how your energy choices help the planet
Solar Monthly Update

How Your Energy Choices Help the Planet: Solar Panels

After being overwhelmed by the IPCC Report on climate change, Alison and I wanted to spend some time focusing on personal actions that could help the planet. So far we have looked at:

There will be simple actions we can make in all areas of our lives to lessen our impact on the planet and energy choices in our homes are just such an example! How often have you walked around the house and turned out lights before leaving the house – or because your kids have gone through and turned every light in every room on!

We have this uncomfortable feeling that we’re ‘wasting power’, driving up our bill over time for energy that we haven’t used. 

But what if the costs of our energy use are actually much higher than a few dollars on our bill?

Solar panels
Source: andreas160578 from Pixabay

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Help the Planet with your Energy Choices

There may be many ways your energy choices help the planet, but I’m going to focus on solar panels today as so many people I speak to don’t seem to know how really accessible they for a residential setting. We actually have people stop on the road in front of our house to ask us about them!

  1. How Energy Creation Impacts our Carbon Footprint
  2. Changes You Can Make (including Solar Panels!)
  3. My Household Energy Use and Solar Generation Statistics

1. How Energy Creation Impacts our Carbon Footprint

Energy is generated using a variety of methods including coal and other fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams, solar power, wind power and nuclear power and all of these have benefits and drawbacks in terms of their environmental impact. The chart below illustrates the emissions during generation, however it must be noted that there are carbon emissions related to manufacturing and bringing all of these systems into operation. For example, hydro power can result in greenhouse gases due to decomposition of organic matter when the dam is created.

Source: Energy Market Analysis This chart shows CO2 emissions by fuel type in grams of CO2 equivalent per megajoule (g/MJ). There are no emissions during the generation of solar, wind, hydro, or nuclear electricity.

The creation of energy used to power all aspects our lives, according to the EPA’s website, accounts for approximately 25% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: IPCC (2014)Exit based on global emissions from 2010. Details about the sources included in these estimates can be found in the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeExit

Why is energy one of the changes you can make that can help the planet?

As you can see from this chart from The World Bank, which shows electric power consumption in kilowatt hours per capita since 1970, our individual energy use worldwide has increased dramatically.

Canadian households also contribute to our country’s share of greenhouse gas emissions such that changes made collectively on a household level can measurably impact our country’s carbon footprint.

Residential [energy] consumption was associated with approximately 4% of Canadian GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.


So what can we do to reduce our usage and limit the emissions required to power our lives?

2. Changes You Can Make (including Solar Panels!)

Simple Changes You Can Make With No Investment

It can be easy to feel that the changes we make to impact energy usage in our homes and lives won’t add up to much change on our bill, let alone make a measurable impact to our carbon footprint.

However, in my first post where I shared about my family’s journey to solar panels, we identified a number of ways to lower our energy usage before going the solar panel route, and they made a surprisingly large difference to our bill, see the post here!

Here is a summary of our energy-reducing changes:

  • Turn the thermometer on your hot water tank down;
  • Fix leaking water taps (in general) but hot water taps in particular;
  • Switch light bulbs to LED;
  • Use the dryer sparingly where possible and invest in a good drying rack* – I can fit three loads of laundry on this one!
  • Keep your home at a stable temperature rather than allowing large swings where the system has to pump out heat to catch up; and
  • Monitor your usage and understand what drives your energy usage to make effective changes.

Unless we can start to reduce emissions now, we will soon have to grapple with the human and financial costs of more frequent and extreme storms, floods, heat waves, droughts and forest fires.


Changes You Can Make With An Investment

Solar panels can seem daunting, between the terminology, the cost, and how they will integrate with current energy sources. If you’re in the place where you don’t know what you don’t know about solar panels, check out my blog post Understanding Solar Panels and FAQ’s to get you started.

If you’re concerned about the cost (who isn’t!), I can tell you first-hand that we have come across (and benefitted from!) grants and programs to assist residential homeowners with the cost of significant investments to lower the environmental impact of your home, like solar panels! If you’re in Canada, read up on the Canada Greener Homes Grant for lots of ideas to improve the efficiency of your home, and a determine if you’re eligible to apply for the grants of up to $5,600 toward these kinds of changes.

3. My Household Energy Use and Solar Generation Statistics

Curious about how solar panels have worked out for my household? See the statistics for my first year here! We’ve just passed the threshold of our second year and I have yet to tally up the year two statistics, but check back as I’ll be posting them soon!

Your Energy Decisions Matter!

We require energy in virtually all areas of our lives, however, how much we use and how we generate it are within our control. As noted above, there are some very simple changes we can make in our homes and lives to impact our carbon footprint in this area!

Have you ever considered how your energy usage impacts your carbon footprint? Have you ever considered solar panels for your home?

Cork Yoga Mat

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  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    I know several people who heat their pools with solar panels. It’s a great idea. We have a steel roof so I don’t think we can install them on our house. I do a lot of other things to reduce energy use. My next thing to investigate is a hybrid or electric vehicle the next time we need a new car.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Solar panels to heat a pool is a great idea! Krista’s roof is metal (I can’t remember what at the moment) so it might be possible for you if you were interested in it. We’re thinking about electric vehicles too and I need to start investigating that. Do you have plans to do a post on the topic? I’d love to read it if you do 🙂

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!