Shrinking Cities

One of the biggest challenges for the world this century is how to accommodate the hundreds of millions of people who will flock to cities, especially in emerging economies. Coping with this human torrent will be fearsomely difficult but at least the problem is widely acknowledged. That is not true of another pressing urban dilemma: what to do with cities that are losing people.They are hardly unusual. Almost one in ten American cities is shrinking. So are more than a third of German ones and the number is growing. Although Japan’s biggest cities are thriving, large numbers of its smaller ones are collapsing. Several South Korean cities have begun to decline a trend that will speed up unless couples can somehow be persuaded to have more babies. Next will come China, where the force of rapid urbanisation will eventually be overwhelmed by the greater power of demographic contraction. China’s total urban population is expected to peak by mid-century; older industrial boom towns are already on a downward slope.

An abandoned street containing a rotting nursery or primary school is a sad sight. And declining cities have more than visual problems. Disused buildings deter investors and attract criminals; superfluous infrastructure is costly to maintain; ambitious workers may refuse to move to places where the potential clientele is shrinking. Where cities are economically self-sufficient, a smaller working population means a fragile base on which to balance hefty pension obligations. That is why Detroit went bust. So it is unsurprising that governments often try to shore up their crumbling smaller cities. Japan recently announced tax cuts for firms that are willing to move their headquarters out of thriving Tokyo. Office parks, art museums and tram lines have been built in troubled American and European cities, on the assumption that if you build it, people will come. For the most part, they will not. Worse, the attempt to draw workers back to shrinking cities is misconceived. People move from smaller to larger cities in countries like Germany and Japan because the biggest conurbations have stronger economies, with a greater variety of better-paying jobs. The technological revolution, which was once expected to overturn the tyranny of distance, has in fact encouraged workers to cluster together and share clever ideas. Britain’s productivity is pitiful these days (see article) but it is almost one-third higher in London than elsewhere.  Policies meant to counteract the dominance of big cities are not just doomed to fail but can actually be counter-productive. The most successful metropolises should be encouraged to expand by stripping away planning restrictions. If housing were more plentiful in the bigger conurbations it would be cheaper, and the residents of declining cities, who often have little housing equity, would find it easier to move to them. Rent controls and rules that give local people priority in public housing should go, too: they harm the poor by locking them into unproductive places.

A new kind of garden city

Even so, many people will stay stuck in shrinking cities, which will grow steadily older. Better transport links to big cities will help some. But a great many cannot be revived. In such cases the best policy is to acquire empty offices and homes, knock them down and return the land to nature—something that has worked in the east German city of Dessau-Rosslau and in Pittsburgh in America. That will require money and new habits of mind. Planners are expert at making cities work better as they grow. Keeping them healthy as they shrink is just as noble.

In the US at least, cities house poor people, often racial minorities or from lower classes, who global capitalism no longer wants to employ. The excesses of finance with harmful if not predatory mortgages, ended up kicking people out their houses, which become vacant and vandalized, driving people away from cities. Who will pay to restore or repair them? Excessive wealth inequality may favor a few high lifestyle metros, but also prevent capital from investing in places where the those who control capital seek only to exploit. Growing populations may keep property values inflated, but low and stagnant wages will not make cities liveable. Our biggest crisis is how to employ everyone, or if that is becoming more obsolete, to ensure that the productivity of the society is widely shared. Whether that happens in large metros, smaller cities or even repopulated and renewed farmlands is less important than that it happens at all.

Cities rise and fall. Take the former City States of Rome and Venice as two significant examples. This pattern will continue and the global pattern of key cities will also shift. Cities with strong economic drivers will prevail. Cities with attractive natural qualities will prevail. Cities which are well marketed and offer a better quality of life will prevail. Cities in countries whose governments offer significant financial and taxation advantages will prevail. Competition will always prevail at the Local, Regional, State, National and International level. Larger cities with characteristics such as those above will continue to prosper provided they can compete. Smaller centres located within short travel times to such cities will also benefit and transport technology here can play a large role. In addition locations with good cyber connections to people in such centres also have potential. The urban settlements patterns of the past and today will be quite different to those of tomorrow. Government will always have a regulatory role in ensuring that citizens are safe and prosperous and make a fair contribution to society. People will migrate to seek a better life. Those people captive to their own predicament and their country’s policies will be unable to move and policies of countries may restrict immigration. Humanity adapts.

