The greening of California’s electric grid gets a lot of attention – we’re committed to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, with some state legislators pushing to increase that commitment to 100 percent by 2045. This bold leadership on reducing fossil fuel use and climate action planning from the world’s sixth largest economy is encouraging.

However, electricity is only one piece of the puzzle. According to the California Air Resources Board, natural gas consumption in residences and commercial buildings accounts for nearly 10 percent of California’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The lion’s share of this natural gas use is for space and water heating. If we want to achieve our ambitious GHG reduction goals, we need to find a better way to heat our water and indoor areas.

Recognizing this, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-797 (Irwin) into law on October 4, extending the California Solar Initiative Thermal Program for an additional two years, through the end of 2019. The program provides rebates for qualifying solar water heating systems for single-family and multifamily homes, commercial and industrial properties and commercial swimming pools.

An oldie, but goodie

Solar water heating is not new. The first patent for a solar water heating system in the U.S. was filed in 1890, and in 1979, President Jimmy Carter put solar water heating on the White House. It’s a tried and true technology, which uses heat from the sun to warm water, rather than create electricity. Over the past four decades, its adoption has shifted with the rising and falling of natural gas prices, but for homeowners and business owners who installed solar water heating, their utility costs savings have continued.

The state’s solar thermal market is growing, especially in the multifamily housing sector, according to the California Solar Energy Industries Association. Almost every business uses hot water, whether it’s for hand sinks and showers or high-volume commercial dishwashers, heavy-duty laundries or industrial processes, and solar water heating helps achieve profitable and sustainable operations.

Rebates make the difference

With natural gas so cheap today, the economics of installing a solar water heating system often don’t pencil out – that’s where the rebates come in.

Combined with the federal investment tax credit of 30 percent for systems in service by the end of 2019, CSI Thermal rebates can reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for a single-family homeowner to under $2,000. A residential system, which will typically last for 25 years, can pay for itself through reduced natural gas bills after around 10 years. For larger multifamily and commercial systems, customers who make use of the federal tax credit and CSI rebates of up to $800,000 per installation, are recovering their costs in as short as six years.

By encouraging market activity, these rebates also promote competition among manufacturers and installers, driving both innovation and cost reductions.

Higher rebates for low income

AB-797 also calls for a 50 percent carve-out of the program’s total budget for low-income and disadvantaged communities, in addition to higher rebate levels. This helps ensure these communities, many of which have disproportionately borne the brunt of air and water pollution, are able to benefit from clean energy resources and lower utility bills for water heating.

Learn how you can save

CSE administers the CSI Thermal Program for the California Public Utilities Commission in the San Diego Gas & Electric service area. Visit our CSI-Thermal website to learn more about solar water heating and available rebates.

On August 24, the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) approved the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) Program’s final guidelines. By the end of the year, California will embark on the first-of-its-kind effort with the outlay of $140 million of California Climate Investments (cap-and-trade) funds in three communities—$70 million in Fresno, $35 million in Los Angeles and $35 million in a third location (see: Eligible Project Areas and Planning Areas).

The goal of the TCC Program is to accelerate catalytic, transformational change in some of the state’s most disadvantaged and polluted communities to achieve large-scale, holistic impacts in areas of high need. As the SGC prepares to make these investments in combination with public agencies, community groups, foundations, businesses, financial institutions and nongovernmental organizations, the Center for Sustainable Energy provides a vision of a TCC Program with rich energy planning and deeply integrated clean technologies. The council is accepting project concept proposals through Oct. 18, with full applications due the last day of November.

CSE provided feedback before SGC (January, March, April and August 2017) under the umbrella of Six Clean Technology Policy Principles focused on the empowerment of TCC Program residents and community members. Through the pursuit of these principles, the program will be able to leverage clean technology as a tool to promote engagement, cultivate curiosity, empower residents and instill environmentally and community-focused values deeply aligned with the program’s transformative objectives.

Principle 1: As interactive as possible

Create education and outreach (E&O) resources that provide hands-on experiences and empower residents to better understand clean technologies. This interactivity should be intuitive, but also driven by tailored and targeted E&O initiatives in languages and culture appropriate to community residents. CSE’s experience across broad E&O channels has shown the value of group-targeted events, such as electric vehicle ride and drives and home solar workshops, as effective accelerants to clean technology adoption.

Principle 2: As much as possible

Focus on maximizing clean energy technology access—a clean energy choice inundation tactic of sorts. This strategy recognizes the value of using mass exposure as an opportunity to create widely available and seamlessly integrated clean technology into the community member’s lifestyle and daily practices. Such proliferation will help drive business development opportunities and consumer adoption.

