BLOG - Some News Under the Sun

We use our Web Log (Blog) to report on relevant news and opinion that relate to Solar and Solar-Plus related technologies.

Zinc Air Battery Breakthrough

posted Sep 28, 2018, 8:54 AM by Susan Bryer-Shelton   [ updated Sep 28, 2018, 9:55 PM ]

Visionary policy and entrepreneurial persistence are driving innovation in energy storage technology. These are the kinds of breakthroughs we'll need to move to the next generation of solar implementation: solar + storage = this is how to "make the sun shine at night."

Technology Disruption Alert!

posted Mar 22, 2018, 3:07 PM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Mar 22, 2018, 3:19 PM ]

Recently I was given the opportunity to view a 1-hour long presentation by renowned San Francisco-based technology disruption expert Tony Seba.

Tony Seba
What Mr. Seba has to say will keep you on your toes, and in awe of the technology innovations that await in energy and transportation. Before you purchase a new gas or diesel car, build a new home, or invest in ANYTHING that is fossil-fuel related, you need to watch this presentation!

So grab your lunch and an electrically-heated cup of coffee, and settle in for an hour of inspiration and information that you will not soon forget!

click here to Roll the Film

Geoffrey Smith

Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator

Center for Climate Protection

Darned the Solar Import Tariffs, Full Speed Ahead

posted Mar 18, 2018, 11:08 AM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Mar 18, 2018, 11:16 AM ]

Position Statement on Solar Module Import Tariff

Synergy Solar Ground Mount Installation

posted Dec 19, 2017, 3:09 PM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Dec 19, 2017, 3:17 PM ]

Synergy Groundmount

New Solar Sonoma County Intern Jake Saville

posted Aug 31, 2017, 2:20 PM by   [ updated Aug 31, 2017, 2:31 PM by Geoffrey Smith ]

My name is Jake Saville, and I am a 26-year-old intern at Solar Sonoma County. I am currently pursuing my B.S degree in Energy Management and Design from Sonoma State University, and plan on completing the program by December 2018. Before becoming a transfer student at SSU, I spent four years enlisted in the United States Air Force as Aerial Porter or Air Transportation specialist. Now that my enlisted career has come to an end I am interested in entering the renewable energy field, primarily Solar, but I also have a lot of interest in Green Building and other areas. My connection to the Santa Rosa area stems from finishing my last few years of High School at Novato High and furthering my education at Santa Rosa Junior college before my enlistment. I am a friendly person who enjoys among other things; hiking, swimming, backpacking, and watching sports. If you want to know more, don't hesitate to ask.

Go with a local solar vendor and own your solar rooftop installation!

posted Mar 1, 2017, 5:07 PM by Christine Rogers   [ updated Aug 31, 2017, 2:12 PM by Geoffrey Smith ]

By Chris Rogers, Solar Energy Program Intern

If you had solar panels installed on your roof over the last decade, you more than likely do not own your installation because you entered into a 3rd party contract with the vendor.  Now however, due to the increased demand for solar power, lower prices, the simplicity of financing and solar-friendly state policies, more opportunities have opened up for local solar installers across the country.  This means you can work with a local vendor, obtain local financing and buy your rooftop solar installation so that you own it outright when it’s paid off.

You can read the complete article about this solar news update, written by Andrew Beebe called “The Revenge of the Long Tail” at

Andrew Beebe states that over the last decade, non-local national solar companies have helped bring solar within reach for millions of Americans with what is known as ‘the tax equity-based power purchase agreements’ (PPAs). These contracts allow third parties to own individual systems and sell energy generated by them.  During the period from 2010-2014, we saw a market dominated by a few third-party ownership players, with no room for the thousands of small solar installers across the country.  

Today, local vendors can offer simplified loans to home and business owners, giving them real ownership in their low-cost clean energy future.  A loan is much less complex, but also does not require specific tax equity partners and therefore can easily be offered by a smaller scale solar installer.  The County of Sonoma also offers financing for solar installations through their Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP).  Going local makes sense and brings competition back to the local level for the national players.

Contact us today and we can answer any questions you have about converting your home or business to solar energy, solar financing or getting a referral to a trustworthy local vendor.

Geoffrey Smith, Your Clean Energy Advocate

Solar Sonoma County, a program of The Center for Climate Protection.

