I feel like I’ve heard it all when it comes to speculation and suspicion about living sustainably, but some of these myths about renewable energy really need to be busted.
Wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biofuel – these are all different types of renewable energy. Currently, 11% of the United States energy consumption came from renewable sources. Moreover, 17% of all electricity generated came from renewable sources. Despite the growing use of and dire need for more sustainable energy sources, renewable energy remains a mystery to many. Due to this, it has been easy for misinformation, or myths about renewable energy to be perceived as facts by some. I want to break these myths down so that we all can start sharing truthful information about renewable energy.
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Debunking Myths About Renewable Energy
Myth #1. Wind turbines don’t work in cold weather – FALSE
Wind turbines work in Antartica! Yes, it is true that unprotected wind turbines can freeze and stop working in extreme cold temperatures. However, when wind turbines are weatherized and have the correct technology to help them function in colder temperatures. Freezing temperatures do not have a major impact on them.
Myth #2. Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels – FALSE
Studies and statistics show that, as with many sustainable changes, home-based solar energy costs more upfront, but less over time. A 2020 report shows that the average cost of installing a home solar energy system was $15,000 after state incentives. Installation prices have dropped by 20% in the past 5 years, and are trending towards dropping even more. Where fossil fuel based electricity costs between 5-17¢ per kWh, solar energy costs between 3-6¢ per kWh.
Similarly, I can personally testify that my prices through my wind-powered electricity utility company are cheaper than those of my previous electricity provider. In fact, 67% of the world’s cheapest energy now comes from solar and wind energy!
Myth #3. Wind turbines kill the most birds – FALSE
This is definitely one of those BIG myths about renewable energy. Are you concerned about dying birds? Good! Climate change perpetuated by us humans is threatening their existence. Wind turbines have killed about 410,000 birds annually. Pesticides kill up to 72 million birds each year through pesticide poisoning. Additionally, pesticides also can shorten the lifespan of birds and disrupt their reproductive systems. One million birds die from colliding with glass each year. Cats kill 2.6 billion birds, annually. Light pollution kills between 100 million to 100 billion birds in the United States each year.
The fact that wind turbines kills birds isn’t insignificant. It is an issue that should be addressed when designing them. However, if birds are your concern, I suggest advocating for less pesticides, less new construction, turn off your lights at night and ask cities to mandate the same for skyscrapers and public buildings first. I don’t have a solution for the cats – that’s part of the circle of life.
Myth #4. Renewable energy will take away jobs – FALSE
Fossil fuel jobs are naturally on a decline right now, and trending towards a continuous decline. Between June 2019 and June 2020, “crude oil production fell 38% and natural gas production fell 31%” in the United States. Thus, unemployment naturally rose. As of August 2020, about 25% of North Dakota’s 100,000 unemployed people all came from “mining, quarrying and oil & gas extraction.” That’s a huge percentage! The article I’m referencing here shows how one North Dakota man went from being a laid off oil field worker with inconsistent job opportunities to a wind turbine technician. Furthermore, it explores the statistics of how renewable energy is filling in the gaps where dirty energy is failing. It’s a really good read about the future of renewable energy!
Overall, recent studies show that jobs in clean energy currently outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel sector 3 to 1. In fact, there are 3.4 million workers in the clean energy sector! While fossil fuel jobs will continue to be lost due to reasons unrelated to renewable energy, clean energy jobs are steadily on the rise.
Myth #5. Solar and wind farms require too much land – FALSE
Yep, they sure do require a lot of land! That’s a fact. On the other hand, do you know what they don’t do? Solar and wind farms don’t destroy the land like coal, oil, and nuclear plants. In fact, there have been positive co-benefits for landowners, farmers, and ranchers, such as still being able to use wind turbine sites for grazing.
In order to supply millions of Americans with electricity, we have two choices. We can either use land and completely destroy it, or we can use land and leave healthy and it in tact. Of course we want the least amount of damage, right?! I hope so. Read about the true impact comparison and footprint of solar energy and wind energy versus nuclear, gas, and coal energy at The Freeing Energy Project.
I would be remiss to not talk about innovations in how renewable energy is collected. Wind farms can be placed in the ocean, thus taking up no land at all. Companies like SportsArt are creating energy capturing gym equipment that collects and redistributes power when patrons workout. Innovators are designing bladeless wind energy collectors. Renewable energy on a large scale is still in its infancy. We have yet to see the limits of the innovative possibilities yet.
Related Post: The 8 Rs of a Circular Economy
Myth #6. We can’t rely on renewable energy – FALSE
What happens when there isn’t enough sunlight or wind? Will our electricity go out?? Extreme weather conditions caused by the climate crisis can potentially have a negative impact on solar and wind energy. But the climate crisis is fueled by our dependency on oil and gas that destroys the Earth. So things like air pollution can also negative impact by blocking the sun rays from reaching solar panels.
While finite sources of coal, oil, and gas will most definitely run out one day, renewable energy sources are infinite. Scientists can plan for fluctuations due to changing seasons and weather. Teamed together with diversifying the available renewable energy sources, the risk of them not being reliable lessens. Studies show that renewable energy is reliable and bountiful. Even though solar and wind energy cannot be collected every hour of every day, grids can help manage output, and battery storage can help lessen the variability of wind and solar on their own.
Myth #7. Renewable energy equipment isn’t sustainable – FALSE
Making and operating anything takes resources, but, once again, weighing the final impact provides a clearer understanding. Renewable sources of energy require shorter times to build their plants than their non-renewable counterparts (2 years versus 4 years). Whereas sources of renewable energy emit 50 g or less of CO2/kWh emissions at most over their lifetime, coal and natural gas emit 1000 g of CO2/kWh and 475 g of CO2/kWh, respectively.
It is important to note that the production of solar panels does take a lot of energy, and wind turbines that are out of use have no way to be recycled due to how strong they are. However, solar panels offset the amount of energy used to create them within the first 2 years of their lifespan of 25-40 years. More importantly, engineers and scientist recognize the need to find better ways to reuse and safely dispose of the materials of old wind turbines and solar panels. Innovations such as module recycling done by First Solar, which reuses up to 90% of solar panel glass and semiconductor materials, shows that we are on the right track.
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- “How much of U.S. energy consumption and electricity generation comes from renewable energy sources?” U.S. Energy Information Administration FAQs (eia.gov)
- “Antarctica opens its largest wind farm” Wind Power Engineering (windpowerengineering.com)
- “Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels” Consumer Affairs (consumeraffairs.com)
- “Setting the Record Straight About Renewable Energy” World Resources Institute (wri.org)
- “Major Threats to Birds” American Birds Conservancy (abcbirds.org)
- “Direct Mortality of Birds from Anthropogenic Causes” Annual Reviews (annualreviews.org) via 3billionbirds.org
- “Light Pollution Poses Threat to Migrating Birds” International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org)
- “As fossil fuel jobs falter, renewables come to the rescue” CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- “When it comes to land impact, does solar, wind, nuclear, coal, or natural gas have the smallest footprint?” The Freeing Energy Project (freeingenergy.com)
- “The climate and increased extreme weather affect our energy systems” Science Daily (sciencedaily.com)
- “Air Pollution Disrupting China and India Solar Power Efforts” Think Energy by ENGIE (thinkenergy.com)