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Published on September 2nd, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan

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The CleanTechnica Answer Box (Renewable Energy & Electric Vehicle Answers To Common Myths)

September 2nd, 2016 by  


There are many questions about renewable energy and electric transport that people who haven’t been following these industries for years or decades often have, and there are also many recurring myths that many of us spend a lot of time addressing. A few commenters have proposed that what is needed is one central resource where people can find information that answers common questions about solar energy, wind energy, and electric vehicles; and that dissolves numerous cleantech myths.

There are many topics to cover, and it’s probably best if they are answered by many people. Here’s how we’re thinking it might work:

On this page, we’re listing many popular cleantech topics and answers to common myths (grouped under these 4 categories: 1) Solar + Wind + Other Renewables, 2) Solar Energy, 3) Wind Energy, 4) Electric Vehicles). If there are other topics you think we should add (of course there are), then list them in the comments section below. From time to time, we’ll rewrite this page and add new topics based on your proposals.

For each topic, we’ll link to either 1) an existing CleanTechnica article that provides detailed answers/responses, or 2) a new document (in Google Docs) where we can crowdwrite (if others are interested) the article.

Further down this page, there are all the same topics and links but also short answers for each of them.

For any of the topic-specific pages, add any information you have or any suggested corrections in the comments section below this article (in the future, feedback forms will be included on each article). At some point, a new version will be created for many of these topics — a more accurate and complete version based on feedback and new information.

If you’ve got other ideas/suggestions of how this system might work, let us know via the comments section below this page.

Again, if you want to suggest new topics, please do so in the comments below.

On to the content … and note that we don’t just allow you to copy & paste these responses when useful — we encourage you to do so! A healthy free-market democracy is built on correct and useful information being widely distributed.


This first section is for one-liners linked to long articles or article drafts.

For 1–2 paragraph statements on each matter (still with links to the longer pieces), scroll down further.

Solar + Wind + Other Renewables

  1. Wind and solar are cheap.
  2. Wind and solar power account for a large portion of new electricity generation capacity.
  3. Climate action is trillions of dollars cheaper than climate inaction.
  4. We do not need baseload power, and inflexible baseload power is actually problematic.
  5. Integration of renewable energy into the electricity grid is not a problem, and it’s cheaper than sticking with dirty energy sources.
  6. There are many ways to get the majority of our electricity from renewable energy sources.
  7. On the whole, comparing various electricity options based on a wide variety of factors, solar and wind are society’s best choice.
  8. Renewables and efficiency measures actually benefit the economy. (draft)
  9. Renewable energy is critical to stopping global warming.
  10. A 70–100% renewable electricity grid is possible and even cost-competitive to build.
  11. It wouldn’t take a lot of land to get 40% of our electricity from solar panels.
  12. Renewables are being installed not just because of subsidies. (draft)
  13. Renewables is much faster to install and more scalable than nuclear power.
  14. Renewable energy is made from available resources. Its domination does not depend on scarce elements.
  15. Renewable energy doesn’t get more in subsidies than fossil and nuclear sources have gotten, and continue to get.
  16. The ERoEI of wind and solar is actually quite good.
  17. We don’t need huge advances in energy storage to switch to renewable energy. (draft)
  18. Renewable energy has many benefits for people, the economy, & the environment
  19. Fossil fuels get far more subsidies than renewable energy. (draft)

Solar Energy

  1. Solar panels aren’t free or even cheap, but they can still save you a ton of money.
  2. We don’t need solar power breakthroughs.
  3. Solar panels definitely don’t take more energy to manufacturer than they produce. (draft)
  4. Solar power works in many places you might not expect
  5. Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
  6. Solar Cars Are Far From Mainstream. OTOH, Solar-Powered Cars Are Normal, Common, Becoming Popular.

Wind Energy

  1. Wind intermittency isn’t a big deal.
  2. Wind works well in many, many locations.
  3. Wind Turbines & Birds – In Depth.

