Before we can understand if solar energy really has the capacity to help us fight climate change, let’s take a look at what climate change actually is and why it is happening.
What is climate change?
As you know, Earth has a unique layer called the ozone shield.
This layer reflects the excess ultraviolet rays that come from the sun and only allows 70% of the direct irradiance to pass through.
This layer provides the perfect amount of solar radiation needed for the existence of life on Earth.
Inside this layer, a process known as the Greenhouse Effect occurs naturally every day.
The so-called Greenhouse Gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, water vapour and others, reflect the solar radiation and keep the temperature of the Earth at 15°C. If this layer didn’t exist, then the temperature would decrease to -18°C since it wouldn’t be possible to keep the heat of solar radiation inside the planet.
However, if GHG radically increases, then the temperature of the planet will keep increasing above 15°C.
When the atmosphere heats up climate patterns change, creating what is commonly known as Climate Change or Global Warming.
Blocks of ice located in the Arctic and Greenland melt down and raise sea water levels, which leads to bigger and more devastating floods.
Moreover, higher temperatures also increase the probability and strength of hurricanes and tornadoes, and extend droughts throughout the planet.
Carbon dioxide is one particular GHG that has radically increased in the last decades.
Fossil fuel plants generate electricity, but in that process expel tremendous amounts of this gas, which have increased to 400 parts per million only in the last century.
The trend in the last 400,000 years has been situated at around 280 parts per million, therefore we can definitely see an alarming rise in GHG emissions.
The commitment to fight climate change
Electricity demands are also increasing every day as the population grows and technology spreads across the world.
Fossil fuels supplied the entire electricity needs of the 20th century, but in the current century, they might not be able to keep up with the demand.
By 2050 it is expected that energy demands will triple their current values, making it harder for fossil fuels to keep up with the accelerated growth.
Moreover, it is estimated that fossil fuel sources will be all used up by the early 22nd century.
Taking into account all of these facts and realising the importance of fighting climate change, 194 countries from around the world have committed to limit the rise in average global temperatures to a range between 1.5°C and 2°C.
Governments have implemented several policies to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) have focused on National Renewable Energy Targets (RETs) as one of the most important factors to take into account for mitigating climate change and replacing electricity generation with new, clean and sustainable energy sources.
Does solar energy help mitigate climate change?
Solar energy stands out from the rest as the fastest growing technology among renewables.
With installations that today surpass 400 GW worldwide and cost reductions of nearly 80% in the last decade, solar energy has become one of the greatest alternatives for governments from all over the world to fulfil their RETs and thus mitigate climate change.
Actually, taking into account data from the International Renewable Energy Agency in 2014, it is possible to actually measure how solar energy is mitigating climate change.
This can be done by estimating the emissions of CO2 that were avoided with the solar installations that are now available in every country.
One of the most impressive reductions in carbon emissions thanks to solar energy, can be seen in the United States. Almost 20 million tonnes (MT) of CO2 were avoided, replacing 12 MT from coal sources and 8 MT of CO2 from natural gas and oil sources.
China also reduced an impressive amount of 20 MT of CO2 and generated almost 25,000 GWh of electricity back in 2014.
Germany was the greatest contributor with almost 29 MT CO2 emissions avoided and accounting for 35,000 GWh in that year.
Countries like Japan and Italy also reduced carbon emissions by avoiding 22 MT of CO2 and 18 MT respectively.
Finally, other countries such as Spain (11 MT CO2), France (4.7 MT CO2), India (4 MT CO2) and Australia (3.9 MT CO2) also made very important contributions to reducing carbon emissions in every country.
It is important to note that these values are referred to as at 2014, when global installations in solar PV were nearly 177 GW.
By 2017, the solar capacity had achieved more than 400 GW, therefore we can now estimate avoided carbon emissions are a lot bigger than that, thanks to solar energy!
Check out this Avoided Emissions Calculator!
Climate change is a reality and humanity is responsible for it.
Renewable energies are one of the best mechanisms implemented by governments all around the world to promote a sustainable supply of electricity and reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.
To achieve the desired goal of 2°C set in the Paris Agreement, a great de-carbonisation must occur by 2050.
Solar energy is doing its part as one of the most important contributors to this goal.
Besides, solar energy is already cost-effective, is easily distributable and has multiple options available.
Therefore, it is the best way in Australia for you to take part in the scenario and help in the fight against global warming.