21 Renewable Energy Advantages and Disadvantages
Energy is vital to sustaining life and for economies to grow. But how often do we think about where it comes from and what it is doing to the environment around us?
The electricity we use to power our homes, businesses and cities comes from energy sources deemed renewable, sustainable or non-renewable. The energy generation process is categorised as either clean or fossil fuel (dirty) dependent upon their resulting Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Most countries worldwide heavily depend on fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) as sources of energy to power their economies. Fossil fuels are non-renewable forms of energy. This means their fuel is from limited resources that will ultimately deplete. This will drive up overall energy costs. To add to this, fossil fuel power plants emit greenhouse gases and pollutants into the air. These have been linked to repository illnesses and even cancer.
Countries worldwide have responded to this threat by stepping up campaigns to embrace renewable forms of energy like solar and wind.
In fact, more energy was generated in the UK in 2019 from zero-carbon emission sources than fossil fuels. In fact, in early June 2020, the UK achieved a significant milestone by going coal-free for two months. Both these milestones are for the first time since before the Industrial Revolution.
Renewable energy is generated from infinite natural resources such as the sun, wind, and water. Whereas fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, are limited resources. As such, they are deemed to harm the planet when used to generate energy.
Powering our homes and businesses with renewable energy brings many advantages. It’s why more and more of the world’s energy is being generated from renewable sources.
What is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy describes a collection of energy technologies, solar, wind, geothermal, derived from never-ending sources that can be replenished time after time. Renewable sources are sustainable, abundant, and environmentally friendly. Unlike fossil fuels, they will not expire soon as they are constantly replenished.
Nuclear Energy is clean energy. This is because the energy generation process results in zero carbon emissions. However, nuclear power cannot be deemed renewable as the current nuclear fission reactor technology utilises minerals found in the earth. These sources will, of course, deplete over time, but this is estimated to be millions of years in the future as nuclear energy is classed as a sustainable source of energy.
Sources of Renewable Energy
- Wind: This takes advantage of wind motion to generate electricity. The heat brings about wind motion from the sun, and rotation of the earth, mainly via the Coriolis Effect. The most widespread sources of renewable energy include:
- Solar: It taps heat from the sun to produce electricity, heating, lighting homes and commercial buildings.
- Hydropower: Utilises moving water to produce electricity. Moving water creates high energy that can be harnessed and turned into power.
- Ocean: Takes advantage of the rising and falling of tides to generate electricity
- Geothermal: Leverages heat from underneath the earth to generate electricity.
Biomass is an organic matter made from plants that can generate electricity, chemicals or fuels to power vehicles. Many claims that Biomass is renewable. We have previously written that we do not consider Biomass to be renewable.
14 Advantages of renewable energy
Using renewable energy over fossil fuels has several advantages. Here are some of the top benefits:
#1 Renewable energy will never run out
Renewables utilise resources straight from the environment. The sun, the wind, the tide, the earth’s core will never run out. They are sustainable and abundant natural resources. This cannot be said of fossil fuel resources with an environmental (and monetary) cost associated with fuel mining.
There is a strong possibility that oil, gas, and coal will run out in the future. If we remain reliant on fossil fuels, we risk losing our ability to generate energy in the future. By generating electricity from renewable sources of clean energy, we can ensure that the earth’s natural resources are not depleted.
Nuclear energy is not a renewable energy source. It is, however, a sustainable energy source. It is calculated that there is enough nuclear fuel to power nuclear fission reactors for millions of years. There is the opportunity for nuclear to become renewable by harvesting nuclear fuel for the ocean. Additionally, nuclear fusion would provide a truly renewable source of energy.
#2 Renewable Energy is Reliable
Of course, if it is cloudy and still day, wind and solar power plants’ energy is dramatically reduced. However, with a solid infrastructure in place, this can be overcome. Evidence shows that spreading wind, solar, tidal, thermal plants across a large geographical area minimises power generation interruption. Couple this with a clean energy baseload — such as nuclear energy — and you have a virtually perfect energy mix.