By Naved Jafry


Tragedy Of The Homeless 

Every year over 70 million rural migrats are moving into urban centers around the world. Unfortunately most of them land up  into the slums of their new cities.  In such a situation can the buy-one-give-one model work for housing? Imagine if every slumdweller or homeless family on earth had their fully paid home. Thanks to our new social concious buyers Many such projects and proposals are well under way to make that a reality. Buy A Luxury Condo or home, Give A Slum Dweller A New Home is a reality and is launched one of the first partnership in the U.S. and India. Buy a new luxury condo in San Diego, and you can help build a home for a family currently living in a slum in Manila or Mumbai. The philosophy and the social impact behind this has inspired many developers a one-for-one real estate gifting model,” says Pete Dupuis, who co-founded World Housing with his business partner Sid Landolt in 2013, beginning with a development in Vancouver.


The business model is simple in theory: Real estate developers donate a portion of their marketing budget to the nonprofit, and then the nonprofit creates local factories that build low-cost homes in the developing world. Each home, which can cost about $5,000 in a place like Manila or Mumbai, is part of a bigger neighborhood with a playground, community garden, and other common areas. “Our mission at World Housing is to create social change by connecting the world to be a better community, so the idea of ‘community’ is foundational to how we think, design, and create our homes,” says Dupuis. In Cambodia, where the nonprofit has been building homes for the last two years, they’ve partnered with Cambodia Children’s Fund to help provide services like health care, nutrition, and education for residents.The team’s new project in Manila was inspired in part by a trip Dupuis took to a slum called Smokey Mountain, where about 300,000 people live in shacks in a landfill. “The abject poverty has left a lasting impression on how I saw the world,” he says. “However, the one thing I discovered was the welcoming and hopeful nature of the people there. One of my best memories was playing a game of pool in the middle of a slum, on a table reconstructed from garbage. The people made me feel like part of their family and I made a promise to myself that when World Housing opened we would return to help the people there.”

In India, anyone who buys a condo or house at any of its new developments in and near Mumbai, Houston and Tanzania called micro Cities will help change the lives of a family locally. The Bosa condo development in San Diego will fund 64 homes in Manila, housing 300 people.
The condos, which will be available in 2017, are polar opposites of the simple houses under construction in Manila, with amenities like ocean views, a pool and sauna, and even potentially an indoor dog run. But the developer thinks that buyers will respond to the idea of doing good as an added perk. “We hope to set a new norm in residential development and inspire buyers, who will be the driving force in building this community,” says Nat Bosa, president of Bosa Development, the company behind Pacific Gate. Companies such as Zeons Realty which builds off the grid Micro-Cities also donates to the local community in which it starts any project.  “We believe it will attract domestic and international buyers, so it is a natural progression for the company to expand its philanthropic footprint within the community it does business,” Garson Silvers says CEO for Zeons. World Housing has housed 2,000 people so far, and hopes to reach 30,000 by 2020. Bosa believes the model may start to spread in the development community. “As the industry continues to grow we believe this model of giving will also grow,” he says. “There’s nothing more powerful than having owners and developers see the physical impact they are having on a global scale. They are affecting lives in the most profound way.”

By Naved Jafry

Reference : A. Peters


climate change 3Cities’ roles in fighting climate change have been showcased in recent years. In July, mayors from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss climate change. Last year, a report from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group found that, on their own, cities had the potential to cut 8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In August, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in Foreign Policy that cities are “key” to fighting climate change.
Many of the most important new initiatives of this century — from the smoking ban adopted in New York City to the bus rapid transit system pioneered in Bogotá have emerged from cities,” Bloomberg wrote. “Mayors are turning their city halls into policy labs, conducting experiments on a grand scale and implementing large-scale ideas to address problems, such as climate change, that often divide and paralyze national governments. Cities around the world have suffered severely from climate change and pollution, so it makes sense that some of them are starting to find new ways to tackle climate change. Dry weather and major air pollution has made Santiago, Chile home to some of the worst air in the world. Beijing, China also regularly suffers from dangerous air pollution while Superstorm Sandy hit New York City hard.
climate change 5

