Medium 9781609946647

Rooftop Revolution

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The Biggest Untold Economic Story of Our Time

Here is the truth that the powerful Dirty Energy public relations machine doesn’t want you to know: the ascent of solar energy is upon us. Solar-generated electricity has risen exponentially in the last few years and employment in the solar industry has doubled since 2009. Meanwhile, electricity from coal has declined to pre-World War II levels as the fossil fuel industry continues to shed jobs.

Danny Kennedy systematically refutes the lies spread by solar’s opponents—that it is expensive, inefficient, and unreliable; that it is kept alive only by subsidies; that it can’t be scaled; and many other untruths. He shows that we need a rooftop revolution to break the entrenched power of the coal, oil, nuclear, and gas industries Solar energy can create more jobs, return our nation to prosperity, and ensure the sustainability and safety of our planet. Now is the time to move away from the dangerous energy sources of the past and unleash the amazing potential of the sun.

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Chapter 1 Sunny Side Up

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Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

—LEWIS CARROLL, FROM THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

SOLAR IS DEAD—AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT ITS DETRACTORS want you to believe. Dead in the water, they say, dead as disco and dinosaurs, a hippie-dippy pipe dream gone up in smoke. But these solar-energy opponents, many of whom hail from the coal, oil, nuke, and gas lobbies (ol’ King CONG), have recently been pointing to just one example in their efforts to prove their point: Solyndra, the erstwhile solar-industry poster child, which, in 2011, made headlines and drew nationwide derision when it went bankrupt after receiving a $500 million loan from the US government.

But here’s the truth King CONG doesn’t want you to know: The downfall of Solyndra actually proved that solar power is fast becoming the most cost-effective and efficient form of electricity on Earth. The company’s failure was largely due to competition in a market that’s been growing at an amazing rate, and Solyndra’s idea for a lower-cost solar module (which had a daft cylindrical design that was too fragile and too expensive to make) simply couldn’t compete with less-expensive, mass-produced silicon-based solar panels, the cheapest of which largely come from China—not an uncommon practice as new products become more common and affordable.

 

Chapter 2 Empires of the Sun

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The fossil-fuel industry and its allies in Congress clearly see the solar and wind industries as a threat and will try to kill these industries as they have for the preceding two generations. They want this to be a five-year aberrational period.

—CONGRESSMAN ED MARKEY, WIRED MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2012

PICTURE ME IN APRIL 2010, JUST OVER A YEAR AFTER BARACK Obama’s inauguration. I’m at the White House representing Sungevity at a lavish Earth Day reception, where environmental champions, such as solar pioneer Denis Hayes, are being celebrated. (Oh, how grand this all is: the manicured Rose Garden in bloom, the bow-tied servers, the slender flutes of champagne, the tasty hors d’oeuvres—real treats for all us overworked and underdressed activists and entrepreneurs.) After the ceremony, I and Rhone Resch, the head of the Solar Energy Industries Association, move with the dazzled throng across the lawn toward the president. As I approach, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going say to him. But when face to face with the leader of the free world, I deliver the message that’s been on my mind since long before his election: “Mr. President, you should put solar panels back on the White House.”

 

Chapter 3 Role Models for the Rooftop Revolution

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The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.

—HENRY MOORE

THE WORLD ENERGY COUNCIL 17TH CONGRESS, IN HOUSTON, Texas, 1998: We were on a mission. Our first goal was to highlight the evils that Big Oil wrought on frontier areas like the Amazon; the second was to let all the international bigwigs attending what was until then the largest gathering of petroleum giants that the days of easy oil were over.

Just after 3 a.m. on September 16, 1998, five of us crouched down at a section of the fence that protected what was to become Enron Field, just opposite the George R. Brown Convention Center, where all the official meetings were being held. We rolled under the fence while two others kept an eye out for the roaming security guards who took turns patrolling the perimeter. My backpack, with the stuffed koala I’d had since I was a kid sewn into a side pocket, hardly fit through the hole because it was so jammed with ropes, harnesses, and other climbing gear. We worked quickly, our bodies humming with adrenaline. Once on the other side, we raced toward the enormous idle crane in the middle of the field, mud sucking at our boots. When we reached the crane’s ladder, we ascended it in the order we’d planned—I went last because one of my tasks was to install a steering-wheel lock on the hatch at the first landing, to slow down anybody who tried to catch us. This precaution proved unnecessary, as nobody pursued us, at least not then. By the time the sun rose with a lambent glow over the Houston skyline, we had tied our anchors, rappelled into place, and unfurled what was then the biggest banner (more than 1,500 square feet!) ever used in an American act of civil disobedience:

 

Chapter 4 Take a Walk on the Sunny Side

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I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

—THOMAS EDISON, IN CONVERSATION WITH HENRY FORD AND HARVEY FIRESTONE, 1931

SOLAR SCHMOLAR, SAYS OL’ KING CONG—JUST LEAVE WELL enough alone: Pay a small fee when you move into a new home, and we’re ready to serve. Just flip a switch, twist a knob, or press a button, and—voilà—your beer is cold, your shower is hot, and your TV casts its warm glow onto your grateful faces. We’ll take care of your energy needs and your energy future. (Just make sure you get your monthly check into the mail.) Why change? Why even consider that solar mumbo jumbo? It’s impractical, unreliable, unviable, inefficient, unaffordable, and overly subsidized. Plus those solar panels on your roofs would be downright ugly. Maybe there’s something to solar power in the distant future, but if it’s really such a great energy alternative, why hasn’t it caught on in the 50 years or so since the technology was first developed? In any case, don’t worry your pretty little heads about that now—we’re looking into it, and we’ll get back to you. Someday.

 

Chapter 5 Hot Jobs

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The great economic revolutions in history occur when new communications technologies converge with new energy systems.

JEREMY RIFKIN

FROM EDUCATORS TO WAR HEROES AND FROM ROCK STARS TO everyday people, Americans are reaping the benefits of the Solar Ascent and benefitting from the multitude of jobs it’s quickly and steadily creating.

Take Justin Cox, a bloody hero to me. He jumps out of airplanes at altitudes so high that he’s required to wear breathing gear, and then he swoops down diagonally like a flying squirrel at seemingly impossible speeds toward a drop zone, pulls his chute at the heart-stopping last minute, shoots upward, and then floats down to land precisely on his target. He was a US Army Special Forces operative on two tours of Iraq before he suffered a serious head injury from a roadside bomb. Having sat on a barstool across from him and listened to his stories, I know he’s been through things I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with, and it’s clear he’s proved his valor and loyalty to the United States many times over.

 

Chapter 6 Energized

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People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.

REBECCA SOLNIT, FROM HOPE IN THE DARK: UNTOLD HISTORIES, WILD POSSIBILITIES

JOURNEY BACK WITH ME TO 1989, TO THE SOUTHERN HIGHlands of Papua New Guinea. I’m 19 years old. I’m bird watching and bumming around this magnificent land, working as a trekking guide among the country’s indigenous people. A road called the Highlands Highway, which had been built just a year before, snakes through forest, where clouds of butterflies explode from fragrant bushes and stunning birds of paradise display each evening as the dirt strip winds down into Tari. I’ve spent the past three months hiking around the valley, stopping at each village along the way to meet the people.

Big Oil companies, led by BP, had recently come to the valley to drill, with little regard for how their work would affect the inhabitants. Their presence ignited a Wild West–like frenzy in the region.

 

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