Interview with Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar

Welcome to Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar – a residential solar developer based in Colorado.

Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar
Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar

What does Sunsense Solar do?

In a nutshell we design solar PV systems and then build them for our customers. We are based in Colorado so most of our work happens here, although we have provided some consultation and design services for projects in other states. We have a very robust residential department and have successfully shepherded many larger projects to fruition in the public sphere – mostly with our local municipalities, counties and school districts. Finding financing mechanisms that can work for public entities is one of our specialties. Its not always easy as energy rates in Colorado are pretty low compared to much of the rest of the country. Aside from that, we have deep experience in battery based systems as Sunsense Solar has been working with off grid clients since we started in 1990. Now we are using that experience for our utility connected clients as the Solar+Storage market gains traction. We have also been able to pursue opportunities in the community solar market, building some smaller solar gardens (2 – 5 MW) for our local utility company. And we have a service department fulfilling operations and maintenance contracts and responding to reactive service calls. We do a lot – it’s a bustle of activity at the Sunsense Solar office!

What do you think the main benefits of solar energy are for residential customers? Are there any downsides people should know about?

Installing solar on your home allows you to reduce or even eliminate your electricity bill, earn returns on your investment and increase the value of your property. Beyond that going solar will minimize your environmental impact and help to address issues such as climate change and health problems related to carbon emissions. Each individual solar installation reduces our collective dependence on fossil fuels. There are no downsides to installing solar per se but there could be plenty of downsides to selecting the wrong solar installer! It pays to educate yourself and choose a solar installer than has the necessary experience, certifications and longevity in the industry. You can find more resources on our website including information on how to choose a solar contractor.

Happy Homewoners with Sunsense Solar Array

What motivates your customers to purchase solar energy systems, is it mainly a smart financial transaction or are they mainly focused on the environmental benefits? Some other reason?

Well actually it depends entirely on the customer. Different clients have different motivations. We try to have a consultative approach to all of our interactions with potential clients – listening to their goals and motivations allows us to custom design a system that fully meets their expectations. There is a range of buyer “types” in the residential market.  Many of them have some kind of environmental motivation, although the majority are also hoping for financial savings. The cost of solar has come down substantially in the past few years and with the federal tax credit still in place it’s easy to achieve a fairly reasonable return on investment. Decision makers for commercial projects are much more focused on the financial benefits – which makes sense as they have a fiscal responsibility to the business – but as demonstrated by companies like IKEA, Google, Apple, Whole Foods and others, investing in solar is a smart financial decision that allows businesses to hedge against electricity price volatility and inflation.

What is one thing most people don’t know about solar energy?

Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth — 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use!

Ribbon Cutting for 83 kW solar array at Carbondale Water Treatment Plant

What are the main challenges in your industry?

Policy measures have been critical in driving the industry forward but as these measures come and go it creates a potential boom bust cycle for the solar industry which is a challenging environment in which to create a sustainable business.

We also face some technical challenges as renewable energy reaches grid penetration levels that our aging grid transmission and distribution system cannot handle. Upgrades are needed to the gird system to maintain stability and reliability of delivery including the addition of storage and more cooperation between the individual grid balancing authorities.

If you could have one wish immediately granted for the energy industry what would it be?

I wish we could all agree that the climate is warming and that burning fossil fuels is contributing to that situation. Its clear that we need to transition to a 100% renewable energy economy and if we could all get on the same page about that then we can work together to over come the hurdles to getting there. Obstructionist policies at the Federal level are short sighted and dangerous and ignoring the climate issue is having very real consequences to the well-being of mankind and the planet we live on. Consequences of a warming planet include economic destabilization, famine, fires, floods and conflict – all of which translates to human suffering. Fortunately, there are reasons to be optimistic in spite of a lack of leadership on climate at a federal level.

100% solar powered high school

Do you have any role models or people you look up to?

I have great admiration for anyone working towards making solar energy more accessible to the low-income population in the Western World or implementing solar projects to provide energy access where there has been none in Developing Nations. There is a connection between affordable energy access and the alleviation of poverty and solar has a strong role to play in improving quality of life for the majority of the worlds population that don’t have the privileges that many of us take for granted in the US, such as clean water, light by which to study or electricity to run a small business.

Thank you Katharine Rushton for coming on the Climate, Sustainability, Technology Blog! 

Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral though Amazon Alexa by saying “Alexa, order Carbon Neutral.”

Interview with Joyce Hu of the Sustainable Surf Brand Marlin Ray

What is Marlin Ray and what do you do?

