Citizen Action Monitor

As investment in renewables stall, rapid transition from fossil fuels put at risk 

One study estimated a tenfold investment in renewables required to go through the transition fast enough.

No 2181 Posted by fw, March 12, 2018

Ugo Bardi

“Just a few years ago, there was ground to be optimistic about the energy transition. Renewable energy production showed a robust growth and the same happened for investments. If the trend could have continued, renewables would have swamped away fossil fuels easily and seamlessly. Instead, something went wrong in 2012. The growth of investments stalled, it went up and down for a few years and, by now, it is clear that it has plateaued. Investments in renewable energy are not growing and we don’t know if they will ever restart growing. While it is true that the prices of renewable energy are going down, at these investment rates it is clear that we can’t go through the transition fast enough to comply with the Paris targets.”Ugo Bardi, Cassandra’s Legacy

Ugo’s blog deals with the decline of the availability of natural resources, climate change, ecosystem disruption and why all that is happening. The future may not look bright, but it is still possible to face it if we don’t discount the warnings of the modern Cassandras.

As an aside, could Ugo’s post on stalled investments in renewables become yet another fly in the ointment of prime minister Trudeau’s climate plan? When the PM signed the Paris climate treaty at the UN on April 22, 2016, he gave his word that Canada will harness the power of renewable energy as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How many more promises can the PM afford to break?

Below is a repost of Ugo’s short article, including my added subject headings and text highlighting. A heads up alert – the linked research papers that Ugo references are technical and probably beyond non-specialists. To read Ugo’s article on his blog, click on the following linked title.

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The View From Les Houches: Can We Move to Renewables Fast Enough? by Ugo Bardi, Cassandra’s Legacy, March 10, 2018

Les Houches, France, March 2018. At the School of Physics on the Energy Transition, Gregor Semieniuk of the University of London shows the updated trends in investments in renewable energy.

A few years ago renewable energy production was booming, and outlook for replacing fossil fuels was bright

Just a few years ago, there was ground to be optimistic about the energy transition. Renewable energy production showed a robust growth and the same happened for investments. If the trend could have continued, renewables would have swamped away fossil fuels easily and seamlessly.

In the 2012, investment in renewables slowed and now appears to have plateaued

Instead, something went wrong in 2012. The growth of investments stalled, it went up and down for a few years and, by now, it is clear that it has plateaued. Investments in renewable energy are not growing and we don’t know if they will ever restart growing.

Although cost of renewables have dropped, stalled investment will prevent meeting Paris targets

While it is true that the prices of renewable energy are going down, at these investment rates it is clear that we can’t go through the transition fast enough to comply with the Paris targets. Possibly, we won’t even be able to replace fossil fuels before they become too costly to produce.

Study by Bardi et al. concluded a ten-fold investment in renewables is needed to complete the transition from fossil fuels fast enough

This is the result that myself and my coworkers Csala and Sgouridis obtained two years ago [in our paper The sower’s way: quantifying the narrowing net-energy pathways to a global energy transition published in Environmental Research Letters, September 7, 2016.] According to our calculations, humankind would need to invest at least ten times as much, likely much more, in terms of energy to go through the transition fast enough.

Semieniuk’s March lecture confirmed investment rates in renewables won’t be sufficient without state funding 

In his talk, Gregor Semieniuk showed other estimates confirming that the investment rates in renewables are not sufficient for what we need to do. The gist of his presentation was that if governments don’t intervene, the transition will not happen fast enough. He showed several examples of past transitions which took place mainly because they were driven by the resources provided by the state. You can find the hugely interesting paper on these matters by Mazzucato and Semieniuk on Technological Forecasting and Social Change and also more material at this link: Public financing of innovation: new questions by Mariana Mazzucato, Gregor Semieniuk, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, February 7, 2017.

Free market investment in renewables has so far failed us

There remains the fundamental problem: how do we increase investments in renewable energy? Our faith in the free market is not helping us in this issue.

SEE ALSO

Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017, by Frankfurt School – UNEP Centre/BNEF — In 2016, the advance of renewable energy slowed in one respect, and sped up in another. Investment in renewables excluding large hydro fell by 23% to $241.6 billion, but the amount of new capacity installed increased from 127.5GW in 2015 to a record 138.5GW in 2016. … A major reason why installations increased even though dollars invested fell was a sharp reduction in capital costs for solar photovoltaics, onshore and offshore wind. On a less positive note, there were clear signs as 2016 went on of slowing activity in two key markets, China and Japan.

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