Principle 3: As diverse as possible

Concentrate on multiple channels of clean technology delivery and dissemination—essentially a “menu of low- and zero-carbon choices”—that leverage the value in technology diversification to solve localized community needs and challenges, with wider touchpoints on regional and grid-level resiliency strategies consistent with statewide efforts and initiatives.

Principle 4: As early as possible

Maximize exposure quickly and early, essentially a youth-focused strategy, with the goal to create experiences that inspire individuals to learn more. The TCC Program presents significant opportunities to build community-scale and community-focused learning centers, incubators, job and workforce training and additional leadership areas, where clean technology and acquisition can merge with educational and training experiences and activities.

Principle 5: As integrated as possible

Develop seamless integration, maximizing clean technology assimilation into communities. Ironically, the most successful projects will go “unseen” by becoming quickly absorbed into the social and community landscape and practice. Success is achieved when the TCC Program becomes a demonstration of “deep clean technology integration” and a testament to furthering program activities in additional cities.

Principle 6: Savings and pocketbook-oriented investments

Recognize that our everyday choices can improve our planet while saving us money. Investments need to maintain focus on the TCC resident’s pocketbook with a concentrated focus on relating projects to savings. Here, the program succeeds when the resident’s disposable cash from clean technology integration increases, which can lead to any number of auxiliary benefits, including financial stabilization and wealth building.

These principles will be achieved by implementing specific strategies, including

  • Leveraging existing plans
  • Developing “a menu of clean technology offerings”
  • Developing a robust education and outreach plan
  • Seeking to “trigger a rare event”
  • Ensuring a robust data collection plan
  • Ensuring data is usable and in clear formats
  • Conducting deep program analysis
  • Adjusting program activities based on feedback (as needed)
  • Repeating successful practices

Lifting all boats

The TCC Program represents a unique opportunity to strengthen the interconnection between clean technology and local communities. It presents opportunities to apply our capabilities, spirit and resolve, not only to address social inequities, but to create incubators and data that can drive innovative technology activities in the communities that will benefit the most from their integration.

Through policies that prioritize inclusion, interaction, inundation, technology diversity, early exposure and savings, the TCC Program will spearhead this effort. By using education, outreach, data and incentives, the program will leverage proven policy tools that support program success. Through implementing strategic practices that organize and develop systematic program design and data collection plans, the program will capture insight into this unique undertaking.

Moreover, through the concerted integration of a menu of clean technology program offerings, we will in fact build a program capable of “lifting all boats.”

Thinking about adding a solar photovoltaic (PV) system to your home? It can be a great investment — for your pocketbook and the planet. But before installing your panels, it’s important to understand some recent changes in utility billing. The state has enacted new regulations for net energy metering, and time-of-use electricity rates are now required by San Diego Gas & Electric for newly installed residential systems.

To help residential SDG&E customers understand their potential electricity bills with solar under the new rules and rates, CSE has created a free, online residential Solar Savings Calculator that gives the most up-to-date information available to help save energy and money by going solar.

What is net energy metering?

Net energy metering (NEM) is a billing mechanism that credits you for electricity produced by your PV system but not needed for your home. This excess power is exported to the grid, and you are given credit that can be used to buy power when your system is not producing as much electricity as you need or to provide a refund for overgeneration. However, you will be paid for the excess production at a wholesale market price, which is lower than the retail price.

Most residential customers get the greatest value from a solar system that does not produce more electricity than the home uses over the course of a year. If you pay to install a PV system that produces more electricity than you consume in a year, it will be more difficult to earn a return on your investment.

What changed with NEM?

SDG&E residential customers who install solar before 2019 will have their bill calculated under “NEM 2.0” rules enacted last year. There are three main differences between the previous NEM rules and NEM 2.0. The first is a one-time fee to interconnect your PV system to the grid, which is currently $132 for the average single-family home system of 3-5 kilowatts.

The second is a non-bypassable charge, which is designed to recover costs from all utility customers for public service programs. For solar customers that means a portion of the cost for energy consumed from the grid (currently under $0.02/kilowatt-hour) can’t be paid for, or by-passed, using solar generation credits.

Finally, the biggest change is that new residential solar customers are required to enroll in time-of-use (TOU) rates. Under TOU rates, customers pay a different amount for electricity depending on the time. Traditional residential rate structures charge customers based on the volume of electricity consumed within a billing period.

TOU rates also determine how much solar energy produced by a PV system is worth. For example, solar energy produced in the morning, during the lower-priced off-peak period will be worth less than solar energy produced in the afternoon, during the on-peak period.

