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Disadvantages of Renewable Energy – Drawbacks of Different Alternative Energy Sources

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The Biggest Disadvantage of Renewable Energy is the relatively higher cost of most forms of alternative energy compared to fossil fuel sources of energy.This has prevented the higher penetration of clean energy as compared to the non-renewable sources of energy.Also the massive old energy lobbies have successfully used their massive influence and power to inhibit the growth of renewable sources of energy.The recent lobbying by oil and gas firms like the Koch Brothers and Valero is quite pertinent.Note the oil and gas lobbies receive almost 10 times the subsidy received by clean energy sources like wind and solar despite their massive established bases.The disadvantages of Renewable Energy are quite a few and have been listed individually for each source of Renewable Energy like solar,wind,biomass,nuclear,tidal,hydro and geothermal.However their biggest advantage is that they do not lead to the growing global warming problem.Despite the current apathy towards climate change mitigation efforts,Global Warming is one of the biggest existential threats to humankind.

Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

  1. Nuclear and Radiation Accidents – This is the biggest con for Nuclear Energy and has been repeated 3 times in the last 30 years in Japan,Russia and USA.The fear of a repeat is so great that despite all the safety arrangements touted by the nuclear equipment operators and suppliers,Nuclear Energy faces an uncertain future
  2. Nuclear Waste Disposal – Again a massive problem as the spent Nuclear Rods of Nuclear Reactors are prohibitively costly and difficult to dispose of.Spent nuclear fuel is initially very highly radioactive and so must be handled with great care and forethought.There is no foolproof way to dispose nuclear waste fuel after it is used in the Nuclear Reactors.The area around Nuclear Waste Sites can be dangerous to humans for hundreds of year as complex nuclear elements have half lives running into many years.the United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors.Permanent storage underground in U.S. had been proposed at the Yucca but that project has now been effectively cancelled.Presently, waste is mainly stored at individual reactor sites and there are over 430 locations around the world where radioactive material continues to accumulate.
  3. Low level of Radioactivity from Normal Operations – The nuclear industry also produces a large volume of low-level radioactive waste in the form of contaminated items like clothing, hand tools, water purifier resins, and (upon decommissioning) the materials of which the reactor itself is built
  4. Nuclear proliferation – Many countries have used the ruse of nuclear energy programs to generate fuel for developing nuclear weapons.Currently there is a major international controversy with regards to the Iranian Nuclear Energy Program.Nuclear Reactors are targets for rogue state actors who can steal the fuel for creating radiation weapons
  5. High Capital Investment,Cost Overruns and Long Gestation Time – The time to construct a large Nuclear power project can take between 5-10 years which leads to time and cost overruns.The Nuclear Plant being built in Finland has been one of the biggest failures in Project Finance.The reactor has been delayed by many year and has led to a massive cost overrun.Areva the main nuclear equipment supplier has endured huge losses.In fact the safety regulations and the long time of construction has brought the Nuclear Energy in the Developed World to almost a halt.
  6. Regulations – The Regulations for Nuclear Energy Power Plants are many and cumbersome due to the massive risks of a failure of a nuclear reactor.This greatly increases the costs of generating nuclear power.It also leads to a long time in the actual start to the completion of a Nuclear Plant .
  7. Fuel Danger – Uranium which is the main fuel used in Nuclear Fission Power Plants is limited to a few countries and suppliers.Its use and transport is regulated by international treaties and groups.India which came under sanctions because of testing of nuclear weapons had to shut many of its nuclear plants because of embargoes.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

1) Higher Costs that Fossil Energy Forms – This is the biggest disadvantage cited by anti-Solar Power activists despite the massive decline in costs that Solar Power has seen over the last  decades.It has been estimated that solar power costs fall by 20% for every 100% increase in supply.The Solar Cost Curve has declined massively in the last 2 years as cheap Chinese solar production has made solar panel costs come down by  50% .Note in the next 4-5 years expect an average decline of around 10% per year which would make solar energy competitive with fossil fuel energy in most parts of the world.Current solar power costs between 15-30c/Kwh depending on the solar radiation of the particular location,type of technology used etc.