Getting Personal About the Sun’s Energy

posted Feb 28, 2017, 12:00 PM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Mar 4, 2017, 8:57 AM ]

Getting Personal About the Sun’s Energy

By Geoffrey Smith, Solar Energy Program Coordinator

That gigantic star in the sky that we call our ‘Sun’ has been a focal point of human culture and reflection since us humanoids set our biped feet on the planet. In this modern era of photovoltaic technology, we are redefining our human connection to this intergalactic source of life. A new documentary movie, ‘Catching the Sun’, shares the very personal stories of some people who are discovering a new relationship with their Sun in exciting and meaningful ways.

Catching the Sun at Congregation Shomrei Torah
I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion following a recent showing of ‘Catching the Sun’ at Congregation Shomrei Torah’s ‘Social Action Goes to the Movies’ film series. (Photo: Geoffrey's selfie in the crowd during the film.) For the crowd of over 160 who viewed the movie that evening, rooftop solar became much more than a technology. Our panelists brought home many of the themes in the film:

  • Panelist Laura Goldman’s story of her and her husband’s success with their Sebastopol-based company, ‘Solar Works’, mirrored that of the Chinese entrepreneur in the film whose vision of a solar-powered future has created thousands of jobs world-wide.

  • The film chronicles the personal stories of several individuals who have found work and meaning in the solar industry, stories that mirror panelist Tor Allen’s work in education and developing school curriculum through his ‘Solar Schoolhouse’ and ‘Solarize Sebastopol’ initiatives, which have inspired many to pursue solar on their own homes, and even careers in the solar industry

  • The film talks about young people entering the workforce who are faced with a tough job market and lack of skills. Our panelist Alana Macken is a high school sophomore and a member of the Youth Advisory Board of the Center for Climate Protection. She described the challenge she faces in the classroom learning about climate change when the curriculum, school administrators and even classmates make it difficult to obtain science-based factual information about climate change and renewable energy.

  • The film’s lead character is Van Jones, whose work with Green for All led to his appointment as President Barack Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs. In his role as Clean Energy Advocate, panelist Geoffrey Smith challenged the audience to take action now by choosing to go solar on their own homes and businesses, and to engage with local elected officials at the regional, state and federal levels to promote strong laws and regulations that support distributed rooftop solar.

In the context of today’s national political landscape (POTUS 45), the stories of personal engagement that were shared this evening filled me with hope for a future that is bright with solar energy. It will be a long road to sustainability, but we are all on that road now. I am hopeful. What else can I be?

(Visit to learn how you can watch this film on your PC or TV.)

PS - Half the fun of putting on events like this is the promotion!

KSRO Drivetime with Jaxon
Geoffrey in the studio with Drive with Steve Jaxon on KSRO

Geoffrey with co-panelist Laura Goldman in Laura's Living Room on KOWS

'Catching the Sun' (the movie)

posted Feb 22, 2017, 2:34 PM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Feb 22, 2017, 2:37 PM ]

Catching the Sun
Catching the Sun

Saturday, Feb. 25, 7 pm 

Congregation Shomrei Torah

2600 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

 “Catching the Sun” shines a solar powered light on how we can confront climate change by accelerating our transition to renewable energy, and in the process create needed jobs and train people to fill them.  In this NY Times Critics’ Pick, hope for the future rests in an unlikely set of characters: an unemployed American worker, the charismatic activist Van Jones, a Tea Party solar advocate, and a Chinese solar entrepreneur.  


A panel discussion following the film will feature local experts: Geoffrey D. Smith, Coordinator, Solar Sonoma County, a program of the Center for Climate Protection; Laura Goldman, educator and consultant on solar energy and VP of Solar Works; Tor Allen, Executive Director, The Rahus Institute; Alana Macken, Youth Advisory Board, Center for Climate Protection.

Come early! Representatives from groups working on these issues will be present to share information.  

Open to the public. Free (donations accepted). Limited parking, carpools encouraged!

This is the second film in the fifth annual Social Action Goes to the Movies award winning series. Theme of the 2017 series is: Sparks of Hope: Healing Through Innovation and CreativityThe series is sponsored by the Social Action Committee of Congregation Shomrei Torah and has 20 co-sponsors—local synagogues, churches, and community groups.

 The final film in the series:  "Homes for the Homeless--A Better Way," a snapshot of homelessness and some new solutions, Saturday, March 25, 7 pm.  Save the date!

