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6 Ways to Spark the Clean Energy Revolution

Renewable energy sources have made big leaps in the last few years, but we’re still miles away from where we need to be.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Tara Lohan

 
 
 
 

This week Filipino diplomat Yeb Sano moved an international delegation to a standing ovation and many to tears as he issued an emotional plea to world leaders to take meaningful action on climate change as his country dug itself out of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Since so little has been accomplished through international climate talks over the last decade, it’s easy to dismiss that avenue as a lost cause.

It may not be a lost cause, but it is most definitely a slow one. Thankfully, it’s not the only way to push the needle forward on climate action. We already know it’s technically possible to make much greater gains in renewable energy, so what’s stopping us?

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have made big leaps in the last few years, with installation prices falling and demand increasing. But we’re still miles away from where we need to be. So, what can we do to help renewable energy take off in the U.S.? Zachary Shahan, editor of CleanTechnica, has some ideas. 

1. Feed in Tariffs

Feed in tariffs (or FITs) are more common in Europe than the U.S., but we’d do well to make them commonplace, especially anywhere the renewable market is still working to gain a foothold. “A FIT program typically guarantees that customers who own a FIT-eligible renewable electricity generation facility, such as a roof-top solar photovoltaic system, will receive a set price from their utility for all of the electricity they generate and provide to the grid,” explains the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

There are a limited number of states in the U.S. using FITs but Dominion Virginia Power will soon be employing a voluntary one for solar photovoltaic systems owned by residential or commercial customers. Here’s what it's offering: For five years PV owners participating in the program will recieve 15 cents/kilowatthour for electricty provided to the grid from their solar panels; and participants will pay whatever the retail rate is for the electricity they use, which is currently about 10.5 cents/kWh for residential and 7.8 cents/ kWh for commercial customers. 

There are other bonuses, too. “One of the wonderful things about FITs is that they enable the renewable energy revolution to be democratized more than almost any other policy,” Shahan told AlterNet. “Also, they can very simply make up for the unpriced externalities of dirty energy sources—decision-makers can just add that missing price into the rates given to renewable energy producers.”

2. Net Metering

Along the same lines as FITs, net metering offers money back to solar owners when they add their electricity to the grid. “While this may often be lower than what is offered through FITs, the policy is implemented in a more stable and long-term fashion, and it still goes a long way in helping owners of renewable energy systems to get their investments back and eventually make money off of their systems,” explains Shahan. “Also, being one of the simplest policies out there, it's easy to explain, easy to replicate, and hard to deny." Currently, 43 states in the U.S. have net metering.

3. Solar Leasing

Can’t afford to buy solar panels or don’t want to pay the up-front costs? Solar leasing provides another option. It “allows people to go solar and save money on their electric bills from day one without having to put much (if any) money down and without having to deal with a bank or loan,” said Shahan. “People are very, very attracted to this model, and it dominates in the places where it exists, often accounting for 75 percent or more of the residential solar market.” Solar leasing programs currently exist in California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. 

 
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