Evaluating carbon reduction plans

I think our liberal counterparts often give environmental policy a free pass without judging the effectiveness of it. Money wasted on bad ideas is money we can’t spend on good ideas. This is why there’s a strong link between good clean energy policy and good economic policy.

To be sure, there are lots of ineffective policies floating around. Washington Policy Center did an excellent analysis of 5 years of Environment policy in WA state and found most of the policies to be ineffective. These policies drive up costs too.  

This is one of my frustrations with Jay Inslee (D, Wa-1) on environment policy. Inslee can’t prioritize and so wastes money on ineffective policies. (His opponent, James Watkins, can prioritize, and so I believe Watkins will have a more effective and economically-friendly energy policy than Inslee. )

Navigating the numbers can be essential for keeping radical environmentalists accountable. We all care about the environment. I don’t want a radical environmentalist in congress. I want effective environmentalists who can do it without destroying the economy.




So here’s an exercise in numbers. Which is greener: solar panels on your house or getting a hybrid car?

I hear both cost in the ballpark of $30,000. Which is a more cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions?

In Washington state, electricity is 75% hydro and 10% nuclear, which is extremely clean. The state average is .25 lbs of CO2 / kWh. For comparison, West Virginia, which is presumably high coal usage, is 1.98 lbs of CO2 / kWh.  (kWh = kilowatt hour; lbs= pounds;  2000 lbs = 1 ton)

Emissions from household electricity: The average electricity consumption in WA state is 1086 kWh / month. That’s 13,032 kWh per year. At .25 lbs of CO2/kWh, that’s 3258 lbs (or 1.69 tons) of CO2 emissions due to your house electricity usage.   WA State average cost is $.0754 / kWh, so that’s $983 a year in electric bills.  A good solar system could erase all of that, saving 1.69 tons of CO2 and $983 in utility bills a year.

Emissions from your car: A gallon of gas emits 20 lbs of CO2. So if you have a 25 mpg car and travel 10,000 miles a year, that’s 4 tons of CO2 a year. Say gas is $3 a gallon, which would be $1200 a year.

Switching to a hybrid that gets 50 mpg would emit half that and save 2 tons of CO2 and $600 in gas bills a year.


So with WA State numbers, the hybrid car saves more CO2.  Different states may get different results based on CO2 / kWh, energy usage per state. These numbers are actually very conservative for a hybrid, and so I’d expect the hybrid’s margin to be larger because:

1) there are cheaper ways to save energy costs than switching to full solar panels. So if you’re already trying to reduce carbon emissions, you’re probably below your state average already. Thus solar would save you less.

2) If you’re already buying a new car, a hybrid is an incremental cost over a conventional car. So the incremental cost of a hybrid may only be $5000, not $30,000.  So that would put the cost effectiveness of the hybrid well ahead.

3) Solar gets massive subsidies which drive the upfront costs down. However, subsidies are still money from the government, and that comes from taxes, and that ultimately comes from you.


In conclusion… The goal here isn’t so much to compare solar vs. hybrid. It’s to help people recognize how to evaluate carbon reduction policies so that we can hold our elected officials more accountable. If their plan to reduce carbon emissions costs $100 million and only saves a few tons of CO2 a year, you can show that there are much cheaper ways to accomplish that.


Any other comparisons anybody is interested in seeing?


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