In his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing two weeks ago, Trump's pick for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that:
"The risk of climate change does exist, and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken."
"We [ExxonMobil] have long supported a carbon tax as the best policy of those being considered. Replacing the hodge-podge of current, largely ineffective regulations with a revenue-neutral carbon tax would ensure a uniform and predictable cost of carbon across the economy."
Given ExxonMobil's shady past when it comes to climate change, Tillerson's words are likely seen as empty rhetoric by many political observers. And considering Trump's recent executive orders to restart the process of constructing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, it seems highly probable that is the case.
Despite what Tillerson's intentions may or may not be, I guarantee the Secretary of State's words sent a chill down the spine of Trump transition team members like Myron Ebell, who see a tax on carbon pollution as the devil incarnate, and outright deny that climate change is even a problem.
Late last year Ebell was elevated in stature after being appointed by then President-elect Trump to head his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team. Ebell, whose views on climate change and environmental regulations are considered far-right even amongst the right-wing, has not enjoyed this much attention in years.
When the world started to wake up to the realities of climate change and world leaders of all political persuasions began taking the issue seriously, Ebell and the rest of the climate deniers were relegated to the fringe of the fringe, where their "proof" of the big climate hoax only found traction amongst a small audience of conspiracy theorists and white grumpy old men.
Ebell: Purge Necessary at @EPA to Rid 'Scientists Who Believe the Global Warming Alarmist Agenda' https://t.co/VWWpdUhFc0 @SierraClub @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485529477.0
Unfortunately for Ebell, things just aren't going the way he envisioned. In an Ebell world, Trump and his top appointees would be out on the hustings pushing the climate denier talking points about how it was warmer in the Medieval warming period and that the United Nations is using climate change to take over the world.
Last week there were rumors that the Trump Administration had ordered the EPA to remove all mentions of climate change from the department's website. But by the afternoon on the same day that plan was suspended until further notice. "We've been told to stand down," an EPA employee told E&E News. It wouldn't be a stretch to suppose that this was a direct order from Ebell that was hastily reversed by some higher-ups.
Besides Tillerson, other top Trumpites (copyright pending) are softening their stance on the issue of climate change.
Trump's Energy Secretary pick Rick Perry, stated in his Senate nomination hearing the other week that:
"I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs."
Not the most ringing endorsement for action on climate change, but like Rex Tillerson's statements on the issue, a far cry from where Ebell and the alt-right environmental extremists want this new administration to be.
And nobody knows it more than Myron Ebell himself, that when it comes to the politics of climate change, words really do matter.
Myron Ebell is the product of a far-right think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) who for many years enjoyed a solid stream of funding from big oil companies like ExxonMobil and the notorious Koch Brothers.
America Has a Koch Problem https://t.co/9h23NXifZe @prwatch @DeSmogBlog— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485381914.0
Back in the day under the George W. Bush Administration, Ebell and the crew at CEI were right in the mix as the U.S. government and big corporations were looking for ways to weasel out of the United Nations Kyoto Protocol (an earlier rendition of the Paris climate agreement).
In 2003 for instance, Ebell claimed that:
"Kyoto is dead and has been dead, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't done some real damage and won't continue to do some real damage," "If global warming turns out to be a problem, which I doubt, it won't be solved by making ourselves poorer through energy rationing."
In 2007, Ebell headed a group called the "Cooler Heads Foundation" whose funding came from a network of supportive alt-right organizations, many of whom were recipients of big money from fossil fuel companies. Cooler Heads stated purpose was to "dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis."
The impact of the work by climate deniers, the think tanks they worked for and the companies like ExxonMobil that funded them has been pretty devastating. These climate denial spin doctors had a major impact on the pace at which countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and China moved to take action on climate change.
But as superpowers like the U.S. and China finally started taking the issue of climate change seriously, the conspiratory stances of groups like CEI and Myron Ebell started to fall out of fashion. The microscope under which companies found themselves when it came to their carbon pollution outputs was intensifying. In 2006, ExxonMobil publicly announced that they had pulled their funding from CEI.
Down but not out, Ebell continued his climate denial crusade for the next decade.
Here's an absolutely devastating takedown of Ebell in 2006 by BBC host Jeremy Paxman, which I wrote about at the time and viewed as an epoch in the climate denial movement. The media was slowly but surely starting to wake up to the fact that people like Ebell had no actual qualifications in the science of climate change and were nothing more than spin doctors working at the behest of their big oil funders.
After enduring a decade on the fringe, Ebell is now in the spotlight again with his endorsement from Trump. But that spotlight seems to fading quickly by the looks of things. And while I am in no way optimistic that Trump and his team will do anything meaningful on the issue of climate change, it is a teeny-tiny victory that at the very least major players on team Trump like Rick Perry and Rex Tillerson are acknowledging that the problem exists.
But this tiny little glimmer of hope for people like me who've worked on the issue of climate change for more than a decade, is a serious body blow to someone like Myron Ebell who appears to be quickly being pushed under the rug by the Trump Administration, back to the alt-right fringe where he belongs.
Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.