Zombie, of San Francisco’s “Zombietime” fame, writes in with a question that he has graciously allowed to be given to our readers.
I’m preparing to write an essay on the following hypothesis:
Solar power installations, especially in desert areas, replace light-colored high-albedo sand/rock ground surface with very low albedo black solar panels. The “side effect” (in fact, the whole purpose) of solar panels is therefore to capture radiant energy coming from the sun that would otherwise reflect back into space. Because this energy is then converted into electricity, which is then used to power devices and inevitably degrade into atmospheric heat (which does NOT as easily radiate back out into space), the overall result of large solar panel installations is to heat up the planet more than it would be heated without the solar installations.
But of course the solar-energy advocates will say that the solar installation is replacing a carbon-burning power plant, which produces greenhouse gases that the solar facility does not.
The question I seek to answer is:
Has anybody ever actually sat down and calculated whether the CO2 greenhouse effect caused by a carbon-based power plant generating one megawatt of electricity is more or less than the warming effect caused by the lowering of the earth’s surface albedo from a black-panel solar installation with power output large enough to completely replace the carbon-burning power plant?
I suspect that no calculations of this type have ever actually been done, and that solar panels may in fact contribute more to global warming than anyone previously realized — and in fact may cause just as much warming as the power sources they replace.
I have searched but cannot find such a study; but the reason I’m writing to you is that I have some vague memory of this thesis once being discussed on WattsUpWithThat — although I no longer can track down where exactly.
So I ask: Do YOU (without any time investment) remember offhand where or when this hypothesis was discussed on WattsUpWithThat? And if not, do you think this is a worthy line of investigation?
I know this is a somewhat vague question, but your guidance is invaluable!