What are The Main Cons of Renewable Energy?
When discussing alternative energy we can't ignore the cons of renewable energy. We often read or hear of the advantages of lack of emissions and lack of environmental damage but there are some serious disadvantages that must be addressed.
Though costs of materials for some renewable energy methods have declined in recent years, the cost to build a power plant that utilizes renewable energy is substantially higher than that of a fossil fuel powered plant.
This cost factor has limited the applications of large scale use of renewable sources of energy and it is hoped by many that technological developments will help to bring these costs down going forward.
Costs have been reduced in the area of solar power. Increased production of solar panels in China has resulted in much lower costs for the supplies needed.
It has also caused several fledgling solar manufacturing plants in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy. The regulations for labor and manufacturing in the U.S. lead to costs far above those of Chinese manufacturing plants.
Perhaps the biggest influence on costs is the inequality of the playing field in the area of energy production. Oil and gas lobbies are huge and well funded.
These lobbyists have exerted great pressure on officials at all levels to increase the regulations and restrictions on use of renewable sources of energy. The gas and oil lobbies have resulted in those fuels getting 8-10 times the amount of subsidies awarded to wind and solar providers.
Though there are cons of renewable energy, the biggest financial disadvantage is the political power of the huge oil and gas corporations.
Nuclear Energy - Thrown Into the Mix
Though it is not a renewable resource, nuclear power is often listed as renewable source of energy. This is deliberate as the public fear of radiation has been in existence since the 1940s.
It seems each time nuclear power begins to gain in popularity as a realistic energy source, a nuclear event occurs. Though it's true a nuclear meltdown is a crisis that could reach disaster proportions, the truth doesn't meet the level of fear that exists.
Even in Japan's recent nuclear reactor meltdown, the damage to the populace was less than predicted and the same has been true of every nuclear event except perhaps Chernobyl.
However, by highlighting the dangers of radiation and the very real risks associated with nuclear waste storage and disposal, oil and gas lobbyists continue to attempt to put nuclear power into the category of a renewable energy resource. In truth, nuclear power should be in a category of its own.
It's surprising to find there are anti-solar organizations. Perhaps it is proof that there will always be those who oppose any idea or process as it's difficult to imagine being against using the sun's rays for energy production.
The biggest disadvantage of the renewable energy that is solar power is the high cost of installation. In reality, costs have fallen by 20% each time the supply of solar power has doubled.
Initially, high cost of solar panels and other equipment needed was due to the limited manufacturing of the items. As more and more panels were built and new designs available, the costs began to fall rapidly.
Solar panels produced by China today cost 50% less than the panels sold just a few years ago. It is predicted prices will fall by another 10-15% in the next five years which will place solar power in competition with fossil fuels from a cost standpoint.
Another disadvantage of solar energy is the unreliable nature of sunlight. Energy can only be captured and stores during daylight hours and only on days when clouds don't obscure the sun. This problem is addressed by storing the daylight energy of the sun to large batteries but that increases the costs significantly.
Hydroelectric power is a fact of life in many states where huge dams built during the 1900s create all of the electrical power for a region. Disadvantages of the renewable sources of energy extend to use of hydropower. Most areas where the topography is right for harnessing the power of water have been developed.
Other areas that would be useful are located on fault lines which could rupture the dam during seismic activity and pose a serious danger to those living below the power plant.
Wildlife and fish have been affected by hydroelectric plants as the normal river flow is interrupted and changed from a river to a lake (reservoir). Wildlife on land is at risk due to submerging areas of land to form the reservoir located behind the dam.
Even the strongest dam is at risk from earthquakes and some experts theorize building the huge dams increased risk of earthquakes in some regions.
There can be a negative effect on farms and ranches located below the dam as large quantities of silt are flushed through with the water pouring through gates in the dam. This can also lead to destruction of natural streams and other bodies of water where silt builds up and damages the ecosystem of the area.
Faulty construction, aging structures, terrorism or acts of nature can lead to dam collapse and have serious and deadly consequences. Hydropower is in place in the U.S. and operating effectively as dams control water flow to create large amount of electrical power.
Building new dams is unlikely as the time necessary to build such a complex structure can be up to ten years and time and cost overruns are unpredictable.
When wind turbines first began to gain in popularity with the public and with power companies, the price of turbines almost doubled. That trend has reversed as more efficient and smaller turbines have been developed and the manufacturing of the parts has increased. The low noise generated by a wind turbine is a disadvantage of this renewable source of energy.
The noise resulting from the moving blades of the turbine has affected some people in wind farm regions. Oddly, the noise may be barely a whisper in a farm located near the base of the wind turbine but much louder at a house located a mile away.
Some people describe it as white noise in the background and discount it while others seem to be particularly bothered by the constant humming of wind farms.
Another complaint is with the esthetics of a wind farm. You might see a group of wind turbines as an interesting addition to the landscape but other will see it as a blight on the land. Other problems are the intermittent nature of wind as the turbine only generates power when the winds are blowing.
A recent study concluded efficient wind farms can be built by locating wind turbines in a closely space grouping. This will remove one disadvantage of this renewable source of energy as the amount of land necessary to locate a wind farm will be greatly reduced.