Marlin Ray is a surf inspired brand that produces fashion and outdoor accessories. I am one of the co-founders of Marlin Ray, along side my husband, Josh Berry. It’s just the two of us!

Marlin Ray Sustainable Surf Brand
Marlin Ray – a very cool sustainable surf brand based in California.

What product of yours are you most excited about?

Our fair trade, carbon neutral surf poncho will always be our hero product. It’s why the brand was created. When I met my husband, I watched him change in and out of his wet suit with a raggedy old towel precariously wrapped around his waist, with his entire upper body exposed to the chilly northern California coastal air. I looked online for a changing poncho and all I found was cheap, ugly polyester ponchos or very expensive, one-off, hand sewn ponchos. I’ve been working for a fair trade factory in Kenya for almost 10 years and had the entire supply chain accessible for a changing poncho that fit my design aesthetic, price point and values. So I had to do it!

You have a supply chain transparency policy – can you talk about that?

Because we have a very small supply chain with small batch productions, we are able to be completely transparent with where we get all of our materials and trims. If and when we grow, we will continue our commitment to transparency, disclosing the source of all of materials and trims – as far as we can. You can read the details of our supply chain on our website.

What does sustainability mean to you as a business owner?

Sustainability means doing everything in my power to do business in the most ethical way possible. As a small producer, it’s much easier to make more sustainable choices. But as the size of the producer grows, it becomes much harder to make or transition to more sustainable materials and means of production. The bigger the company, it becomes more about a choice of trade offs and hyper focused initiatives, i.e. slowly transition to all organic cotton, but can’t phase out polyester. The advantage of being small is of course the ability to go deeper. And the advantage of being big is one commitment can make a big impact on the ground level.
As a business owner engaged in direct communication with consumers, I also feel the responsibility to bring more awareness about the dangers of our consumption and support of unethical producers. Engaged and concerned consumers can find resources and brands to decrease their carbon impact, like our guide to sustainable buying.

You’ve recently become plastic free – how did you do it?

We actually launched being almost plastic free. There are some things that we just can’t avoid, i.e. polyester thread for strength (but we’re close to finding a source) Also, for international shipping, you have to protect the garments from moisture. In this case, we have lined our boxes with plastic salvaged from the delivery of our bolts of fabric. Most brands have to individually wrap each garment because they get delivered to many distributors. Right now, there is not a good compostable bag option for this purpose. Recycled plastic is the only option. Some “bio plastics” claim to be compostable but they just breakdown to fine plastic dust!

Do you have any business role models?

Mara Hoffman and Stella McCartney are my top two.

Are there any additional shout outs you’d like to make?

Would definitely like to shout out to Wildlife Works factory.

Thank you Joyce Hu for coming on the Climate, Sustainability, Technology Blog! 

Graham Majorhart is the founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral in 1 click through Amazon.com.

Renewable Energy Leadership Sits in Asia – Can we bring it to the USA?

Asia Pacific (APAC) takes the lead and holds it when it comes to renewable energy investment globally. While this is a major boom to the economies of Asia, it’s a loss that the Americans and Europeans are not investing similar amounts.

Trends Point to Asia

The global leaders in solar panel production have already shifted from Germany to China (around 2012 the shift began) and a similar phenomenon may be in the process for wind energy. The largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world is Vestas – located in Denmark. However, for one year in 2015 the Chinese firm Goldwind – headquartered in Beijing – was the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. While there is more likely to be regional strongholds in the wind turbine production due to the size of turbines and requirements to manufacture locally, it’s interesting to note the shifting areas of expertise again drifting towards China and Asia. Follow the money. Furthermore, follow the investment, and see where the future money will be.

Renewable Energy Investment Globally
Renewable Energy Investment Globally – changing trends of leadership to APAC from Europe. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Between 2011 and 2014 the global leadership position of investment into renewable energy shifted to the Asia Pacific region (APAC) – and the Asian investors have never looked back. This is a sorry state of affairs for two regions who had a decade-long lead to invest in renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Investment by Region
Renewable Energy Investment by Region. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Every quarter since Q2 2014 through the end of 2017, APAC has enjoyed at least $32 Billion in renewable energy investment, with the largest quarterly investment hitting $50 Billion. To put that into perspective, the Americas have never made more than $22 Billion in RE investment – ever. EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) peaked historically in the $35 Billion / quarter investment range – however that was in 2010 and 2011.

Europe has given up its leadership position in renewable energy investment and the Americas still lag behind, investing less than 1/2 of was Asians did in renewables in 2017. This is a huge opportunity for the USA to take a leadership role in investment, production and high-tech expertise related to these industries. Will we get the investment dollars to make it happen? Will we get the political support to boost our economy in the RE sector?

