The problem with renewable energy

Types of hydropower plants that require a dam displace just as many riverside communities as a coal plant. Solar farms that need plenty of space  to catch as much sunlight as possible can take the land away from agricultural use. 

When operators drill holes deep into the earth to harness geothermal energy, they can inadvertently let out harmful or toxic gases. 

Using ethanol as an alternative to petroleum to power cars can drive up prices of corn or sugarcane, crops from which ethanol is derived. 

Open doors, open minds

So what am I saying? Do we shut the door against renewable energy? 

A resounding no. I remain a staunch advocate of renewable energy but an even stauncher advocate of refining the technology that remains our world's only chance of curbing climate change.

As with any monumental initiative, we must proceed with caution and extensively study the weaknesses of our innovations lest they come back to haunt us.

We need to make an unflinching appraisal of renewable energy in all its imperfections so that we have something to show skeptics who want to protect the dominance of fossil fuel energy, an industry which continues to fill the pockets of a few while the rest suffer. 

We cannot afford to be flippant about renewable energy. We don't have enough time. If it doesn't catch up soon with fossil fuel in terms of cost and reliability, there will be little to persuade the world to abandon fossil fuel combustion that is emitting greenhouse gases, and warming the planet in the process. 

A recent study showed that 63% of all historic carbon emissions comes from 90 fossil fuel companies, including Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and BP. 

If the earth warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius, scientists say the world is in for "catastrophic" climate change impacts – super typhoons, extreme droughts, monstrous storm surges, ice caps melting, and oceans acidifying.

The road to renewable

Renewable energy already lives up to many musical-sounding appraisals. It's clean because it has little or no waste products like carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases or chemical pollutants.

Renewable energy facilities are also easier to maintain, since they don't involve large equipment like the boilers, conveyor belts and combustion systems of fossil fuel plants.

And in the long run, renewable energy is cheaper because while fossil fuel plants need costly coal, oil or natural gas to run, renewable energy only needs what nature can provide abundantly and is free of charge.

So what if renewable energy can never generate as much electricity as coal, oil and natural gas?

Maybe what humans need is a lifestyle change instead of more energy. Maybe instead of making sure renewable energy powers us just as much as fossil fuels, we should adjust to the inherent limitations of renewable energy and do what we should've done long ago: consume less and live smart.

As the technology improves and prices go down, renewable energy already has one foot through the door. It's up to us to push it a little further. –

Pia Ranada is a Rappler multimedia reporter covering the environment and agriculture beats.

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at