by January 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm 1 Comment

From John Shannon who writes about green energy,sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT] Content from Katie Fehrenbacher/GigaOM — and thanks due to Ernie Sander, Executive Editor, GigaOM

"John Shannon"

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

One of the signs that a new kind of business is maturing — is when investors are banging on the door demanding to invest in that product or service.

The latest trend in the energy marketplace is solar power investment whereby investors are offered a rate of return for a specified number of years (in this case, 4.5% over 9 years) and that investment is used to fund solar installations.

Get ready to start hearing a lot more about this as solar panels have fallen in price over the past 26 months so dramatically that solar financing programs are springing up everywhere. Solar panel prices are still falling due to massive orders and production. Investment returns for solar power investors look set to rise.

Here is one such example:

Solar Mosaic Turns “The Kickstarter of Solar” into a way to Make Money

By Katie Fehrenbacher

Who wants to make money off of solar roofs? Startup Solar Mosaic is making that possible starting Monday morning, when California and New York residents can put money into solar projects and, the company says, earn a 4.5 percent annual return. Kind of like a mutual fund.

Updated: At 9AM (PST) on Monday, the Kickstarter of solar, Solar Mosaic, will officially open its site to residents of California and New York, as well as accredited investors, looking to make money by investing in solar panel roof projects. For months (at least since last summer), Solar Mosaic has been enabling a small amount of investors to experiment with investing in, and earning money from, the returns from solar roofs, but this is the company’s big public launch.

The company was founded back in October 2010, and I wrote one of the first profiles of Solar Mosaic in October 2011. It took the startup a little over two years to test out its beta Kickstarter-style platform and become registered to share securities with the public. Last year, it got a vote of confidence from the crowd funding bill. The company is backed by Spring Ventures.

For potential investors, solar roofs can provide a low-risk return — anywhere between 4 and 12 percent on an investment — kind of like investing in a mutual fund. Building owners lease solar panel systems and enter into a contract for a fixed, low electricity rate, commonly over about two decades. Solar Mosaic organizes the crowd-funding to get the solar rooftop installed, and works with a solar lease provider like Sungevity. Once the project gets crowd-funded, the rooftop solar panel installation process starts.

Solar loans are backed by a revenue-producing asset (electricity) and the building owners pay for the solar electricity monthly in the same way they have been paying their monthly utility bill. The buildings owners aren’t all that likely to default on their electricity payments, and the costs, timelines and returns for solar panels are pretty transparent as the technology has become increasingly commoditized. Another company that has created a site for crowd-funded solar is SunFunder.

Solar Mosaic says its first investments will offer a 4.5 percent annual return, including servicing fees, with a nine-year term. The company says it is offering “a better expected yield than most investment products available to the general public.”

by December 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,179 0

"Environmental "

Top 10 Environmental News-makers of 2012. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

Good day, Borderstan readers, and please let me take this opportunity to wish you a safe, prosperous and happy New Year!

Well Borderstanis, it has been a spectacular year for progress on the green energy front and for the awareness of citizens around the world on the need to care for and conserve our shared planet.

With those sentiments in mind, I offer you my:

Top 10 Environmental Newsmakers for 2012

  1. President Barack Obama makes a huge commitment to renewable energy, dramatically changing energy policy – which will make the U.S. energy self-sufficient and the world’s largest oil producer and exporter by 2017.
  2. China approves legislation to spend more than $438 billion dollars over the next 3 years on conservation, utility-scale wind and solar power plants, mitigation of pollution by airborne particulates (soot) plus, a highly-successful NOx-reduction program. See: overview and here and here also.
  3. China has decided to install 40 Gigawatts of solar power by 2015 (eight times more than it’s initial 2015 target, set back in 2010).
  4. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has set firm policies and targets for renewable energy use in a nation which has been termed, “the world’s first major renewable energy economy“. Renewable electricity will supply 80% of German needs by 2050, for just one example.
  5. India passed legislation to allow building owners to lease their rooftop space to utility companies to install solar panels, for the purposes of selling power to the Indian electrical grid. For general info on the Indian grid, click here.
  6. India is building a solar power plant (not half-completed at this point) but is already the largest working solar power plant in the world at 214 megawatts, on its way to a Phase l total of 500 megawatts – ramping up to 1000 megawatts once Phase ll is completed.
  7. Saudi Arabia plans to spend $109 billion dollars on solar and nuclear power by 2016 — thereby allowing much more of its oil to be exported to the West.
  8. Under Dubai’s ‘Green Economy for Sustainable Development’ plan, that city will complete construction of a 1000 megawatt solar power plant by 2030. (The plant is already producing electricity and as more panels are installed, each bloc of panels are connected to the grid). This is in addition to other green energy power projects the United Arab Emirates are building.
  9. The African Development Bank Group approved $800 million earlier this year to increase solar and wind power production in Morocco. The eventual goal is to help Morocco raise it’s installed renewable energy capacity to 42% by 2020, setting the stage for electricity exports to Europe.
  10. Denmark will have all of it’s energy needs met by renewable sources by 2050 and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent (compared to 1990 levels) before 2020. They have already met their 2020 solar power goals and are on-track to surpass others. Fully half of Denmark’s energy will come from wind turbines installed offshore.