The advantages from renewables are threefold:

  1. Grow energy jobs now
  2. Reduce energy costs in the short run and long run
  3. Reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions

Investing in renewables is a win-win-win. Let’s hope that the USA will begin to take a leadership role in bringing the Americas to the top of this investment list.


Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral through Amazon.com

The main reason electric cars will succeed – they are better, cheaper cars

Beautiful, top-performing electric vehicles are here and more are on the horizon.

The Porche Mission-E electric vehicle, as seen in Berlin in April 2018, is going into production in 2019.

The Porche Mission-E electric vehicle will go into production in 2019 with a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph) and an expected range of over 500 km (310 mi)…and looks extremely cool.

Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is the quickest production car in the world: from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds.

The quickest car in the world today is already an electric car – the Tesla Model S, with a 0-60 mph time of 2.5 seconds. The only other two cars that equalled this performance previously were the “LaFerrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder. However, it’s worth noting that the LaFerrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder were limited run, million dollar vehicles. While those cars are small two seaters with very little luggage space, the pure electric, all-wheel drive Model S P100D has four doors, seats up to 5 adults plus 2 children and has exceptional cargo capacity.” – Tesla press release.

The Tesla Roadster 2020
The Tesla Roadster 2020 – top speed of 248 mph and a range of 621 miles.

The Tesla Roadster will be relaunched in 2020, with a top speed of 400 km/h (248 mph) and a total range of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).  When it launches, the Tesla Roadster will almost certainly be the quickest production vehicle on the planet with 0-60 acceleration time of 2.1 seconds.

Of course, the cars listed above are high priced, top-performance vehicles. The entry level Model S is $74,500 before federal and state tax credits. The 2020 Roadster will cost $200,000. The Porche Mission E will cost approximately $75,000 according to pre-launch information available.

E-Vehicles Version 3.0

However, looking ahead at the next class of electric vehicles, we see that the long-term trend of higher-quality, lower cost vehicles will emerge. The Tesla Model 3 has already gone into production in 2018 and deliveries have begun. The cost of this vehicle after federal tax credits is $27,500, with 15 states offering additional incentives ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

There are safety features inherent to well-designed electric cars, such as Teslas, primarily their structural integrity originating in their compact engine structure and low center of gravity caused by the placement of batteries at the bottom of the car. Elon Musk claimed during production that the Model 3 will be the safest car in the class – overtaking the Volvo S60 – and shared this video on Twitter showing a side-impact crash test. Judge for yourself.

Electric cars have already achieved the milestones of better performance, safer crash performance and reduced fuel costs.

The only remaining hurdle which is soon to fall is the cost of the vehicle itself. With the Model 3, a purchaser in Colorado with state incentives would pay $22,500. Are electric cars a thing of the future or have they already arrived?


Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral through Amazon.com.

Kenya Bans Plastic Bags

When landing at Nairobi International Airport, one of the first announcements passengers hear on the airplane is “Please make sure to dispose of your plastic bags on board the aircraft because Kenya has a general plastic bag ban and does not allow them to be brought into the country.”

This is a good idea. 

As of August 2017, Kenya has banned the use and manufacture of plastic bags for carrying for commercial and household use. From the picture below, it’s easy to see why this was necessary, with increasing pollution from plastic bags domestically, Kenya was facing a major national problem.

Plastic Bag pollution in Nairobi
Plastic bag pollution in a river in Nairobi, picture taken in May 2018.

Some might argue that an outright ban on household use of plastic bags is a bit extreme.

Support Business by Charging for Plastic Bags

There are other measures that can be taken reasonably, such as those which have been taken by Germany and China: charging for plastic bags.

In 2008, China enacted a law stating that all retail outlets must charge customers for thin plastic bags. From my experience in China for 6 years, the normal price of a plastic bag at the supermarket was about $0.01. Interestingly however, this caused the national usage of plastic bags of the types targeted to drop by about 65%, and it is easy to see why. If we are all forced to ask ourselves “do I need a plastic bag?” there are many times that we will realize that we don’t. Also, it forces the employees at the checkout process to turn off “auto-bagging.”

This type of psychology is reminiscent of the opt-in vs. opt-out programs. Germany has an opt-in system for organ donation and has only 12% consent rate, while its neighbor Austria is opt-out system and has a 99.8% consent rate. If everyone is forced to “opt-out” of taking a plastic bag, there are very few people who will take that leap; however, if everyone is forced to “opt-in” to taking a plastic bag, we will see a dramatic fall in the amount of people taking a plastic bag at checkout.

