Quantifying how the all-electric solar home helps the environment


For many people the prime motivation to have an all-electric solar home is to do their part to help fight our many serious environmental problems in particular global warming (the fact it also makes financial sense is a nice bonus).  It is a laudable and excellent motivation but it is worth knowing the numbers on just how beneficial an all-electric solar home is for the environment, this is partly because it is interesting but also partly because it fortifies you against naysayers i.e. those types will try and take down others who are trying to do the right thing and claim that if you "look at the big picture" electric cars/vegetarianism/recycling (choose your action) is actually bad for the environment (which of course is a nice justification for them to not make any personal changes).

To compare the environmental benefits of an all-electric solar home we need a baseline for comparison, for this I'll take the typical family home in Melbourne with four occupants.  This home uses 5,782 kWh of electricity a year and 75,337 MJ (or 20,926 kWh) of gas, it has one petrol car that gets 10L/100km and drives slightly less than the house hold average at 20,000 km per year (most households have 2 cars driving 14,000 km each).

This household produce 5.8 tonnes CO2e (total CO2) from electricity use, 4.7 tonnes CO2e from gas and 4.8 tonnes of CO2e from petrol or 15.3 tonnes CO2e in total, by comparison the all-electric solar home (with an EV) produces exactly 0 tonnes of CO2e a 15.3 tonne carbon saving. 

Well so what, a naysayer might say, Australia emits 600 million tonnes of CO2e a year what does 15 tonne matter?  Well, you can say, people aren't stupid they are catching on that an all-electric solar home is a cheaper way of powering your lifestyle. 2 million + households have already gone solar (and growing rapidly), if all-electric solar households spread to Australia's 9 million households it will be more like a 135 million tonne saving, not so trivial now eh.

Ok ok, the naysayer will come back and say (they love to argue),  have you considered all the tonnes of materials it will take to build those solar panels,  Sanden heat pumps, US7s, induction cookers and electric cars it will be an environmental catastrophe, you are a hypocrite!  Well, you can shoot back, all of those things you have mentioned weigh about 2.5 tonnes, the average household burns about 5 tonnes of fossil fuels (2.3 tonnes of coal, 1.5 tonnes of natural gas and 1.4 tonnes of petrol) or twice the total all-electric setup by weight every year!  Not to mention all the infrastructure and equipment to: mine, drill, frack, process, transport, compress, pipe and otherwise convey all of that fossil fuel energy to your house.  So by comparison an all-electric solar home uses a tiny fraction of the materials consumed by the average home using fossil fuels.

Now the naysayer might be getting a bit desperate at this point; don't be surprised if they are red in the face and yelling.  BUT!, they may say, the materials you need are for your all-electric solar setup are toxic, so much for being environmentally friendly!  By now you might be getting tired of this argument and think it is time to end it, it is time to debunk their nonsense once and for all.   Ok, you concede, making anything involves waste and some of the materials used in the all-electric solar home are harmful to the environment if handled poorly but!  Coal fired power is the number one source of toxic elements released into the environment including mercury, cadmium, arsenic  and emits more radioactivity than the nuclear industry. In the US alone coal fired power puts 109 tonnes of mercury into the environment, where a single gram of mercury can contaminate 500,000 L of water making it unfit to drink on a regular basis.  Coal sludge has to be stored in vast impoundments, the oil industry has polluted the land and ocean from Australia to the Arctic and the natural gas industry is pumping millions of litres of toxic fracking chemicals into in the ground endangering aquifers the world over, not to mention the waste produced by drilling for conventional gas. 

The vast majority of an all-electric solar system can be recycled, whereas the gunk, sludge, CO2 and general toxic outpourings of the fossil fuel industry cannot!  Any toxic element (all electronic equipment uses elements that are toxic but in very small quantities) in the all-electric system is safely locked away in the equipment (just like in your mobile phone) and inaccessible to the user; unlike toxic elements from the fossil fuel industry that simply pour into the environment in many orders of magnitude higher quantities.  So, on every count: CO2e, amount of materials used and toxicity, an all-electric solar home is LIGHT YEARS ahead of a conventional home AND it is cheaper... I rest my case.  

How can anyone argue with that, on every metric the all-electric solar home is the clear environmental champion. By now the naysayer has either sulked off in defeat or asked you where you bought your solar system, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.