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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

By Gina Coplon-Newfield and Mary Lunetta

Electric vehicles (EVs) are cleaner, greener and more fun to drive. Different mileage ranges, prices and car types abound with about 30 plug-in electric sports cars, SUVs and sedans now available from Chevrolet, Nissan, BMW, Ford, Tesla and many other automakers. Shopping for an EV should be fun and easy. So, with so many terrific options available, why are EV sales still at only one percent of total monthly U.S. auto sales?

We launched Rev Up EVs, the first-ever multi-state study of the EV shopping experience, to find out. Based on surveys from Sierra Club volunteers who called or visited 308 different auto dealerships and stores across ten states to check out and test drive EVs, the study finds that there is tremendous room for improvement among both the dealerships and the automakers to provide customers with a better EV shopping experience.

Sierra Club

The California Air Resources Board's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program requires automakers to sell increasing numbers of EVs between now and 2025. Because of the many environmental and economic benefits of electric vehicles, the ZEV standard is now followed by nine other states as well. With the standards currently up for review, many automakers are lobbying regulators to weaken zero emission vehicle regulations, saying they are doing everything they can to sell EVs.

But the numbers don't add up. A recent Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union survey of randomly selected drivers found that 55 percent of survey respondents in Northeastern states and 65 percent in California are interested in EVs, and that 65 percent of surveyed California drivers wish there were more EV options. An earlier survey of driving habits showed that for more than 40 percent of Americans, switching to an electric vehicle would be practical right now. With such high interest, EV sales should be accelerating at a much faster pace.

In less than a month, drivers across the country will take part in the largest celebration of electric vehicles, National Drive Electric Week, now in its sixth year.

By studying the EV shopping experience in each of the ZEV states, the Rev Up EVs study found that some automakers and auto dealers are doing a great job developing, marketing, and selling EVs to consumers by having several EVs on their lots, informed salespeople, and strong EV advertising. These best practices are not rocket science. But many other dealers and automakers are falling short.

The first step to selling any car is to actually have it available for purchase -- you can't sell a car that isn't there. But the Rev Up EVs project found that it's often difficult to find an auto dealership with even one electric vehicle on its lot. Auto dealerships in the nine other ZEV states were 2 ½ times more likely than those in California to find no EV on the dealership lot for customers to see, test-drive, and lease or buy.

Availability may be the first step to selling a car, but it's not the only area with room for improvement. Even at dealerships with at least one EV on the lot, about one third of the salespeople at surveyed dealerships failed to provide their customers with information on the tax credits and rebates that make EVs significantly more affordable and that are proven to increase electric vehicle sales.

Sierra Club

To increase EV sales, we can't lower the bar for the auto industry. We need the industry to step up and put best practices to work to sell EVs and comply with the ZEV regulations. In fact, to achieve our climate, air quality, and EV sales goals, we need even stronger ZEV regulations. And it's possible. Automakers can increase inventory and multi-state distribution of EVs, as well as offer attractive deals to dealerships. Once they're on dealers' lots, EVs need to be charged, ready for test drives, and prominently displayed. Auto dealers and makers need to train their salespeople on the ins and outs of EVs so that salespeople can answer customer questions. Finally, automakers need to increase advertising of their EVs which, in turn, will encourage dealers to advertise more at the local level.

In less than a month, drivers across the country will take part in the largest celebration of electric vehicles, National Drive Electric Week, now in its sixth year. At upwards of 200 parades, ride and drives, charging station ribbon cuttings, city fleet displays and other community events, people across the country will showcase the many benefits of driving electric. In previous years, we've found these events to lead to more people heading to dealerships to buy or lease EVs. Will the industry be ready to welcome these customers?

Gina Coplon-Newfield is the director of the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicles Initiative. Mary Lunetta is the campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicles Initiative.

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A group of like-minded governors on both sides of the nation pledged this morning to get millions of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) on the country's roads by 2025.

Governors from eight states—California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont—said they would do their part to encourage drivers to buy ZEVs to total 3.3 million on U.S. streets in the next dozen years. They agreed to collectively evaluate offering financial incentives for ZEVs and lead by example by using these more environmentally sound vehicles for their government fleets.

"This is not just an agreement, but a serious and profoundly important commitment," California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. "From coast to coast, we're charging ahead to get millions of the world's cleanest vehicles on our roads."

The governors of eight states announced that they want to see 3.3 million zero-emissions vehicles on U.S. roads by 2025. Photo credit: National Auto Dealers Association

The group estimates 200,000 ZEVs by 2015. There are about 65,000 between the coalition's states, including 50,000 in California.

Sales more than tripled from 17,000 in 2011 to 52,000 last year.

"Today’s announcement will ensure that all new cars won’t just use less gas, many won’t use gas at all," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. "The facts speak for themselves, EVs are cleaner and more efficient than internal combustion engines and U.S. automakers have roared back to life by betting big on efficiency and the new innovative auto technologies that Americans demand."

The governors said they would formalize an action plan within six months. Here are more of their initial ideas to push for more ZEV sales:

  • Harmonize building codes to make it easier to construct new electric car charging stations
  • Consider favorable electricity rates for home charging systems
  • Develop common standards for roadway signs and charging networks

"Today’s announcement shows commitment from these states to support a successful and growing market for electric vehicles, a key solution for tackling climate change and cutting our nation’s projected oil use in half over the next 20 years," David Reichmuth, senior engineer with the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

"Auto manufacturers, lawmakers and citizens need to work together so that we can enjoy cleaner vehicles across the United States. Today’s agreement, signed by eight states representing a quarter of all new vehicles sales, is an important step toward ensuring that the market for electric vehicles continues to expand."

 

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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.

The advocate who was on the cusp of a one-on-one discussion with President Obama figures the big screen is his best chance to inform the nation's leader about the benefits of electric vehicles (EV).

This week, Plug In America co-founder and Nissan LEAF salesman Paul Scott announced the production of a documentary, My Lunch with Obama. The lunch—really intended to be a two-minute discussion—never took place after the Democratic National Convention (DNC) rescinded Scott's invitation, possibly in response to critics of Scott's plan to pay $32,400 of his retirement fund for the discussion and a seat at a fundraiser earlier this year in Santa Monica, CA.

"This seemed like a good way to spend my money, to push the economic benefits of electric cars for our nation," Scott told Mother Nature Network in June, following the DNC's decision. "My thought is that the average American pays this kind of money, over time, to the oil companies. We pay out $700 billion a year to Big Oil, and spend $80 billion a year protecting the oil supply.”

While Scott never got to speak to Obama, he was recently invited to an EV conference where he got to speak in front of leaders from the Netherlands, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.

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