Energy myths are damaging the planet. Let’s quash some.
Even among those who propagate renewable energy and understand the need to act against climate change, myths about energy stifle progress.
Our failure to comprehensively dismiss these non-concerns is incredibly damaging. It is damaging to the planet, which continues to suffer while we flail around to find a solution, and also to the campaign for action, which is now under attack from climate science non-believers perpetuating these myths and taking them further as tactics. It’s about time we discard some of them.
Myth One: Renewable energy is too unreliable
This is a particularly annoying one — because this is where people have taken a bit of truth and turned it into a blatant lie.
There are some sources of energy that aren’t hugely reliable, such as wind, wave, and solar power. However, this is almost irrelevant to the question of whether or not we can switch to 100% renewable energy.
Almost all countries have enough sources of renewable energy so that needs can be met without contribution from wind and wave power. Even so, these two sources of energy can still contribute huge amounts so long as they are used strategically — for example in upland areas for wind power or on stormy coasts for wave power.
Solar power is slightly different, though. It is unreliable in the sense only that its output can fluctuate. However, it has such an immense output in most places that this is almost irrelevant, and it is likely that the future energy mix will be dominated by solar power due to its ever-increasing power.
Myth Two: Renewable Energy is too expensive
The truth is that most sources are already cheaper than fossil fuel usage, and that renewables are getting ever cheaper.
The cost of coal per MWh (Megawatt hour) is roughly £140, and the cost of natural gas per MWh is roughly £112. By contrast, the cost of wind power per MWh is £62 onshore, and £102 offshore, and solar power costs roughly £80 per MWh, while biomass is £87 per MWh.
With new technologies becoming available all the while, renewables are becoming cheaper and more viable, and soon enough, it will make blindingly little economic sense to continue using fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Myth Three: We shouldn’t switch because it’s expensive and will cost jobs
It is true that the initial costs of building new infrastructure, and the safe disposal of old infrastructure, are high. However, this is not a reason to not switch in itself, as the long-term benefits will eventually negate the short-term costs.
One way to help the transition is to rely more heavily on our existing nuclear energy infrastructure and the planned projects for nuclear energy to provide more energy. Doing this will allow us more time to build new power plants and wind and solar farms, reducing the cost per year to the taxpayer.
The loss of jobs would be a concern if we still relied heavily on coal to provide energy. However, coal usage the world over has been declining in the past few decades, due to declining stocks and cheaper sources of energy. This means that most of the jobs have already disappeared in coal, and as such, renewable sources will likely be able to provide continuity in the amount of work available.
Moreover, the number of jobs available in designing and testing new technologies for renewable energy sources will increase with both public and private sector income — so we won’t see many of the jobs until we properly commit to renewables. The fact that the work isn’t there yet, due to the lack of commitment, is why this particular myth still exists.
Myth 4: Oil and Gas aren’t particularly damaging, and there are larger contributors to climatic change
This is perhaps the biggest non-truth of them all, and it is definitely the one with the most potential to cause damage.
While most of our energy now comes from non-coal fossil fuels which are less damaging than coal, they still emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases, and contribute the most to climate change.
There are other sources of greenhouse gases, such as the decaying of exposed soil and the burning of peat bogs, as well as deforestation and desertification. However, no single one of these is a larger problem than fossil fuel combustion, so the most important issue to tackle first is our consumption of fossil fuels.
One of the main reasons this myth could be disastrous is that we are soon to run out of hydrocarbon resources such as coal, oil, and gas, and so we need to find alternative energy regardless. It would certainly be prudent to halt our consumption of these finite resources before stocks run out, so that there is always a backup source of energy to renewables.
Myth 5: Nuclear energy sources will last for millennia— so we should use these instead of renewables
The final big myth is that, although it is technically a limited resource, nuclear fuels are “as good as renewable”. The Nuclear Energy Agency has calculated that, at current population trends, we would be able to subsist using nuclear fuels for 200 years — roughly how long coal was commercially used before widespread use of it was halted.
There is also another parallel to draw between coal and nuclear energy: both are hazardous and can cause huge damage to people directly, not as a result of climate change. Coal miners typically suffered from respiratory problems — as did the general population up until around 1970. Thick, long-lasting smogs are a thing of the past only by about 45 years, and they still persist in developing countries such as Brazil, China, and India.
Nuclear energy causes hazards less frequently, but their effects are far greater. With nuclear meltdown causing thousands of cases of radiation poisoning at each specific site of a disaster, the threat posed could be enormous. In addition, public support for nuclear usage is low, due to horror stories from previous fallout sites such as Chernobyl.
Ultimately, nuclear energy will only shift our problems down the line for future generations. By this time, we will almost certainly have reached the “point of no return” with regard to the climate and global warming, due to the huge damage caused in the 200 years or so we may be able to rely on nuclear power for.
So renewable energy makes sense for the economy, for politicians wanting to score points, for the environment and the climate, and for averting disaster from over-reliance on finite sources of energy. However, these myths still persist, and the longer they do so, the lower the chances of reversing climate change become.