While we champion cleantech and firmly believe in its potential to tackle the greatest challenges of our time, not everyone feels the same way. Critics point to perceived high implementation costs, technologies not being proven or uncertainty about performance when arguing against the sector.
However, many of these opinions are either no longer valid or never have been. We’ve decided to clear up some of the misconceptions you may have come across by debunking five common cleantech myths:
Cleantech myth #1: Cleantech only refers to renewable energy
The chances are high that when you first heard the term ‘cleantech’, your mind instantly turned to renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. Nevertheless, there’s much more to cleantech than renewables.
Cleantech refers to any ongoing efforts to combat climate change and improve environmental outcomes. While there are lots of clean technologies relating to energy production and storage, such as airborne wind energy, batteries or long-duration energy storage, there are countless others in other areas including water, transportation and waste.
At Life Size, our cleantech landscape spans everything from energy storage and generation, distributed energy and demand-side response to eMobility and the circular economy. Our longest-standing client is Biome Bioplastics, which produces bioplastics capable of challenging the dominance of traditional oil-based plastics.
Cleantech myth #2: Cleantech is only happening in the Nordics
Scandinavia is well known for being an environmentally conscious region. Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are amongst the top countries in the world when it comes to promoting clean technologies and using renewable energy. At the same time, the number of local cleantech-dedicated VCs has grown significantly over recent years. The Nordics are full of high-profile cleantech projects, far-reaching environmental legislation and climate-fighting consumer behaviour. The world’s most powerful fully-electric ferry is operating in Denmark, while Oslo’s first zero-emissions construction site is already in action after local authorities stipulated that all public buildings must be built with fossil-fuel-free construction machines.
However, cleantech is not just limited to the Nordics. In the Cleantech Group’s Global Cleantech 100 list for 2020, over half of the companies selected are based in North America, with the 63 companies raising nearly US$5 billion in investment at the time the list was announced. Major projects can also be found in most corners of the world. Already this year we’ve seen Thailand’s first fleet of fully-electric passenger ferries begin to hit the water, while plans were announced for the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, which will be the world’s biggest power station and also see green hydrogen exported from a remote desert in the Australian outback to Asia.
Cleantech myth #3: Clean technologies are too expensive
It’s true – clean technologies can be expensive. This is especially true for start-ups that need to prove their technology and potentially construct new factories with the latest systems and machinery. New technologies often require significant funding for research and development, while they typically have undeveloped supply chains which can increase costs further due to the need for more resources. In contrast, non-sustainable technologies such as single-use plastic and fossil-fuel-powered vehicles have established supply chains in place and require minimal resources for research and development.
What needs to be considered, however, is the bigger picture, with the broader introduction of cleantech being fundamental to avoiding catastrophic climate change. According to Morgan Stanley, climate-related disasters cost the world US$650 billion between 2016-2018. Looking towards the future, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that potential climate change-related costs could be as high as US$54 trillion and US$69 trillion in 2100 depending on whether global temperatures have risen by 1.5°C or 2°C respectively. As you can see, the long-term cost of sticking with polluting technologies that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming will be far, far greater than the initial costs of implementing clean technologies. This is even before other climate impacts that are difficult to put a financial value on, such as risk to human life or loss of biodiversity, are taken into account.
Cleantech myth #4: Renewables are unreliable and can’t power the whole world
There is a common misconception that renewables are unreliable. Supporters of fossil fuels highlight that renewable energy is subject to peaks and troughs in power generation availability depending on weather conditions. If the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, then solar and wind power will be limited. While there is some truth to this stance, it is fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps the most critical argument against this argument is that not all renewables are subject to problems with intermittency. Certain types of renewable energy, such as geothermal or biomass, can produce electricity whenever needed. Secondly, the use of batteries to store electricity is growing exponentially, with large-scale battery storage systems likely to become more popular and prevalent in the coming years. Intermittency can also be further addressed by implementing smart grids, which produce power through renewable energy sources to supplement the energy within the grid. In smart grids, the energy generated from renewables is stored and distributed during times of peak demand, when power outages occur, or as a way of reducing the need for fossil fuels.
Furthermore, studies have already shown that we are capable of transitioning away entirely from fossil fuels and generating all the energy we need to power the world through 100% renewable energy. Last year, Finland’s LUT University and the Energy Watch Group completed a five-year study which simulated moving to 100% renewables by 2050 across all sectors. They found that such a sustainable energy system would not only be more efficient but also more cost-effective than our current energy system.
Cleantech myth #5: Electric vehicles produce more emissions than petrol and diesel-powered equivalents
Increased worldwide adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) will be critical to meeting global climate change targets. However, critics are quick to point out that, while EVs don’t produce any direct emissions, they run on electricity that is still mainly generated from fossil fuels in many parts of the world. Energy and resources are also required to manufacture EVs, particularly the batteries used in the vehicles.
Comparing EVs with traditional petrol and diesel-powered vehicles is challenging. Factors such as the size of the cars, the accuracy of fuel-economy estimates, how electricity emissions are calculated, assumed driving patterns and even the weather need to be taken into account.
However, various studies – such as from the International Council on Clean Transportation – have shown that EVs are responsible for considerably lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. Admittedly, the environmental benefits of owning an EV in countries that predominantly generate their electricity from fossil-fuels are smaller. However, as countries transition to renewable energy to meet climate targets, emissions associated with both driving and manufacturing an EV will fall. For example, emissions from electricity generation have fallen 38% in the last several years in the UK and are expected to drop by over 70% by the mid-to-late 2020s. This timeframe is well within the operational lifespan of EVs purchased today.