New study shows how to increase local renewable energy, slow climate change

For Immediate Release

Report recommends harnessing energy potential of rooftops, roads, aqueducts

Berkeley Law: Susan Gluss,
UCLA Law: Lauri Gavel,
As world leaders prepare for climate change talks in Copenhagen, innovative programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are finding promise in California. Yet, as global leaders struggle to find consensus, energy innovators are similarly blocked by a lack of state financing and political support. 

But a new study shows how to lift those barriers and increase the local production of renewable energy at a faster and more efficient pace than nascent worldwide initiatives. 

The report, “In Our Backyard: How to Increase Renewable Energy Production on Big Buildings and Other Local Spaces,” is a joint project of the UCLA School of Law and the UC Berkeley School of Law. 

“In Our Backyard” shows the power and potential of producing renewable energy by installing technology atop commercial rooftops and along aqueducts and highway right-of-ways. It’s a step-by-step guide to make the promise of locally produced renewable energy a viable enterprise — and an effective tool in the effort to slow climate change. 

“California has tremendous potential to unleash a renewable energy revolution,” said primary author Ethan Elkind, Bank of America Climate Change Research Fellow at UCLA Law and Berkeley Law. “With our abundant sunshine, wind and other natural resources, we could become a world leader in renewable energy production just by focusing on the opportunities that exist on big buildings and public spaces in our own backyards.” 

But Elkind says California has focused too much attention on long-term efforts to build large-scale and remote renewable energy facilities, including centralized wind and solar plants.
These projects are usually located far from most energy consumers and face significant land-use and related hurdles that take years to resolve. 

A simpler and more immediate solution to complement those grand efforts, according to Elkind, is decentralized electricity production from the same natural sources: sunlight and wind. 

“By leveraging renewable energy technology to draw solar and wind power from the roofs of buildings, wastewater treatment plants and along highway right-of ways, we can initiate one of the fastest and most feasible means of producing renewable energy on a broad scale,” he said. “These smaller but powerful energy projects can avoid many of the delays plaguing the more expansive programs.” 

“While we wait for remote, utility-grade renewable facilities to come on-line, we have untapped opportunities to produce renewable energy from large buildings and public land,” said California Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). “This report offers comprehensive policy recommendations to help California realize this potential.” 

Leading energy suppliers, advocates, agency heads and private company officials met at a June workshop hosted by the UCLA and Berkeley law schools to prioritize the most effective methods of permitting widespread, decentralized production of renewable energy. They identified short- and long-term actions that include:  

  • Expanding the net-metering program, which gives renewable energy producers a retail credit for energy they produce that offsets their electricity bill;
  • Improving and broadening the feed-in tariff program, which requires utilities to provide cash payments to renewable energy producers who sell their energy back to the grid;
  • Prioritizing renewable energy production as a critical part of the mission and performance expectations for state and local agencies;
  • Bringing more renewable energy production on-line locally. As a start, California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) should include decentralized renewable energy production as a preferred alternative to remote central-station projects.

“This report provides a practical and innovative blueprint for increasing renewable energy production and fighting climate change,” said California Special Assistant Attorney General Cliff Rechtschaffen. “If California takes advantage of its local untapped resources, it can not only generate additional renewable energy but also create more green jobs.” 

According to a separate UC Berkeley study, renewable energy creates at least twice as many jobs as the equivalent fossil fuel–based energy production. And the jobs, like the energy production, would be located close to the areas where most workers live.
To read a full copy of “In Our Backyard: How to Increase Renewable Energy Production on Big Buildings and Other Local Spaces,” visit the Berkeley Law site at

The report can also be read on the UCLA Law site at

The workshop on renewable energy was the second of four, all of which are funded by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation as part of the bank’s 10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative focused on addressing climate change. The workshops are organized by the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and the Environmental Law Center at the UCLA School of Law; the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the UC Berkeley School of Law; and the California attorney general’s office. Each workshop will result in a set of policy recommendations to encourage more sustainable business practices and help California’s business community prosper in an era of climate change regulation. 

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