Future of renewables debated at the Daegu 2013 Congress

Posted on 14 October 2013

After almost a decade of growth, renewable energy is under immense pressure now – to the extent that UK policymakers are reportedly seek to put the lid on the renewables movement in order to shift resources to fracking.

Subsidies have been the main drivers of both development of and investment in renewables, but economic instability and the stop-and-go politics in developed countries are unsettling investors, according to an expert panel discussion at the Daegu 2013 Congress.

The good news, members of the panel said, is that renewables still offer enormous potential in terms of growth and green jobs. Matthew Brett, Senior Vice President of the US firm Bright Source Energy, spoke of new technology. Concentrating solar power (CSP) with storage “can meet a lot of the grid’s demand,” and that’s being proved in Las Vegas where such a facility has been connected to the grid.

And renewables have by no means slid completely out of fashion. Dolf Gielen, Director of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said his organization, which started out thinking it might be a small grouping of advanced countries, has 118 country members with China and India about to join.

Although panel members tended to be bullish on renewables, Jeremy Leggett, Founder & Chairman of the UK firm Solarcentury, acknowledged that “it’s not going as well as it should be. We’re not going to be totally renewably powering the world any time soon.” Leggett said he explores the reasons in a new book, The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance. One is the human factor: marketing, public relations, and cooperation are not sufficient. In addition, “human beings are really good at inventing mythologies” – for example, the optimistic notion that peak oil, a problem he argued was merely deferred by reduced consumption attending the financial crisis, is no longer a threat. Another “mythology” he dismissed “is that fracking to harvest shale gas – which he judged “not sustainable in the US, certainly not exportable,” – is the wave of the future.

Jorge Cruz Morais, Member of the Board of Portuguese energy company EDP, illustrated the need for renewables by pointing out that the world’s six billion population as of 2000 is projected to reach nine billion by 2050, with energy consumption doubling as more of today’s have-nots become significant consumers. To deal with such numbers, “there is only one way, which is efficiency,” said Morais. Power markets “should be redesigned.”

What’s needed, said Fintan Slye, CEO of Ireland’s EirGrid, which has successfully integrated wind power into its grid, is an “overall balanced portfolio” of energy sources.

This news story is based on the Bottom Line  session, “Renewables: Is the honeymoon over?”,  at the 2013 World Energy Congress.