Electric Vehicles

  1. Electric cars are greener. Even today, well-to-wheel electric car emissions are about half that of gasoline cars, and that’s assuming the drivers don’t have rooftop solar.
  2. How much land would it take to produce enough electricity to power EVs (powering all of them with wind energy)?
  3. Electric cars work fine in winter/cold.
  4. Yes, Tesla vehicles work fine — very well, actually — in snow.
  5. Electric cars ≠ shift from oil to coal. Electric cars mostly run on electricity from renewable energy or natural gas
  6. Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars ≠ better than battery-electric cars.
  7. Even with current electric cars, 87% of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by a low-cost electric car even if there is no possibility of recharging it during the day.
  8. Electric cars often actually save owners a great deal of time.
  9. Cobalt supply will ramp up to match demand. It’s not a problem for the EV revolution, or Tesla.
  10. Solar-powered cars don’t make much sense for basic reasons. But powering electric cars from rooftop solar power makes a ton of sense and is very common.

Solar + Wind + Other Renewables

1. Wind and solar are cheap.

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. The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for solar actually beats all other sources of electricity other than wind. 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.

2. Wind and solar power account for a large portion of new electricity generation capacity.

In the US and elsewhere, low-priced and zero-emission solar and wind power plants are accounting for a large portion (sometimes the majority) of new power capacity additions. At the same time, coal power plants are being retired at a rapid rate.

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

Investing in a clean energy economy is not cheap. It is projected to cost trillions of dollars. However, sticking with a dirty energy economy will cost society much more — many trillions of dollars more — than investing in a clean energy economy. If you actually care about costs, you should be pushing for us to make the transition quicker rather than slower.

4. We do not need baseload power, and inflexible baseload power is actually problematic.

Massive renewable energy adoption and integration will rely on “load following,” not “baseload power.” In a renewable-dominated grid, inflexible baseload power gets in the way. What is actually needed is a varied system of solutions that match electricity demand with electricity supply. This includes demand response solutions, flexible electricity generation sources, a larger and more integrated transmission network, and some energy storage. It does not require an energy storage breakthrough or nuclear power.

5. 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. Take a look at how a 100% renewable grid would operate and give us cheaper electricity.

6. There are many ways to get the majority of our electricity from renewable energy sources.

According to an NREL study examining high renewable energy integration in the US, 80% of US electricity could be coming from renewables by 2050. Different regions would do best to rely on different resources. A large variety of renewable energy generation technologies combined with a good transmission network seems to be the most practical way to change to a renewable-dominated grid.

7. On the whole, comparing various electricity options based on a wide variety of factors, solar and wind are society’s best choice.

Discussions of electrical generation technologies frequently fall into the trap of considering a single factor. One way this occurs is with advocates of a specific legacy technology pointing out a single downside of wind or solar generation as if it’s a gotcha. This is equally true of wind and solar advocates who point at single-factor issues with nuclear or coal, as examples, making the comparison to the more virtuous renewables. However, there is no single technology which will prevail on all grids in the future. There will be multiple generation technologies at any given time, the mix will change over time, and the specific mix will vary for specific geographies. In a multi-factorial assessment, though, solar and wind power come out with the highest score.

8. Renewables and efficiency measures significantly benefit the economy. (draft)

It is cheaper to save fuel than to buy fuel (efficiency measures & renewables save fuel); renewables drive the development of new technologies, drive local investment, create local jobs, reduce wholesale electricity prices, reduce dependence on price-fluctuating fuels (insurance/hedge against high fuel prices), reduce trade deficits, reduce cash flow into dubious destabilizing/warmongering regimes, reduce pollution (reduce health costs), preserve nature and biodiversity (secure alimentation (more area for food production instead of fossil fuel/uranium mining), grow the tourism industry, etc.). Germany has grown its renewable power share by a factor of 5 and at the same time reached a record export surplus.

