18 Apr 2014:
Scale and Extent of Dam Boom
In China Is Detailed in Mapping Project
China is planning to build at least 84 major dams in its southwest region, as shown in a map from the Wilson Center, eventually boosting its hydropower capacity by more than 160 gigawatts. By next year China's capacity
will surpass Europe's, and by 2020 it's projected to be larger than that of the U.S. and Europe combined. An interactive map
shows the scale and number of major dams proposed, under construction, existing, and canceled. The dam rush is part of an ongoing effort by China to increase non-fossil energy sources to 11.4 percent of the country's total energy consumption — a goal that has gained urgency due to severe air pollution in many northern Chinese cities. However, the hydropower push is not without its own major environmental consequences
, the Wilson Center notes. The cascades of planned dams will submerge important corridors connecting tropical rainforests to the Tibetan Plateau that allow wildlife to migrate as temperatures rise.
17 Apr 2014:
Five Kamchatka Volcanoes
Erupt Simultaneously, NASA Images Show
A NASA satellite passing over Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula this week photographed five simultaneous volcanic eruptions
. The erupting volcanoes, from north
to south, are Shiveluch, Klyuchevskaya, Bezymianny, Kizimen, and Karymsky. Karymsky, a 1,536-meter (5,039-foot) peak that has erupted regularly since 1996, is the most active of the five. The tallest, Klyuchevskaya, is 4,750 meters (15,580 feet) high. Of the planet's roughly 1,550 volcanoes that have erupted in the recent geologic past, 113 are found on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in Russia's far northeast, according to NASA. Forty volcanoes on Kamchatka are active, meaning they are either erupting now or capable of erupting at any time. Kamchatka's fiery landscape is driven by plate tectonics: The Pacific Plate is slowly colliding with and sliding beneath the Okhotsk Plate. As the Pacific Plate melts, magma migrates up toward the surface, causing volcanic eruptions.
Studying a Polar Menagerie
On an Island in Arctic Russia
Ninety miles from the Russian mainland and 300 miles above the Arctic Circle, Wrangel Island is home to an eclectic assortment of fauna and flora — muskoxen,
Second in a series of blog posts from the Russian Arctic
polar bears, wolves, reindeer, wolverines, walruses, Asia’s only population of snow geese, and 417 plant species. Joel Berger, a field biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Montana, spent several weeks on Wrangel Island this spring. In the second of three blog posts for e360
, he describes the arduous conditions under which Russian and U.S. scientists collect data on the island’s odd assortment of creatures. Read more.
15 Apr 2014:
Possible with Advances in Semiconductors
New semiconductor technology is advancing the development of house windows that could double as solar panels, according to scientists
from Los Alamos National Lab and Italy. Their research into so-called
Solar-harvesting materials under UV light
"quantum dots" — ultra-small bits of semiconductors that transmit energy extremely efficiently and can be tuned toward specific colors — shows that quantum dots can be used in transparent materials to harvest sunlight with efficiencies comparable to standard solar panels. When highly transparent materials are embedded with quantum dots, they are known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs); the structures can absorb sunlight and re-radiate it at longer wavelengths directed toward the edge of the slab, where the energy is collected by a solar cell. In tests using large LSC slabs (sized in tens of centimeters), researchers reported harvesting photons at roughly 10 percent efficiency. Typical photovoltaic solar panels have an average efficiency of about 15 percent.
14 Apr 2014:
Despite Stark Warnings,
UN Panel Finds Signs of Hope on Climate
Although greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate, governments are beginning to embrace carbon-cutting initiatives, while technological advances are sharply reducing the cost of deploying solar and wind power, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The working group report on climate mitigation
, released in Berlin, said that global CO2 emissions have risen about 2.2 percent a year this century — twice the rate of the last few decades of the 20th century — and that holding temperature increases to 2 degrees C (3.6 F) can only be achieved through an intensive push over the next 15 years. But the report also said that the political will to reduce carbon emissions seems to be rising around the world, and that shifting the global energy system from fossil fuels to zero- or low-carbon sources would reduce economic growth by only about .06 percent per year.
