These days, renewable energy seems to be the solution to all of our environmental problems, but it’s also worth noting that it comes with some disadvantages.
The disadvantages of renewable energy are that it is expensive, a threat to wildlife and habitat, is climate dependent, location dependent, causes noise pollution, and can be limited by space and storage.
As we begin to move further in the direction of sustainable living, we are seeing new innovative technologies pop up, which can be a new alternative to our current energy resources - fossil fuels. In general, renewable energy is presented as being the ultimate solution to solving all of our energy needs and is, in so many ways, the lifeline for the climate crisis. While renewable energy does come with so many incredible possibilities for humanity, it is also worth noting that this technology is not perfect and does have its fair share of disadvantages. To help you understand the disadvantages of renewable energy, we are going to break down each one for you.
After consulting various renewable energy specialists from government organizations such as the United States Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as numerous non-profit environmentalist groups, I have concluded that renewable energy does have disadvantages, which can affect the environment and our national and global economy.
Environmentalists have latched on to the idea of renewable energy as being the one-stop shop for solving all of the world’s problems and have romanticized the technology as being flawless. While it does bring many promising signs for the future, renewable energy can not be looked at as the only answer to energy solutions and climate change.
While some renewable energy sources have been utilized for decades, it’s important to recognize that there is a reason they did not go mainstream. The technology that supported this type of energy usage has simply never reached its optimum potential, which still makes oil king when it comes to supplying the world with energy.
What has changed is in recent years, renewable energy has seen some breakthroughs - both in technology, as well as mainstream appeal, which is driven by the rise in environmental values in our society. Before we jump the gun and commit to a full global conversion from our current energy platform to an entirely new one, we need to first break down all of the facts attached to this technology to ensure that we are making a logical and rational decision.
At the end of the day, energy is what enables society to function and while the world is not always a well-oiled machine, it does work, which is why we need to carefully assess all of the variables involved in renewable energy so that we are not blindsided by the guilt of our environmental consciousness. To understand this better, let’s dive right into the disadvantages of renewable energy.
The bottom line is that renewable energy in its current state is still very expensive. The irony of this is that renewable energy is presented as being free or even profitable in some cases. While utilizing renewable energy is technically free, installing the proper equipment to harvest it is not.
Regardless of what type of renewable energy you are harvesting, you can expect to have to install a considerable amount of equipment on your property. Unless you are an experienced technician or are extremely handy around the house, the odds are that you will need to hire a professional to install all of the equipment you need.
The cost of this equipment will vary depending on what type of renewable energy you want to utilize and how much energy capacity you want to have from the resource. The installation costs alone can be a huge issue for most households that are in the lower-income bracket or even middle-class range.
Renewable energy providers and organizations constantly preach the federal tax incentives attached to renewable energy households, but the fact is that you still need to put a considerable amount of money down to get the ball in motion. These are some of the most common renewable energy sources harvested and their costs.
The most popular renewable energy being used today is definitely solar power. It has become quite a standard to drive into just about any neighborhood and see at least a house or two on the block that will have some sort of a solar panel system in place on their home.
The reason for this is that solar seems to be the most reliable renewable energy source. While that may be true, it is still a very costly investment to implement into your home. The costs of harvesting and utilizing solar energy will depend on the size of your installment, as well as how much energy your household needs to have full functionality. Here is what you can expect to pay for solar panels.
Low-End Solar Panels
If you are on a budget and still want to get hooked up to solar energy, there are some options out there that can actually be quite affordable. The most common price you can expect to pay for a low-end, small solar panel system will be roughly $5,000 to $6,000, which will likely include the federal tax incentives.
While this is less expensive than what most people would think solar panels with installation would be, it is still considerably high if you factor in a lower-income household. The biggest problem with opting for the cheaper route with solar panels is that they will probably not get the job done properly.
This sort of installment will not be able to support a modern household’s energy needs and will require that you still stay attached to the grid for your primary energy needs. Over time you may indeed start to see a return on your investment, but when you break down the costs, it will take you years to get to the point that the solar panels have paid for themselves.
