The Lowdown on Clean Energy Incentives

January 26, 2022

We’ve written a lot about the financial benefits of solar, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency (spoiler alert: there are a ton of them). Speeding the transition to a clean energy future means getting these game-changing tools in the hands of as many people as possible, as fast as possible. One way to help do that is through financial incentives that make the initial purchase of these products easier. 

A plethora of tax credits, utility incentives and other rebates for electric vehicles, solar panels and energy efficiency make it easier to transition to a clean energy future. Let’s break down a sampling of federal and state incentives and how to use them.

Electric vehicles

The federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit for most new electric vehicles. Many new EVs are price below $40,000, which equates to nearly 20% off the sticker price. This dollar amount does decrease for each manufacturers as it hits certain sales thresholds, and at the time of this initial post (early 2022) some of the more well-known names like Tesla and GM no longer qualify for the credit. However, the vast majority of car makers such as Ford, Hyundai and Kia still qualify for the full $7,500 incentive.  

Almost every state offers some incentive to purchase an EV,  (check out both of these resources here and here to see what your state offers) from tax exemptions in such places as Washington state and Washington, D.C., to cash rebates in such states as California, Massachusetts and Oregon. These incentives range in value based on a person’s income and/or the size of the purchased electric vehicle’s battery. Additionally, many utility companies across the country offer cash rebates for EV owners who want to install Level 2 chargers in their homes.

So how are these credits and incentives applied when you’re at the dealership ready to buy your EV? You have to pay for the EV’s sticker price upfront — in cash or through a loan — and apply for those cash rebates after your purchase. 

At tax time, Uncle Sam would knock off $7,500 from your federal taxes due. If you don’t owe that much in taxes, the credit rolls over to the following tax year. For state tax exemptions, you either wouldn’t have to pay a sales tax at the time of purchase or you wouldn’t have to pay other types of car taxes, depending on the type of exemption your home state offers.

What about would-be EV purchasers that aren’t able to take advantage of tax credits (which give the most benefit to households that have a large tax burden)? The Biden Administration proposed big changes to this program in its Build Back Better plan — changes that would help address that inequity and encourage the widespread adoption of EVs. 

Among the proposed changes, it would make the tax credit refundable – meaning you’d get back any money left over after the IRS applies the EV credit to your tax bill. Used electric vehicles also would be eligible for the tax credit. And the credit would go up from $7,500 to $10,500 specifically for EVs made in the U.S. by union workers. 

Though the Build Back Better Act failed to pass the Senate, Democrats in Congress want to move forward with the bill’s climate portion as a standalone climate bill. So there’s still some hope the Biden Administration will revamp the federal tax credit program for EVs and make it more accessible to individuals and families who earn low to middle incomes.


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Solar panels

This year (2022) is the last year people can get a 26% federal tax credit on the cost of home solar panels. Starting in 2023, the tax credit goes down to 22%. The tax credit for solar panels works in the same way as the tax credit for EVs. You pay for solar panels upfront or finance it through a loan. When it’s time to file your taxes, this nonrefundable tax credit lowers your tax bill for the tax year when the solar panels were installed. If the credit for your solar panels is more than you owe in taxes, then the tax credit carries over to the next tax year.

Several states also offer incentives to install residential solar. Just like with EVs, these incentives vary from state to state. In Oregon, the state is offering rebates for both solar panels and battery storage. It pays the rebates to the solar contractors who then pass on the savings to the consumers. In Rhode Island, the state offers a 10% to 25% subsidy through a special grant program. In other states, utility companies or cities offer these financial incentives. 

You can search for these financial incentives by starting with your local utility company or your city’s or state’s energy department – or start with this database.

Energy efficiency

The federal government offers a range of tax credits for energy efficient home equipment and improvements. You could get up to a $500 tax credit for insulating your home or up to a $200 tax credit for replacing your drafty windows with Energy Star-certified ones. 

You can pair these federal tax credits with cash incentives or discounts offered by many nonprofits, collective groups and utility companies throughout the country. For example, National Grid, a utility company that operates in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, offers home energy assessments and steep discounts – up to 75% – for energy efficiency improvements. The Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit, offers cash rebates for a variety of energy saving solutions (e.g. new windows, insulation, heating and cooling). 