And that isn’t even the half of it! There are so many ‘good-news’ green energy and sustainable development stories out there, that it is a full-time job to stay abreast of them.

On a personal note, it has been my pleasure to inform you about developments in the green energy sector over the past months. I warmly welcome comments and suggestions for future topics that you might like to see covered here at Borderstan.

Happy New Year to you!

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by December 17, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,612 0


Green Buildings: conservation beats anything else, hands down. (Image via Progressive Times)

From John Shannon who writes about green energy,sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

Of all of the energy produced and used by humans worldwide, approximately one-third is used for all forms of transportation. This kind of energy is the ‘dirtiest-third’ contributing substantially to total atmospheric emissions when compared to other kinds of energy usage.

Another third of the energy consumed by our civilization is used by industry, which also contributes to atmospheric emission levels — and depending on where you live in the world, the environmental effects of that pollution can range from negligible to toxic.

The last third of energy consumption on the Earth is used for residential and commercial uses. When you turn on the heat, the lights, or look at illuminated signs and streetlights on your way to the air-conditioned shopping mall, these are all examples of residential and commercial energy use.

When we talk about the emissions from the three main kinds of energy users, the question arises: which of the three can lower emissions at reasonable cost?

Another related question: is green energy the answer, or is conservation?

It turns out that conservation beats anything else, hands down. No matter how clean your car operates for each mile you drive it — for each mile that you don’t drive it, the car produces zero emissions. The same holds true for cities that shut-off or power-down their streetlights after midnight. No matter how energy-efficient streetlights are these days, they still use less power turned OFF, when compared to turned ON.

Of course, we need energy to live in our modern world – that is a given. But it seems right to reduce wasted energy and one of the most cost-effective ways to do this is to employ conservation AND green energy in our buildings.

Until recent decades, energy wastage for commercial buildings and residential buildings was truly mind-boggling (sometimes much more than 50%) but great progress has been made and continues to be made in the fields of energy conservation and energy-efficient buildings.

Buildings which employ such technologies can become LEED certified if their architects apply for that certification – and the buildings meet the strict criteria, which confers a high level of efficient design and engineering technologies on a building, resulting in low emissions and low energy use. We call this having a Low Environmental Footprint here in North America, while in the United Kingdom such buildings have a Zero Net Building status.

Under the leadership of DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the city is setting a great example for other cities by rapidly becoming a world leader in clean and green buildings.

The Living Building Challenge is part of numerous efforts by the city to reach Mayor Gray’s “Sustainable D.C.” initiative, which includes 11 key categories for environmental/fiscal improvement. The categories include goals such as cutting the energy consumption [of] the entire city by half, being able to bring in locally grown food within a quarter mile of the city and have it consumed by 75 percent of D.C. residents, as well as triple the number of small businesses within the city. – Carl Pierre,, D.C. is Planning its First Self-Sustaining, ‘Living Building’

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by December 3, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,027 1 Comment


Letter from The White House. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama sent me a letter outlining the Administration‘s energy goals. In it, he laid out his ambitious plans to decrease dependence on foreign oil imports, increase oil and gas exploration and extraction, lower the fuel prices paid by consumers and set historic fuel-efficiency standards for U.S. cars and trucks. Below is a short excerpt of the letter which you can read in full at

 March 21, 2012

Dear John:

Thank you for writing.  I appreciate hearing from you, and I share the vision of millions of Americans who want to take control of our Nation’s energy future.  My Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy is about developing every source of American energy–a strategy aimed at saving families and businesses money at the pump by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, expanding oil and gas production, and positioning the United States as the global leader in clean energy.

