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A reef off the coast of Cancún will become the first in the world with its own insurance policy, testing a new strategy meant to encourage local investment in the wellbeing of the reef.

Under the policy, created by insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, local hotels and other organizations dependent on tourism will pay into the policy, receiving reimbursements to repair the reef and local beaches after natural disasters.

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By Marlene Cimons

The Smithsonian Institution calls coralline algae "the unsung architects of coral reefs." These pink-colored seaweed, with a skeletal structure that resembles honeycomb, live in harmony with coral.

They strengthen the corals' foundation by growing over and between gaps in coral reefs, essentially gluing sections of coral together. They provide a surface for baby corals to settle, and serve as food for marine life, including sea urchins, parrot fish and mollusks.

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Residential solar energy companies are helping more and more homeowners upgrade their properties to clean energy sources. Solar energy companies can equip you with the technology you need to harness the amazing power of the sun and reduce your need for fossil fuels. In this article, we'll review some of the most trustworthy providers and installers of solar power.

Our picks for the best solar companies

The first step in the process is researching some of the top companies in the solar industry. Here are the ones that stood out in our research.

Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

How we chose the best solar energy companies

How did we determine which solar power companies to recommend?

To begin with, we took a deep dive into each company's offerings, assessing them for the following criteria:

  • Range of services offered
  • Pricing/affordability and financing options
  • Extent of service area
  • Solar panel efficiency
  • Warranty
  • Temperature coefficient (e.g., how much high temperatures affect efficiency)

Additionally, we weighed membership and certification by professional associations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Affiliation with these groups is a good indicator that a solar energy company is reputable, and that their work is up to the highest standards within the industry.

The best solar energy companies

schmidt-z / Getty Images

With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the best solar panel providers and installers in the industry.

SunPower

If you're looking for a company that can walk you through the process of upgrading to solar power for an easy and convenient experience, look no further than to SunPower. The company offers:

  • A "design studio" app, allowing you to safely and seamlessly design your own solar power system so that you can see a visual of what the finished product will look like once installed.
  • Online calculators that make it easy for you to determine about how much electricity you will save once you upgrade to solar panels.
  • Virtual consultations, allowing you to chat one-on-one with a solar power expert and to ask any questions you might have.

SunPower offers leading solar panels and energy storage technology to homeowners across dozens of states. And, they are also the preferred solar partner of many major businesses, including Walmart, FedEx, and Lowes.

Why buy: SunPower is a reliable solar energy company with an impressive tech portfolio and an extremely easy, intuitive process.

SunRun

Upgrading to solar power can seem a little intimidating, but SunRun is out to bring simplicity. Their approach makes it extremely straightforward to select a custom solar energy plan for your household. Here's what to know about SunRun:

  • They offer virtual consultations with solar energy experts, making it simple to explore your options and determine which solar set-up is right for your home energy needs.
  • Each system they design is completely customized to address the customer's needs. SunRun doesn't do "one size fits all" solar equipment options.
  • Their guarantee, the best in the industry, offers extraordinary peace of mind that your solar system will prove durable and reliable.
  • SunRun also leads in terms of flexible financing options, making solar power accessible and affordable.

Why buy: With SunRun, the name of the game is customization. This is one of the best solar installation companies to turn to for solar power solutions that are truly made with you in mind.

Tesla

You probably associate Tesla with their electric vehicles, but did you know that the company also produces high-efficiency solar panels? Depending on your needs and your budget, Tesla can hook you up with an array of solar panels or even a solar roof, making it easy to cut electricity costs and power your home via the sun's vital energy.

Some fast facts about choosing solar power from Tesla:

  • They offer a price match guarantee and affordable financing options.
  • Their advanced solar panel technology offers a low profile, a sleek style, and long-term durability.
  • Home battery backups allow you to save solar power and then access it on demand, whenever you need it.

