What Are 3 Reasons Why Renewable Energy Is Not Always Good To Use?

Intermittency of renewable sources

What are 3 reasons why renewable energy is not always good to use?

Solar and wind energy are considered intermittent energy sources because their power output varies based on environmental conditions like sunlight and wind speed. They cannot provide a steady flow of electricity around the clock like conventional power plants.

The availability of solar energy depends on the time of day, season, and cloud cover. Solar panels do not produce any electricity at night and produce less on cloudy days. This makes solar an inconsistent energy source.

Similarly, the output from wind turbines relies on wind speed. When the wind is not blowing, wind farms do not generate any power. Even during windy conditions, the wind is often inconsistent with lulls and gusts.

This intermittency poses challenges for grid operators who must match electricity supply with demand every second of every day. Relying too heavily on intermittent renewables can cause instability if the sun stops shining or wind stops blowing when energy demand is still high. This makes solar and wind unreliable sources for baseload power.

To overcome intermittency issues, energy storage solutions or backup power from conventional plants is often needed. But this adds costs and complexities. Intermittency remains a key obstacle for very high renewable energy penetrations on the grid.

High upfront capital costs

One of the biggest challenges for renewable energy is the high upfront capital costs required to build solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable power plants. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the cost of capital for renewable energy projects ranges from 5-12%, higher than the 3-5% for fossil fuels. This is because renewable energy projects are capital intensive, with 80% or more of lifetime costs occurring upfront.

For example, building a 100 MW solar photovoltaic plant can cost over $100 million upfront, while a comparable natural gas plant may cost $60-70 million. Geothermal and offshore wind plants can cost even more. Financing these major upfront investments requires substantial capital from equity investors who expect adequate returns for the risks involved.

High capital costs make it harder for renewable energy to compete with conventional power on a kilowatt-hour basis. However, costs are falling as technologies mature. With supportive policies and financing, the IEA forecasts renewables reaching 60-70% of global electricity by 2050.

Transmission challenges

Renewable energy often needs new transmission infrastructure to connect to the grid. Many renewable energy sources like wind and solar are located in remote areas, far from existing transmission lines that connect to population centers (Source 1). Building new transmission lines is expensive and faces permitting hurdles and delays in construction. Upgrading the grid with new transmission capacity requires substantial capital investment and complex coordination across multiple states and jurisdictions (Source 2). Without major transmission infrastructure upgrades, it becomes difficult to integrate large amounts of intermittent renewable energy and deliver it to load centers where energy is needed most.

Land use conflicts

Large-scale solar and wind farms require significant amounts of land, which can lead to conflicts with existing land uses like agriculture or conservation. According to a Brookings Institute report, the average wind farm requires 360 acres per megawatt of installed capacity. Utility-scale solar photovoltaic farms need around 7.5 acres per megawatt. As renewable energy capacity expands, thousands of acres of land are needed to site new projects.

This can displace agricultural operations, disrupt wildlife habitats, and impinge on culturally or environmentally sensitive areas. A study from West Virginia University found cases of solar facilities conflicting with farmland preservation policies in California and Maryland. Some projects have also faced opposition for siting on indigenous lands. Careful planning and community engagement are necessary to minimize land use conflicts when transitioning to renewable energy.

Negative environmental impacts

While renewable energy is cleaner than fossil fuels, it can still have negative effects on the environment. Large hydroelectric dams in particular can cause major habitat disruption and loss when areas are flooded behind dams. The National Academy of Sciences notes that large dams flood forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems, damaging habitat for many species. As rivers are fragmented and altered, populations of native fish and other aquatic species often decline.

Wind turbines can also negatively impact wildlife, especially birds and bats. The spinning turbine blades can strike flying animals, causing direct mortality. According to researchers from North Carolina State University, wind facilities may harm protected bird and bat species as they migrate through wind farms. Proper siting and mitigation measures can help reduce wildlife impacts.

