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True Cost of Renewable Energy


During this time of coronavirus, people at home read interesting articles that shed light on the industries that you never knew were going on until you knew about it. You may have heard or read before that renewable energy is an expensive source of energy that needs government subsidies to compete with traditional sources of energy. Traditional sources of energy such as oil and coal have shown to be cheaper at times than renewable energy generated power, but there is a side of the story that is missing when analyzing the cost of renewable vs non-renewable power. When we purchase gas or pay a utility bill, that is the direct cost to the consumer, however there is a hidden cost of these traditional sources of energy that is not represented in the direct cost. In this article we want you, as consumers of energy, to know what the true cost of renewable energy really is. 

NYC Renewable Energy

These hidden costs that aren’t so obvious to the average everyday consumer are termed externalities and they must be understood in order to fairly compare the true cost of renewable energy vs fossil fuels. The reason why the impacts of the externalities of traditional sources of energy aren’t made so obvious to the everyday consumer of energy is because these effects take long periods of time before they emerge and begin to impact people’s lives and alter one must live on a daily basis. 


Let’s use coal as an example of a traditional source of energy. Similar to how oil is formed, dead plant matter accumulates at the bottom of swamps on the Earth's surface and over time, layers of water, rock and sand build up above the layers of dead plants. The heat and pressure this creates reduces the oxygen content of the plant matter, leaving rich hydrocarbon deposits that turned into coal.  If it comes from dead plant matter, why isn't coal a good choice of energy source? Out of all the fossil fuels, coal produces the highest level of carbon, meaning it produces significantly higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from energy use which does not help our planet. When burnt, coal produces significant amounts of pollution and gas emissions, including sulphate and nitrogen that can cause haze, smog and contaminate waterways even create acidic rain. Coal also naturally contains mercury which ends up in the tissues of animals and fish - which are harmful to consume in all aspects of the ecosystem.


It is difficult to assign a specific dollar amount to each externalities that burning fossil fuels brings to the environment such as the health impact on a community and the costs associated with cleaning and keeping  the environment safe. Several common examples of health impacts that can be costly due to fossil fuels are cancer, asthma and pulmonary disorders. A few examples of costly environmental impacts are air pollution, sea level increases, land degradation and oil spills. With these examples in mind, consumers should aim to switch over to a more sustainable source of energy that brings less harm to our health and to the communities. Due to these factors, the true cost of renewable energy opposed to fossil fuels is actually cheaper than what one might think. 


The biggest reason why people support renewables is because of the positive environmental impact it has in communities and the environment. Skeptics have claimed that solar can cause higher levels of cancer through radiation and cancer related effects, however studies have shown no supporting evidence to back up claims about solar energy increasing the risk of cancer of neighboring residents. A few threats that solar and wind renewables may pose for communities are the risk of bird species coming into contact with wind turbines and the solar glare that could pose as a distraction for neighbors and airports. Every New York solar and wind project must go through an extensive environmental assessment study and at times, FAA approval to prevent any dangerous threats to any nearby airports or communities. Renewable sources of energy have a significant advantage over traditional sources of energy when comparing the externalities that contribute to the total or true cost of an energy source. The absence of an environmental disaster or threat drops the overall cost and increases the attractiveness of renewable energy towards consumers and investors. 


You may wonder though, how is the market price for renewable sources still more expensive than traditional sources? This is where our government steps in place and provides subsidies to help level the cost of renewables in order to incentivize clean energy for a cleaner and greener future. As the renewable energy industry creates more advanced technology with better materials that can produce energy greater efficiency outputs, the need for subsidies from the government will be less needed and renewable energy costs will drop over time.

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