Making cities greener could save a lot of, well, green, according to a new report. The report, published Tuesday by the New Climate Economy, found that if cities around the world implemented certain carbon-reducing strategies — including making buildings more efficient and investing in public transportation they could save a combined total of $17 trillion by 2050. The report looked at actions such as “aggressively” deploying high-efficiency lighting, “ambitiously” installing solar on buildings, increasing the fraction of methane captured from landfills, and expanding public transit. It found that, if all of the measures were implemented, cities would reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. That’s more, the report notes, than the annual emissions of India.
climate change 4Nick Godfrey, head of policy and urban development at the New Climate Economy, said in a statement that the amount of money saved by cities could be even higher. US$17 trillion in savings is actually a very conservative estimate, because it only looks at direct energy savings generated from investments which are a small proportion of the wider social, economic, and environmental benefit. The report recommends that cities make commitments to undertake these carbon-saving initiatives by 2020. On the national level, countries should implement support structures that incentivize city-wide efforts to reduce emissions. The international level, at least $500 million should be made available for cities to expand existing efforts to tackle climate change. The international community will be key in helping cities in developing nations find the capital they need to make these changes investing in improving the creditworthiness of these countries, for instance, can help them raise needed funds. That tactic has worked with cities in Uganda and Peru, the report points out. Overall there is now an increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow. Hence major cities committed to fighting climate change are on a trajectory to be feasible with good economics.

After Global Warming

climate change dualityFrom opening up of new, shorter and faster shipping routes, to access to key rare earth mining opportunities and the regeneration of forests and farmlands, it seems that not all is dull and gloomy for many climate change observers. If rainforests and the earth’s organisms are going to have a fighting chance of recovering their biodiversity and ecological complexity, these rare species and their priceless genes need to be ready and able to step into the new world. It might to be too late to save the world humanity knows and loves. But it still can do its best to make sure that the new one is just as good, better and/or resilient someday.

I know it is even taboo to talk about embracing climate change but an interesting experiment has caught my attention to look at a different perspective. A experiment conducted by Klaus Winter, a plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute tried to conjure the future. He planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 F and a peak of 102 F. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been. It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.

climate change bowlThe answer came as a surprise to those accustomed to dire warnings that climate change will turn the Amazon into a desert. The vast majority of Winter’s seedlings didn’t die. In fact, most thrived at significantly warmer temperatures than they experience today, growing faster and larger. Just two species succumbed to the heat, and only at the very highest temperatures. The trees’ success echoes paleontological data, which hints that warmer temperatures can be a boon for tropical forests. After all, the last time Earth experienced average temperatures of 95 F, there were rainforests in Michigan and palm trees in the Arctic. That doesn’t mean climate change won’t affect tropical forests of today. It already is. And it definitely doesn’t mean humans needn’t worry about global warming. Climate change will be the end of the world as we know it. But it also will be the beginning of another.
Mass extinctions will open ecological niches, and environmental changes will create new ones. New creatures will either naturally evolve or even be created or revived by us to fill the vaccumes. What this new world will look like, exactly, is impossible to predict, and humans aren’t guaranteed to survive in it. (And that’s if civilization somehow manages to survive the climate disasters coming its way in the meantime, from superstorms to sea level rise to agriculture-destroying droughts). Still, experiments like Winter’s offer a glimpse.
A Warmer Forest and New Farmlands

