In 1931, the legendary Thomas Edison said to his friend Henry Ford, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Edison died that same year, and it took another two decades for the first commercial solar cell to be invented.
Nearly a century after Edison’s death, solar power is the fastest-growing energy source worldwide, and it doesn’t take a visionary to see how inevitable solar energy is. Besides being an incredible financial investment, it is probably the only technology that is both the prevention and the cure for a worsening climate. Let’s see how.
Part I - Solar as the Prevention for Further Climate Change
In 2015, nearly all of the world’s countries came together to sign the ‘Paris Agreement’, whose primary goal is to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. If the average temperature rise reaches the 2°C mark, experts warn that the world will see catastrophic, irreversible impacts on life - potentially wiping out a significant portion of living beings from the face of our planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published a detailed report on why it is essential to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, and what measures governments need to take to achieve those targets. Unsurprisingly, one of the most powerful ways to limit global warming is to replace polluting fossil fuels with clean sources of power like sunlight.
Can Solar Power Prevent Climate Change?
Climate change is the result of humans pumping excessive carbon compounds into the Earth’s atmosphere. This happens when we generate increasing amounts of fossil power and at the same time cut down forests that help capture this carbon.
While solar panels alone cannot stop the multiple causes of global warming, they can replace a huge portion of our existing power generation. Theoretically, solar can even power the world entirely. Our planet receives enough sunlight every hour to fulfill the world’s energy needs for an entire year! As for New Zealand, our islands receive enough sunshine to power the entire nation using less than 1% of its land area for solar panels.
All of NZ can be powered using just 192 sq. km. of surface area
Besides that, solar power can also make mobility green. While we are still a bit far from commercially viable solar-powered cars, solar-powered EV charging is a fantastic way to make transport both free and clean. This is particularly important when you think of the fact that a fifth of the world’s emissions come from transportation.
In 2022 alone, the world generated a staggering 1.29 trillion kWh of energy from solar panels. This energy not only offset the costs of utility bills, but also the carbon emissions caused by traditional, grid power.
Each kWh of conventional energy generates about 0.45 kg of harmful carbon emissions, which means that in just one year, the world’s solar power systems have avoided an incredible 58 billion kilograms of carbon emissions from entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
And while New Zealand may be somewhat late to the solar party, our nation still has 270 MW of total solar capacity, nestled on farms, homes, and office buildings. Together, these solar systems are preventing a remarkable 150 million kilograms of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.
As for temperature increase, our planet has already crossed the 1°C mark, and restricting the rise to 1.5°C is going to take herculean efforts. Solar power has already helped in slowing down the climate crisis, but nations will have to roll their sleeves and really push solar power forward while limiting fossil sources as much as possible.
Part II - Solar as the Cure for the Effects of Climate Change
Unlike what many of us believe, climate change is not a future problem. It is not something that will suddenly unleash itself upon us in some apocalyptic future four decades from now. Instead, climate change and its devastating impacts are happening at this very moment.
A report by the United Nations shows that over the past few decades, we lost 2 million people and over 4 trillion dollars to climate change. That’s not all, the World Health Organization predicts that about 250,000 people will die from the effects of climate change every year.
But even if we ignore these serious effects (which we definitely shouldn’t), climate change has numerous other impacts on our daily lives that cause serious inconvenience. A major example of this is power outages caused by extreme weather events. Let’s see how solar power offers a solution to this.
Solar Panels and Battery Storage for Energy Resilience
In New Zealand, power outages aren’t an unknown phenomenon. After all, we’re the country that holds the record for the longest blackout ever, as Auckland city was without power for 5 weeks! As the climate deteriorates, it leads to an increasing number of extreme weather events - from storms and heat waves to droughts and floods.
For instance, the cyclone Gabrielle, which lashed NZ early this year (2023), led to falling trees and broken cables. At its peak, the power outages in the country left a whopping 225,000 without power. Blackouts like these can be mildly inconvenient to some but also life-threatening to others. For example, people with electrical medical supplies are at severe risk when it comes to blackouts. In NZ, climate change poses a unique threat to power customers. Since most of the power comes from hydroelectric generators, both floods and draughts can lead to power failures or outages.
In most places, the best way to fight a blackout is to install a solar power system with a battery backup. Depending on the size of the system and the battery capacity, you can power essential appliances in your home anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Many solar batteries also offer smart functionality that can help adjust the energy supply according to the grid status. Some batteries, like the Tesla Powerwall, also come with the ability to communicate with the weather station and prepare for a possible blackout in advance.
If you are wondering how much a solar and battery system would cost you, remember - you can receive three free, no-obligation quotes from pre-vetted installers that can help you make a decision.
For all the glory and beauty of mankind’s technological achievements, the side effect has been devastating. Climate change is a concerning reality that needs urgent measures - both to prevent it and cure the damage it is doing.
While tackling climate change at the national and global level is important, it is also essential for us citizens to do our part in slowing the crisis down. Arguably the best way to do this is to install a solar power system, which offsets our consumption of conventional energy, thus preventing harmful carbon emissions.
Fortunately, adopting solar power and adding in energy storage offers another, much-needed benefit. It helps families protect themselves against unexpected stretches of power outages. And solar power is perhaps the only technology that helps achieve both these goals in a surprisingly simple manner.
Ultimately, we think it is nearly impossible to stress the importance of solar power in mitigating the climate crisis, but if we had to say just one thing, we’d leave you with a quote - “We don’t inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”