Saturday, August 16, 2014

Steam trains will never replace horses

Don't you have this feeling that it is becoming more and more queer to keep repeating the same old, stale sentence, "Renewable energy will never be able to replace fossil fuels"?

From The Telegraph

Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels

Solar power will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro-rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. They will have to find a new business model, or fade into decline 

new PS20 solar plant which was inaugurated last month at

There are already 19 regional markets around the world in which PV solar panels can match or undercut local electricity prices without subsidy Photo: Reuters
Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.
Roughly 29pc of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar, rising to 100pc even in Massachusetts and Vermont. "More solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in 30 years," says the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). California's subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat.

The technology is improving so fast - helped by the US military - that it has achieved a virtous circle. Michael Parker and Flora Chang, at Sanford Bernstein, say we entering a new order of "global energy deflation" that must ineluctably erode the viability of oil, gas and the fossil fuel nexus over time. In the 1980s solar development was stopped in its tracks by the slump in oil prices. By now it has surely crossed the threshold irreversibly.

The ratchet effect of energy deflation may be imperceptible at first since solar makes up just 0.17pc of the world's $5 trillion energy market, or 3pc of its electricity. The trend does not preclude cyclical oil booms along the way. Nor does it obviate the need for shale fracking as a stop-gap, for national security reasons or in Britain's case to curb a shocking current account deficit of 5.4pc of GDP.

But the technology momentum goes only one way. "Eventually solar will become so large that there will be consequences everywhere," they said. This remarkable overthrow of everthing we take for granted in world energy politics may occur within "the better part of a decade".

If the hypothesis is broadly correct, solar will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro-rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, among others. Many already need oil prices near $100 a barrel to cover their welfare budgets and military spending. They will have to find a new business model, or fade into decline.


  1. I have lived off grid for almost my entire adult life (I'm 66) using solar, wind and micro-hydro. I have great affection for all of those renewables. But the race between massive conversion of energy capital to renewables and economic collapse due to resource depletion and recession will almost certainly be lost by renewables. I wish it weren't so, but that's the way it is.

    Evans-Pritchard makes no attempt to show where the trillions of dollars are going to come from that will be needed to convert to renewables. This in addition to the resources needed to keep everything going in the meantime, all of which are starting to run low already.

    The energy transition from animal and human power to steam took decades. While it was taking place there was no shortage of horses or other draft animals. The transition from coal motive power to petroleum also took decades. While that transition was taking place, there was no shortage of coal. This history teaches us that it is wise to make a transition to a new form of energy while important older forms are still viable. Unfortunately, we never took that lesson to heart. Now it is too late.

  2. 'solar will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro-rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, among others. Many already need oil prices near $100' -
    yep, solar power trumps petroleum, for sure... somewhere... somehow... in some future...
    not now though: our trucks, tractors, ships, aircrafts, cars & so on - they don run on solar power atm for some odd reason...

  3. Is someone confused by the difference between oil and solar PV? Since Crimea AEP has somehow lost the plot. He used to be understandable when he stuck to finance, nowdays way out of his depth.


    Oil is the very last of the big three to get hit by PV, first comes coal, then gas. If it ever comes to that, which I doubt. In order to avoid collapse and transition off FF we need to be installing about 1.2TW of solar capacity every year, it's a bit premature to be calling the downfall of oil exporters I think.

    Is it a bit queer to keep repeating solar will replace FF, when FF use is showing greater nominal increases then RE. Keep in mind capacity is not production, not even close.

    Eventually all energy sources will be RE, but very little will be solar PV. Nowdays we say 'the horse will never replace the car' and there are very few people saying solar will never replace 'oil.' I'd say that most people believe solar + magical new technology will replace FF pretty soon. I disagree, and don't feel queer, but feel a bit of pity for those who have their hopes on an unobtainable future.

  4. Aep is right! The future is solar. Hopefully u can live in a place that has enough sun to grow crops for the local warlord.

    1. Because he gets his cut first and without sun. None left 4 U!

  5. I knew things were going to go off the tracks in this horse race when the rentier regimes of Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia were thrown into the mix. This author suffers from excess consumption of hopium.

    1.2TW of solar capacity every year at 300 watts a square meter requires installing a square 63.25 kilometres on a side of solar. Great work if you can get it. This overly simple and optimistic calculation assumes the sun is directly overhead. This happens only once a day. In some places.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)