climate change agriculture
Adapting to a warmer world will be long and painful process for the rainforest, and many species won’t make it through. Even so, “there will still be tropical forests in 2100,” says Simon Lewis, a plant ecologist at University College London and the University of Leeds. They will probably even contain many of the same species ecologists know today, including some of the trees in Winter’s experiments.
It’s the relationships between those species, and the role each plays in the ecosystem, that will change—and, in turn, transform the entire forest. “The forests that come out of this change are probably going to be much different than the kinds of forests we have today,” says Christopher Dick, an evolutionary geneticist who studies tropical trees at the University of Michigan.
Winter’s data hints at one such change in forest structure. The three species that did the best under the highest temperature regime were the coralwood tree (Adenanthera pavonina) a species of fig tree called Ficus insipida, and the balsa tree (Ochroma pyramidale). Each is what Winter called “pioneer species,” fast-growing trees that can quickly move into cleared areas and take over. (F. insipida ups the ante, beginning life as vine that climbs up dead trees—and also living ones, eventually strangling them.)
These kinds of species are vital to a healthy rainforest, helping it regenerate after destructive events like a flood or the death and collapse of a large tree (when those things fall, they take out everything around them). But a mature rainforest needs the species that show up later, too. Those tend to be larger and longer-lived, stabilizing the forest and serving as ecological linchpins for insects, birds, monkeys, vines, and the rest of the ecosystem for decades or even centuries. And it was those so-called “climax species” that suffered the most under higher temperatures in Winter’s experiments.
That suggests that as climax tree species die in a warmer forest, they won’t be replaced. “One would expect that tropical futures of the future would be dominated by those nimble species that can disperse very well,” Lewis says. Pioneer trees that will put down roots anywhere, vines that grow into every nook and cranny, small rodents that reproduce quickly and scurry far, birds that can fly over vast swaths of land and aren’t too picky about where they nest. But that’s a small subset of the thousands of species found in tropical forests today. Without the rest of them, the rainforest will be a much simpler place.

An Acidic and Open Ocean

climate change shipDisturbingly, scientists have observed something similar happening in the ocean. Much of the carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere is eventually absorbed by the sea, gradually making the water more and more acidic. This process of ocean acidification can wreak havoc on marine invertebrates, dissolving their shells and then their fragile bodies.
But just like in the tropical forest, “there are always the winners as well as the losers of climate change,” says Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia. To get an idea of which species might thrive under ocean acidification, he headed to two places where underwater vents already spew carbon dioxide into the sea: Vulcano Island in Italy and White Island in New Zealand. “These CO2 vents are natural laboratories where you can get a peek into the future,” Nagelkerken explains.
As in Winter’s experiment, that future was far from lifeless. But the kind of life it supports has Nagelkerken worried. Carbon dioxide vents can occur in any marine ecosystem, from coral reefs to kelp forests to seagrass plains. But no matter where you are, life in the most acidic pockets looks strikingly similar. Immediately around a vent, all ecosystems “transform into systems that are dominated by turf algae—very short, fleshy algae with very little structural complexity,” Naglekerken explains. What’s more, “we did not observe a single predator on those vents.”
climate change articAs a result, the food web is dramatically simplified, the number of fish species drops, and the ecosystem becomes “much less valuable and productive.” Small grazing fish that love turf algae will probably excel in the acidic oceans of the future. But as they take over, “everywhere will start to look like everywhere else,” Nagelkerken says.
The new, homogenous ocean won’t be good for humans. The fish that are likely to thrive in the oceans of the future—small, adaptable species such as gobies and blennies—are, simply, not fish people like to eat. And even if human tastes evolved, those fish wouldn’t fill us up; most gobies clock in at fewer than 4 inches long. Humans like to eat big predators, like tuna and marlin—exactly the kind of species that had disappeared from the CO2 vents Nagelkerken studied. As ocean acidification restructures marine ecosystems, the first to go will be the fish that people rely on for money and food.

A New Evolutionary Order Of Things

climate change man
Of course, Homo sapiens may be the ultimate generalist, nimble enough to survive in almost every environment. We may be just like cockroaches or crocodiles and I would think we’ll stick around. We’ll see the disaster we’ve created.” But the recovery? Maybe not. For the oceans to adapt to the new climate and regain a level of productivity they enjoy today, “it’s not going to be in a few generations,” Nagelkerken says. “You could wait around for 10,000 years.” Similarly, we might be long gone by the time the Amazon looks anything like the complex forest of today. The flip side of mass extinction, however, is rapid evolution. And if you’re willing to take the long view like, the million-year long view there’s a ray of hope to be found in today’s rare species. The Amazon, in particular, is packed with plant species that pop up few and far between and don’t even come close to playing a dominant role in the forest. But they might have treasure buried in their genes.

