Published on April 13th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Anti-Cleantech Myths Debunked (Your #1 Resource)

April 13th, 2015 by  

Many of us here at CleanTechnica are big fans of the site Skeptical Science. Skeptical Science has a great system for debunking common myths put forward by global warming deniers, and then getting those articles and key points out to more people. Bob Wallace had the excellent idea of doing something similar with regard to anti-cleantech myths.

On this page, for each myth that we’re tackling, you will find a key, one-sentence response (with a link on it to a thorough article on the topic). Furthermore, following that key sentence, there will be a short summary of the linked article. The idea is that, whether you are communicating with someone on Twitter, on Facebook, on reddit, in the comments under articles, on email, or elsewhere, you will have a response of the appropriate length needed to debunk some anti-cleantech mumbo jumbo.

We’re big fans of crowdsourcing, and we know that there are many thoroughly informed, intelligent readers here on CleanTechnica. So, we’d love to have you suggest topics and write or help write articles for this project. This page will be updated continuously as we write more articles debunking such myths, and as we gather feedback from you.

Below are initial articles we’ve published as well as more ideas for topics to tackle. If you’re wondering why they are positive, realistic statements rather than the myths we are debunking, it’s because we are trying to avoid “the backfire effect.”

1. Wind and solar electricity have become some of our least expensive ways to generate electricity (in several markets around the world).

Wind is now the cheapest way to bring new electricity generation to the grid in the US as well as many other countries. Solar PV costs are rapidly dropping and solar is expected to join wind over the next few years. Furthermore, low-cost utility-scale solar is already beating out all other sources of electricity in some bidding processes, and home solar power beats the price of retail electricity (on average) in many markets.

solar power cost

2. Electric cars produce zero emissions themselves, but even if you don’t have solar panels and you get your electricity from the grid, driving an electric car results in fewer emissions than driving a gasmobile or conventional hybrid in almost every case.

Electric cars themselves produce zero emissions when driven, but even if you factor in the emissions from electricity produced in your region that is utilized to power your electric car, it’s extremely likely your electric car is cleaner than a Toyota Prius. Furthermore, these emissions are not “local” — they’re are likely not occurring in your neighborhood, in your town, or in your city. Of course, if you have solar panels on your roof that produce as much electricity as you use, you are essentially driving on sunshine and producing no emissions from any source when you drive. It’s also important to remember that the grid is getting cleaner every day, so electric cars charged from the grid will just keep getting cleaner and cleaner.



3. While wind turbines can’t produce electricity if the wind isn’t blowing, the electricity they produce is worth exactly as much as the electricity produced by any other type of power plant.

When a wind turbine produces a kilowatt-hour of electricity, it’s fundamentally worth as much as a kilowatt-hour of electricity from nuclear power, coal power, solar power, or anything else. There is a slight externality from the variability of wind energy and its “integration costs,” but those are determined to be just 4 tenths of a cent per kWh (not even half a cent per kWh). For sure, this extra cost isn’t even worth mentioning compared to the health and environmental externalities that come from coal and natural gas power plants, or the economic risk that comes with nuclear power plants. Even at very high percentages of wind power (such as seen in Denmark, northern Germany, Scotland, Portugal, and Iowa), wind energy can be integrated into the grid without extra backup energy or costly investments.

4. Integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid is not a problem, and it’s cheaper than sticking with dirty energy sources.

We can build a 24/365 reliable grid using either coal, gas, and nuclear; or with wind, solar, and other renewables. The techniques differ somewhat, but the real issue is cost. Renewables win in terms of both direct (generation) costs and external costs. This is an article on how a 100% renewable grid would operate and give us cheaper electricity.

5. Climate action is trillions of dollars cheaper than climate inaction.

Investing in a clean energy economy is not cheap. It is actually projected to cost trillions of dollars. However, sticking with a dirty energy economy will cost society much more, many trillions of dollars more.


6. The question should not be about how much solar panels cost, but about how much solar power will save you.

Many people think solar power is “expensive,” but that’s often only true if you look at half of the equation. In reality, solar power often saves homeowners tens of thousands of dollars. If you go solar with a straight purchase (no loan), you’re going to save the most money… but it will also be a longer period of time before you get your money back and start putting extra cash in your pocket. On the other hand, if you get a good (perhaps $0-down) solar loan, solar lease, or solar PPA, you can start saving money immediately or almost immediately. You just won’t save as much money down the road. Nonetheless, you can often still save tens of thousands of dollars (compared to buying all of your electricity from the grid and not producing any electricity yourself).

solar power savings How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

7. There are many ways to achieve high renewable penetration levels.

According to an NREL study examining high renewable energy integration in the US, 80% of US electricity could be coming from renewables by 2050.

renewable energy growth US

If you have more ideas for anti-cleantech myths you want to see debunked, drop us a note in the comments below. If you’d like to help with such an article or help update an article linked above, also drop us a note.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Murphy creates ‘worst case’ arguments and ignores workable solutions. Let me just hit the highlights of why the overall “cannot power” argument is false.