Why buy: Tesla offers sophisticated solar products for what the company claims is the lowest price of any national provider, which they back with a price-match guarantee. Plus, all of their solar panels come with a solid 25-year performance guarantee.

LG

LG is another well-known tech company that is also a leader in solar energy. Some of their solar panels use a bifacial solar module that captures energy from two directions to increase their efficiency. While they are a solar panel manufacturer, they can also help you with the installation process by finding an LG Pro installer in your area.

  • They offer an online "solar concierge" service that allows you to evaluate your home energy needs and to compare different options for going solar.
  • LG offers a 25-year warranty, not only on their technology but also on the work their of their solar installers.
  • They offer a range of solar panels and supporting products, and they supply you with plenty of information to make a fully informed choice.

Why buy: LG is a company that knows technological innovation. Their award-winning solar energy products are reliably efficient, well-priced, and designed for maximum efficiency.

Panasonic

Panasonic has one of the most impressive tech portfolios in the solar energy industry. Their products boast some of the highest conversion efficiency rates, along with the lowest degradation rates. And they back everything with a generous warranty.

Some additional reasons to choose Panasonic:

  • They offer a range of solar panels to choose from. With Panasonic, you'll find that you have plenty of options.
  • They also provide a lot of great online support and consumer education, ensuring you'll get the most out of your solar technology.

Why buy: Panasonic is a solar panel company with products that are tough to beat. Both their pricing and warranties are very appealing, and their HIT high-performance solar panels offer some of the best power conversion rates of any product.

Vivint

Vivint is a company that offers a full spectrum of services, including solar power consultation, design, and installation. A few reasons why homeowners trust their solar power needs to the Vivint team:

  • Everything Vivint does is customized. They tailor everything to fit your roof and to help you achieve your home energy goals.
  • They make the entire process simple, handling all of the little details for you. This includes securing permits, filing the right paperwork, etc.
  • They emphasize safety, using only the highest caliber of solar panels and backing everything with a world-class warranty.

Why buy: Vivint is noteworthy for their focus on customization, their commitment to safety, and their one-stop-shop solar power solutions. In addition to solar panel installation, they also offer other specialized technology, including solar-powered electric vehicle chargers.

Enphase

Enphase is another company that stands out, both for their robust technology as well as for their commitment to customization. Their microinverter technology makes their solar system safer by reducing the likelihood of arc fault fires.

  • They design their solar technology with safety in mind, including fire safeguards that other companies can't match.
  • Their solar panels are built for durability and can hold up even through the most extreme kinds of weather.
  • Enphase uses smart technology to update itself; all you need to do is connect it to your home Internet.
  • They also have one of the best apps in the solar industry, making it simple to monitor your home energy use.

Why buy: Enphase is a company of innovators, and their solar portfolio has a lot to offer. Their system is also modular, meaning you can easily add more panels to your system as you need them.

Canadian Solar

This solar power provider has won recognition not just for their excellent technology, but also for their sincere commitment to sustainability and to ecological stewardship. And don't let the name throw you off: Though Canadian Solar is based in Canada, they provide solar power solutions in the U.S. and other countries.

Some additional facts about Canadian Solar:

  • They offer a wide range of products, from energy converters to storage solutions.
  • Their solar panels boast exceedingly high energy efficiency rates.
  • Canadian Solar has won a number of awards for its first-class innovations, and one of their products even set a world record for conversion efficiency in 2020.

Why buy: This company has a proven track record of technological excellence, plus a real commitment to ecological stewardship. They also closely monitor their supply chain to ensure that no goods or materials used in their products come from prohibited forms of labor.

First Solar

First Solar boasts an impressive track record of advocacy for solar power and for renewable energy sources. And, thankfully, they back their advocacy with some excellent solar technologies.

A few reasons to choose First Solar solar panels:

  • Their technology offers an outstanding temperature coefficient, meaning they won't lose performance during high temperatures.
  • Their solar cells are among the most reliable and most efficient in the clean energy sector.
  • First Solar also offers a lot of post-purchase, post-installation help, as needed.

