Renewable Energy Facts & Myths: Clean Energy Explained
Inspire Clean Energy
Mar 9, 2017
16 min read
category: Clean Energy 101
Debunking Renewable Energy Myths
When it comes to the energy we use to power our homes, we have a choice: to use clean energy or to use dirty energy. And despite how simple this may sound, the questions about what makes energy clean or dirty, and even how accessible one is over the other, can lead to a lot of confusion and misinformation. So, we're here to help set the record straight and get to the bottom of some of the most confusing, or misunderstood, aspects of clean energy.
So let's take a closer look at some of the most common clean energy myths and determine once and for all what's fact — and what's fiction.
Myth #1: Renewable energy is more expensive
The myth that energy generated by renewable sources is more expensive than energy generated by fossil fuels may have been true in the early 2000s, but today that couldn't be further from the truth. The price for renewable energy, no matter which source it comes from, has decreased substantially since 2010, and currently, they are just as cost effective as electricity generated by coal, oil, and natural gas — if not cheaper.
According to figures published by Lazard, an investment bank based in New York, combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants come in at $0.05/kWh and coal at $0.09/kWh. By comparison, electricity produced by solar power, both utility-scale photovoltaic (PV), and concentrating solar power (CSP) costs around $0.07/kWh, that from onshore wind turbines about $0.05/kWh.
And at this rate, renewable energy prices are likely to continue to fall. In contrast, fossil fuel prices continue to rise year-over-year. So when it comes to making the most cost effective decision, clean energy takes the lead.
Myth #2: Clean energy takes up tons of land and space
Wind farms and solar arrays do take up some space. A study from MIT suggests that the entire expected electricity demand in 2050 would need approximately 33,000 square kilometers of land if solar power were the sole provider. Just using the country's sunniest parts would reduce this to 12,000 square kilometers.
“That’s a lot,” you say. But let’s compare the area with other land uses. We have roughly 10,000 square kilometers of golf courses in the U.S, 20,000 square kilometers of rooftops (which could all be utilized for solar), and 49,000 square kilometers of major roadways.
Those 12,000 square kilometers for solar farms don’t seem quite so much, do they? Of course, that is ignoring all the other forms of renewables.
When it comes to Wind Farms, powering a third of the country with wind power would require around 66,000 sq-km according to Australian environmental scientist Barry Brook.
Despite this, technology is constantly improving and becoming more efficient, so ultimately less land is needed for the same amount of power production.
Myth #3: Renewable energy can’t deliver when it’s dark or not windy
Indeed, solar panels do not (currently) work at night, and wind turbines do need wind, but technology is evolving at an incredibly fast rate and scientists and engineers are finding ways to make more sensitive panels and turbines.
There is also the rapid innovation in new storage technologies to be added to the mix. Huge leaps forward have already been made, and there is no doubt that efficient, cost-effective batteries will be with us soon. There is even a suggestion that when electric vehicles become common, they can be networked to provide one huge battery.
Myth #4: Wind turbines take more energy to create than they generate
This myth comes from an incorrectly quoted quote that became a viral post on Facebook. It purported to be a statement from an anthology edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon.
Scientist David Hughes actually wrote the text, and the full quote is: “The concept of net energy must also be applied to renewable sources of energy, such as windmills and photovoltaics. A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons.
“The question is: how long must a windmill generate energy before it creates more energy than it took to build it? At a good wind site, the energy payback day could be in three years or less; in a poor location, energy payback may be never. That is, a windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”
Sites are carefully chosen for modern wind turbines to make them as efficient as possible. Also, their simple technology requires the minimum of maintenance resulting in far more energy produced that is used in their manufacture and commissioning.
Myth #5: It is hard to access renewable & clean energy
Inspire makes it ridiculously easy to access renewable and clean energy. Signing up online or by phone is a two-minute process, and then it won’t be long before your home is powered by renewable energy. We will ensure that you buy 100% renewable energy. Click here to join us today.
Myth #6: Clean energy can’t power 100% of the world
At the moment, clean energy cannot supply the globe’s energy requirements. Will it one day? Of course! The push to clean energy has only just begun, yet the growth has been phenomenal.
A 2019 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that by 2024 the world’s solar capacity could grow by 600GW, almost double the installed capacity of Japan. Overall, it says, renewable electricity is expected to grow by 1,200GW in the next five years, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the U.S.
It will take time, but there is no reason why clean energy cannot supply all our needs. In perhaps as little as 30 years, many countries will be 100% reliant on renewables. With ever-improving technologies, it is impossible to predict quite when the world will no longer use non-renewables, but it is just when not if.
Myth #7: Renewable energy won’t work without government subsidies
Climate change is a global problem. It is quite proper that governments have stepped in to incentivize a change to renewable energy sources. The faster the world moves on this, the better. But the idea that government subsidies are necessary is not born out by the figures. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA):
- Onshore wind and solar PV power are now, frequently, less expensive than any fossil-fuel option, without financial assistance.
