What Is The Overall Carbon Footprint Of Green Energy
On a life-cycle basis, the carbon footprint of green energy ranges anywhere from 4.5to 48 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced.
|Type of Green Energy
|Relatively low, but more research is needed
Have a look at the illustration below to compare the average life-cycle CO2 equivalent emissions from green energies to those of different types of energy.
All green energy is by definition also renewable energy. Renewable energy is infinite by definition because the resources naturally replace themselves over time. Green energy is in infinite supply AND has the added benefits of not producing GHG emissions or harming the environment.
However, only a very few countries have renewables as their primary energy source, while the vast majority of countries still have a long way to go.
Experts predict renewable resource consumption will continue to increase through 2050 as more and more effort is put into reducing global GHG emissions.
To understand the carbon footprint of green energy, we must assess its life cycle and each stages carbon footprint. This life-cycle assessment is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, lets have a look at the LCA of green energy!
Make Carbon To Save Carbon: The Environmental Cost Of Going Solar
The environmental benefits of going solar.
The potential threats associated with climate change and the environmental impact from non-renewable energy sources are well known. Global warming is the result of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being released and trapped in the atmosphere. These pollutants trap heat which is causing the Earths temperature to rise and is resulting in warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. It comes without saying that we need to work together to decrease these CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
Renewable energy sources such as Solar tend to be advertised as a solution to global warming because they do not produce toxic pollutants or C02 emissions while generating energy. Although no CO2 is produced through the generation of energy from the solar panels themselves, we must also consider the environmental impact of their manufacturing, transportation, implementation and deconstruction processes. Just as it costs money to make money, you have to make some CO2 to save more!
The Impact Of Geography
Now depending on where you live, this payback period could vary significantly. Here’s a chart of “peak sun hours” in the U.S. :
Say you bought a standard 224 watt solar panel and stuck it on your roof in an optimal location with no shadows. The panel is rated to produce 224 watts of power in 1 hour of peak solar intensity. So if you live in Santa Fe, New Mexico you would generate 6 x 224 watts = 1.33 kWh in one day with that one panel. You have to shave off about 10% for efficiency losses so in Santa Fe you’re looking at 1.2 kWh of production per panel per day, or 438 kWh’s per year.
In Cooperstown, New York you have roughly half the solar intensity, approximately 3 hours per day of peak, so there you would expect to produce 0.6 kWh with the same panel each day, or 219 kWh’s per year. The national average is somewhere in the middle so on average in the U.S. a 224 watt panel creates 0.9 kWh per day or 328 kWh’s per year. Over a typical 25 year lifespan that panel would produce about 8,200 kWh’s.
Stockholm, Sweden where the Vattenfall study was performed, gets 3 peak sun hours just like Upstate New York, producing about 5,500 kWh’s over its typical 25 year life span. According to the study, a solar panel in Sweden generates 50g of CO2 per kWh so that is a total of 274 kg of CO2, or 600 lbs of CO2.
If you want to get really exact efficiencies for your area check out the awesome PVwatts calculator.
Read Also: How Much To Add Solar Panels To House
Is Solar Power Truly Co2 Free
Theenergy required to make a solar panel from basic raw materials in the ground tofinished panel is called the embedded energy or lifecycle energy cost of thepanel. In most cases when the solar panel is installed on a roof and generatingpower it only takes around two years of the panels working life to recover thisenergy. In the case of a quality long-lasting panel a further 25 years or moreof zero CO2 electricity will be produced.
Mostsolar companies use their own solar panels to power their panel manufacturingplants, so the consumption of fossil fuel derived energy to make panels is nowvery low and getting lower.
Thesecond issue is how much Greenhouse House Gas is avoided by using solarpower, with the typical focus on Carbon Dioxide , the most significantgreenhouse gas from fossil fuel electricity generation. In Australia each kWhof electricity generated from conventional sources creates approximately 1kg ofCO2. A 6.6kw solar system will produce around 10,600 kwh a year which will savearound 10.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Taking into account the two yearsto pay off the embedded energy in the panel, after 25 years a 6.6kw system willhave a net saving of around 243 tonnes of CO2. You can be very confident that aquality solar system, well installed will make a huge contribution to loweringfossil fuel CO2 emissions.
Whats The Payback And Savings
Generating about 3,000 kWh from solar panels instead of from a gas-fired power station will save about 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The energy used during the manufacture of PV panels is far less than they will generate through their lifetime. Even with the average UK levels of sunshine, a PV array will pay back this embodied energy in less than three years. See the related questions below for more on the environmental impacts.