    1) Let’s start with powering long term. We may have a 200 year supply of coal if we keep burning at present rates. Natural gas will run out in decades. Or supply of wind and solar is good for another 3+ billion years.

    2) “(E)enough sun strikes the Earth every 104 minutes to power the entire world for a year”. Plenty of energy.

    3) But energy density? This a red herring argument. The critical metric is not how dense the energy source is but how much it costs to produce electricity from that source.

    Coal is energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new coal plant is > 10 cents/kWh. Add in the external health costs paid by taxpayers and the price rises to about 20c/kWh.

    Wind is not energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new wind farm is now under 4c/kWh. Unsubsidized.

    Sunshine is not energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new solar farm is now about 6c/kWh. Unsubsidized.

    Oil is energy dense. The cost of driving a mile in a 30 MPG vehicle burning $3/gallon gas is 10c/mile.

    Drive that mile with electricity from wind and solar and the cost is less than 4c/mile.

    What’s left out of those comparisons are the costs of health damage caused by burning fossil fuels and the extreme cost of climate change. Fossil fuels are unaffordable.

    4) Not enough materials to use renewable energy. There are no shortages of materials to build as many wind turbines and solar panels as we want. We can have all the electricity we are willing to pay for.

    That being the case, it is in our best interest to power down the world to some extent. We need to quit using fossil fuels as soon as possible. The more efficient we are the quicker we can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

    Misinformers are gonna misinform….

  • JamesWimberley

    Question to Zach and Bob: the estimate for the integration costs of wind power is useful. Do you have a solid recent estimate for the integration costs of solar? In optimum conditions (heavy a/c daytime load matching solar output) these could in theory go negative. That won’t of course hold for Northern Europe.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s what I’ve got on wind/solar integration. It’s mostly about wind…

      “Very large quantities of wind are being used by several grid operators with virtually no increase in the need for operating reserves,” AWEA Transmission Policy Manager Michael Goggin. “The Midwest System Operator (MISO) has over twelve gigawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has over ten gigawatts. Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo) has had well over 50 percent wind at times.

      Renewables opponents, Goggin recalled, “have said for years that costs would go up and the grid would fall apart. They have been proven wrong.”

      In ERCOT’s calculations for 2011, Goggin said, “the total cost for integrating wind came out at about $0.50 per megawatt-hour.” And, he added, without 2011’s anomalies in July and August that accounted for 80 percent percent of all costs, the total costs in 2012 for the necessary balancing reserves and other expenses associated with the integration of large amounts of wind are expected to be even lower.

      “Newer research suggests systems can go to 40 percent renewables with no problem,” Goggin said, “using the very efficient grid operating practices being applied by MISO, ERCOT, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and others.”

      “They do very fast interval dispatch of all energy resources,” Goggin continued. “because load is continuously changing, the output of fossil-fired plants is continuously changing, and, of course, wind is continuously changing, too.” The closer system operators are to real-time dispatch, he explained, the more effectively supply and demand can be balanced without the use of reserves.

      “They also have pretty large balancing areas,” Goggin added. “If one wind project is going off, another is probably going on somewhere, providing an overall more stable output. Larger areas also simply have more resources to accommodate variability. In MISO, wind’s variability is just something in the noise. It is not showing up in their reserve needs.”

      ERCOT’s data is similar, Goggin said. “The areas of the country that have efficient grid operating practices have shown it is possible to integrate very large quantities of wind very reliably at virtually zero incremental cost. The areas of the country that don’t have efficient grid operating practices, namely, much of the West outside California, are seeing increased costs and challenges.”

      Studies show nuclear and large fossil plants actually have “far higher integration costs than renewables,” Goggin said. “Contingency reserves, the super-fast acting energy reserve supply required of grid operators in case a large power plant shuts down unexpectedly, are a major cost. Comparing the incremental cost of wind to those costs that ratepayers have always paid, the wind cost looks even more trivial.”

      The fundamental issues are more or less the same with integrating solar, Goggin, who specializes in wind, said. “Relative to wind, solar has more minute-to-minute variability, which increases the cost. But forecasting the sun is easier because it is clear when the sun will come up and go down and when the peak is, and that reduces the cost. But grid operators who use efficient operating methods are finding it is no more of a challenge or cost than wind.”

