Discovery Channel has a rather curious show called Myth Busters. The show evaluates various myths — from MacGyver tricks to the Apollo 11 Moon landing — by staging them in a controlled setting. You may wonder why this may be relevant to renewable energy. The truth is, this entertainment show has more things in common with renewable energy than you think. The main goal of the show is to “bust” myths by proving them wrong. The same strategy can and should be used to increase popularity and public support of renewable energy initiatives.
It seems odd that under the ever-growing threat of global warming and other environmental disasters, some still oppose the industry’s attempt to shift toward clean, sustainable energy. Many people support renewable energy in theory but disapprove of it in reality. Why? It is likely that their knowledge about the industry is limited. As a result, we are often left with myths that are scary in nature but false in their essence. Granted that the renewable energy industry is rather ‘young’ and ‘controversial’, it is filled with such myths that instigate public opposition.
As Discovery Channel does in its show, renewable energy companies should work together to “bust” negative myths about the industry. Of course, the most common criticism of almost any form of renewable energy is the intermittency of its resources. Remarkably, the public usually seems to have few objections to the potential lack of continuous availability of solar or wind power. They appear to be more concerned with the technical and ecological issues that may arise when producing clean energy. Below are some of the most common misconceptions about the renewable energy industry that cause unnecessary tension and disapproval in the public eye.
Myth: Hydropower is not carbon-neutral
Some critics of hydropower claim that this source of energy is not, in fact, carbon-neutral. They claim that some hydropower dams create more greenhouse gases than a fossil fuel plant of the same size. If soil and vegetation are trapped in turbines, spillways and surfaces of a dam, they will decay and emit methane and carbon dioxide. In addition, they argue that to build a dam, nearby forests that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere are destroyed, thus further damaging the environment.
Bust: Methane emissions can be controlled
A proper public relations campaign should be implemented to clarify how and why methane is emitted as a result of hydropower production. The industry must make sure the public understands that while such emission is natural, it can be controlled and eliminated. With proper technology dams can be built to be ‘clean’, emitting very little or no methane at all. In addition, it is crucial to educate the public in hydropower facts; that it is a clean alternative to coal and has the potential to fully replace fossil fuel energy.
Myth: Technology for solar power is too expensive
Most people have a very vague understanding of what is involved in solar power production. The general assumption is that the technology necessary for harvesting such energy is extremely complicated and thus too expensive to be profitable.
Bust: Sunlight is free
Indeed, the construction and installation of solar power plants is a rather complex and costly venture. Extra costs may be inevitable granted the harsh environment of deserts where such plants are usually built. However, the public needs to understand that the technology of solar panels is rather simple and similar in principal to chemical batteries or standard electrical outlets. Most importantly, the “great” expenses of constructing a solar power plant is a one-time bill as the sunlight itself is free.
Myth: Geothermal energy releases toxic gasses from the earth
Most people who are not familiar with renewable energy fear the toxic gasses that may escape and contaminate the atmosphere as a result of geothermal drilling. They are also concerned with the dangerous elements such as arsenic and mercury contained in hot geothermal water that may be harmful if deposited in rivers.
Bust: Toxic gas release can be controlled and eliminated
Geothermal drilling does not inherently release toxic gasses. It only happens when poor techniques are used and safety precautions fail during drilling and extraction. Therefore, with proper regulations and technology, the threat of toxic gas release can be minimized or removed all together. In regards to potentially dangerous elements in the water, the public needs to decide for themselves whether living near a nuclear plant is a better option.
It is human nature to believe the negative over the positive. If you give the public two contradictory facts, chances are they will pay more attention to the scary and threatening one, even if it is false. Most do not fact check before forming an opinion which makes any public relations campaign that much more difficult. As a result, we are surrounded by myths that interfere with our lives.
If you are ever watching Discovery Channel and Myth Busters comes on, take a closer look. It may seem impractical, yet the methods that it uses to bust myths may prove to be useful in your next public relations campaign.
Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1996. He has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, power plant/wind farm projects, and housing/residential projects. Al received his BA in political science and a MA in American Studies from the University of Connecticut.