You can now get payments back under the Smart Export Guarantee scheme. You can claim for the PV-generated electricity that you export to the grid rather than using directly in your house. Therefore, to claim SEG payments you need a type of smart meter thats able to measure exported electricity . The previous feed-in tariff scheme closed to new PV installations in April 2019.
You should shop around and compare the prices offered for your exported electricity. Bear in mind that you can sign up for SEG payments with a different company to the one you buy electricity from. Some companies may offer a decent SEG price of over 5 pence per kWh, but some might pay 1p per kWh or less. Solar Energy UK have compiled a league table of tariffs. They say a fair price is between 5 and 6 pence per kWh. That sort of price is comparable to the wholesale market rates that large generators get for selling electricity. Please note that these prices are from before the current upheaval in the electricity markets, which will undoubtedly change things.
What Role Does Green Energy Play In Combating Climate Change
Fossil fuel combustion is the main contributor to atmospheric CO2 levels. Climate Change occurs when CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, trapping the heat and acting as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earths temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius , or 2 degrees Fahrenheit . The current global annual temperature rise is 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years.
Using green energy , instead of fossil fuel energy helps mitigate the following negative effects of climate change:
- Rising sea levels: Global sea levels have increased approximately 8-9 inches since 1880, displacing people living along coastlines and destroying coastal habitats. Roads, bridges, subways, water supplies, oil and gas wells, power plants, sewage treatment plants, and landfills remain at risk if sea level rise goes unchecked.
- Melting of sea ice: Since 1979, arctic sea ice has declined by 30%. Sea ice plays a major role in regulating the earths climate by reflecting sunlight into space and providing habitat for animal species. If all of the glaciers on Earth melted, sea levels would rise by approximately 70 feet, effectively flooding out every coastal city on the planet.
How Are Solar Panels Manufactured
There are two types of solar panels being manufactured today:
Both types have different carbon footprints.
Monocrystalline solar panels are probably what you picture when you think of solar energy. Their cells have a distinct black color and are associated with the shiny, sleek look of premium solar panels. The manufacturing process involves molding a huge silicon block. Then, you slice small wafers from the block and affix them onto a solar panel.
Polycrystalline solar cells are also made from silicon. However, the manufacturing process is different. Instead of coming from a silicon block, polycrystalline cells are created by melting silicon crystals together. This process uses a lot of electricity. So, when we consider the solar carbon footprint, we must consider the emissions created during this process.
Why Is Solar Energy Bad
Its not very respectful to say solar energy is bad, at least not when compared with other types of energies powered by fossil fuels. Still, it has some downsides that are worth analyzing. We can start by clearing out that solar energy is not zero emissions, clean, or 100% green. But why is that if solar panels receive sun rays and generate electricity through heating without releasing any CO2 or CO2eq? Well, if we take a closer look at solar panels life cycles well realize that they make some pollution and energy consumption during manufacturing and are likely to have more once they get disposed.
Producing photovoltaic panels requires minerals like copper, nickel, and cadmium. For instance, if we think of silver, its supply and demand for photovoltaic purposes are, respectively, ~ 27 billion kg and 242 million kg . Other minerals such as lithium or silicon are also at risk of having a demand that outstrips supply today and in the future.
The Significance Of Net Zero Carbon
In the UK there has been a considerable rise in interest in net zero carbon developments. The framework definition and method behind what net zero carbon means is still developing and the scope has been left open if the net zero includes just operational carbon or if it also includes the embodied carbon footprint.
We feel that the operational carbon emissions will be expected to be net zero carbon through the use of generating energy from renewables. But that the embodied carbon is more likely to achieve net zero carbon through voluntary carbon offsets.
It therefore presents the case that solar PV is likely to be on the radar of a lot of net zero carbon buildings. Its a strong technology, has minimal maintenance, low planning condition requirements and a long lifetime.
But what about the embodied carbon?
Lets see how significant the embodied carbon of PV is, particularly for a building that wants to be net zero CO2.
Does Solar Pv Payback The Embodied Carbon Emissions
This article is specific to mono-crystalline PV. There are many other types of PV.
In regards to monocrystalline PV, despite the high embodied carbon, in the UK it does currently save more operational carbon than the embodied carbon of production. However, the embodied carbon is significant.
Whilst solar PV is helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal and gas it will always have favourable carbon payback rates.
At the same time, the marginal emissions in a rapidly decarbonising grid may become increasingly important and complex. With such a rapid rate of decarbonisation, combined with increased demand from electrification and a market where fossil fuels are no longer the default provider of new capacity, what is the marginal supply, what was the electricity technology that was displaced ? Add a 25 to 30 year timeline to this debate and it becomes an increasingly complex situation. We can therefore expect the high embodied carbon versus expected carbon savings to attract increased scrutiny.
