Why is it so hard to get people to switch to renewable energy?

| 13th March 2018

Brian Lawson and Kenesaw Burwell work on panels that the Energy Department in the US.

Renewable energy at home - such as solar panels on the roof - can help save energy costs but also reduce a little our impact on the environment in terms of climate change. With such a win-win solution, why are we not all making the switch, asks EMILY FOLK

There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation and misconception regarding renewable energy.

Renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly more easily available every year. The clean energy revolution could not be timelier - with the effects of global climate change and our planet’s resource scarcity coming into full view.

Despite the confluence of these forces — green energy technology and a heightened public perception of climate change — the movement toward personal renewable energy sources has been sluggish. People are still wary of making the switch. Why is this?

There are a few primary obstacles consumers face when making the green transition. This article will explore a few of the most challenging ones.

Electric company

The assumption for many would-be green energy converts is that the initial price ceiling is high. If you have money saved, then investing in green energy and negating an electric bill would be an obvious next step.

But misinformation and shifting prices leave many people confused on exactly how much renewable energy costs, much less how it works. Many consumers fail to investigate properly and assume that installation and maintenance costs of green energy are far outside their budget. 

In reality, the prices of renewable energy are highly variable but rarely backbreaking. The basic package for personal solar panels, for instance, typically runs between $9,000 and $12,000 after tax credits, and covers both panels and installation. Though the return on investment may take years, the package cost is much less than many imagine. 

Studies have shown time and again that people remain concerned about the environment in the abstract but are not willing to personally modify their lives.

In the case of switching to renewable energy, the perceived shift is a large one: the electric company has to be called, the installation will take time, and then there's the aforementioned investment.

Solar gear

The ordinary fossil fuel system is streamlined and accessible enough that people don't want the inconvenience and uncertainty of switching. 

Today, however, the switch is significantly easier than most people think. If you want to save money by self-installing, it may take a bit longer.

Lucky for you, there are plenty of online resources which can smooth the entire process. Most converts opt for the assisted installation packages which cost more, but they also cut out the hassle of drilling through your roof.  

Solar is a highly modular system, meaning it can be customised or improved on the go. Starting with a small package of panels can be a good start for those unsure of their options, and can be added to as the prices of solar gear drop.

Likewise, changes to the roof of your house can be made without damage or hassle to the system in place. Changing from classic shingles to a metal roof allow for a more durable panel anchor, and can cut summer cooling costs by up to 20 percent as well.

Biggest culprit

Of course, this only refers to solar energy, and there are plenty of other clean energy solutions with varying degrees of difficulty for installation. Geothermal — better known as “heat pumps” for individual use — are nearly impossible to DIY, but also have a developed and cost-effective system for assisted installation. 

Wind turbines, like solar panels, depend on the size and ambition of the project. However, wind farms have begun sourcing their energy to far-off cities and individual residences, meaning very little has to be done on the part of the individual. Prices here are typically competitive with standard electricity costs.

Many of these conversion barriers are perception-based, which is no surprise. There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation and misconception regarding renewable energy.

While the two obstacles above are both rooted in misconception, the biggest culprit is that of reliability, a stigma that has stuck with clean energy since its popularisation.

You have solar panels strapped to your roof — so what happens when it rains? Obviously, during that period, there is no solar energy for the panels to absorb, and the meter will continue to run up.

Daunting task

However, even during periods of overcast skies, panels can operate — though tougher when not at full capacity — and the energy generated during the sunny days is enough to offset the cost.

As for wind, the power generated is often even more reliable than solar and sourced energy will remain as steady of a cost as standard electricity. 

However, the reliability fear cuts deeper than this. Stories continue to circulate from the early days of solar energy, including issues with electrical grids powered by clean energy.

Today, with the continued research and advancement in the field of renewable energy, grids powered in part or fully by renewable sources are typically as reliable as those using standard power generation. In fact, a 2017 Department of Energy in the US report confirmed clean energy as a reliable and safe source of power for American homes and businesses.

Making the switch to clean energy can be a daunting task, and there will inevitably be some lifestyle modification and monetary investment involved.

However, given the amount of misinformation floating around, anybody who is even marginally interested in switching to green energy should complete some research on the topic. You might be surprised at how easy and accessible the process truly is.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.