Even without subsidies, investing in electric vehicles, solar panels and energy efficiency saves money in the long run. These incentives, however, do make the transition easier, particularly because many utility companies and nonprofits have a mission to serve low- to middle-income individuals and families. These clean energy transitions not only benefit our pocketbooks, but also benefit our collective health by reducing carbon emissions and speeding the transition to a clean energy future.


Envisioning the Clean Energy Future

January 19, 2022

With all of the amazing breakthroughs and advancements towards a clean energy future this past year, it’s exciting to imagine what our clean energy future will actually look like. As technology advances, prices continue to plummet, and more and more localities begin to see the benefits, it can help to envision what that looks like in our own lives. Visualizing the future you want with positive expectations can help you make the changes you need to in order to create it, and motivate us to achieve those expectations (instead of just fantasizing about them).

From oddity to ordinary

While the phenomenon of producing electricity from sunlight was first discovered back in 1839, most of us were introduced to solar panels by those ubiquitous solar-powered calculators of the 1990s. Baby, would you look at us now! Solar panels are inexpensive and efficient enough for a lot of Americans (4 out of 5 homes get enough sunlight to make solar viable) and it’s easy to see if they are for you.

Solar energy is one example of how clean-energy innovations, and policies to support them, can transform daily life for the better in a relatively short period of time. Solar, wind, and battery storage will account for nearly three-quarters of all new U.S. electricity added in 2022. A decade ago, that figure was less than a third—methane gas power still dominated. Same with electric vehicles (EVs), which have grown from a few thousand sold in the U.S. in 2010 to well above 300,000 annually since 2018 (more than 430,000 in 2021). Solar panels, wind farms, and EVs are now everyday sights rather than anomalies.

So the clean energy future that seemed perhaps dubious when the U.S. was in the throes of a gas and oil fracking boom is already here in many respects. What does the next chapter of clean energy look like, and how do we get there? Here are some themes to watch. 

(More) new clean energy sources

In addition to foundational renewable energy technologies like wind and solar, we also need a gamut of other clean energy sources and technologies to help power and decarbonize all sectors of our economy. 

In the future, we’ll be relying more on offshore wind turbines that can generate large amounts of energy for coastal communities. The United Kingdom, China, and Germany are leading the way so far, but the U.S. is also pushing ahead with offshore wind. The nation’s first commercial offshore wind project debuted off Rhode Island in 2016, and more are on the way, with Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York pushing ahead on new projects. Marine energy—harvesting motion from waves and currents in water—isn’t quite as far along as offshore wind, but is another active and potent area of development

To power the bigger, hard-to-decarbonize sectors like industry, trucking, and aviation, a variety of efforts are underway, but it’s too early to declare any winners. Time will tell whether these sectors mainly will run on hydrogen, massively powerful and light batteries, biofuels from waste products—or something no one has invented yet. The big key for all of these technologies will be to bring the scale up and the costs down. 

Electrifying everything

In the meantime, more of our homes, businesses, and cars will run on clean electricity. California is on track to begin requiring solar panels on new buildings in 2023; more U.S. municipalities are ditching gas as fuel for homes; and bans on new sales of gasoline-fueled cars, coupled with mandates for EV charging, continue to roll in across the globe. Expansions of community solar—one array that powers many homes or a building with many tenants—will open up clean energy access beyond those who have been able to install them at home.

Picture this: The clean-energy home of the future will have solar panels, a heat pump for climate control, all-electric appliances (including an induction cooktop instead of gas), and a fast EV charging station. Your thermostat, appliances, and chargers could be set to run when power prices are lowest. Your energy bills are likely to be a lot lower—the average U.S. household stands to save $356 a year by going electric. Beyond homes, shopping centers may offer the ability to order food to be delivered to your car while you charge up. And electric-powered drones and small aircraft could transform mobility and deliveries in cities.

Reclaiming real estate (and carbon) from fossil fuels

“The fossil fuel industry is actively battling the rise of renewables,” writes New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. “But at most, it can only slow things down. A carbon-free energy economy is coming whether oil and coal companies like it or not.” Given that reality, part of the new clean energy economy will be based on remediating territory once dominated by fossil fuels.

