National Climate Assessment: Step Off The Gas, Step Up The Solar

“Solar energy technologies have the potential to satisfy a significant portion of U.S. electricity demand and reduce greenhouse gases,” the White House’s recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment explains. But first solar has to compete with the short-term financial incentives and long-term destruction of methane, less controversially known as “natural gas,” before it can truly take off as a renewable energy champ.

“The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects a 29 percent increase in U.S. natural gas by 2035, driven primarily by the economics of shale gas,” the report argues, in the midst of 800-plus pages of quite specific and very alarming breakdowns of how burning carbon dioxide and methane are destroying climatological and sociopolitical stability worldwide. “In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 6.9 million megatons of methane — with a global warming potential equivalent to 144.7 million megatons of C02 — is emitted from the U.S. natural gas system.”

This confounding caveat stains the National Climate Assessment’s otherwise helpful prescriptive for beating back the apocalyptic ravages of global warming. “Solar power use is increasing and is part of the solution to climate change,” the joint study proudly trumpets on its first and second pages. But it’s not long before page 5 comes along with the comedown: “While the report demonstrates the importance of mitigation as an essential part of the nation’s climate change strategy, it does not evaluate mitigation technologies or policies or undertake an analysis of the effectiveness of various approaches.”

Which is a good thing for the political officials and learned scientists involved, because then they would have to more thoroughly report that so-called natural gas is leaking 100 to 1,000 more methane — which, the Environmental Protection Agency admits, has “pound for pound” a 20 percent greater impact than CO2 — into the atmosphere. This does not sound like a sensible solution of any kind, but merely a profit center in search of a reason for being.

On the other hand, solar has no such drawback throughout the National Climate Assessment, which is bullish overall on the benefits of solar and the sunshine industry. Mention is made of solar lightening the load on the electricity grid nationwide, although the Assessment notes that it will have to fight for diminishing water and habitat resources, especially for utility-scale projects. Rooftop solar, the report also notes, carries much less risk and much more promise. The Assessment also had nothing but positives regarding America’s solar potential, explaining that it is vast even in areas of the country, like Midwest, often considered too cold. The report also takes pains to note that “the potential loss of tax credits may dampen additional market penetration of these technologies,” meaning even more financial backstopping from government and industry is needed to make the switch from dirty fuels to clean tech.

But it isn’t really until one wanders down to page 815 of the National Climate Assessment where a graph indicating the multiple pathways for reducing U.S. emissions pops up to convincingly make the case for solar and other renewable (that is, non-carbon-based) energies.

There it is quite clear that to cut carbon emissions in half, as the graph’s subtitle explains, solar and wind are absolutely mandatory. Otherwise, global emissions continue to scarily climb as we reach for half-hearted band-aids like increasing energy efficiency. The only way to truly turn back to clock, and the climate change, is a total switch to renewables. End of discussion.

So while the National Climate Assessment seems scared to take a stand on solar, its conclusion comes through nevertheless. We can talk all we want about methane being, confusingly, a bridge fuel from a stormy present to a renewable energy future. But until we pull the plug on carbon-based fuels of all kinds, we’re sitting ducks, existentially speaking. Only solar, wind and other carbon-free energies can save us from exponential disaster.

This article appeared at Solar Energy

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