If renewable energy is so awesome why haven’t we pulled the plug on fossil fuels yet? Hey there light bulbs, Julian here for DNews. If you watch this channel regularly, you’d know that climate change is a serious looming problem. In case you don’t watch often, I’ll catch you up real fast: we’re burning too many fossil fuels, releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, raising the planet’s average temperature. As it goes up we see melting ice caps, sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, the works. If burning fossil fuels is at the root of the problem, why haven’t we kicked the dirty habit yet? You won’t be surprised to learn it’s complicated. Firstly, there’s the fact that power sources like coal and natural gas are so entrenched.
Edison built the first practical coal plant in the United States in 1882. By 1961, coal was the major source of electricity. Americans haven’t really been able to get off coal since. We have scaled it back; it generated 53% of our power in 2000 but just 34% in 2015. But the ground coal gave up was taken over by another fossil fuel: natural gas. New extraction techniques like fracking made it cheaper, helping it take over some of coal’s load and about 32% of our energy needs. While these sources are at the root of the greenhouse gas problem, they do have certain advantages over renewables. Namely they can ramp up output to meet demand. Solar and wind can’t do that; you only get energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing so we have to build capacitors and batteries to store energy for when we need more. Otherwise we’ll have to have some fossil fuels or nuclear plants to meet demand. If renewables are going to pick up the torch from fossil fuels completely, we’re going to have to invest a lot of money. Happily as technology advances, investing in renewables is looking more and more attractive.
We’re getting to the point that building and running new wind or solar facilities will be competitive with coal and natural gas plants over their lifetime. They’re more expensive up front, but their fuel costs $0, so they become more reasonable over time. The United States Department of Energy estimates that a natural gas plant entering service in 2018 will cost about $50 per Megawatt hour of electricity generated, while a wind farm will cost around $58. Photovoltaics are more expensive, at nearly $81 per megawatt hour. That will translate to a higher electricity bill, but a study from 2012 found most Americans would accept an increase of up to $199 to their annual electricity bill if it meant going all renewable. Still, renewables will need a bit of help by way of tax credits and subsidies to be truly competitive.
While that may sound unfair, keep in mind that coal received over a billion dollars in subsidies in 2013, while natural gas and petroleum received billion. Fossil fuels also have hidden costs associated with them; because of the health issues like chronic bronchitis, asthma, and premature mortality caused by dirty air. The National Research Council reported in 2010 that natural gas was responsible for 740 million dollars in expenses per year.
And coal? That was 62 Billion. With a B. This was before the cost of impacts from climate change were factored in, which makes these energy sources even more expensive. The bottom line is, investing in renewables may be expensive and difficult now, but it’ll pay off big time in the long run. And if we save the planet as we know it that’s a nice bonus to. If you think climate change won’t cost money you may change your tune if your house becomes a swimming pool.
To find out what’s going to be underwater, check out Tara’s video here. And we were all about the US in this video but there are some places that run entirely on renewables already! Check out Seeker daily’s vid on that here. So are you on board the renewable hype train or are you stopped at fossil fuel station? Let us know why in the comments, subscribe for more and I will see you next time on DNews..