Despite these complexities, solar PV will be an important technology. It is therefore better to focus on the opportunity for reducing carbon emissions of PV, and there is a considerable opportunity
How Can I Find A Solar Pv Installer
Finding a qualified professional installer who can offer you a good service at a competitive price will be important. As with any big investment its well worth finding a few installers to get quotes from to compare.
You can find installers by searching the listings of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme . All installers have to meet certain standards to be accredited, including signing up for a code of conduct such as the Renewable Energy Consumer Code. Their code is backed by the Trading Standards Institute and covers many issues, including hard sell aggressive sales tactics. These schemes have complaints procedures to follow up claims against companies that either mis-sell systems or do poor quality work.
Embodied Carbon Of Solar Pv
There are many different types of solar PV. Despite this, crystalline PV has been dominant, with over 90% of the market share.
Crystalline PV is can be further separated into mono-crystalline, which has a higher efficiency, and polycrystalline, which has a slightly lower efficiency. For this article, we will take a look at mono-crystalline PV.
Lets take a closer look at the embodied carbon of PV. Collecting data on the embodied carbon per kWp or per m2 of solar panel, allows us to compare the embodied carbon with carbon savings on a location by location basis. We have used several references on the embodied carbon of mono-crystalline PV . There are many other references, but we found that most are based upon the same background data and there is a desperate need for more data from producers of PV systems.
The average embodied carbon in those references for monocrystalline PV was 2,560 kg CO2e per kWp. The embodied carbon of all products vary notably, so that should be appreciated with any embodied carbon values.
This now needs to be compared with the amount of energy generated.
The Carbon Footprint Of Solar Panel Manufacturing
Solar carbon footprints are a hot topic in the world of renewable energy as we strive to create a greener planet. Although solar energy helps thousands of households reduce their carbon emissions every day, the carbon footprint of solar panels can be quite significant due to their manufacturing process.
In this article, well compare how much CO2 is saved with solar energy with solar panel carbon footprints. Well discuss solar emissions and their alternatives, solar footprints, and discuss some up-to-date carbon footprint solutions.
Fossil Gas Bridge Fuel Controversy
As of 2020 whether natural gas should be used as a “bridge” from coal and oil to low carbon energy, is being debated for coal-reliant economies, such as India, China and Germany. Germany, as part of its Energiewende transformation, declares preservation of coal-based power until 2038 but immediate shutdown of nuclear power plants, which further increased its dependency on fossil gas.
How To Reduce Carbon Footprints At Home
Simply saying, you can reduce your carbon footprint through reducing the amount of energy we use, eating fewer animal products, shopping locally, and reducing your waste. To breakdown these ways, here are some tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint and start living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life. Lets begin it at home since we are spending much of the time there.
Avoid using cleaning products with harmful chemicals. Consider using biodegradable and non-toxic products to help eliminate airborne chemicals at your home, making it healthier.
Save water. Rinse water from vegetables and meats can be used to water plants, while laundry rinse water can be used for flushing in the toilet. Turning the faucet off when you dont need to run water also saves a lot!
Repurpose food containers. Give your take-out tubs a new life! Reuse them for leftovers and/or recycle them by repurposing them into a useful pen holders, table organizers or pots.
Grow produce in your garden or backyard. Growing your own food will take less resources to make its way to your table. You are also welcome to cooking more plant-based meals. Also, through this, you can skip the plastic-packaged food from the groceries.
Reduce throw-away food. Food wastes turn into major greenhouse gas in landfills. To avoid this, buy only the amount you need, store food properly, declutter your fridge, and compost food scraps.
Have you done any of these ways before? Share it with us!
Getting The Most Out Of Your Solar Panels
As long as your solar panels are fitted correctly, you wont notice any difference in your electricity supply. Your system should switch seamlessly between electricity from your panels to your supply from the National Grid.
You can even use your solar panels alongside a normal energy tariff, without having to notify your energy company youll simply use less electricity from the grid and pay lower bills. But dont forget to shop around to make sure your tariff is the best out there.
Other carbon-saving tips include using more electricity during the day . Or, if youre usually out during the day, you could use inbuilt timers on appliances like washing machines and dishwashers.
And, as weve mentioned above, you could install a solar battery or energy storage system to store electricity generated during the day. Theres also the option of combining solar panels with other renewable technologies such as heat pumps and thermal panels.
Read our practical guide on air source heat pumps and how they work
When it comes to maintenance, your solar panels will need to be cleaned regularly you can buy solar panel cleaning kits or install automated cleaners that are a bit like sprinkler systems. Theres also the option to hire a cleaning company to do the hard work for you! Either way, its all about keeping your solar tech working as efficiently as possible.
Thinking about expanding your home? Take a look at our complete guide to loft conversions.