Already, former coal power plants have been repurposed, such as an athletic facility and a medical marijuana farm. And inactive oil and gas sites across the U.S. amount to more than 2 million acres of restorable land, a study found last year. Companies are finding ways to repurpose carbon into products we need like fabric for clothes, cutlery for eating, furniture for your home, and even fish food.

Building up a new workforce

New tech goes hand-in-hand with new jobs, and renewables, energy efficiency, and EVs are no different. Solar, wind, and energy storage already employ more than 415,000 workers, and turbine technicians and solar installers are still two of the fastest-growing careers in the U.S., (making 130% of the median worker’s salary in America). The White House has just announced a new Clean Energy Corps dedicated to research and deployment of clean energy solutions, and has proposed policies that would create an additional 500,000-600,000 clean energy jobs.

All of these scenarios are possible because of what President Biden’s Science Advisor Eric Lander called “ferocious innovation” in a recent rundown of the administration’s research priorities to reach zero emissions.

“Sometimes in science, we get so worried about why things might fail, that we don’t devote enough imagination to how things might succeed,” Lander said. “Ferocious innovation means setting bold goals, overcoming the fear of failure, and focusing on how to succeed, even on really hard problems. We need to open the lens and try many possibilities in parallel.”

Ferocious innovation doesn’t always work like the flip of a switch, transforming the world with one breakthrough after another. It might be more like your LEDs at home, a smart thermostat, or an electric car: Modest but major improvements that build up over time and make it hard to imagine ever going back to the old way of doing things.


This year, “get clean” by quitting fossil fuels

January 12, 2022

By now, most of us are pretty aware that 1) there’s a climate crisis and that we need to do something about it ASAP, and 2) that we’ve got a whole bunch of solutions—they just need to be deployed much, much faster. The quickest way to avert a worsening climate crisis is, as writer-activist Bill McKibben succinctly put it, to “stop burning things.” Specifically, we need to stop burning the fossil energy sources that are warming our planet—mainly coal, oil, and natural gas—and to adopt cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. 

Cutting fossil fuels out of our lives won’t be easy, since they are embedded in most aspects of our lives (from how we heat and cool our homes, to how we get around, to how our food is grown and transported, to petroleum-based products in our closets, wardrobes, and kitchens) and since the fossil fuel industry has embedded itself into much of our political systems. But we’re no longer completely tethered to fossil fuels; we have choices now, and cutting out major chunks of our fossil fuel consumption can be likened to kicking any other bad habit, like quitting smoking or breaking a sugar addiction. It isn’t as straightforward, and it might take a little longer, but why not try the same plan of attack? Rather than sitting on the sidelines reading dire headlines, why not get in the game?

In the spirit of the new year, we offer some bonafide steps for quitting fossil fuels, modeled on the  CDC’s guidance for quitting smoking. With a solid game plan in place, you can start “getting clean” while also saving money and supporting justice and equity ideals. What are you waiting for? 

Disclaimer: When quitting fossil fuels, you may experience moments of depression, withdrawal, guilt, or fatigue. This is NORMAL. Remember, you’re trying to make changes to your lifestyle that are not always easy, and you should feel proud of your commitment. Also, be aware that your daily habits and actions aren’t shaped solely by your individual choices, but by the physical, social, and political environment in which you live. “The system” may push back hard, making it tempting for you to cling to your high-carbon habits. Stay the course, knowing that you’re doing the right thing.

Before You Quit

Know Your Reasons for Quitting: 

So you want to quit fossil fuels? It’s important to understand why you’re making this change. Do you want to live healthier? Save money? Have more convenience? Support greater energy independence? Leave a better world for your kids? Be on the right side of history? These are all great reasons. Also, think about what you dislike about your current dependence on fossil fuels. Is it the choking exhaust from your morning commute? Worsening floods or wildfires in your region? Whatever the reasons, write them down so you can remind yourself of them every day. Knowing what you’ll gain by reducing your reliance on dirty energy can inspire you to find cleaner alternatives to meet your everyday needs. 