“The loss in consumption is relatively modest,” said IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. “The longer we delay the higher would be the cost.”
11 Apr 2014:
Parasitic Flatworm Could Be
Major Threat to Coral Reefs, Scientists Say
A coral-eating flatworm with a unique camouflaging strategy could be a major threat to the world's coral reefs, according to
researchers in the U.K. The parasite, called Amakusaplana acroporae
, infects a type of staghorn coral known as acropora, a major component
Amakusaplana acroporae, a parasitic coral flatworm
of reefs, and can destroy its coral host very quickly. The parasite has been detected at the Great Barrier Reef, and because it has no known natural predators, researchers are concerned it could spread quickly and decimate reefs worldwide. A novel camouflaging strategy makes the flatworm difficult to detect and monitor, the researchers say. When eating the coral tissue, the worm also ingests the coral's symbiotic algae. Instead of digesting the algae completely, the worm keeps a fraction of them alive and distributes them, along with the fluorescent pigments that give coral its characteristic hue, throughout its gut so that it perfectly mimics the appearance of the coral. The parasite has been identified in numerous aquarium-based corals, and biologists worry that it could spread rapidly if aquarium-raised coral, fish, or seaweed are introduced to natural reef environments.
10 Apr 2014:
Mapping Program Helps
Cities See Money Saved by Planting Trees
New open-source software is helping cities better understand the benefits trees provide by calculating the value of the trees' ecosystem services, such as air quality improvements and CO2 storage. More than a dozen
cities have undertaken tree inventory initiatives, thanks to the OpenTreeMap software
, and residents have helped map more than 1.1 million trees worldwide. In addition to plotting a tree's location, users record its size, species, and other parameters that allow the software to calculate the tree's ecological value in terms of dollars saved through such benefits as cleaner air. San Diego's more than 340,000 mapped trees
, for example, are estimated to provide the city more than $7 million in benefits each year, including $4 million in air quality benefits and $2 million in reduced energy costs. In the coming months, the software will allow city managers to decide where to plant trees for maximum environmental benefit.
On Far-Flung Wrangel Island,
A Scientist Sizes up Muskoxen
As a field biologist for the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society, Joel Berger has been to his share of end-of-the-earth places. But few have
Muskoxen on Wrangel Island
rivaled Wrangel Island, the rugged, frozen outpost located 300 miles above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s extreme Far East. In the first of three reports for Yale e360
, Berger describes the arduous trip to Wrangel and the scientific work that has taken him there — research with Russian colleagues on the island’s 900 muskoxen, a shaggy beast that is a relic from the Pleistocene era. In subsequent reports, Berger will describe the motley assortment of wildlife that has colonized Wrangel and the contrasting impacts of climate change on eastern Siberia and Arctic Alaska.
08 Apr 2014:
'Living Fences' Dramatically
Cut Livestock and Lion Killings in Tanzania
A novel, low-tech idea is helping Tanzania's lion population rebound: So-called "living fences" — which enclose livestock and are constructed of actively growing trees and chain-link fencing — have cut lion
A Masai villager installs a living fence.
attacks and retaliatory killings by more than 85 percent in the areas they've been installed, the Guardian reports
. Traditionally, the Masai have built livestock enclosures out of thorny acacia trees, but those fences are relatively fragile. Chain-link fencing alone is more durable, but leopards and small lions can scale the fences, and hyenas can tunnel in below. By interweaving actively growing African myrrh trees with the chain link fencing, the Masai have created a barrier that lions can't climb over, and their root systems prevent predators from digging under the fence. Because livestock predation has been cut, communities that had been killing six or seven lions annually now kill, on average, less than one, leading to a rebound in lion populations.
A Personal Note on Peter Matthiessen,
Who Wrote Eloquently of the Natural World
For an editor, the prospect of working with Peter Matthiessen was intimidating. He was one of our finest writers, and he wrote with such poetic precision and lyrical grace that at first it felt presumptuous to propose
any changes to his writing at all. That feeling was heightened by his strong physical presence — an odd mix of Manhattan patrician, rugged outdoorsman, and Zen priest (all of which he was). And yet when I worked as his editor on several magazine articles in the 1990s, it was an immensely satisfying experience. He listened Zen-like, carefully considering all my editing suggestions (with him, they were suggestions
only), and to my delight, accepted almost all of them. Matthiessen died on April 5 at the age of 86, near the Long Island waters he so loved to fish. Read more of e360 editor Roger Cohn’s appreciation of Matthiessen.
