Blog

Battery storage is a key pillar of our clean energy future

August 10, 2022

ICYMI, batteries are the new black when it comes to clean energy. Power grids across the country are stressed by summer heat waves that are baking most American cities. What’s cushioning against rolling blackouts and keeping the AC humming is battery storage. No, not the Duracel kind, but the kind that sits under the hood of your nearest Chevy Bolt or is standing by to power your home or local hospital in the event of a blackout.

By 2025, 13 battery factories are expected to be in operation across the U.S. Global battery storage brands like Panasonic Energy, Samsung, and LG Energy Solutions are choosing to build new gigafactories in Nevada, Tennessee, and Kansas, with more factory announcements on deck. Additionally, U.S. car makers are building battery plants largely located in the American Southeast to meet the anticipated 22 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2030. EVs may be the popular focus for sourcing and building batteries in the U.S., but there are many other ways batteries are ushering in our clean energy future. 

Solar installations are climbing in number throughout the United States and increasingly reliant on battery storage. When the sun beams down on a home, business, or other solar installation, a large amount of energy is generated. Some of that juice might get used immediately, but without an efficient storage system in place, any surplus power tends to be wasted. 

On a local scale, excess power can now be stored in power banks built into a home or business. Any energy that isn’t immediately used is funneled into batteries that hold the charge until it is needed. Some systems are designed to provide power uniformly, day and night, while others have added backup capabilities that save energy for emergency situations. 

For a single-family home or small business, a solar + storage system eliminates the need for a gas-powered generator for backup power. A home or business could become independent of the energy grid entirely, given adequate solar power generation and sufficient battery storage solutions. 

Energy Resilience is Contagious

Clean energy is contagious (no mask required)

What if instead of a single home benefiting from battery storage, an entire community could reap the rewards? It’s already happening across the United States and abroad, with schools and hospitals being the first to embrace solar power storage on a scale that can make a real difference. 

In some cases, these institutions act as emergency centers in their communities, providing power and stability during outages and other disruptions. This largely reduces their reliance on fossil fuels to provide backup power via generators, which is a big win for both their wallets and the planet. 

Tesla powerwalls are being used in California during wildfire-caused blackouts. The new Ford F-150 Lightning is touted to power your home during a power shutoff and large U.S. cities like Miami and Los Angeles are reaping the double rewards of an electric bus fleet that runs on clean energy, doesn’t emit pollution, and is designed to support climate resiliency risks. Essential public services, like schools and hospitals across the country, are using batteries to provide safe, resilient community spaces when needed.

At Hopewell Valley Central High school in New Jersey, a large rooftop solar array and a larger parking lot solar canopy generate 876 kilowatts of power, meeting the school’s energy needs and charging a one-megawatt, 500kWh lithium-ion battery system. In the event of a widespread power outage, the school becomes a climate-controlled lifeline for the community, with full lighting and food refrigeration. 

In places like Santa Barbara, California, schools are becoming the centerpiece of energy resilient communities, with solar + storage microgrids at a half dozen locations, for a combined 6 MWh of energy storage. These new projects are especially important in places like California that, in recent years, have dealt with the devastating effects of wildfires. By placing energy storage in areas with a low risk of fire spread, they can serve as safe havens and community shelters as extreme weather events continue. 

An even more impressive project is underway in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Atrisco Heritage Academy High School is getting a massive solar makeover, with over 2,200 solar panels and a Tesla Megapack two battery storage system with a capacity of 2,884 kWh. The school, which is the largest in the state, will be well-equipped as a regional power shelter, making it the go-to for community care in a future emergency. 

Hospitals are another place where solar + storage is a gamechanger. In Hawaii, Kona Community Hospital is using battery storage to keep its lights on and doors open to those in need during hurricanes and other natural disasters. The next time a severe storm rolls through and wipes out their power, their battery storage system provide backup power, ensuring that they can continue to offer vital services to their patients. 

Better Technology, Lower Costs

The trend toward battery storage is being driven by a number of factors. First, the cost of high-capacity batteries has dropped dramatically in recent years, making them more affordable for both businesses and homeowners. Battery storage costs are expected to keep declining rapidly for the next decade before leveling out, according to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

Projects that were once cost-prohibitive are now being funded more easily by public and private investment. In some cases, schools and hospitals can be equipped with solar+storage with no upfront cost by leveraging third-party financing, such as through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a local energy company. Batteries have also become much more efficient. Simply transitioning to a lithium-ion battery that converts electrical energy into chemical energy allows more energy storage than a traditional lead acid battery.