Rare species especially those that are only distantly related to today’s common ones have all kind of traits that we don’t even know about. Perhaps one will prove to thrive in drought, and another will effortlessly resist new pests that decimate other trees. “These are the species that have all the possibilities for becoming the next sets of dominant, important species after the climate has changed. That’s why at that point I suggest as humans we may either have to adapt to an unpredictable and uncomfortable future or guide the change we may see fit.

This opinion is contributed by Garson Silvers and Naved Jafry


solar 2Solar perovskite cells, patterned with gold electrodes, await tests that
measure their efficiency at converting sunlight into electricity. (Plamen Petkov)

In the 1950s vertically integrated giants such as IBM and AT&T evolved its telecommunication and semiconductor businesses by having their global network of suppliers compete for its business at every step of the value chain including and not limited to redesigning components and dramatically improve the performance and cost of electronics. But if you look at how clustered sustainable technologies supply chains in China work, it demonstrates that it will only reinforce the industry’s focus on today’s technology, rather than allow competition to drive tomorrow’s advances.

For instances the next generation technologies of solar and LED are developed at a slower pace in laboratories all over instead of today’s promising technologies such as the solar perovskites that could beat silicon on efficiencies and costs many folds if ramped up to scale production. But the more the solar/LED industry concentrates and calcifies in China, the harder such a disruption will happen. By subsidizing its domestic manufacturers, China also subsidizes clean energy deployment around the world. But this sort of argument by pro-deployment activists suggests that China’s dominance in solar/LED manufacturing is a boon to the world. In the near term, they may be right as the solar deployment is booming around the world, fuelled by cheap Chinese panels. But in the long term, today’s silicon/LED technologies will not displace even a substantial fraction of fossil fuel energy. This near-term/long-term disparity stems from the economics of electricity grids as solar’s/LED’s value declines as its penetration on the grid increases.

solar ledTo look into this view a little deeper there are two reasons why dramatically superior technologies will likely not emerge if the solar/LED industry remains concentrated in China. Firstly, Chinese firms are more likely to pursue incremental process improvements and cost reduction e.g., optimizing factory layouts, strengthening supply chains rather than product innovation. Some might argue that this is a dated caricature of a newly dynamic Chinese innovation complex which benefits from lavish state-funded laboratories (cf. Chinese “State Key Labs”) and improved coordination among universities, research institutes, and corporations. Still, fundamental technology researchers in China are struggling to close the gap with Western counterparts, and most major manufacturers have displayed little interest in seriously funding alternative technologies. The second reason for pessimism is that if innovation flourishes only in a Chinese-dominated industry increases, vertical integration will eventually stifle disruptive change. For example China dominates not only the panel manufacturing business, but has consolidated the entire upstream supply chain within its borders, from polysilicon to solar cell production. Where the supply chain is not formally vertically integrated, it is de facto monolithic, simply by virtue of colocation in massive industrial centers like the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone.

solarFrom 2006 to 2011, venture capitalists invested over $25 billion in clean technologies and lost over half their money needless to say, VC interest in new solar start-ups today is minimal. But there still appears to be a silver lining when large U.S. companies can play a crucial role in driving innovation in solar and sustainable technologies. Firms like Applied Materials and Dupont still achieve levels of quality that the Chinese have been unable to replicate (in solar cell production equipment and materials, respectively), giving the United States a toehold in the solar supply chain. Moreover, two large solar panel makers First Solar and Sunpower are American and employ more advanced technologies than their Chinese competitors. And SolarCity, a downstream residential solar installer, recently acquired an innovative solar technology company and will produce its own panels in Buffalo, New York. These American solar players are far more amenable than Chinese counterparts to exploring new technologies for commercialization, and they have the sector expertise, manufacturing prowess, and project pipeline to bring new solar technology to market where VCs failed. State incentives such as those that attracted SolarCity to New York, can support American companies to drive local economies. I would strongly recommend more federal research funding to be aimed at fostering partnerships between major American firms and cutting-edge research in universities and national research laboratories. Ideally we can look forward to a time when sustainable technologies such as solar is an industry waiting to be disrupted in the US and eventually worldwide.

