What Are the Different Advantages and Disadvantages of Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy has become something of a buzzword in recent years, especially as more people and businesses start to better understand the effects of climate change and take steps to reduce their carbon footprints. While we all know that supporting and using renewable energy is a step in the right direction, is it really as great as it seems? Does it have any disadvantages? Let’s dive into some important details and find out for ourselves.
Why renewable energy?
There are two main reasons why renewable energy has become so popular and so essential:
- Fossil fuels (gas, petroleum, diesel, coal, nuclear) are running out – and fast. In fact, experts believe that, at the rate we’re now using it up, we only have between 50-150 years’ worth of fossil fuels left.
- Electricity powers our world, but generating it is a dirty business. Generating electricity from unsustainable, non-renewable sources is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in the US. To make matters worse, it also pollutes our waterways and land.
If we don’t start switching over to renewable energy, we will simply run out of fossil fuels and be unable to supply the world with the electricity it needs, causing irreparable damage to the environment and people’s lives. While these things can sound like part of a plot to a sci-fi movie, it’s the future we have ahead of ourselves if we don’t embrace renewable energy sources.
What are the advantages of renewable energy?
There are lots of advantages to using renewable energy. Here are just a few:
- They are abundant by nature: Even when it comes to renewable sources such as wind power and solar power, they can be reproduced and turned into electricity quickly. Biofuel can be used to generate electricity and can be created from a variety of waste products collected from the farming industry. And while biofuel is not as clean as other renewables and won’t get us out of the woods when it comes to reversing the impacts of climate change, it is a reliable renewable source. It also helps us make sure that we maintain large areas of arable farming land, which help exchange CO2 back into oxygen as the plants in these areas grow.
- Many of them are also clean: While biofuel may not be particularly clean when compared to other sustainable resources, there are many methods of energy generation that are. Wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower are all clean and don’t generate much – if any – pollution when installed and run. This makes them the perfect step to take toward a cleaner energy future.
- They don’t damage the planet: Clean forms of renewable energy don’t damage the health of our planet like fossil fuels do. This is due not only to the fact that they don’t create any pollution, but also because once they’re up and running, they stay put. Throughout history, our dependency on fossil fuels has meant that we have to constantly search for new oil, coal, and gas deposits, and then dig down thousands of feet into the Earth to extract them. And because this can’t be done without dislodging the soil considerably, it often leaves behind huge scars on the face of our planet.
Can renewable energy be good for our health?
Yes. Most renewable energy sources create little-to-no pollution. And because air pollution in cities causes significant and even life-threatening breathing problems, such as asthma, lung cancer, and lung disease, we need to work hard to minimize the pollutants we add to the air.
Currently, electricity generation is responsible for the production of:
Sulfur dioxide (66% of it is present in the US) — this causes acid rain, which is becoming more common and contributes to the respiratory diseases mentioned above.
Nitrogen oxide (25% of it is present in the US) — this creates ground-level smog and adds to the ozone when it comes into contact with sunlight (i.e. often). This irritates the lungs and makes catching the cold or the flu more likely.
Ozone — this is good when it’s up high above the planet, but when it accumulates closer to the Earth’s surface through electricity generation, it can make breathing difficult, even on a short-term basis. People who live in high-ozone areas, such as inner city environments, have been known to experience higher rates of lung disease and cancer.
Soot and particulates from coal plants — these and similar byproducts can contribute to respiratory issues and lead to cancer, as it makes it easier for free radicals to find their way into your cells.
Carbon dioxide — this is one of the major causes of climate change. Climate change does not simply make some days incredibly hot and others cold, it also creates environments that make it easier for us to get sick.
Mercury poisoning — when mercury is released by coal power plants, it can find its way into the cells of fish in nearby waterways, as well as into the water and food supplies of other animals. When we then eat those animals, we can be exposed to mercury. And as mercury accumulates in our food chain, it’s important to educate yourself about it, particularly if you eat fish often.
Nuclear power plants — though less common, the danger posed by these facilities is of equal concern. We need only look to Fukushima and Chernobyl to see the potential damage a nuclear power plant can cause if something goes wrong.
If we are able to reduce and even eliminate many of these issues, our cities could enjoy air quality that’s almost as clean and healthy as it is out in the country. This would drastically improve our communities’ health and the quality of the air all around the world.
Can renewable energy help the economy?
