The cost of installing new power capacity is increasingly becoming cheaper for renewable energy resources when compared with that of fossil fuels. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its annual report ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019’ elaborates on “how decisively the tables have turned”.
“Solar photovoltaics (PV) shows the sharpest cost decline over 2010-2019 at 82%, followed by concentrating solar power (CSP) at 47%, onshore wind at 40%, and offshore wind at 29%,” IRENA report says. “More than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower electricity costs than new coal. New solar and wind projects are undercutting the cheapest of existing coal-fired plants”.
Is renewable energy sustainable?
The term ‘sustainable energy is often used in the place of the term ‘renewable energy’. Do both the terms have the same meaning? What exactly do we mean by sustainable energy?
Often referred to as clean energy and green energy, sustainable energy is the energy that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable energy is an umbrella term that includes all energy sources that don’t damage or pollute the environment.
Read about Positive Environmental Impact of Solar Energy here.
On the other hand, renewable energy is the energy generated without harming the environment with the additional clause that the energy source is naturally replenishable.
Renewable energy is sustainable but the reverse is not true. Nuclear energy is a prime example of sustainable energy that is not renewable.
The five renewable energy sources of solar, wind, hydroelectricity, geothermal, and biomass satisfy all the conditions, in general, and hence are considered sustainable.
However, the environment-friendly condition for renewable energy is under scanner in individual renewable power installations. During the manufacturing, transporting, installation, and decommissioning of some renewable energy projects, environmental degradation is happening. Clearing large tracts of land, the use of toxic chemicals in the manufacture, destruction of wildlife habitats, and greenhouse gas emissions during transportation are some of the concerns raised about renewable energy sources.
Even with these drawbacks and limitations, renewable energy is considered to leave a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels. As our need for energy is unavoidable and unquenchable, it is just a matter of comparison – which one is the least harmful?
In this respect, renewable energy fares way better than fossil fuels. Due to this reason, renewable energy is considered sustainable for all practical aspects.
Benefits of renewable energy
When we compare the environmental impact of renewable energy and fossil fuels, the former is the winner hands down. Here are some of its other benefits.
Renewable energy is available abundantly and is naturally replenished. This means renewable resources are inexhaustible like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. We need not fear running out of them as we have with fossil fuels.
Low maintenance cost:
Most renewable power options come with a long lifespan. This is primarily due to its minimal moving parts, resulting in less wear and tear. This also means the cost of maintenance is also low.
Low operating cost:
As the input for renewable energy generation comes from nature, the cost of fuel is eliminated. Again, low wear and tear from no/fewer moving parts reduce the operating expenditure considerably.
No/less greenhouse gas emissions for renewable energy translates to a smaller carbon footprint and an advantage for the environment. As there is no combustion involved in energy production, renewable energy causes very less pollution.
Is renewable energy an alternative to fossil fuels?
Our ever-expanding population and technological advances are driving our energy needs like never before. The only question before us is from where are we going to meet our energy demands. Until recently, we were relying totally on fossil fuels that were easily available and cheap.
As we realized the harm fossil fuels were doing to our environment, we started looking for alternatives to fossil fuels. Most of the renewable energy sources were already known to us but were discarded due to difficulties in harnessing it.
The search for alternative fuel helped in improving the technologies of renewable energy, making it more accessible and bringing down the cost. All these along with a big boost from governmental policies have helped renewable energy to gain a foothold in the power generation scene.
Despite renewable energy getting a sizable share of the new power installations, it remains to be seen whether it can completely replace fossil fuels in the near or distant future.
Read about Disadvantages of Solar Energy to the Environment here.
Is renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels?
Yes, renewable energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels in the last decade. The reason for this is two-pronged.
On one side governments are promoting renewable energy in a big way as a means to keep greenhouse emissions and global warming in check. Various incentives offered for the production and use of renewable energy has increased its popularity and demand. Much R&D is happening in the field to improve efficiency and bring down the cost.
On the other hand, we are fast running out of fossil fuels because of overuse and limited availability. After exhausting surface-level fossil fuel deposits, we have started digging deeper for more. All these have resulted in escalating the cost of fossil fuel.
Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels?
With the cost of renewable energy on a free fall and that of fossil fuels on the rise, we are confronted with the question of whether renewable energy can replace fossil fuels. If so, to what extent?
As the price of renewable energy is dropping, its share in newer installations is going up. This means the share of renewable energy in the global energy production is increasing, easing up the dependency on fossil fuels. However, supplementing energy production with renewable energy is one thing, but replacing fossil fuels with it is a different ball game altogether.
The concern for the environment and limited availability of fossil fuels will ultimately bring down our dependency on them. However, most analysts are skeptical about whether the use of fossil fuels will be completely eliminated.
Escalating environmental degradation, increasing difficulty in accessing fossil fuels and rising prices are forcing us to discard our love for fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy. Renewable energy has garnered a bigger share of new power installations in the last decade. With advances in technology and governmental incentives, this trend is expected to continue.