There’s no wondering why our TVs are nightly inundated by ads from coal, oil and natural gas producers touting the clean, safe and responsible nature of fossil fuels. They are catching glimpses of their impending doom.
Investors are beginning to put more of their money into development of renewable energy sources than in continued use of long dead flora and fauna.
Investors last year bet $187 billion in favor of wind, sun and waves, against $157 billion for oil, coal and natural gas as the fuel of choice for world’s electricity generation needs. That marked the first time renewables had ever attracted more investment than fossil fuels.
Bloomberg, a well-respected source for business reporting, said the investment boom was spurred in part by subsidies by various governments. Without continued subsidies, private investment may fall off some, but there are indications last year’s peak is not a fluke. With or without government subsidies, renewable-source electricity generation has been experiencing significant advances.
It is true fossil fuels still provide the majority of fuel sources for electrical generation. Renewables account for about four percent of electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. But the IEA estimates that will increase to 14 percent by 2035, while fossil fuels drop from 75 percent today to 62 percent by 2035.
Coal and oil producers like to point out increasing world population, coupled with development of previously third-world nations, mean world energy requirements will increase. They also like to tell us coal, oil and, now, natural gas are inexpensive, clean, reliable – and the only game available. That, I submit, is because it’s the game they are selling.
Wind generation capacity continues to increase as wind turbine makers manufacture quieter and more efficient units, and find ways to answer environmentalists’ objections. Solar generation also has been increasing, much of it in site-specific installations such as residences, factories, and government office buildings, but research is continuing on ways to make large solar generators efficient enough they don’t have to cover three states to provide power for one.
And the competition between wind and solar industries appears to be driving down prices for both.
When U.S. car manufacturers were told to put seatbelts in passenger vehicles, they said it would add too much to the cost of the cars.
When they were told they must equip their cars with bumpers that would withstand a five mph collision in, say, a supermarket parking lot, thus saving tons of consumer repair cash and controlling insurance costs, GM, Ford, and Chrysler said it would add too much to the price of the cars.
Car manufacturers still tell us how many horsepower their top models can produce, targeting buyers with enough money they don’t care abut the price of gasoline. But increasingly those ad dollars are shifting aim toward buyers who, though not necessarily convinced global warming is a problem, are very concerned about how many miles they can get from $3 worth of fossil-based fuel. There are thousands of hybrid vehicles on the road, allowing their owners to go farther on each gallon of gasoline.
Add to the financial impetus a recent announcement by China of a new tariff to fight what it claims is U.S. carmakers’ dumping of subsidized, large-engine (larger than 2.5 liters), cars and SUVs.
With mileage the main concern, electric cars are having a little difficulty gaining market traction; they seem a little silly in a culture long used to powerful gasoline-powered transportation. On the other hand, there was a time when young men lusted after the Pontiac GTO, and laughed with derision at “Universal Japanese Automobiles.”
But electrics are gaining traction, indicated by upstart companies beginning to install electrical charging stations in hotels and office building parking garages. Clearly someone thinks electric cars are in our future, and big investors are beginning to send signals they think the electricity will come from sources other than coal and oil.
The next time someone says fossil fuels are the only way to go, remind them – the same thing once was said of horses.
Photo by jclor
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