Renewable energy

Why renewable? | ‘Greens like [renewable energy] for various reasons: independence from fluctuating fuel prices, rural employment, sustainability, as well as low carbon emissions,’ (The Economist, ‘Renewable energy: bonfire of the subsidies’, 6th April 2013, p16). ‘Unlike hydrocarbons, renewable energy is potentially available almost anywhere,’ (The Economist Special Report, The geopolitics of Energy, March 17th 2018).

Cost‘Renewable-energy advocates talk of a “tipping-point” at which renewables become cheap enough to drive fossil fuels out of the electricity mix. To hear them talk about falling costs, you would think the world was almost there (see chart). Yet excluding hydropower, renewables still produce only 8% of the world’s electricity, and far less of the energy needed for heating, cooling and transport, which are harder to decarbonise,’ (The Economist Special Report, The geopolitics of Energy, March 17th 2018).

‘Despite falling costs, wind and solar still produce only 5.5% of the world’s electricity. Hydropower is a much more significant source of renewable energy, but its costs are rising, and investment is falling,’ (‘At what cost?’ The Economist July 15th 2017, p53).

Global investment in renewables2014 ‘Global investment in renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power, rose by a sixth in 2014, to $270 billion. This was partly because of subsidies in the rich world, such as America’s 30% federal tax credit for solar projects. Under a system known as “net metering”, consumers with small solar installations can sell surplus power to the grid at the same price as they pay for power flowing in,’ (‘Renewable energy: Not a toy–Plummeting prices are boosting renewables, even as subsidies fall,’ The Economist April 11th 2015, p56.).

Energy, power & the State

‘David Criekemans of the University of Antwerp points out that from the Industrial Revolution onwards, energy transitions such as that to coal and then to oil have changed the world. This latest one could have equally far-reaching effects. “The [nation] state and central power supply go hand in hand. They need one another,” he writes. He expects decentralisation of the energy supply to boost the power of regions in relation to central authorities. The beauty of the energy transition, enthusiasts believe, will be to give communities “super powers” over their energy, rather than turn countries into energy superpowers,’ (The Economist Special Report, The geopolitics of Energy, March 17th 2018).

‘A new book, “The Geopolitics of Renewables”, edited by Daniel Scholten of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, argues that the clearest losers [in the move to renewables] will be those blessed with ample fossil-fuel reserves and those who bet on oil for too long without reforming their economies. The book also notes that, whereas in the traditional energy system the main constraint is scarcity, with abundant renewables it is variability. This could be mitigated by cross-border energy trade, but that, too, could cause arguments,’ (The Economist Special Report, The geopolitics of Energy, March 17th 2018).

Renewable energy globally

California. | China. | Denmark. | European Union. | Germany. | South Australia. | Spain. | United Kingdom. | United States of America.

See also | Energy efficiency. | Nuclear power. | Solar power. | Wind power