This can be particularly upsetting for people that want to completely live off the grid, as this option is not suitable for delivering all of the energy needs your home will need.
Mid-Range Solar Panels
If you want to go completely off of the grid and receive all of your energy needs exclusively from solar power, you are going to need to invest in a larger system for your home. This will require significantly more money down on your investment and can potentially pay for itself in a decade or even less.
A mid-range solar panel installment will cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $14,000. This is more than double the price of a lower-end installment and the cost of this sort of investment is simply more than what most people can afford. With this sort of installment, you can expect your solar panels to completely pay for themselves eventually. The problem with that is that a mid-range installment may not be the best tier of solar panels.
As you look for an organization that you want to entrust with your solar panel installment, you will see that there are various different companies that can accommodate your installment. However, given that solar panel technology and its popularity are relatively new concepts, there are a lot of organizations that have capitalized on the clean energy trend and have created companies that are only a few years old and have not stood the test of time to ensure reliability.
You will see these different solar panels companies marked as different Tiers, which signify their quality and reliability.
- Tier 1 - considered the best solar panels on the market and have been tested for longevity and quality. Solar panels that have been classified as Tier 1 will generally be from reputable organizations that have been in the industry for a long time.
- Tier 2 - will give you a reasonable amount of quality assurance, but you should not expect your panels to last as long or be equipped with technicians that are as capable as with a Tier 1.
- Tier 3 - a solar panel organization that has been marked as Tier 3 will be the most unreliable type of setup you can get. The organization will be new and will not have developed or properly tested its own products before distribution.
If you want to get the most out of your mid-range system, you are going to want to opt for at least a Tier 2 installment to have some quality assurance from your investment. While you can feel more comfortable with your purchase with this kind of installment, you can also expect it to cost you. Depending on how large of a system you need, you could end up paying upwards of $15,000 - $20,000.
If you want to make the most of your solar panel system, you are going to want to invest properly in your installment, which means that costs should not be a factor for you. While you can feel much more confident in your solar panel investment, you should be prepared to dish out a considerable amount of cash.
For a quality solar panel system, investing in a Tier 1 installation will be a must. The cost of a Tier 1 installation can be anywhere from $25,000 - $45,000 - depending on the size of your home and how many panels you install. This is a staggering amount of money for converting to a renewable energy resource and it is way outside the budget of your average consumer.
With the average annual cost of energy for an American household being anywhere from $1,100 - $1,600, the amount of time that it would take to see a return on a Tier 1 investment could take multiple decades. This can seem counter-intuitive for many consumers that want to switch to solar power for the purpose of saving on energy costs.
In reality, investing in a quality solar panel that enables you to go fully off-grid is something that only the rich can afford and is more of a luxury than it is an attainable energy solution for the public at large.
The expenses attached to solar power do not end with their installation and purchase, there are often additional costs that go with such an energy transition that many consumers overlook - with the most common being a battery system capable of storing your energy.
A battery system can often cost as much as some solar panel installations, which can double your total costs if you are going with a lower-end option. The reason that a battery system is sometimes necessary for a solar panel setup is that you will likely want to utilize solar energy exclusively to power your home - especially if you want to get off of the grid.
A battery system capable of supporting a household can range from $4,000 to $7,000 depending on the size of your system. This is the cost of the batteries alone and does not include the cost of paying a technician for installation.
The next most popular approach for harvesting renewable energy is utilizing wind power. Wind power has become increasingly more common in the United States and the world in recent years - with turbines popping up to support whole communities and private residences.
Wind turbines are quite effective at harnessing energy when conditions are ideal, but they can be extremely expensive to get up and running, which is why solar tends to be more common. However, much like solar energy, there are some different levels of wind power that determine the cost and quality of this technology. Let’s take a closer look at wind energy.
Small - Medium Setup
If you want to make the most of your wind power system, there is going to be very little room to cut corners and costs. One of the main reasons for this is that wind turbines are considerably more expensive to set up given that the installation is less customizable.
When you invest in wind energy for your home, you are going to need to buy at least 1 or 2 turbines. These can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 (or even more) for just a single wind turbine. While this does include installation and it will supply a considerable amount of power, you will need several of these to take care of your entire energy needs.