2) Intermittent Nature – One of the biggest problems of Solar Power ( Solar PV that is ) is that it is intermittent in nature as it generates energy only when the sun shines.This problem can be solved with energy storage however this leads to additional costs.This argument also does not make sense for a US DOE study indicated that solar and wind intermittent power won’t be a problem till 30-40% of the electricity in the US is from these 2 forms of renewable  energy.Smart Grids and Cheaper Energy Storage in the future should allow even higher penetrations of Wind and Solar Power possible.

3) High Capital Investment – A Solar Plant can cost around $3.5-6 million to be spent in building 1 Megawatt.This is said to be too high,however this again is one of the silliest arguments.The costs of energy can only be compared by Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) which calculates the cost of energy over the lifetime calculating the capex,fuel costs,maintenance,security and insurance costs.While it is true that the initial capital investment for solar power is quite high,the lifecycle cost of solar energy is not that high.

4) Cannot be Built Anywhere – This disadvantage of Solar Energy is present with other forms of Energy as well.Some forms of Energy are just better suited to some places.For example you can’t build a nuclear plant on top of an earthquake prone region,you can’t build a wind farm near the Dead Sea etc

Disadvantages of Hydro Energy

1) Environmental, Dislocation and Tribal Rights – Large Dam construction especially in populated areas leads to massive Tribal Displacement,Loss of Livelihood and Religious Infringement as potentially sacred Land is occupied by the Government.

2) Wildlife and Fishes get Affected – The Fishes are the most affected species from Dam Construction as the normal flow of the river is completely changed form its river character to a lake one.Submergence of land also leads to ecological destruction of the habitat of land based wildlife.

3) Earthquake Vulnerability – Large Dam Construction has been linked to increased propensity of Earthquakes.Massive Earthquakes in China and Uttarakhand in India were linked to the building of Massive Dams in these countries

4) Siltation When water flows it has the ability to transport particles heavier than itself downstream. This has a negative effect on dams and subsequently their power stations, particularly those on rivers or within catchment areas with high siltation

5) Tail Risk,Dam Failure – Because large conventional dammed-hydro facilities hold back large volumes of water, a failure due to poor construction, terrorism, or other cause can be catastrophic to downriver settlements and infrastructure. Dam failures have been some of the largest man-made disasters in history.The Banqiao Dam failure in Southern China directly resulted in the deaths of 26,000 people, and another 145,000 from epidemics.

6) Cannot be Built Anywhere – This disadvantage of Hdyro Energy is present with other forms of Energy as well.Some forms of Energy are just better suited to some places.For example you can’t build a nuclear plant on top of an earthquake prone region,you can’t build a wind farm near the Dead Sea etc.Hydro Energy can only be built in particular places though enough of those places exist globally

7) Long Gestation Time – The time to construct a large hydro power project can take between 5-10 years which leads to time and cost overruns.

Disadvantages of Biomass Energy

1) Pollution in case of Poor Technology – Biomass Energy can lead to air pollution in the form of char if the biomass is not completely combusted.This happens in the case of biomass energy being produced in rural areas through bad technology

2) Feedstock Problems – One of the biggest drawbacks of biomass energy is the problem of feedstock.The plants are forced to run at lower utilization leading to higher costs if feedstock is not available due to some reason like a drought

3) Good Management Required – The operations of a biomass plant requires very good management otherwise it may run into losses or even in some cases have to shut down.It requires a skill of high order to run the plant optimally and make use of alternative feedstock in case the regular one is not available

4) Limited Potential – Biomass Energy has smaller potential than compared to other forms of energy like solar,hydro etc.

5) Controversial NIMBY – Large Biomass Plants like the one in Scotland have run into massive protests as people think it might lead to air pollution and health hazards if constructed near their homes.

Disadvantages of Wind Energy

1) Low Persistent Noise – There have been a large number of complaints about the persistent level of low level nosie from the whirring of the blades of a wind turbine.There have been cases reported about animals on farms getting affected by wind turbine noise.

2) Loss of Scenery – The sight of giant 200 metres tall towers has drawn objections from neighbours about wind power leading to loss of scenery and beauty.The Cape Wind Energy project off the shore of Massachusetts has been delayed by over 10 years as it has drawn serious objections from the owners of coastal homes about loss in their property values

3) Land usage – Wind Turbines can sometimes use large amounts of land if not properly planned and built.The construction of roads to access the wind farms etc also takes up some land.

