From Start to Finish, Solar and Electric Aren’t Carbon Neutral

Picture showing how dirty electricity is generated

Being 100 Percent Electric is Not the Answer to Combating Climate Change Issues

Being carbon neutral is a hot subject with many Americans, businesses and government officials. These days there has been a lot of talk about how we collectively can combat the climate change issue. We rely on power every single day and that reliance has only grown with all the personal devices we now carry around with us.

In an attempt to rectify the damage done to the climate, or at least keep it from getting worse, government entities – such as the state of California – have passed mandates calling for a drastic reduction in carbon emissions. AB32 requires that California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of 2020. By 2050, the goal is for California to be 80 percent below 1990 emission levels. The purpose of the bill is to address the sharp rise of greenhouse gas emissions over the last century and a half, which the California Air Resources Board attributes to causing higher overall worldwide temperatures and other climate changes.

An All Electric Future

Solar is a major part of the California’s plan to drastically cut harmful carbon emissions. That is evident by the California Energy Commission adopting a policy as part of Title 24 that requires that newly built and majorly renovated homes to include solar. The requirement went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Some cities in California have gone a step further and are requiring that homes be 100 percent electric ready, meaning that while some of the home’s appliances may be operated by propane or natural gas in exchange for higher permitting fees it must be ready to be run with electricity only. In the graph below we see that according to 2017 data, residential energy use only accounted for just over six percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – electricity production accounted for over twice that amount.

As we discussed in the last issue of The Propane Press an energy mix makes the most sense to keep the lights on when the electricity goes out.  Monterey Energy Group Founder David Knight said that using propane for space heating, water heating and power generation can be a successful model. Researchers at Carnegic Mellon University found that carbon emissions in the United States’ power sector have dropped 30 percent since 2005 because of a combination of natural gas and renewable power that replaced retired coal-fired power plants (emissionsindex.org).

However, as California makes leaps to go all electric, the questions that come to the forefront are: 1) Is going all electric the right choice? 2) How will all this electricity be generated? 3) What environmental issues do solar panels have when used as a means of electricity generation? 4) Solar panels harness the sun’s energy – which is free and has zero emissions – but what happens when the sun’s not out?

A Solar Energy Solution?

When solar panels are not creating energy then the home draws its power from the electric grid, which is run by the local electric company. Many of Delta Liquid Energy’s customers use PG&E or Southern California Edison. That energy is made by converting other sources of energy, such as coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power, wind, water and other natural sources.

According to data from the International Energy Agency, over the course of its lifetime – which is estimated at 30 years – a solar panel is estimated to emit 20 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of energy produced from the start of the solar panel’s life to when the energy is consumed.

If a homeowner does install solar panels but doesn’t have the capacity to store excess energy generated, the electric companies will buy that excess energy and then sell it back to other consumers. Therefore, in order to make the most of solar panels, a battery pack is required. This will allow the consumer to save up the excess solar generated energy so that there is electricity whenever it’s needed for the home. Because most residential units with solar don’t have battery storage, the excess energy produced during peak production goes back to the power grid. When the power goes out for whatever reason, that power is cut off from the home. While California policymakers are working to address the need for energy storage, it’s not something that’s readily available for the average homeowner. Like the production of solar panels, solar batteries are not carbon neutral.

As the graph below show, residential emissions are not the main source of our climate change issue. While focusing on combating climate change from all angles is important, it’s also important to understand what sectors produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. This data comes directly from the California Air Resources Board, the same organization pushing California toward an all electric future.

2017 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Chart by sector


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