Higashi-Matsushima

The clean energy industry still faces an uphill struggle in many countries, writes David Socha, practice leader of utilities and smart cities at Teradata.For every territory that creates a nurturing environment, there is another with protectionist policies for traditional fossil fuels with their (until recently) predictable tax returns, stable outputs and tried and tested technologies.  Such is life.

The thing is, our future energy needs will be met by renewables.  It’s a tide (no pun, or favoritism intended) that cannot be stopped.  There’s public demand.

The leaders of the biggest and most influential businesses in the world actively support increased research and adoption of renewable energy.

Climate change denial is a dying trade.  Again with the puns today.  Sorry.  Anyway … pollution is killing people in cities and countries across the globe.  And of course, fossil fuels are a finite resource.The long-term argument is over.  Renewables win.

[quote] But back to that uphill struggle.  I’m not talking about the technical arguments of intermittency, or the financial arguments of how much a unit of energy really costs from whatever source.

These are either solvable with refinements of already available technologies; or matters for those in a position to decide which energy sources to subsidise and to what extent (and don’t even try to tell me you believe the fossil fuel industry isn’t already massively subsidised).

Unpredictability: it’s not what you think

In my opinion there’s only one thing worse for the future of renewables than a clearly hostile environment.  It’s the uncertainty and unpredictability caused by governments that can’t decide which way to turn.

Those that strongly support the use of clean energy and growth of their renewable energy market for a time, then deliver a stinging backlash, pulling research funding and reducing subsidies.

Australia is a great example.  Or a terrible one, depending on your perspective.  In May’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, EY suggested Australia’s renewables market was “bouncing back after near paralysis”.

Yet just 3 months later, leaders in Australia’s renewable energy market stated that same industry is heading for “the valley of death” if their government’s planned cuts to research funding are approved.  Hmmm.

The situation in the UK may even be worse.  There, the government’s own Energy and Climate Change Select Committee highlighted the real problem with unpredictability earlier this year, when it stated that “sudden and numerous policy announcements” regarding renewables had damaged the UK’s reputation as a stable and predictable place to do business.

And there’s the point.  It’s not the unpredictability of energy generated from renewables we should be worried about.

It’s the unpredictability of government support for this new and disruptive industry that will determine how long it takes for renewable energy to meet all our needs.

Stability versus the environment

Any government with at least some recognition of environmental issues must provide supportive, predictable conditions for renewable technology research, development and delivery.

Just as they would with any innovation expected to benefit their citizens.

Not because some hippy eco-warrior says so.  But for all the reasons I mentioned earlier that make it so clear that the future of energy is indisputably renewable.

Now, governments also have a responsibility to ensure a stable energy grid and associated energy markets.  And yes, the need to support renewables can at times appear to be in conflict with this responsibility.

Taking Australia as an example once again, recent months have seen a multitude of stories detailing the horrors of blackouts and huge price volatility due to “intermittent renewable energy."

But the response to such scares cannot be to run frightened back to familiar territory, once more embracing fossil fuels and decrying the new and uncertain.

Such moves simply slow the progress of the local renewable energy market, cutting local jobs in the sector and reducing the number of smart people working out how to make all the scary parts you’re so worried about go away.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk continues to sell home and commercial energy solutions; Apple becomes an energy provider; China1 continues to implement policies supporting their unparalleled renewables industry; and the world turns while you try to make it stop.

Rather than trying to hold back the tide, isn’t it time to do something more constructive?

Isn’t it time to constructively channel funding and subsidies to where they might really be needed in your local energy environment.

If that’s grid-scale storage to smooth supply curves and meet base load, so be it.  If it’s trading analytics and real-time algorithms to manage volatile energy markets2 then that’s good too.

Whatever the option, it has to be a better idea than pulling the rug out from under your innovative industries, just as they’re getting somewhere.  Hasn’t it?

After all, if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on from all sides of the renewables argument it’s this: just give us some predictability.  Please.

 

 

Footnotes:

1 Yes, I’m well aware that China is also a massive fossil fuel user and polluter.  That doesn’t mean my point about their investment in renewables isn’t true.

2Isn’t it interesting how that story is given a negative spin - on how markets are so volatile, people are having to cede control to…ugh…algorithms?  If Teradata were telling that story, we’d be excited about new applications of analytics.  It’s all perspectives, I guess.

 

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