Transformation Of A Liveable City to A Smart City Through Its Citizens

citizen engagement 3
There is a small but fundamental difference between a ‘smart’ city and a ‘liveable’ one, and it pivots on citizen participation. Cities which directly engage their residents in creating solutions to systemic challenges such as climate change are more likely to deliver successful outcomes, and establish liveable urban communities.
citizen engagement 5

This approach is at the core of Seoul’s Eco-Mileage System – a citizen participation project that rewards households and businesses with refunds based on the reductions they make in greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a timely approach given that South Korea is among the world’s top 10 carbon emitters.
Every participant must show that they have reduced their electricity, water, gas, or district heating consumption by at least 10 per cent, compared to the previous two years. This progressive measure pushes households and organisations to think long-term about their energy efficiency, rather than short-term fixes, and as a result, the percentage of buildings that have reduced energy consumption has increased from 38.4 per cent in 2010 to 56.5 per cent in 2012.

Since the project began in 2009, the Municipal Government estimates it has stopped the emission of 1.46 million tons of CO2. The benefits of this can be seen right across the social, financial and environmental spectrum, by generating cleaner air and contributing to cheaper utility bills. What’s perhaps most surprising about this initiative is that is has 1.88 million members, and counting. This is remarkable for a voluntary scheme, and is testament to the value that citizen engagement brings to complex and overlapping sustainability issues. It is even more remarkable that it has been introduced into every elementary school in the city, which drives behavioural change from an early age and deepens a cultural mind set around environmental adaptation.Those participants who show repeated energy reductions over time are encouraged to dig even deeper into their carbon offsetting by accruing mileage points, which can be redeemed on a wider range of benefits including transport vouchers and LED lamps.
citizen engagementFor those seeking more personalised approaches to energy reduction, the programme offers energy consultants who can create tailored schemes – and every participant is freely able to track and adjust their progress through a simple online platform.
South Korea is projected to reach emissions totalling 850.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. It is no wonder that Seoul South Korea’s beating heart – has honed in on this urgent concern. With a new nationwide pledge to reduce the country’s emissions by a hefty 37 per cent by 2030, Seoul will undoubtedly pave the way by demonstrating that people-powered solutions can create the most lasting changes.
This innovation is part of Sustainia100; a study of 100 leading sustainability solutions from around the world. The study is conducted annually by Scandinavian think tank Sustainia that works to secure deployment of sustainable solutions in communities around the world. This year’s Sustainia100 study is freely available at

How Making Solar Accesseble & Affordable To All Can Change The Energy Future

solar financing      We all would love to see free limitless electricity generated by the sun. But while it’s great to see large homes owned by wealthy pioneers being solar-powered, rooftop solar should be accessible to people across the socio-economic spectrum everywhere. But putting solar on all of these different roofs is currently a serious challenge. Even with lowered PV costs and the prevalence of third-party financing programs, solar is largely out of reach for many low-income families. Many are renters who do not own their homes, putting them at the mercy of their landlord. For those that do own their homes, few have enough tax liability to take full advantage of federal and state tax incentives for rooftop solar. That’s largely a moot point anyway, since even with incentives the steep upfront cost of rooftop solar puts a PV system financially out of reach for low-income families. That’s where third-party leasing can come in, but many low-income families have low credit scores and most solar leasing companies require a higher credit score. It’s one potential financial barrier after another.
Fortunately, there are groups around the world working to overcome these barriers to market participation and ultimately bring solar to low-income households. Giving low-income families access to solar PV systems can help lower their utility bills, provide employment opportunities, and bring about an element of environmental and economic justice.

