We all know the feeling. Looking at your energy bill can be a lot like this:

How the heck did I use $30,000 worth of electricity? Was it all my Tesla coils? Photo from iStock.

Electricity is expensive. Renewable energy could help, but the technology has its hurdles to overcome, including cost, availability, and infrastructure.

There's also another psychological barb: A lot of renewable energy tech is kind of goofy-looking.

So Elon Musk has a new plan. He wants to make solar power super pretty.

Image from Tesla.

On Friday, Elon Musk announced that his company would make glass roofing shingles that double as solar panels.

There have been solar shingles before, but what makes Tesla's different is they're incredibly pretty. Compared to those big, bulky, blue ping-pong tables we probably normally think of, these are downright artistic. Musk hopes by making the panels visually attractive, they'll entice more homeowners to add them to their roofs.

They showed off four different types of tiles: terra cotta, slate, textured glass, and smooth glass.

They work like thousands of little solar panels all hooked together.

Image from Tesla.

They're basically mini-solar cells covered in a durable glass coating that will protect them from the elements. They can be designed to match different shapes and styles to fit the house.

The shingles will likely be out of reach for most homeowners at first. Tesla hasn't announced a price, but a similar product by Dow costs about $20,000 for a small patch of 350 shingles. Tesla's websitedoes suggest that with the lower utility bills they'd end up paying for themselves, however, and government incentives could help too.

All that said, for now, they'll probably be similar to Tesla's first electric cars — a cool device for people who are really into new technology. But they could end up becoming more popular: Think of all the people driving electric cars now. And we have seen solar power in general get massively cheaper in the last few years, a trend that is likely to continue.

This is a neat example of how renewables could end up integrated into everyday life.

Right now we depend on just a few huge power plants, but in the future inventions like this — combined with more affordable energy storage options — could turn our homes, offices, and garages into mini power plants.

This could not only help us transition away from fossil fuels and toward more green energy, it could also be a lot cheaper and make the market more dynamic.

Which would probably make everyone more like this:



How Costa Rica went without fossil fuels for 76 days and what we can learn from it.

While we were all playing Pokémon Go, Costa Rica helped save the planet.

If Costa Rica were a kid going back to school, it would have a pretty awesome story to tell when asked what it did over its summer vacation.

Image via iStock.

"Oh nothing. I just ran entirely on renewable energy for 76 days. BOOYAH!" Costa Rica would say proudly.

OK, so this is the Costa Rican women's volleyball team celebrating their own victory at the Rio Olympics, but they'd probably be pretty pumped about renewable energy too. Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images.

According to the Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE), from June 17 through Aug. 31, 100% of Costa Rica's energy needs were met by renewable energy, predominantly from hydropower.

Cayuita, Costa Rica. Photo by Armando Maynez/Flickr.

This makes  considering the small country is overflowing with various bodies of water.

Costa Rican waterfall. Photo by Luke H. Gordon/Flickr.

Hydropower supplied 80% of the country's energy requirements, followed by geothermal at 12%, and wind at 7%. Solar only contributed 0.01%, but that was to be expected considering how often it rains there.

As exciting as this news is, it's only about half of Costa Rica's environmentally conscious accomplishments concerning energy production over the past year.

Even more impressive, the country has accumulated over 150 days of 100% clean electricity this year to date, according to the National Center of Energy Control.

One of Costa Rica's hydroelectric dams. Photo by Ezequiel Becerra/Getty Images.

"We are a small country with great goals!" ICE wrote on its Facebook page. "We remain committed to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2021."

They're well on their way, too. In 2015, the country managed to produce 99% of its energy through renewables.

It should be noted, of course, that Costa Rica is a small country and therefore doesn't need to generate as much power as, say, America.

And, as mentioned, Costa Rica has a ton of water power from which to pull energy.

Hydroelectric power plant. Photo by Ezequiel Becerra/Getty Images.

But that doesn't mean its achievement should be discounted. If anything, it's a shining example of what a country can do with the natural resources it has.

Costa Rica joins a number of other smaller countries making the deliberate shift toward complete reliance on renewable energy.

On Aug. 7, 2016, Scotland, which boasts the largest oil reserve in the European Union, produced enough energy from wind turbines to power the country for an entire day.

Wind turbines in Scotland. Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images.

