Coach Dave’s Playbook

Photo credit: Washington Post

A few quick hits this month:

It’s cold outside—insulate yourself from escalating energy bills

Happy 2018! The year is off to a frigid start. I don’t mind the cold, as I grew up in the Northeast, but I don’t particularly enjoy feeling cold drafts inside my apartment. A greater difference between the outdoor air temperature and a comfortable indoor temperature means more energy is required for heating, which means higher bills. According to the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU), you can save 2-3% in energy costs for every degree you lower your thermostat around the clock. Lowering the heat from 72° to 65° for eight hours per day can save you as much as 10% on annual heating costs.

With our heating systems running full bore these days, it’s a good idea to clean (or change) the filter on your heating system once every two months, because dirt and dust in the filter causes the system to work harder than necessary, which can inflate your energy bills. Simple at-home actions like caulking and weather-stripping can make your bedroom or living room significantly more comfortable while also cutting your utility costs. For more ideas, check out the helpful home energy tips offered by the Virginia Energy Sense program.

Recent innovations in solar technology

Solar technology is advancing at a rather startling rate. Recently, South Korean scientists created solar photovoltaic (PV) cells that are 1 micrometer thick. That is thinner than a human hair—hundreds of times thinner than most PV cells, yet these thin cells produce nearly as much power as their thicker counterparts. With cells this thin, solar PV could be integrated into all kinds of “wearables”—backpacks, jackets, glasses, and more—to power our mobile electronics. Now of course this technology is quite expensive, and probably will be for some time. Eventually, though, these new products will find their way into the market and start growing at scale. With scale, costs come down. And as Vox’s David Roberts predicts, someday these solar cells will be everywhere—streets, bridges, parking lots, and cars—as our entire built environment integrates energy harvesting and storage technologies. Exciting stuff!

National policy news: the looming solar trade case

The U.S. solar industry is on edge, waiting to see whether the Trump administration will impose steep tariffs on foreign-made solar panels. The threat of a tariff started when two domestic manufacturers of solar panels lodged a complaint under U.S. trade law arguing that the flood of imported solar panels has made it impossible for them to compete. (For context: the price of solar panels has declined about 90 percent over the past 10 years, due to an expanding global market and cheap solar panels from Asia, which has enabled a booming solar industry within the U.S.)

Back in October, the U.S. International Trade Commission voted to uphold a complaint brought by the two domestic solar manufacturers. The Commission then recommended that Trump impose tariffs of as much as 35 percent on imported panels. The president has until January 26, 2018, to decide.

Would impact could this tariff have? Proponents of the measure say that say that domestic solar companies desperately need protection from the flood of cheap imports from Asia. Critics, including much of the solar industry, say that the possible trade protections could double the price of imported panels and cause more damage to the very jobs that proponents supposedly want to protect. It’s a big deal if panels suddenly double in price—not just something that developers can just casually plan around. It means that where large (utility)-scale solar was (or was about to be) price-competitive with other types of electricity, it almost certainly will no longer be competitive at all.

For more on this issue, see this helpful overview from NPR.

That’s all for now—until next time!

- Coach Dave