Saving Money
Low-income families spend over twice the proportion of their total income on energy bills than the average person with a higher income. When low-income families have high energy bills one of the first thing they often skimp on is food. Researchers from the Boston Medical Center have found that children in energy-insecure households don’t get enough food, have poorer health, and are more prone to developmental problems. One way to lower energy bills and keep food on the table is to power homes with solar photovoltaics.
I believe that Low-income families pay into the rebate pool like everyone else. Yet often, even with rebates, they can’t afford a solar home system. Grid Alternatives, or simply Grid, as it is fondly called, is a nonprofit organization providing low- to no-cost PV systems to low-income families throughout California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Homeowners who earn 80 percent or less of the median income and have a solar-appropriate roof qualify for a Grid Alternatives PV system. “We see people save an average of 50 to 75 percent off their electric bill. Money that can go towards paying their mortgage, putting food on the table, or saving for college.
Grid works with local partners to find qualifying families. The families do not have to put any money down, but do have to contribute 16 hours of sweat equity. They can work in the Grid office, help on the installation, or even cook lunch for the installation volunteers. They then pay $0.02 per kilowatt-hour for what their system produces. It’s a small price to pay for leasing the system, often adding up to only about $100 per year, but according to Chuck Watkins, executive director of Grid Alternatives–Colorado, “we want the homeowners highly engaged with their system and aware of their energy usage.”
solar saving graphA similar organization, Citizens Energy, provides free solar PV systems that reduce homeowners’ electricity costs by 40 to 50 percent in the Imperial Valley of California, an area with the highest unemployment rate in the country. With temperatures in the area climbing to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, homeowners can have a difficult time paying for the electricity to run their cooling systems. Citizens Energy uses 50 percent of its profits from its share of the Sunrise Powerlink high-voltage transmission line that brings renewable energy to the San Diego region to purchase, install, and maintain the systems. The homeowner signs a 20-year lease only after they receive a free energy audit and weatherization services. One of the 200 homeowners to receive the free PV system saw her monthly summer electricity bill go from $350 to $85.
A statewide program in California is also helping low-income families. SASH (Single-family Affordable Solar Homes) provides fully subsidized 1 kW systems to very-low-income households (50 percent or below the area median income), and highly subsidized systems to other low-income households. The incentives for the subsidized systems range from $4.75 to $7.00 per watt, depending on the customer’s utility rate schedule and tax liability. Incentives are higher for customers who cannot take advantage of the ITC. Over 3,600 systems have been installed, and participating families’ electricity bills have been reduced by approximately 80 percent.
Green Jobs
Another benefit to bringing solar access to low-income families is increasing employment opportunities. Low-income communities often have high rates of unemployment. Yet more than 140,000 people are employed in the solar industry, more than half of them in installation jobs that can’t ever be outsourced. That’s a drop in the bucket of the 46.5 million Americans currently living in poverty, but with solar installations growing at a rate of 40 percent, those jobs are going to keep growing as well. Grid Alternatives, for its part, installs its systems with local volunteers and partners with job training organizations to provide hands-on field experience students need to get certified as solar installers and to get jobs. Partners include community colleges and vocational schools, the Center for Employment Training, YouthBuild, Veterans Green Jobs, and Green City Force.
At a recent installation in Carbondale, Colorado, twelve local volunteers along with the homeowner helped install a 3.6 kW system for Dan and Pam Rosenthal.  Volunteer comes out to at least four to six installs where they can get valuable hands-on experience as well as experience in leading crews, and a lot of our team leaders end up getting employed in the industry.

Environmental Justice
Clean energy access for low-income Americans is not just an issue of economics, but an issue of justice, as well. Lower-income people are more susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change, may be more affected by urban pollution, and face health issues from living closer to coal plants. Often times low-income families are the ones most affected by pollution but with solar in the mix it’s nice to see that they too can be part of the climate change solution.
Even more important is that the new systems are estimated to save 75 percent off their monthly electric bill each month along with the amount of CO2 that families will be offsetting in the lifetime of their system, helping communities reach its carbon footprint goals.
Over all I think cities around the world should embark on a minimum goal of generating 35 percent of its electricity by renewable energy by 2020. It’s a big goal but through participation from everyone, smart solar businesses can help erase the financial barriers to to the future of energy.