- New solar and wind installations will increasingly undercut even the operating-only costs of existing coal-fired plants.
- Over three-quarters of the onshore wind and four-fifths of the utility-scale solar PV project capacity due to be commissioned in 2020 should provide lower-priced electricity than the cheapest new coal-fired, oil or natural gas option.
The fact is, that global subsidiaries are offered to speed up the process and encourage more businesses and homes to move to renewable energy. However, the solar panel business is booming (valued at $115.24 billion in 2019) and it shows that it is not solely government encouragement that is pushing people to make a change.
Myth #8: It takes too much time and effort to be energy efficient###
We hear you, our daily lives can get hectic and stressful.
Between work or school, family life, and social activities, our lives fill up fast. Many people feel like they want to be more energy-conscious, but don't think they have the time. Change out light bulbs? Replace flooring with sustainable options? Install solar panels? Being energy conscious isn't just about these larger changes to your home.
Technology is becoming more automated. The natural complement to this automation is energy saving. It's part of the package. Getting an automated thermostat like the Nest is the first step, as it learns your behavior and adjusts your household's temperature automatically. You can also dive a little deeper by integrating it with weather app capabilities so that it starts cooling your house when it's a hot day. The Halo is another smart device – a smoke detector that features a highly sophisticated weather radio to alert you well in advance of severe weather, helping you plan accordingly.
We can all agree that the less we have to fiddle with smartphone apps in order to be energy conscious, the better. Integration with Amazon’s Echo featuring Alexa voice recognition was the talk of CES this year. Everyone wants to make sure their device can be activated through Alexa's voice command capability, which means less friction between you and your daily routine. Turn the lights off by just saying so? Ordering pantry items before they go out of stock as soon as you think of it? Done and done. Smart refrigerator technology is also getting more sophisticated — now, you won't have to worry about forgetting about that produce you bought last week going bad. As the world moves to better technology that becomes personalized and automated to your own lifestyle, you will become more energy conscious without even realizing it.
Myth #9: Solar panels are too expensive for the average person###
This myth perpetuates the idea that renewable energy is only for rich elites while the working class can barely juggle cost of living expenses.
In fact, installing solar panels is cheaper than it ever has been. Like any other home remodeling project, solar is considered an investment because of the long-term benefits once installed. On average, each kilowatt of installed solar power adds $6,000 overall to a home’s resale value. That means even a small 3 kW system will add a lifetime value of $18,000 to your home.
Solar calculators can help determine how much it would cost to install solar on your home. They factor in a household’s actual monthly usage and location to determine costs and lifetime savings from installing solar. For a typical household, it’s around $11,000 upfront for a 3.5 kW solar system. That’s without factoring in federal and state tax incentives or rebates. The Federal ITC (Investment Tax Credit) that offered a 30 percent discount on solar installations was recently extended in 2015. Though the recent policy changes may impact that, it’s clear that installing a solar system gives you a huge return on investment.
Myth #10: There aren’t as many jobs in clean energy
In an economy that’s still on the recovery, jobs are on everyone’s minds.
When looking at national policies, a lot of people seem to think that clean energy improvements mean less jobs, especially in regions that have been historically centered around coal and oil. To them, closing coal mines is a death knell for their local economies.
While it's true that badly executed policies have left some regions relying on fossil fuels, sustainable policies do not mean fewer jobs. In fact, they actually mean more jobs since the clean energy umbrella casts a wide net. Instead of focusing on one, finite source, there's a wide breadth of industries, sub industries and job specialties that can apply to each source: solar, wind, and hydro.
In the solar industry alone, there are twice the as many jobs when compared to coal and gas. Many solar jobs are construction related, due to the increase in demand for contractors when building bigger solar farms (and a lot more of them). In total, clean energy employs around 770,000 people. That number will only continue to grow.
Myth #11: Switching to renewable energy altogether is too expensive
Most people find the cost of renewable energy prohibitive, especially for widespread acceptance. A full-scale transition seems far in the future because it seems like neither the government nor society can handle the enormous cost. With an estimated $14 trillion investment to switch to renewable energy systems over the next thirty years, the concern seems reasonable.
However, renewable energy is the more affordable and efficient form of power in countries that have adopted the technology compared to traditional energy sources. In addition, renewable energy is nearly 100% efficient at the point of consumption and may be produced and controlled locally.
The demand from customers will help the government adopt renewable energy sources more readily. In a similar way, the demand for streaming media has rapidly replaced cable television, and as cellphones replaced landlines. As more economical options become available and people are educated on the benefits of renewable sources, the demand will incentivize the government into making positive changes towards renewable energy.
Furthermore, transitioning to renewable energy will not be as grand-sweeping as people expect, as the changes can start small, like at home and at work, leading up to a full upgrade. As a result, policymakers can hasten adoption in order to combat climate change and spur economic growth in a booming sector, all while guaranteeing a fair transition for communities.