Germany and the European Union are pushing for reductions in plastic bag use through higher fees on plastic bags and getting support from the retail industry. With strong government leadership, the retail industry can benefit in three ways from charging for plastic bags:

  • Increased revenue through plastic bag sales
  • Reduced costs for plastic bag purchases
  • Lower costs for society for garbage disposal, and lower environmental costs which impact all areas of society including retails – this means lower taxes and lower fees for business

Kenya is at the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of an outright plastic bag ban, but there are good examples to follow from China and Germany – who simply force customers to opt-in to using plastic bags and have proven a major reduction in overall plastic pollution and costs.

And remember, the decisions we make today last for a long time. According to this insightful sign in the Karura National Forest: “Plastic does not go away.”

Plastic Does Not Go Away
In Nairobi, Karura National Forest Sign: “Plastic Does Not Go Away”

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Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the easiest way to become carbon neutral – in 1 click through Amazon.

Innovative Technology for Cleaning Up

Great video from attn: showing some of the innovations that are taking place in the technology space for fighting climate change:

  • Cool Pavement – painting roads a light color reflects sunlight back into space, reducing the heat-island effect. This is the same principle as a white roof / green roof.
  • Mister Trash Wheel – automated boat that picks up trash in the Baltimore harbor.
  • Seabin Project – Floating Vacuum sucks up trash, debris, oil and other particulate matter in order to purify the water. Apparently clams and oysters can do the same for purifying water.
  • Carbon Dioxide capture for indoor agriculture growth – it’s unclear what the net impact on carbon emissions is from this technology, but it does go to show the level of technology required in order to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unless, of course, we just let forests do their job.

These inventions give us hope for the planet in 2018.

These inventions give us hope for the planet in 2018.

Posted by ATTN: on Sunday, December 31, 2017


Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral through Amazon.com.

The Question of Electric Cars – No Question at All

Frequently the question arises: “Are electric cars really better for the environment than internal combustion engine cars?”

Short answer: yes – electric cars are better in every state than driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.

  • The question arises because electricity must be produced somehow, and in the USA electricity is often produced by burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

There are two factors at play that make electric vehicles a better choice for the environment:

  1. The power mix of the United States has a significant portion of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear, which produce few or no greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Power plants are more efficient at generating electricity from fossil fuels than cars are – so even electric vehicles powered by natural gas-generated-electricity will usually get more bang for the environmental buck than simply burning gasoline in the engine of the vehicle.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a study on the total greenhouse gas emissions created required to power an ICE vehicle compared to the greenhouse gas emissions from generating the electricity required to power electric cars. The results of this study are clear:

Here you can see the data from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ study, showing the equivalent fuel economy of one of these new electric vehicles in each area of the country:

Fuel economy equivalent by area of the country. Source: Union of Concerned Scientists.

If you’d like to use a tool to check electricity use in your specific area, you can use this tool. For example, if you’re up in Middlebury, VT driving a Tesla Model S – you’re getting the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as 98 mpg ICE vehicle.

Furthermore, electric vehicles are actually getting more efficient over time – this is due both to improvements in technology and the improvements in the power mix of the United States: more and more renewable energy is powering the electricity grid in the US with coal becoming less common every year.

United States Electricity Mix 2007-2017
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists Data Source: US Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency.

This is a doubly positive trend because electric vehicles are themselves improving, while the electricity they use is becoming cleaner over time. Renewables make up almost 10% of electricity generated in 2017, and this will continue to increase every year for the foreseeable future.

So the answer is clear: electric cars are certainly better for the environment than old-school gasoline vehicles. Additional advantages of electric vehicles include better performance, less money and time for maintenance because they have fewer moving parts, and that they are a money-saver for their owners.

The Tesla Model 3, Prius Prime or Honda IONIQ Electric, all cost less than $30,000, meaning electric cars can provide better performance and are accessible to nearly everyone as of 2018.

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Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral through Amazon.com.

How to Solve Global Warming

A Simple Question

Recently, there was a question asked very simply “What is the solution for global warming?”

The answer to this question is relatively simple: eliminate the use of fossil fuels in every area of society possible and stop greenhouse gas emissions from other sources such as deforestation and agriculture. However, the size of each of these pieces of the solution is often unclear, so here I will provide a breakdown of what climate change means and what the solutions are on a high level.  In future posts, we will dig more deeply into the solutions themselves.

What is Climate Change

Climate Change is the general term for a complex set of changes happening to the environment of our planet.

