Director’s Corner: Solar Power & Climate Change–Closing the Emissions Gap

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind, and tide.”  Thomas Edison in 1931, as quoted by James D. Newton

On November 26th, 2019, the United Nations Environment Program released its Emissions Gap Report 2019.  The gap the report describes is the one between where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are, where they are headed, and where they need to be to maintain a stable and safe climate.

In a nutshell, the gap is way too big and it is growing.  According to the report, global temperatures could rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius, or 7 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.  The internationally stated goal for global temperature rise is 1.5 degrees C, or 2.7 degrees F.  The stated absolute upper limit of temperature increase that we can reasonably tolerate is 2.0 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F.

Areas in the northern latitudes have already seen temperature increases above 2.0 degrees C.

Accompanying the report was a statement released by Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. In part, that statement reads: “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions.  We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

So now what? I have written before about Project Drawdown, which identifies the top 100 solutions to global warming.  Project Drawdown’s research discovered that humanity is already doing – on a small scale – everything we need to do to reverse global warming and draw down GHG concentrations to a safe level.  We just have to dramatically and quickly scale up what we already know how to do.  Viewed through this lens, Project Drawdown sees the climate crisis to be an opportunity to do things differently and in the process restore a safe and stable climate while creating millions of new and sustainable jobs.

Several ready-made solutions identified by Project Drawdown relate to solar energy.  At least three of them present great opportunities here in Alabama.

One is building more large-scale, or utility-scale, solar farms for large-scale energy users like Auburn University.   According to Drawdown: “When their entire life cycle is taken into account, solar farms curtail 94 percent of the carbon emissions that coal plants emit and completely eliminate emissions of sulfur and nitrous oxides, mercury, and particulates….Currently .4 percent of global electricity generation, utility-scale solar PV grows to 10 percent (by 2050)  in our analysis…. That increase could avoid 36.9 gigatons (36.9 billion tons) of carbon dioxide emissions, while saving $5 trillion in operational costs…—the financial impact of producing energy without fuel.”  And solar energy has become very inexpensive.  Wow!

Another solar solution is rooftop solar for homes and small businesses. If rooftop solar deployment can grow to 7 percent of global electricity generation by 2050, a reasonable expectation, that would reduce GHG emissions by 24.6 gigatons.  It would cost $453.14 billion to implement and save $3.46 trillion net operational savings.  Wow!

Solar thermal, or solar water heating, is a third solution.  According to Drawdown, heating water consumes 25 percent of home energy use and 12 percent of energy use in commercial buildings.  This simple technology has been around for a long time and can be easily installed.  Drawdown’s impact assessment: “If solar water heating grows from 5.5 percent of the addressable market to 25 percent, the technology can deliver emissions reductions of 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide and save households $774 billion in energy costs by 2050. In our calculations of up-front costs, we assume solar water heaters supplement and do not replace electric and gas boilers.” Wow!

The Southern Environmental Law Center reports that Alabama ranks 13th nationally in raw solar energy potential, and 8th in potential economic benefit from solar generation of electricity.

What are we waiting for?  Thomas Edison saw the future nearly 90 years ago.

By developing state policies that facilitate the rapid development of unlimited, pollution-free solar energy we can do our part as Alabamians to reduce emissions now, and in the process reap significant economic benefits in terms of lower energy costs and substantial job growth.

One important step is for Alabama to establish renewable energy portfolio standards, something a majority of states have already done. From a November 1, 2019 post at the National Conference of State Legislatures website:

States have been very active in the past year revising their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require that a specified percentage of the electricity that utilities sell comes from renewable resources. States have created these standards to diversify their energy resources, promote domestic energy production and encourage economic development. Renewable energy policies help drive the nation’s $64 billion market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. These policies can play an integral role in state efforts to diversify their energy mix, promote economic development and reduce emissions. Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have established RPS.  Eight states have established voluntary renewable energy goals.  Alabama is one of only twelve states that have neither renewable standards nor voluntary goals.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducts opinion surveys on climate change and renewable energy and maps the results.  The September 19, 2019, Climate Opinion Map for Alabama reveals that at least half of Alabamians want the governor and local officials to do more to address global warming and a majority of Alabamians support the state requiring utilities to produce 20% of the electricity they generate from renewable sources.