07 Apr 2014:
Newfound Atmospheric 'Hole'
Threatens Polar Ozone Layer, Scientists Say
Researchers have discovered
a large opening in the Earth's atmosphere that is enabling pollutants to rise
Pacific atmosphere hole an elevator to the stratosphere
into the stratosphere and destroy ozone. The hole, which is in a part of the lower atmosphere called the "OH shield," is several thousand kilometers long and is centered over the tropical west Pacific Ocean. It's relatively close to Southeast Asia, a region with a booming population and rapidly increasing air pollution. The hole is a major concern because the OH shield usually scrubs air of chemical compounds emitted near the ground before they can reach the stratosphere, where those compounds can persist for long periods of time, reacting with and destroying ozone, say researchers at Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute who identified the hole. The newly discovered phenomenon acts as a sort of elevator, researchers say, drawing chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur dioxide, and other contaminants straight up to the stratosphere and bypassing the OH shield scrub.
E360 Announces Contest
Yale Environment 360
For Best Environmental Videos
is holding a contest to honor the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, and two runners-up will each receive $500. The winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The deadline for entries is June 6, 2014. Read further contest information.
04 Apr 2014:
Solar Panels Could Beam Power
From Space Down to Earth, U.S. Navy Says
Researchers from the U.S. military are developing technology that would harvest solar energy in space and beam it down to Earth, according to
the Naval Research Laboratory. Although the concept seems futuristic, the
Navy is currently testing two prototype designs, both of which combine solar panels with electronic components that convert the energy to radio waves and transmit it to Earth. Eventually, engineers plan to use robotic vehicles to transport the panels to space and assemble them into a 1-kilometer wide satellite orbiting the planet. Theoretically, harvesting solar energy in space is more efficient than on Earth, because panels can collect sunlight around the clock and regardless of weather conditions. The U.S. military, currently the world's largest oil consumer, is eager to develop the technology to save money on fuel and simplify military deployments. But the private sector also has plans for the technology: California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric plans to buy space solar power by 2016.
03 Apr 2014:
Deforestation of Sandy Soils
Increases the Release of CO2, Study Finds
The texture of the soil that microbes live in determines how much carbon they release after deforestation, with sandy soils sending the most carbon into the atmosphere, according to research
led by Yale scientists.
Soils most affected by forest loss in red; least in yellow.
Subterranean microbes regulate carbon emissions from soil, and drastic changes to the microbial community, such as those that follow deforestation, can allow more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere and exacerbate global warming. The texture of soil, rather than such factors as temperature or nutrient concentrations, was the most important factor governing the release of CO2, the researchers found. Muddy, clay-like soils provide the most stable environment for microbial communities, likely because they're better at retaining nutrients than loose, sandy soils. The team used the findings to map areas in the U.S. where soil microbial communities would be most and least affected by deforestation, which could help inform land management practices.
Comment: e360 Point/Counterpoint Debate
On University Fossil Fuel Divestment
Scientists Charles H. Greene, of Cornell University, and Daniel M. Kammen, of the University of California, Berkeley, offer commentary on the recent Yale Environment 360 Point
articles on the
Student protest at Tufts University last spring
issue of whether universities should take a stand against climate change by divesting from companies that produce oil, natural gas, or coal. Greene and Kammen make the case that the movement to divest is gaining ground on U.S. campuses and will eventually succeed because fossil fuels are increasingly seen as a potentially risky investment. "We predict that divestment at the nation’s colleges and universities will occur much more rapidly than anybody imagined at the start of the campaign just over a year ago," they write. Read their comment.
