10 Celebrities Advocating for Climate Change

Studies indicate that celebrity culture has a significant influence on consumer choices and lifestyle. In a fun and lighthearted manner, I have shared interesting facts on how each celebrity has contributed towards a more sustainable world. 

I love that this idea 

  1. uses popular global figures to highlight sustainability
  2. inspires more people to be eco-friendly
  3. shows that climate change can be combated through activism

Here’s an infographic on “10 Celebrities Advocating for Climate Change”.

What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates.

A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar
A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar

Solar has gone from being an expensive rarity to a common sight on rooftops in many places across the country. As a result, homeowners have switched from asking if solar is actually worth it to how much it costs. 

Unfortunately, determining how much solar would actually cost for your home isn’t simple. To give homeowners a better idea of true prices out there, Green Living Guy decided to do some research! 
First off, why is determining the cost of solar so difficult? There are several reasons for this:

1) Not all homes use the same amount of energy – this can even be true of homes that are right next to each other.

2) Different homes have different roof angles and receive different amounts of sun.

3) Rebates and incentives change from state to state, and even utility to utility.

4) Installers don’t tend to publish their prices, and pricing can vary widely from one installer to another for the same panels.

5) Prices have been dropping rapidly for the past ten years, making price studies from only a few years back completely inaccurate.

So how are homeowners supposed to know even a general ballpark for prices when considering purchasing solar? Well, we went looking better information, and we found several recent studies that help shed light on the actual cost of installing solar.

We looked at studies from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a federally-funded laboratory which does a large amount of research on all kinds of energy, and Solar to the People, an independent marketplace site that evaluates solar installers and publishes educational studies for homeowners.

The Lawrence Berkeley study looks at solar costs across the entire US, and is quite an in-depth study – 

Here are our takeaways from the Lawrence Berkeley study:

1) Residential solar prices have dropped enormously across the country in the past decade

– Home solar prices have dropped roughly 55% from 2005 to 2015. The average price of an installed watt of home solar in 2005 was $9.04. In 2015 installing that same watt cost $4.05.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

2) The prices that homeowners pay per installed watt of installed solar within states varies– as you can see in the graph below, people pay a wide range of prices for each installed watt. So prices vary not only ACROSS states (you can see that California prices in 2015 are almost 20% HIGHER than New Jersey prices), but WITHIN states – we were surprised to the extent that homeowners within a state paid such different amounts per watt of installed solar. 

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

All this variation between states got us thinking – how much do installations cost overall versus just on a per-watt basis, and are there differences across regions WITHIN states?

For this part of our research, we turned to several studies that looked at two of the most popular places to install solar nationwide – California and New York. Lo and behold, it turns out that there are large variations within states, and you could be paying significantly more or less for solar than the state average depending on the region you live in.

We dug into Solar to the People’s study on the cost of solar panels in New York to understand how prices for home solar varied across the Empire State in the first six months of 2016. We were shocked to see the large variations you can see in the infographic below.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

According to the data collected by Solar to the People, the average price for a home solar installation in New York state in the first half of 2016 was $16,426. Regional prices varied heavily for a full installation of home solar panels from a low of $12,361 in the Ithaca area to a high of $21,104 for solar on Long Island. The reasons for these price differences were primarily due the differences in state incentives. This incentive program is called the NY-Sun residential rebate program and is still available and going strong for upstate New York (where Ithaca is located), but is no longer available in Long Island. Long Island homeowners continue to go solar regardless, as they live in one of the highest cost areas for electricity in the country. 
Of course, there’s no way we can discuss regional solar costs without looking at the reigning king of home solar installations, California. We looked at Solar to the People’s California study to get some insight into if there are regional differences in the cost of installing solar in California. According to the study, the average cost of a home solar installation in California in 2015 was $18,675. 

Yet again, we saw there were sizable difference between the least and most expensive regions, though not nearly as large as New York. On average the highest-cost area for Solar in California was the Redding and Shasta / Cascades area at $20,698, and the least expensive was the Central Coast at $16,212. The differences in these prices seemed to be almost exclusively due to the size differences between installations in those two areas. The prices for home solar in the majority of the regions in the Golden State seemed to hover around the statewide average, like San Diego at $18,540 and Orange County at $18,866.


Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

Hopefully our research has helped you understand a bit more about the national and regional costs of home solar installations! We think that knowledge is power that giving homeowners accurate information on solar is essential to help the renewable energy revolution keep on steaming ahead!

Economics of forest biomass raise hurdles for rural development

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The use of residual forest biomass for rural development faces significant economic hurdles that make it unlikely to be a source of jobs in the near future, according to an analysis by economists at Oregon State University.

