Solar Energy and the Environment

Australia has a well-known potential for solar energy. It is one of the sunniest places on Earth. In 2015, Australia committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 28% below its 2005 levels by 2030.


In this article we summarise the main points behind our country’s carbon reduction target and describe how rooftop solar systems represent a unique opportunity for business owners to actively contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, helping achieve this 2030 target.



Carbon Emissions


It is a known fact that carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere. Greenhouse gases help Earth retain part of the energy it receives from the sun, preventing that energy from escaping back into space. This makes our planet habitable for most of the life on Earth. If it were not for greenhouse gases, our oceans would be frozen solid.


While the greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface to a liveable temperature, too much of anything is a bad thing. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This has led to the enhanced greenhouse effect, which is warming our earth faster than ever before.


The Climate Pact approved in Paris in December 2015 was signed with this in mind. Nearly 200 countries around the world have agreed to a collective goal of limiting global average temperature rise to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.


The term carbon footprint represents the amount of carbon (usually expressed in tonnes) emitted to the environment by an activity or organization. When we use electricity from the national grid, every unit of energy consumed (expressed in kWh) has a carbon footprint associated with how that energy was generated. The Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources releases the National Greenhouse Accounts Factors annually, where the carbon emissions equivalent factor for each state is determined according to their electricity sources. As you can see Victoria has some work to do.

Table N°1: Indirect emission factors for consumption of purchased electricity per state


Australia’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Target


Australia's first environmental commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, was to reduce emissions by 5% against its 2000 levels by this year. It has exceeded this target with flying colours. Australia’s

emissions per capita have declined by 19% since 2000 and by 22% since 2005. The country has now set an even more ambitious task for 2030.


It is important to point out that more than 50 countries have now submitted carbon reduction targets. These countries produce over 60% of the global emission. Countries’ emissions are linked with population and economic growth, and Australia’s population and economy are growing faster than most other developed countries, so the targets set for 2030 represent 52% reduction is emissions per person and 65% in emissions per unit of GDP.

Figure N°1: Australia’s emissions intensity and emissions per capita fall with population and economic growth.


In order to drive the reduction of carbon emissions, the Government has set direct action policies. Developing a strategy to improve the utilisation of solar power is one of the main areas of focus. Businesses in the commercial and industrial sector are a very well-suited solar candidate. This is because they have high energy consumption and operate mainly during daylight hours.


Solar Energy and the Environment


Transitioning to renewable energy is one of the most powerful ways for a country to reduce its ecological footprint. Using solar energy can help lower businesses’ carbon emissions and boost their environmental credentials. Using solar energy instead of the energy from the grid means you reduce the need for carbon dioxide emitting energy to be produced for the grid on your behalf. This reduces your carbon footprint from the moment the system is turned on.


It is interesting to find other measures to look at carbon emissions in a more tangible way. For example, australian cars typically travel 13,000km every year around the country, generating an average of 2,400 kg of carbon emissions per year. A small 2kW rooftop PV system can generate enough annual energy to completely offset the carbon footprint of this car. The same system will fully “park this car” for up to 30 years.


At the same time, this amount of energy is comparable to having a virtual forest composed by 117 mature trees. Every year, they would capture this amount of carbon emissions.


Last by not least, by using solar energy, companies are also saving water. Water is used throughout the generation of electricity for cooling generators, processing and refining fuel and transporting fuel through pipes. The operation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels doesn’t require water to generate electricity. The only water needed is rainwater to naturally clean the panels.


Conclusions


The uptake of solar energy can help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and compile with our 2030 target. Rooftop solar PV system is a valuable opportunity to reduce carbon emissions while saving money and Solar PPAs are a no-investment option.

See how much carbon dioxide you can abate, and learn what your estimated annual savings would be by clicking here.

References


Australian Government, 2015, Australia’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Target - Strong, credible, responsible, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment , viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/f52d7587-8103-49a3-aeb6-651885fa6095/files/summary-australias-2030-emissions-reduction-target.pdf>


Zen Energy, 17 Feb 2020, 5 Advantages of Solar Energy on the Environment, Zen Energy, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.zenenergy.com.au/blog/five-advantages-of-solar-energy-on-the-environment/>

Global Footprint Network, 2020, Climate Change, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/climate-change/>


Christina Nunez, 13 May 2019, Carbon dioxide levels are at a record high. Here's what you need to know, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/greenhouse-gases/>


Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, August 2019, National Greenhouse

Accounts Factors, Australian Government, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-07/national-greenhouse-accounts-factors-august-2019.pdf>


Budget Direct, April 2020, Average kilometres travelled per day/per year in Australia 2020, Budget Direct, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/car-insurance/research/average-kilometers-driven.html>


National Transport Commission, 22 June 2020, Carbon dioxide emissions intensity for new Australian light vehicles 2019, National Transport Commission, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://www.ntc.gov.au/transport-reform/light-vehicle-emissions#:~:text=Australia's%20average%20emissions%20intensity%20for,they%20are%2025%20per%20cent.>


Joseph Coppolino, 20 August 2020, How Planting Trees Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, One Tree Planted, viewed 31 August 2020,

<https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/planting-trees-reduce-carbon-footprint>


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