Renewables in general have been tauted by many as being unreliable; with solar and wind
bearing most of the brunt. Nevertheless, the two are progressively becoming mainstays in
serving the energy needs of an ever-dynamic world. Are the myths true? Let’s dig in!

What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is radiation derived from the sun. It is harnessed to produce heat or generate
electricity by the use of technology. Solar is inexhaustible and has a non-polluting nature.

What is Wind Energy?
Wind energy is derived by harnessing power from the wind using technology. It can be used
to generate electricity / for mechanical power. Because supplies are from the wind, it is
inexhaustible and has a non-polluting nature as well.

Solar, Energy Efficiency

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As noticed, and in line with other renewables, the two energy forms are both clean and sustainable long term. This lies in sharp contrast with coal, natural gas, petroleum, etc which are finite, polluting in nature and averse to sustainability.

There have always been skeptics of renewables, especially the two above. Such skepticism however, is increasingly coming in at a time where the world seeks to transition from the use of fossil fuels. This to a great extent is contributing extensively to the snail-paced distribution and adoption of technologies used in harnessing them.

Some common misconceptions / myths are as follows:

 *Renewables / Solar and Wind are unreliable

*They cannot provide baseload energy.

*Power systems are only reliable when centralized

 Now let’s demystify:

 *Renewables / Solar and Wind are unreliable.

“One of the most common fallacies about renewable energy is that, it cannot be relied upon to satisfy our electricity demand given that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow. Cost- effective energy storage technologies, new generation batteries for example, are often mistakenly portrayed as the Holy Grail; sought by many, found by none.

This argument is not only incorrect, it misses the point entirely. Reliability is not a function of individual generation technologies, but a function of the electricity system as a whole. It is important to remember that “renewable energy” is not a single energy source, but roughly speaking six: solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro, and ocean. Of these, only wind and solar are “variable;” the rest are capable of being dialled up or down when needed – “dispatchable” in industry parlance.

There are many ways of managing variable electricity technologies within the broader mix. This is hardly surprising given that grid operators have been dealing with variability since the birth of electricity distribution over one hundred years ago, for the simple reason that demand always varies.

*They cannot provide baseload energy.

A second fallacy assumes that, utility models favouring a steady “baseload” of electricity from nuclear and fossil fuels are the only way to ensure that when we flip the switch the lights come on. The fact is, nuclear and coal-fired power plants by definition provide baseload electricity because that is what they are designed to do; given the heavy upfront investment costs, these types of plants are designed to supply a lot of electricity, all the time, to ensure a decent return. In the case of nuclear power, they can only be turned on or off – you cannot have just a little nuclear power one day, and a lot the next. Moreover, when a nuclear plant goes down, the consequences are more dramatic than when a wind turbine goes off-line; blackouts and power failures occur.

Energy consumers do not need this massive baseload to be sure the lights will come on when we hit the switch. What we do need are power systems that can match supply and demand in a more concerted and flexible way. Flexibility is key.

*Power systems are only reliable when centralized

 A third fallacy is the assumption that, power systems must forever continue to rely on the century-old model whereby centralized utilities supply electricity to match demand from their passive consumers. Recent trends suggest the opposite will increasingly be the case. Renewables-based models allow individual households, communities and global companies to produce and manage their own electricity supply and demand, with the grid serving solely as back-up. “Smart” meters and appliances make this task all the easier. In future, having the ability to flexibly manage both supply and demand will create a system that utilizes the free resources provided by the sun and wind in the most effective way.

In some countries, the future is already here. Grid operators are managing shares of variable renewable energy that in some cases far exceed 20 per cent. Without relying on battery storage, renewables produced 38 per cent of Spain’s electricity from January to October this year. 41 per cent of Danish electricity demand was met with wind (roughly 39 per cent) and solar (2 per cent) last year, and expectations are that this number will rise to nearly 90% in the next nine years. Solar and wind produced 22% of the electricity in Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, during the first half of this year.” – as explained by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) at:

In conclusion, it is evident that the world has a fossil fuel addiction problem, with this problem often reinforced by the hope of energy security. It is however mind boggling that, despite fossil fuels being touted as a panacea for all energy woes, 750+ million people still lack access to electricity globally and energy poverty is rife after 150 years of use. This is specially critical of Africa and Asia.

Solar, Energy Efficiency

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If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance step must adapt – African proverb.

 The way forward?

Renewables are cheap, ubiquitous and mostly replenished in nature. The world’s energy needs and demands are being offered a sure path to sustainability and true energy independence.

This is power, and CER urges the world to take it!