Why buy: First Solar is a great option for anyone who's serious about renewable energy, and who wants the best performance from their solar panels.

Go Solar

The biggest drawback to Go Solar is that, right now, their work is limited to just a few states. But if you happen to live in that part of the country, you're in luck. Go Solar's panels are uniquely calibrated to take advantage of the western region's abundant sunlight. Some additional reasons to pick Go Solar include:

  • They offer free home solar assessments.
  • They custom-design solar systems to meet the needs of your home.
  • They have some of the most trusted installers in the solar power industry.

Why buy: For solar solutions that are tailored to the climate of the American West, definitely consider Go Solar. Plus, with their Give Solar International partnership, they give an equivalent solar panel system to a family in Uganda for each system sold.

How does a solar energy system work?

schmidt-z / Getty Images

As you explore the different options for embracing solar power, it may be helpful to have a baseline understanding of how solar energy systems actually function.

Generally speaking, solar energy systems involve solar panels installed on your roof. These panels absorb the sun's energy, storing it in what are known as photovoltaic cells. These cells convert the solar energy into direct current (DC) energy, then use an inverter to convert that DC energy into alternate current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is what you need to power all your home appliances.

It's important to note that, before you purchase solar panels, it's worthwhile to meet with a solar energy consultant who can tell you more about how many panels your home will require, and also to let you know how those panels should be ideally positioned on the roof.

One more note: If you're concerned about the affordability of solar power, it's important to remember that most solar energy companies provide a host of options, including flexible financing and solar lease options for a system rather than purchase it outright. As you talk with different solar energy companies, don't hesitate to inquire about these leasing and financing options.

Benefits of solar energy

Installing solar panels on your home can yield a number of benefits. Here are just a few examples.

Cleaner energy

One of the main reasons why homeowners choose to install solar cells is that it allows them to truly embrace clean energy sources. Rather than depend on fossil fuels and power plants, you can power your home with renewable energy that comes straight from the sun. This can be a highly effective way to minimize your environmental footprint.

Solar tax credits and rebates

There are a number of ways in which choosing renewable energy can save you money, starting with the fact that there are so many rebates and tax credits available. Essentially, both the federal government and many state governments want to encourage people to "go green" as much as possible, and they will make it worth your while by allowing you to claim these important tax incentives. Some utility companies also offer rebates that can help pay for the upfront costs of solar projects.

Lower electricity bills

Of course, embracing solar power will also help you save money by slashing your electricity bills. Most solar energy companies offer online calculators that allow you to see for yourself how much money you'll save over time, simply by changing to a renewable energy source. There is also an option called a power purchase agreement (PPA) that can allow you to host a solar or renewable energy system from a utility provider in exchange for lowered energy rates. If your solar panel system generates excess energy, the utility will then purchase that energy from you in the form of a net metering credit on your bill.

Make a smart choice about solar power

There are obviously a lot of perks to choosing solar energy for your home. And yet, it can also be a rather daunting process, simply because there are so many solar energy companies to choose from.

Using our guidelines and rankings, start doing your due diligence, seeking the solar power company that's right for you. Remember to look for a company that's well-regarded within the industry and get a consultation before you buy. Always be sure to ask some direct questions about the financing options that are available to you.

Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. His writing on natural health, nutrition, and supplements has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.

Over a decade ago, Bird's Head Seascape was just another example of the damage overfishing and destructive fishing practices can cause on coral reefs. But, the community stepped in, and the region is now thriving.

Diver with Schooling Scads at Arborek Jetty.Photo credit: Jeff Yonover, Bird's Head Seascape

Valen's Reef, a virtual reality movie shot in 360-degrees, explores the Raja Ampat Islands in the Coral Triangle and the progress Bird's Head Seascape has made. Local-fisherman-turned-reef-scientist Ronald Mambrasar narrates the movie, recounting the history of the region and the Bird's Head Seascape initiative to his son, Valen:

"When the illegal fishermen came, we welcomed them at first. They brought us gifts. After they dropped bombs and poison, we would scoop up the fish for them. The fish and coral started to be lost. We knew it was not right."

