3 common myths about renewable energy, debunked

3 renewable energy myths debunked

Climate change is impacting the daily lives of people everywhere. Changing weather patterns are leading to ever more regular catastrophes, like the drought disaster in Zimbabwe in April, and much closer to home, warnings of summer water shortages in the UK. 

With energy consumption accounting for almost 75 per cent of global emissions, we need to deploy renewables and invest in clean technologies – fast.

The pace of change is accelerating – global renewable capacity grew almost 25 per cent last year – but misinformation about renewable technologies remains widespread and persistent, slowing our progress to net zero emissions.

Here’s three of the most common myths about renewables that we see in our work with industry-leading developers, and the facts behind the fiction. 

Myth one: Renewable energy is bad for nature. 

One of the most persistent myths about renewable energy projects is that they negatively impact wildlife and biodiversity. This myth takes many forms; construction destroying natural habitats and decreasing biodiversity to birds and bats flying into operational wind turbines, many renewable projects experience delays due to misplaced fears around their being bad for nature.

The truth is that renewable energy developers have to follow stringent planning processes before any project is built, conducting biodiversity assessments and submitting short and long-term plans for nature. With the Local Authority planning guidance that they adhere to stating, ‘the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections’, the environment is a key consideration when making development decisions. Additionally, new Biodiversity Net Gain legislation means that developments will need to deliver at least a 10 per cent biodiversity uplift. 

Recent research from Solar UK shows that solar farms can play a vital role in supporting many declining species – they represent key opportunities for nature restoration. Developers that do things right will ensure this consideration is built into their planning, from start to finish, and even go beyond the 10 per cent threshold. 

Coming onto the wind turbine myths, while some birds do fly into them, a comprehensive two-year study completed by Vattenfall last year showed that seabirds are very adept at avoiding turbines: there were zero collisions during this time period. Additionally, new analysis of American bird population data shows that wind power is significantly less damaging to bird populations – and of course the planet – than oil and gas drilling.

Myth two: Renewable energy isn’t reliable because the weather isn’t reliable.  

The second myth is that, because the weather is so changeable, relying on renewable energy is more likely to lead to blackouts or make our grid less reliable. While renewable energy is reliant on changeable weather patterns, this doesn’t mean that renewables aren’t reliable. Solar and wind are the cheapest and most abundant forms of energy – and are not a finite resource like coal or gas – so the fact that the wind isn’t always blowing shouldn’t stop us from making the switch. 

We also have an excellent solution for times when the weather isn’t cooperating: battery storage. Big batteries and other storage solutions connected to the grid can store excess energy for still days, releasing clean power back to the grid when we need it. 

Myth three: Renewable energy is taking away good land that we need for food production.

Lastly, a particularly widespread and persistent myth surrounding renewable energy is focused on the space that it takes up, and the (valid) argument that good land should be used for food production. 

However, this supposed land conflict is less of an issue than people might think. The majority of renewable projects are currently built on moderate or poor quality agricultural land due to stringent planning guidelines. 

Additionally, recent research by the University of Exeter has shown that England could produce 13 times more renewable energy than it currently does using just 2.9 per cent of its ‘most suitable’ land – and that’s without factoring in offshore wind and rooftop solar. By comparison, golf courses currently cover 2 per cent of England’s total land. Notably, this research excludes national parks, higher-grade agricultural land, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and heritage sites. 

Renewable energy and food production also aren’t mutually exclusive. New technologies like agrivoltaics mean that the same land could be used for growing crops, grazing animals, and energy production. Some studies have even shown that co-location can improve the quality of sheep wool and certain crops, as well as boost energy production potential.

We need greater acceptance of renewables – and faster deployment – to achieve our net zero goals.

While the shift to renewables is accelerating, we need faster deployment to reach net zero. 

Since 2018, we’ve seen up to 5GW of clean energy projects opposed by local councils, despite most of them declaring a climate emergency. With persistent, widespread myths behind much of this opposition  at a local level, ensuring that facts prevail is essential for delivering a clean future. 

At Greenhouse, we work with many of the forward-thinking developers powering the UK towards a clean, green future, ensuring the right messages about renewable energy are reaching the right audiences across the UK – and beyond. 

Are you playing a vital role in getting renewables on the ground? Want support communicating your story?