Posted in clean renewable energy, solar, solutions

We went solar – You can too!

Originally published on the Northwest Philly Solar Co-op site, here.

Months ago, we learned of DC SUN, a neighborhood solar co-op in Washington DC. Some of us met with Anya Schoolman, their founder, and decided to bring their model to our neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia.
See this early video to understand how DC SUN helps neighbors negotiate with utilities, contractors and the government to get solar energy installed on residential rooftops.
Looks like the solar co-op can not only assist with bulk buying, i..e a volume discount from the installer, but other ways to help with the installation costs, such as…
  1. the DC Rebate program, basically a subsidy from utility funds, now called Affordable Solar
  2. the Federal tax credit for renewable energy
  3. option to sell the green value of clean energy, or SRECS (solar renewable energy credits), earning the household about $900 per year
  4. option to lease the system, where the household pays 1/3 less than the utility rate for 25 years.

If you or your organization is in the vicinity of Northwest Philadelphia, come join us!

Posted in no fossil fuels, solutions

Refueling our EV

So we got ourselves a electric vehicle, the smart fortwo coupe 13507087_10207747020931794_8761258531375557893_nwith electric drive, or the Smart ED.  Tiny, and powered by plugging into our outdoor outlet, which we’re led to believe, is supplied by mainly by Pennsylvania wind farms.

Refueling our EV has been an education about the car’s battery capacity, the charger and the charging rate.

The Smart ED has a battery capacity of 17.6 kW,

It also comes with an EVSE charger that you can plug into any 110V outlet. A button on this charger allows you to select between 8A and 12A based on the circuit.

The maximum charging rate for the Smart ED is 3.3 kW per hour. Most other cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, are designed to charge at a faster rate (6.6 kW per hour), while the Tesla charges at 19.2 kW per hour, almost 6 times faster.

Therefore, the theoretically fastest this car can charge is 5.3 hours on a 220V outlet or 10.6 hours on a 110V outlet.

capacity / rate = 17.6 kW / 3.3 kWh = 5.3 hours

If we’re to use a standard 110V outlet and the given charger, it would take between 13 and 20 hours to fully charge our car based on the amps selected.

110V x 8A = 0.88 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 0.88 kWh = 20 hours

110V x 12A = 1.32 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 1.32 kWh = 13 hours

If we installed a 220V outlet, and purchased a 220V charger, our refueling rate would go down to 6.6 hours.

220V x 12A = 2.64 kW per hour
17.6 kW / 2.64 kWh = 6.6 hours

For now, the 13-hour refueling rate seems adequate.

In the few days we’ve used this car, people have asked us another question. About the cost to refuel our EV. Our PECO bill (with electricity generation from The Energy Co-op’s EcoChoice 100 program) shows us paying about 18 cents per kWh. A full recharge (17.6 kW x 0.18 per kWh) would be $3.17 and take you 75 miles. That’s 4 cents per mile.

13576707_10209568355550269_2600144925251380969_oNot a bad price for declaring independence from the gas pump. Half the length, just as much fun. #fossilfuelfreefun, powered by the wind and the sun.


Posted in energy efficiency, solutions

Staying Cool without AC

Last summer, I wrote about staying cool with fans. This summer, I’m sharing lessons from Hap Haven, our region’s long-time energy efficiency specialist. This essay was originally published in the June 2016 Shuttle, a monthly publication of Weavers Way Co-op.