While that may not sound like a lot compared to Costa Rica's two-month renewable power feat, when you consider that Scotland is one-third larger than Costa Rica and that wind power typically produces less energy than hydropower, it's still a pretty impressive achievement.

Meanwhile, Germany is sprinting ahead when it comes to production of solar energy. On June 25, 2015, 78% of the country's electricity demands were met by solar power.

Electrician at Gehrlicher Solar company checking panels. Photo via AFP/Getty Images.

These countries' renewable energy models may be difficult for larger countries to emulate exactly, but their efforts are inspiring nonetheless.

In order for renewable energy to really make an impact worldwide, there's a lot that will need to be done in terms of city planning, allocating costs, etc. But these small models prove it can be done with a little ingenuity and concerted effort.  

In fact the United States, Mexico, and Canada are taking a lesson from these star student countries and have already pledged to have 50% of their power come from renewable energy by 2025.

Renewable energy classes are officially in session. Take a seat, rest of the world.


For 7 hours last week, Germany paid its citizens to use electricity. For reals.

The question facing the shift to clean energy is 'when' not 'if.'

For a few hours on May 8, Germany was generating so much renewable electricity that people were actually getting paid to use energy.

Seriously. Here's a chart:

The blue line represents the cost, the red line represents consumption, the green area represents renewable energy, and the darker blue area represents traditional energy output. Original chart by Agora Energiewende.

Basically, from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. (the time period inside the blue box) the country was generating so much more energy than was being consumed that it cost negative euros for people in Germany to use electricity.

How freaking cool is that?!

This data comes from German clean energy think tank Agora Energiewende. While energy's negative cost was pretty much a one-time fluke, it's great to see the country so wholeheartedly embrace renewables.

Wind turbines generate renewable energy near Bergheim, Germany's coal plant, showing a major juxtaposition between the old and new. Photo by Volker Hartmann/Getty Images.

This is only the start. Here are five other reasons sustainable energy has so much potential:

1. Renewable energy is, well, renewable.

One of the pitfalls of being so invested in fossil fuels like coal or oil is that at some point, we'll run out. Maybe not this generation, but there'll come a day when we'll need to switch to something a bit (a lot) more sustainable.

Why not make that switch sooner rather than later?

Natural gas burns outside Cuero, Texas. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

2. There are some major public health benefits to going green.

According to a study from Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, fossil fuels take a major toll on health around the world. Take a look at what happened when China banned cars for two weeks; the difference is remarkable.

Here's a gorgeous look at a wind farm near Brieselang, Germany. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

3. Since 2009, the price of solar energy in the U.S. has dropped 70%.

That's kind of amazing, right? Even cooler: It's getting more efficient all the time, meaning that while the price of oil may go up and down, solar power will experience a consistent price decline over time. One study has those U.S. energy savings pegged at $64.3 billion by 2025 and $95.5 billion by 2030.

The Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, has flown more than 12,000 miles without a single drop of fuel. Photo by Jean Revillard via Getty Images.

4. The shift to renewables will create hundreds of millions of new jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of clean energy jobs jumped 13% between 2013 and 2014 (3.6 million to 3.8 million). This addresses one common concern often cited by politicians: What are coal miners and oil drillers supposed to do for work if we make the shift to renewables?

The answer: Take that energy expertise and help bring a cleaner power source to the world.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

5. Oh yeah, the whole "not letting climate change destroy the Earth" thing.

Not sure about you, but I like Earth! From what I hear, it's a pretty popular place for us humans to live. But the harsh truth is that if we don't start taking climate change seriously and switching to lower-emission power sources (like, you know, solar and wind), it might not be such a great place for future generations. You know what they say — "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," right? Now's when we prevent.

Photo By NASA/Getty Images.

If Germany can go green, the rest of the world can't be far behind.

Simply put, making the switch from fossil fuels to sustainable sources of energy is a question of "when" not "if." As technology continues to improve and become more efficient, the stronger the argument in favor of renewables will be.

Just last year, 195 countries signed the Paris climate accord pledging to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. Here's hoping that these countries (including the U.S.) keep their word.

We only have one Earth. Let's not mess it up.

At this point, I feel like we've been electing the next president for 17 years. I know I'm not the only one.

