The advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy
As we move toward a zero-carbon future, wind power, geothermal energy, solar energy, hydropower, tidal energy, hydrogen, and other renewable technologies are becoming widely popular energy sources worldwide. Countries, corporations, and individuals are adopting clean energy for several great benefits, from reduced air pollution to financial savings. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy.
Here are some of the most important pros and cons of using clean, renewable energy:
|Renewable energy won’t run out.||Renewable energy has high upfront costs.|
|Renewable energy has lower maintenance requirements.||Renewable energy is intermittent.|
|Renewables save money.||Renewables have limited storage capabilities.|
|Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits.||Renewable energy sources have geographic limitations.|
|Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources.||Renewables aren’t always 100% carbon-free.|
|Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air.|
|Renewable energy creates jobs.|
|Renewable energy can cut down on waste.|
Renewable energy has multiple advantages over fossil fuels. Here are some of the top benefits of using an alternative energy source:
Renewable energy won’t run out.
Renewable energy has lower maintenance requirements.
Renewables save money.
Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits.
Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources.
Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air.
Renewable energy creates jobs.
Renewable energy can cut down on waste.
1. Renewable energy won’t run out
Renewable energy technologies use resources straight from the environment to generate power. These energy sources include sunshine, wind, tides, and biomass. Renewable resources won’t run out, which cannot be said for many types of fossil fuels – as we use fossil fuel resources, they will be increasingly difficult to obtain, likely driving up both the cost and environmental impact of extraction.
2. Maintenance requirements are lower for renewable energy
Renewable energy systems usually require less overall maintenance than generators that use traditional fuel sources. This is because generating technology like solar panels and wind turbines either have few or no moving parts and don’t rely on flammable, combustible fuel sources to operate. Fewer maintenance requirements translate to more time and money saved.
3. Renewables save money
Using renewable energy can help you save money long term. Not only will you save on maintenance costs but also on operating costs. You don't have to pay to refuel when you’re using a technology that generates power from the sun, wind, steam, or natural processes. The amount of money you will save using renewable energy can vary depending on several factors, including the technology itself. In most cases, transitioning to renewable energy means anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in savings—find out how much you can save by switching to solar energy.
4. Renewable energy has numerous environmental benefits
Renewable energy generation sources lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fuel sources like natural gas. This means a smaller carbon footprint and an overall positive impact on the natural environment. During the combustion process, fossil fuels emit high amounts of greenhouse gases, which have been proven to exacerbate climate change, which in turn causes rising global temperatures and higher frequencies of extreme weather events.
The use of fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants that lead to respiratory and cardiac health issues. With renewable energy, you’re helping decrease these pollutants' prevalence and contributing to a healthier atmosphere.
5. Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources
With renewable energy technologies, you can produce energy locally. The higher the amount of our energy use is renewable, the less we’ll rely on imported energy, and the more we’ll contribute to U.S. energy independence. Renewable energy sources can help us minimize the geo-political risks associated with fossil fuels, from trade disputes to political instability to pricing wars, which are often rooted in access to oil.
6. Renewable energy leads to cleaner water and air
When you burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, it contaminates the air and water we use. For example, coal power stations release high volumes of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and harmful toxins like mercury, lead, and sulfur dioxide. Health problems from ingesting these elements can be dangerous and even fatal. Investing in renewable energy is a great way to work against these risks, as renewables have a far lower negative impact on our air and water.
The use of fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants that lead to respiratory and cardiac health issues. With renewable energy, you’re helping decrease these pollutants' prevalence and contributing to a healthier environment.
7. Renewable energy creates new jobs
While the U.S. shifts its focus to combat global warming, we’re setting ambitious carbon-reduction goals that require labor to get the job done. Today, the renewable energy sector employs three times as many people as fossil fuels in the U.S. That number is expected to rise over the next few years—and as a plus, these jobs tend to pay above average wages, making it a desirable career option and an overall economic boom.
