Unleashing the power of renewable energy: debunking myths and revealing top facts

Is renewable energy reliable? Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels? There’s a lot of questions and disinformation about renewable energy. Friends of the Earth’s renewable energy campaigner Tony Bosworth debunks the myths and answers some of the most popular questions about renewable energy.
  Published:  08 May 2024    |      5 minute read
What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is a form of energy that comes from sources that aren’t depleted when they’re used.

What renewable energy source does the UK use?

Two of the main sources of renewable energy used in the UK are wind and solar. We have huge potential to generate far more renewable energy than we currently do, and far more than we need. Our research shows that in England we can generate up to 13 times more renewable energy from onshore wind and solar compared to current levels.

Are renewable energy sources reliable?

Thanks to advanced weather forecasting, we now know how much energy renewable sources will produce, from a day in advance to 5 minutes ahead.

Can renewable energy be stored?

There are lots of different ways renewable energy can be stored, and new ways of storing renewable energy are being developed every day. In the future we'll see energy storage improve in capacity and efficiency. Batteries and electric vehicles can store surplus energy from renewables and release it when required.

How does renewable energy help the environment and tackle climate change?

Emissions from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas contribute to climate breakdown, causing extreme weather. This is because the fossil fuels increase the greenhouse effect, which means that the atmosphere heats up. Whereas, solar and wind power, and other similar renewable energy sources, don’t generate carbon emissions during electricity production.

Although renewable electricity’s share of production has grown significantly in recent years, we still produced 40.8% from fossil fuels. We need to increase our overall renewable energy production so more of our electricity comes from clean sources to fight climate change and lower emissions which will help the environment. 

Do solar panels only work when the sun shines?

A common misconception is that it needs to be sunny to benefit from solar power. The panels actually work off just daylight. Solar panel’s work by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity.

Panels work 365 days a year and don’t require direct sunlight.

Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels?

Yes. A 100% renewable future is possible. Here in the UK, we've got colossal renewable energy resources to help us lower our climate-changing emissions. Our new research shows that England has the potential to become a green energy superpower.

What are the benefits and advantages of renewable energy?

Renewable energy has countless benefits:

  • Energy prices. Renewable energy is cheaper. The price of renewable energy is rapidly falling, and solar costs have dropped globally by 90% since 2009. In fact, wind and solar are now the cheapest sources of new electricity. Further, we’d move from an extractive economy to a sustainable and regenerative economy.
  • Sustainability. Renewable energy sources have a lower environmental impact and can be naturally replenished. 
  • Protecting the planet. Producing electricity from fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide which causes climate change. Renewable power doesn't release any greenhouse gases or pollutants into the atmosphere, making it a safer energy source.
  • Reliability. We have an abundance of natural resources like wind and solar to reliably power our homes. They’ll go on forever, and we won’t be reliant on expensive gas and oil. 

With the correct provisions in place, everyone can use and benefit from renewable energy.

Why is renewable energy important for us and our future?

We’re already seeing the impact of climate extremes around the world on people, farming and nature but these are going to get so much worse for our children and future generations unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon.

Will renewable energy be cheaper?

Renewable energy is one of the cheapest forms of energy. Wind and solar farms are by far the cheapest forms of electricity production. For example, electricity from gas-fired power stations is almost 3 times more expensive to produce.More renewable electricity production can therefore help lower energy bills.

Do wind turbines kill birds?

While it’s true that wind turbines do contribute to killing birds, it’s important to look at the context too. Wind turbines kill a few million birds at most, whereas cars, buildings, pesticides, kill tens to hundreds of millions each. And cats kill at least a billion. There’s promising research which that suggests there’s way to make wind turbines safer for birds. For example, a study found that painting wind turbines blades black reduces bird deaths by a massive 70%.

What do the public think about wind turbines?

This all comes down to personal preference. Public opinion surveys generally show around 80% support for wind energy. Given the choice between a wind farm or a fossil fuel development near your home, which would you chose?

Do wind turbines only work when the wind blows?

They will work even with a light wind. Also, our mapping rules out sites where wind speed is too low to make a windfarm economical.

Are you saying that we should put wind turbines and solar farms everywhere?

Not at all. We’ve conducted research to highlight England’s vast renewable power potential. We’ve taken a conservative approach that excludes areas including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites protected for their wildlife value, the best farmland, and sites near houses. In some case, a small fraction of the best farmland may be needed for solar projects that need to be near to the electricity grid, but these should always be sensitively located.

Before any projects go ahead, they should be subject to local planning considerations and appropriate biodiversity impact assessments. For example, locally designated wildlife sites and migration routes for birds. There should be assessments to identify suitable areas for renewables at the local level, with councils designating such areas in their local plan. And, importantly, the cumulative impact of development in an area needs to be considered.

Why can't we build wind farms offshore?

Offshore wind is a vital part of the mix and it’ll make a major contribution in the medium term. But it can take many years to develop and bring into production. Onshore wind and solar can be built and brought into production much more quickly. So if we’re going to provide all the electricity we’ll need to meet our 2030 target from clean, green sources, we need to get going on developing onshore wind and solar now.

What's stopping the UK investing in renewable energy?

Onshore renewable energy is fast to build, taking as little as 1 year if planning and grid constraints are resolved. But development is being held back, particularly in England. In addition to a confused national policy position for onshore wind,most local authorities haven’t identified sites where renewables could go.

Developments are also held up by long delays in hooking up to the electricity grid. The energy regulator Ofgem said nearly half of projects must wait 5 years for a connection to the grid, and some may have to wait 10 years or more. Ofgem and the government have now published an action planwhich aims to drastically reduce this waiting time. The trade association RenewableUK has also identified further changes needed to upgrade the gridto 21st-century standards.

Investing in renewable energy will not only save us money and lower our bills, but it’d also help cut down carbon emissions. Plus scaling up renewables is critical if the UK is going to get emissions down by 2030 as promised.

We need more renewables now. Tell our leaders.

We need more renewables now. Tell our leaders.