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Climate Change and Solar Energy

Climate Change and Solar Energy: A Look at the Numbers

It seems like every day new scientific reports and studies come out demonstrating the increasingly rapid onset of climate change and their dire effects that await us. A recent US government report states that climate change will likely shrink the US economy by 10% of the GDP while other reports ominously warn there might only be 12 years to stop climate change from surpassing the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold that climate scientists have set as the best chance to avoid a global catastrophe.

While these reports can certainly lead to a feeling of helplessness, there is also reason for hope. Several mayors and governors across the country have taken up the responsibility to follow and even surpass the accords governing reducing carbon emissions. The state of California has recently passed a law that will make solar panels obligatory on all new housing built after 2020.

On a national level, the solar energy industry has been growing exponentially over the past decade, and today the solar energy industry provides more jobs than fossil fuel energy industries. More solar power was added to our national electricity grid in 2018 than any other type of energy and the cost of solar energy has dropped by an incredible 70 percent since 2010.

The widespread adoption of solar energy doesn’t only allow offer a cheaper, more reliable and renewable source of electricity for US households and businesses, but it also represents an enormous opportunity to reduce our personal and national carbon footprint. Put succinctly, solar energy is one of the major elements that can help us in the fight against climate change.

The Sources of our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 28 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions came from the production of electricity. Another 22 percent of emissions are attributed to industries and 11 percent comes from commercial and residential buildings. Transportation accounts for a further 28 percent of our emissions.

Zero Emissions

Solar panels emit absolutely zero emissions in the process of transforming the light and heat from the rays of the sun into energy we can use. The manufacturing process of solar panels is an energy intensive process as silicon needs to be melted at 1,414 degrees Celsius. The furnaces used to melt the silicon used in solar panel manufacture often rely on fossil fuels. However, almost all experts agree that the emissions caused during the manufacture of solar panels are quickly compensated for through the production of non-polluting electricity.

Solar Power and Renewable Energy

The widespread adoption of solar power energy would not only help the United States put a dent in the 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that are attributed to the electricity sector, but could also further reduce our emissions in both the residential and commercial building sector and in the transportation sector.

Heat pumps are gaining popularity as a green and sustainable method to both heat and cool our homes. Heat pumps are electric devices that takes heat from one place and transfers it to another. They usually rely on the steady temperature beneath the surface of the soil. Similar to a refrigerator, a heat pump has a compressor that pumps refrigerant between two heat exchanger coils in order to heat or cool a home. Since heating and cooling our homes accounts for around 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country, making the switch from gas powered central heating units to electric heat pumps could potentially reduce our country’s emissions another couple percentage points as solar energy could be used to power the heat pumps heating our homes.

Lastly, electric vehicles are also another way to reduce our carbon footprint. The IEA estimates that the electric vehicle market will grow from 3 million to 125 million vehicles by 2030. Powering these vehicles with renewable sources of energy, such as solar energy, will only further reduce the emissions that come from the burning of gasoline and diesel in current cars.

How Much Carbon Dioxide Can a Solar Panel Really Help Avoid?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) finds that “on average, producing 1000 kWh of electricity with solar power reduces emissions by nearly 8 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 5 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide. During its projected 28 years of clean energy production, a (solar) system with 2-year payback and meeting half of a household’s electricity use would avoid conventional electrical plant emissions of more than half a ton of sulfur dioxide, one-third a ton of nitrogen oxides, and 100 tons of carbon dioxide.”

The emissions reductions created by the U.S. solar industry are equal to the carbon storage capacity of 2 billion trees. While the mining of fossil fuels often entails cutting down huge swaths of forests, solar energy can be produced on existing buildings and empty lots. Community Solar farms, such as those implemented by Clearway Community Solar, offer an accessible and convenient path to go solar and is a great way for everyone to participate in reducing the carbon emissions associated with their lifestyles.

Furthermore, in several homes across the United States, coal continues to be the main source of electricity. There are 353 coal-fired power generators in 31 states. Not only is coal a non-renewable resource, but it is also emits the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions when burnt. A household located in a region that gets most of its electricity from coal could radically reduce their carbon emissions by switching to solar energy options.

While global climate change is a complex issue that has many different causes, making the switch to solar energy not only helps economically, but can also help to radically reduce our carbon footprint and aid in the fight against global climate change.

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