The cost of renewable energy has been dropping precipitously in recent years. Yet, for many of us, installing solar on our own rooftop remains a stretch—either because the capital needed is not available, the rooftop is too shaded, or we simply don't own our own home.
Fortunately, however, you don't have to install solar to support solar. Or wind. Or tidal power for that matter. Below are some ideas for moving the low carbon economy forward. Given the popularity of clean energy with the general public, these less capital intensive options could become a major leverage point for advancing our cause.
Invest in green energy
Access to capital is one of the biggest challenges for relatively new industries like solar or wind, especially when they are facing the financial might of the fossil fuel incumbents. Investing directly in renewable energy industries is a great way to level the playing field. From green-minded banks who invest in clean energy to crowdfunding platforms like Mosaic, there are a growing number of options for would-be investors. And because every dollar you put into solar or wind is a dollar not put into traditional financial institutions, you'll also be bolstering the fossil fuel divestment movement too.
Google is investing in solar. Apple is a massive consumer of clean energy. New Belgium has long been wind-powered. Ikea has massive solar roofs. Meanwhile, Amazon is still betting on coal (although a recent announcement suggests they are slowly coming around). While I would never suggest that we can consume our way to a greener planet, I will argue that when we do buy consumer goods or services, we can use our spending to reward green energy leaders and incentivize others to change their ways and do better.
Buy green energy credits
I do not (yet) have solar on my roof, yet through my business I purchase green energy credits, funding more than enough renewables to account for my family's electricity consumption. Whether through nonprofits like NC Green Power here in North Carolina, or through dedicated clean energy providers in deregulated energy markets, most of us have options to buy green power in some shape or form.
Donate to renewable energy charities
From empowering African communities through the use of solar lighting to groups like the Rocky Mountain Institute who are reimagining our energy system, there are plenty of charities out there who are advancing the cause of solar. As Giving Tuesday, the charitable alternative to Black Friday, rapidly approaches, consider donating to one of these groups.
Cut your energy consumption
However much we invest in renewable energy, it will be a significant challenge to meet our growing energy demands—not least because most renewables are intermittent, meaning the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. By insulating our homes, by switching out our lightbulbs, and by keeping conservation and efficiency at the top of our minds, we can help to alleviate pressure on the grid and even out the peaks and troughs of energy demand. In doing so, we don't just cut our coal consumption directly. We also create a more manageable, predictable grid and make it easier to integrate renewables into the system.
Vote. Vote. Vote.
I would hope that this one is self evident, but our individual actions mean very little if we don't also put pressure on the system to change. As recent political events have shown, there are some who support clean energy, and some who don't. True, in the US particularly, even the most ambitious green-minded politicians are not yet talking about the kind of action that's really needed to curb climate change and build a 100% clean energy economy, but they are moving in the right direction. It's up to us to get them there faster.