4) Intermittent Nature – Wind Power is intermittent in nature as it generates energy only when the wind blows.This problem can be solved with energy storage however this leads to additional costs.

Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy

1) Long Gestation Time Leading to Cost Overruns – The Gestation Time for permitting,financing,drilling etc. can easily take 5-7 years to develop a geothermal energy field.Compare this to 6 months for a small wind farm or 3 months for a Solar PV plant

2) Slow Technology Improvement – Geothermal Energy has the potential to generate 100s of gigawatts of electricity through new techniques like EGS.However the technology improvement has been slow with setbacks.

3) Financing is the biggest problem in developing projects particularly for small project developers in this industry.There are few big geothermal developers like Chevron and Calpine.

4) Regulations – Drilling for new geothermal energy fields,buying of geothermal companies in foreign geographies faces innumerable hurdles.Magma which is one of the biggest geothermal energy companies faced massive local opposition in trying to buy an Icelandic company.This prevents the growth of pureplay geothermal companies in acquiring a critical scale.

5) Limited Locations – Geothermal Energy can only be built in places which have the geological characteristics favorable to generation of geothermal power.Note there have been talk that Enhanced Geothermal Energy (EGS) can lead to a massive increase in the number of locations which can generate Geothermal Energy,however EGS is facing environmental issues.

Disadvantages of Tidal Energy

  1. High Initial Capital Investment – Tidal Barrages require massive investment to construct a Barrage or Dam across a river estuary.This is comparable to construction of a massive dam for Hydro Power.This is perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this technology
  2. Limited Locations – The US DOE estimates that there are only about 40 locations in the world capable of supporting Tidal Barrages.This is because this Tidal Energy Technology requires sizable Tides for the Power Plant to be built.The limited number of locations is a big hurdle.
  3. Effect on Marine Life – The operation of commercial Tidal Power Stations has known to moderately affect the marine life around the Power Plant.It leads to disruption in movement and growth of fishes and other marine life.Can also lead to increase in silt.Turbines can also kill fish passing through it.
  4. Immature Technology – Except for Tidal Barrage,the other forms of Technology generating Tidal or Wave Power are quite immature,costly and unproven
  5. Long Gestation Time – The cost and time overruns can be huge for Tidal Power Plants leading to their cancellation just like that of the Severn Barrage in the UK.Many of the Tidal Power Stations like the gigantic Plant being planned in Russia will never come to fruition because of the very long gestation time.
  6. Difficulty in Transmission of Tidal Electricity – Some forms of Tidal Power generate power quite far away from the consumption of electricity.Transportation of Tidal Energy can be quite combersome and expensive.
  7. Weather Effects – Severe Weather like Storms and Typhoons can be quite devastating on the Tidal Power Equipment especially those place on the Sea Floor.

Abhishek Shah

7 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Sean

    Great article! I look forward to reading articles of this caliber again soon!

  2. amal roshan

    i was strugling for these points for hours.thanks for the information

  3. narendra chandravanshi

    Thanks to solving problems to define advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy

  4. Sarath Thampan

    I am a final trimester masters student of James Cook University.I just wanted to know whether there are any published journals on the negatives of green energy. As it would greatly help me on my research topic.
    Thanks and Regards

  5. Sneha Shah

    Dear Sarath,

    You are free to explore the website and include any details you deem fit. We will just need a proper citation and a link back to our website. Thanks!

  6. James Richard Tyrer

    Did you ever consider the waste from wind and solar?

    Silicon solar PV cells are only partially recycled. The Silicon bodies are not. And, they are considered to be toxic waste that must be properly disposed of.

    Wind turbine blades are huge. They have a maximum life of 20 years and I don’t think that they can be recycled.

    Spent nuclear fuel is usually quoted in tons. However, we should remember that Uranium Oxide weights about 585 pounds per cubic foot. It doesn’t take up that much space.

  7. Gato

    You have not discussed the ‘clean’ energy effect on wildlife. There are instances of birds being vaporized in midflight through mirror type solar plants, and birds being struck and killed by windmill types.