Compare this to fossil fuels which have a considerable risk associated with the security of its energy generation. As fossil fuels are a commodity, they are suspectable to market fluctuations. These can be variables such as war, trade disputes, changes in energy policies, political instabilities, and changes in energy prices. These vulnerabilities in the cost and availability of fossil fuels drain a country’s economy and energy policies. It does not take much for a fossil fuel source to fail to lead to blackouts across a region or even a Country.
The fuel for nuclear fission reactors is mined and is subject to the same risks as fossils fuels. However, the energy source is so dense that you need very little fuel to power a reactor. There is no risk associated with such market fluctuations as oil and gas. There is also the option to reprocess spent fuel. This allows for 96% of the fuel to be recycled. Reprocessing is a costly but very effective process.
#3 The maintenance requirements of renewable energy are lower
There is less maintenance needed for renewables. This is true in the main. Solar panels and wind turbines have few or no moving parts. Also, they don’t rely on flammable fuel sources. Less maintenance provides time and money savings. As such, operating costs are generally low. This means large profits for operators and cheap electricity for consumers.
The operating costs of a nuclear power plant are low. Once it is in operation, it continues to generate electricity 24/7. The reliability of nuclear power plants is above 93%. This provides a secure baseload of energy to support a clean energy mix.
#4 Renewables save money and provide profitability
Renewable energy offers cost savings. This trend is forecast to continue as the technology becomes more efficient. As such, energy prices will continue to be driven down.
Efficiencies in operations and maintenance, along with no need to pay to refuel, provides huge opportunities. Harnessing the power of the sun and wind provides for hundreds of thousands in savings. This is in stark contrast to fossil fuels which needs to be replenished, creating increases in costs.
Increased environmental considerations and technological advances mean that renewables will only get cheaper. Conversely, as fossil fuels become increasingly sparse and the potential for a ‘carbon tax’ becomes real, their prices will start to reflect this.
Cost is the most significant negative associated with nuclear energy production currently. The build costs of a new nuclear power plant make it often challenging to deem it commercially viable. However, with investment in multiple units, there are opportunities for savings. Sizewell C in the UK is forecast to cost 30% less to build than its predecessor at Hinkley Point C. This will bring the price per megawatt-hour down to be competitive with renewable energy.
#5 Renewable energy has numerous health and environmental benefits
Renewable energy is associated with pictures of windmills in the beautiful green countryside. This portrayal is because renewable energy sources do not emit pollutants into the air. This is excellent news for the environment.
Fossil fuel energy sources a depicted with plumes of black smoke. This is because they emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. Not only this, they release other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. This is proven to increase the frequency of extreme weather events and increase the temperatures across the globe.
Renewable, clean energy looks like a no-brainer. Renewable energy reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with energy production. Which in turn reduces harmful pollutants in the air, which provides general health benefits. When you consider the number of money governments spend on health care.
The above is true of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is clean energy. Nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air. Incidents have tarnished the industry’s portrayal at Fukushima, depictions made by The Simpson and the Chernobyl disaster. However, nuclear energy provides the same benefits to the environment. The same clean air. The same health benefits as renewable energy.
#6 Renewable energy builds stronger communities
Green energy is being put at the heart of communities, providing a fair share of the power generated by community-led projects. This means that consumers pay a fair price for electricity. Providers are similarly encouraged to invest in local communities.
Renewable energy tends to be in remote locations. However, they bring social and economic benefits to their surrounding area. Investment in the area is often seen as part of the social impact strategy of the provider as such social values are at the heart of the renewable energy industry.
Nuclear energy historically has been positioned in remote locations. The area surrounding nuclear power plants thrive by providing well-paid jobs to a local workforce and opportunities for businesses to make money. Current initiatives by EDF Energy have built on this, making public commitments in the process. The new fleet of SMRs will provide this not just from the location of the power plants themselves. But also around the areas of the factories where the modules will be built and shipped around the world.