The hard truth is there are no overnight solutions to our energy challenges.  The only way to deal with this problem is through a sustained, serious, all-of-the-above approach.  Under my Administration, American oil production is at its highest level in 8 years, and we are now less reliant on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.  We have more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined, and we have opened up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration where appropriate and where it can be done safely.  My Administration has also approved dozens of new pipelines to move oil around, including from Canada, which will help create jobs and encourage more energy production.  Thanks to our Nation’s booming oil production, more efficient vehicles, and a world-class refining sector that last year was a net exporter for the first time in 60 years, we cut net imports by 10 percent–or a million barrels a day–in the last year alone.

Only eight months later, on November 12th, the International Energy Agency reported that the United States had suddenly moved from a country historically dependent on foreign oil, to a net exporter. But that is just the beginning. According to the IEA the United States will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017 — surpassing even Saudi Arabia. Reuters said the IEA annual long-term report surprised top IEA analysts:

Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America – and the energy sector”

“The recent rebound in US oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge.”

“The United States, which currently imports around 20 percent of its total energy needs, becomes all but self-sufficient in net terms – a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy importing countries.”

“The Chief Economist for the IEA said the US would far surpass Russia as the world’s largest gas producer by 2015 and become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.”

Former President George W. Bush was completely right when he declared, “America, is addicted to oil.” Sadly, that has not changed. But instead of staying with the status-quo (perilously dependent on foreign oil) the Obama Administration decided early-on to keep billions of dollars of oil & gas investment, jobs, profits and other related economic activity here for the benefit of North Americans. And that, my friends — is historic change for the better.

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by November 19, 2012 at 11:00 am 0


Amonix has a 34.5% peak efficiency solar module record; verified by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, May, 2012. (Courtsey of Amonix)

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

"John Shannon"

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

Most installed solar panels (also known as solar modules) in North America and Europe have an 11% efficiency-rating. That is, of the sunlight falling on them approximately 11% of that sunlight is converted into direct current electricity.

These are the panels with which we are most familiar and for the countries mentioned, they provide a tiny percentage of total electrical production there.

For example, Germany has over one-million solar panels installed with more installed every day. Even so, all of Germany’s solar panels combined supply less than 3% of German electricity needs.

Thanks to our computer-controlled electrical grids, utility companies can switch to the lowest cost minute-by-minute electricity during the day due to something called ‘Merit Order‘ ranking.

When the Sun is shining, every kilowatt of solar energy is spoken-for as it is by far the lowest-priced electricity available to utility companies during the daylight hours. In Germany, electrical rates drop by 15 to 40% during the daytime — due to the lower Merit Order price of solar power.

Solar provides lower cost electricity than the electricity produced by feeding a coal-fired burner with expensive coal ($70 – $155 per ton, plus transportation) with the required small army of personnel to unload coal from rail cars, oversee safety in the power plant, load the coal and otherwise maintain a billion dollar coal-fired power plant for example.

What is new under the Sun, is that many of those old 11% efficiency solar panels are soon to be replaced with 22% to 24% efficiency solar panels. That’s right, technology marches along and not just in regards to video games! The latest production solar panels are a ‘drop in’ replacement for the older panels.

Yes, a 100 megawatt solar power plant can become a 200 megawatt power plant — just by replacing the panels with more efficient ones.

And, unlike doubling the capacity of a coal-fired, natural gas or nuclear power plant, this won’t cost another billion dollars, nor entail yet another lengthy political fight to obtain approval. No, the old, low-efficiency panels will simply be unbolted from their brackets and the new higher-efficiency ones will be bolted into place. All of which should take a few weeks while the rest of the solar power plant continues to operate normally.

It turns out that due to mass production and a competitive marketplace, the per panel price of the new efficient panels is lower than the originally-installed panels.

To oversimplify this equation, Germany will jump from 3% solar electrical power production to 6% — just by replacing their panels with more efficient ones.

Where will it end you ask? Earlier this year, a new solar panel was announced which surpasses the 24% panel by a significant margin.

In only ten years, we have come from panels with an 11% efficiency-rating typically costing around $100. per panel, to 24% efficiency-rating panels costing $20. per panel at utility-scale volumes. Within 24-months, Amonix 33% efficiency (CPV) solar panels will go into full production. At this rate, I can’t wait for 2030!

To watch a YouTube video about the Amonix 33% CPV solar program, click here.

by November 5, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,187 0


Graphic courtesy of: Perez & Perez 2009a.
Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves. Total reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for renewable resources. “A FUNDAMENTAL LOOK AT ENERGY RESERVES FOR THE PLANET” by Richard Perez and Marc Perez

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

What energy shall we use between now and 2050? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Our choices are laid out before us just like at the shoe store – all we have to do is choose! So, lets see what’s available.