Mambrasar was one of the locals who joined Conservation International and a group of international non-governmental organizations, local and national governments, universities, local organizations and coastal communities when the initiative started in 2004. The goal of the initiative was to balance the needs of the human population while protecting natural resources in the region. So far, the project has developed 12 multiple-use marine protected areas in the Bird's Head Seascape.

The red box marks the Bird's Head Seascape and the islands it incorporates.Photo credit: Bird's Head Seascape

Thanks to these efforts, the reef had rebounded: fish populations have recovered; sharks, whales and rays have returned; poaching has decreased by 90 percent; and coral is regrowing.

Mambrasar tells his son: "I want to be able to give you all of the nature that is here now."

The Bird's Head Seascape is home to the highest coral reef biodiversity in the world. Covering 22.5 million hectares, it is home to 1,711 species of fish, more than 600 species of coral, and 17 species of whales and dolphins. It also claims to have the most extensive mangrove forest and sea grass beds, and the world's largest pacific leatherback sea turtle nesting beaches.

Mobula feeding frenzy of the coast of southern Raja Ampat. The mobula, species of eagle ray, are swarming baitfish.Photo credit: Jeff Lemelin, Bird's Head Seascape

Almost 4 million hectares are protected by the 12 marine protected areas. The seascape also contains the coral triangle's first shark and ray sanctuary.

Take a tour of the seascape and listen to Mambrasar's story in the video below. Use the arrows in upper left corner to explore the views in 360-degrees:

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Without deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, the planet’s coral reefs could be in serious trouble. In a world in which humans continue to burn fossil fuels unchecked, ocean conditions will become ultimately inhospitable, according to U.S. scientists.

Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution in Washington and colleagues make their sombre prediction in Environmental Research Letters. Their argument on the face of it seems inconsistent with other recent research on reef response to climate change, which in one case suggests that some corals could vanish, and in another that some corals might adapt, very slowly.

But the debate in all three cases is about the rate of warming, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ultimate impact of changes in the pH levels of the seas.

Ricke and Caldeira looked not so much at the warming of the seas–tropical corals are very sensitive to temperature–nor at the levels of acidification as such (because rain dissolves carbon dioxide to form a weak carbonic acid and inevitably affects the ocean’s pH levels), but at the chemical circumstances in which crystals of aragonite can form.

All fossil reefs and shell and bone sediments are ultimately calcium carbonate in the form of limestone or chalk. However, calcium carbonate, or CaCO3, exists in two crystal structures, calcite and aragonite, and these fossilized sediments must once have been mostly aragonite.

That is because marine life, in the form of corals, fish and mollusc shells, mainly begins with aragonite. The biochemical availability of aragonite depends on the pH values of the water.

An End to Dumping

Ricke and Caldeira used computer models to calculate ocean chemical conditions under a range of carbon dioxide scenarios, looking for the necessary conditions to support aragonite formation and shell and bone growth, and set a potential aragonite saturation threshold.

In pre-industrial times, 99.9 percent of the oceans that washed over coral reefs were comfortably above this threshold. Under the notorious business-as-usual threshold, in which fossil fuel use continues to grow, ultimately the water surrounding the 6,000 coral reefs they used as a database for their research would be significantly below the threshold.

There would be a point at which the resilience and capacity to adapt that must be inherent in corals would be overwhelmed. The conclusion is a bleak one.

“Our results show that if we continue on our current emissions path, by the end of the century there will be no water left in the ocean with the chemical properties that have supported coral reef growth in the past. We can’t say with 100 percent certainty that all shallow water coral reefs will die, but it is a pretty good bet,” said Ricke.

