With the world having progressed so much over the past century or so, big players in economics and global politics and business are starting to realize the importance of emphasizing sustainability. After all, no matter how much growth the world sees at the end of the day it only really matters if it can be sustained indefinitely into the future.
In the interest of things like sustainability, renewable energy has become a big talking point. Solar power, wind energy and a bunch of other forms of renewable energy are good options since they don’t damage the environment all that much. That said, they are not without their own drawbacks. Listed below are ten disadvantages that should be thought about when discussing renewable energy.
#1 Too Much Dependence on Weather & Climate
One major problem with renewable energy sources is that most of them are reliant on the weather to function properly. Solar panels require the sun to work, and if the sun isn’t shining on any particular day this means that barely any power would end up being generated. The same can be said for hydro generators. They require rain to function properly, and if it ever doesn’t rain on a day when rain was expected this would lead to a shortage in energy production. Wind energy also requires on strong winds, so if winds die down energy production would greatly decrease as well.
While there are a lot of ways in which weather can be predicted, these systems are far from perfect. If we are entirely reliant on renewable energy, unexpected weather can end up being far more disastrous than might have been the case otherwise. Fossil fuels simply don’t have this drawback which is why they are so commonly preferred for the provision of uninterrupted energy supplies.
#2 Far More Expensive Initially
A common benefit of renewable energy that is often touted is that it costs less over time. This is because expensive fuel would no longer need to be purchased, and the natural elements can be manipulated so that energy can be drawn from them. While it is true that renewable energy can end up costing less in the long term, the initial cost is something that can’t be ignored. This initial cost is so great that it can often end up making widespread renewable energy implementation a real challenge since most countries just don’t have the kind of money required for this sort of thing.
If there is one country that might be rich enough to do this sort of thing it is the USA, but a full scale implementation of renewable energy could cost up to 4.5 trillion dollars over a period of eleven years. This is basically a quarter of the entire GDP of the US. Hence, while renewable energy might be cheaper over time, the initial investment required is so significant that it would be impossible to achieve without cutting spending on a variety of other things that the citizens of nations need just as badly.
#3 Ease of Implementation Depends on Geography
If you live in the countryside in a geographical area where weather conditions are favorable, switching to renewable energy can be very easy for you. However, this raises the concern that renewable energy implementation depends quite a bit on geography. If you like most people live in an urban center you would find switching to renewable energy a lot more difficult. After all, big cities don’t have the same access to the sun since tall buildings cast long shadows. Taking advantage of wind or water also requires a lot of space, and since space is at a premium in urban centers it would become even more difficult for renewable energy to be adopted.
Another thing to consider is that in cities you are probably living and working in buildings with a lot of other residents, workers and stakeholders. While populating the roof of an apartment building with solar panels is a great way to make solar power work as well as other types of renewable energy, you would need everyone else to be on board as well. This is unlikely to happen since many people might want to stick to using fossil fuels.
#4 It’s Near Impossible to Transport Efficiently
Once again, renewable energy can’t exactly be produced everywhere. Hence, a more likely solution would be that certain areas would be set aside for energy production. Wide, open spaces that get a lot of sun, wind or rain will have solar panels, windmills and other wind energy generators as well as hydro-generators set up. Doing this can end up generating a large amount of power, enough to keep everyone’s lights on. However, the problem that you would now be facing would involve actually getting this energy to the people that need it.
Transporting this energy is going to be extremely difficult. Fossil fuel energy doesn’t need to be transported very far since the fuels can be taken to where they are needed the most. Renewable energy does not have the same luxury. Indeed, developing an energy transportation infrastructure capable of handling this sort of thing might require additional fossil fuel usage. This would damage the environment even further, thereby making widespread renewable energy implementation do more harm than good. This is a major roadblock to making this kind of energy available for everyone to use.
#5 It is Difficult to Store
Due to the uncertain weather conditions that define renewable energy production, energy storage will need to become a priority. This way during good weather a lot of energy can be created and then stored for future use. The only problem with this is that storing large amounts of energy can be really expensive. What’s more is that energy storage at this capacity has simply never been done before with renewable energy, so a lot of research would need to be done before any progress can be made in this regard.
To put things into context, it currently costs $200 to store one kilowatt-hour of energy. In order to make it cost effective to store enough renewable energy to maintain consistent energy supplies, the cost will have to be brought down to $20 per kW-hour. This is a 90% drop, a number so drastic that it’s simply not feasible right now. While research is being conducted in this field, it will be a while before storage costs have gotten low enough to be worth it. Until then, the cost and inconvenience is going to be a major factor in discouraging people from trying this out.