Return from Standing Rock

posted Dec 24, 2016, 8:21 AM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Dec 24, 2016, 8:23 AM ]

Our Qualified Vendor member, Barry Cogbill, recently delivered ten off-grid solar/battery power systems to the water protectors at Standing Rock. This is his story.
I want to say thank you for all of the support you gave me, helping me get to and from Standing Rock, and accomplish some good things while I was there.  With your help, over a 2 week period, we built 10 off-grid solar arrays to support Oceti Sakowin camp, the prayerful camp located closest to the front lines where the DAPL pipeline is being constructed.  

While no one knows how this will ultimately play out, one this is now certain:  the world is now watching.

Standing Rock solar
There’s so much processing to do after coming back from Standing Rock. I’m still waiting for my toes to feel normal again, here’s hoping they do. This trip was the hairiest, most difficult endeavor I’ve ever done. Getting there was hard, being and working there was hard, and returning home was hard. No one ever said that answering a calling would be anything but. I’ve never felt called before, but I most certainly did in this circumstance.

Once I started paying attention to what was really happening at Standing Rock, the more I learned about the human rights abuses, and the utter lack of media reporting on it, I knew I had to go. I couldn’t not go. I started asking around, not knowing who I would travel with, or if my idea of bringing solar would be well received. But once I set a travel date of November 21st, magic and serendipity started occurring in profound ways.

I attended a training in Oakland (who knew I’d ever hear a lecture on what to do if tear gassed), and met 3 of my 5 travel mates. One has solar experience. With another, sitting on a cob bench in Oakland which was made by an unbeknownst mutual friend sealed the deal. 6 of us left from my house on the 21st, having placed tremendous faith in one another.

A solar colleague’s wife contacted me. She had spent summers as a youth near Standing Rock. She brought a friend in to the conversation, and between the two of them, they ensured us a welcome entrance in to camp. We also got to meet the spiritual leader of the Sioux peoples, Arvol Looking Horse, as a result of this connection. Thank you both so much.

When my van broke down in Buffalo, WY, we had the good fortune of renting the last box truck in town, a
Standing Rock solar
truck that wasn’t supposed to be available. With a lot of trepidation, we arrived at Oceti Sakowin camp on Thanksgiving day. It was clear, but cold. We’d heard of all kinds of trouble people were running in to on the way to camp. Vehicles being searched, rerouted and/or denied access to the camp. Somehow, even with a big ‘ol box truck, we managed to avoid all of this. We even randomly parked right next to friends, who we had hoped to find at some point during our stay. And guess who came with a cob pizza oven the very next day? Sir Cobalot himself, maker of benches and cementer of friendships, catching us completely by surprise!

Only 4 days before our arrival, hundreds of water protectors were trapped on a bridge and sprayed with high volume water cannons. A women’s arm was decimated by a concussion grenade (still not sure if her arm was saved). I have aging parents who count on me. I had to remain safe, but what guarantee was there? We learned that airplanes not only crop dusted people at the front line, but also over the camp. This singular possibility was my greatest fear. Followed close behind by susceptibility to injury, either at camp or traveling to get there and back.

We offered tobacco prayers and smudged ourselves and vehicles with sage. I felt like our prayers were answered. Even with the van troubles and extra costs, I knew something bigger than ourselves was protecting us.

Standing Rock solar
I feel quite fortunate that no ugly confrontations with the “law” occurred during our time there. No pepper spraying, tear gassing, rubber bullets, dog attacks, crop dusts, baton beatings, etc. Most of these things were happening at the “front lines”, where the water protectors would gather to pray and sing and try to engage with the militarized force that was there. Some cops actually deciding they could not participate in the harming of innocent people and resigned their posts. Airplanes and helicopters constantly flew over the camp (with no identifying FAA registration numbers). It was clear they were “just” doing surveillance. I always gave them a big smile.

I decided that I could not risk going to the front lines. But I could play a supporting role around camp, build and deploy some welcome solar, and I could shine a spotlight in a way that was not being done to much degree. It turns out the latter was the most important thing I accomplished. So many people let me know how valuable they found the information I reported. So many others started to pay attention and learn about the standoff because it now had a familiar face attached to it.

The media finally came. Where were they before? Paid off? Scared? I can’t say. Maybe it was the Veterans announcing their support and expected arrival that got the media to pay attention and show up. Regardless, bless the Vets. What a huge statement their presence made.