01 Apr 2014:
Delaware River Watershed
Is Focus Of Large-Scale Restoration Project
A Philadelphia foundation is providing $35 million to launch a host of programs aimed at better protecting the Delaware River
, which flows through the heart of
Delaware River at Trenton, New Jersey
the populous U.S. eastern seaboard and provides drinking water for 15 million people. The William Penn Foundation, working with nonprofit groups such as The Open Space Institute, says its Delaware River Initiative will protect more than 30,000 acres of land, launch 40 restoration projects, create incentives for businesses and landowners to protect the watershed, and set up a comprehensive program of water quality monitoring that will enable the foundation and its partners to measure the success of their programs and the overall health of the river. A cornerstone of the foundation’s initiative will be its restoration and protection work in eight so-called “sub-watersheds” that feed into the Delaware River.
31 Mar 2014:
IPCC Issues Stark Report
On Present and Future Climate Impacts
Rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gases are already having a major impact on the earth’s natural systems and the problem is likely to grow significantly worse
unless these emissions are brought under control, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report
, released in Yokohama, Japan, said that steadily rising temperatures are melting polar ice caps, sharply diminishing Arctic sea ice, intensifying heat waves and heavy rains, causing the death of coral reefs, and placing water and food supplies under stress. The report on climate impacts, drafted by several hundred of the world’s leading climate scientists, emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk. Already, the report said, heat waves and water stress are affecting the output of wheat and corn on a global scale, impacts that are only expected to intensify in the future, further exacerbating food shortages. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri.
28 Mar 2014:
West Antarctic Glacial Loss
Is Rapidly Intensifying, New Study Shows
Six massive glaciers in West Antarctica are dumping far more ice into the Southern Ocean than they were 40
An 18-mile crack in the Pine Island Glacier
years ago and now account for 10 percent of the world’s sea level rise
, according to a new study. Reporting in Geophysical Research Letters
, an international team of scientists said that the amount of ice draining from the six glaciers has increased by 77 percent since 1973. The scientists said that the ice loss from the six glaciers is so substantial that it equals the amount of ice draining annually from the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. The scientists used satellite data from 1973 and 2013 to gauge the ice loss from the six glaciers. The Pine Island Glacier
is moving more rapidly to the sea than any of the other six, with its speed increasing from 1.5 miles per year in 1973 to 2.5 miles per year in 2013. The glaciers are dumping more ice into the sea primarily because warmer ocean waters are loosening the ice sheets’ hold on the sea floor, which speeds up glacial flow.
27 Mar 2014:
Wind Turbine in a Blimp
Can Bring Power to Remote Locations
A Massachusetts company will soon deploy a portable wind energy system using a conventional turbine blade inside a cylindrical blimp that floats about 1,000 feet above the ground
, drawing on the stronger winds at
. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), developed by Altaeros
, is designed to be used in off-the-grid locations where importing diesel fuel or other energy is expensive. The company recently announced a $1.3 million demonstration project in Alaska that will supply power to about a dozen homes. Altaeros says it is also working on deals to install projects in remote locations in Canada and Australia. The BAT, made of industrial fabric, sends power back via high-strength tethers that hold it to the ground. Altaeros is one of several companies developing wind turbines that hover above the earth or fly, including Makani
, which has invented a turbine that looks like a flying wing. Makani was acquired last year by Google X.
26 Mar 2014:
New Satellite Tracks Global
Precipitation in Unprecedented Detail
Launched into space late last month, a new Earth-observing satellite from NASA and the Japan space agency has captured its first images
, which show an
extra-tropical cyclone off the coast of Japan at unprecedented resolution. The satellite, called the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, combines two powerful instruments that allow scientists to monitor precipitation around the globe in great detail, as the cyclone image demonstrates. One instrument, the Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar, captured a three-dimensional cross-section of the storm, with the heaviest precipitation shown in red and yellow. The second tool, a GPM Microwave Imager, observed different types of precipitation across a broad swath of the storm. Together, the instruments will help scientists more accurately predict rainfall and calculate how much precipitation falls to the Earth's surface.
