Most people understand that the use of fossil fuels is bad for the environment. They consume non-renewable resources and pollute the earth. But why don’t we use more renewable energy sources as an alternative?
This article looks at some of the barriers facing the adoption of renewable energy technologies.
So, why don’t we use renewable energy more often? Let’s start by taking a look at the main drawbacks of renewables.
1. Renewable Energy Can Be Expensive
With an endless supply of renewable resources, we have the potential to power the earth from clean energy alone. The main obstacle to this is the overall cost of renewable energy.
The technology required to generate power from renewables can be expensive. This becomes less of an issue in countries where government grants are available to help subsidize investment in renewables. The problem is that not all countries offer such incentives.
It’s not all bad news though. Onshore wind and solar PV is set to become a cheaper source of new electricity than fossil fuels by 2020. This is according to a recent report by IRENA that looked at renewable power generation costs in 2018. The same report also highlights how the cost of renewables continues to fall year on year.
2. Some Renewables Cause Pollution
When we think of renewables, we often think of clean energy sources that are great for the environment. Whilst this is true in most cases, some renewable energy sources do cause pollution. This can be a direct or indirect side effect of the use of such energy sources.
The main polluting renewable energy source is biomass. This can be burnt as a replacement for fossil fuels in power stations. It can also be left to decompose which produces biogas. This is rich in methane and is suitable as an alternative to natural gas.
The problem with biomass is that we still need to burn something to benefit from the energy. This process releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Most scientists agree that such gases are responsible for both climate change and a range of health issues. This results in a catch-22 situation when comparing renewables over fossil fuels.
There are many other environmental concerns surrounding the use of renewables. However, most of these are only minor and pose much less of a threat than the use of fossil fuels.
3. Renewable Has Geographic Limitations
Most renewable energy sources suffer from geographic limitations. Below we have listed the five main types of renewables and the geographic limitations that apply to each of them:
- Solar – Both domestic solar panels and solar farms are more efficient in areas where there is a good level of annual sunlight.
- Wind – Wind farms are only viable where there is enough wind. This is why you will mostly see wind turbines on top of hills or out at sea.
- Geothermal – This can only generate power in specific parts of the world; those with enough thermal activity close to the surface of the earth.
- Hydro – Hydroelectric dams can only be built in specific locations and tidal barrages are best suited to installation along an estuary. Wave turbines are also only viable in areas with enough wave energy.
- Biomass – This is one of the renewable energy sources least affected by geographic limitations. It does, however, require an adequate supply of crops/vegetation and/or waste products. This makes it unsustainable in arid locations such as countries with a lot of deserts.
4. Fossil Fuels Are More Reliable
Generally speaking, fossil fuels are more reliable. They don’t suffer from fluctuations in solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro activity. Whatsmore, we can actually store them, unlike the sun and wind.
Storing fossil fuels has a major advantage. We can call on them when we actually need them. We can only use solar and wind power as we generate it; unless using expensive batteries to store the electricity.
5. Renewables Require Lots of Land
Renewable power installations can require lots of land. Solar farms take up a considerable amount of space in comparisson to traditional power plants. Fossil fuel technologies are far more efficient in this respect. They are often capable of generating much more electricity than renewables for the land they consume.
6. There is a Lack of Education
Whilst this reason is becoming less of an issue as time goes on, a lack of renewable energy education still exists. This can result in lower adoption of clean energy solutions as people either don’t understand or appreciate the benefits.
Think about electric cars for a moment. If these were to be charged from renewable electricity, they would be a carbon neutral option for transportation.
People often don’t understand the benefits this would have. It would significantly reduce the amount of carbon we emit as a result of our day to day lives. This would have numerous positive effects such as:
- Improving the quality of the air we breathe.
- Reducing the future effects of climate change.
- Conserving supplies of non-renewable resources.
7. Fossil Fuels Are Too Well Established
We cannot deny that fossil fuels are a major part of modern life. The sheer amount of energy they can provide make them a vital part of our day to day lives.
Whole industries have formed out of fossil fuels, helping to support jobs all over the world. Switching to renewable technologies over a short space of time would cause major disruption. Entire industries would vanish, resulting in a catastrophic loss of jobs.
This isn’t all bad news though. According to IRENA, the global renewable energy industry employed over 11 million people in the year 2018. This shows that jobs can be replaced, but many skilled workers within the fossil fuel industry may be at a disadvantage.
We can conclude that the main obstacle to the adoption of renewable energy sources is cost. Whilst this is becoming less of an issue each year, it is still a major barrier in many parts of the world.
There will be a day, however, where the use of renewables is considerably cheaper than non-renewable alternatives. This will help lead the way to a cleaner tomorrow.
Other notable reasons why we don’t use more renewable energy include both geographic limitations and lack of education. Whilst geographic limitations will always apply, renewable energy education will improve.
Thanks for reading this article. If you are interested, we also have an article covering the pros and cons of renewable energy. This offers an unbiased look at both sides of the argument.