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Mythbusting renewable electricity

12 April 2023, 15:14 UTC

Check out our infographic taking on the biggest myths around renewable electricity


Mythbusting renewables infographic.pdf

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Date added: 03/07/23


There's a lot of disinformation around renewable electricity and its role in our net zero future. Vested interests, established positions, policy barriers and more all exist to hinder the deployment of renewable electricity.

Here we look at just some of the myths out there and show how they are wrong.

Renewables are too expensive to install

Building new solar capacity in Europe is 10x cheaper than operating gas-fired power plants in the long-term. Building new solar or wind in the US in now cheaper than operating 209 out of its 210 coal plants.

The era of cheap fossil fuels is over. Time and again, renewable electricity has proven itself the cheaper alternative. Almost two-thirds, or 163 GW, of new renewable power capacity added in 2021 had lower costs than the cheapest coal-fired power plants in G20 markets. In 2022, Europe avoided at least USD $50 billion in fossil fuel imports thanks to solar and wind generation between January and May alone.

Wind and solar don’t run 24/7/365

Renewable sources like wind and solar do lead to variability in the supply of the energy they produce. Utilities providers are responsible for planning for cloudy or still periods and energy storage solutions, to deliver a stable supply alongside alternative sources of renewables, like geothermal or hydropower. It will be important for countries to develop a mix of renewable sources that they can use to complement each other, to provide electricity supplies when some are not able to.

The more sources of renewable electricity a country uses, the more reliable it becomes. Depending on if a country has a strong renewable resource, like wind in the UK or sun in Australia, that will help to boost the reliability of electricity. Another advantage renewables have over fossil fuels is that they are never going to run out.

We can’t store it/access when we need it

The global energy storage market is only going to get bigger, with estimations of a 15x increase in available storage by 2030, compared to 2021. Meanwhile, the price of lithium-ion energy batteries has dropped by as much as 97% since 1991 and continues to fall. This will help deliver large-scale battery facilities for the storage of electricity, alongside smaller-scale, integrated batteries in homes and businesses, meaning when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, electricity can still be delivered to where it’s needed.

Many countries lack access to renewable sources

Taking solar as the most globally abundant renewable source, the World Bank has said that “the potential for electricity generation from solar photovoltaic sources in most countries dwarfs their current electricity demand.”

Every country has access to some form of renewable energy source, unlike with fossil fuels. The challenge comes in harnessing this in a cost-effective way and integrating it into the national energy mix. As the world moves towards more renewable electricity, the interconnections we see in the current energy trading market will continue. Countries will buy renewable electricity from one another to help with capacity, low domestic generation etc. These interconnectors will enable even the remotest places to benefit from net zero electricity. The North Sea Link, a 700-kilometre cable allows the UK to use Norwegian hydropower, while sending wind power the opposite way. Australia is planning a 4,200 km cable to take solar power to Singapore, while the EU plans to have at least 15% of its electricity systems interconnected by 2030.

There isn’t enough land/space to be able to install renewables

While land and space requirements are a real concern for many countries, the benefit of renewables like wind and solar is that they aren’t constrained by conventional, fossil fuel land requirements. For example, solar panels can be installed on rooftops, floating on reservoirs or lakes, and even on occupied agricultural land (bringing with it a host of benefits). The United States has an estimated 8 billion square meters of rooftop space in which solar panels can be installed, the UK has nearly 75 million square meters. In India, rooftop solar is the fastest growing renewable energy sub-sector, France now requires all car parks with space for more than 80 vehicles to be covered in solar panels and Ethiopia would need to use just 0.005% of its land to generate sufficient power to cover its existing needs.

Offshore wind has huge potential across the world as well. In places like South Korea, where land use is at a premium, there is the potential for 624 gigawatts (GW) of electricity to come from offshore wind. With floating wind turbines becoming commercially viable in recent years, offshore wind is now no longer restricted to shallow seas, opening up vast new opportunities further from land.

People working in the fossil fuels industry will lose their jobs

An estimated 14 million new clean energy jobs will need to be created by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). An essential part of the challenge with moving to 100% renewable electricity is ensuring that job skills and expertise are transferred from fossil fuels to renewables, by reskilling workers. This forms part of what is known as a just transition. As the sector expands and more projects are commissioned, green jobs will only continue to grow. The IEA has found that clean energy jobs account for over half of all the energy sector jobs, a trend only set to continue. Protecting workers, not obsolete jobs, by shifting skilled workers into new industries will ensure more people benefit from the energy transition.

Renewables alone can’t provide all our electricity needs

Wind and solar surpassed fossil fuels in the EU’s electricity generation mix in 2022. 22% came from renewables compared to 20% from fossil gas. In 2020, the UK ran for 67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes without using coal, the longest since the industrial revolution. Germany, the UK, the US, and many other countries plan to use 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and with global investment in low carbon energy reaching $1.1 trillion in 2022 – a new record – there is a greater drive for access to renewables than ever before.

Nuclear power is renewable

Nuclear is not a renewable energy source. Nuclear power uses radioactive fuel and is not a limitless source of energy. Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Sources of renewable energy include solar, wind, geothermal energy, hydropower. As an example, solar energy hits Earth about 10,000 times greater than the rate at which we consume it.

Technology (hydrogen/CCUS etc) is a silver bullet

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source itself. Hydrogen has an important, but specific role to play in the net zero future, and only green hydrogen (created using renewable energy) is acceptable. Hydrogen derived from fossil fuel sources is still ultimately a fossil fuel-based form of energy and therefore drives climate change. Green hydrogen currently requires substantial electricity to produce, so it only makes sense to produce hydrogen in areas with significant excess renewable generation potential. Hydrogen is best suited for certain energy intensive uses, such as industrial processing and heavy transport, and it is unlikely to be viable for passenger vehicles and domestic applications. Nevertheless, even in the best-case scenarios, production of hydrogen by 2050 will remain too low for it to be a ‘silver bullet’ across multiple sectors.

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technology will, ultimately, be needed to create a net zero world. As technologies emerge, CCUS will help to capture emissions at source from emissions-intensive sectors, such as concrete. However, CCUS technology is currently at least a decade away from being viable at scale, with no large scale commercially viable CCUS plant currently available, meaning it cannot be relied on in the near term to reduce the impact of fossil fuels. CCUS is unlikely to ever be cost competitive with renewable projects.