These changes in the environment primarily include:

  • More heat energy trapped in the atmosphere
  • More heat energy trapped in the oceans

More heat energy trapped in our planet means that the average overall temperature of the planet is rising over time, and thus the term “global warming.”

The reason for the additional heat trapped in the atmosphere and in the oceans is the creation of greenhouse gasses by humans. Greenhouse gasses prevent heat from escaping the Earth. Planet Earth has always had a greenhouse effect, however human activities have increased the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, leading to an increased amount of heat being trapped – this warms the planet.

Main causes of greenhouse gas emissions are:

  • Burning and extraction of fossil fuels
  • Deforestation, land use and agriculture

A graph from NASA observations of the planet’s atmosphere shows the levels of Carbon Dioxide from the last 400,000 years:

Consequences of Climate Change

According to NASA, climate change has several main effects:

  1. Increased average global temperatures
  2. Warming oceans
  3. Sea-level rise
  4. Increased extreme weather events such as extreme disasters
  5. Ocean acidification
  6. Shrinking ice sheets, shrinking glaciers and reduced snow cover

The Solution

Climate Change is driven primarily by the use of fossil fuels and secondarily by greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation, agriculture and other less prominent causes.

The primary way to solve global warming is to eliminate the role of fossil fuels in modern society wherever possible. This means transitioning to renewable and carbon-free energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro which cause less than 3% of the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuel energy sources.

Secondarily, deforestation should be prevented and replaced with sustainable forestry and land-use practices. Because plants breathe in carbon dioxide and store it, they actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Therefore, in the simple sense, there are two ways to solve climate change.

  1. Reduce and stop emissions of greenhouse gases including Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide
  2. Remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by allowing forests, the oceans and other natural systems to act as carbon sinks – which is what they naturally do. We can encourage this removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere by ending deforestation, ocean habitat destruction and promoting sustainable forestry.

In practice, preventing the emissions of greenhouse gasses means that the following actions must be taken:

  1. Transportation must end reliance on fossil fuels – must be powered by clean electricity. 28.5% of 2016 emissions in the USA are from transportation.
  2. Electricity production must come from clean energy sources such as hydro, wind, and solar. 28.4% of 2016 emissions in the USA are from electricity production.
  3. Industry must learn to capture emissions from chemical production, cement production and utilize green energy for all energy needs. 22% of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions in the USA are from industry.
  4. Residential and Commercial owners must become efficient with heating and cooling of buildings, as well as utilizing green energy such as solar and wind. 11% of 2016 greenhouse gas emission in the USA are from residential and commercial users – primarily from heating and electricity use.
  5. Agricultural practices must be improved to use fewer fertilizers, less industrial production of beef, and better sustainable agricultural practices such as sustainable crop rotation and reduced tilling of the soil (which releases carbon). 9% of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions in the USA were from agriculture.
  6. Land Use and Forestry – cutting down trees not only releases the carbon stored in that tree and in the soil, but also prevents that tree from taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere during the course of its life. Sustainable forestry and land use lead to carbon dioxide being taken out of the atmosphere.

The solution to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a worldwide commitment that must be enacted across nearly every sector of industry and personal choice. Fortunately, the technology to switch to renewable energy such as solar and wind is readily available, and is now cheaper in most places than energy coming from fossil fuels such as coal and gas. The switch to renewable energy will solve a large piece of the puzzle, if we can act fast enough to implement.

In 2015, 195 parties signed the Paris Agreement, which is a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst aspects of climate change from ever taking place.

Governments, companies and individuals all play a role in solving climate change.

  • Governments can set effective regulations to reduce carbon emissions such as a carbon tax
  • Companies can commit to sustainable sourcing (look at IKEA for inspiration on sustainable wood sourcing, or Apple for renewable energy use)
  • Individuals can commit to reducing their carbon emissions through simple actions like: driving a well-maintained, fuel-efficient vehicle, putting good insulation on their homes and purchasing new heating systems, switching to low-cost energy efficient appliances and lights and turning every electronic device off when it’s not in use.

In addition to reducing our carbon footprints, we can all also take the additional step of offsetting the emissions we cannot prevent through carbon offsets. Carbon offsets projects are projects that prevent greenhouse gas emissions and provide a mechanism for individuals and companies to take direct action on climate change.

We can all play a role in solving climate change in many areas of our lives: citizen, worker, individual. The fundamental premise is: reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Sources used in this article: NASA, EPA, NOAA

Graham Majorhart is the founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral in 1-click through Amazon.com.