“To save coral reefs, we need to transform our energy system into one that does not use the atmosphere and ocean as waste dumps for carbon dioxide pollution,” Caldeira added.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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Marine biologists’ worst fears seem to be confirmed: coral colonies take a long time to recover from catastrophic climate events.

British and Brazilian biologists report in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS One) that the richest habitats of the sea could also be among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Bleached coral at a site in Palau monitored by the Palau International Coral Reef Center, juxtaposed with healthy, living coral. The number and extent of bleaching events have been increasing rapidly. (Jane Thomas, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (ian.umces.edu/imagelibrary/))

For more than 17 years, conservationists from Plymouth University in the UK worked with researchers from the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil to analyze the diversity and density of coral reefs and colonies off the coast of South America. Quite early in that 17 year span, there was an El Niño event.

El Niño is a periodic eruption of unprecedented ocean temperatures: it is a natural phenomenon and seems to have happened periodically through recorded human history, distinguished by droughts and wildfires in those places that normally expect high rainfall and floods on otherwise normally arid coasts.

Rising Temperatures

The 1997-98 event lasted for 18 months and was considered one of the most devastating of all, with sea temperatures reaching a global record. Tropical coral reefs were affected almost everywhere; there were also devastating storms and floods in California and forest fires in Borneo.

Corals are peculiarly sensitive to sea temperatures—they tend to bleach if seas get hotter—and many corals live and flourish near the limits of their tolerance. Coral reefs are also home to an estimated 25 percent of all marine species, so the loss of a reef has a serious effect on marine biodiversity, as well as on the incomes of local fishermen—and local tourist operators.

The British and Brazilian scientists monitored eight species of Scleractinian, or stony corals, and worked with the Brazilian Meteorological Office to build up a complete picture of the environmental conditions and the way in which they affected species behavior.

Slow Recovery

During 1998, all the monitored corals showed increased mortality and one species disappeared completely from the reefs for at least seven years. Then, as temperatures dropped, the corals started to grow again.

Recent measurements show that the coral colonies have fully recovered, and are now back to the levels recorded before 1998. That’s the good news. The bad news is that recovery took so long.

“El Niño events give us an indication of how changing climate affects ecosystems as major changes within the Pacific impact the whole world,” said one of the authors, Martin Attrill of Plymouth’s Marine Institute.

“If the reefs can recover quickly, it is probable they can adapt and survive the likely changes in water temperatures ahead of us. However, we found it took 13 years for the coral reef system of Brazil to recover, suggesting they may be very vulnerable to climate-related impacts,” concluded Attrill.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

Greenpeace

By Jay Ferrari

If you saw 60 Minutes last night, you were likely amazed yet alarmed by Anderson Cooper's piece on marine reserves. You can find it here, in case you missed it.

The footage from his dive of a massive coral reef off the Cuban coast was stunning. In stark contrast was Cooper's description of the environmental assault on our planet's reefs—a perfect storm of unsustainable fishing, global warming, pollution and other factors. As explained in the story:

"Scientists say coral is succumbing to a complex combination of environmental factors including pollution, agricultural run-off, coastal development, over-fishing, and rising ocean temperatures, which researchers believe is causing a phenomenon called 'bleaching,' that causes the coral to turn white and sometimes die."

But you can help turn the tide.

We're working to designate 40 percent of the world's oceans as marine reserves—protecting the reefs and the incomprehensibly rich variety of aquatic life they sustain.

Sign the Hands Off! ocean-protection petition today.

For more information, click here.

Greenpeace International

By Nathaniel Pelle

Right now, the Australian government is deciding the fate of Australia's Coral Sea. The countdown is on to protect nearly one million square kilometres of unique coral reefs, atolls and underwater canyons flanking the world-heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.

Just a few weeks back I sailed out of Port Moresby aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, through the Coral Sea and then north into the western and central Pacific Ocean. These are the very same waters my grandfather patrolled as a youth in the Australian Navy during the historic Battle of the Coral Sea in the latter half of World War II.