Peak-Pricing: The graph shows the average daily electricity consumption and potential solar production for a representative family of four in San Diego County as calculated by CSE’s solar calculator.

How do TOU rates work?

Customers who go solar under NEM 2.0 rules are guaranteed the generation credit for energy provided to the grid, however, the prices of electricity assigned to each hour of the day may change – ultimately impacting the financial value of the solar system.

California’s large utilities have expressed interest in shifting the on-peak, or highest cost, times to later in the day to more closely align prices with the utility’s cost of providing electricity when it is scarce vs. when it’s abundant on the electric grid. If approved, this change would mean that credits earned by solar-produced power in midday would be less valuable than they are now, while power purchased from the grid in the late evening would become more expensive.

The impact of this change will be different for each household depending on when they consume energy. In general, for customers with solar PV who primarily use electricity in the evening and early morning when the sun is not shining, shifting the on-peak period will result in higher monthly bills.

A new peak period: This graph shows the average daily energy consumption and potential solar production for a representative family of four in San Diego County as calculated by the CSE Solar Savings Calculator. A potential new on-peak period for SDG&E’s DR-SES rate, the typical rate for residential NEM customers, has been overlain in red on the graph. 

Benefits of the solar calculator

The Solar Savings Calculator gives you a way to become better informed about investing in solar PV for your home. It allows you to clearly view how much electricity you are using now and at what times of day, and then calculates how much electricity various sized PV systems are likely to generate at your home. You can use this consumption and production data, in conjunction with cost estimates for purchasing or leasing a system that you obtain independently from local contractors, to determine the right size system for your individual goals.

Start calculating today, so that you can plan to save energy and money tomorrow.

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Corruption Perceptions Index 
Transparency International 
2015 showed that people working together can succeed in fighting corruption. Although corruption is still rife globally, more countries improved their scores in 2015 than declined. Five of the 10 most corrupt countries also rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world. Northern Europe emerges well in the index – it’s home to four of the top five countries. But just because a country has a clean public sector at home, doesn’t mean it isn’t linked to corruption elsewhere.
An Economy For the 1%
The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.

The freedom ecosystem
Deloitte University Press
How many slaves work for you?” Blunt as it may be, this question speaks to a harsh reality. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 21 million people are globally enslaved. These individuals are victims of the world’s fastest-growing illicit industry, generating an estimated $150 billion of illegal profits each year. From the overseas supply chains of our favorite products to domestic workers in our own neighborhoods, we all directly and indirectly touch slavery, and by working together can help abolish it. While the problem of modern slavery is a persistent and hidden crime, those working to end it are crippled by three significant challenges: prevailing gaps in collecting and sharing data, limited resources to address slavery, and a challenging policy environment.
Facebook Learns To Make Money Where There Isn’t Much
$0.32. That’s the tiny amount Facebook used to earn off each user in the developing world at the beginning of 2012. It was understandable. Many of the citizens of India, Brazil, and Mexico don’t have a lot to spend. That was hard on Facebook’s bottom line. These people’s homes didn’t have high-speed mobile networks or them couldn’t afford them, which meant loading the ad-filled News Feed was an agonizing experience. They were on feature phones or older smart phones with small screens so ads didn’t look that enticing. And some simply didn’t have the buying power to purchase what advertisers typically sold in other markets.
2016 Index of Economic Freedom
Heritage Foundation
The Index, a data-driven, comprehensive assessment of economic freedom in countries on every continent, is about more than just country rankings. It is an exploration into the sources of enduring economic dynamism and how they relate to each other in ensuring opportunities for the greatest number of people.  The 2016 Index, our 22nd edition, once again provides ample evidence of the benefits of economic freedom, both to individuals and to societies.

Could Solar-Powered Drones Deliver Electricity To The Developing World?
Distributed energy systems are a good idea for homes that aren't hooked up to the grid. But distributing solar panels to remote areas in the developing world is hard. That's why Mobisol, a German installer, is testing whether drones could do some of the heavy lifting. "The last mile can be a headache, and, since we have a couple of engineers who can develop drones, we thought maybe there's a leapfrog we can make in how we bring appliances and pieces of kit to a customer," says Thomas Duveau, the company's business development manager.  Every Mobisol customer has a solar home system that can be put to productive use, he says. The company is testing the idea that it could put a little recharging station on every customer's roof—that way drones could move around, say, large areas of Rwanda or Tanzania. In other words, Mobisol's customers would become part of the drone network, offering their rooftop panels as micro-charging stations. In return, customers would get credits on their bills, offsetting their monthly repayment costs. 

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Photo credit: Flickr user fdecomit


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