Letters to a friend 3

I didnt get much done these past few days. my energy and diet are all over the place. i finally cut up my vegetables and had some last night and i dont know if my body hasnt gotten used to them…


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It is widely agreed that failure by humanity to attain the ideals of the Paris Accord would lead to heatwaves, drought, desertification, terrible misery and war.

Worse yet, the victims of climate chaos will not be the ones who pollute the most. Climate action in the name of climate justice is therefore the generational vocation for many.

Climate injustice rests nonetheless on a scientific foundation: avoiding climate chaos requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in grams of « carbon dioxide equivalent » (CO2e) into the atmosphere.

Every gram of CO2e is therefore critical.

According the recently published flagship report on decarbonization, published end of 2020 by McKinsey, an international consultancy, the most efficient and least expensive decarbonization effort at a large scale is the decarbonization of the energy sector.

It clearly shows (left side of curve) that decarbonization of energy, using only negative cost solutions, could reduce emissions by over 60%.

Negative cost ? Negative cost solutions are those that are profitable.

The fundamental shift away from expensive « green » solutions comes from the advent of energy efficient and thus profitable clean technologies.

The industry of fossil fuel energy monopolies is in structural transformation towards decarbonised, digitalised and decentralised (the ‘3Ds’) electrification.

Cheap and efficient sources of renewable energy, together with rising demand of electricity, is shifting the sector towards massification of electricity to the detriment of gas heating and petrol fuel.

Progress in cloud computing and IoT is pushing a wide range of smart meters and electricity management applications to market. The last few years have therefore given rise to decentralised energy markets as autonomous peer-to-peer grid-edge technologies become technically efficient and cost competitive.

Against this backdrop of decarbonised, digitalised and decentralised energy, smart solar with storage (SSS) drives all three the furthest.

Firstly, humanity’s solar potential is unlimited: the fusion reactions in the heart of the Sun provide the Earth with 120,000 terawatts of energy per year without end: more energy is received in an hour than humanity consumes in a year!

LCOE includes both the upfront cost of installing the facility as well as running costs. Economies of scale of supply chains and progress in photovoltaic cell technology has led to a collapse in hardware costs.

Meanwhile, the marginal cost of generating solar electricity is zero: the photoelectric effect that underpins photovoltaic technology does not require any fuel.

Savings on energy bill, by self-consuming part or all of ones electrical consumption, offers the greatest value to homeowners. Electricity prices are consistently rising across Europe, as grids must be maintained and upgraded. Electricity prices are set to continue to rise further.

Yet residential solar also benefits from generous incentives and supportive regulation. First introduced in Germany in 2004, feed-in-tariffs exist in nearly all European member-states. This allows households to sell surplus solar electricity production that is not self-consumed to the electrical grid. Many member-states also offer incentives and tax reductions to going solar.

A concrete example of the transformation can be found in rural villages. Residential solar is now a reality even for individuals, families, farmers, businesses and local communities.

Indeed, for the first time since the industrial revolution, anyone can produce their own energy at home. A quarter of Europe’s current electricity consumption (680 TWh) could be provided for if all of the continent’s rooftops hosted solar.

This fundamental shift towards B2C electricity is driven by smart solar with storage.

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic modules, have lifespans of 20 to 30 years. Solar panels do not have moving pieces and therefore do not wear and tear. As such, they require almost no maintenance and witness minor reduction in generated output year-on-year.

Once installed, solar electricity is clean, free, and autonomous. Residential solar allows homeowners to self-consume their electricity, thus reducing their energy bills while taking climate action.

Smart solar has emerged with the addition of IoT hardware to classic photovoltaic panels.

Solar electricity is generated from sunlight into direct current (DC). Inverters are necessary to convert it into alternate current (AC) used in electrical applications. These inverters, previously bulky centralized string inverters, are increasingly replaced by micro-inverters.