Powering the Future

While solar has seen exponential growth for over a decade, new battery storage installations are expected to spike beginning in 2022. Overall, 60 percent of the estimated 85 gigawatt increase in U.S. power grid capacity in 2022 and 2023 is expected to come from new solar and battery storage projects, with wind power contributing a further 18 percent and fossil fuels making up the remainder. 

As the electric grid becomes more decentralized, with more schools, communities, and homeowners turning to clean power, the need for energy storage will only increase. The energy storage industry is preparing to meet this demand as it  grows in both size and lobbying power

With falling prices, increasing efficiency, and advances in technology, more businesses and homeowners are pairing solar with battery storage.  This pairing is the perfect match to deliver the reliability and stability that the grid of a clean energy future demands.

Blog

From the Desk of Gen180: What We’re Reading

June 29, 2022

Looking to beef up your knowledge and get inspired on clean energy and climate this summer? We’ve got you.

Whether you’re tanning poolside this summer, finally hiking the Appalachian Trail, or lounging in a hammock between two palms, we’ve compiled a list of books that might suit your fancy—right from the bookshelves of the Gen180 team.

Author’s note: Wondering what the most climate-friendly way to get these books is? Skip the two-day shipping shortcut (it might be nice for you, but not the planet,) and support a local bookstore. Prefer to find your books online? Check out Bookshop, which gives readers the convenience of online shopping while supporting independent bookstores at the same time.

Jamie’s Pick: The Carbon Almanac, by Seth Godin et al.

Like any good book, it has to tell a good story, and what better one than the one we’re currently living in? The Carbon Almanac is presented in the same format of any other almanac, but also has an air of “choose your own adventure” to it. Readers can both learn about the chemistry of carbon and enjoy the beautiful illustrations of our (not so) impending doom. The book’s message is strong – we can still fix this. Keep reading →

Wendy’s Pick: They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis, by James Gustave Speth

Fossil fuel operators have largely been seen as the perpetrators of climate misinformation in an attempt to delay the progression to clean, renewable energy fuels. This new tomb from the legendary climate activist, Gus Speth, points the finger for the delay squarely at the feet of our elected leaders. Arguing that every administration since the 1970s failed to heed the advice of climate scientists, despite being fully aware of the alarming facts, now forces our children to assume the responsibility for the failure of prior generations (Juliana vs. United States). It’s a sobering, and necessary, read to understand why we are where we are today in the climate fight. Keep reading →

Kay’s Pick: Speed and Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, by John Doerr

Written by one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers, John Doerr is well versed in what’s contributed to the climate crisis as well as the speed and scale at which it can be fixed. Readers will enjoy first-hand accounts from business heavy-hitters like Bill Gates, Mary Barra, and dignitary Christiana Figueres. There’s a reason this book (released last year) continues to receive rave reviews. It lays out a clear, purposeful, and actionable strategy to solve climate change. Keep reading →

Shakaya’s Pick: The Rewiring America Handbook: A Guide to Winning the Climate Fight, By Saul Griffith, Sam Calisch, and Laura Fraser

This book has been around for a minute, and while we are still a ways off from achieving the “electrify everything” goal, we have made significant progress toward it since this handbook came out in 2020. In what may seem like an inaccessible topic – electrification – the authors suggest tangible and practical  solutions to begin to fully electrify your life. That includes harnessing power from renewable, clean sources and divesting from coal and oil once and for all. In Rewiring, there’s no going back to dirty fuels once you’re connected to clean. Keep reading →

Tish’s Pick: Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant

This family-friendly book, set in Morocco, paints a picture of what it’s like for young students to live next to the world’s biggest solar plant and the benefits the facility brings to their local community–and beyond. It’s a fascinating and beautifully told story of how one community can transition to a clean, renewable power source that not only improves their environment, but their quality of life. If you (or your kids) liked this book, check out other books by Allan Drummond, which feature a variety of kid-friendly sustainable community stories to spark the imagination. Keep reading →

Blog

Investing in the climate while you sleep

June 8, 2022

This post originally appeared in Looking Forward, the climate solutions newsletter from Fix, Grist’s solutions lab. It was written by Fix’s climate solutions fellow, Marigo Farr.

Earth with green dollar bill texture for land

Credit: Grist / Unsplash / Getty Images

Shortly after I was born, my parents and grandmother started investing money that would be passed on to me as an adult. I didn’t think much about it until my early 20s, when I asked my father if he had any idea what kinds of stocks they had purchased. He said something like, “I believe I told the bank guy, ‘No guns, no tobacco, no oil.’” I hoped he was right, but I didn’t look into it for another decade. When I finally did, I realized he was wrong.

