Solar Mythbusters Episode #4: Solar & Tree Removal

When customers express interest in going solar, we do our best to try and find a way to make a system work for them. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. EcoMen Solar is not interested in jamming a system down a customer’s throat using hard sales tactics or manipulation. That is EXACTLY the type of dynamic we fight AGAINST. Sometimes homes are just not good for solar for one of a number of reasons. When that reason is a few trees worth of shade, we generally suggest the removal of the trees. Some customers strongly object to this idea. They feel tree removal more than negates the environmental benefits of solarization. The myth we cover in this episode: removing trees to install solar is worse for the environment than not installing solar.

The solar mythbuster received this message on 8/9/2018:

Amongst the negative assertions about solar, there is “How are you eco friendly [if] all you want to do is cut down trees.” The solar mythbuster was thrown into action…

The myth…

“Cutting trees down is bad for the environment… and doing that for solar is worse than not getting solar.”

Solar Mythbuster Investigation & Response…

Consider the following:

  • The end goal is to: make electricity
  • The lifecycle of a solar system is: 20+ years
  • The average amount of CO2 a tree can absorb per year is: 48 lbs
  • The US average for CO2 production per kWh of electricity generated is: 1.4 lbs
  • A reasonable well positioned 6 kW solar system will produce: 7200kWh/year
  • According to NREL the number of years it takes for a solar panel to offset the carbon footprint to manufacture it is: 4 years

Lets try to visualize the “Avoided Carbon Footprint” of the solar system taking into account:

  • The carbon effect of removing 3 trees
  • Carbon footprint from the panel manufacturing process for the system

This shows the following:

  1. Up until year ~4.2, the carbon cost of the manufacturing of the solar panels and lost CO2 absorption of the 3 removed trees is greater than the carbon offset value of the solar system.
  2. In year ~4.2, the solar system has “earned” back the lost offset.
  3. In year 10, the solar system has avoided about 45,000 lbs of CO2 footprint. Thats about 22 TONS.
  4. In year 25, the solar system has avoided about 130,000 lbs of CO2 footprint. Thats about 65 TONS.

If that’s not compelling enough, consider that power generation doesn’t just generate CO2. It produces sulfur and other greenhouse gasses, which are also offset by the solar system.

Solar Mythbuster Conclusion: The ecological benefits of installing solar GREATLY outweigh the detriments of cutting down a few trees.