25 Mar 2014:
Consumer Products Giants
Commit to Deforestation-Free Palm Oil
Two major consumer products companies — General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive — have committed
to using palm oil in their products that does not come from lands cleared from tropical forests, adding to the wave
of corporations that have pledged measures to protect southeast Asian rainforests. The consumer giants' new policies go beyond standards set by the industry's main certification body and include provisions to protect wildlife-rich rainforests, carbon-dense peatlands, and the rights of local communities. Environmental groups are welcoming the commitments, though some believe the companies' pledges should go further. The Union of Concerned Scientists questions General Mills' definition of "high carbon stock" forests, while Greenpeace is urging Colgate-Palmolive to move implementation up to 2015 from 2020. Environmental groups are hopeful that new commitments will pressure Proctor & Gamble, the last remaining consumer products giant without a similar pledge, to adopt deforestation-free palm oil policies.
Five Questions for Mario Molina
On Climate Science’s PR Campaign
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society,
recently launched the “What We Know”
campaign, designed to cut through the fog of misinformation about climate change and convey to the public the current state of climate science. Chairing that effort is Mario J. Molina, a chemist who won a 1995 Nobel Prize for his work on the threat to the world’s ozone layer. Yale Environment 360
asked Molina five questions about the AAAS campaign and why it might succeed where previous efforts have failed.
24 Mar 2014:
Ride-Sharing Could Cut Taxi
Trips by 40 Percent in NYC, Analysis Shows
New interactive maps from MIT analyze the potential environmental and economic savings of ride-sharing in dense urban areas — in particular, the benefits of sharing taxicabs in New York City. The project, called
, uses data from 170 million trips made by New York City's 13,500 taxis in 2011. High-resolution GPS coordinates and timestamps for each trip allowed researchers to pinpoint locations in the city that are high-traffic hubs for taxi pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as calculate fare savings, decreases in total miles traveled, and cuts in CO2 emissions if ride-sharing existed. The researchers found that taxi-sharing could reduce the number of trips by 40 percent with only minimal inconvenience to the passengers. The findings highlight the potential benefits of ride-sharing in New York and other cities, including lower vehicle emissions, reduced congestion, and savings in time and money.
21 Mar 2014:
Koch Brothers Biggest Lease
Holders in Alberta Tar Sands, Report Finds
The largest lease holder in Canada's oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries
, the conglomerate that is the source of the fortune owned by the controversial conservative political donors, Charles and David Koch. The Koch's holdings in the tar sands were disclosed by an activist group
that analyzed mineral records of the Alberta government. The Koch subsidiary holds leases on at least 1.1 million acres in the northern Alberta oil sands, which span roughly 35 million acres; other industry experts estimate the total Koch holdings could be closer to 2 million acres. That puts Koch Industries ahead of energy heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips, both of which lease significant acreage in the oil sands. The findings are likely to inflame the debate surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would transport tar sands oil to refineries in Texas — although the Koch's company has not reserved space in the pipeline. Activists argue that the Kochs do have a stake in the outcome of the Keystone XL battle because the pipeline would drive down crude oil transportation costs, benefiting all lease holders.
20 Mar 2014:
The 2013-2014 Winter Was
The 34th Coldest on Record in U.S., NASA Says
Although many residents of eastern North America may feel like they’ve just suffered through a winter of record cold, the fact is that the winter of 2013-2014 was only
the 34th coldest in 119 years of record keeping in the U.S. As this map
from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center shows, temperatures in the eastern and southern U.S. from Dec. 1, 2013, to Feb. 28th, 2014, were as much as 8 degrees C (14 F) colder than the 2000 to 2013 average for those months. But the western U.S. and Alaska saw unusually warm weather, with California experiencing its hottest winter on record. Overall, temperatures this past winter in the U.S. were about 1 degree F above average. Meanwhile, temperatures in Russia, Asia, and much of Europe were well above average this winter, and land temperatures globally for December, January, and February were the 10th warmest on record.
