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Misconception: “Renewable energy just isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels”

Misconception: “Renewable energy just isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels”

Misconception: “Renewable energy just isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels”

Another common misconception that is holding back Alberta’s energy transition is the idea that renewable energy simply isn’t as efficient as fossil fuels. First of all, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, efficiency is “the ratio of the useful energy delivered by a dynamic system to the energy supplied to it.” In this context, efficiency is how much electricity is generated by a system compared to how much energy (oil, coal, solar energy, etc.) is supplied into it. Proponents of this idea believe that since fossil fuel electricity generation is generally more efficient, renewable energy just isn’t as feasible. While at first this idea sounds reasonable because one would want the most efficient system, it is actually flawed.

First of all, while the efficiency of both renewable and fossil fuel energy systems vary from system to system, some forms of renewable energy are actually more efficient than fossil fuels on average and others are only marginally less efficient. According to a report prepared by JEM Energy, a major international renewable energy company, hydroelectricity generation is 90% to 95% efficient on average. This is extremely efficient when compared to the average efficiency of coal and gas electricity generation in Alberta, which ranges from 23% to 38%. Other forms of renewable energy are less efficient than fossil fuels but are not as far behind as one might think. Silicon crystalline cells (the most common type of solar cells) are 27% efficient on average and wind power is 35% efficient on average. As well, it’s expected that the efficiency of renewable energy technologies will only continue to increase, given the rate at which the efficiency of these technologies has improved over the past decades.

Second of all and more importantly, efficiency isn’t as important with renewable power as it is with fossil fuels. Maintaining or improving the efficiency of a fossil fuel system is vital as those resources are limited and expensive but with renewable energy, the resources are free and practically unlimited. While maximizing the efficiency of a renewable energy system is still important as a horribly inefficient system uses up more land and materials, it is not as critical as with a fossil fuel system.

Ultimately, the idea that Alberta shouldn’t switch to renewable energy because it is less efficient than fossil fuels is a flawed one. While it is true that some kinds of renewable energy are less efficient than fossil fuels, they are only marginally less efficient and other kinds of renewable energy are in fact more efficient. More importantly however, ensuring the efficiency of a renewable energy system is not as important as it is with fossil fuels. Simply put, the efficiency (or inefficiency) of renewable energy is not a good reason to forgo the energy transition.

[Cover image taken from Pexels, a free photo stock website]

Misconception: "Renewable energy is unreliable"

Misconception: "Renewable energy is unreliable"

Misconception: “Renewable energy just can’t stand up to harsh Albertan winters”

Misconception: “Renewable energy just can’t stand up to harsh Albertan winters”