Common misconceptions regarding the clean energy transition are rapidly fading. This new energy system, which is currently under construction, will help the world and future generations, and the sooner we dispel the myths, the better.
Myth #12: Offshore wind farms are not viable
Off the coasts of the United States are some of the best locations for harnessing wind resources, with the added benefit of being close to densely populated areas where electricity is needed. Offshore wind speeds are generally higher than on land. Small gains in wind speed result in significant improvements in energy production — for example, a turbine operating in a 15-mph wind can create twice as much energy as one operating in a 12-mph wind. Offshore, higher wind speeds mean more energy may be created.
Not only are winds generally more powerful offshore, but the wind is naturally more consistent as well. A more consistent wind supply provides a more dependable source of energy. Additionally, offshore wind farms have the same benefits as land-based wind farms such as:
- Generation of renewable electricity
- Zero consumption of finite resources
- Are a domestic energy source
- Support job creation
- Do not release pollutants or greenhouse gases
Myth #13: Renewable energy cannot produce enough energy for our total energy needs
Based on data, the United States produced over 200,000 gigawatts of theoretical renewable energy potential, representing over 200 times the current electrical capacity for the country. Right now, we are utilizing only a portion of the potential, but increased energy storage and utilization will improve, making up more energy than we actually use! Although we have a ways to go, renewable energy will more than cover the U.S. or world's power needs over time, but first, we need more coverage.
By implementing smart changes, the world can run on less energy as we wait for technology to improve in the energy sector. Replacement of inefficient technology and adopting modernized equipment in the industrial sector might reduce worldwide industrial energy demand by about a third. Managing energy and optimizing operations can result in significant cost-effective energy savings across all industries. Finally, by expanding the use of recycled or waste materials and energy, sharing resources among industries, and dematerializing industrial processes, holistically reforming production systems can reduce fossil fuel usage even more.
Myth #14: Renewable energy should not be our entire energy system but instead used alongside nonrenewable resources
Renewable energy can replace the entire energy system reducing the need for environmentally harmful power options entirely. By continuing to use fossil fuels, there would be a continuing need for the construction of oil and coal facilities for the next several decades. Doing so would defer greenhouse gas reduction measures, making environmental costs more expensive in the long run.
Reducing energy demand, boosting efficiency, promoting renewable resources, and creating intelligent networks to accommodate a growing clean energy system would reduce conventional energy usage across all sectors. As such, traditional fossil fuels will be phased out over the next few decades as technology advances. Investing in renewable energies and energy efficiency is the best strategy to reduce climate change and strengthen our energy security.
Myth #15: Carbon sequestration is a more economical solution
There are many reasons for the sluggish adoption of capturing carbon, but one of the most common is the expensive cost. Many commentators argue that carbon-capturing is too expensive and uncompetitive with wind and solar power, despite their dramatic cost reductions over the previous decade. Climate policies, such as carbon pricing, are not yet strong enough to make it economically viable.
However, to dismiss the technology based on the cost would be to neglect its particular capabilities. But for now, the process should not have a higher priority than renewables, at least until more development makes it economical.
Myth #16: Nuclear energy is better for cutting carbon emissions
While nuclear power produces no carbon emissions, it comes with a variety of environmental issues such as massive construction and reliance on uranium-235, a nonrenewable fuel source. There is enough fuel for the next 100 years based on nuclear electricity generation and current technology but will run out sooner as a result of the increase in worldwide nuclear power.
In addition, there are no long-term storage facilities for used fuel rods in the United States, which means nuclear waste is being stored at power plants that lack the necessary infrastructure. All of these facts indicate that nuclear power is a carbon-intensive effort, which is less future-proof than renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower.
Myth #17: Energy efficiency is better for cutting carbon emissions
Energy production and consumption ultimately result in greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency cuts down on the amount of energy used, but it does not eliminate the need for energy. Therefore, the only way to reduce carbon emissions to zero is to use a combination of energy efficiency and clean energy technology.
Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective and efficient strategies to minimize our emissions. However, other key solutions, such as renewables and electric transportation, reduce costs and improve efficiency. The unused energy results in fewer carbon emissions, but to take emission reductions to the next level, we must choose to supply our world with renewables rather than solely focus on using less energy. We can only become so efficient, but we will always need energy, making clean energy is the solution for the future.
Myth #18: It's hard to switch to renewable energy at home
Not only is switching to renewable energy at home incredibly easy, but it can make a big impact. The myth that you cannot do enough at home to make a difference in reducing net carbon emissions is not true. Consumers are a necessary part of the equation to drive change and encourage the implementation of more clean energy sources.
Switching to renewable energy and reducing your carbon footprint couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is find an electricity supplier that provides access to clean energy in your area.
With Inspire, you can access energy from 100% renewable energy without installing solar panels or upgrading your connection to the grid. Sign up for a 100% clean energy supply plan for your home today and start making a positive impact on the planet.
Not sure if renewable energy is right for you? Read some of Inspire Clean Energy’s reviews to see how we've helped customers make the switch.