19 Mar 2014:
CO2 Levels Have Crossed
400 ppm Threshold Far Earlier This Year
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have reached the 400 parts per million threshold two months earlier this year than last, an indication that the planet will soon experience the 400 ppm level year-round, according to
scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Last year was the first time in hundreds of thousands of years that the 400 ppm threshold was crossed. Scripps scientists expect
CO2 levels to hover around 400 ppm for the next two months, when the Northern Hemisphere spring will go into full bloom and plants will suck CO2 from the atmosphere until going dormant in the fall. "It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever," said Ralph Keeling, who took over the CO2 monitoring program from his father, Charles David Keeling, who started it in 1958. Since then, atmospheric CO2 levels have risen steadily from 313 ppm as the world continues to burn fossil fuels. Scientists estimate it's been 800,000 to 15 million years since the planet has seen concentrations this high.
18 Mar 2014:
Wildflower Season in Rockies
Is 35 Days Longer as Climate Warms
A warming climate has extended the wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains by 35 days since the 1970s,
according to a 39-year study of more than two million blooms. The bloom season, which used to run from late May to early September, now lasts from late April to late
Crested Butte, Colorado
September, the researchers say. Previous, less extensive studies seemed to indicate most wildflowers simply shift their bloom cycles to earlier in the year, but new findings
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
show that the changes are more complex, with the flowers reaching peak bloom sooner and flowering later in the year. The shift in the timing of blooms could have a major impact on pollinating insects and migratory birds. For example, hummingbirds that summer in the Rocky Mountains time their nesting so that their eggs hatch at peak bloom, when there is plenty of flower nectar for hungry chicks. As the bloom season lengthens, the plants are not producing more flowers. The same number of blooms is spread out over more days, so at peak bloom there may be fewer flowers and less food for hummingbirds, the researchers say.
17 Mar 2014:
Northeast Greenland Glaciers
Are Now Melting Rapidly, Study Finds
The glaciers of northeast Greenland, long thought to be the most stable part of the massive Greenland ice sheet, are melting at an accelerating pace, losing roughly 10
billion tons of ice annually for the past decade, say researchers
from the U.S. and Denmark. The finding will likely boost estimates of global sea level rise, which had previously not accounted for massive ice loss from that region, scientists say. The Zachariae ice stream in northeast Greenland, which drains 16 percent of the ice sheet, has retreated roughly 12.4 miles in the past decade, outpacing the fast-moving Jakobshavn glacier, which has retreated 21.7 miles over the last 150 years. Ice loss from the region is likely accelerating, the researchers say, because ice dams in nearby bays that had been blocking the glaciers' paths are now also melting, freeing the way for the glaciers to flow into the ocean.
14 Mar 2014:
Major Winds Have Lashed
North Atlantic This Winter, NOAA Map Shows
Forty-three hurricane-force winter storms have lashed the North Atlantic since late October, boosting the region's average wind speed in January and February by more than 12 miles per hour, as shown in this map
the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The blue colors indicate areas where wind speeds exceeded the 1981-2010 average; browns indicate winds that were lower than average. In the North Atlantic, an unusually high number of hurricane-force storms, with winds exceeding 74 mph, battered southeastern Greenland, Norway, and the coast of western Europe. The U.K. Met Office recently issued a report on the December and January storms that ravaged the British coast, saying
, "For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional (two month) periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years." No studies have confirmed a link between these intense winter storms and climate change, but some scientists think climate-driven changes in the jet stream
may be behind the wild weather.
13 Mar 2014:
Solar City Partnering With
Best Buy to Sell Residential Solar Leases
Solar City, a company that installs and leases solar panels to homeowners, is partnering
with big-box electronics seller Best Buy in hopes of boosting solar sales in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, and New
A Solar City residential installation in Hawaii
York. Solar City will station salespeople in 60 stores throughout those states to pitch the benefits of their 20-year solar contracts directly to consumers, and Best Buy will take a cut of the sales. Based on a homeowner's utility company and monthly electric bill, Solar City representatives will be able to quickly give potential customers an estimate of the costs and savings associated with a solar lease. Leasing enables a homeowner to avoid the large upfront costs associated with purchasing and installing solar panels by spreading those investments over a 20-year lease and locking in a set rate for electricity generated by the panels. Residential solar installations have accelerated in recent years due largely to the popularity of leasing programs, with 2013 showing the fastest growth ever.