Make a Decision to Quit:

Sometimes, you just gotta say, “enough is enough” when it comes to burning things. But make sure you put it in writing, and (ideally) share it widely. Across the U.S. and worldwide, more and more people are taking the jump and opting for low-carbon lifestyles. They’re joined by thousands of cities, states, companies, and communities that have pledged to quit fossil fuels by going net zero or fossil free. You can set your commitment to clean energy by taking Gen180’s “Going Electric” Pledge (including making your next car an EV) or even divesting from fossil fuels. By making lifestyle shifts that are good for you, your family, and your community, you’re saying yes to a better collective future for everyone. 

Identify Steps to Quit:

Identify the steps that will work for you to quit fossil fuels. Consider actions that have the maximum impact while not costing an arm and a leg, including in areas like home energy use, transportation, and food. Maybe an EV makes sense for you, or a solar array on your roof. Can you start “electrifying everything” in your home? (maybe start with your weed eater or lawnmower and work your way up to swapping your gas furnace for an electric heat pump.) Most of these shifts will improve your well-being while saving you money in the long term. (Need more ideas? See this beautifully illustrated list.)

Build Your Quit Plan:

Now that you’ve identified the steps, start making an implementation plan. This plan will be unique to your lifestyle and needs, but should include some key elements. For one, set a “quit date” for when you want to start taking action. Give yourself time to build the knowledge, skills, and confidence you’ll need to stay committed, but don’t wait so long that you lose motivation. Then, let your friends and family know you’re “quitting fossil fuels,” and be specific about how they can support you. Identify potential obstacles or challenges that may come up, as well as strategies to overcome them, to improve your chances of sticking it through (more on this later). Establish some weekly or monthly goals and set rewards so you can celebrate your “quit milestones” (Met your energy savings goal? How about a tasty locally grown dinner…). Quitting fossil fuels is a process, so enjoy your achievements as they come. 

Implementing Your Plan: Strategies for Effective Quitting

Manage Your Quit Day:

It’s the big day! You’re ready to take dedicated action to better your life (and everyone else’s). Revisit your list of reasons for quitting fossil fuels and shifting to clean energy. Review your quit plan. To avoid distractions, keep the day’s schedule light so you can really focus on the tasks ahead, and how you’re going to implement them. If you’re aiming to cut back on gasoline use, plan out your day to combine trips, or make your car keys less accessible. Be honest about how much you can take on initially (you don’t want to burn out on all your ambition). Ultimately, your “quit day” may be underwhelming, but that’s ok—it just matters that you do something, however small, to move toward your fossil-free goal. 

Recognize Signs of Depression:

Being a clean energy champion can be exciting—and tiring. You’ll face struggle, withdrawal, frustration. You might feel like you’re not doing enough, fast enough, or you might feel guilty about “relapsing” when you fly to visit friends or family (it’s okay, give yourself a break!). Climate grief is real. Mood changes and self-doubt are common when you’re making big (or small) lifestyle shifts. You might feel a sense of loss of your “old” (high-carbon) life. Embrace these emotions and work through them. Remind yourself that you’re shifting to something better—both for yourself and for the planet. 

Reduce Your Stress:

Quitting fossil fuels is not at all about depriving yourself of pleasure. Some things will just work differently. Get excited by the challenge, and be creative. That twenty-minute fast-charging stop for your EV means you can get some exercise, enjoy a meal, or try some meditation. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself (again) why you’re quitting fossil fuels. Celebrate your “quit milestones” with things that bring you joy. Envision that appealing, fossil-free world!

The Long Haul: Maintaining Your Quit

Prevent Slips:

Inevitably, the parts of our system still under the fossil fuel regime will trip you up. This is all normal. Try to anticipate potential “triggers”—the people, places, things, and situations that draw you back into the old paradigm—and find creative ways to deal with them. Create incentives and strategies to keep up your clean energy, low-carbon lifestyle, and make it convenient. Keep your bike by your front door, with your lock, helmet, and saddlebags ready to go. 

Build Support to “Stay Quit”:

It’s easier to stick with something if you’re held accountable. This means tapping into your peer network for reinforcement, and sharing your intentions far and wide to create expectations for success. Surround yourself with folks who understand and support your commitment to getting off fossil fuels, or who are taking similar steps themselves. Try to get family and friends on board (this may involve difficult conversations with that uncle of yours), but explain why this shift is important to you, and get personal about it (check out David Suzuki Foundation’s CliMate tool for tips on conversation techniques). Lend your support to others who have similar goals. 

