Most homes in the United States have the ability to go solar. You don’t need to live in Florida or California to get enough sun to save money and provide energy for your home. The biggest issue for going solar isn’t how sunny your state typically is. The main issues are potential obstructions to your panels, which may include trees or other buildings. Unfortunately, not much can be done if your roof is regularly shaded by another building. But if your roof is shaded by a tree or several trees, there are options you can take in order to maximize your solar experience and savings associated with going solar. The path most taken is to remove the trees obstructing your roof. It seems odd, however, that in order to “go green” you might have to remove trees to minimize your environmental footprint. While it is ironic, the environmental benefits that your solar system will produce in its lifetime beat out the environmental impact of a few trees.
Trees are massively important. They provide clean air to breathe, they strengthen soil, and they store carbon dioxide (CO2). Through photosynthesis, trees absorb and convert CO2 into nutrients and food that is used for food and growth. CO2 is a harmful gas, that contributes to climate change and global warming, so the carbon storage performed by trees reduces the concentration of harmful gas in the atmosphere. According to the American Forests, a mature tree absorbs an average of 48 pounds of CO2 each year. Forests absorb about 10-20% of the United States’ total emissions, and this ends up accounting for 90% of U.S. carbon sequestration.
Cutting Down Trees Can Be Beneficial
One of the only instances where cutting down trees can be environmentally friendly is if trees were being removed to maximize solar panel exposure. Removing trees to get more exposure to solar panels is actually very environmentally friendly.
Let’s do the math here.
A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) at a rate of 48 pounds a year.
1 kWh of electricity produces 1.106 pounds of CO2.
The average residential solar system has about 7500 watts. So for this example, I’ll use 23 SunPower E-Series Panels which produce 327 watts each, to get a total of 7521 watts produced by this system, just to reach the average. A 7521-watt system produces about 8318 kWh a year.
8318 kWh x 1.106 pounds of CO2 produced from conventional electricity comes out to 9200 pounds of CO2 avoided each year.
9200 lbs saved with solar divided by 48 lbs of CO2 stored by trees= 191.66 trees.
A typical mature tree stores about 48 lbs of CO2 a year. So if you divide the amount of CO2 that is avoided each year with solar panels by the amount of CO2 one tree saves, you get the value of the solar panels system, compared to that of one tree.
Not to undermine the importance of trees in an ecosystem, but this comparison between tree and solar carbon offset gives solar a massive edge. It is more environmentally friendly to cut down any trees obstructing potential solar systems, in order to maximize the solar efficiency. Don’t feel guilty about cutting down several trees, for solar panels make up for the trees’ carbon storage in a massive way. In terms of environmental benefits, you’re actually doing the right thing if you cut down trees to gain sun exposure for your solar panels.
Facts about Solar Technology From SunPower https://us.sunpower.com/solar-panels-technology/facts/
FAQ: How Much Carbon Dioxide is Produced Kilowatt Hour When Generating Electricity with Fossil Fuel https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=74&t=11
How Much Carbon Dioxide is Produced per kilowatt-hour when Generating Electricity with Fossil Fuels? https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=74&t=11
Offsetting Carbon With Trees https://www.arborday.org/takeaction/carbon/offsetting-with-trees.cfm
Should You Remove Trees to Improve Solar Panel Performance https://www.energysage.com/solar/101/should-you-remove-trees-for-solar-panel-performance/
Trees: The Carbon Storage Experts http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/47481.html
Tree Math 2: Solar Vs Trees, What’s the Carbon Trade-off https://newenglandcleanenergy.com/energymiser/2015/09/24/tree-math-2-solar-vs-trees-whats-the-carbon-trade-off/