Extinction of an Industry

Could this be the future of energy?

Could this be the future of energy?

Could producers of fossil fuels eventually go the way of the dinosaur? Some feel that it’s only a matter of time before pressure from the free market pushes the oil and coal industries out of business. With demand for alternative energy sources growing and the cost of producing clean energy shrinking, the planet may be going through a metamorphosis that will ultimately leave fossil fuels in the dirt.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report that proposed a global carbon budget. As reported by the website Motherboard, the report:

…essentially stated that starting in 2014, the carbon we can afford is up to around 1,000 billion tons of CO2. In other words, our cars, factories, and power plants can only emit 1,000 billion tons (1,000 Gt, or gigatons) of CO2 into the atmosphere if we want to have a greater than 50/50 chance of keeping our climate below 2˚C of warming.

A report published by the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management provides statistical data that suggests that while there was a recent decline in global investment for alternative energy, the overall trend for the past decade has been rapid growth in this sector of energy production.

Key findings of the Energy report:

– 2013 saw a sharply reduced cost of solar photovoltaic systems, which meant that a record amount of PV capacity (some 39GW) was constructed in 2013, and for less money than the smaller 2012 total of 31GW.

– 2013 brought a 54% recovery in clean energy share prices, stimulating equity raising by specialist companies on the public markets. (a 201% increase in the raising of public market equity.)

– In 2013 cost reductions and efficiency improvements enabled onshore wind and PV projects to be built in a growing number of locations around the world without subsidy support which suggests that wind and PV may be able to out-compete fossil-fuel options as long as there are plentiful local sunshine or wind resources, low capital costs, and no cheap, indigenous coal or gas feedstocks.

– Renewable energy excluding large hydro made up 43.6% of the new power capacity added in all technologies in 2013 and raised its share of total generation worldwide to 8.5% from 7.8%. Global energy-related CO2 emissions would have been some 1.2 billion tonnes higher but for this contribution.

– Last year was the first ever that China invested more in renewable energy than the whole of Europe.

Although there has been a decline in global investments in alternative energy for the past two years (2012 and 2013) the report found that two major reasons were worries about policy support and a reduction in technology costs. The first reason is not as concerning as it sounds in that there were numerous factors that caused delays in support. (Read the Executive Summary of the report for full details). The second reason however, is actually good news in that it means that because it cost less to manufacture and produce the energy, less money had to be invested in materials and technology. The report also notes that investment in fossil fuels was also down in 2013. In addition, it speculated that “Although renewable energy investment in 2013 was some 14% down on 2012, there were more hopeful signs for investment in 2014 and beyond.”

Furthermore, though there was a slight downturn in global investments for a two year period, there has been a significant increase since 2004, ranging from $40 billion to $279 billion in 2011. Click on the image below to see the chart.


There also appears to be emerging technologies that could start to find significant growth in investments and public popularity. Waste to energy can produce biofuels from garbage as well as electricity from wastewater. In fact, the wastewater technology results in clean drinking water through a desalination process that also produces electricity. Bruce Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering from Penn State says:

“The big selling point is that it currently takes a lot of electricity to desalinate water and using the microbial desalination cells, we could actually desalinate water and produce electricity while removing organic material from wastewater.”

Another technology for producing electricity while desalinating water comes out of Australia. CETO is a method of wave technology that has the potential to revolutionize clean energy for much of the world. From their website:

CETO harnesses the enormous renewable energy present in our ocean’s waves and converts it into two of the most valuable commodities underpinning the sustainable growth of the planet; zero-emission electricity and zero-emission desalinated water.

As both 1st and 3rd world countries continue to invest and develop alternative energy technology, reliance on fossil fuels will diminish. According to Tony Seba, author of the book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, by the year 2030 reliance on fossil fuels for automobiles and energy production will be virtually gone.

In a previous article, The Energy Game, I speculated on the motivation behind the American Right Wing politicians stance on denying global warming through climate change. I suggested that a consortium of wealthy interests from the auto and petroleum industries were financing the anti-climate change movement for the purpose of trying to salvage their industries and maintain legal and financial support from the US government. It seems that opposition to alternative energy arises also from conventional producers of power as well, as this article from the Miami Herald illustrates.

Opposition to alternative energy comes not only from Right Wing politics and wealthy industrialists. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely of places. Far Left leaning radicals sound off against alternative energy and the production of hybrid and electric vehicles because they contend that the production of the raw materials and assembly of things like wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars still have an environmental impact (they do) and thus, the only “sane” solution is to end civilization as we know it and return to a pre-electric existence. Seriously. From the website of DeepGreenResistance.org:

Civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. Our task is to create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.

Despite resistance from those vested in fossil fuels or left wing anti-civilizationists, it seems that it is likely and perhaps economically inevitable that we’ll see a slow global transition to a new paradigm in energy production and use. As growth in alternative energy continues and reliance on fossil fuels diminishes, and as consumers around the world adapt and embrace new cleaner energy technologies into their lifestyles, I have to wonder about the political future of those US legislators that refuse to embrace the truth about climate change and reject development of alternative energy. Will they too follow their financiers into oblivion? Time will surely tell.



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