Absolutely! While most of us probably associate energy with all the oil tycoons and money that has been made from fossil fuels, renewable energy is actually much more beneficial to the economy, particularly on a local scale. Renewable energy farms can bring new life to rural areas, which are quickly being forgotten and left behind in the US and other countries around the world. Where land is cheap there is potential to place a wind or solar farm, if the conditions are right. This creates jobs, which boost the local economy and generate more tax revenue for local governments so they can provide better services to people in their communities.
Can renewable energy help the environment?
Yes, and this is one of the best parts of using renewable energy! All forms of renewable energy can help improve the state of the environment. Even biofuel, which still produces some pollution, helps support the growth of more plants that exchange CO2 back into O2 during daylight hours. Other forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, create almost no pollution at all over their lifetimes. So, besides the actual physical space each farm or plant takes up, they aren’t taking anything away from the environment.
What are the common types of renewable energy that we can support?
There are six common forms of renewable energy that we can support, including:
- Solar power: Solar power is created by using photovoltaic panels to harness the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity. It’s now a common sight to see solar panels on people’s homes, or even to drive past a solar farm. While solar panels aren’t quite sensitive enough to power our world in a major way, the technology behind them is developing quickly. Scientists recently created a panel that’s sensitive enough to harness power from moonlight, so it’s likely that we’ll see solar power grow exponentially in coming years.
- Wind power: Wind power is one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, and it’s one of the most common forms of clean electricity that Inspire purchases on behalf of members (you can learn more about Inspire and how we can be your renewable energy company for clean energy). Most wind farms are found in super windy areas or even out at sea.
- Geothermal: Geothermal power is created by harnessing naturally occurring heat from the Earth to produce electricity. If you think back to your elementary school science classes, you’ll remember that the center of the Earth is extremely hot, and cools bit by bit as it gets closer to the surface. We can drill down into the Earth to access this heat, which will never run out.
- Bioenergy: Bioenergy, also known as biofuel, is created by burning plant matter to generate energy. While it’s not as clean as some of the other methods on this list, it is still renewable and far better than fossil fuels for the environment.
- Hydropower: Hydropower is generated by using the natural power of running water to turn generators that produce electricity. This uses the same method as old water mills.
- Hydrogen: Hydrogen was once hailed as the next big fuel, though it has since fallen out of popularity. Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen atoms to produce electricity.
What are the disadvantages of renewable energy?
Of course, no fuel source is perfect. When it comes to powering our world, we will always have some sort of impact. Here are some of the disadvantages:
A renewable energy infrastructure will need to be set up from scratch, which is expensive and time consuming.
There isn’t currently enough electricity being generated by these sources to power the world, and the methods of generating it aren’t consistent enough. For example, wind turbines can only generate electricity when there is enough wind, but have trouble doing so if there is too much.
It’s more difficult to store renewably generated energy. When using coal for electricity, the coal can sit in a pile until it’s needed. But this isn’t how it works with many renewable sources, as we can’t rely on the energy source being there when we need it. So, we need significantly sized batteries to store excess energy.
It takes up a lot of space. Wind and solar farms need a large amount of space to generate enough power, so the more renewable energy we need the more space we’ll need to generate it.
Can renewable energy be expensive?
To install, yes. Renewable energy isn’t expensive to generate, but getting the infrastructure in place can be an expensive process. So, while renewable energy will likely be cheaper for the consumer in the future, it’s going to take time and financial resources to get everything up and running.
Is renewable energy reliable?
Yes and no. If we have a variety of different forms of renewable energy working together, then yes, because then we can use them all together to supply a reliable amount of energy; however, sources like wind and solar power tend to be a bit unreliable since we can’t control the weather, so they may not be able to generate adequate amounts of electricity depending on the season.
Are there geographic limitations when it comes to renewable energy?
Yes, for some types. For instance, solar power farms must be placed where there is relatively intense sunshine for as much of the year as possible and, similarly, wind power farms must be located in areas that have relatively intense wind most of the year. Hydropower obviously can’t produce energy without a moving water supply. Coal can be transported, but the sun cannot.
Can we overcome the current problems of renewable energy?
Yes, we can absolutely overcome them! And we’ll have to if we want future generations to continue to have electricity. Solar panels are becoming more sensitive and less expensive, wind power turbines are becoming more efficient, and so on. One of the best ways we can help overcome these problems sooner is to increase the demand for renewable energy so more money is invested in it.
Luckily, Inspire members get to enjoy all the benefits of unlimited 100% clean energy while helping to increase the demand for renewable energy at the same time. Visit Inspire and learn how to switch to renewable energy for your home. It takes only a few minutes, and you’ll be able to significantly decrease your carbon footprint immediately. What else could you do today that’s this impactful? Get started by learning about the various benefits of renewable energy with Inspire!