On this Earth Day eve, I’ve been thinking about what we do with our dollars — not by donating, which is also important, but by asking the question: “Where does my money sleep at night?” This concept was shared with me by Robert Mante, director of consumer investments at Amalgamated Bank. It essentially means that money doesn’t just sit around like treasure in a vault. Banks (or you) use it to finance something concrete in the world. The question is, what?

If you don’t know the answer, it likely includes something you wouldn’t be happy to support. The world’s 60 largest banks directed $4.6 trillion in lending and underwriting to the fossil fuel industry between 2016 and 2021. In addition to personal investments managed by these banks, everyday customer checking and savings accounts also contribute to a bank’s income stream, enabling the financing of things like fracked gas pipelines, Arctic drilling, and mountaintop removal.

But consumers are taking notice and demanding alternatives, calling on big banksuniversity endowments, and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels. And in parallel, new, greener banking services and investment options have emerged. In honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d share some of the choices I’ve made about where my money sleeps, and how I’ve moved it to help support the kinds of projects I value.

If you have any amount of money in a bank

Blue piggy bank surrounded by dollar-textured leaves and yellow coins

Credit: Grist / Unsplash / Getty Images

Just like you consider environmental impacts when weighing options at the grocery store, you can do the same when choosing a bank. After years of feeling intimidated by the myriad choices out there and the potential for “greenwashing,” I finally opened up a checking account at a green bank. I chose Ando and researched it enough to discern what buzzwords like “sustainable” and “green” actually meant to the company — no lending to fossil fuels, as certified by the third-party organization Bank.Green. Ando also gave me the option of naming my priorities, such as clean energy, sustainable transportation, and green buildings.

If you’ve been pondering a switch, you can check out other Bank.Green fossil-free certified banks here, or use the platform Mighty to customize a search for banks that reflect a range of values that are important to you. From my experience, it takes less time to switch than you think. A lot of these services do the heavy lifting for you, including quick account setups online and automatic transfer of your money from your existing bank.

If you want to try investing for the climate, with as little as $100

Hand cupped with dollar-textured stem growing from palm and yellow coins surrounding

Credit: Grist / Unsplash / Getty Images

In addition to divesting my personal accounts from fossil fuel lenders, I’ve been pondering the question, “What is the alternative I want to invest in?” I learned about an approach often referred to as community investment. Unlike purchasing publicly traded shares in for-profit companies, the idea is to put your money directly into mission-driven projects that often have community involvement, or mission-driven funds that finance those projects.

Energea and Sunwealth are both solar developers that let individuals invest in community solar projects. For me, helping to make a specific solar project possible felt like a really tangible way to start. With Energea, you can invest as little as $100 and receive monthly cash dividends immediately. If you’re new to this kind of investment, like I was when I put in my first $500, the Energea returns calculator is a helpful tool for visualizing projected outcomes and experimenting with different cash inputs.

Another example is Kachuwa Impact Fund, which provides financing for multiple mission-oriented companies, such as solar cooperative Namaste Solar and woman- and POC-owned energy-efficiency company ​​COI Energy Services. The fund is open to everyday investors at a minimum of $5,000.

You can also go the route of investing directly in your own community, if you know of projects you care about that are looking for backers.

If you want to explore the stock market, and do it as green as possible

Yellow arrow zig-zagging on blue graph paper with dollar-textured leaves surrounding

Credit: Grist / Unsplash / Getty Images

Last year, in my efforts to divest from fossil fuels, I sold all of my personal investments and put them into renewable energy portfolios like iShares Global Clean Energy ETF and portfolios screened as “socially responsible” or meeting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria. It felt like a good step, but since then, I have learned that some ESG portfolios can include fossil fuel companies. The good news is, there are investment services that can provide you with transparent, curated investment portfolios screened for fossil fuels — one example is Amalgamated Bank’s Fossil Fuel Free portfolio, which consists of a “sustainability” component as well as a strictly screened ESG component. (It does have a $15,000 minimum, but there’s no stated minimum for starting your own portfolio at Amalgamated, which you can customize with the help of an adviser.)

There are also plenty of investment management services, such as Natural Investments and Revalue, that specialize in environmentally and socially responsible publicly traded stock options as well as direct and community investing. And it’s worth noting that renewable power investments have been outperforming fossil fuels for years — a trend that’s likely to continue, according to Forbes.