This means that even a $20,000 investment in a wind turbine will not be enough to take you off of the grid. The hefty cost and the fact that you will still be dependent on the grid to supply a good chunk of your power tends to make most consumers wary of wind turbines.
Having a large installment of wind turbines on your property can be a great way to cut your energy costs down or eliminate them altogether. By having at least 3 or 4 wind turbines on your property, you can rest assured that your energy needs will be met - so long as you are within the range of an average household.
However, the cost of such a large setup is considerably pricey and can set you back anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 - in some cases, even more. A renewable energy setup at this rate will make seeing a return on your investment a potentially lifelong process, which could take decades.
This sort of expense is much more than the average consumer can afford and makes it more of a luxury than something that will help you budget the costs of your energy consumption.
Wildlife & Habitat Destruction
We commonly see environmentalists disregard the damaging effects that renewable energy can sometimes have on wildlife and habitat. While renewables steer away from the impact that fossil fuel production has on wildlife and their habitat, it makes it easy to forget that the infrastructure required for renewable energy also has an impact.
Given that each type of renewable energy requires a different type of infrastructure, the ultimate effect it ends up having on wildlife and habitat is determined on a case-by-case basis. Let’s take a closer look at how renewable energy negatively impacts wildlife and their habitat.
The place that we see solar panels popping up the most are on the roofs of people’s houses. However, these are merely the solar panels that are within the eyesight of the general public. It is becoming quite popular for organizations and governments to establish solar farms, which are large-scale solar energy operations that are designed to harness the sun’s power at a much greater magnitude.
These solar farms can be found throughout the nation where there are ideal locations with plenty of sunlight. These organizations establish a huge area of land for harnessing solar energy and then essentially become energy providers. The problem with this is that land areas often need to be cleared away to make room for the solar farm. This means that natural areas that may have an abundance of wildlife and habitat need to be removed.
While most organizations that pursue this type of operation generally are not given permission to destroy vital or endangered habitats, there is an undeniable negative effect that a solar farm could have on the livelihoods of plants, animals, and other species.
Wind energy tends to not have as bad a reputation for bringing harm to wildlife on the ground as it does above the ground. The placement of wind turbines is well calculated and installments usually occur most commonly in locations that are vast, open, and don’t interfere with human life.
However, many bird species are severely affected by wind turbines. Just a single wind farm is capable of killing as many as half a million birds in just a single year - with some developed countries claiming that they lose anywhere from 5 to 20 million birds per year due to this technology.
This is an alarming amount of wildlife deaths for a technology that claims to be environmentally friendly. A major issue that wind turbines are having on bird species is that they directly impact the populations of various birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, and falcons, which are on the decline or even critically endangered. In addition to birds, bats also pay the price for wind energy technology.
We have also seen that wind turbines that have been placed offshore in coastal areas can even have a negative impact on fish species. This is still an impact that is being studied but experts believe that the noise from the wind turbines has something to do with marine wildlife displacement.
The use of wave energy is not as popular of a renewable energy resource but it is gaining some momentum. We see this technology popping up in some coastal areas around the world that can afford to do so.
Given that wave energy is not as widely used, there have not been as many studies conducted to confirm the overall effect that it has on all wildlife species.
However, experts have reported that it can have some negative impact on the migration patterns of fish species.
Location & Climate Dependant
A major disadvantage of renewable energy is that it can be strictly location and climate dependent. Regardless of what type of renewable energy resource is being harvested, each one requires a certain type of condition in order to be fully operational.
This can prove to be a major problem for people who live in areas that only have seasonal conditions that are ideal for renewable energy, which makes going off of the grid with today’s technology a challenge, to say the least. If a person or community is dependent on their renewable energy resources to supply their energy needs, having unforeseen conditions take place can be catastrophic.
This is becoming more common as the weather is becoming harder and harder to predict - with unusual climate patterns and intensified storms. This makes becoming solely reliant on renewable energy a shaky approach. Here are some examples of how location and climate can negatively impact renewable energy.
