Solar Panels Might Not Help CO2 Reduction Any Time Soon

by Emil Morhardt

The main considerations in whether and where to install photovoltaic (PV) panels are how much sun there is, and how much the panels cost. Right? Not necessarily. Engineers at Arizona State University have just published a paper pointing out that if a goal of installing photovoltaics is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, it would be prudent to consider the emissions from manufacturing—which vary significantly by panel type—how long they stay in the atmosphere, and whether or not the installation is competing with other renewable energy sources rather than with fossil fuel burning. Because of the greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing, all panel installations increase greenhouse effects in the short term, although the initial two-year effect is to reduce them owing to sulfur and nitrogen oxides released from power plants during manufacture.

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Unexpectedly High Methane Concentrations over Shale Gas Fields

by Emil Morhardt

Methane, the main constituent of natural gas (both that from gas wells and from farm operations) is a powerful greenhouse gas, around 30 times more potent than CO2 over the hundred years after it is emitted. It is on the rise, and the culprit might be shale gas development, which utilizes hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Caulton et al. (2014) used an airplane to sample the air above a 2,800-square-kilometer area of the Marcellus shale formation gas fields in Pennsylvania. It was rich in methane, with between 2 and 15 grams heading skyward over each square kilometer every second, the upper limit of which is quite a lot higher than the 5 grams estimated from what was previously known about wellhead methane emissions; the authors suspected that the transient nature of gas leakage might be the reason, making very difficult to come up with an average over time from ground-level measurements. Since they were in an airplane, however, they could circle around areas of high concentrations and pinpoint the source. It turns out that…

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