It turns out that there are two kinds of energy. Non-renewable and renewable.

Non-renewable energy:

Our worldwide 2009 energy consumption including all forms of transportation, was 16 Terawatt-years. We can see from the Perez & Perez graphic that the finite, non-renewable energy sources are estimated to total 1445 – 1655 Terawatt-years. The total energy available from those sources is equal to 90.3 – 103.44 years of energy usage at 2009 rates of consumption.

Once consumed, this kind of energy will be gone forever.

Renewable energy:

Keeping in mind the 2009 energy consumption total of 16 Terawatts per year, we see that renewable energy sources total 23,034.2 – 23095.7 Terawatts per year. That’s 1439 – 1443 times more energy than we required in 2009 – including all forms of transportation.

This kind of energy would be available every year until the sun burns out, the ocean’s freeze and the wind stops blowing, etc..

What’s the difference some might ask? Why worry? Even in the worst-case scenario, we’re covered for 90 years if we continue to burn energy at 2009 energy consumption rates.

One, the actual cost per energy unit. Costs for renewable energy have been falling dramatically and it looks set to continue. Some kinds of renewable energy are already reaching price parity with coal and nuclear power.

Two, sustainable energy per-kilowatt-hour cost savings are becoming apparent when compared to conventional energy, because of something called “Merit Order” ranking, which is a program designed to help utility companies choose from the different kinds of energy available at different times of the day.

Three, the costs associated with certain kinds of energy use must be factored in as China’s leaders realize that 410,000 people per year die from pollution of the air, water and soil.

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

Energy usage will continue to increase in developed nations with their 1-billion citizens. In developing nations, energy requirements will continue to increase exponentially along with their 6-billion citizens. Almost 3-billion more developing world citizens are expected by 2050.

To be… or not to be… Green? Isn’t the answer obvious?

by October 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm 1,051 0


Algae biofuel. (Photo credit:

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

As many of you know, the gasoline sold in North America has a biofuel component of between 5 and 10 percent. Newer cars and trucks are E85 compatible which means they can operate with up to 85 percent ethanol blended into the gasoline.

Boeing Aircraft has successfully tested biofuel with its aircraft. In 2010, Boeing tested passenger jets and a U.S. Navy F/A 18E Super Hornet with a 50/50 blend of (petroleum-based) aviation fuel and (crop-based) camelina biofuel with excellent results.

Boeing’s Sustainable Biofuels Research & Technology Program (SBRTP) reported up to 80 percent reductions in CO2 emissions for camelina-based biofuel – compared to petroleum-based jet fuel.

An excerpt from the SBRTP summary states:

“The Bio-SPK fuel blends used in the test flights have all either met or exceeded the performance specifications for jet fuel. For example, the Bio-SPK fuel blends demonstrated higher energy density per unit mass than typical jet fuel, enabling airplanes to travel farther using less fuel. For all of the test flights, the blended biofuel displayed no adverse effects on any of the aircraft systems.”

Although biofuels offer an exciting new transportation fuel source the biofuel industry does have some detractors. For biofuel farmers and producers, making the right crop choice is imperative from the sustainability standpoint.

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

First generation biofuel crops, such as corn and sugar cane, require constant water, fertilizers and land management. Without subsidies in place these crops can’t compete in the real world. These biofuel crops do displace millions of hectares of food crops.

Second generation biofuels, such as millettia and jatropha, are tolerant of poor soils and usually do not require additional irrigation.

The great thing about second generation biofuel crops is they are often grown in third-world nations where the plantations require hundreds of manual labourers to tend the crops throughout the year and thousands of labourers during harvest times. This will provide much needed income to poverty-stricken families in arid regions where jobs are otherwise quite scarce.

Third generation biofuels, such as algae or enzyme-assisted conversion, require large amounts of water as part of the process but then release much of that water at the end of the process. In fact, trace minerals must be re-added to that water for normal taste and pH balance purposes.

While biofuels by themselves will not replace existing transportation fuels, they can act as a feedstock to enhance conventional petroleum supplies, dramatically lower CO2 and other pollutants and provide jobs for impoverished third-world citizens.

Not to mention greening vast swathes of previously barren land – which in the case of second and third generation biofuels – is merely a different term to describe natural carbon dioxide capture and storage by plants.

I call that a win for biofuels!

