Renewable Energy: Good news and bad news

Whitelee's onshore wind farm in East Renfrewshire

Whitelee's onshore wind farm in East Renfrewshire: Picture from the Guardian's web site.

Personally, I find it is easy to become depressed about the slow rate of transition to renewable energy sources. If we viewed the prospect which faces us as the challenge that it really is, it could be as inspiring as the Apollo project to put a man on the moon. But much much more important.

There is good news:

  • Last week the UK passed 1 GW of installed solar PV plant. If I understand this correctly, this means that in the summer there will be one large coal or gas power station which we can leave switched off. Germany has 25 GW of installed solar PV plant so we have plenty of room to grow. If we installed something close 25GW, then it would mean that in the summer we could switch off nearly all the fossil-fuel power stations – during the day at least.
  • As I mentioned the other week, in 2011, 5% of our electricity was generated by wind. 10% is probably not far away and we could – and probably will – go higher.

But there is still a reluctance to commit to change.

Looking at these stories as a whole, I see that changes occur at the places where they can occur – the weak points in the existing infrastructure. So when it is possible to advance small change by small change – then renewable energy advances. But when  a change requires a billion pounds of investment -then investors will inevitably wait until they can guarantee a return on their investment. Having privatised our energy infrastructure, we now have no choice but to make sure it is profitable for companies to build the infrastructure we need.

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