Currently showing: Sustainable energy

14 Oct 13 07:36

In an article published just this month on the prestigious ideas website, Project Syndicate, Professor Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School writes that green energy is way too expensive compared to fossil fuels and that, unless the price comes down, sustainable energy itself will become unsustainable.

Despite the gigantic sums of money invested every year in clean energy – according to Lomborg, the last 12 years have seen the world invest USD 1.6 trillion in renewables – the share of the world's energy output attributable to solar and wind power remains negligible.

Lomborg writes: "Since 1990, wind-generated power has grown 26% per year and solar a phenomenal 48%. But the growth has been from almost nothing to slightly more than almost nothing. In 1990, wind produced 0.0038% of the world’s energy; it is now producing 0.29%. Solar-electric power has gone from essentially zero to 0.04%".

So the impression I have is that we are squandering tax revenues on technologies that are having little or no impact on CO2 emissions. And my logic tells me, too, that if we're spending all this money on subsidies then the product in question is too expensive.

The solution, opines Lomborg, is to "innovate the price of renewables downward. We need a dramatic increase in funding for research and development to make the next generations of wind, solar, and biomass energy cheaper and more effective".

In my view, Bjorn Lomborg's article is a worthwhile read, not least because he challenges the conventional wisdom on how best to promote clean sources of energy.
What do you think?

The Decline of Renewable Energy by Bjørn Lomborg

Many today believe that renewable-energy technologies will enable us to end our addiction to fossil fuels soon. The facts say otherwise: unless and until we start investing far more heavily in gre...

Category: Sustainable energy


Rashunda Tramble - 21 Oct 2013, 4:12 p.m.

The argument is still out on this I believe, but what if the "peak oil" theory is true? Is it really about the return on investment when it comes to sustainable energy? Or is it about preparing for when (or if) fossil fuels are no more?

Oliver Werneyer - 28 Oct 2013, 10:43 a.m.

I am not surprised by the contents of this pots or the article. Fossil fuel technologies have been developed and perfected over the most part of the last 300 years. We are maybe 20 years into the renewable energy era.

The question is not really whether we should invest in renewable energy but rather why we started so late and why are we not investing more? Fossil fuels are in limited supply and we need an alternative for when they run out. On a sustainable basis that will be renewable energy. Renewable energy is not supposed to replace fossil fuels from one day to the next but rather help with the smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We cannot start 10 years before we realise the fossil fuels will be depleted. The renewable technology will not be efficient or developed enough to support the world. That is why we need to start/continue investing now, even if it is expensive.

Urs Bolt - 29 Oct 2013, 5:36 p.m.

I basically agree with Richard and Björn Lomborg.
Peak oil seems not to be the real issue anymore, at least media noise largely disappeared. More oil is discovered especially in the deep oceans and arctic, not to forget shale gas and oil. Coal is abundant. In the US alone there is enough coal for the next 200 years.
To decarbonise our economies and close the increasing energy demand we need to include all types of clean power including scalable nuclear energy.
Economics need to drive a shift away from fossil fuel. We need energy cheaper than fossil fuel. Robert Hargraves book "Thorium - energy cheaper than coal" is an eye opener in this respect. Many energy policies expect the society to become more energy efficient. This seems to happen but the consumers need more and more energy for an increasing array of appliances.
If we want to reduce poverty and allow the billions of people without sufficient energy to get the benefits of advanced civilisation, cheap and abundant energy is a precondition. Unfortunately current policies and economic reality do not consider these challenges.

Nick Schaefer, XNRG GmbH - 29 Nov 2013, 1:31 a.m.

Leaving out external costs is a fallacy no economics professor should ever commit.
Leaving out straight subsidies to polluting fuels is simply bad research.

The coal and petrol industry is heavily subsidised the world over.
In Europe, the EU energy commissioner Oettinger was just admonished by "Der Spiegel" because he retraoctively deleted the fossil and nuclear subsidy number from a report prepared by his department.
The EU subsidies for the bad energy sources at EUR 30 billion per year are higher than all incentive tariffs for renewables.

Which brings us to the external costs.
CO2 would need to be charged at EUR 500 to EUR 1000 per ton in order to create the desired, longterm sustainable output level.
Today, a minor part of CO2 production in the EU is charged with about EUR 5/tCO2.
When you sort out all the external cost numbers, it turns out that solar, hydro and wind power are by far cheaper than coal, gas and nuclear.

Jennifer Rodney - 29 Nov 2013, 9:40 a.m.

Hi Nick. Clearly price is a major factor for consumer choice. But how can the market overcome rampant and entrenched subsidization that unrealistically skews the cost of energy? I worry about the possibility of shifting towards more sustainable power when the fossil fuel industry has so much sway over the policy makers that establish/ perpetuate their financial advantages.

Bernd Wilke - 29 Nov 2013, 10:12 a.m.

Hi Jennifer,

it's unfortunately the case that any industry once it develops has a tendency to cling to its business model - because this is how they earn their money.

It's even true for renewable energy. Due to pressure from the solar industry many countries subsidized their local sunny industries directly or indirectly - even if the country was not even fit for solar.

From my point of view there are two simple solutions:

Either you tax CO2 globally so that external cost are finally internalized into the price of fossil fuels


you simply limit the allowed CO2 emssions over the years to zero.

In both cases consumers can then decide which clean power source they want to have in the future. The best clean technology will then most likely become popular.

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