Solar Stimulus: How Renewables Will Save The Economy & Our Planet
Solar Stimulus: How Renewables Will Save The Economy & Our Planet
For those of us running a business, pursuing the golden dream, these are incredibly stressful times. It’s easy to feel numb. Need something positive to look forward to?
Try this one on for size. A day is coming, sooner than we think, when humanity will rise up and overcome: not just COVID-19 but the whole enchilada — climate change, overpopulation, our addictive obsession to fossil fuels burning a hole in the ozone sky.
Inspired not only by this crisis, but the one after this and the next after that, we’ll finally learn to cut the cord on fossil fuels, every single one of us, and live sustainably for a beautiful tomorrow.
We’ll do it because we have to — because it’s the right thing to do for our children’s future, but also because it’s starting to make real financial sense, in dollars and cents, added up like a stock portfolio on an investment spreadsheet.
Cutting the cord is in our financial best interest, not just on a societal level but on a personal one too. Because if we’re truly going to reinvent our entire energy grid and the global civilization it empowers, capitalism has to win too. At the end of the day, the math on the electric bill has to add up for everyone.
Talking Heads frontman David Bryne recently gave me a dose of inspiration to go with my morning coffee. In his social positivity blog Reasons to Be Cheerful, he writes:
“It’s ironic that as the pandemic forces us into our separate corners, it’s also showing us how intricately we are all connected. It’s revealing the many ways that our lives intersect almost without our noticing. And it’s showing us just how tenuous our existence becomes when we try to abandon those connections and distance from one another. Health care, housing, race, inequality, the climate — we’re all in the same leaky boat.”
Can you feel it? A new day is about to break through the clouds. Look closer. We’re going to finally come together on renewable energy because we are in this together. We’re going to win.
A Brighter Day — Literally
One thing is clear: COVID-19 is a wakeup call. The sea has spoken. And we’d better listen.
This is what a fisherman once told me in Kalametiya where I did relief work following the devastating 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka: “We took from the sea our entire lives. And now the sea has taken from us.”
And while the wake may indeed be shocking, there’s also a strange feeling of calm — a sense of serenity where we can begin to take stock and rebuild for the future.
Fortunately, Mother Nature too has had a chance to catch her breath. Humanity has certainly slowed down; the clouds have parted: In some regions of India, you can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide over cities and industrial areas in Asia and Europe were 40% lower than the same time last year — and in China pollution dropped so low NASA could measure it from space.
In Venice, canals are clean; dolphins are returning. Coyotes have been spotted crossing the Golden Gate Bridge; deer graze on suburban lawns a few miles away from the White House.
You might think climate activists would celebrate this as a victory. Not exactly. The trouble is public perception incorrectly associates economic loss with climate change gain. The scenario places capitalism up against the environment in a no-holds-barred, bare knuckle street match.
I’m an environmentalist and a capitalist, an enigma to some (personally, I prefer eco-entrepreneur ninja). I believe that not only can a strong economy coexist with a healthy climate, in order for climate change mitigation to be truly sustainable — it must.
Yes, in a way COVID-19 has been a one-off benefit for the environment. But more importantly, it’s nature telling us to hit the reset button. We must realign with the earth; grow responsibly and sustainably. Indeed, this crisis is an incredible opportunity — if we pause, take a moment and listen to the breath of the wind.
The Pied Pigovian Piper
The English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou theorized that the social costs of the negative externalities of any activity need to be internalized into the price of said activity — known as a Pigovian tax.
As we pay the Pigovian tax, so the theory goes, we adjust our lifestyles to fit the economics. But if Pigovian pricing fails to take those costs into account — if the offset disbursement is legislated effectively into ignorant nonexistence — we change very little. The bill is instead thermodynamically absorbed into nature, which we then pay in the form of climate change.
Of course climate change is just a clean and polite political term to describe the near Biblical hell to which we condemn our children’s future: If global warming is left unchecked, few forests will be left by 2050 — either logged or smoted by wildfire. The oceans will face mass-extinction. Vast swaths of the planet will be increasingly uninhabitable to humans. Coastal cities in Bangladesh, Mexico, and the United States will suffer extreme flooding that kills thousands and displaces millions.
There are hidden costs to our old world lifestyle. And the bill is coming due. The COVID-19 crisis is only our most recent warning.
As we return our economy and create jobs, we must take these costs into account — before we bankrupt the environment and unleash global catastrophes that make the price of COVID-19 seem like pocket change.
As the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighted in a paper addressing our response to the pandemic crisis:
“It may be politically expedient at this time to relax environmental standards and to prop up industries such as intensive agriculture, long-distance transportation such as the airlines, and fossil-fuel-dependent energy sectors, but doing so without requiring urgent and fundamental change, essentially subsidizes the emergence of future pandemics.”
Solar Stimulus & a Sustainable Tomorrow
But to create a truly sustainable world, we need more than just clean energy awareness and well meaning social policies. We need real economic incentives that accrue dividends. At the end of the day, clean energy must be cheaper than fossil fuels — a reality companies like Palmetto are getting ever closer to achieving. Ultimately, investments in renewable energy should not just pay for themselves but yield substantial return, a solar stimulus if you will.
