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Why Net Zero Is Bull***t

Updated: Jan 12

Why net zero as a goal accomplishes nothing.

"Net zero" energy refers to the concept of balancing the amount of energy consumed with an equivalent amount of renewable energy production, resulting in a net balance of zero.

The goal is to minimize the overall environmental impact of energy use by ensuring that the total energy input is offset by an equal amount of renewable energy generation.

In a net zero energy system, a building, community, or even an entire region aims to produce as much energy from renewable sources (such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power) as it consumes over a specified period. The idea is not necessarily to completely eliminate the consumption of non-renewable energy sources but to ensure that the overall energy balance is neutral or close to neutral.

Here's the thing.

If our goal is to transition to renewable energy sources and get away from our dependence on burning fossil hydrocarbons in order to mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution, ecosystem disruption, climate change, and resource scarcity, net zero is bull***t. Net zero will not get us there. Not even close.

Here's why.

Let's take my house for example. I purchased solar panels for my all-electric powered house to reduce my dependence on fossil hydrocarbons for electricity. Here's what a typical (summer) day of electricity use looks like now.

My house has achieved net zero! The house consumes only 64.6 kWh per day and exports 90.6 kWh per day. In fact, the house produces so much electricity that I export the surplus to the grid - 26.0 kWh per day! No more reliance on burning fossil hydrocarbons! Right?



Because my house still uses electricity when the sun ain't shining. This requires importing electricity from the grid, which burns coal to produce that electricity. Even though my house produces a surplus of electricity and is beyond net zero, I still need to import 39.1 kWh per day of electricity from dirty coal. I still depend on the grid for over 60% of my electricity.

The idea of net zero is misleading if reducing our reliance on burning hydrocarbons is the goal.

Instead of striving for net zero, we should strive for zero imported grid power. That's how individual households will eliminate the need for hydrocarbon-fueled electricity generation. This is also true of businesses, communities, and industries.

Of course, if the electric utilities produced electricity from hydrocarbon-free sources and were able to match supply and demand perfectly all the time, zero imported grid power for homes would not be as important. Even though that's unlikely in the near future, zero imported grid power for homes still has the following advantages:

  • Homeowners own their own electricity generation source and are resilient to fluctuating electricity prices.

  • Homeowners are partially immune to grid outages and still have power for a while if the grid has a power outage.

  • Grid maintenance and upgrades are significantly reduced since less power needs to flow through grid infrastructure such as transmission lines, transformers, and substations.

How do we achieve zero imported grid power?

Energy storage. Homes need to store the electricity they produce from solar panels during the day to use at night and on cloudy days.

Alternatively, if our goal is not to use fossil hydrocarbons to produce electricity at a civilization scale, it's okay not quite to achieve zero imported grid power, provided the grid has enough energy storage capacity that doesn't involve fossil hydrocarbons.

Ultimately, humanity's electricity supply must be precisely matched at every second to electricity demand. Any intermittent electricity generation source, such as renewables, must be stored somewhere if it isn't immediately consumed.

The idea of net zero is useless as an end goal. But it consequently highlights our need for energy storage.

Questions for you:

  • If you have solar panels on your home, what are some things you do or can do to reduce your reliance on grid power (besides getting batteries)?

  • For homes with solar panels, where does the electricity exported to the grid go?

  • How can we get to zero imported grid power for homes and businesses?

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