8. Renewable energy can help solve our waste problem
Specifically, biomass energy can offer a significant benefit in this way. Biomass generators consume used organic products like vegetable oil, corn and soybean byproducts, and even algae to generate energy. Because of this, using biomass as an energy source can reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, which helps cut down on carbon emissions and environmental contamination.
Renewable energy has many benefits, but it’s not always sunny when it comes to renewable energy. Here are some cons of renewable energy when compared to traditional fuel sources:
Renewable energy has high upfront costs.
Renewable energy is intermittent.
Renewables have storage capabilities.
Renewable energy sources have geographic limitations.
Renewables aren’t always 100% carbon-free.
1. Higher upfront cost
While you can save money using renewable energy, the technologies are typically more expensive upfront than traditional energy generators. To combat this, financial incentives such as tax credits and rebates are available to help alleviate your initial costs of renewable technology.
Though renewable energy resources are available around the world, many of these resources aren’t available 24/7, year-round. Some days may be windier than others, the sun doesn’t shine at night, and droughts may occur for periods. Unpredictable weather events can disrupt these technologies, and the amount of energy we can get from renewable power sources can be inconsistent. Fossil fuels are not intermittent, and power plants can be turned on or off at any time to provide an energy supply. Wondering if you should make the switch to renewables? Find out if an energy source like solar power is a good fit for you.
3. Storage capabilities
Because of the intermittency of some renewable energy sources, there’s a high need for energy storage. Storage technologies are available but can be expensive, especially for large-scale renewable energy plants. It’s worth noting that energy storage capacity is growing as the technology progresses, and batteries are becoming more affordable as time passes.
4. Geographic limitations
The United States has a diverse geography with varying climates, topographies, vegetation, etc. This creates a beautiful melting pot of landscapes but also means that some geographies are more suitable for renewable technologies than others. For example, a large property in a rural area with open space may be an excellent place for a residential wind farm or a large-scale solar farm. At the same time, a townhome in a city covered in shade from taller buildings wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of either technology. There are other options if your property isn’t suitable for a personal renewable energy technology. If you’re interested in solar but don’t have a sunny property, you can often still benefit from renewable energy by purchasing green power or enrolling in a community solar option.
5. Not 100% carbon-free
Although solar panels and other forms of renewable energy drastically reduce carbon emissions, these resources aren’t always completely clean. The manufacturing, transportation, and installation of renewable energy, like wind turbines, can create a carbon footprint since they’re usually produced in factories powered by fossil fuels —not to mention the diesel and gasoline needed to fuel the transport trucks. As the U.S. becomes more and more electrified – from solar panels on factories to electric transport trucks – carbon emissions associated with solar will continue to decrease.
6. Supply chain constraints
Renewables must have an effective distribution network created to transfer the energy where it’s needed on a large scale. These networks need non-renewable fuels to be generated, which offsets the benefits of renewable energy for a bit until it’s paid back. Additionally, politics can play a factor in installing renewable energy if it’s not a priority among local governments.
There are a few types of renewable sources we can use for energy production:
Wind energy leverages the power of wind motion to generate electricity created by the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface.
Solar power uses energy from the sun to generate electricity and heat.
Hydropower utilizes fast-moving water to spin turbines and generate electricity. This is also known as hydroelectric power or hydroelectricity.
Biomass generates electricity from organic plant matter.
Geothermal energy leverages heat from inside the earth to generate electricity.
Tidal produces electricity with special generators that leverage the surges of the ocean created during rising and falling tides. Hydrogen: utilized as fuel and electricity when separated from other elements like oxygen.
Nuclear energy, while not technically renewable, is often lumped in with the abovementioned sources. Nuclear power has the potential to provide electricity generation on a massive scale with zero emissions, making it an intriguing part of our energy future.
When it comes to renewable energy, the positives outweigh the negatives. Transitioning to renewables on a personal, corporate, or governmental level will help you save money and promote a cleaner, healthier environment for the future.
Installing solar panels is one of the easiest ways to go green. By signing up on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can compare multiple quotes from local, pre-screened installers to see what solar costs and savings for your property. The quotes will also include estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emissions you will offset over 20 years and what this equates to in both trees planted and gallons of gasoline burned.