- Solar Energy - while many places with solar power receive a substantial amount of sun, some regions may be less consistent with how much sun they get on an annual basis. This lack of consistency can make solar energy an unreliable resource, which could result in off-grid energy being unattainable.
- Wind Energy - wind power is notorious for being inconsistent - with conditions sometimes providing barely enough wind strength to generate power.
- Wave Energy - the limitations of wave energy speak for themself, as this is a technology that is only accessible to communities that have coastlines - making the resource useless to anyone living inland.
A location that has unpredictable conditions, which vary greatly can make an investment in renewable energy a risky decision. A big mistake that many communities, nations, and private individuals make is that they overestimate how much energy they can rely on from their sustainable source - leaving them with an unfeasible power supply.
A common drawback of renewable energy is that the infrastructure required to establish it takes up a substantial amount of space. This is generally not the case for private residences that have set up a modest solar panel system or even a small wind turbine system but it can be a factor for bigger operations.
Large-scale solar farms require an enormous amount of space to fully function. Areas that have been designated for renewable energy harvesting need to generally be established in vast, open areas, which can essentially only be used for resource production.
It is estimated that the amount of space required to properly run a large solar farm is as much as 50 times more than your average coal mine. This is proving to be a bigger problem in our society as the global population of our planet increases and unused space becomes a more valuable commodity.
While areas that have been designated for wind energy can generally be utilized in a variety of other ways, solar panels are not as versatile with their land use.
If you have invested in a renewable energy resource to power your home or your community, you have really only won half the battle in meeting your energy needs. Given that renewable energy sources only receive power during certain parts of the day and can be subject to unforeseen weather patterns, you can expect to have an inconsistency in your energy intake.
This becomes problematic as solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energies do not actually store the power that they generate. This needs to be achieved through some sort of battery system, which can be extremely pricey.
As we mentioned previously, a battery system for an average home can cost around $5,000 or even more, which means that if installing such a system is not within your budget, you will have no way of storing any of your excess energy for the times that you are not generating power.
When we utilize fossil fuels for energy production we can be much more precise with how much power we output so that we have a guaranteed flow of energy that is being delivered efficiently - without the need for storage. Given that renewable energy can be much less predictable, it can make storage an essential investment for most people.
Storage limitations can be exacerbated even more when considering large-scale communities and cities. Having any sort of fluctuation in energy dependency in these areas is highly impractical and can have a lot of negative repercussions, which is why developing large-scale energy storage facilities will be costly and necessary to make renewable energy realistic.
While renewable energy resources can greatly limit the amount of pollution we get from greenhouse gases, they can sometimes create a substantial amount of noise pollution.
This is especially the case for wind energy, as turbines have been known to be problematic when it comes to noise.
While wind turbines that are set up in the middle of nowhere generally do not get too much backlash or attention from the public, some wind turbines have been established near or within communities and townships. People will often complain about the invasive sounds that come from a turbine’s broadband noise.
Broadband noise is the sound that comes from the wind turbine’s continuous motion, which is caused by the blades moving through the air. While most urban living areas try to set up their wind turbines further away from people’s homes, it does happen that broadband noise is still within the range of some communities.
With that being, individuals who choose to have a wind turbine built on their private residence have it even worse with noise pollution, as they may be much more limited with adequate space to separate their turbine from their home. Unless the homeowner has a very large property, you can expect a wind turbine to add a certain level of noise pollution to their residence.
Ultimately, a major drawback of renewable energy is that it simply offers a poor aesthetic. This is the case for all renewable energy resources, as each one requires a certain type of infrastructure to make harvesting energy possible.
This is especially problematic when the infrastructure for renewable energy is established in beautiful natural landscapes that were valued by communities. Large vast plains and gorgeous flatlands can be ruined with big solar farms and wave energy infrastructure can sabotage the stunning view of a seascape.
However, most people complain about the damaging aesthetic that is caused by wind turbines more than anything. These giant turbines have been known to ruin the natural landscapes that surround communities or have been blatantly put in beautiful hilly and mountainous regions.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker