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The Top Five Myths About Wind And Solar Power Debunked

Let's set the record straight.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
5 SEP 2017
 

When there is so much misinformation about renewable energy circulating in popular news it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Here are five of the most persistent and pervasive myths surrounding renewable energy and — of course — the facts that prove them wrong.

 

 

Myth #1: Wind power is the Ted Bundy of bird-killers.

Fact: The myth that turbines kill birds is one of the most common arguments against wind energy, but it is not grounded in fact.

According to a 2007 report by the National Research Council (NRC), wind turbine losses account for "a minute fraction" of bird deaths caused by human activities.

In 2003, wind turbines killed an estimated 20,000 to 37,000 birds in a year. And while this may seem like a lot, it makes up less than 0.003% of bird deaths for that year.

In comparison, collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; cars are thought to kill 80 million birds per year; toxic chemicals kill more than 72 million birds each year; And cats? Yeah, they kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

Not to mention that, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, up to one million birds are killed every year in oilfield production pits.

 

Myth #2: Wind turbines are bad for your health.

Fact: There is no conclusive, peer-reviewed research that suggests wind turbines adversely affect human health.

According to a report prepared by an independent panel of experts for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, there is "no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as 'Wind Turbine Syndrome.'"

A review of the scientific literature also found no direct causation "between people living in proximity to modern wind turbines, the noise they emit and resulting physiological health effects."

 

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of evidence linking coal mining with adverse health effects.

Data collected in a 2008 study by the WVU Institute for Health Policy Research revealed that those living in coal mining communities have a 70 percent increased risk of developing kidney disease, a 64 percent increased risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and are 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure.

 

Myth #3: Solar power won't work in places that are cloudy or cold.

Fact: Thanks to organic photovoltaic (OPV) technology, solar panels work even in cold or cloudy places.

In fact, in places like London or Seattle, OPV devices could actually generate more solar energy than their more traditional, silicon counterparts.

Silicon cells require direct sunlight, but OPV generates energy regardless of whether the angle is direct or not. This means that even though there is less overall sunlight on cloudy days, OPV is still able to capture diffuse and reflected light.

If you still need more convincing, here's another myth-busting fact: Germany gets nearly the same amount of sunshine as Alaska, and they still manage to lead the world in solar power utilization.

 

Myth #4: Wind energy will never compete economically with coal.

 

Fact: Wind is now the largest, single clean-energy source in the United States, and it will soon be cheaper than coal.

The Energy Information Administration's (EIA) annual report found that levelized costs for onshore wind that is brought on line in 2017 are cheaper than coal that is brought on line in 2017.

And in some areas, onshore wind power is already leaving coal in the dust. A new report from Moody's Investor Services found that in the Great Plains region, wind costs $20/MWh (megawatts per hour), while coal costs $30/MWh.

Just look at the rapid growth of renewable energy! EIA's short-term energy outlook predicts that, in 2017, wind and solar power will grow the fastest in the US energy sector for the second year in a row.

 

Myth #5: Renewable energy produces just as many greenhouse gases as fossil fuels.

Fact: Despite the prevalence of this myth, over the course of their lifespan, wind and solar energy produce significantly less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

The myth that renewable energy is not as green as we think exists mainly because people compare the lifespan of coal to the initial cost of renewable energy. But if you compare apples to apples, renewable energy comes out on top.

A special report by the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Working Group III found that renewable and nuclear energy produce substantially less greenhouse gases over the lifespan of each power source, compared to coal and oil.

The same study found that "the rising penetration of renewable energies could lead to cumulative greenhouse gas savings equivalent to 220 to 560 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtC02eq) between 2010 and 2050."

Which, of course, would not be the reality if renewable energy produced just as many greenhouse gases as fossil fuels.