Not that there’s anything wrong with social optimism. It sounds great on a banjo. For about a year in the mid-2000s, I worked as a consultant for UNESCAP, United Nations Environmental Sustainable Division — full of pep and a keen sense of purpose. Staffed by world renowned experts, the UN should have been a masterful source for policy development, an NGO working across borders to solve the world’s biggest problems.
We had amazing broad stroke ideas that could change the world — if anyone actually bothered to adopt them. But the longer I worked at the UN, the more I realized we were moving far too slow. Social policy alone cannot solve the climate crisis. We need clean energy entrepreneurs who embrace technological innovations and value propositions that benefit the consumer.
I’ve got plenty of pessimistic friends. They tell me: Yes, the seas are bluer; the skies are smog-free and sunny again — but that’s only because society has stayed indoors in the face of unprecedented pandemic. What happens when we go back outside, return to work, when the wheels of capitalism start to churn the ongoing grind of progress?
Yet despite it all, I remain an optimistic and opportunistic capitalist. I envision a future where we can have both: a thriving economy that’s also sustainable and environmentally enriching, an overlapping Venn diagram of red and blue bleeding into bold and majestic purple. Indeed, the future prosperity of our entire civilization depends on it.
After all, human beings are an incredibly intelligent species. I fervently believe a thriving economy and a well preserved environment can symbiotically coexist. We can live both boldly and sustainably — we just need to think smarter.
Cutting the Cord in a Cash-Strapped Economy
The economic fallout of COVID-19 is expected to rival the Great Depression, warns the International Monetary Fund. The crisis threatens decades of gains from globalization.
In the face of uncertain economic times, people are doing everything they can to shore up cash and reduce their monthly spend. An investment in the benefits of solar helps to achieve exactly that.
Solar is a great tool to quickly reduce the fixed costs of a utility bill by up to 40%. If you currently spend $200 to $300 on electricity, solar can save you as much as $120 a month — over $1,000 annually, $5,000 over the course of 5 years, with no cash overlay to do it.
Thanks to a number of public policies, the costs of a solar installation are greatly reduced.
By installing a system of solar panels, you eliminate a quarter of the capital expenditure in the form of a federal solar tax credit, for example. This can be combined with state tax credits: 25% in my home state of South Carolina, for instance. These savings can be combined with further reductions from utility companies to incentivize a renewable energy portfolio.
When suddenly the cost of a solar installation is 25%, 33%, or 50% off, it becomes cheaper than the average utility bill.
To further incentivize the pot, 97% of Palmetto’s consumers finance their installations, say over 20 years, maximizing their monthly savings.
In the end, you can save 40 to 50% off your current utility bill. In my own home, I use solar battery storage combined with several smart home technology items to reduce my costs north of 90%. I might pay $8 or $9 on my monthly utility bill.
In fact, I can literally spend more on a burrito at the corner taqueria than I spend on an entire month of utilities — if I go all out with extra guac and sour cream.
Sustainable Solar Innovations
At Palmetto, we like to innovate. We continually strive to improve and reduce the costs of solar so it becomes an affordable reality in everyone’s home. It’s not only the right thing to do for our environment — it’s also cheaper and makes sound economic sense.
Palmetto’s first step, which we’ve been prioritizing the last three years, is to develop a rich and diverse labor pool of solar installers based on a gig economy model. We enable entrepreneurs and provide them a platform to make sales of solar installations. We handle everything on the back office end — marketing, customer acquisition, customer service. In exchange, we earn a percentage of the sale, similar to Ticketmaster.
In the midst of this pandemic, our membership count has skyrocketed. People are looking for secondary incomes. Some have been laid off, furloughed, or fear losing their jobs. Our program offers a viable and potentially lucrative solution — many of our sellers generate six figures a year selling solar installations.
As we drive up the labor pool, we bring down the cost for our end consumers. Our next step is to create long term value on an unprecedented level of symbiotic sustainability.
We’ve studied the country at a zip code level to determine the price of fossil fuels in each locale. We are determining what we need to do to make solar a cheaper alternative — without subsidies or tax incentives. We’ve mapped out the entire country with a systematic strategy in place: a line-by-line road map of progressive sustainability.
Palmetto’s goal is to reduce the cost of solar by 50% every two years. We are within sight of solar being the cheaper and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels with no state or federal incentives necessary to tip the scale. Soon, homeowners will not only save but accrue substantial financial returns from the sun — while simultaneously building a brighter day and a sustainably prosperous tomorrow.
A New Awakening
Each morning, humanity wakes up ever closer to achieving the renewable dream: For the first time in history, green energy is expected to surpass coal — a societal milestone that was unthinkable just a decade ago.
In the first four months of 2020, America’s fleet of wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams produced more electricity than coal on 90 separate days. That shatters the record set the year before when the same metric was met for 39 days for the entire year.
In May, the US approved what is expected to be the largest solar project in US history. Located on federal land in the Nevada Desert, the Gemini Solar project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes and includes a solar battery storage system to continually supply energy after sunset.
Feel good; feel great. An economically prosperous and sustainably green society is right around the corner. And it starts with each and every one of us.
Chris is an Environmentalist, Capitalist, Minimalist and the Founder and CEO of Palmetto. An avid hiker, fly fisherman as well as writer. Chris undertakes a series of projects — educational books, film production and charitable activities — to help educate all types of people, young and old, about the importance of climate change and the environment. He lives in San Francisco, CA and Charleston, SC. More can be found on christopherkemper.com