Between the 24/7 news cycle, the constant speculation, the "Bachelor"-style dwindling of like 903 candidates down to two ... it's been a real drag.

Never thought I'd consider these the "good old days." Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images.

Our democratic process is long, exhausting, and often discouraging. Especially when the only comic relief we have ends up at the front of the ticket, and we're left wondering if the whole thing is either broken or possibly working way too well.

If you're feeling like I am — worn down and beaten up — you might need a reminder as to why the process of democracy, as tiring as the actual election cycle can be to live through, is a pretty great thing for the world.

So here it is:

Did you know that from 1983 to 1985, Ethiopia suffered one of the worst famines in their country's history?

The African nation was hit with a cyclical drought, which gave way to widespread hunger due to its dependence on rain-fed agriculture. The famine hit hard and spread fast, ultimately killing over 400,000 people.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

But some have argued that the drought alone wasn't what led to such widespread mortality rates. It was political unrest.

Ethiopia's autocratic leadership at best ignored the problem and at worst tried to impose customs duties on the aid shipments trying to help ease the symptoms of the drought.

Alex de Waal, author of "Evil Days: 30 Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia," argued that the majority of deaths in Ethiopia's famine "can be attributed to human rights abuses that caused the famine to come earlier, strike harder, and extend further than would otherwise have been the case."

Now, Ethiopia is getting ready to face another drought. But this time, things aren't looking nearly as bad. Why?

De Waal described a nation much better equipped to handle the dry spell after a recent visit to Ethiopia in The New York Times:

"As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry. Malnourished children were being treated in properly staffed clinics."

What's changed since the drought in the 1980s? To put it simply, Ethiopia's authoritarian leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, is no longer in power. He was overthrown in 1991, marking the end of a decadeslong civil war.

Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

"The Mengistu regime collapsed in 1991," says de Waal. "Under the [new] government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former guerrilla turned advocate of rapid economic growth, Ethiopia enjoyed internal peace for the first time in a generation."

That internal peace is what has allowed Ethiopia to lessen the effect of the drought on its citizens this time around because the country is able to import things like wheat and water and medical care to remote villages.

Current Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Photo by Stan Honda-Pool/Getty Images.

The situation in Ethiopia certainly isn't perfect, and with the recent election of Hailemariam Desalegn with 100% of seats in parliament, some have argued that Ethiopia isn't quite a democracy yet. Even President Barack Obama got some flak for calling it one. This also isn't to say that people in Ethiopia aren't going hungry anymore. Millions there are still chronically malnourished.

However, Ethiopia's political situation is demonstrably better now than it was in the '80s. The civil war has ended, and in 1995, a constitution was put in place — both things that will help them avoid another devastatingly high death toll as the result of a famine.

Beyond Ethiopia, the number of democracies worldwide has actually gone up in the past few decades. Way up.

According to Our World in Data, "The majority of the world’s countries are now governed by democratic regimes," which they define as "systems with citizen political participation, constraints on the power of the executive, and a guarantee of civil liberties."

Chart by Max Roser/Our World in Data.

As the number of democracies has increased, rates of world hunger have gone down. Way down.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reported in its Global Hunger Index that just eight countries in 2015 had hunger levels that were considered "alarming." Compared with 1990, when 25 countries had "alarming" hunger levels and 17 more were deemed "extremely alarming," you can see just how much progress has been made.

The connection between prevailing democracy and declining rates hunger has been made by many, including Nobel-Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and our old friend de Waal, who wrote:

"After countries have passed a certain threshold of prosperity and development, peace, political liberalization and greater government accountability are the best safeguards against famine. There is no record of people dying of famine in a democracy."

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

So feel free to keep rolling your eyes at the lawless circus we're calling the 2016 presidential race. But while you do, remember just how powerful democracy can be.

It can give a voice to the voiceless. It can provide peace in place of unrest, it can help bring food to the hungry, and it can help curb the devastation when tragedy and natural disasters strike.

The world isn't perfect. America definitely isn't perfect. Democracy isn't perfect either.

Democracy doesn't come easy. It's hard work to elect the right people and get the right plans in place and the right voices heard, and it too often feels like a long and thankless fight. But democracy is a privilege — one that shouldn't be taken for granted. That fight is worth it because when democracy works, even when it works imperfectly, it really works.