The “dog days” of summer will be here soon; high temperatures and high humidity. This phrase was created by the Greeks and related to the time of year when the Sirius constellation rose with the sun. It’s a time when seas “boil” and people go mad. While I’m not certain about the seas boiling, we all understand the physical and emotional problems we experience with hot, humid weather. Skip forward to 1902 and we find Willis Carrier inventing modern air conditioning. Since then two things have happened. First, electric companies have collected hundreds of millions of dollars from their air conditioning customers. Second, many people have forgotten how to stay cool without air conditioning. Fortunately for us, there are still many non-AC strategies available. Here are just a few:

SHADE: Staying cool is easier in the shade. This is true for your home, as well as for you. It helps if you have large trees that cast long shadows, but not everyone has older trees around their homes. To those people I say, “Plant one for the next generation”. In the meantime buy an umbrella, install an awning or build a trellis. Nothing has to be fancy. A king sized sheet tied between poles will work just fine to block the sun’s radiation. You might be surprised that the temperature difference between sun and shade can be 30 degrees. One cautionary note about plants; they block sunlight, but they can also raise the humidity level near them. Higher humidity means lower comfort so give yourself plenty of room between your patio and plants like vines on trellises.

REFLECTION: If you cannot shade a home, the next step is to reflect the sun as best as possible. If you need to purchase new windows, choose ones that can reflect part of the sun’s heat. Go to the manufacturer’s web site to see how much reflection you should have. You need more reflectivity in hotter climates. Some new windows even allow you to “dial-in” the shade and reflectivity you need. These windows have reflective mini-blinds inside the window. Assuming that your windows don’t need to be replaced, window film is a good second choice. Thousands of homes and commercial buildings in the Delaware Valley have been retro-fitted with reflective film to cut down on summer heat gain. Typically, you put the film on west facing windows or windows that get direct sun for more than a few hours every day.

Philadelphia has more row homes than any other city in the USA and most still have black colored roofs. The black color turns the top floor into an oven during the summer, but this can be changed. A new trend in flat roof rehab is the white roof. The elastomeric white roof coat has a lot of limitations in terms of when and how it is applied, but once applied, it is far superior to silver or black (oil based) roof coatings.

MOVING AIR: Fans come in every shape and size and continue to be an important way to stay cool. Most fans, such as a desk fan or even a ceiling fan over the dining room table or in the bedroom, are designed for local cooling. Fans cool you by evaporating your sweat. Changing liquid water into vapor (evaporation) removes energy and, in turn, cools your skin. Remember to drink water to replenish the water evaporated from your skin.

There is another type of fan that is very effective, but not for cooling people directly. It’s called a whole house fan. Some older homes have them, but they are rarely used properly. The whole house fan’s job is to cool the house. Yes, the moving air will help to cool you as well, but the fan is designed to remove the heat built-up in your house during the day. Whole house fans and window fans should not be used unless the outside temperature is cooler than the inside temperature, otherwise you are just going to heat up the inside.

SEAL THE SHELL: You wouldn’t walk outside with holes in your rain coat, but your home has thousands of little, and not so little, holes. These holes allow your nice conditioned air to escape and hot humid air to come indoors. Sealing your home used to mean caulking your windows and weather-stripping your doors. That’s a good start, but just a start. Modern air sealing contractors use computers and powerful fans to find out how leaky your home is, where those leaks are and which ones are cost effective to seal. Sealing the shell means you get to control how and when your home interacts with the outside weather.

LIFE STYLE: Philadelphians have historically closed up shop and vacationed in the Poconos, “down” the shore or to any body of water that could provide a cool dip. One all-time Philadelphia favorite is the fire hydrant sprinkler. Staying cool before air conditioning demanded a slower life style in the summer, maybe something we should consider again.

So to wrap-up, the easiest way to keep your home cool is to open up your windows at night then close them during the hot day. Keeping cool is a dance between you and the sun. Use whole house or window fans at night after the outside temperature is lower than the inside temperature. Use personal or ceiling fans during the day. Shade the house where ever possible. If you do all these things, you will only need your AC when there is a heat wave or to knock down humidity levels. Either way, if you do all these recommendations, you shouldn’t need to run your AC more than about an hour a day.

And to lighten the message, here’s a  humorous reflection on seasonal clothing for the office: Frigid Offices, Freezing Women, Oblivious Men. Please re-assure me that Mt Airy men are different, that we heart summertime under the fans and under the trees.

