Clean Energy: First They Ignore You...
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Uploaded on Apr 17, 2011
The world is shifting to abundant, secure, cheap, clean energy. It will take many decades, but the shift is inevitable.
The cost of renewable energy is already much lower than most people think, and coming down all the time. Rooftop solar is now cheaper (without subsidies) than daytime electricity prices in a number of markets; by 2015 that will be the case in most sunny countries. The best wind farms already produce power at the same cost as state-of-the-art coal-fired plants -- again before subsidies. Sugar-cane based ethanol provides half the fuel for cars in Brazil, it's competitive at $45/barrel and the global market is multiplying. The first commercial plants making biofuel from plant waste are coming on line. China has improved its energy efficiency by 20% over the past five years, as have countless western companies. The first mass-market electric vehicles are flying out of dealers' lots, and new plug-in hybrids go 1000 miles before needing to be filled up with gas.
The list goes on. And all these developments reinforce each other - electric vehicles can store intermittent power from solar and wind - and are being woven together by the roll-out of an intelligent, smart grid. This is not a rehearsal, it's a clean energy revolution.
Fossil power, by contrast, is dirty, dangerous and insecure, as well as being politically and economically corrosive. Controversial statement? Look at the news: Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Huge gas explosions in Middletown, Buncefield and San Bruno. An endless stream of coal mine explosions and collapses. Violent protests in the Middle East - a region blighted by the curse of oil: home to over 50% of the world's remaining oil reserves, much of it in a country where women are banned from driving cars. Where nearly a fifth of the world's oil passes through the Straits of Hormuz: just 35 miles wide, with Iran on one side and Bahrain, a country reliant on foreign troops to maintain order, on the other.
Meanwhile, fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of more than $300bn per annum, and that doesn't even include the cost of security - which we pay through our taxes, not at the pump - or the cost to our health from particulates and other forms of pollution -- which we pay through our health bills.
If the choice of clean energy over dirty is so clear, and the shift to clean so inevitable, why isn't it happening more quickly? There are lots of good reasons. Energy is the world's largest and most capital-intensive industry; it is very risk-averse, and everyone want the lights to stay on and our transport system to keep working. And any wholesale shift in energy use requires changes in human behaviour, which can take a generation or more. The clean energy revolution will be a revolution in slow motion, taking place over many decades. In addition, the proponents of fossil fuels have sunk trillions of dollars and their reputations into the current energy system, and they will not abandon their investment without a fight.
Hence the thesis of this video. As Mahatma Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". In the 1970s and 1980s, in the wake of the first oil shocks, renewable energy was so far from being economically viable that it was largely ignored. Then the oil price was so low that it was easy to laugh at clean energy's claim to be able to achieve competitiveness.
Now clean energy is finally reaching scale and taking chunks out of energy market after energy market. This is starting to hurt fossil fuel producers, and with prices of clean energy coming down, it's going to hurt a whole lot more. Fossil fuel producers are beginning to realise they are in an existential struggle, and are fighting back. It started with coal -- it is almost impossible to build a new coal-fired power station in the US or Europe -- but it will not stop there.
Of course many questions remain. How long will the shift to clean energy take? What will be the exact mix of power sources in different regions? What will the role of nuclear be post Chernobyl / Three Mile Island / Fukushima? Will natural gas act as a transition fuel or is the current dash for shale gas a bubble? And the most interesting question of all: which companies and countries will be long-term winners, and which will fight the trend and be among the losers.
Only tme will answer these questions, but the eventual destination is not in doubt: the future of mankind is not the same as the future of fossil fuels. So sit back, crank the volume, and enjoy.
Music: Rising Mercury, by Nick Ingman & Terry Devine-King; Somewhere a Clock is Ticking, by Snow Patrol.
An HD version of this video can be downloaded from http://www.liebreichfoundation.org/LF....
Please tweet @MLiebreich if you like this video or if you show it at an event.
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