In the real world

Renewable energy technologies require support

Published: Sunday 31 July 2005

-- in june-end the United States Senate passed a somewhat "green" energy bill one drastically different from the version passed earlier by the House of Representatives. The Senate favours renewable and new sources of energy. The House had strongly backing fossil fuels. Thus, there is bound to be a confrontation between the two when the bill is finalised. In this context, it is pertinent to ask an old question: are renewables viable for meeting future energy needs?

Oil companies believe they are not. Exxon Mobil Europe has launched a public relations offensive on energy and the environment. Full page ads that end up telling the reader that new renewables are not viable at all. "New energy initiatives, however appealing they may sound, must also be practical, viable and economical-worldwide. However tough the issues, our answers must reflect the real world," reads the ad. In other words, all those wind farms may sound clean, but signify mere "wishful thinking". It is wishful thinking. But behind it lies a dream to rid the world of its dependence on fossil fuels. That is why the renewables initiative needs and deserves support. Till date, that's not really happening.

Every new form of energy has required initial support. Both coal and oil got huge support of various kinds: subsidies for research and development of technology, huge government investments in building infrastructure for these fuels and subsidising even the use of these fuels. That is why, in the real world, petroleum and other fossil fuels have become so pervasive. Even today governments continue to dole out apparent and hidden support to fossil fuels.

So we have a situation where a government is ready to invest billions of dollars of public money on building new pipelines, but unwilling to pledge even a fraction of that for promoting renewables. Experience has shown that renewables can deliver once they are given requisite initial support. Just look at the wind energy sector. Within the last two decades, concerted support for the sector in a few countries has meant costs have gone down, tremendously. Today one megawatt of wind energy costs the same, or less, than the amount required to install then a coal-based thermal power plant. And the best part is that there are no recurring fuel costs. Solar is expensive, but only because not much investment is going into it.

We cannot expect a new technology to compete with those around for more than 100 years unless it is nurtured. Energy policy around the world is highly skewed in favour of the fossil-fuels. What renewables get is mere lip service. This is the "real world".

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