9. Renewable energy is critical to stopping global warming.

Fast and society-threatening global warming is being caused by several large-scale human activities. Aside from burning fossil fuels for energy, for example, large-scale deforestation for livestock “production” is a major problem. It’s true that renewable energy alone can’t stop global warming, but anyone arguing that renewable energy is pointless because it can’t stop the problem alone is missing the point. Renewable energy is one of the most important solutions to global warming and should be pursued as strongly and quickly as possible if we want to have any hope of stopping catastrophic climate change.

10. A 70–100% renewable electricity grid is possible and even cost-competitive to build.

Several studies examining the question in different ways have concluded that transforming electricity grids to 70–100% renewable energy is practical and could even save society money (without even taking externalities related to health and global warming into account).

11. It wouldn’t take a lot of land to get 40% of our electricity from solar panels.

Article being drafted. (Chime in if you want to help out.)

12. Renewables are being installed not just because of subsidies.

Article being drafted. (Chime in if you want to help out.)

13. Renewables is much faster to install and more scalable than nuclear power.

Renewables can grow fast because they can be installed practically everywhere rapidly and simultaneously. Renewable capacity in the magnitude of 1 TW can in principle be added every year. Germany installed 3 GW of PV in one single month in December 2011. Germany has roughly 1% of the world’s population. So, if the entire world installs only 20% the amount of PV that Germany did 5 years ago, it would be at 720 GW per year. At a single utility-scale-PV plant, 120 MWp per month was installed. If only 10% of all cities worldwide installed utility-scale-solar at this scale at the same time, it would lead to approximately the same number just for utility-scale-solar (the world has 4,412 cities with a population of at least 150,000). In fact, if the world only installs one PV module per person per year, this already leads to 1,850 GW per year. Nuclear power plants, meanwhile, take several years to build — and are much more expensive.

14. Renewable energy is made from available resources. Its domination does not depend on scarce elements.

As opposed to nuclear, which uses a scarce element even as fuel, renewables don’t depend on scarce elements. Over 90% of the PV market is silicon based, and silicon-based PV doesn’t depend on scarce elements. In fact, silicon is the second most common element in the earth’s crust.

Even the cost of silver has little influence on manufacturing costs and, if necessary, silver can be replaced with more abundant metals such as copper.

While some wind turbine manufacturers with direct-drive turbines use permanent magnets containing “rare earth metals,” they don’t depend on them (and it wouldn’t be a problem if they did anyway). For example, Enercon does build direct drive turbines without using any rare earths. According to the largest wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas: The contribution of rare earth elements used in the turbine generator magnets, and also in the magnets used in the tower, make a negligible contribution to total resource depletion, contributing below 0.1% of total lifecycle impacts.

Besides, rare earth metals are neither rare, nor earths, and permanent magnets can be made without using rare earths.

15. Renewable energy doesn’t get more in subsidies than fossil and nuclear sources have gotten, and continue to get.

Fossil fuels and nuclear have received and are still receiving far more subsidies than renewables. In addition, they don’t pay for their externalized costs, which are massive forms of subsidy that society provides to fossil fuel and nuclear companies. There are so many useful articles on this topic that we didn’t choose to link just one. Here’s a list of articles to choose from:

  1. Energy Subsidies: Fossil Fuels vs Renewable Energy
  2. Oil Subsidies & Natural Gas Subsidies — Subsidies For The Big Boys (Not For Society)
  3. The Myth About Renewable Energy Subsidies
  4. Subsidies For Renewables vs. Coal & Nuclear Subsidies In Germany (Graphs)
  5. IMF Survey : Counting the Cost of Energy Subsidies
  6. $5.3 Trillion A Year In Fossil Fuel Subsidies Is Idiotic
  7. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Cost $5 Trillion Annually and Worsen Pollution
  8. Full Cost of Coal $500 Billion/Year in USA, Harvard Study Finds
  9. Early Fossil Fuel & Nuclear Energy Subsidies Crush Early Renewable Energy Subsidies
  10. Oil & Gas — Over 13 Times More in Historical Subsidies than Clean Energy

16The ERoEI of wind and solar is actually quite good.