The 2022 Banking on Climate Chaos report, compiled by Rainforest Action Network and other environmental orgs, states that in order to move toward a world that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and “fully respects human rights,” banks must prohibit financing for all fossil fuel expansion projects and phase out financing for existing fossil fuel infrastructure. I believe that is a call to action — and one that we can all be part of answering. I didn’t dramatically change my lifestyle in order to take steps toward aligning my money with my values. Mostly, it was a few conversations and clicks of a mouse. By doing that little bit of extra work, we can be levers in the shift to a greener, more compassionate economy.

Blog

Flip the Script Greatest Hits: Our 100th Issue

April 27, 2022

Last week was our 100th newsletter! Like all of us, we know you’ve been counting with bated breath.

That means we’ve given you 100 weeks of insightful, exciting, and inspiring content to help you move from climate stress to clean energy action. If you all have had 1/10th of the enjoyment reading the newsletter as we have had writing it, then you’ve had an appropriate amount of enjoyment (let’s not get too carried away).

To celebrate our centennial issue, we’ve curated the top articles based on popularity. They serendipitously (have we used too many multisyllabic words yet?) range the gamut of topics. When putting together this list, we were able to look back and marvel at the truly wide range of themes we’ve covered. From electric vehicles to solar, storage, policy, the electrification of everything, and culture, we’re pretty proud of our coverage of the clean energy transition.

Here are the top five most popular issues of Generation180’s Flip the Script newsletter.

 

Issue #80: When should I buy an EV?

This thoughtful guide helps readers down the path of answering the question of whether owning an EV makes sense for their lifestyle right now. We go through a breakdown of practicality (range examples, charging types, model availability) and cost analysis (incentives, cost to charge, maintenance). Finally, take a look at the handy flowchart at the end that gives you a step-by-step path to help you determine exactly when you should buy an EV.
Read When should I buy an EV? ➝

 

Issue #28: The absurd truth about fossil fuel subsidies

This article has been so popular we’ve republished it (twice!) with updates. It truly is baffling how much the fossil fuel industry has been propped up by subsidies since its inception and that carries over in a massive way — especially today. We go over exactly how much the industry benefits from public funds, why that’s a huge deal, and what our options are moving forward.
Read The absurd truth about fossil fuel subsidies ➝

 

Issue #05: There’s a nationwide school budget crisis—solar can help

Even though this was one of our first newsletters, it still ranks as one of the most popular, and the message rings as true today as when it was first published in the early weeks of the pandemic. Schools are still reeling from deep cuts in their budgets and, now more than ever, solar is a great way to free up funds and get more resources to teachers and students. The growth of solar schools has been a bright spot (pun intended) in the solar movement.
Read There’s a nationwide school budget crisis—solar can help ➝

 

Issue #43: How my weed eater ushered me into the 21st century

We love this first-person story of how an ordinary weed trimmer that wouldn’t start ushered the author into the electrify everything movement. The experience in the garage is the same as in the world at large: electric is just a better way of doing things. It’s a fun, quick, journey that ends with an update that sheds light on how small changes can lead to a bigger imact.
Read How my weed eater ushered me into the 21st century here ➝

 

Issue #76: How comedy can conquer climate change

If you’re like a lot of Americans, sometimes it can be hard to know A: how to feel about climate change and B: how to talk about climate change. Enter climate comedy. This article surveys some of the funniest climate acts out there and breaks down exactly why laughing a little is so important: Comedy can make conversation topics that could become tense or depressing become more approachable and hopeful. This is one of our favorite articles as it highlights a very important initiative in the climate space, but also has lots of links to hilarious content.
Read How comedy can conquer climate change ➝

 

Blog

EVs make car sharing even better

June 30, 2021

Visit any big city, and you’ll witness how shared transportation options have grown, from electric scooters tossed along sidewalks to bike and car sharing services. These can be a (relatively) cheap and easy way to zip around city streets. But the real potential of these shared services goes well beyond cities and well-heeled urbanites. In the case of car sharing, if the program is designed strategically—including prioritizing the use of electric vehicles (EVs)—there are prospects for a triple win:  convenient transportation, lower emissions, and more affordable mobility options for under-resourced populations.

