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Eighth grader knows that solar defeats fossil fuels any day

Francisco CastroApril 15, 2019470

For a school assignment, eighth grader Sam investigated why one might want to have a small portable solar charger for a cell phone.

“What I found was that we could save about 358 million kilowatts per hour (kWh) of fossil fuel energy if about 80 percent of U.S. cell phone users used solar power to charge their phones. I learned that 1 kwh equals 1 pound of carbon dioxide. This means those charging phones with solar energy would stop 358 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere,” he wrote in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Eden Prairie Newspaper in Minnesota. 

Sam is a smart guy and a likely solar power user in the future (if he’s not already), one who is concerned about the environment, just as much as many experts.

The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that in the Unites States, “about 29 percent of global warming emissions come from our electricity sector. Most of those emissions comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.”

Other sectors that are major producers of greenhouse gases are transportation (28%), industry (22%), commercial and residential combined (11%), and agriculture (9%)

A comparison among these different energy sources makes it plain to see: burning natural gas for electricity releases between 0.6-2 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour (CO2E/kWh); coal emits between 1.4-3.6 (CO2E/kWh); while the output of (CO2E/kWh) from solar is of between 0.07-.02.

“Increasing the supply of renewable energy would allow us to replace carbon-intensive energy sources and significantly reduce US global warming emissions,” says the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Even the U.S. government knows it.

A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that explored the feasibility of generating 80 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050 found that it could help reduce the electricity sector’s emissions by approximately 81 percent. 

Fossil fuels also burn more money in your pocket. Around 74% (211 gigawatts) of U.S. coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to the report titled “Energy Innovation,” which draws data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA).

The study also notes that most U.S. coal plants are contaminating groundwater by dumping millions of tons of toxic metals like mercury, arsenic and lead into waterways and sending tons of nitrous oxide, methane and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This in turn would bring disastrous climate change that would cause large areas of coastline to be inundated, more and deadlier heatwaves and wildfires, as well as lower crop yield and water insecurity. 

Your solar power system and carbon dioxide

You can do your part to help the Earth by eliminating these emissions through the installation of solar panels in your home.

The average U.S. household produces 14,920 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year. For a sobering statistic, you can even measure your carbon footprint.

By adding solar panels to your home - which also increase the value of the property by an average of $15,000, according to different studies - the solar energy you produce will lower your home’s carbon footprint by over 3,000 pounds annually. Now multiply that for the 20-25 years lifespan of the solar system. 

But if what you care about as dollars and cents, solar power also comes on top. A recent study by the North Carolina State University Clean Energy Technology Center found that in America’s 50 biggest cities, people who invested in a 5 kW solar power system for their homes saved an average of $44 - $187 per month during the first year that they owned their system.

An experienced solar installer can give you a more accurate evaluation of how much you stand to save with your solar energy system.

And the Energy Department estimates that those who live in places like Hawaii, California, New York, Colorado and New Jersey can save between 10 - 24 percent on power bills over 25 years. 

Despite these benefits and a growing number of solar adapters, there’s still a long way to go before solar power overcomes traditional fuels. 

It is estimated that renewable sources of energy, including solar, account for around 17% of U.S. electricity generation. 

But states like California, which in December passed a law calling for the inclusion of solar power in all new homes starting in 2020, are trying to change that little by little.

And so is Sam, the eighth-grader who wrote the paper in Minnesota after doing some calculations.

“Another thing I found was that during most months of the year, you could get energy from a solar panel. My results should be of interest to you because this is a simple and affordable way to slowly convert to renewable energy using solar power with a common item (cell phone),” he wrote.

A small change, but a big impact on the way to saving the Earth. 

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