A week in renewables … who in Politics talked climate change

UK prime minister Harold Wilson once said in the 1960s that a week is a long time in Politics, but as we look at changing attitudes to climate change, we also realize that a week is a long time in renewable energy. Perhaps that’s because it is so political.

The US is, in almost all other technologies, a market leader or is in fact THE market leader. So as the US position changes on climate change, so does its spend on renewable energy and that spend can in turn influence the spend elsewhere.

We have said for some time now that we feel that parity of costs in both wind and increasingly in solar, means that there are no excuses for NOT investing in renewable energy. It is only those who have a “sunk” investment in coal fired power stations, gas turbines, oil refineries and nuclear that continue to complain about this. They argue that the intermittent nature of renewables means that gas will always be around, and that coal is cheaper, despite tons of evidence to the contrary. It might be cheaper in a planned economy where you pay coal miners next to nothing, but not in the US.

This week the US is under pressure to changes its position on renewable energy. Democrats are planning to introduce a climate change proposal that the US live up to its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

This feeds into our narrative at Rethink Energy, that the next US election will be fought over climate change.

This week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the introduction of her first bill on climate change called HR 9, the Climate Action Now Act. This quite simply aims to keep the United States in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. It will come up for a vote later this year. The construction of the Republican controlled Senate, and the Democrat led Congress, means that new legislation is hard to come by for the democrats, so for now they are focusing on existing issues.

Effectively this is the Democrats saying to the rest of the world, “Once we are in power, the US will act. When the Obama administration signed that deal, it said it would cut emissions to 285 below 2005 levels by 2025.

When in 2017, President Trump withdrew the US from the deal it was not a huge surprise, but it is an area where he has underestimated the US voting public.

The rust belt would have loved the jobs that solar and wind farms bring, and they are more attractive day to day than going down coal mines or working in oil. Trump’s mis-judgement of climate change could come back to bite him and he may be forced to adhere to the Paris agreement, and a climb down. At present a President can ignore the agreement, but not if this bill passed.

While the strategies of China and India are what Trump complained were lacking from the Paris deal, Pelosi is suggesting that the US can use the Paris Agreement’s transparency provisions to confirm what other parties to the agreement are doing. India and China are using fresh new, coal fired power stations it is true, and China may have overtaken the US as the biggest polluter, but per head of Population the US is the world’s worst CO2 producer, by a margin.

Another bill due to be announced later this week is on which will price CO2 against a cap-and-dividend model. There is a feeling that if President Trump has to come up with a plan to reduce emissions, he would have to delegate it to someone who at least understood basic science.

If we add this week’s revelations that Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3% over the past year, its most rapid increase in ten years shown in a report from the IEA, much of its driven by new coal fired power plants in Asia. Fossil fuels provided some 70% of new electricity demand. It is bad enough asking the US and Western Europe to kill off old inefficient coal power stations, but in ten years asking China and India to switch off plant that has 30 years of active life left, is going to be tough. All this is despite the fact that US coal production is now definitively more expensive than solar and wind.