A reader asked that I comment on this fairly euphoric piece, suggesting that the world economy can and will be revived with the aggressive adoption of electric transportation and photovoltaics. Here are a few bits and pieces of my reaction.
• There are quite a number of industry observers who share optimism associated with the economic impact of a huge investment in cleantech. As I wrote here, probably the most visible are Amory Lovins and Jeremy Rifkin, but there are plenty of others.
• For my money, the low-hanging fruit here is not actually renewable energy at all, but energy efficiency. Obviously, I believe in clean energy in many of its forms, but for the next decade or so, the greatest contribution to slowing the damage that we’re doing to our home planet will come through simply using less energy, and using it more wisely.
• Electric transportation is not the panacea that most people think it to be. In the U.S., where burning coal is the lowest-cost baseload power, more EVs mean burning more coal. Of course, we (many of us anyway) are working hard to change this, but such change will be a long time coming.
• What will happen in the world is only partially based on rationality and a sincere concern for the good of mankind. To a far larger degree, it’s driven by the unlovely confluence of big money and big government. This opens up all kinds of crazy things:
a) Ongoing subsidies for the oil companies, and elimination of things like the production tax credit for wind
b) Continuing wars in the regions of the world that were geologically blessed (cursed?) with oil
c) Oil pipelines, fracking, a nuclear renaissance (God help us), etc.
d) Nonsensical policies made in back rooms promoting the next corn ethanol
e) Continued refusal to consider the externalities of fossil fuels in the cost equation, i.e., passing along the cost of long-term ecological and human health damage to our children and grandchildren
• Over the many decades, I’ve proven that my crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s. But even in the absence of all the evil and stupidity described above, I have to think that renewable energy technologies are going to become cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Keep in mind that PV is only one of these; I certainly wouldn’t discount wind and the others.
• The main objection I have with the article per se is its oversimplification of an extremely complex set of moving parts, one of which is energy storage. For example, the sun happens to shine when our cars aren’t at home in their garages. The presence of wind energy, on the other hand, has a better congruence to the times at which we’d like to charge our vehicles. The whole set of situations with storage, smart-grid, V2G (vehicle to grid), etc. makes this far more complicated than the author seems to understand.
• The adoption curve of electric vehicles is very much a function of the consumer value proposition, which for the moment is not at all attractive. We’re asking consumers to pay huge amounts of money for unappealing and inconvenient cars.
• A related point: obviously, the oil companies are prepared to fight the EV movement to the death. But anyone who thinks that the auto OEMs are anxious to make this happen is severely misguided.
Well, I hope I’ve been able to shed a bit of light on this. Sorry I can’t join in the euphoria, but I don’t believe the answer is that simple. Having said that, it’s Saturday night. Might be time for that cold martini pictured above.
Thanks for writing.