How Solar can save the Earth

How often when flicking through the news or latest review do you stumble across a comment which boils down to: “The Earth is huge! It has ecosystems full of checks and balances, what we do on it can’t have any impact. That’s just crazy talk.”

Sometimes they quote CO2 historical data or ice cap increases to flesh out the statement. As a start-up company focused on creating clean energy solutions in BC and Western Canada it can be a bit frustrating, as we scratch our collective heads, wondering how to explain it better.

The problem is that as an individual it’s impossible to realize the magnitude of global energy use and the associated atmospheric emissions. Ah, they say, how do you know our CO2 has any impact?

The atmospheric concentration of CO2 reached the highest concentration since the Pilocene epoch (400ppm) which was approximately three million years ago. In the last 800,000 years CO2 oscillated between 180-280 ppm (air bubbles trapped in the Antarctic ice gave us this measurement), so a wild deviation to 400 ppm in a very short period of time 1960-2010 is something we ought to be concerned about. It gets worse as it appears that the Earth has not been above 400 ppm in 20 million years.

Three million years ago the sea level was higher, polar ice caps smaller. Polar Science Center at the University of Washington studying the rate at which arctic ice melting and not recovering stated that the Arctic was losing about 280 km3 of ice per year. Assuming the ice is 2.5m thick this is an area of 335 x 335 km2 which is the size as Ecuador: that it is losing permanently every year.

Here is where some people get a bit lost. Every year the Earth evolves from one state to another, it is a living organism. From May to September CO2 concentrations change due to the plants growing in spring/summer, and photosynthesis absorbs it to create biomass. In the fall, plants die releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere. Seasonal ice loss in the Arctic is 16,400 km3: about 60 times larger than the PERMANENT arctic ice loss. At this rate of loss the ice caps will be entirely melted in 50 years.

So, yes the Arctic ice does melt and yes the Arctic ice does freeze again, but every single year there has been a significant and permanent loss. Science baby! (For the geeks out there check out the data from the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Michael McKay’s analysis of that data.)

The ENERGY needed to melt ice is mind blowing. The amount of energy needed to permanently melt the arctic ice is equivalent to the energy used by the USA every year! If you want to see how the calculations are done to determine the impact of the burning fossil fuels and our carbon emissions I suggest you buy Michael McKay’s book, “Solar Energy”: in summary, we have a massive energy problem and we are responsible for the alarming increase in CO2 and GHG emissions.

“But I still don’t see how you can PROVE the increase in CO2 emissions is contributing to global climate change.” Ask them what they think happens to the Earth passed 400 ppm because we don’t know: the Earth hasn’t been here in over 20 million years. My money is on “Nothing good”.

If the global consumption of electricity doubles in the next 50 years (a conservative estimate as third world economies move forward, global population increases, etc) and if that need is met by coal-fired power plants we are talking about 4,220 new power plants, one erected every 4.3 days. I hope at this point that you are beginning to understand the magnitude of our global energy problem as we acknowledge that CO2 emissions have to be reduced and eliminated.

Water security rears its head as we meander down the coal-fueled power plant path. We must all recognize that water is going to be a precious commodity in all parts of the globe: do we really want to use it to create electricity, either in more hydro plants or cooling?

Solar Energy to the rescue! No water required. No carbon emissions. Sun rises every day and you don’t even have to flick a switch. Storage of the energy produced is a problem that we intend to solve, once we and others have cracked that conundrum going off grid, being entirely 100% energy self sufficient anywhere in Canada becomes a reality.

For more on this please comment or share! We love to hear your thoughts and engage others in this important discussion.

Raj Gurm

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