I’ve researched the most common misconceptions, these include:
- Clean Coal – The way we use fossil fuels doesn’t affect Mother Nature.
- Natural Gas – One step above coal, two steps above renewable energy.
- Renewable Energy – Wouldn’t survive without the government.
When someone doesn’t agree with renewable energy, it’s most likely because of one the misconceptions above. This article will clear up the air, turn pessimists into optimists, and educate the general public on why renewable energy is here to stay – in an unbiased factual way.
1. Clean Coal
Coal mining is a dangerous activity. You are exposed to suffocation, gas poisoning, collapses and gas explosions. More than 100,000 coal miners have been killed in accidents over the past century. The environment is also taking a blow when it comes to land use, waste management, and air and water pollution. In ’08 the World Health Organization and other organizations calculated that coal particulates pollution caused approx. 1,000,000 deaths annually across the world.
Being able to harness energy from an abundant source is a great thing, and we are embracing it more than ever. 80,000 clean energy jobs were created in America during 2013. There is little to no evidence that many, if any, deaths occurred in 2013 in the renewable sector.
Safer to obtain energy from other natural resources.
Renewable energy job sector is booming.
2. Natural Gas
Along with coal, natural gas is nonrenewable because it cannot be replenished. Natural gas is sometimes seen as a clean energy alternative (depending on who you ask). It definitely burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and emits low levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides. Natural gas also produces less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels and doesn’t produce ash or particulates that can cause potential health problems. Sounds good, right?
A significant amount of methane escapes into the atmosphere from the wells and pipelines. Methane is one of the major greenhouse gases that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. There is a controversial method of obtaining natural gas from harder rocks and deeper deposits – fracking. The process of fracking uses high pressure to force fluids underground to break shale rocks and get deep deposits of natural gas. This process has been around for nearly 60 years. It is also said to emit methane and pollute water supplies. We cannot justify that it pollutes everytime, but has been known to cause water pollution.
We can at least agree that this is the cleanest, yet flawed, source of fossil fuel energy (so far). There have been a few instances where pipelines have exploded killing people and releasing harmful amounts of methane. There hasn’t really been any sink holes or land disasters from fracking. However let’s dive deeper into this…
Each gas well requires an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site. That’s alot of diesel fuel.
It takes between 1,000,000 to 8,000,000 gallons of water to complete each fracking job.
That water is then mixed with sand and 40,000 gallons of chemicals to create fracking fluid.
Up to 600 chemicals are used in fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such as:
- Ethylene Glycol
- Hydrochloric Acid
The fracking fluid is then pressure injected into the ground, through a pipeline
During the process, methane gas and toxic chemicals spread out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking water-wells near fracking sites than in normal wells.
There have been cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.
Only 30-50% of the fracking fluid is recovered. The rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and isn’t biodegradable.
In the end, fracking produces 300,000 barrels of natural gas a day, but at the price of numerous environmental, safety, and health hazards
Solar cells contain some toxins that can be potentially released during the manufacturing process and when panels finally stop producing.
Some of dirty chemicals are:
- Cadmium Telluride
- Polyvinyl Fluoride
Thin-film module maker First Solar has implemented recycling programs from the start. There are even companies like BioSolar that aim to remove toxics by substituting eco and environmentally friendly substitutes.
- Substantially less of an environmental hazard.
- Recycling programs being implemented to assure environmental safety.
3. Renewable Energy
There are several misconceptions about renewable energy, so let’s address them.
Wind turbines are noisy bird killers
Wind farms can be noisier than a kitchen refrigerator when 750 to 1,000 feet from residences. Sounds of the more modern turbines have been compared to a washer, similar to a whooshing sound. Noises are more audible when homes are down wind in hilly terrains or if you are located in a dip. Wind turbines are ranked at 45dB, which is lower than a home or office. The media has hyped wind turbines to be bird killers. However, wind turbines have little impact on birds compared to other man-made objects that impacts animals and birds.
A chart showing estimated numbers of birds killed annually by each of several different causes. Data from various sources.
Solar energy doesn’t provide enough juice
If you size a system out to meet your annual energy demands, chances are it will produce that estimated amount. The best time of the day to use energy in your home is during the day when the sun is out. If not, that energy is fed back into the grid, to the utility, giving you credits (depending on where you are).
Solar and wind energy can’t provide energy at certain times of the day
Solar energy doesn’t produce at night time, but there has been talk about harvesting moonlight to create energy. Who knows how many years away that is and if it will even be a reasonable price? Wind energy is different when it comes to producing energy at night. At night, the winds are reversed because the air cools more rapidly over land than over water. It’s said that wind farms generally generate most of their energy at night, when energy demand is the lowest. If you own a wind turbine and it’s creating energy at night, I am sure that you will get credited for the energy your turbine has produced, or you can store the energy in batteries.
- Renewable energy wouldn’t survive without the government
- Renewable energy is too expensive
Simply put, renewable energy at one point was extremely expensive. The price for solar energy is slowly going down. Without any tax credits we are back to square one, just like early 2000’s. Hopefully there is a transition where tax credits slowly start to diminish only if the cost of owning solar power goes down.
Overall renewable energy isn’t the dominant source of energy in the United States. It makes the most sense to use it, but the cost is still out of range for most Americans. Once every single homeowner, lower income and above, in the United States can afford to create energy, the world will be a better place. We cannot afford to keep polluting the earth at this rate. Sure we are getting by, but at what cost?