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Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

First Advisor

Joshua M. Pearce


Climate change has negative impacts on the economy and the environment and major polluters may be held responsible for the resultant damages. This thesis has three core components, which show that using solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies as a replacement for fossil fuel electrical generation is a technically-viable and in some cases economically-advantageous way to reduce the liability of emitters even in northern regions with extreme environments. First greenhouse gas emissions liabilities are reviewed and quantified. Then a methodology is developed to determine the economic viability of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for large scale institutions like universities. Finally, the effects of snow on photovoltaic systems is quantified for an extreme winter location using experimental data.

After reviewing the quantification methods for climate liability, the 10 largest emitters in the U.S. are identified and their liability is evaluated. Different classes of potential litigants are identified and their capacity to file climate change lawsuits is assessed. Results show that profits of major companies can be significantly reduced due to their potential emission’s liability. Economic risks of potential litigants is estimated, and results show that liability for the Alliance of Small Island Nations (AOSIS) is over $570 trillion.

Such litigation is not yet widespread, so a methodology is proposed for the determining the financial viability of implementing large scale PV systems and is applied to a case study in Houghton, Michigan. Results show that NPV is positive and energy production cost is less than what university pays for electricity; therefore, the investment is recommended if the cost per Watt of PV reaches $3.10 when electricity export escalation rate is 2%, if there are no snow losses.

Previous work indicated that snow losses were relatively minor even for systems installed in Canada. However, the Houghton region experiences some of the largest snow accumulations in the country, so experimental evidence was needed. A test system including seven modules with different orientations and tilt angles was installed at the KRC in Calumet, Michigan and it was monitored for a year. The snow related energy losses of PV systems ranged from 5% for the elevated PV system with the highest tilt angle (45 degrees) to 34% for the obstructed module with lowest tilt angle. These results show that careful system design is needed in such snowy regions and that further work is necessary to reduce snow-related losses to improve the economic performance of PV in northern regions.