Solar Can Drastically and Immediately Reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
The Biden Administration recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement in Jan 2021, after the Trump Administration formally withdrew in 2020. This was the same year that America missed its 2005 Copenhagen Accord target of reducing GHG emissions 17% below 2005 levels. In response to the dire warnings issued by the United Nations after the release of the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United States is now committed to reduce GHG emissions 50% by 2030.
This reduction will not be impossible without a concerted commitment from the States, businesses and the citizenry. We cannot rely on industry or election cycle legislation to curb climate change with loophole-ridden cap-and-trade policies. We must act collectively by conserving energy across all sectors, investing in renewable technology, and generating the vast majority of our electricity from renewable sources. In California, where the sun shines nearly every day, solar power generation will be a matter of survival. There is no excuse and no time to delay.
The technology and the will to combat climate change exists right now. During the first half of 2019, Germany produced 44% of its power from renewables – 8% of which was solar. In March 2019, almost 80% of Maine’s utility-scale net electrical generation was achieved with renewables. In June 2019 Maine incentivized 375 MW of primarily solar photovoltaic (PV) installations under 5 MW, to generate 100% of its power from renewables and reduce GHG emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Nevertheless, combating climate change requires participation from all energy sectors using every available technology. After three years of decline, U.S. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels increased by 2.7% in 2018, resulting in the second-largest yearly increase since 2000. This is a startling development given energy-related CO2 emissions comprise 86% of all GHG emissions. In 2017, vehicles, power plants, and industries produced 79% of all GHG emissions in the United States.
GHGs trap heat in our atmosphere and raise average global air and sea temperatures. Our atmosphere now contains more C02 than at any point in the past 2.59 million years. During this time CO2 levels fluctuated between about 170 ppm to 300 ppm reflecting regular 100,000 year glacial-interglacial cycles. During the first half of the 20th century CO2 levels rose dramatically on top of the normal post-ice age peak. At a time when the next ice age cooling trend should have been underway we surpassed 300 ppm for the first time that modern humans have inhabited the earth. Since 1950, CO2 levels have increased by 138%. In May 2019 CO2 levels reached 415 ppm and by 2040 this level is expected to exceed 450 ppm.
Natural Gas (NG) has long been touted as a safe and clean “transition” fuel. However, NG is composed of 70%-90% methane, which traps about 86 times more heat in the atmosphere over 20 years and 34 times more heat over 100 years compared to CO2. Continued use of NG will spike temperatures in the short term, further heating the oceans. This will sustain higher temperatures for longer because water heats and cools more slowly than soil or air. Since 1750, atmospheric methane has increased 150% (the highest level in nearly 500,000 years), and we still do not understand its complete lifecycle.
The 20th-century was the warmest in 2,000 years, and the rate at which temperatures increased during the past 150 years had no equal during the previous 19 centuries. Our planet has already warmed about 2.1°F since the end of the pre-industrial period (1780s). 90% of this temperature increase has been absorbed by the oceans, which are now bulging with thermal expansion. Since 1880, average sea levels have risen in excess of 8 inches, submerging island communities and coast lines. Melting glaciers and ice sheets are also contributing to sea level rise. The warmer oceans and higher tides are now interacting violently with Arctic air to create deadlier and more frequent storm systems.
Energy Consumption is Linked to Population, Standard of Living, and Industrial Output
With a population of 329 million, Americans comprise only 4.27% of the world's population but they consume about 16% of the world's energy. Germany is Europe's most populous country and is home to 83.5 million people (1.08% of the world's population) yet it consumes just 2.1% of the world's energy. From 1990 to 2018 Germany's population grew by 5.6% (4.4 million) while its energy use trended down from 355 to 301 Mtoe. American energy use in 1990 was 1,910 Mtoe, after which it peaked at 2,338 Mtoe in 2007 before trending down through 2017. Economic growth combined with a warmer summer and colder winter pushed U.S. energy use back up to 2,258 Mtoe in 2018. During these 29 years the U.S. population increased by 29.8% (75 million), while the Chinese population increased by 21.3% (251 million). At 1.43 billion people, China comprises 18.59% of the world's population and consumes about 22.1% of its energy. However, Chinese GHG emissions are greater than the next three highest emitters (U.S., India, and Russia) combined, with enough remaining to include France.
The American transportation sector, which includes the delivery of goods and personal travel constituted the largest share of U.S. GHG emissions for the third straight year in 2018. Moreover, this remarkable increase did not include any fuel used for International jet travel. Low oil prices have continued to satiate America's unbridled addiction to large fossil fuel burning vehicles. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cities and towns across the country where a single person drives a large car, truck, or SUV for short light-duty trips, in spite of the availability of electric vehicles, rideshare, and public transportation alternatives.
An average American utility customer uses about 10.4 megawatts of electricity annually, which is about three times more than that used by an average German household. Crucially, when the American electricity is supplied by a coal burning power plant during peak times, about 5.2 tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Between 2009 and 2018, electricity generated from NG power plants rose 13% to 35.1% of total US output while coal-fired electrical generation fell 18.3% to only 27.4%. By adopting the environmentally destructive process of fracking, the United States has led the world in NG production since 2009. Having moved from the fire of CO2 to the frying pan of NG, the world’s appetite for the fossil-fuel of choice is growing steadily at the worst possible time.
Generating clean electricity with solar panels displaces the GHG emissions from fossil fuel power plants. An 8 kW solar PV system for your home or a 60 kW solar system for your business could reduce CO2 emissions by 182 and 1,362 tons respectively over 30 years. With conservation, smart energy use, and solar generated power you can start making a big contribution toward the recovery of our planet now.
Adjust Your Lifestyle and Help Save the Planet!
GENERATE & STORE
- Generate electricity with PV
- Heat water and/or a pool with solar thermal
- Store PV generated energy for later use
CHANGE YOUR COMMUTE
- Take the bus, train or ferry
- Ride a bike
- Use electric vehicles
- Telecommute when possible
- Turn off your video during meetings whenever possible
UPGRADE AND IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS AND HOME
- Use a heat pump or upgrade your heating, ventilation and AC systems
- Wash clothes in cold water (or solar hot water) and air dry
- Upgrade insulation, weather stripping, and windows
- Install an attic fan to cool your house in the summer
- Replace old light bulbs, appliances, and computers
- If needed, burn wood instead of oil, gas, or coal
- Set the thermostat no higher than 68°F in winter (lower at night)
- Stop using plastic: 1 pound of plastic = 1 gallon of gasoline
- Set the thermostat no lower than 78°F in summer
- Reuse, repurpose, and recycle
- Dress for the season
- Never waste energy