If you found any of Hap’s material useful, or are considering a home energy audit, I know Hap would love to hear from you. He is reachable at

Posted in clean renewable energy, no fossil fuels, solutions, transition

Solar in the Northwest

I’ve been hearing about solar panels since I was in high school, over 3 decades ago. But yesterday, as a member of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, I interviewed a Mt Airy couple who have had solar panels on their roof for a year and a half now. Both were eager to talk about their experience.

They raved about their installers. Showed me their 2 electric meters; one for electricity coming from PECO and the second one added to track the electricity that their rooftop was pushing back onto the grid. bud-n-mollie-1

I asked where all their other equipment was that I’d read about: the inverters and batteries and such. And realized that when a solar installation is grid-tied (meaning not off-the-grid), it’s a lot less involved. All they had were the 13 panels on the roof, and the second meter. No other equipment on the porch or basement.

For 7 months of the year, I learned, this system produces in excess of the household’s consumption. During this time (April thru October), their bill is about $7 per month. The other 5 months, it triples to about $20 per month.

They have monitored their production and consumption via an online application, and once noticed a spike in their usage. Concerned that someone was tapping into their system, they drilled into the data and discovered usage during one month, in the wee hours of the night.  A month that coincided with a visit from their teenage granddaughter with all her electrical devices!

When asked why they invested in this solar installation, it was simply… Why, for the common good! Sitting on their serene back porch, I realized the beauty of this. There was no need to explain the horrifying effects of climate, nor of the immediacy of action required.

Weavers Way Co-op and The Shalom Center have teamed up to get solar-coop2more solar installed in Northwest Philadelphia, by forming the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, explained on the flyer here. We all benefit from increased reliance on renewable energy and it is important to develop community-based initiatives that increase its use.

Know that a solar photo-voltaic (PV) system generates clean electricity using a free energy source that will never run out and never go up in price. The fuel requires no mining, no drilling, no mountain-top removing and no transporting, doesn’t require burning or processing, and is never in danger of spilling, emitting, or polluting. In fact, the clean energy produced by your solar energy system emits no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and helps reduce global climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels and the volatile fossil fuel market. As with all manufacturing, there is some waste in that process.

When will solar become the norm, so that every Philly structure with the solar potential achieves this potential? To get to this tipping point, we’re sharing stories from people who already have solar installed at their home or workplace. Each installation will be summarized on a Solar Facts sticker, shown below, for easier comparison.

As you’ll see, the 30% Federal tax credit really made this investment affordable and economical. I remember when we got an estimate 11 years ago, a 2kW system was priced at $18,000. And there was no Federal or State incentive that we could apply for. That’s going from $9 per watt to $2.8 per watt!  With the industry scaling up, and government policies to support & encourage us all, this one example looks to be a third cheaper than what we were quoted.

solar facts

Want to join NPSC? Or simply share your story? Please contact NPSC via Barbara Bloomfield at (215) 247-9204 or barbbloomfield2 [at]

What is it that’s keeping people from installing solar on their rooftop? Some of the responses we’re heard are:

  • We’re tenants.  Have your landlord contact NPSC.
  • We’re in a condo. Have your condo association contact NPSC.
  • We have plenty of sun, but are short on cash. The Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op is looking at financing, perhaps thru the Free Loan Association of Germantown (FLAG). Please contact NPSC.
  • We have too many trees and not enough sun. No solar potential. I hear you. Keep the trees. Maybe you’d like to lend through the Free Loan Association of Germantown for other solar installations.

The Earth needs YOU!

Posted in clean renewable energy, climate, solutions

Uniting around our climate target

Last Thursday, a few of us met at a Quaker facilitated discussion on climate targets, specifically around the international Paris agreement last December, about getting our planetary temperature well below 1.5 degrees centigrade.1449778748021

The topic? Uniting around targets.

We represented research & policy folks from regional environmental non-profits plus grassroots & faith-based activists.