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by October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,339 0


On 140 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, 70,000 solar panels are part of a solar photovoltaic array that will generate 15 megawatts of solar power for the base. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

From John Shannon  who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

The first solar panels ever installed were photovoltaic solar panels mounted on military satellites and blasted into space from Cape Kennedy, Florida during the 1960s.

Many of those old but reliable photovoltaic solar-powered satellites are still up there sending us information.

Q: What has this to do with the U.S. military now installing solar panels at exponential rates on its bases?

A: Price.

As the production of solar panels have ramped up, prices have dropped dramatically. In fact, prices have dropped so quickly that some solar manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to stay with the market. Lower-priced materials, manufacturing and technology have all conspired to force a huge price drop.

Faced with budget cuts and the need to lower long-term costs, the U.S. Navy has turned to an old, reliable partner – solar power. In October 2010 the Navy set a goal to produce 50% of its onshore energy needs from renewables by 2020.

For one example of this, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) complex in San Diego has installed 1.3 megawatts of solar panels at the Navy’s headquarters for high-tech military command, communications and surveillance.

SPAWAR now has the U.S. Navy’s largest contiguous rooftop solar array with 5,376 high-performance SolarWorld photovoltaic solar panels providing electricity for the site. Any surplus electricity generated on site is to be sold to the San Diego grid.

For another example, U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWS China Lake), California, is installing an entire photovoltaic solar power plant which is to be financed through a 20-year power purchase agreement between SunPower and the U.S Navy.

Under the terms of the agreement the Navy has no upfront costs. The plant is expected to produce 13.78 megawatts of power and cover 30 percent of NAWS China Lake’s energy needs.

With zero capital investment and giving up only unusable land, the Navy will reduce costs by saving an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years on their NAWS China Lake electricity bill.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012, said,

“…the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

Beginning in 1999, the U.S. military has installed solar power systems at many bases, including Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Pearl Harbor, Fort Dix, Coronado Island, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado — among others.

The vast United States military often sets precedent for the rest of the country and this is the case with solar energy. Cities and utility companies have taken careful note of the power purchase agreement model used between the U.S. military and utility companies. Many more such agreements are pending.

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by September 24, 2012 at 8:00 am 1,197 3 Comments

From Luis Gomez. Catch his photos at One Photograph A Day. Follow him on Twitter @LuisGomezPhotos.

"John Shannon"

John Shannon. (Courtesy John Shannon)

Borderstan is happy to introduce a new columnist to the team, John Shannon. He will write about the environment, green energy, sustainable development and economic issues. We had a little chat with him and he explained what his new column will be bringing to us.

Borderstan: Tell us a little bit about yourself? Please include the types of publications and websites to which you contribute.

Shannon: Since the late 1960s I have been interested in sustainable development on the planet. We have just passed the 7 billion population mark on our way to approximately 10 billion people in 2050 and if the rapidly growing developing-world decides to match our developed-world rates of consumption, we will need another five planet Earth’s to support us at that time.

To put this in some kind of context, of the 7 billion people alive today only 1 billion live in the developed-world. The other 6 billion live in the booming (population-wise) developing world, which will add another 3 billion (approx) to the Earth by 2050. Developed-world nations will retain their largely static population numbers through 2050.

Green energy is my preferred topic and now, as solar and wind energy are about to meet price parity with conventional sources of energy, it is an exciting time for sustainable energy bloggers to be alive. I write for a number of websites covering energy, sustainable development, and diplomacy, and I contribute articles to the United Nations Development Programme.

Borderstan: Why are green energy and environmental issues so important, particularly in cities and urban areas?

Shannon: We are all healthier when we breathe clean air and have ready access to clean water. These are life necessities and are in no way optional, in my opinion.  Years ago, before California enacted air-quality legislation, that city was covered with a thick blanket of smog — just as Beijing, China, and other cities are today.

There is no doubt that the quality of life has improved for the citizens of Los Angeles — as it relates to clean air and the knock-on health effects of breathing dramatically cleaner air. Everyone on the planet deserves to breathe clean air and have access to clean water.

Borderstan: Tell us what your column will be about?

Shannon: The vast majority of people want to help our planet’s environment. This speaks well of us as a species and is in our best long-term interests. By showcasing successful examples of sustainable energy and development, with a nod to environmental policy and practices, I hope to share timely information with Borderstan readers.

Borderstan: What have we missed… what would you like to add.

Shannon: When the economics of green energy aligns with the economics of other sources of energy, the transition to cleaner energy solutions will happen quickly. In fact, this process is already beginning to happen. Until 2020 at least, green energy bloggers will be bursting with good-news stories! Life is good.

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