Monitoring production curves panel-by-panel in real-time allows for improvements in solar electricity production and consumption. Faulty solar panels can be identified and fixed or replaced individually. Big Data enables the anticipation of faults and localized failure, thus faster and cheaper maintenance rather than halting production for the entire solar system. Monitoring also allows to optimize electricity consumption habits.

Smart solar with storage allows for optimization of the part of solar electricity that is self-consumed. This in turn allows for a greater part of a household’s consumption to be self-produced: further reducing energy bills and carbon emissions.

Data visualizations and new user experiences are reshaping homeowners’ relationship towards their energy : further empowering them to declare energy independence.

Solar is bizarre: it generates electricity (a commodity) to people who already have electricity. It is also different from traditional energy efficiency programs in that an investment into a solar system results in a return on investment, from both savings on the energy bills and cash (from feed-in-tariffs and subsidies).

Residential solar — and solar in general — is still a minority source of energy because it only reached grid parity in 2019 (solar electricity is now cheaper than average grid prices). The economics of solar have therefore just started driving solar adoption.

Today, stubbornly high soft costs are increasingly the largest cost to going solar. Soft costs include the cost of labor, permitting and administration, as well as overhead costs such as sales and marketing.

Other barriers to residential solar adoption revolve around user experience. Residential solar is proposed primarily by the long-tail of local installers that depend on commission-based salespeople.

Effortful research for quotes and price transparency, dishonest practices by some installers, absence of esthetical considerations, and unimpressive after-sale services are just some of the barriers to solar adoption for many.

Bringing solar online to offer competing quotes for window shoppers is a major trend. It is driven by increasing customer acquisition costs for solar installers as most early adopters are already going solar. Most focus exclusively on collecting leads and matching them with potential installers, pocketing a commission.

Yet the customer experience remains complex and unclear.

Like go-to comparison & matchmaking platforms, élance verifies solar installers as they sign up to the service in order to receive free leads.

To ensure the electrical safety of solar installations on behalf of homeowners, it operates its own independent quality control check of every solar installation.

The data-sharing partnership between élance and Enedis, France’s electricity grid operator, to design tailor-made optimal solar systems is an industry first. These optimise the return-on-investment of a solar investment over 25 years, using hourly electricity consumption and production data.

Business models are also evolving away from the commission-only salesperson model. For example, élance refuses to charge commissions in order to reduce the price of solar, charging a pay-as-you-go subscription to installers instead.

Technological progress in solar hardware is not slowing down either. More esthetically pleasing solar tiles, like regular roof tiles, protect home interiors from humidity and temperature, while also producing solar electricity.

Dyaqua’s Invisible Solar tiles
Tesla’s solar roof

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, perovskite solar cell efficiency is at 25.5% in 2019. The current value is only 0.6% less efficient than the single best crystal Si cell that has ever been certified.

The stability of perovskites, however, is yet to match those of traditional silicone solar panels. Research is currently centered on the durability of perovskite materials against moisture and ultra-violet light.

History shows that system-wide changes happen faster than predictions. They are exponential and not linear. Progress follows the saying « very slowly first, and then, very quickly ».

The International Energy Agency has consistently under-forecasted the future growth of installed solar electricity capacity. Pundits continue to underestimate the scale and velocity of solar today.

Solar has silently matured. Together with innovations in software and storage, smart solar with storage will pave the way towards a future of abundant, clean, free, and autonomous electricity.

Although challenges to solar adoption persist — high soft costs, esthetic issues, and user experience — they are being overcome by innovation in both hardware and software. Solar and clean technologies more broadly offer a cost-effective and efficient transition away from carbon emissions.

Mobilization in favor of climate action — the will to act quickly, independently, without waiting for governments, or going through intermediary bodies — exists but lacks the means to make an impact.

A new generation of entrepreneurs is showing how clean technologies can provide a profitable, exciting solution to fight climate chaos and to achieve the Paris Accord ideals of climate justice.

Cleantech has the capacity to surprise.

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