#7 Renewables lower reliance on foreign energy sources
Renewable energy is local energy. You are not reliant on imported energy. A Country utilising renewable energy could be self-reliant. This may not seem like too big a deal. However, it is a significant weight of the economics of any country. Less reliance on imported energy provides for a more robust economy.
This is particularly true of the UK. The decline in North Sea production has meant that the UK has gone from a net exporter to a net importer. This change has occurred over the last three decades. The UK is now reliant on Norway and Russia for non-renewable oil & gas. Paying more to import this in the process.
Nuclear fuel is mined in several locations — Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Namibia, Niger, and Russia in the main. Often the country of origin of the fuel being used is from abroad. However, due to the volume of fuel needed within a nuclear reactor and the relative ease that it can be stored, nuclear energy provides a means to be less reliant on imported energy.
#8 Renewable Energy has stabilised Global Energy Prices
Most of the costs associated with renewable energy are in the initial build phase. As the technology enters operation, there is no reliance on any other resources. This means that the price of energy is stable across the globe. There are no fluctuations because of the availability of fuel, as is the case with fossil fuels.
There is a need to replenish fuel from time to time. But the amount of fuel needed is small compared to fossil fuels. Also, if a Country employs reprocessing of spent fuel, you can reuse around 95%. This is a similar situation with nuclear energy.
#9 Renewable energy leads to job creation
Renewable energy is a labour-intensive industry. As such, it creates jobs. This makes economic sense as new, stable, long-term jobs are created. Renewable energy has created more jobs in Germany in recent years. Whatever your views of renewable energy, there is no arguing that it does thousands of stable employment.
This contrasts with fossil fuels, in which the profitability of energy production benefits from low labour costs. Renewable energy is known to invest in its workforce, creating more jobs in the process. This increases local incomes, and there are often community benefits to local businesses that prosper because of the renewable energy sector.
Nuclear energy provides thousands of jobs. The latest nuclear new build in the UK at Hinkley Point C will create 25,000 jobs during its construction. There will remain around 5,000 long-term jobs to support the plant’s operations.
#10 Renewable energy is a technology
Over time, renewable energy will become cheaper than any technology. Improved production and installation processes will drive down the price. Existing technologies cover solar power, hydroelectricity, thermal and wind power. There is huge government and corporate investment in these areas. The efficiencies will surely follow.
The nuclear energy sector is the most exciting in the world right now when it comes to innovation. There have been stepped changes in the new 4th generation of nuclear reactors. The 5th generation adds to this by making Small Modular Reactors a reality. All of this innovation, coupled with the commitment to build many-of-a-kind, will make nuclear energy more competitively priced. This is without considering the ongoing developments in the nuclear fusion race.
#11 Renewable energy is offered in many formats
Renewable energy is an integral part of a clean energy mix. The fact that it comes in so many forms makes its use unlimited. The currently well-known applications include wind farms, solar panels, and hydropower. However, the application of renewable energy is only limited by innovative ideas.
We’ve had solar panels on calculators for years. Before them, the large wheel was placed in rivers to power grinding mills. In some cities, windmills are placed in the middle of busy roads to harness the wind of a passing bus. The applications in the future a mind-boggling.
Although the technologies associated with nuclear energy generation are as diverse as the renewables sector, they do have many applications that may not be immediately apparent. Nuclear reactors are used to generate electricity as part of a nuclear power plant. They are also used to generate power for boats and submarines. Nuclear energy has power spacecraft. There are also concepts for nuclear-powered trains.
#12 Risk management and resilience
Renewable energy presents a fantastic opportunity. Increasingly businesses are turning to self-generation and using renewable energy to do so. Solar panels on a factory roof. Biogas from wastewater. Wind turbines on disused land. These are all ways companies are doing seeking to utilise renewable energy.
By producing their own energy, organisations can significantly reduce their reliance on the electricity grid. This provides during times of peak demand when electricity prices are at their highest and the assurance of power during a blackout. There is also the added benefit of selling electricity back into the grid when they generate surplus energy.
More homeowners are choosing to utilise renewable energy on their property. This is not entirely limited to companies providing the above benefits in the process.