      $0.50/MWh is $0.0005/kWh which is about nothing. It’s less than $6 per year per household.

      Here’s a paper from the NREL that says the costs are hard to calculate. :o)

      And here’s another NREL paper saying that the math is hard. With more details.

      And the NREL has this to say (without numbers)

      “Integration costs are not limited to wind and solar energy, nor are the costs restricted to just variable generation. Nearly all generators impose costs when they are added to a transmission system. For instance, large generators often impose additional contingency reserve requirements (in case of sudden failure). Interestingly, the cost of maintaining these reserves is not assigned to the generators that cause the need. Instead, the costs are shared among all generation, creating a situation where the generators that create the need are subsidized at the expense of smaller generators, with the rationale being that the overall system benefits from the addition of the large generators and the increased contingency reserves.

      Other examples where the costs incurred by a particular generator are shared throughout the system include block generation schedules that increase regulation requirements, fuel scheduling restrictions that impose system costs, immovable baseload plants that increase cycling of other generation, and generators with high minimum output levels that create minimum load reliability problems.

      In contrast, variable generation, although it also benefits the greater good (by providing fuel diversity, price stability, energy security, and environmental benefits), is typically assessed by the costs associated with its addition.

      European study – this might answer some N. Europe questions…

      “The grid integration cost varies from country to country. At 2% penetration of PV, the cost varies between – € 50/MWh (in Greece) and €13/MWh. At 18% penetration, the cost increases up to €26/MWh. It can be observed that in general the cost in Southern Europe is
      lower than the cost in Northern Europe.

  • Ha, nailed it, especially love the bottom line. 😀 “… a physicist first encountering a new subject.” (to stereotype a bit…)

  • Yeah, that’s why #3, #4, & #7 above are three of our first stories for this series.

  • juxx0r

    The myth i get all the time is that we need baseload power. Also that we absolutely must have nuclear even though the duck curve belly is going to be negative come halfway through a new nuke plant’s lifetime.

    • Ronald Brakels

      In South Australia, which currently generates electricity from wind and rooftop solar equal to about 40% of its consumption, the single operating coal plant has at times shut down over winter because electricity prices weren’t high enough to pay for its operation. During these times the state grid operated without any baseload generating capacity without problem.

      – How’s that for a brief sentance or two?

    • Yeah, planning to do some pieces on that.

  • Hans

    The article is rather typical for how the anti-RE crowd operates:
    1) ignore all serious scientific literature on the subject
    2) make some assumptions that reflect your ignorance of the subject
    3) make a back of the envelope calculation based on these assumptions
    4) declare the result the absolute truth and state that RE is impossible.

    • GreatWhiteShirt

      Hans: The problem isn’t people like you, or to a lesser extent, people like me, it’s the bulk of people who are easily manipulated by this sort of renewable misinformation. If you google “A Nation-Sized Battery” you’ll see it cited all over the place. It should be countered in accessible terms and framing.

      Those of us in the trenches of the climate wars are all too unfortunately familiar with the power of the merchants of doubt propagandists which have delayed climate mitigation for decades – a lack of mitigation which has very serious implications for billions of people, alive and those yet to come.

      • Hans


        I get the feeling you are attacking something I did not say. Why the distinction between us?

        The fossil fuel PR machine is only a part of the problem. The bigger problems are the journalists, politicians and voters that accept the crap it spews out.

        • GreatWhiteShirt

          Hans: No, I wasn’t attacking you, I certainly didn’t intend to. I was just pointing out that readily accessible material should be available to help the general public debunk myths. “Accessible” meaning intuitively navigable and understandable by a general audience.

  • Mephy

    It makes no sense for #6 to have a line graph. A bar graph would make more sense.

    • It also needs to be updated, since those #s were from 2011.

  • Bob_Wallace

    As someone who did their last two graduate programs at UDSC I cry bitter tears when I read the crap that Tom Murphy publishes. He brings shame to one of our most productive scientific institutions.

    • GreatWhiteShirt

      Thanks for your response Bob. Has anyone done a takedown of the “Nation-Sized Battery” post? It strikes me as absurd in many respects but renewables is a peripheral interest vs my main focus which is climate change.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I see Tom cited in anti-renewable, mainly pro-nuclear posts.

        He seems to be largely ignored in the renewable world. Tom sets up his arguments with a very heavy thumb on the nuclear side of the scale. Like with pump-up hydro.

        He cranked through the numbers using only large dams trapping modest amounts of water as his model. He didn’t do the math for converting some of our 77,500 existing dams or thousands of abandoned rock quarries and mines where no dam construction would be required.

        If you want to prove that a technology is too expensive then use the most version of that technology. Use the solid gold toilet seat version.