Professor Donald Brown of Widener Law School, and blogger at Ethics & Climate,  spoke about the need to set a carbon budget, asking us to keep in mind not just the business of reducing our carbon emissions, but to also maintain an ethical & moral perspective as we go forth.

We learned that this meant weaving in responsibility to future generations, equality for the current generations as well as the rights of developing nations.

Given all this, he suggested that the US target is not 80% carbon reduction by 2050, but the more equitable one of 100% carbon reduction by 2035.

In other words, we need to be carbon neutral in 18 years. Gasp! Apparently, speed matters.

In the discussion that followed, I learned that the Sierra Club’s goals include a carbon-free electric sector for 2030, and carbon neutral by 2050.

We had some excited discussion about targets that are politically acceptable versus those that are demanded by physics and ethics.

As we parted, I sensed an agreement that we need to work together, despite our divergent tactics, but still reeling in shock at the carbon budget for our state and the speed by which we need to get there.

A follow-on solutions-based public meeting to discuss getting our state of Pennsylvania to this goal of carbon neutral in 18 years, is set for the evening of Wednesday May 18th. It’s from 7 to 9 in the evening at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street in Center City Philadelphia. If Center City is too far for you, you can also join via a webinar. Details and registration here on EventBrite, and here on Facebook, too, for up-to-the-minute dialog. Please join me & others for this discussion.

Posted in solutions

Wither on the vine

When I have to reassure family about my participation in upcoming events; when I hear their concerns about possible violence hearing words like revolution; when I hear suggestions that we need to teach the next generation to do things differently, this is the quote I turn to.

In effect, we need to start the world all over again – not through step-by-step reform of the status quo, because that won’t get us where we need to be; or by revolution, a head-on fight with the present powers-that-be, because nobody wants that, and the outcome of revolution is far too uncertain; but by creating the kind of world we want to see, in situ, and allowing the present methods and the institutions that are serving the world so badly to wither on the vine.

quote from page 11 of Resurgence & Ecologist, Issue 294 Jan/Feb 2016, A Food Renaissance Goes Live by Colin Tudge


Posted in solutions

Comfort in this never-ending summer

Last week, at both my evening meetings, I sweltered. No, the meetings weren’t outdoors at mid-day!

One meeting was on the 18th floor of a building with an Energy Star plaque in it’s fancy lobby. Although it had turned into a lovely evening, and we met in a corner office with windows on two sides, we discovered that the windows were painted shut. Not a chance of bringing in some evening cool. I scoured the offices for an oscillating fan to borrow. Not a one to be found.  So we stoically sweated.  We were, after all, discussing how to save the climate by reducing Philadelphia’s emissions.

The following evening, the meeting was in a conference room in a building targeted to be double LEED.  Again, very stuffy. And again, I prowled the facility in search of a portable fan.  We found one and it made an amazing difference in our comfort. Regretably, it was also quite noisy making it difficult to hear the person at the other end of the table.

I was surprised at the inadequacy of the “sustainable” surroundings I found myself in. As I cooled off on the train ride home, I decided that each of these meeting spaces could use the gift of a good portable table fan.

photo credit to

photo credit to

Having grown up in India, with ceiling fans in every room, I knew what a difference a fan made.  And remain surprised that these aren’t a fixture in the US, in every office and hotel room.

With a budget of about $50 per fan, I went looking. This well-written review of the Best Desk Fan: Dyson vs Vornado vs Honeywell stopped me in my tracks.  That there existed a stylish fan that was also quiet, moved air through the room, and used less energy than any other fan I’ve come across was amazing.


The Dyson fan looked so different that I had to go experience one in person. Which I did at a local big box store. And surprised my frugal self by bringing one home.  An overnight run proved it’s quietness.

The next day, I tested it in my office.  There, in the air conditioned space set to 80 degrees, I found that the fan added a surprising amount of comfort to the room.

Just to compare, a window air conditioner uses 525 watts, while this uses about 26 watts, just 5% of the electricity. Other fans typically use about 50 watts.

