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Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

Daniela Restrepo
Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy
Florida State University

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

Population growth is a catalyst for many social factors: an increase in people results in an
increase in demand for food, living areas, consumer goods, and most importantly, energy. For
this reason, world governments are always searching for different methods to meet this
constantly growing market. Of the many renewable energy sources being researched, solar
panels, wind mills, and hydroelectric power plants are among the most commonly heard of.
Public opinion delegates that sustainable energies such as these are thought to be more expensive
than non-renewable energy created through drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This
paper will explore the monetary value of these methods and ultimately challenge the
environmental costs that come as a result to evaluate which energy source is first, the most costeffective, secondly, the cleanest, and lastly, the most accessible/productive.
Considering variations in both weather and location, the sun is allotted a substantial
amount of time around the world and, for this reason alone, stands as a fairly efficient energy
source. Powering the planets ecosystems and organisms, researcher has succeeded in harnessing
solar energy and using it to power mans daily life. Constant advancements in the field have also
made it cheaper and more accessible to the common person. Solar panels have not found
widespread acceptance up to now due to the size, weight, and, for many potential customers, the
aesthetics and the cost of installation, which represents approximately half of the total cost
(Gaudiana, 2010, p. 1288), making it hard for the medium to reach a large scale of influence.
Even on a small scale, the costs cannot meet popular demand as the majority of households
would not be able to afford solar panels: according to the article from the website Energy
Informative, residential solar systems are typically sized from 3 to 8kW and end up costing
somewhere between $15,000 and $40,000. These high costs are associated with the low
production of materials needed to create the panels. A shift in consumer demand could, however,

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

lower these prices as overall production would increase, more distributors/companies would
arise, and the government would essentially be roped into backing this movement. A present-day
example of this would be the United States shift from artificial and preservative riddled food to
organic and farm-based products in recent years: companies meet the demands placed by the
consumer.
Wind power, on the other hand, could be considered less efficient simply because of the
location-based usage: countries and cities with wind currents powerful enough to produce
energy. Another criticism that may be made against the construction of windmills is the amount
of space and land necessary, as well as the question of the quantity of mills required to power
entire cities and whether or not it is possible to do so efficiently. There are many benefits,
however, that come from this renewable resource, specifically the fact that there is a lack of
negative ecological impact resulting (i.e. no run-off, use of drilling, release of natural gas). In his
studies, Ajayi (2014) displays the costs of windmill turbines placed in Nigeria through data
tables, ranging from 1,961,325 to 3,033,617.2 euros. Although these figures are subjective to the
area, the research concluded that wind power generation may be economically infeasible for
most of the sitesthe regions wind profiles and characteristics are suitable for wind power
generation (Ajayi, 2014, p. 8528-8530), making the numbers a considerably reliable basis for
the costs to be expected with this energy source. In areas that are geographically known for
substantial wind currents, the option to power small areas or cities is becoming a possibility.
Of the energy sources previously discussed, hydroelectric power may be the least
commonly discussed by the public in this day and age, regardless of the fact that it is one of the
most used renewable resources, has a rich and engrained history, and continues to maintain a
prevalent role in society. With minimal connections to affecting the ecosystem negatively, this

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

renewable energy source is not fairly questionable with regards to ecological impact, and has a
backing in the argument that it is cost effective: water is available at no cost to humans.
Moreover, the costs to produce and maintain hydroelectric power plants to power cities,
consequently, is not as cheap. In a study attempting to estimate the costs of these power plants,
Gunduz (2015) uses data collected from past projects to demonstrate these prices: Table 5 of the
report shows that costs varied between about $13.2 to $220 million in production and startup
fees. He argues, though, that hydroelectric power plants may have higher initial installed cost
per KW, but they are insensitive to the variation in fuel cost and have low maintenance costs
(Gunduz, 2015, p. 470), essentially a better alternative to other renewable resources and fossil
fuels in the long run for its ecological and financially sound basis.
On the other side of the spectrum, fossil fuels have been a main source of power for the
planet for many years. With this growing reliance, public consumption, and cost-efficient energy
production, doubled by the gaining prominence of fracking in the past decades, it is easy to see
why companies and government officials gravitate towards oil as a means of meeting public
demand for power: Natural gas use in power generation is expected to grow by 60% in the
United States over the next quarter century, largely at the expense of coal, although coal
production is still projected to increase globally (Jackson, 2014, p. 329). Companies are looking
to make a profit and increase production, without considering the implications of the populated
areas in which they are conducting such business. The research study by Kaiser on Drilling and
Completion Cost in the Louisiana Haynesville Shale, 20072012 states that in 2010, Encana
[Oil and Gas Company] spent $1,261 million and drilled 106 wells in the Haynesville for an
average cost of $11.9 million per well, a number that does not include the external effects on the
community which are both economic and social. When simply considering the increase in health-

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

related problems and negative environmental impact that follows fracking, those numbers only
increase exponentially: numerous complaints about noise and light pollution, and report[ed]
nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and other symptoms forty-three homeowners filed a lawsuit
against a drilling operator seeking $25 million in damages (Fry, 2015, p.101). That, in turn, puts
into question the idea that natural gas is a cheaper energy source to produce than renewables like
solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy sources.
The four energy sources previously discussed were all approached to evaluate the costs
required to maintain each and every one. It may be noted, nevertheless, that not all of them are
measured to the same scale. On one hand, solar panels and fracking were looked at by cost on the
smallest scale: household installation/application and well construction. Windmill efficiency was
related to the cost of powering an entire city, as were the hydroelectric power plants. To put these
numbers into perspective, I decided to scale upwards, average, and calculate the costs of solar
power and fossil fuels when applied to supplying power to a larger population (about that of a
city) with the numbers previously listed. After doing this, solar panels can end up costing about
$1.5 to $40 billion (assuming a city has a population of at least 100,000). Fracking for energy
costs about $1,261 million, which is also assuming that 106 wells constructed would power a
city. Windmills maintain a price of $2.1 to $3.2 million when converted from euros, and
hydroelectric power plants stay at a cost of $13.2 to $220 million. The latter two being the most
efficient, it can then be noted that the future of economically feasible energy sources might lie
in water and wind technology, both natural resources that are and have always been accessible to
the public.
In conclusion, advancements in research and technology have created a spectrum of
options when considering energy production and what sources of power are most ideal for

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

present-day society. Of the renewable resources to consider are solar, wind, and hydroelectric
energy. In regards to the non-renewable, fossil fuels are the most prominent, popular, and easy to
obtain. All four of these methods have positive as well as negative factors to be considered, some
outweighing others in certain aspects. Personally, I believe hydroelectric power is the most
productive, clean, accessible, and cost-effective. In terms of the plant, the common statistic that
Earth is 70% water comes to mind. This means that, regardless of any location, weather, time of
day, or other geographical circumstance, a country can rely on this source of power. The impact
on the environment is minimal in comparison to the other energy sources explored (pollution,
land devastation, health concerns, social disputes, etc.). In any case, a shift from all nonrenewable energy should be the focus ultimately. Respecting the planet, from the ground that we
walk on to the air that we breathe and the water that we drink, our daily lives and activities
cannot be measured in the short, but rather the long term.

Comparison on the Costs of Sustainable and Non-Renewable Energy

References
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doi:10.3390/en7128508
Fry, M., Briggle, A., & Kincaid, J. (2015). Fracking and environmental (in)justice in a texas
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Gaudiana, R. (2010). Third-generation photovoltaic technology - the potential for low-cost solar
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doi:10.1021/jz100290q
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