Life Cycle vs Front End Loading

Veterans of the energy business love lifecycle analysis because it moves past the simple idea of payback period for an investment and makes it much easier to compare choices where the asset has very different effective useful lives.  This analysis always points out the fallacy of the incandescent lamp which otherwise might be an impulsive choice when compared to an LED when you see it on the store shelf.  Otherwise the sticker shock tends to make you keep buying the cheaper lamps.

We are now in a world where there is something else at work in this comparison: embedded carbon.  Choosing an EV, embeds about 8 years of what would otherwise be a car fuel in carbon and places it in the battery of the EV when it is made.  Similar math occurs with solar panels.

Plus, the grid now is more carbon-intensive than it will be in a few more years, so the energy used to produce these devices is putting more carbon into the environment in the near term. Essentially pulling the carbon emissions forward from a future time.

So, if you are following me … the decision to accelerate the adoption of solar and EVs is going to dump one whole hell of a lot of carbon into the environment in the near-term and it is going to take essentially a decade to see net positive carbon impacts … decades!

The news media has caught on to this.  The August 2nd front page of the Wall Street Journal carried this announcement: Behind the Rise of U.S. Solar Power, a Mountain of Chinese Coal.  The article states, “Concerns are mounting in the U.S. and Europe that the solar industry’s reliance on Chinese coal will create a big increase in emissions in the coming years as manufacturers rapidly scale up production of solar panels to meet demand. That would make the solar industry one of the world’s most prolific polluters, analysts say, undermining some of the emissions reductions achieved from widespread adoption.”

Gee … aren’t all the promises to be carbon free by 2030 or so based upon our past energy sources?  So, isn’t it going to be like chasing your tail to try to be carbon free in the near term?  Might there be a more deliberate and balanced choice to consider gradually ramping up solar and EVs on some “least cumulative carbon” transition rather than trying to do this so quickly?

Am I going too fast?  These decisions to ramp up solar and EVs right now are going to INCREASE the total carbon into the environment in the near term.

Oh well, what will probably save us all from this is the simple fact that we can’t build solar panels or EVs fast enough to satisfy the political pundits or their forecasts anyway.

One thought on “Life Cycle vs Front End Loading”

  1. And, we should be focusing at least the same, if not more, on reducing Methane and Flourocarbon emissions, both if which are multiple levels more impactful on climate change, and easier to address.

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