I’ve learned that it’s not a case of either an A/C or a fan; that I can keep the A/C at a higher temperature (meaning it runs fewer hours each day), and spin the fans in the occupied space to remain comfortable.

Posted in policy, solutions

Transparency about our energy future

Yesterday’s post in the Inquirer titled U.S. won’t weaken oil-train public disclosure rules was heartening.  The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration referred to transparency when they denied the railroads request to keep railroad data about large volumes of crude oil exempt from Freedom of Information Act and not even tell first responders, let alone the public. They said that

“transparency is a critical piece of the federal government’s comprehensive approach to safety,” the agency said it supported “the public disclosure of this information to the extent allowed by applicable state, local, and tribal laws.”

Another heartening piece of news is the energy policy of Jim Kenney, the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia. His May 4th press release refers to an

“open and democratic process for any decisions made about the economic development and energy future of our city, a process that is based on the best data available and that includes our neighborhood associations, local businesses, working people and citizen groups.”

Here Mr Kenney also noted that

“We do not need to pit good jobs and a thriving economy against clean air, clean water and the health of our children. We can and must have both.”

On that note, we’d like to share what New York City groups have done.

ALIGN (Alliance for a Greater New York) had a forum this past December called Climate Works for All where they released a document called Climate Works for All: A Platform for Reducing Emissions, Protecting Our Communities, and Creating Good Jobs for New Yorkers.  We particularly like their focus on reducing emissions. And involvement with unions. And would love to implement Large Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits, as explained in Chapter 2, and installing Solar on the 100 largest schools, as explained on Chapter 5.

Three of the people behind the NYC effort will be speaking here in Philadelphia this Tuesday, the evening of June 2nd. We’d like to invite all to this event, to initiate discussions about our energy future. Details below.

Event: Labor, Community & the Climate Crisis: Building Alliances for Economic & Environmental Justice
When: Tue June 2 6:30-8:30pm – Doors open at 6:00 pm – Snacks will be provided.
IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 98, 1719 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA 19130
What: Learn about Climate Works for All – the groundbreaking effort out of New York City where unions, environmental and community groups have joined in coalition to create policies that will create thousands of good jobs, dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, promote racial justice, and make the city more resilient. Thanks to their organizing, the city government is already making important changes, and Mayor de Blasio has announced an ambitious plan for promoting economic and environmental justice.

The Climate Works for All coalition has created a 10-point platform that calls for retrofitting all of NYC’s large buildings to be more energy efficient, installing solar panels on 100 public schools, expanding public transportation, and seven other projects. Together, these initiatives would create nearly 40,000 living wage jobs and move NYC one third of the way toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Who: Key leaders from NYC have generously offered to share their plans, ideas, and experience with us. We will learn about their inspiring work and discuss what we can do here in Philly.

  • Jon Forster — Co-chair of the People’s Climate Movement-NY; Vice President of District Council 37, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees); City Research Scientist at the Bureau of Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
  • Josh Kellermann — Senior Policy and Research Analyst at ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York (an affiliate of Jobs with Justice), and lead author of Climate Works for All: A Platform for Reducing Emissions, Protecting Our Communities, and Creating Good Jobs for New Yorkers.
  • Eddie Bautista — Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance

Co-sponsors: 15 Now Philadelphia; 215 People’s Alliance; 350 PhillyAction United; American Vegan Society; Be the Change; Bread and Roses Community Fund; Caucus of Working Educators; Clean Air CouncilClean Water Action Pennsylvania; Coalition for Peace Action – Pennsylvania; Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition; Eco-Justice Working Group of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; Faculty & Staff Federation of Community College of Phila., AFT 2026, Executive Committee; Food and Water Watch-Pennsylvania; Jewish Labor Committee – Philadelphia Chapter; Maypop Collective for Climate and Economic Justice; PASNAP (Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals); Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air; Pennsylvania Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Philadelphia Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light; Philadelphia Jewish Climate Action Network; Philadelphia Jobs with Justice; Philadelphia MoveOn Council; Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks; PhilaPOSH (Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health); Philly Coalition of Labor Union Women; Physicians for Social Responsibility – Philadelphia ChapterProtecting Our Waters; Put People First PA; Sierra Club Southeastern Pennsylvania Group; The Shalom Center; United Autoworkers Local 1981; United Steelworkers Local 404
: IBEW Local 98
RSVP here:
Contact: To co-sponsor or questions, Mitch Chanin |