Again I ask, what are we waiting for?  As climate science makes clear, we need to act quickly and on a large scale.  Making the transition to utility-scale and rooftop solar energy will help us do what we must to address the climate crisis while, as the National Conference on State Legislatures says, diversifying our energy resources, promoting domestic energy production, and encouraging economic development.

 

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Plan to Power Down Pre-Break!

Contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern

The holiday break for Auburn University is just around the corner, so there’s no doubt people’s thoughts are filled with travel plans to see family and friends. Much of campus is vacant during the winter weeks of December and January, as most students go home and many faculty and staff aren’t in their offices for part of the break. Have you ever considered what goes on in empty residence halls and offices when no one is living or working in them? In terms of human use, there may not be much activity, however, lots of energy is still being used when there’s no one there to enjoy it. Given the large amount of money Auburn University spends on powering campus per year, around $13,555,000 for electricity and $4,841,000 for natural gas, any actions we can take will help the university save money over winter break. In addition, energy production and consumption from nonrenewable sources is a main emitter of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to climate change. By being aware of how you leave your residence hall, office, or apartment for a long break, you can help the Auburn community save money and energy this winter. So this year, before you start packing to leave campus, take a minute to check out these tips to power down during the holiday break!

Picture of Electrical Cord PlugUnplug appliances
  • Computers, printers, scanners, televisions, gaming systems, space heaters, fans, lamps, toasters, and coffeemakers are great places to start, as these appliances won’t be used if no one is in the building over a long break. Appliances such as these consume a phantom energy load, meaning they pull energy even when not turned on or in direct use. Annually 75% of electricity used to power homes is consumed when products are off1. By unplugging over break, you can get rid of phantom energy loads throughout your residence hall, apartment, or office building.
Unplug and clean refrigerators and freezers
  • The electricity used by larger appliances is significant, and reducing it can greatly increase savings if not in use for a month. If you can completely unplug, be sure no food is left inside, so you won’t come back to a spoiled mess. If it’s not possible to unplug, cleaning refrigerators and freezers is still beneficial. Dust and dirt that build up on coils located under and behind the unit cause it to work harder for longer cycles. Energy consumption can be reduced 6% by removing dust from the outside of the appliance 2-3 times a year5. In addition, frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to run. Before leaving for break is a perfect time to clean, defrost, and unplug.
Turn off lights
  • In a typical campus building 31% of energy use comes from lighting,2 making turning off lights an easy way to save both money and energy. Before walking out of the office or residence hall for break, do a quick walk through and flip the switches off.
Lower blinds and close curtains
  • Heat transfer occurs from warm to cool areas, meaning a warm house in the winter is subject to lose heat as it flows to the cooler outside temperatures. Even when all windows appear to be completely closed, heat is still lost through a building’s walls, roof, and floor. About 35% of the heat produced by a building will be lost through gaps in and around windows and doors3. By closing curtains and blinds before leaving, you can decrease the amount of heat wasted from your residence hall or office building.
Turn thermostats down
  • In an apartment you have direct control of your unit’s heating and cooling system and can adjust accordingly for the time you will be gone by turning your heating system down. In an office setting, even if you only control your individual room or you have a limited range of control, remember every degree counts and even small efforts can cause big changes. In fact, lowering the thermostat by 1 degree results in monetary savings of 3% off your bill4. Not only will this save you money, it’s environmentally-friendly because fewer resources will be used for heating an unoccupied building.

These small actions are good habits to develop every time you leave a building, and are especially important before leaving for an extended amount of time. Make this holiday break more sustainable and give a gift to the environment by powering down your residence hall, apartment, or office building before leaving campus!

 

 

Sources

1 Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Take Control and Save. http://www.takecontrolandsave.coop/documents/PhantomLoad.pdf

2 National Grid. Managing Energy Costs in Colleges and Universities.  https://www9.nationalgridus.com/non_html/shared_energyeff_college.pdf

3 The Green Age. Where am I loosing heat in my home? http://www.thegreenage.co.uk/where-am-i-losing-heat-home/

4 US News- Personal Finance. 9 Ways to Save on Your Utility Bill. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/02/21/9-ways-to-save-on-your-utility-bill

5 Horizon Services: Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Frugal Fridge Maintenance Can Save You Energy…and Cold Hard Cash. http://www.horizonservicesinc.com/reference/tips-articles/refrigerator-maintenance-save-energy

 

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Plan to Power Down Pre-Break!

Contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern

The holiday break for Auburn University is just around the corner, so there’s no doubt people’s thoughts are filled with travel plans to see family and friends. Much of campus is vacant during the winter weeks of December and January, as most students go home and many faculty and staff aren’t in their offices for part of the break. Have you ever considered what goes on in empty residence halls and offices when no one is living or working in them? In terms of human use, there may not be much activity, however, lots of energy is still being used when there’s no one there to enjoy it. Given the large amount of money Auburn University spends on powering campus per year, around $13,555,000 for electricity and $4,841,000 for natural gas, any actions we can take will help the university save money over winter break. In addition, energy production and consumption from nonrenewable sources is a main emitter of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to climate change. By being aware of how you leave your residence hall, office, or apartment for a long break, you can help the Auburn community save money and energy this winter. So this year, before you start packing to leave campus, take a minute to check out these tips to power down during the holiday break!

Picture of Electrical Cord PlugUnplug appliances
  • Computers, printers, scanners, televisions, gaming systems, space heaters, lamps, toasters, and coffeemakers are great places to start, as these appliances won’t be used if no one is in the building over a long break. Appliances such as these consume a phantom energy load, meaning they pull energy even when not turned on or in direct use. Annually 75% of electricity used to power homes is consumed when products are off1. By unplugging over break, you can get rid of phantom energy loads throughout your residence hall, apartment, or office building.
Unplug and clean refrigerators and freezers
  • The electricity used by larger appliances is significant, and reducing it can greatly increase savings if not in use for a month. If you can completely unplug, be sure no food is left inside, so you won’t come back to a spoiled mess. If it’s not possible to unplug, cleaning refrigerators and freezers is still beneficial. Dust and dirt that build up on coils located under and behind the unit cause it to work harder for longer cycles. Energy consumption can be reduced 6% by removing dust from the outside of the appliance 2-3 times a year5. In addition, frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to run. Before leaving for break is a perfect time to clean, defrost, and unplug.
Turn off lights
  • In a typical campus building 31% of energy use comes from lighting,2 making turning off lights an easy way to save both money and energy. Before walking out of the office or residence hall for break, do a quick walk through and flip the switches off.
Lower blinds and close curtains
  • Heat transfer occurs from warm to cool areas, meaning a warm house in the winter is subject to lose heat as it flows to the cooler outside temperatures. Even when all windows appear to be completely closed, heat is still lost through a building’s walls, roof, and floor. About 35% of the heat produced by a building will be lost through gaps in and around windows and doors3. By closing curtains and blinds before leaving, you can decrease the amount of heat wasted from your residence hall or office building.
Turn thermostats down
  • In an apartment you have direct control of your unit’s heating and cooling system and can adjust accordingly for the time you will be gone by turning your heating system down. In an office setting, even if you only control your individual room or you have a limited range of control, remember every degree counts and even small efforts can cause big changes. In fact, lowering the thermostat by 1 degree results in monetary savings of 3% off your bill4. Not only will this save you money, it’s environmentally-friendly because fewer resources will be used for heating an unoccupied building.

These small actions are good habits to develop every time you leave a building, and are especially important before leaving for an extended amount of time. Make this holiday break more sustainable and give a gift to the environment by powering down your residence hall, apartment, or office building before leaving campus!

 

 

Sources

1 Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Take Control and Save. http://www.takecontrolandsave.coop/documents/PhantomLoad.pdf

2 National Grid. Managing Energy Costs in Colleges and Universities.  https://www9.nationalgridus.com/non_html/shared_energyeff_college.pdf

3 The Green Age. Where am I loosing heat in my home? http://www.thegreenage.co.uk/where-am-i-losing-heat-home/

4 US News- Personal Finance. 9 Ways to Save on Your Utility Bill. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/02/21/9-ways-to-save-on-your-utility-bill

5 Horizon Services: Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Frugal Fridge Maintenance Can Save You Energy…and Cold Hard Cash. http://www.horizonservicesinc.com/reference/tips-articles/refrigerator-maintenance-save-energy

 

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