Prepare to Stay “Fossil Fuel-Free”:  

You’ve got this, now keep it up! Now that you’ve made important changes in your own life, it’s crucial to share your experience with others. This can maximize the your “ripple effect”, working to shift the social norms around you. Remember that you have more influence on those around you than you might realize. Ultimately, these individual actions need to be scaled up and combined with mutually reinforcing changes at the government and corporate levels. Raise your voice within your community and advocate for wider structural changes that enable clean energy adoption. Support efforts by the federal, state, and local governments to enhance EV infrastructure. Encourage subsidies for public transport and greater energy efficiency for buildings. Vote for clean energy.

Enjoy the Benefits of Quitting:

Above all, celebrate what you’re gaining! Hold strong to your vision of contributing to a better world, and embrace your role as a changemaker. Enjoy your rewards, and congratulate yourself. There’s no time like the present to create a better future.


Five ways to make a big climate impact in 2022

January 5, 2022

Happy 2022, Flip the Script readers! 

With a new year comes a new chance to focus on what matters most. If you’re one of the many Americans feeling concerned about climate change but not sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. 

But first, a shot of inspiration. 

Reading news reports on climate disasters can be paralyzing. Fortunately, there’s much more to the story: the transition away from climate-harming fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources is well underway and has unprecedented momentum. Here are a few examples of what we mean: 

What’s more, individuals aren’t waiting around for broad policy changes to be a part of the clean energy solution. Technologies like home solar and electric vehicles are cheaper than ever and will only get more affordable. If those aren’t feasible, raising your voice to support clean energy policies that make clean energy more accessible is equally important.

Here are five high-impact ways you can take action on clean energy in the year ahead – as a consumer, a community member, and a voter. 

Five ways to make a big impact on climate and clean energy

  1. Consider driving an electric car:  Transportation is the leading source of carbon emissions, so switching to an electric car (with zero tailpipe emissions) will make an immediate impact. In the market for a car? Check out the new and used EV markets. Not in the market? Pledge to make your next vehicle an EV.
  2. Go solar or start a solar school campaign: Like EVs, solar power cuts emissions significantly while saving money. You can explore whether rooftop solar is right for your home or if you rent or live in an apartment, explore community solar here or here. Is your child’s school solar yet? Solar on schools has more than doubled in the last five years. Schools that have switched to solar are reinvesting their energy cost savings into teacher pay, school supplies, and other ways, while teaching kids about STEM and sustainability. Find a solar school near you to get inspired, and check out our Campaign Toolkit or Help Desk to kickstart a solar schools campaign in your community.
  3. Be a clean energy advocate and voter: Show up online by using your voice on social media, engage with your neighborhood and community through conversation, wear your support for clean energy, or share art that communicates the core message that Americans want bold government action on clean energy—now. Among the many issues vital to our country’s future, clean energy will most definitely be “on the ballot” in midterm elections this November. We need to let candidates know we care about clean energy and plan to elect candidates that do, too. Stay up-to-date on upcoming elections in your state and sign up for action alerts from the League of Conservation Voters to speak up for issues that matter throughout the year.
  4. Dig into the action underway in your city, state or region: Dig into the action underway in your city, state or region: What climate commitments have been made? How is energy generated in your state? What is the deal with your utility’s clean energy offerings? What’s the deal with FERC? Write letters to your local papers, to city council, and join local and state clean energy and environmental groups to learn more about how to engage and put pressure on your utility, your city council, your school board, etc. 
  5. Stop funding fossil fuels:  Our financial system has a massive role to play in accelerating a clean energy future. Tell your bank to divest; tell your stock broker you want ESG funds, tell your university to divest (or thank them if they have already), and don’t support businesses that funnel money to politicians that aren’t helping address the crisis.

Lastly, whatever you do, evangelize:  Behavioral science finds social pressure and cues influence others’ behavior toward clean energy. For example, solar has a strong “contagion effect”: when you see your neighbor’s solar panels, it makes you consider getting them too. This kind of peer pressure can also influence your buying an EV and other choices.

Lastly, remember you’re not alone. Our collective actions can influence communities—and ultimately build widespread political will—leading governments and businesses to respond more quickly and effectively. 

Together, we’ve got this.