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Can The Sunshine State Build Solar Momentum?

7 January 2014 - 12:06pm

It’s not a moment too soon for climate action and clean energy in Florida. As global temperatures rise, so does sea level. And, with experts predicting a sea level rise of anywhere from two and a half to six feet by the end of this century, the Sunshine State’s ample coastline is vulnerable to one the most devastating manifestations of climate disruption -- putting nearly two out of every five Floridians at risk.

Clean energy solutions that don’t emit the toxic carbon pollution fuelling the climate crisis are on the rise and spurring economic growth across the country. Electricity generation from wind and solar power has doubled over the last four years, sales of electric vehicles are up almost 450% in 2013, and tens of thousands of jobs have been created – all by pursuing clean energy that fights back against the climate crisis.

All of those eyes that see the promise of climate action should turn to Florida. The potential there is boundless - after all, they call it the Sunshine State for a reason. But, sadly, its been unrealized by recent leaders.

Right now, Florida is the number 18 producer of solar energy in the country down from 12th – but it is also ranked third in the country for solar potential, according to recent reporting by Politifact. Florida’s installed solar capacity is behind states considerably less-sunny, like North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Why the gap? One reason is that the state is one of just 13 that doesn’t have a renewable portfolio standard policy  or formal goals for clean energy solutions like solar.

Some in Florida are stepping up to try and change that. Former Governor Charlie Crist hit the nail on the head during a November 18 appearance on MSNBC’s the Ed Show when asked what’d he do to create jobs in Florida.

“Alternative energy, I mean I would start there. We’re the Sunshine State, and we’re hardly doing any solar energy production. And we should be the global leader in solar energy. Also in wind,” said Crist.

“Florida is a beautiful place to visit. A lot of people want to come here, and thank God they are. But the only way they keep coming is if we keep her beautiful and take care of her,” Crist added.

Crist has the right idea, taking an example from states across the nation that are amping up on solar and wind jobs and transitioning from dirty fuels that pump out carbon pollution and only make our climate crisis worse.

During his previous term as governor, Crist pushed hard to achieve a renewable portfolio standard -- only to be thwarted by the state legislature.

“To the extent that Florida has put solar capacity to use, most of it occurred when Crist was governor,” Politifact noted. “As it happens, when Crist was governor, he directed the Florida Public Service Commission to develop a state renewable portfolio standard policy, with a goal of 20 percent renewable energy production by 2020.”

Crist’s outspoken support is a good sign that policy may be back on the radar again soon -- - and it’s even better for those in Florida and across the country who know that climate action is needed now to protect a healthy future for our economy and our families.

--Cindy Carr and Lauren Lantry, Sierra Club Media Team    
Categories: Sierra Club National

Why Solar Panels on the Roof of an Electric Car May Not Be Pie in the Sky

6 January 2014 - 10:00am

Ever wondered why we can't just stick solar panels on top of cars to fuel them even more cleanly and easily than today's plug-in electric cars? Engineers have actually been working on this challenge for a number of years. The main speed bump has been that the solar panels sized for the top of a car would not be sufficiently powerful, efficient, or large enough to actually power the vehicle. Also, cost has been prohibitive for commercial viability.

However, Ford has just come a lot closer to making this pie in the sky a reality.

At this week's annual International CES technology convention in Las Vegas, Ford will unveil a concept car that is actually powered by solar panels on the roof of its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (EV). In 2013, Ford sold about 7,000 units of the non-solar plug-in C-Max Energi, which I enjoyed test-driving last summer.

Mike Tinskey, Ford's global director of vehicle electrification, told me last week that Ford pursued this solar car roof idea because today's solar cells are many times more efficient than they were just a few years ago. Ford and SunPower, said Tinskey, jointly created a solar concentrator array for this concept vehicle that multiplies the solar energy eight times.

While EVs are already cleaner to drive than conventional vehicles -- even taking into account the pollution from the electricity used to power them -- EVs fueled by solar power are even cleaner. This makes sense to environmentalists. A 2012 survey found that more than a third of plug-in drivers in California have solar panels on the roofs of their houses. My March 2011 blog post, where I interviewed the creator of SolarChargedDriving.com, showed how EV+PV works and why it's so appealing.

In fact, later this month Ford and SunPower will announce a newer, less expensive version of their Green for Life solar EV charging system that works for today's EVs and house roofs.

Some vehicles, such as a high-end version of the Nissan Leaf, have used solar panels on top of the car to power certain functions, such as the computer system. But if Ford can find a way to commercialize this solar C-Max Energi, it would be the first EV to actually move from its own internal solar power system.

There are complications to overcome. Most notably, Ford's concept model needs to move autonomously several feet throughout the day while charging in order to best capture the sun's rays.

But Tinskey says he's optimistic that Ford will work out the engineering challenges and prove there is a viable business case for this type of vehicle in the near future. Let the heated debate on that begin!

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative

Categories: Sierra Club National