In a model of the forest industry, researchers in the College of Forestry combined an evaluation of costs for collecting, transporting and processing biomass with the potential locations of regional processing facilities in western Oregon. Each location was chosen because it is adjacent to an existing or recently-closed wood product operation such as a sawmill or plywood manufacturing plant.
The study, published in Forest Policy and Economics, focused on biomass generated during timber harvesting operations. Biomass consists of branches and treetops that are generally left in the woods or burned. In some highly accessible locations, these residues are ground up or chipped and used to make a product known as “hog fuel.”

“There’s a lot of interest in focusing on the use of biomass to meet multiple objectives, one of which is support for rural communities,” said Mindy Crandall, who led the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State and is an assistant professor at the University of Maine.
“We thought this might provide some support for that idea,” she said. “But from a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn’t all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support.”
While researchers don’t dismiss the possibility of reducing costs by increasing the efficiency of biomass operations, the future feasibility of such development may depend on public investments and the creation of new markets. And while the study considered the possibility of generating biomass from restoration or thinning operations on federal forestlands, it concluded that the additional supply does little to change the economic feasibility of processing facilities.
It would take changes in technology from transportation to processing as well as the development of new value-added products — such as aviation fuel and industrial chemicals — to improve the economic feasibility of biomass, scientists say.
The study may be the first to combine a model of biomass operations with specific locations for regional processing facilities where the material could be processed and stored. Researchers identified 65 likely locations in western Oregon for such facilities, which they call “depots.”
The cost of harvesting, chipping and loading biomass at timber harvesting sites comes to about $37.50 per dry ton, researchers estimated. Operating costs of a regional depot — including labor, fuel, maintenance, electricity and supplies — would add another $11 per dry ton. These estimates do not include transportation and depot construction.
“The actual levels of these costs that operators experience will be really critical to feasibility,” added Crandall.
Researchers have explored the potential for biomass to be used to make aviation fuel, said John Sessions, an OSU professor of forestry who did not take part in this analysis. Sessions has studied the use of forest harvest residues to produce aviation fuel in a project led by Washington State University. While it is technically possible, the economic feasibility of making aviation fuel from biomass would depend on generating income from co-products as well. The first commercial airline flight using aviation fuel made from forest harvest residues was flown by Alaska Airlines last month from Seattle to Washington, D.C., said Sessions, using residues from this project.
Other efficiencies in biomass processing and transportation could improve economic feasibility, added Sessions. They include reducing its moisture content and increasing its density to reduce trucking costs. The scale of processing facilities could be adjusted to minimize the cost per ton.
Crandall and her colleagues estimated that a depot operating three shifts per day and producing 75,000 dry tons per year would create about 19 jobs.
They also considered the possibility that an increase in material from federal forests would make a difference, but transportation costs would rise because such lands tend to be remote from likely depots.

“Just like with real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location’ that matters here, and national forest lands are not uniformly distributed across the landscape,” said Darius Adams, co-author on the paper. “They are frequently in less accessible areas, and it would cost more to transport material.”
The potential for biomass, the researchers said, will likely depend on the ability to achieve other aims in addition to generating biomass as a product: wildfire risk reduction, forest restoration, energy and rural economic stimulus.
Support for the research came from the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance led by Washington State funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Source: OSU College of Forestry: For a century, the College of Forestry has been a world class center of teaching, learning and research. It offers graduate and https://flic.kr/p/Q6rVzw, 12-28-16 undergraduate degree programs in sustaining ecosystems, managing forests and manufacturing wood products; conducts basic and applied research on the nature and use of forests; and operates 14,000 acres of college forests.

The Impact of Solar Power: Don’t Waste It

Every time I sit down to write about the energy industry these days, I simply can’t help myself.  
Each time, I want to start the article by slapping myself on the forehead and exclaiming: “Who’d
a thunk it?” The changes in the energy field are coming so fast and furious that pipe dreams from
just a decade ago are becoming a reality right before our very eyes.

Think about it like this. If you install a solar panel on your roof and put grid tie inverters to work,
you have done what generations of Americans never dreamed possible: Contributed to the national energy pool. 

Solar power 

I typed in “growth in wind power” in a Google search and the first two words I read were these “
wind industry.” Those two words were never linked together before. Now there is a “sun industry” and a “wind industry.” There is also a growing “tide industry,” from generators that harness the movement of the ocean. There is a “geo-thermal industry” that centers around harnessing underground heat and underground cooling. These were dreams 10 years ago. Now
they are industries.  

Wind power's growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.
Here are some numbers to contemplate. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the growth in solar power generation in 2016 alone was projected to reach 119 percent. Wind power’s growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.  

