Solutions myths

Background - 13 March, 2006
Questions about solutions answered, and some myths debunked. Do you have a question or a myth about climate change solutions that you want debunked, or something you're curious about?

Send it to us. Also see the Common myths FAQ and the General Greenpeace FAQ

Common questions and misconceptions about solutions to climate change:

Myth: Wind farms are ugly to look at

Well, we suppose it comes down to personal aesthetics - beauty being in the eye of the beholder and such.  Personally, we like the look of wind turbines.  But then, when we look at them we see a stable climate, living coral reefs, polar bears that haven't become extinct, glaciers that haven't melted, costal cities without flooding, and a source of energy that will safely power millions of peoples lives without ruining millions of others.

So if you think wind farms are ugly then maybe you just aren't looking close enough.

View over Dan Nan wind farm in Nan'ao, China.

Myth: Wind farms are too noisy

See above.  We think they are music to our ears.  Of course, in the early days of this pioneering technology, noise was an issue. However, these days, in reality you can't even really hear them at close distance.  From about 275 metres (900 ft) an operating wind farm makes roughly as much noise as a refrigerator.  In fact, you can stand right under a modern wind turbine and hold a conversation without even raising your voice.

Myth: The wind does not always blow, what then?

Actually, the wind always blows somewhere (particularly off shore and at heights), so this issue is largely irrelevant with a proper electrical grid to move power from one place to another.  Modern power grids already transmit electricity over hundreds of kilometres, and cope with significant fluctuations in both demand and supply.

Of course, it is also a good idea to have a mix of power solutions - including solar, bioenergy, and hydropower - to balance the strengths and weaknesses of each source against each other.

Myth: Solar power is simply too expensive

"Projections for 2020: Prices for grid connected PV systems Reduction to 2 euro per Wp" (Greenpeace report: Solar Generation II)

What does this mean?  Solar photovoltaic electricity can compete with conventional end consumer electricity prices within the decade. In sunny regions, this breakeven point could be reached even earlier.

The price of photovoltaic systems has fallen by an average of 5 percent per annum over the last 20 years, and it is expected that this rate of price decrease can be maintained in the future.  That's a considerable price drop, especially considering that energy costs from conventional fuel sources are expected to rise (due to fuel costs and more expensive modern power plants).

Furthermore, comparing bulk (power plant) rates is sometimes misleading. Roof top solar instillations, for example, supply energy directly to the home owner.  Therefore, it's more accurate to evaluate them in terms of costs to the consumer (retail energy prices as opposed to bulk).  And, as experience has shown, solar turns out to be a profitable investment for homeowners.

Finally, the true costs of fossil fuels are not included in price comparisons.  They include the very real economic costs of climate change, pollution, and government subsidies - which strongly favour coal, oil, gas and nuclear in many countries, like the US.

Taken together, it turns out that solar is more than competitive.

The PS10 Concentrating Solar Thermal Power Plant in southern Spain.

The 11 megawatt solar power tower produces electricity with 624 large movable mirrors called heliostats. The solar radiation, mirror design plant is capable of producing 23 GWh of electricity which is enough to supply power to a population of 10,000

The "clean coal" fiction

There is also no such thing as clean coal.  It is, in fact, the world's dirtiest fuel.  One example - a new "clean" coal plant created with federal subsidies in Jacksonville, US, will still spew 10 times as much smog-causing nitrogen oxide as a natural gas generator. It will also release twice as much carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change,  and considerable amounts of sulphur dioxide, an ingredient in smog and acid rain.

Obvious oxymorons aside, it is mad folly to replace one environmental disaster with another. Climate change will be stopped by increased energy efficiency, and a shift to renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass. It will not be solved by taking a step backward to the dirty and dangerous technologies of the last century.

Sellafield or Springfield?

Myth: Shouldn't we be building more nuclear power plants? Aren't they greenhouse gas free?

Really, we can't understand why anyone (outside of the nuclear industry) thinks this is a good idea.  Nuclear power is the most expensive and most dangerous means ever devised by humans to boil water.  Plus, it still has all of the same fundamental problems it did ten, twenty and thirty years ago (risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, the unsolved radioactive waste problem, plant safety problems, security issues, etc. etc.).  It's time to stop throwing good money after bad.

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