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Myths and facts about renewable energy

Test your knowledge of renewable energy.

There are many widely held misconceptions about solar energy and wind power. Each of these statements is commonly believed. Some are true, some false – but which ones?

Solar energy

Very few Australian homes use solar power.

FALSE. At the end of 2013, at least one million homes had solar power – and that number has been steadily increasing(1).

Solar power is cheap.

TRUE. In its 2012 Australian Energy Technology fAssessment, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics estimated that solar power would be among the cheapest of all energy sources by the end of the decade(1).

Solar panels are an expensive way to cut carbon emissions.

FALSE. Cutting emissions and creating long-term cost savings are just two of the advantages of solar power.

Solar energy can only ever make a small contribution to our energy needs.

FALSE. Solar power already makes a significant contribution – and it’s just getting started. The US Energy Information Agency predicts that global energy demands will rise 53 per cent from 2008 to 2035. Conventional energy costs will increase over the same period, putting unprecedented strain on electrical grids. This makes investing in solar technology a wise decision for anyone wanting to lock in low rates for the next 25-plus years(5).

Solar panels are increasingly affordable and save households money in the long run.

TRUE. The cost of producing and installing solar power systems has fallen dramatically over recent years, and continues to fall. Today’s rooftop solar panels are more than 500 times cheaper to produce than the first solar cells of the mid-1950s and costs are still coming down. Four years ago a solar power system could cost as much as a small car; now it costs about the same as a big TV(4).

Solar power is not practical in urban areas

FALSE. Solar powered lights eliminate the need to trench underground. Solar water heating is usually an economical replacement for electric heaters in any urban setting.

Australia leads the world in the use of solar power.

FALSE. If only. We don’t even rate in the top ten. Germany, a place not renowned for sunshine, is top of the chart(2). Even on a per capita basis, Australia only scrapes into eighth place on some charts(3), but Germany is still on top, followed by a slew of its European neighbours.

Solar panels do not work in cold, cloudy places.

FALSE. UV light is all that’s needed.

Solar power is only for the wealthy.

FALSE. More people on lower incomes, who are feeling the pain of rising electricity prices, have installed solar technology than residents of affluent, inner-city suburbs(1).

Solar panels require constant maintenance.

FALSE. They rarely require maintenance or cleaning.

Solar systems are ugly, large and bulky.

FALSE. Now systems have become virtually seamless, with solar shingles designed to integrate with conventional roofing materials in appearance.

Household solar technology is helping reduce our overall demand for energy.

TRUE. In mid-2012, the Australian Energy Market Operator revised its annual forecast for energy demand down by five per cent, driven partly by the increased uptake of rooftop solar power(4).

Solar systems cause expensive grid upgrades.

FALSE. The need for grid upgrades is driven by rising peak demand and insufficient investment in the electricity network over the past 20 years(1).

Solar energy is Australia’s largest energy source.

TRUE. The amount of solar energy that falls on Australia is about 15,000 times the nation’s energy use. But Germany leads the world in its use of solar energy.

Sources

  1. The Clean Energy Council
  2. Energy Informative - the homeowner's guide to solar panel
  3. Clean Technica
  4. Solar Citizens
  5. Planetsave

 

Wind farms

Wind farms reduce the amount of fossil fuel being used.

TRUE. As wind is a renewable energy source, every megawatt hour of electricity produced by wind energy reduces fossil fuel usage and saves up to one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions(1). However, the actual emission reduction depends on the energy mix from various sources in the electricity network at a given time.

Wind farms generate noise.

TRUE. As with most mechanical plant, wind turbines produce noise, but modern designs have reduced the level of noise. New South Wales has processes in place during development approval to ensure wind farms comply with noise limits(1).

Wind turbines use more energy to make than they can deliver.

FALSE. The energy used to make wind turbines is quickly recovered by the amount of energy they generate. Wind farms generate more energy than used in construction in about three to seven months(3).

Wind farms are unreliable.

FALSE. Wind farms are a proven and reliable provider of energy.

Australia's wind-power output is negligible.

FALSE. In 2012, Australia's wind farms produced more than 6113GWh of electricity, enough to power the equivalent of around one million Australian homes. Wind power now supplies 3.4 per cent of Australia's overall electricity needs(1).f

Most people want wind farms.

TRUE. In 2010, a NSW Government report showed that 85 per cent of those polled were in favour of wind farms(1).  A 2006 poll by AC Nielsen reported 77 per cent of Australians think we should have more wind farms.

Wind farms are expensive and require government subsidies.

FALSE. Wind turbines are proven technology and increasingly cost-effective providers of energy(4).

Wind farms pose a threat to birds.

FALSE. Monitoring has found that no rare, threatened or endangered birds or bats have been killed by wind turbines(1. 4).

Wind farms scare livestock.

FALSE. Wind farms do not have any noticeable effect on stock or crops(1).

Wind farms reduce property values.

FALSE. The most comprehensive Australian study of land values found no impact on rural and township properties, and no clear relationship between the siting of wind farms and the value of ‘lifestyle properties’, such as hobby farms and holiday homes(1).

Wind farms attract lightning.

FALSE. As with any tall structures built to the required safety standards, the risk posed by lightning is very low(4).

Noise and vibrations from wind farms make people sick.

FALSE. There is currently no peer reviewed scientific evidence to substantiate claims that wind farm noise and vibrations adversely affect people’s health(5). The noise from wind farms is not significantly different from other sources of noise in our day-to-day environment. Specific noise characteristics are included in the planning assessments of wind farms in New South Wales(1).

Wind turbines create significant shadow flicker on nearby residences.

FALSE. Shadow flicker can be managed by appropriate location and operation of wind turbines(1).

Wind turbines aren't very efficient.

FALSE. Large wind turbines convert wind into energy more efficiently than coal and most gas plants in New South Wales(2).

Wind power threatens the reliability and security of the electricity network because wind is an intermittent energy source.

FALSE. Wind power is being successfully integrated into the electricity grid and market in Australia, and the National Electricity Market is well positioned to absorb future growth in wind farms(1).

Wind turbines do not produce power at peak times of high demand.

FALSE. Output from a group of wind farms is similar across peak and non-peak periods(1).

Wind power does not reduce carbon femissions because it is an intermittent power source that requires conventional coal or gas plants to be running as a back-up.

FALSE. Every megawatt-hour of electricity produced by wind farms reduces carbonf emissions However, the scale of reduction can depend upon the energy mix in the network at a particular time.

Wind farms cannot generate large-scale energy.

FALSE. Wind power appears to be the best currently available renewable energy technology for providing large-scale additional electricity generation in Australia and appears certain to play a large role in any global and Australian effort to effectively tackle climate change(1).

New South Wales does not have good wind resources.

FALSE. New South Wales has a large range of potential sites with excellent wind speeds – generally better than European wind farms(1).

Obsolete wind farms will be a blot on the landscape.

FALSE. At the end of a turbine’s working life, it can either be replaced or the area can be restored at comparatively low financial and environmental costs(1). While some people like the appearance of wind farms, others strongly dislike them, but research suggests that those who dislike wind farms are a small minority.

Wind turbine blades are likely to become dislodged and be thrown off during very high winds.

FALSE. Wind turbines are manufactured to withstand very high winds over prolonged periods. The risk of individual blades, the entire rotor or the nacelle (generator casing) being blown off towers is extremely low.

Sources

  1. The wind energy fact sheet (PDF 374KB)
  2. Wind Energy Planning
  3. Mount Alexander Sustainability Group
  4. Future Energy
  5. National Health and Medical Research Council

 

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Page last updated: 10 December 2015