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THE COST OF RENEWABLE ENERGY VERSUS FOSSIL FUELS

Renewable energy—wind, solar, hydroelectricity and geothermal energy—is growing steadily worldwide. Countries leading the way in renewable energy include:

Iceland
Sweden
Costa Rica
Nicaragua
the U.K
Germany
Uruguay
China

GOING 100 PER CENT RENEWABLE BY 2050

Some countries have set targets and goals to be run by 100 per cent renewable energy in the near future. At a 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly 50 countries agreed to only use renewable energy by 2050. Countries like the Philippines and Colombia pledged to make their energy production 100 per cent renewable between 2030 and 2050, at the latest. The U.S. and Canada, however, are slowly catching up to the countries with such pledges that are leading the way. In the U.S. last year (2017), about 18 per cent of all electricity was from renewable sources. In Canada, the amount is about the same at 18.9 per cent, according to the Government of Canada.

tall wind turbine in Toronto shapes cityscape traffic long exposure motion blur car harbor water sunset moon skyscraper background

BARRIERS TO RENEWABLE ENERGY

Many agree more renewable energy is indeed worth striving for. But there are barriers stopping more renewable energy from being produced. One of those major barriers is cost. According to a U.S.-based organization, the bulk of renewable energy costs come from building the technology in the first place. A new natural gas plant might have costs around $1,000/kW (kilowatts are a measure of power capacity). While the average cost to install a solar system ranges from $2,000/kW to almost $3,700 for residential systems. Wind costs around $1,200 to $1,700/kW, according to the organization.

Cost is also an issue when it comes to transmission of the electricity—the power lines and infrastructure needed to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. Wind and solar farms aren’t all sited near old non-renewable power plants. This means that new systems need to be set up. Other barriers to renewable energy include market entry and political/government support.

Solar Power Plant in modern city,Sustainable Renewable Energy.

IS RENEWABLE ENERGY CHEAPER IN THE LONG-RUN?

New research shows that, in the long-run, renewable energy is more cost effective than non-renewable energy. Company Lazard considered costs over the lifespan of energy projects and found wind and utility-scale solar can be the least expensive energy generating sources. As of 2017, the cost (before tax credits that would further drop the costs) of wind power was $30-60 per megawatt-hour (a measure of energy). Large-scale solar costs are $43-53/MWh. For comparison: energy from the most efficient type of natural gas plants costs $42-78/MWh. Coal power costs at least $60/MWh.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that costs for renewable energy is down. In a recent report, IRENA noted that solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are more than 80 per cent cheaper than in 2009. In addition, electricity costs from solar photovoltaic panels fell by almost three-quarters from 2010-2017. IRENA notes their costs continue to decline.

Depending on the market, wind turbine prices have also fallen by about half over a similar period. These price drops are leading to cheaper wind power globally. By 2020, the renewable power generation technologies now in use will be at the lower end of the fossil-fuel cost range, or even cheaper than fossil fuels.

Although renewable energy is growing, it still needs extra investment up front in comparison to non-renewable energy. Many countries—and individuals—see the benefit of investing now for a more sustainable and greener future.

Six Things Stopping Our Energy Sources From Being 100 Percent Renewable

Fossil fuels burn inefficiently. They are non-renewable energy sources, which means we only have a finite amount to work with on the planet. They produce pollutants and toxins that harm our environment. Yet, despite these major disadvantages, they continue to be used throughout the U.S. (and around the world).
Wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy have made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, both in terms of energy production potential and in terms of practicality. These sources of energy are clean, efficient, and infinitely renewable, so why aren’t we making more progress toward making them the primary sources of energy?

Limits to Growth

The following are some of the main reasons renewable forms of energy haven’t yet taken off:
1. Bureaucratic decision making. As consulting firm Triniti notes, corporate latency is a major problem (and for more than just adoption of renewable energy sources). Bureaucratic decision making tends to slow progress down, and since renewable energy sources are still relatively new, businesses and government bodies are still slow to shift developmental resources to them. A transition is occurring—it’s just occurring very, very slowly.
2. Cost of renewable energy. Despite all the advancements we’ve made to renewable energy technology, it’s still somewhat expensive to pursue. Solar energy systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install, and with no efficient way to store solar energy (for periods of cloudiness or night), it’s just not feasible to execute these renewable methods exclusively or on large scales.
3. Lack of available technology. In the previous point, we alluded to the storage problem with solar power—that’s just one of the technological hurdles preventing us from moving forward. Nuclear fusion technology, for example, has the hypothetical power to generate all the world’s energy needs, many times over, cleanly and relatively safely—but we’re still not sure if it could ever be feasible.
4. Cost and profitability of fossil fuels. Even if we had reliable forms of clean energy that were relatively cost efficient, it would be hard to match the cost efficiency of fossil fuels. Mining, producing, and refining things like coal and oil for energy is incredibly cheap, and therefore incredibly profitable for corporations. As long as people want to make money (and they always will), fossil fuels will always be a primary target of the energy industry.
5. Lack of public demand. We also aren’t doing ourselves any favors by not speaking up about the benefits of renewable energy. There’s a stunning lack of public demand for the development and institution of renewable energy sources, and that means major decision makers aren’t motivated to make any big changes. Raising our voices and demanding more progress—especially from lawmakers and politicians—could have a substantial effect here.
6. Dependence on fossil fuels. It’s also important to remember, as TheGuardian points out, that our society is highly dependent on fossil fuels as part of our daily lives. Think about the car you drive—how often do you refuel it with gasoline? How likely are you to trade your car in for a fully electric model in the near future? It’s hard to replace the systems we’ve come to rely on for decades, especially all at once, and especially when the other above factors are also interfering with the feasibility of renewable energy.

How to Overcome These Obstacles

Unfortunately, there’s no fast or easy solution to overcome these obstacles—if there were, we probably would have taken it already, and we wouldn’t have to write this article in the first place. The best thing we can do is raise our voices, and speak up about our need and desire for renewable energy resources. Talk to your kids. Talk to your parents. Talk to your neighbors, teachers, coworkers, peers, bosses, and especially your politicians. The more we talk and the more we demand renewable energy, the more motivated our corporations, scientists, and lawmakers will be to develop and implement more forms of renewable energy in our society. It will still take years or even decades to build this momentum, but it’s worth it for the future of our planet.