A classic example of a negotiation with a notoriously tough corporation that was quite heated (but ended up with a positive change) took place leading up to May 2, 2007, when Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, made the public statement on the Apple website, "Today is the first time we have openly discussed our plans to become a greener Apple. It will not be the last. We apologize for leaving you in the dark for so long."
This was the first time that Apple had publicly addressed the issues of electronics waste and hazardous materials.
How did this change come about? Jobs's reputation as a corporate leader that refused input from anyone—especially his shareholders—is famous. Yet, this announcement came shortly after shareholder resolutions on electronic waste were filed and he had a meeting with the lead proponents. What happened in that negotiation?
Some background first: as the information age got into full swing, it became apparent that a mountain of electronic waste (e-waste) was forming. The manufacture of one computer workstation required more than 700 chemical compounds, about half of which were hazardous, including arsenic, brominated flame retardants, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury. Tens of millions of computers, monitors and cell phones were being discarded every year, most headed straight to the landfill even though they contained valuable precious metals like gold and silver, as well as problematic ones like lead and cadmium that leached into the water and air.
Ever Wonder What's Happened to the More Than 570 Million #iPhones Sold Since 2007 https://t.co/8zNGAUxJfG @ewg https://t.co/p5JwaTs5tL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1456333757.0
As You Sow's work on e-waste began in 2003, led by Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron, who formed a coalition of socially responsible investing allies including Calvert, Green Century, Pax and Walden Asset Management to press major brands like Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Apple to set e-waste take-back goals. Dell, already under pressure from a grassroots campaign, committed to a take back goal in 2004. Later that year HP, which had an initial take-back program operating, accelerated its goal, pledging to recycle one billion pounds of e-waste by 2007.
But Apple, in the process of moving from innovative creator of the Mac to a global electronics powerhouse dominating the personal electronics market, was typically silent and not open to dialogue. MacKerron reached out to former Vice President Al Gore, who was on the Apple board. Several shareholder proposals were filed. Still, there was no progress. Finally, at the 2006 shareholder meeting, Executive Director Larry Fahn was able to engage Steve Jobs in a friendly discussion as the resolution was presented, and Jobs agreed to meet and see if progress could be made. The shareholder proposal asking Apple to improve its e-waste policies received a decent vote of 10 percent of shares voted.
The meeting with Jobs would not occur until almost another year passed. In February 2007 MacKerron, Fahn, research associate Nishita Bakshi, and As You Sow board chair Thomas Van Dyck met with Jobs in his Cupertino office. True to form, Jobs offered brilliant insights but was also caustic, at times berating his visitors for overstepping their boundaries and railing against Greenpeace, which had launched a campaign for Apple to phase out toxins in its components, before acknowledging the recycling problem. The shareholder team held firm that an e-waste take-back policy was good for Apple and that competitors were way ahead.
At one point, Jobs dismissively tossed a presentation the group's staff had spent weeks preparing back across the table at them. It was time to improvise. Van Dyck and other team members launched into a series of questions during the meeting to find out where his top concerns were. They recall asking Jobs if he believed having a greener Apple would sell more products. He said no. The team asked, if Apple was perceived as an environmental laggard, might it sell less products? Jobs said, yes. He felt that his shareholders, employees, and community deserved better from Apple, and he wanted to beat his competitor Michael Dell of Dell Computers, which had already announced strong electronic waste take-back goals. The team saw that he was frustrated by Dell as a competitor, and despite his ire, by the end of the meeting, Jobs agreed to develop a strong recycling commitment. Three months later, the company announced goals as part of a broad set of environmental commitments known as "A Greener Apple."
The move came just a week before shareholders would have voted on another resolution asking Apple to report on improving e-waste take-back efforts, underscoring the importance of shareholder pressure. As You Sow withdrew the proposal in acknowledgement of the company's commitments, and an uncharacteristically chastened Jobs apologized to shareholders for not previously sharing its environmental policy plans when he was quoted in Waste News, on May 14, 2007: "It is generally not Apple's policy to trumpet our plans for the future. Unfortunately, this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple's desires and plans to become greener. So today we are changing our policy."
Our global economy is undergoing the "Great Transition" from an energy system based on fossil fuels to one based on clean, renewable energy sources and technologies. So as longtime advocates for a safe, just and sustainable future, we at As You Sow decided to partner with our friends at Corporate Knights and develop the Carbon Clean 200—to start a broad and dynamic conversation about how all investors can create a clean energy economy and how best to recognize companies that are already on this path.
Six years ago, students began to call on their university endowments to divest from fossil fuels, urging university leaders to stop profiting from companies that were destroying their future. Over time, many of those investments have increased risk in university endowment portfolios, and the trustees who listened to their students and aligned their institutions' investing with the school's mission ended up avoiding significant financial pain.
Since then, a great deal of effort has been devoted to identifying the fossil fuel companies that most threaten our fragile climate. These 200 companies were first identified by the Carbon Tracker Initiative in their seminal "Carbon Bubble" report. The Clean200 turns the Carbon Bubble inside out and asks which companies are currently profiting from participation in the clean transition and what is the best way to spot them?
How We Did It.
The Clean200 ranks the largest publicly listed companies worldwide by their total clean energy revenues as rated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). In order to be eligible, a company must have a market capitalization greater than $1 billion (end of Q2 2016) and earn more than 10 percent of total revenues from clean energy sources.
More than 70 of the companies on the list receive a majority of their revenue from clean energy. The list excludes all oil and gas companies and utilities that generate less than 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, as well as the top 100 coal companies measured by reserves.
The list also filters out companies profiting from weapons manufacturing, tropical deforestation, the use of child and/or forced labor, and companies that engage in negative climate lobbying. We then took the top 200 and ranked them by estimated clean revenue—the Clean200.
We compared the Clean200 to the Carbon Underground 200, the list of the largest fossil fuel companies that the Divest-Invest movement and many fossil free mutual funds use as a screen. We also compared the Clean200 to the S&P 1200 global benchmark. Our findings were telling, to say the least. First, more than one-third of the Clean200 companies are Chinese, which speaks to a quiet green energy revolution brewing in the world's largest economy. Another interesting finding is that 26 countries are represented.
The performance analysis for each of the three lists is based on a "snapshot in time" analysis of current constituents as the BNEF clean energy revenue exposure database is new and does not go back in time. The analysis also introduces a survivorship bias that can be present when stocks which do not currently exist (because they have failed, for example) are excluded from the historical analysis. This bias can result in the overestimation of past returns.
We also noted that the top 10 Clean200 companies with a majority of their revenue from clean energy include Vestas (wind power), Philips Lighting (LED lighting), Xinjiang Gold-A (wind plants), Tesla Motors (electric vehicles), Gamesa (wind turbines), First Solar (solar modules), GCL-Poly Energy (solar grade polysilicon), China Longyuan-H (wind Farms), Kingspan Group (Insulation and building envelopes) and Acuity Brands (LED lights).
This inaugural version is just the beginning. We want to see how our Clean200 methodology may be improved over time, so we decided to make the data available to anyone and everyone on creative commons, and to update the list every quarter to track the changes and trends. With this list, we hope to open a broad and transparent global conversation. We hope that the best minds will find this thought exercise as exciting as we do and join us.
As You Sow and Corporate Knights are not investment advisors nor do we provide financial planning, legal or tax advice. Nothing in the Carbon Clean 200 Report shall constitute or be construed as an offering of financial instruments or as investment advice or investment recommendations.
Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.