consider.)

Below is a list of the U.S.-based solar generator brands that I’ve looked into so far; this is not a comprehensive listing.  If you know of other brands of solar generators and would recommend them, please let us know in the Comments. Thanks!

SolManSmall-Scale, Compact Units

These solar generators are designed to provide a modest amount of electricity for temporary, emergency, or low-use power needs. The smallest units can easily charge gadgets and power lights, but do not have the capacity to run large, power-hungry equipment or appliances (e.g., refrigerators or heaters) for more than a short time. (For example, a 1500-watt unit can generally only run a small space heater for up to 2 hours or so at night, when the unit is not being recharged by the sun.) The average price among these compact options is somewhere around $2,500 – $4,000, though you can find some that are less expensive (note: the cheapest products often use panels or components that are made in China). The prices could change significantly in coming months and years, as the cost of solar panels continues to go down, and battery and photovoltaic technologies are evolving rapidly.

SolMan (from Sol Solutions, based in Northern California)

Yeti (from Goal Zero, based in Utah) [added 3/15]

Ready2Go (from E.A.R.T.H., based in Hawaii and Southern California)

SUNRNR (A.K.A. Sun Runner, based in Virginia)

Larger Systems

Some of these are intended for use on construction job sites or public works projects. Most are mounted on trailers that can be towed. While many of these generators are meant for commercial/industrial uses, some could also potentially be used to power an entire off-grid homestead.

Mobile Solar PowerEcos PowerCube (based in Florida)  [added 8/14]

Mobile Solar Power (based in Central California)

SolaRover (based in Colorado)

Pure Power Distribution (based in Southern California)

 

Some companies offer hybrid systems that allow for back-up generation using biodiesel, if solar power is not providing adequate energy for a user’s needs.

Please chime in with additional info and recommendations based on your own experience or knowledge of solar or biodiesel generators!

Related post: Resilience: Disaster-Resistant, Adaptive, and Restorative Design and Planning [Feb. 2013]

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November 12, 2012
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Take a peek at The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page to see our daily blurbs and links. Anyone can view the page, whether or not you have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, be sure to click on the “Like” button to join our growing online community (if you haven’t already); then you should be able to see The Green Spotlight’s posts in your daily Facebook news feed.

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that are featured. Here’s a sampling of a few of the solutions, efforts, and success stories that we’ve spotlighted on the page in recent weeks:

  • the electric DeLorean, coming out in 2013
  • LEED for Homes Awards: this year’s winning projects
  • hybrid wind/solar systems
  • Reinventing Fire, the new book by Amory Lovins
  • Earthjustice
  • Global Community Monitor
  • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  • Green Corps’ Field School for Environmental Organizing
  • Silent Spring Institute
  • Arctic Live
  • Revenge of the Electric Car (new documentary)
  • CleanTech Open: this year’s finalists and Forum
  • Brower Youth Awards: videos and info about this year’s winners
  • Solar Decathlon home design competition’s winning projects
  • DIY solar installations in Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • how to size a solar PV system for charging an electric car
  • B Corporation legislation passed in California
  • quotations from Ray Anderson, Buckminster Fuller, Annie Dillard, and others
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October 26, 2011
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In these times of unnatural disasters—such as BP’s oil-hemorrhaging drill “spill,” as well as extreme weather events caused by increasing climate volatility—more people are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint: i.e., their consumption of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas). We are all essentially junkies—or oiloholics—who don’t know how to live without these substances.

Power plants (especially those that burn coal), transportation (particularly emissions from cars, trucks, and jets), and energy use for homes and buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) are the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. [For detailed information on the percentage of emissions from different sectors, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration: Energy Consumption Data and Architecture 2030’s data analysis.]

Until government and industry help shift our infrastructure and economy away from dinosaur fuels and into clean, renewable energy sources, we’ll never be able to get really “clean”—so we should all be pushing for government to end the huge subsidies and tax breaks for dirty energy industries and to support cleaner energy sources (e.g., local solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, and some types of biofuels—a topic for a future post). But we can also do a lot right now, in our everyday lives, to start weaning ourselves off the junk.

In addition to the most obvious steps that can be taken to reduce our direct use of fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels — such as driving as little as possible and conserving energy and water at home/work/school— there are lots of other ways that each of us can lessen our dependence on filthy fuels. You can do so in every area of your life, from choices you make for your home and household and yard and garden, to your vehicle/transportation, travelfood, and other consumer choices. For example, plastics and many household products (such as common cleaning products and personal care products) contain petrochemicals, most of which are toxic to humans and other animals, so it’s best to choose alternatives to such products (e.g., glass instead of plastic bottles/containers, and natural rather than synthetic chemical ingredients for household/personal products).

I’ve compiled this compendium of several other online resources that list other specific ways that we can start tackling our individual and collective carbon addiction, to gain a decent measure of independence from dirty energy sources:

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July 6, 2010
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The good folks at BuildingGreen recently announced their eighth annual Top Ten Green Products. Of the ten they selected, three of my favorites are: Baltix office furniture; Mobile solar power generators; and Pentadyne flywheel energy storage for uninterrupted power supply systems (the flywheel essentially uses magnets and physics, as an alternative to using batteries).

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November 24, 2009
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GreenDollarSignThe following are key online resources for information on federal, state, and local environmental tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives. Most of the incentives that are available are for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies.

FEDERAL

This is a good directory of federal income tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient products—for consumers, as well as businesses, builders, and manufacturers: Energy Tax Incentives Assistance Project

(For info on federal grants to organizations and agencies, go to Grants.gov.)

STATE AND LOCAL

Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for a compendium of options, organized by state. Also check with your municipality (city and county governments) and local utility companies. Many offer their own green rebates and incentives. And this is a great summary of energy-efficiency grants and funds provided to state and local agencies by the 2009 economic stimulus/recovery bill (ARRA).

CALIFORNIA

For those of you who are in California, there are numerous entities offering green rebates and other incentives. Take a look at these resources:

If you know of other useful directories or resources related to green financial incentives, or if you have made use of energy tax credits or other green incentives, please share your experiences or suggestions by leaving a comment below.

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November 16, 2009
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