As you can see, it brings together quite a diverse mix of local groups. I’m both surprised and pleased to read this quote from Ban Ki-Moon “If we can’t all swim together, we will sink. There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B” in this post.

Posted in policy, solutions

The Power of Cities

Cities have a major role to play in the global mobilization to mitigate and avert climate disasters, and cities world-wide are stepping up to the task.

The Scientific American writes Cities will solve climate change, not nations.

As does The Guardian, in this article Cities bypass slow government to lead the way on climate change.

Even John Kerry knows cities hold the key to fighting climate change, where he says “A lot of mayors around the world are ahead of their national governments, and a lot of local citizens are well ahead of their elected leaders,”, reminding us that “..cities are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. And cities are simply better equipped to turn talk into action.” This article has a reference to Mayor’s National Climate Action Agenda signed by Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and platform of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

What are other cities are doing? Let’s see…

  • New York City’s Climate Works for All
    We particularly like their focus on reducing emissions. And involvement with unions. See chapter 2 – Large Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits. And chapter 5 – Solar on 100 largest schools.
  • New York City’s One City, Built to Last 
    A plan for 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050
  • NYC again, aiming for 90% carbon reduction by 2050
  • Seattle’s Getting to Zero: A Pathway to a Carbon Neutral Seattle 
  • Oakland Climate Action Coalition – Aiming for 85% by 2050
  • Boulder
    Per Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, the citizens voted for a public energy utility so they could bring more renewables on board.
  • San Francisco’s push for Renewable Energy
    Take a look at the CleanPowerSF program, SF’s community Choice Aggregation Program, which allows cities and counties to pool their citizens’ purchasing power to buy electricity. And their GreenFinanceSF program, which allows commercial property owners to finance renewable energy projects, as well as energy and water efficiency, through a municipal bond and repay the debt via their property tax account.
  • Chicago’s Climate Action Plan

What next after benchmarking energy use for large buildings?

The US Dept of Energy (DOE) has a Better Buildings challenge, and there are a number of cities signed up as partners (DC, Pittsburgh, many others).  These cities are not committing to reductions for space they don’t control, but are committing to work with owners to facilitate that upgrades happen.

See, for example, DC’s entry:  The District has long-term commitment to energy efficiency programs and policies that support the Better Buildings Challenge, including a benchmarking and disclosure regulation for over 3,000 private commercial buildings, making the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) a one-stop shop for the District’s energy efficiency solutions and resources and the creation of energy efficiency financing tools targeted at commercial building owners. These financing tools and products will provide at least $225million in competitively-priced capital to commercial owners over the next nine years to fund energy efficiency improvements. The DowntownDC Business Improvement District (“BID”) and the DowntownDC ecoDistrict have accepted the Better Buildings Challenge in partnership with the District of Columbia and Mayor Vincent Gray.

Posted in policy, solutions

But what about Jobs?

A green economy is a job-friendly economy and accounts for more jobs than a fossil fuel based economy. Dollar for dollar, investments in conservation, renewable energy and other sustainable strategies produce far more stable, living wage jobs and more economic opportunity than investments in the polluting industries of the past. Doubling down on fossil fuel infrastructure puts our city at financial risk for stranded assets, staggering health costs and clean-up costs in the event of a rail, pipeline or refinery disaster such as we have seen in other cities and towns. We have already had several alarming near-misses with derailed trains and refinery accidents, including a deadly accident in March, 2015.

If you still believe the Jobs myth touted by the oil & gas industry, read on…

And for a more local perspective…

At what cost jobs?