I remember fondly his striking stories that described swimming alongside warships among remarkable abundances of marine life. His memories recalled sailors at play with swarms of dolphins, turtles, swordfish and large schools of gentle hammerhead sharks. I remember his tales of catching tuna at will with simple handlines dropped lazily from the poopdeck.

Sadly, such abundance is a rare thing to see these days. So it is with a tremendous sense of hope that I have observed the considerable efforts of regional players to preserve these waters and maybe even return them to their past richness.

The latest of these opportunities is the proposal by the Australian government to create the world’s largest marine park in the Coral Sea under a once-in-a-generation bioregional planning process.

But it’s not all good news—the government's draft plan leaves the majority of species-rich coral reefs, important breeding sites for tuna and marlin, and critical migration routes for turtles and whales, open to fishing. More than 20 important reefs—identified as key biodiversity hotspots—remain outside the no-take zone and are open to potentially damaging activity. Leaving these areas unprotected is a shortsighted move to appease a handful of vocal commercial and recreational fishers. Left unprotected are the crucial spawning grounds for bigeye and yellowfin tuna. This year both species were listed as vulnerable and near-threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of species at risk of extinction.

For this proposal to achieve its potential, you can add your voice to the call for a genuinely historic sanctuary here.

Australia has stood by regional efforts to protect these species. With Australia’s support, Pacific Island nations have banded together to close 4.5 million square kilometres of the high seas to purse seine fishing in order to safeguard their recovery.

Earlier this year, Palau—a nation that thrives on its stunning and incomparable marine ecosystem—declared its entire territorial waters a shark sanctuary and has created a network of marine national parks. The Esperanza is now in Palau assisting with enforcement of their territory. Swimming in these waters, so dense with life, I feel like I’ve had a taste of what the Pacific was like when my grandfather sailed it. That’s what I want for the Coral Sea.

The Marshall Islands followed Palau’s lead and look set to be joined by Fiji and the Cook Islands. With every one of these moves, the benefit is multiplied across the region.

It’s fantastic that the Coral Sea proposal blocks oil exploration and mining for good and reduces some destructive fishing. But if Australia is to cement itself as a genuine champion of marine protection, and create a sanctuary that provides long-lasting regional benefit, it needs to greatly expand the area of the Coral Sea afforded full protection.

For more information, click here.

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Oceana

Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, expressed deep concern Nov. 10 about a sinking barge as long as a city block, Sante Pax, offshore of Miami, Fla. While Oceana is thankful that the entire crew is now safely on land, it is questioning what can be done to minimize the impacts it will have on a recently protected deep sea coral reef.

“It is horrifying to think about this giant barge and the dozens of shipping containers it was carrying crushing these century-old corals,” said Margot Stiles, a marine scientist at Oceana who has been working for several years to protect these sensitive corals. “The U.S. government must do everything it can to limit the damage and require the responsible parties to pay for the clean-up.”

In June of 2010, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which is responsible for ocean management throughout the Southeast, approved a measure to protect more than 23,000 square miles of known deep sea corals ranging from North Carolina to Florida, including hundreds of pinnacles up to 500 feet tall. The protection closed this area to bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gear, which threatened the reef. Although current regulations prevent any anchor, net or dredge from touching the coral, the Sante Pax is likely to land directly on top of the largest known continuous deep sea coral reef in the country.

“We urge the involved parties to salvage all materials possible,” said Stiles. “Now that the crew is rescued, we must begin to worry about the long-term impacts this event will have.”

Containers weighing at least 5,000 lbs. each have been falling off the ship since it lost power and began drifting through the area more than a week ago.

This reef is built by several species of coral that have been documented by scientists since the 1970s using submarines and undersea robots. Fishermen catch plentiful golden crabs and royal red shrimp in the area, animals that use the reef as a nursery and feeding ground. Recent reports suggest the ship is currently sinking near two of the most important sites within the protected area, where commercially valuable wreckfish gather in large numbers to spawn.

For more information, click here.

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