Public opposition

Renewable energy projects sometimes face public opposition from local community members who don’t want renewable infrastructure built near their homes and communities. This type of opposition, known as “NIMBYism” (Not In My Backyard), can delay, alter, or halt renewable projects.

For example, some communities have opposed local wind and solar farms over concerns about views and aesthetics, noise, decreased property values, and impacts on wildlife and habitats [1]. Fossil fuel companies have also funded misinformation campaigns to stir up local opposition to clean energy projects [2].

Public engagement and community outreach efforts by project developers, as well as policies to equitably distribute benefits, can sometimes overcome local opposition. However, overcoming NIMBYism remains a hurdle for timely and widespread renewable energy deployment.

Storage limitations

Renewable sources like solar and wind are intermittent, producing energy only when the sun is shining or wind is blowing. Effective energy storage is needed to address these intermittency issues and shift supply to meet demand. However, storage options are still limited. Current battery technologies have capacity constraints. As an article on Qmerit notes, “While short-duration energy storage (SDES) systems can discharge energy for up to 10 hours, long-duration energy storage (LDES) systems are only in the prototype and demonstration phases.”1 Pumped hydro storage accounts for over 90% of global storage capacity according to The New Yorker, but geographic constraints limit further growth.2 More innovation is needed in grid-scale, long-duration storage solutions before renewables can fully displace fossil fuels.

Cost effectiveness

In some cases, renewable energy remains more expensive than conventional sources. While costs have come down dramatically in recent years, the upfront capital costs required for renewable energy projects can be higher than building fossil fuel power plants (UN report). The levelized costs for utility-scale solar PV are estimated to be $36-44 per MWh, compared to $26-27 for advanced natural gas plants (Inspire Clean Energy). This means fossil fuels like natural gas can still produce cheaper electricity in the near-term. However, as technology continues to advance, renewables are projected to become more cost competitive.

Additionally, some renewable sources like offshore wind and solar thermal remain expensive relative to other options. While onshore wind and solar PV have reached cost parity in many regions, other renewables require more development. Intermittent sources also require storage or backup capacity to ensure reliable power, adding to costs. As a result, in certain contexts, conventional fuels can still provide cheaper, steadier power generation compared to renewable alternatives.

Difficulty meeting demand

Scaling up renewable energy fast enough to meet rising energy demand remains a challenge globally. As the World Bank notes, “Many developing countries face obstacles in obtaining the finance needed to scale up clean energy, which has slowed the momentum of the virtuous cycle of investment and cost reductions in renewable energy technologies” (How to scale up renewable energy investments). Even in developed nations, scaling up renewables at the pace needed to meet climate goals has proven difficult. According to Yale Environment 360, “Most studies show that renewable energy — which excluding big hydropower plants today generates about 7 percent of the world’s electricity and about 2 percent of global energy — would have to rise to 20 percent of electricity generation by 2030 and then continue its rapid growth to at least 50 percent by 2050. That would require, the International Energy Agency estimates, a total global investment in renewables of $13.7 trillion between 2011 and 2030, or about $700 billion a year.” (Green Energy’s Big Challenge: The Daunting Task of Scaling Up). Clearly, rapidly scaling up renewable energy to meet rising demand is an enormous challenge requiring massive investments of capital and coordinated policies across nations.

Policy and regulatory hurdles

Renewable energy growth depends on continued policy support and overcoming regulatory hurdles. As discussed in Addressing Policy and Regulatory Challenges in Renewable Energy Projects, one significant challenge is the lack of clarity and stability in policies and regulations related to renewable energy. Frequent policy changes create uncertainty and risk for investors and developers. According to Renewable energy – new challenges require a bespoke approach to risk allocation, renewable energy has historically depended heavily on government subsidies and support. As subsidies decline, new policies are needed to encourage continued growth of renewables. Overcoming regulatory hurdles related to siting, permitting, and grid integration will also be critical.

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