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.
When considering solar panels for your home many people look around their yard and consider cutting down trees to either reduce shading on their roof or prevent future potential shading. Is this really necessary? It depends. Sometimes really tall trees are far enough away or situated to the north so they won’t impact the solar access. Additionally, if a house is partially shaded they can still sometimes get enough sunlight on other parts of their roof that the shaded part won’t negatively impact production and the homeowner can still produce enough power to offset energy usage. Ultimately, it is best to wait for a professional solar access report to determine the need to cut down any trees.
For every customer, RevoluSun conducts a pre-inspection to determine a home’s solar viability. Our Project Manager will then make a recommendation regarding tree work and in our experience, only about 25% of people who would benefit from tree work actually take the advice. One of our most recent customers had very poor solar access, about 74%, because of excessive shading. He cut down 22 small pines himself and hired a contractor to remove 3 large oak trees for $1,000. His solar access then went up to 81%, enough to earn a CEC rebate of $3,250 and increase his solar electricity generation by 1,290 kWh/year! The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC) is responsible for encouraging renewable energy production and, at the time this client purchased, also offered a rebate to residential solar systems producing above 81%.
The extra energy produced by this system saves an extra $300/year in avoided electricity costs, assuming the current rate of $0.23/kWh and another $330/year in SREC income. Combined with the CEC rebate, this customer saved an extra $3,880 in the first year alone. Over 25 years, this customer will save about $7,600 on avoided electricity while earning an extra $11,500 between the CEC and SRECs. That’s over $19,000!
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.
Get a Free Assessment
Locally owned and operated RevoluSun (Burlington, MA) offers free energy evaluations for homes and businesses. We present you with a no obligation, comprehensive, solar project proposal that meets both your energy and financial needs. We then deliver and install only the most efficient and highest value solar components made by proven and reliable manufacturing partners, and backed by the best warranties in the business. Ask around and you will learn we are a completely different Solar Power installer. If you were thinking about going solar, Now Is The Time, Massachusetts!
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/