#6 It Won’t End Pollution
There are a lot of environmental concerns plaguing our planet, and pollution is one of them. While water pollution and other forms of pollution are also important to take into account, air pollution is directly affecting our lives right now. The burning of fossil fuels definitely leads to air pollution. This can lead to breathing problems and other negative symptoms manifesting in people.
Renewable energy can at first seem like a great way to reduce air pollution. After all, you’re not burning fuels and releasing gases into the air which takes care of the problem right? The truth is that if you look at the numbers, using renewable energy only reduces air pollution by about ten percent.
This is because a lot of fossil fuels are required to build renewable energy infrastructure. Hence, switching to renewable energy isn’t having a direct impact on majorly reducing air pollution. Coupled with things like high costs and other considerations, the benefits aren’t nearly significant enough to merit such a major switch. Renewable energy needs to get better before it can have a legitimate and noticeable impact on air pollution, especially in urban centers.
#7 Costs Rise Exponentially
If you want to set up a solar panel system for your home you can do so quite easily. However, when it comes to producing enough energy to power cities you are talking about a different matter entirely. Power plants will need to be set up in order to generate the energy, storage facilities will be required to store excess power and the aforementioned costs of distribution networks obviously can’t be ignored either.
What this means is that massive investments can often only replace a small portion of fossil fuel usage in any given country. Take the US, for example. Back in 2007, the government spent an enormous amount of money to try and switch to corn based ethanol fuel. In spite of their massive investment, the government only managed to replace 4% of total oil usage with ethanol. 6 years later in 2013, this level of usage barely increased to 4.6% which meant that the investment didn’t really make a big change. All of this indicates that renewable energy still has a really long way to go before it can be worth investing in on a larger scale.
#8 It Takes Up Too Much Space
While solar power can be quite easily produced through the use of a single solar panel, the story is quite different for other forms of renewable energy. If you talk about wind energy, biomass and hyropower, these are the forms of renewable energy that require the most space to produce even the smallest amount of energy. Even with solar power, if you want to try and produce a decent amount of energy you would start needing more and more space. This becomes especially likely when you realize that people’s energy requirements are increasing as time goes by.
If you look at solar and wind power, the amount of land required to make them efficient enough is about forty times what is required for coal. Natural gas can require a thousand times more space than coal. This much land is just not feasible to use. People need land to live on and to farm. If this much land is used for energy production there will be very little left for people to use. Hence, more efficient forms of renewable energy will be required. Ideally enough energy should be produced from a far smaller space so that enough land can be left over for other uses.
#9 It Contributes to Habitat Destruction
Fossil fuels are often widely criticized because of the fact that they tend to destroy natural habitats. This is a perfectly fair criticism, and it must be addressed because entire species are going extinct. However, renewable energy can also be a big source of habitat destruction. In California, a solar farm set up in the Mojave Desert ended up leaving an entire population of desert tortoises without their natural habitat. The amount of land required to make renewable energy work can often make it difficult to maintain natural habitats. Hence, renewable energy is not without its own environmental faults.
Another thing to consider is that birds suffer a lot due to solar panels. The heat that these panels can generate can result in burns and other injuries for birds that fly too close. Hence, not only can solar farms make the ground uninhabitable, it can do the same to the skies as well. This is something that fossil fuel doesn’t do. Much in the same way this problem should be addressed in the fossil fuel industry, it should be addressed in the renewable energy industry as well.
#10 It Doesn’t Produce Enough Energy
Fossil fuels damage the environment, this much is true. However, they have been around for far longer than renewable energy. Only about 9% of all the energy consumed in the US in 2011 came from renewable energy. Hence, this form of energy has a really long way to go before it can be competitive. People just don’t want to go for a form of energy that can cost so much to install. The cost of storage as well as the unpredictable nature of this energy source are also factors that are pertinent. However, the most important thing to note is that these forms of energy just aren’t efficient. You have to spend lots of money and set aside lots of land to produce even a little bit of energy. Hence, efficiency levels need to be increased and prices need to be brought down before people can be expected to make the switch.
It’s clear that at some point or another we will as a species have to switch to renewable energy. However, one thing that a lot of people need to realize is that we still have a long way to go before we can actually rely on this form of energy.
Investments need to be made, research needs to be done and above all else people need to be educated. It’s clear to see that we are still a few decades away from switching to renewable energy entirely. When this finally happens it will be the result of a lot of advancements that people just haven’t seen yet. Until then, it’s quite probable that people would want to continue using fossil fuels because they are reliable, affordable and the alternative doesn’t help as much as it needs to.