Long about day 10, I had a long conversation with a camp neighbor, Mike. He’s my age, works in energy, and is full Native American. It took a while for Mike to lower his guard. It was clear he’d been taken advantage of before by, well, white folks. Over about 90 minutes of talking, he started to warm up. We both wound up better people as a result of our time together. He talked about how we need to find love for the DAPL folks, even though they work to harm the land, the water, and the people. I have some work to do in this regard.

By the time we left camp, I felt good about accomplishing what I set out to do. We built 10 solar arrays and deployed 9 of them (we gave one to Arvol but were not able to set it up yet). The whole world now knows about Standing Rock and the struggle there. I know I had a small piece in delivering this message.

More serendipity found us as we left camp and started on the long drive home. A blizzard cut our driving day to 2 hours. We took refuge in a nearby casino, as thousands of others decided to do. We were able to deliver Arvol’s solar panels to him there, and bear witness to an amazing congregation of Native Americans and US Veterans. Conversations, ceremonies and healing ensued. I am so grateful for what I experienced there.

We spent two nights at the casino, which was completely overrun by the sheer number of people there. With very little organization, people just figured it out. We all took care of one another and I think most folks felt blessed to experience the energy and power that was on full display in the middle of a blizzard.

Finally the weather broke and we headed south to pick up my van in Rapid City. 24 hours after that, we arrived in Santa Rosa, where my housemate (and brother from another mother) had hot coconut chocolate waiting for us, along with a shot of whiskey. I was never happier to be home! My folks were never happier either.

I’m flat broke as a result of this trip, but mostly don’t care. I’m sure I’ll care more next month. The van repair and box truck rental costs overran my fundraising efforts by nearly $5000. I am humbly still accepting donations (…/solar-for-standing-rock).

I want to give a sincere thank you to all who have supported me along the way. Besides the monetary and equipment contributions, so many of you made me feel loved and connected. I felt your prayers for my safe return. Thank you for reaching out to me. I have never felt such gratitude for the people in my life. Thank you all.

As I reflect back on all that happened, all that I witnessed, all I pondered, I am left with some messages I’d like to share with you. The first is that cars can now run on sunshine. The combination of solar and electric vehicles is the way of the future, and the technology is here now. We do not need yet another pipeline. Buy an electric vehicle next time around. I sure will.

Next is that the Standing Rock movement is about social and environmental justice versus greed and
Standing Rock solar
contempt. I will fight for the rest of my life for the former and against the latter. How can I not? How can any of us not? We are up against well capitalized companies who can defy Presidential orders, ignore permit denials, bring their own military with them, and really do not care what or who they injure. They are powerful and rich and hard to stand up to. But stand we will.

This brings me to my last message: an old friend texted me while I was at camp. He said this struggle, this movement, is the awakening of a sleeping giant. That giant is us, we the people, with liberty and justice for ALL. The fight is far from over. No one said it would be easy. Please join me.

#NODAPL Water is Life Mni Wiconi

See more photos of the mission here.
Barry Cogbill
Pathways Energy
Discover your pathway to clean energy
m 707.479.2344
o  707.696.2344

Goodbye NEM. Hello NEM2!

posted Dec 16, 2016, 12:17 PM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Dec 16, 2016, 12:50 PM ]

Rooftop Solar by Synergy Solar
Pacific Gas & Electric met it's 5%* (2409 MW) 'NEM Cap' on December. As a result, all new rooftop solar interconnects fall under the successor NEM2 program. Thanks to the efforts of a united front of distributed solar advocates, including Solar Sonoma County and CALSEIA, NEM2 preserves full retail rate for solar credits -- a very good thing!  There are however some new costs associated with going solar at your home or business.  Going solar is still the best thing you can do at your home to reduce greenhouse gases.  And it *still* makes a lot of financial sense!

NEM is the program, established by the state regulators, that determines the compensation rate for solar energy that is generated by rooftop solar 'behind the meter'. It is defined as the 'net' of energy consumed from the grid, less energy produced by the panels.  

Read about the NEM2.0 changes here. (PDF)

A more thorough treatment of the subject, including the definition of NEM -- or 'Net Energy Metering' -- can be found here.

*5% of aggregate customer peak demand for the PG&E service area

(Photo: Synergy Solar)

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