Nuclear energy is the only secure source of clean energy that we have available to us. It is available 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. 365 days of the year. When used as a baseload to support the peaks and troughs of renewable energy generation, you find the perfect clean energy mix. Companies can have the assurance that their lights will always stay on.
#13 Renewable energy for corporate social responsibility and positive public relations
Let’s not beat about the bush. Advocacy of renewable energy is good PR. Making commitments as part of a business’s CSR strategy to reduce your environmental footprint or source all energy renewably will only enhance a business’s public perceptions. Or individual, for that matter. ‘Sustainable living’ provides a good basis for strong PR. Putting renewable energy at the top of your list will only strengthen this.
The nuclear industry has done a poor job of PR in the past. As such, many myths and misnomers surround technology. 5 years ago, it would not be feasible that nuclear energy would be anywhere close to being part of a company’s CSR strategy. In fact, it would more than likely be deemed bad PR.
Fast forward to today, and the tide is starting to turn. Nuclear energy still has a way to improve its image. Nuclear energy is clean energy, and people are starting to want to be associated with the technology. A great example of this is Swedish electricity provider Karnfull Energy. They offer their clients 100% nuclear tariffs. The company is growing quickly and has plans to provide similar offerings across the world.
#14 Improved employee engagement
Much research suggests that employees have a strong sense of purpose and are much more innovative. The feeling that the work you are doing provides you with satisfaction helps spur innovation. As such, a brand that focuses on sustainability by utilising renewable energy creates a more competitive brand.
There is evidence that a company creating a purpose makes the company a more attractive place to work. Employees are also much more likely to provide a personal commitment to a company. There is also evidence that it will lead to a strengthened supply chain.
Nuclear energy fits right into this box. It is clean, sustainable and provides employees with a sense of purpose. The feeling of fulfilment within the nuclear industry is high. The industry is also one of the best paid, which provides an added sense of contribution to society.
8 Disadvantages of renewable energy
Renewable energy has many benefits. But it isn’t all positive. Here are some disadvantages to using renewables.
#1 High upfront capital outlay for renewable energy
Wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectricity plants. Manufacture, build, careful planning and installation. Renewable energy generation facilities need to require a huge financial outlay. Renewable energy is often placed in remote areas. This means additional cost of power lines to get the electricity generated to towns and cities. In the long-term, they will provide savings. But they are expensive.
Nuclear energy often finds it difficult to demonstrate commercial viability. The upfront costs associated with recent nuclear new builds are huge. Furthermore, their construction has tended to take much longer than forecast. This is a problem.
There is hope. Build costs at Sizewell C in the UK are forecast to be 30% cheaper than previous builds. This is in line with the Nuclear Sector Deal. Advanced and Small Modular Reactors to come with a commitment to keep costs down. More manufacturing is being completed in factories rather than on-site. This will bring down construction and installation costs.
#2 Intermittency issues of renewable energy
Renewable energy is totally dependent upon the weather. A calm day. Nighttime. A drought. A cloudy day. Any of these disrupt the production of renewable energy. The weather is anything but predictable. An electricity grid that is too heavily reliant on renewable energy is also vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
You need the wind blowing to move a wind turbine. You need clear skies during the daylight hours to generate solar electricity. You need enough water in a dam to provide flowing water. Unlike fossil fuels and nuclear energy, renewable energy cannot be turned off and on whenever required.
Nuclear energy, conversely, is very reliable. It is a secure source of clean energy. No matter the weather, time of day or season, nuclear provides energy. Nuclear is not perfect. Events at Fukushima in 2011 led to the partial meltdown of three reactors. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami meant that cooling capabilities were lost. There have since been safety measures across to globe to stop this from happening again.
#3 Storage capabilities needed to support renewable energy
Renewable energy is not reliable. There is a need to provide a backup. Storage technologies are available today, but they are costly. If you don’t store any of the energy generated within a battery, you will lose it. The batteries themselves are not great and wear out quickly when used regularly.