Electric cars, of course, is the frustrating industry that seems to be in a stall. In time, this will
revive itself, perhaps someday during the next White House administration. But President Obama did his best to push automakers into a new mindset and he certainly succeeded. As of 2013, cars on U.S. roads averaged a previously unheard of 23.6 miles per gallon. You see all those tiny cars out there. The land of trucks is turning into a land of tweaky, tiny cars. All to the better.  

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters….this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear. All to the better. 

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters....this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear.
But not so fast. Two of the least understood – and almost never predicted – phenomena in the energy market is that improvements in the efficiency of appliances, motors and heating and cooling units have become one of the most important contributors to the stall in national demand growth for electricity. People are not using few electronic devices, but just the opposite.  

Nevertheless, our devices – televisions, radios, refrigerators – are so much more efficient than before that utility companies are scaling back on new coal and oil-burning plants more than
anyone anticipated. That’s all to the better, too.  

The second phenomenon – the flip side of efficiency – is waste. Let’s imagine that half the people in the country went off-grid. They simply produced their own electricity. Well, they are either going to produce too much or too little electricity and the obvious option is to produce too much because too little means sacrificing quality of life. So, off grid consumers will produce too much and allow the excess to go unclaimed. Once their private batteries are full, their solar panels will be idle. The sun will shine and energy harvesting will stop.

This is inherently a wasted opportunity. Users who stay connected to the grid will benefit themselves, by selling their excess to the utility company, and they will benefit mankind and the planet, but lowering the need to produce electricity with fossil fuels.

Just taking your home off line or off grid seems sensible, but it under-utilizes the impact an individual could have on the planet. 

Green Roofs Are The Urban Gardens Of The Future

Urban areas are known for their convenience, not their green spaces. Living in a city generally means trading wide open spaces for walkability, but that trade-off comes with a price– without space, gardening doesn’t seem like a possibility for a lot of people. When your yard is confined to a tiny concrete patio or balcony, what can you do?
The answer may lie in green roofs. For the most part, the flat roofs of city buildings are essentially wasted space. A properly outfitted, planted, and maintained green roof can be effectively used to combat hunger and possibly even slow climate change.

Image credit: projetsverts via Creative Commons

Creating a Green Roof

As tempting as they might sound, creating and maintaining a green roof is more than just putting down some soil and commencing planting. Soil and water are extremely heavy, and many roofs may not be structurally sound enough to support them. Waterproofing and drainage can also become an issue for old, sunken, poorly-sealed roofs. It’s vitally important to level the surface too, to keep water from pooling, stagnating, and contributing to leaks or mold growth. 

Planning the Layout

With your roof level and fully open to the sky, you can plan your layout based on what will be easiest for you to maintain. Have an idea of how large each plants will get at maturity to avoid crowding and shadowing. Avoid grouping plants with different needs together– for example, plants that require a lot of fertilizer with those that prefer poor soil.

Preparing the Soil

Image credit: projetsverts via Creative Commons

For a green roof, you may actually want to skip soil. One of the major things to consider is the degree of evaporation most roofs deal with. Organic compost typically retains water better than soil does, and some rooftop gardeners find that their plants do best in pure compost. If you plan to grow plants that require well-drained soil, use organic compost for soil augmentation. Since drainage is also a factor, there must be a drainage layer and waterproof membrane between the soil and the roof itself. Landscaping fabric will help keep the growing medium from filtering down into the drainage layer. The growing medium sits atop the landscaping fabric, and an additional layer of mulch above that can help protect roots, deter pests, and reduce evaporation.


 To save water, consider adopting some xeriscaping principles. Rely on natural rainfall as much as possible, and group plants together based on their water needs. If space, weight, and pollution allow, consider installing a rain barrel to capture rainfall for later use. If that isn’t an option, a hose spigot can be a lifesaver. Water is heavy, and carrying bucket after bucket up to a roof to water vegetables may soon prove to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Choosing the Right Plants

 The best plants for a green roof love the sun and don’t mind drought. You’ll avoid excess water weight on your roof, and your plants won’t burn and wilt under the hot sun. Rhubarb, Swiss chard, sweet potato, eggplant, okra, mustard greens, peppers, chickpeas, and lima beans are some drought-tolerant plants that may do well on a roof. Some plants function as “companion plants” in gardens, reducing disease and pest exposure and encouraging growth. For example, aromatic herbs function as pest-repellent. Calcium-depleting plants like broccoli should be planted near plants that don’t require as much, like beets.

A lot of publications treat green roofs as a fad, but that couldn’t be further from reality. Rooftop gardens produce food for urban communities, reduce people’s dependence on unsustainable produce, sequester carbon dioxide, and help reduce urban heat problems. While gardening has long been the purview of rural and suburban communities, urban green roofs may be the sustainability wave of the future.