There is no such thing as a free lunch – reality check

“There is no such thing as a free lunch” is often banded around in life and is generally pretty true. When it comes to sustainable energy technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles, the same rules apply. Solutions to sustainability problems often in themselves create other problems, especially in the effort and energy needed to manufacture the solutions. But do the negatives outweigh the positives?

Recently someone said to me “All that steel in wind turbines and support columns defeats their benefits”. Well, it is true that significant energy is used to manufacturer and construct the renewable energy capture equipment. This is called embedded carbon. But the truth from peer reviewed studies is that the first 64 days of operation of one large 3.4MW turbine generates the energy needed to manufacturer it. That is less than 1% of its lifetime.

Another recent viewpoint was that “The heavy weight of batteries of over a tonne and the steel and manufacturing mean that electric vehicles (EV) are not the answer”. Well, the weight and embedded carbon is for sure an issue. A conventional petrol vehicle has less embedded carbon than an EV; of 5.6 tonnes of CO2 versus 8.8 tonnes - true. But over the lifetime of the vehicle the total carbon is the important factor (24 versus 9 tonnes of CO2 when charged from renewable energy). That is over 60% less carbon impact by each EV car. Not forgetting the significant local air pollution improvements.

So we must seek the whole picture facts and attempt to debunk the hearsay and fake truths. There are no golden bullet solutions in this world, just lots of non-perfect solutions and changes that step in the right direction to help protect our planet for future generations.

For more information and peer reviewed literature that evidences these facts, see

Written by: Paul Street (Dorking Solar Group)



Supporting Resources:

Peer reviewed Ricardo Study results:

Manufacturing tonnesCO2

In use tCO2 (15k miles pa for 6 years )

Total over life tonnesCO2

Electric Vehicle (incl. batteries) charged with renewable electricity


0.5 *


Petrol conventional vehicle




Electric Vehicle (incl. batteries) charged with average grid electricity


12.5 **


‘*’ based on including the embedded carbon of wind turbine manufacture for the renewable energy used for EV charging.

‘**’ based on UK average electricity grid electricity carbon intensity of 305gCO2/kWh for 2017. As opposed to 500 in USA.

Many people say “but what about the batteries”. Well, most EVs have guaranteed battery lives of 10 years; and most manufacturers than have a refurbish and re-use cycle (for example Nissan will refurbish and then use for another 10 years as home energy storage systems). And as the EV industry evolves then so will the waste and recycling industry to handle the lithium and precious metals.

11 Nov 2018