Battery technology is improving. But it is some way off being a viable support system to renewable energy. Fossil fuels currently provide this backup. This is no longer acceptable as part of a carbon-free energy mix. Nuclear energy is the only clean energy source that can provide a secure energy source come rain or shine. Nuclear + renewables provide the perfect mix.
#4 Geographic limitations of renewable energy
Renewable energy takes up a lot of space. 10 acres of solar panels generate about 2 megawatts of energy. 1.5 acres would be needed to generate the same from a wind farm. In comparison, in the same amount of space, a nuclear power plant would produce 850 megawatts.
There is diverse geography across the earth. Different landscapes and climates are more suitable for different types of renewable technology. There is not a one size fits all solution. Large wind farms across a vast open space. Solar panels on residential properties in sunny climates. Thermal power plants in volcanic regions. They all have one thing in common. They require space…and lots of it.
#5 Renewable energy has low-efficiency Levels
Renewable energy technologies have been around for several years. However, only in recent years have the large-scale use of the technology been deployed. As such, inefficiencies in the technology remain. This poses issues with costs and generating future investment. Many countries provide grants and subsidies to support the development of renewable technologies.
Take wave power as an example. There have been several studies that so the opportunities surrounding wave power. This comes with the challenge of operating under the sea. Underwater is a challenge in itself, but seawater adds a new challenge. Issues with corrosion and harnessing vertical and horizontal sea movement make it difficult to achieve high efficiency.
With no need for loads of fuel. The use of such a dense energy source. The ability to reprocess spent fuel. Coupled with a 24/7 energy resource makes nuclear energy one of the most efficient around. Recent works to capture hydrogen and the heat generated as part of the process will make nuclear energy the technology of choice.
#6 Not Always a Commercially viable Option
Renewable energy requires a lot of upfront investment. There is the infrastructure needed to build the facilities. These often use non-renewable energy during their construction phase. It takes many years of renewable energy generation to offset these initial carbon emissions.
Additionally, for renewable energy to remain viable, there needs to be a steady investment in technology development. This is often difficult to find without some sort of political manipulation. Non-renewable options tend to be favoured ahead of renewables without a clear political priority.
Nuclear energy continues to fight to be commercially viable. There is often no decision to build multiple, identical facilities. As such, it is difficult to find efficiencies during the construction phase. Most nuclear new builds have been delivered billions over budget. Many have been years behind schedule. Recent fleet developments and modular reactors promise to make nuclear energy much more commercially viable in the future.
#7 It Still Generates Pollution
Renewable energy still generates a carbon footprint. The manufacturing process emits greenhouse gases and pollutants into the air. Many of the resources needed to build a renewable power facility use fossil fuels. Final decommissioning of the equipment emits pollution into the air, and the waste products need to be stored.
Nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride have been tracked back to the manufacture of solar panels. Since these are potent greenhouse gases, they have thousands of times the impact on global warming compared to carbon dioxide.
The is also true of nuclear energy but to a much lesser extent. There is pollution during the build phase. When mining raw materials for fuel. Also, when decommissioning the plants at the end of life. However, the total pollution from the life of a nuclear power plant is much less than that of other energy sources.
Usage of Renewable Energy
Like all energy technologies, renewable energy has advantages and disadvantages. There remains decisive issue-commercial viability for all the many advantages of renewables and the net benefits versus fossil fuel energy generation.
Natural gas is positioning itself as clean energy. “Natural” gas. It does, in fact, produce 70% less carbon than other fossil fuels. Couple this is fairly cheap, and you make it difficult for governments to make gas the go-to backup plan when renewables fail to meet demand.
There is, however, much evidence in favour of utilising renewable energy with nuclear energy as part of a clean energy mix. Many countries are advocating this, and energy providers are offering this as a solution to consumers. EDF Energy in the UK advertises “WIND + NUCLEAR + SOLAR”. Karnfull Energy in Sweden is offering 100% nuclear energy tariffs. This provides us with a unique and exciting time in energy generation.
There has never been a better time to get into nuclear.