COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus, has disrupted virtually all typical ways of living across the United States.
Before the onset of the Coronavirus, climate change appeared to be the biggest threat to humans’ way of life. Now, with public health needing to take center stage, individual state’s climate change goals are having to, understandably, take a back seat, causing most states to fail to meet their climate change goals this year.
How the Coronavirus is working against climate change
Ken Pedotto, CEO of solar-energy matchmaker Solar Simplified, told Solar Magazine that a few forces are working against renewable energy right now.
First, it’s “all hands on deck” to contain the Coronavirus. Second, the economic downturn and public health crisis distract from human beings focusing on the climate change crisis.
“The Coronavirus is the right priority, but it does take focus from renewable energy,” Pedotto said. “This means climate change will lose traction. There’s no oxygen left in the room for anything other than the Coronavirus.”
In states that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, such as New York State, some climate change progress will be lost. In February, before the virus hit New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, typically a friend of renewable energy, announced a 30-day amendment to accelerate renewable energy projects in New York and drive economic growth. Dubbed the “Green New Deal,” New York State’s goal was to achieve a zero-carbon emissions electricity sector by 2040.
“Climate change is the existential challenge of our time, and New York State has risen to the occasion by enacting the strongest laws in the nation to protect and preserve our environment,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement on Feb. 21. “This legislation will help achieve a more sustainable future, invigorating the green economy and reaffirming New York’s position as a market leader with a revamped process for building and delivering renewable energy projects faster.”
Now, Cuomo appears daily on TV to update New Yorkers on the most significant public health care crisis of our time, with little room to legislate or concentrate on anything else. While 2040 is still a way off, these two months, and possibly more, of lockdown can hinder the goal.
“Most people agree Gov. Cuomo has done an excellent job in this crisis and leading New York in the COVID outbreak,” Pedotto said. “If he puts that level of passion toward climate change once this is over, if he’s half as effective in COVID-19 fighting, he will be very effective in pushing renewable energy forward in the state of New York and will be an excellent example for other states.”
Besides government officials’ ability to focus on climate change, there’s also the issue of solar panel production delays because of the virus in China and projects here in the United States sitting unfinished if crews can’t construct solar panel arrays.
“The solar industry is struggling because workers are not available to complete previously commissioned projects due to stay at home orders or being sick,” Pedotto said.
One project we were supporting was supposed to come online in May; now it’s delayed to July. It doesn’t have the workforce due to shelter in place to complete the project on time. Utility hookups are delayed. COVID-19 is delaying projects, and the more these projects get delayed, there is less of a chance of states meeting renewable standards.
Finally, due to the economic turmoil, many oil companies will need bailouts from the federal government.
How the Coronavirus is helping climate change
Most countries and states in the U.S. are under “stay at home orders,” which means people are not flying as much, driving less, and not littering.
In China, the first country to issue lockdown orders due to the virus outbreak, carbon emissions were estimated to be 25 percent less than usual during the shutdown.
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said on NASA’s website said of the NO2 levels over China.
Parts of China recently lifted their lockdown measures, so as life goes back to normal, NO2 levels will likely rise again to normal levels.
“This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years, and it has lasted longer,” Liu said. “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize (the) spread of the virus.”
What people can do during this pandemic to help climate change
For traditional rooftop solar companies, installations are likely stalled, panel shipments delayed, and the threat of having to lay off workers lingers as this pandemic continues.
For customers still looking to go green during this pandemic, turning to community solar can help them reduce carbon emissions further now, without having to wait for a solar panel installation on their roof.
“We think community solar a great alternative to rooftop installation. It was great before COVID 19, and it’s even better now,” Pedotto said.
“With COVID-19, that case is even stronger. One of the plants we are working on now can power 1,100 homes in New York State,” he said. “What we are doing is essentially putting a rooftop system on 1,000 homes, without needing 1,100 installers in the field, potentially coming in contact with people. It is really a win-win because homeowners get all benefits.” comment