Actually, solar energy has superb energy return on energy investment (ERoEI) — 1 to 4 years, according to the US National Renewable Energy Lab, or 1 to 2.5 years in Europe, according to the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.

17. We don’t need huge advances in energy storage to switch to renewable energy.

The world already has large hydro storage and methane (power-to-gas) storage resources, and the electrification of the hot water, heating, and transportation sectors provides significant demand response flexibility. Besides, heat energy can be stored inexpensively and curtailing renewables is inexpensive and doesn’t even waste brake pads. Even if storage was entirely missing, it wouldn’t be needed until a high renewable electricity share is reached. According to VDE, Germany requires 7 TWh of storage at 80% renewable share. (And a 100% renewable share is only reasonable once the entire heating and hot water sector is electrified). For comparison: Tiny Switzerland already has 8.8 TWh of storage and Norway has even 84 TWh of storage. Germany has been trading electricity with Switzerland since 1958.

18. Renewable energy has many benefits for people, the economy, & the environment.

Renewable energy has historically been seen as an alternative to burning fossil fuels like coal and petroleum products for consumable energy. However, we have come to learn that far more than the core reasons for pursuing renewable energy, there are plenty of other benefits of clean, renewable energy. It has become increasingly clear that renewable energy is just better than fossil fuels — for people and the environment.


Solar Energy

1. Solar panels aren’t free or even cheap, but they can still save you a ton of money.

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).

2. We don’t need solar power breakthroughs.

Solar power prices are already low (see above) and are projected to get much lower in the coming decades simply through incremental improvements. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance solar analysis team projects that the cost of solar panels will fall from 62¢/watt at the end of 2015 to 21¢/watt in 2040 “by incremental improvements in crystalline silicon technology (thinner wafers, better-shaped busbars, better AR coating, more targeted doping, better contact technology).” No other option for electricity is projected to be competitive with solar by that time, and that is without any “breakthroughs” in solar technology.

3. Solar panels definitely don’t take more energy to manufacturer than they produce.

Article being drafted. (Chime in if you want to help out.)

4. Solar works well far beyond deserts and sunny climates.

Article being drafted. (Chime in if you want to help out.)

5. Solar panels do work on cloudy days.

Solar panels do produce electricity in cloudy weather. They don’t produce as much electricity as they do on sunny days, but they have been shown to produce 25% of what they produce on a sunny day, or 10% when it’s very cloudy.

6. Solar Cars Are Far From Mainstream. OTOH, Solar-Powered Cars Are Normal, Common, Becoming Popular.

Many of us who are interested in electric vehicles and solar power have probably wondered if this form of clean electricity could be integrated into an EV somehow. In fact, for some years now, there have been a number of solar-powered car races conducted. However, these vehicles, though impressive in their engineering and abilities, do not meet consumer expectations for speed, comfort, safety, passenger capacity, and storage space.

A more practical approach is to put solar panels on your roof or carport and charge your car there. The good news is, that’s what 28–42% of electric car drivers do, according to our research, or 32% according to more recent research. Collecting solar energy on stationary roofs and using that electricity to charge competitive electric cars makes a lot of sense, so let’s hope a lot more people go that route in the coming years … er, months … er, days.


Wind Energy

1. Wind intermittency isn’t a big deal.

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.

2. Wind works well in many, many locations.

Wind power resources in America (and elsewhere) are abundant & underdeveloped. There is a tremendous amount of potential to develop wind power in every state, and wind is often now the cheapest source for new electricity generation — and even becoming cheaper than existing power plants.

3. Wind Turbines & Birds – In Depth

Fossil fuel and nuclear power plants actually cause more bird deaths than wind power. They also threaten the very ecosystems bird species rely on. Furthermore, bird deaths from wind turbines have dropped considerably (per kWh) as the technology has matured, and annual bird death totals from cats, windows, and vehicles each dwarf annual bird death totals from wind power. Also check out:


Electric Vehicles

1. Electric cars are greener. Even today, well-to-wheel electric car emissions are about half that of gasoline cars, and that’s assuming the drivers don’t have rooftop solar.