Cost savings and convenience

Car sharing has a lot going for it. Worldwide, membership in car sharing organizations like Zipcar and Getaround—which offer users access to a fleet of ready-to-drive cars, typically via an app—doubled between 2016 and 2018, to more than 30 million. People are flocking to shared cars for a lot of reasons, but the main ones are convenience and cost savings. Car sharing (which is different from car rentals or ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft) offers the benefit of using a vehicle without the high costs associated with private car ownership, like insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking. Usually, vehicles are stationed in locations like residential neighborhoods or near public transit stations and universities, making them convenient for a wide range of users.

Lower emissions

Car sharing, if done well, can also be a great way to tackle rising emissions from transportation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Studies show that when people gain access to a shared vehicle, they may get rid of their private car or avoid buying a new one; they also tend to walk, bike, or take public transit more. This brings other cascading benefits, including reducing the overall vehicle miles traveled and lowering traffic congestion and the demand for parking—all of which help slash driving-related emissions. Overall, the research points to a decrease in net greenhouse gas emissions among car sharing members, although it can depend on the context.

When electric vehicles enter the picture, there’s no question that car sharing is a win for the climate. Over their lifetime, emissions for EVs are three times lower than for internal combustion vehicles. While specific data on the emission savings from EV car sharing aren’t available, studies show that if you replace a conventional ride-hailing vehicle (like an Uber) with an EV, this can result in three times the emission reductions compared to a conventional vehicle. When EVs are powered by clean energy, like solar and wind power, they can contribute near-zero emissions. That’s why some ride-hailing services are starting to roll-out EVs.

The equity opportunity

Car sharing also has real potential to provide more equitable access to transport. So far, car sharing companies have focused on urban centers, but rural communities can actually benefit most from these services, due to the lack of density to support traditional public transit, biking, or other options. The typical car sharing user today tends to be young, with more education, a higher income, as well as easy access to the Internet, a smart phone, and banking services. Many popular car sharing services, which rely on an app linked to a bank account, end up excluding populations like the elderly and low-income households.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If designed with these audiences in mind, car sharing presents an opportunity to provide mobility to people who may not be able to afford the high cost of owning a car, or who simply don’t have access to other good transportation options. By making these services available to more people, including in lower-income and more remote neighborhoods, we can go even further in reducing emissions. Strategies for broadening access and improving equity in car sharing services include providing subsidies for low-income users, making these services more accessible to the “unbanked” and those without smartphones, and developing more inclusive and adaptive services.

Getting car sharing right: a few examples

To optimize the potential for car sharing to both reduce emissions and meet the needs of diverse and under-resourced communities, it has to be “done right.” So far, car sharing has been mostly led by private companies. But in recent years, non-profits and governmental agencies have also gotten in on the action, forming alliances and partnerships focused on shared mobility while keeping in mind equity and the benefits of electrified transport. Here are a few examples of car sharing that tick these boxes:

  • In 2016, the City of Los Angeles, California, signed a contract for an electric car sharing pilot project aimed at serving low-income residents. As of April 2019, BlueLA had deployed 80 EVs and 26 charging stations, all located in disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout Central LA. The goals of the program include: 1) recruiting at least 7,000 new car sharing users, 2) avoiding the purchase or sale of 1,000 private vehicles, and 3) reducing 2,150 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • In the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, the car-sharing nonprofit HOURCAR is developing an all-electric car sharing service and a network of charging hubs in historically underinvested communities. The EV Spot Network, set to launch this year, is a collaboration with Xcel Energy and the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and aims to add 150 shared EVs and 70 charging stations on city streets. The planning process has been largely community-driven. Based on feedback from local residents, HOURCAR has upgraded its system to approve new users quickly (within 24 hours), cut membership costs by 40 percent, and provide materials in several languages, including Somali and Hmong.
  • In Hood River, Oregon, Forth Mobility aims to show how EV car sharing can serve rural communities while also benefiting low-income residents and local businesses. The Clean Rural Shared Electric Mobility (CRuSE) Project is one of the first efforts in the country to bring lower-cost car sharing to a rural area. Under the three-year program, five EVs are stationed at affordable housing sites, the city center, and tourist destinations in Hood River. To make the program more accessible, the platform is providing iPads at the affordable housing sites to help people sign up, and is creating a Spanish version of its app. It also offers alternate payment options to support users without access to credit or banking, and tiered pricing (including subsidies) for different user groups.

Innovative transport solutions like EV car sharing are needed to help decarbonize the transport sector in an equitable way. By shifting away from private vehicles and toward less carbon-intensive (but still convenient!) modes of transport, by adding EVs to the mix, and by targeting programs at under-resourced communities, we can move even closer to that goal.