We’ve all paid a utility bill or purchased gasoline. Those numbers on our bills represent the direct cost of fossil fuels; money paid out of pocket for energy from coal, natural gas, and oil. But those expenses don’t reflect the total cost of fossil fuels to each of us individually, or collectively as a society.
Known as externalities, the hidden costs of fossil fuels aren’t even remotely represented in their market price, despite the serious impacts they inflict on our health and also our environment. Below are some of the most used fossil fuels, and reasons why we may want to scale back on using them:
Petroleum is the most popular form of fossil fuels, being used extensively in many industries including electricity generation. Unfortunately, the average worldwide rate of oil field depletion is also believed to be at about 2.5% per year, meaning that the environment and climate change aside, in the long term, alternative resources will still need to be sought after to replace petrol.
Climate change and the environment back on the table (as they should be), the burning of crude oil is harmful to the environment as it releases hazardous gases and fumes into our air, and it also puts us at a risk of oil spillages.
Coal is the most abundant non-renewable resource on earth. It provides about one-quarter of the total energy the world uses, and 40 percent of the electricity generated worldwide is powered by coal. Like other depleting sources of global energy, coal reserves are also on a steep decline. Moreover, coal is a greenhouse gas nightmare.
Bi-products of coal combustion aside, coal extraction also has very negative impacts on both the environment and those involved in the process of extraction. Coal mining can be a very dangerous, and sometimes fatal process. In addition to job site accidents, coal mining can lead to chronic health disorders. Black lung disease (pneumoconiosis) continues to be a common ailment among coal miners.
3. Natural Gas
Natural gas can be burned to produce electricity from power plants, and has residential, industrial, and commercial uses. It is also used for fuel in some vehicles. Burning natural gas releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. This being said, it’s important to note that natural gas is the lesser of the evils as it emits nearly 50% less greenhouse gases compared to coal and petroleum.
The construction and land disturbance required for oil and gas drilling can also alter land use and harm local ecosystems by causing erosion and fragmenting wildlife habitats and migration patterns. When oil and gas operators clear a site to build a well pad, pipelines, and access roads, the construction process can cause erosion of dirt, minerals, and other harmful pollutants into nearby streams. 2
Conclusion: The case for renewables has never been stronger
With a much lower impact on the environment, using renewable energy helps to protect our planet by significantly reducing the amount of carbon emissions that we produce. We are witnessing now, more than ever, three key enablers – (price and performance parity, grid integration and new technologies) that are building the case for solar and wind power to compete with “conventional” sources on price, while matching - if not beating - their performance.
Steeply declining cost curves have made solar and wind comparable or even cheaper than conventional generation technologies across the top global markets, even without subsidies. Increasingly affordable storage options are also making renewables more dispatchable — once an advantage of non-renewable sources.
The rise of technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and 3-D printing of panels is also accelerating the deployment of renewables, and supporting grid integration and performance parity trends to further decrease costs and facilitate integration.
Smart renewable cities, communities, emerging markets and corporations are also increasingly driving the demand for renewables, as costs continue to fall and accessibility increases, the Deloitte report finds.
By using renewable energy sources, we also reduce our dependence on fossil fuel gas and oil reserves, which means that we can avoid the rising cost of energy bills and improve our energy security. In order to preserve our planet, our wallets and our energy sources we all need to be involved in switching to renewable energy sources and making or homes more energy efficient.
Join us in the quest for self-sufficient households, businesses and communities.