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 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.

2. How much land would it take to produce enough electricity to power EVs (powering all of them with wind energy)?

In actuality, not a lot of land area is needed for the extra electricity generation that would be required if all of our cars were EVs. And that doesn’t even account for the land you would regain from oil/gas-related activities.

3. Electric cars work fine in winter.

Electric cars do work in the cold. Their driving range decreases in the cold, as is the case for all cars — because physics. However, they still function fine, and you can also preheat many of them.

4. Yes, Tesla vehicles work fine — very well, actually — in snow.

Due to excellent traction control and all-wheel drive options, Tesla vehicles work superbly in the snow. Actually, a Tesla Model X has been filmed towing a semi truck out of the snow in a rough winter spot.

5. Electric cars ≠ shift from oil to coal. Electric cars mostly run on electricity from renewable energy or natural gas.

Electric cars in the United States mostly run on electricity generated from renewable energy or natural gas. Additionally, 28–42% of electric car drivers in the US and Europe have home solar power.

Few grids are dominated by coal electricity at this point, and coal is on the downtrend in markets around the world. Coal has seen a monumental collapse in the USA, and now accounts for only 28% of electricity production. 0% of new electricity capacity in the USA in the first half of 2016 came from coal, while electricity production from the polluting energy source dropped by 15 GWh. In 2015 as well, 0% of new US electricity capacity came from coal. Aside from grid electricity, many electric car drivers decide to go solar.

6. Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars are NOT better than battery-electric cars.

Definitely not.

7. Even with current electric cars, 87% of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by a low-cost electric car even if there is no possibility of recharging it during the day.

A study by MIT and the Santa Fe Institute published in the journal Nature Energy on August 15 found that electric car range anxiety is overstated in most cases. The study analyzed the driving habits of drivers on a second-by-second basis. It concluded that 87% of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by a low-cost electric car even if there is no possibility of recharging it during the day.

8. Electric cars often actually save owners a great deal of time.

Electric cars are actually more convenient for many or most people because you can charge at home, at work, at the shop, or at other common destinations while doing other things. It just takes a few seconds to plug in or unplug.

You don’t need to go out of your way to a gas station, possibly wait in lines, fill up, pay, get back in the car, and get back on your path.

You also don’t have to go in for oil changes, smog checks, for muffler replaces, for belt and hose replacements, and for other maintenance that simple electric drivetrains don’t require.

9. Cobalt supply will ramp up to match demand. It’s not a problem for the EV revolution, or Tesla.

Cobalt has never been in very high demand, not compared to the demand that has risen for the element as battery-reliant consumer electronics and especially electric vehicles have become popular. Cobalt demand and production has spiked, which has some people claiming there will be a major and maybe even indefinite supply crunch, an existential crisis for the industry even. Independent experts disagree, and there are various solutions to a supply crunch on the table now anyway.

10. Solar-powered cars don’t make much sense for basic reasons. But powering electric cars from rooftop solar power makes a ton of sense and is very common.

One problem with putting solar cells on cars is that there simply isn’t enough surface area. A small collection of solar cells can’t generate nearly enough electricity to function as a primary source.

Aside from simple limitations in efficiency and cost of solar panels, remember that cars often park in the shade, are often shaded by buildings even when they are outside. Also, they can rather easily get into accidents — which could mean the destruction of highly valuable solar technology.

A more practical approach is to put solar panels on your roof or carport and charge your car there. The good news is, that’s what 28–42% of electric car drivers do, according to our research, or 32% according to more recent research. Collecting solar energy on stationary roofs and using that electricity to charge competitive electric cars makes a lot of sense, so let’s hope a lot more people go that route in the coming years … er, months … er, days.


Global Warming & Climate Change

For climate topics, we highly recommend this Skeptical Science page. However, we are dealing with some of the common claims repeatedly as well and may also create a list for these topics.


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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, 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.



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