        • GreatWhiteShirt

          That might explain why the person referencing it to assert that renewables aren’t viable on a large scale is a nuclear physicist.

          • Yeah, some more context I’d add:

            1) A lot of people in and out of the energy industry don’t know enough about renewables and the grid to realize that we can have very high penetrations of renewables with relatively little storage… and that it would be a more robust, better grid. (See #7 above).

            2) A number of nuclear industry professionals don’t like the idea of nuclear energy dwindling away, so they try to find reasons why renewables “can’t do it.” They don’t look at the full picture, but cling to the most convincing anti-renewables claims they can find.

            3) There’s a subset of society that is in love with the idea of nuclear energy (for one reason or another). They do the same as the industry professionals, but perhaps go even further into outer space with their ideas.

            If I ran the world, I’d look to retire coal & natural gas before existing nuclear, but new nuclear doesn’t make any sense from an financial/economic point of view, nor from a stop global warming point of view, so it’s really not even worth the time we give it.

          • eveee

            Let’s see. Nuclear physicist….. Hmmmm… Nuclear proponent…could be a link. 🙂
            A variant of “NIH”.

        • Calamity_Jean

          He also assumed that ALL solar power would be sourced from the desert southwest, and that ALL wind power would be sourced from the windy great plains, AND he assumed that the southwest would have an entire week of thick clouds at the same time the great plains had a perfectly windless week. Yeah, right, like that’s ever going to happen.

      • Calamity_Jean

        Several of the comments at “A Nation-Sized Battery” dispute various aspects of the essay, which may be why the comments were closed after only eight days.

      • eveee

        Too bad the comments section is closed. It’s completely misguided.

      • Erik Blakeley

        Also remember that an all nuclear solution also requires huge amounts of storage at least with the current inflexible nuclear technologies. With nuclear’s huge capital costs and the problems and even dangers of rapidly changing nuclear output the nuclear sector can only provide baseload. It cannot provide peaking and balancing and the very size of nuclear plants means that they need massive back up because even if their reliability is good it is not perfect. If we accept that decarbonisation is non-optional then both renewables and nuclear rely on some sort of storage or smart grid revolution. The upside is the Elon Musk and co are proving that that revolution is coming fast.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Just a followup on the need for backup. If anyone thinks that reactors don’t need backup they should review San Diego’s experience when they lost two reactors at one time.

          Need to have massive spinning reserve or massive battery backup available for large thermal plants.

  • wattleberry

    The perception of expense, inefficiency and unreliability associated with pioneering installations dies hard with many casual observers who almost always know of a neighbour who has had bad experiences, and I’ve said this before, but I just cannot persuade any friends to refer to this or any internet source to refute their prejudices.
    I’m afraid that only the sort of coverage provided by the mass media will be a game changer, becoming a coffee table topic and the In-thing in the process.
    Couldn’t you get someone like Jay Leno or the charismatic ( and convert) Robert Llewellyn to front it for you?

    • wattleberry

      Sorry, should you not decide to do it by your own team.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s a larger game afoot.

      If we can build a renewable energy myth-buster section then it should turn into a reference site for producers putting together mass media reports.

      If we can pack in the data and make sure it is reliable and linked then we become a place where people are going to look for the information they need.

      What we need is for people to read critically and add information so we can build this, and future, articles into “super-wikis”.

      Consider this paper a rough draft. Let’s give Zach what he needs to make the next version better.

      • GreatWhiteShirt

        The Skeptical Science model has been incredibly useful for combatting climate science misinformation.

        The rise of Skeptical Science

        • Yes, love the people there, and it was a great idea that was very well implemented.

    • On the positive front, CleanTechnica is frequently referenced by the mass media. The better we do at informing the journalists & bloggers there, the more the correct message gets out… from what I’ve seen.

      Of course, many people also come and learn stuff from our site… I have thousands of times! 😀

  • Martin

    Maybe add the year in which Tomas Edison made that statement.
    Was it in the 1930’s?
    First time I did read that quote, it does fit perfectly.
    Did cleantechnica do an article on Charles F. Brush?

  • Change The Topic

    Thanks for putting in the leg work on this. Great job.

  • Ronald Brakels

    The United States is an excellent location for rooftop solar with Los Angeles, Phoenix, Honolulu and many other major cities receiving more sunshine than any Australian state capital.

    • Will E

      I envy Australia for Solar Radiation Levels,
      see Australian SRL charted by Zachary Shahan some days ago. My Australian experience is this, arrived at night time, woke up and was blown away by the sun all the time. not normal, but a Solar Storm like.
      So I want to debunke your myth there is no sunshine in Australia.
      Solar works everywhere, cheap clean and easy.

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