Renewable Energy: “Expensive and Impractical”

At least that’s the conclusion of the present government in the UK:

Labour’s plan to abandon renewable energy targets

Ministers are planning a U-turn on Britain’s pledges to combat climate change that “effectively abolishes” its targets to rapidly expand the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Gordon Brown will be advised today that the target Tony Blair signed up to this year for 20% of all European energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 is expensive and faces “severe practical difficulties”.

According to the papers, John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, will tell Mr. Brown that Britain should work with Poland and other governments sceptical about climate change to “help persuade” German chancellor Angela Merkel and others to set lower renewable targets, before binding commitments are framed in December.

Of course it is expensive. Not many energy sources can compete with fossil fuels on a purely economic basis. But we can’t go on like this forever. Either we manage to make the difficult (and probably expensive) decisions required to move away from fossil fuels, or we will simply find ourselves at the mercy of events outside our control. My preference is for a planned transition, even if it is difficult.

19 thoughts on “Renewable Energy: “Expensive and Impractical””

  1. Even if you don’t buy Peak Oil, you’d think it would be common sense to have an “energy mix.”

    It falls into the category of “things your grandmother told you.” In this case, “not all your eggs in one basket.”

  2. Given the success of renewable fuel standards in the US;-), I would say, keep government out of it – they don’t have the knowledge to make sensible decisions, and the current leadership treats everything like its an opportunity to steer tax dollars to the home district. Let’s keep our powder (your tax $) dry for another day.

    The free market OTOH, might actually deliver on some promising technologies.

    Either way, oil is set to get a lot more expensive…

  3. optimist, have you ever seen the old agreement between Cato and Sierra Club?

    kind of surprising, at first sight, but they jointly authored a paper in 2003 calling for an end to energy subsidies.

    … but I think many of us would still favor emission taxes (inc. CO2) to drive change faster than a truly “free market.”

    (A free market would wait for natural prices to solve GW and PO?)

  4. Interesting Odograph! $16 billion and what did we get? $90/bbl oil and ethanol producers whining that they need just a little more to compete with Big Oil.

    I know it is tempting to think that government should use its considerable resources and power for some good in the world, but recent history would suggest this is the exception, not the rule.

    Some things, like energy markets, are just so complicated that even an honest effort by intelligent leaders would not necessarily achieve good results. Since we have neither, I’d say chances of government delivering any good results is slim.

    Go play golf, Samuel Bodman, before you do more damage to my childrens’ future!

  5. You know, there is lots of good news out there…recent studies suggest solar power in sunny countries is very close to fossil fuel power plants in cost…Jefferies, the Wall Street house, is the latest to say so…China may become the manufacturing platform for cheap solar cells…and the US has the entire Southwest…..A123 Systems says they are able to produce a lithium battery, which means PHEVs are close (and that means radical reductions in fossil fuel demand are probable) A123 just raised another $30 million, of sophisticated investor money…lastly Mozambique says they will be able to produce 3.1 mbd of biofuels…that is not chump change….add that to the 1 million hectare jatropha plantations being planted in Indonesia, or the 60 million hectares India says it will plant, and you begin to see that biofuels may actually play a role….just because US ethanol is a dud, does not mean that biodiesel worldwide is a dud….
    There is no doubt that Thug Oil (misunderstood by some as Peak Oil)represents a threat to global prosperity. Still, we endured a huge spike in energy costs back in 1980, and got through it.
    The price mechanism, and man’s ingenuity (a nice way to say greed?) should never be underestimated. Too bad so much of the world is run by thugs, effectively negating the creative abilities of men and women. We can all ponder what stroke of luck caused us to be born in liberal Western democracies, rather than some tinpot Thug Oil state….
    So, you will not see wondeful innovations to get at Venezuela’s gigantic bounty of heavy oil, at least not soon, among many other examples. Who knows how much oil is offshore in Arabia, or even Mexico….how about heavy oil in Arabia, some fields are said to have heavy oil deposits which dwarf their light oil reserves….but, like I said, you will not see clever and dedicated oil guys going after heavy crude in Arabia or Venezuela in our lifetimes….
    Still, demand for fossil crude is waning….call it Peak Demand vs. Thug Oil…..

  6. In the absence of a carbon tax or cap and trade system, it is difficult to define what is “expensive and impractical”. But it seems that politically, this is where we are headed. Now that the US Supreme Court has declared CO2 a pollutant, they have opened the door for all sorts of mischief:

    KDHE rejects Sunflower energy

    We lack the political will to just legislate a carbon tax because nobody wants to get tagged with raising energy prices and damaging the economy.

  7. Yeah, Sunflower Energy sounds like coal, doesn’t it? Perhaps that should try Sunflower Power…

  8. To put not too fine a point on it, it seems the UK government bureaucrats have decided building nuclear plants, improving energy efficiency, and paying poorer Eastern European states to change their energy systems is a lot cheaper than putting in renewables for the same effect.

  9. a PLANNED transition would be a joy to see. a REALLY THOUGHT OUT PLAN with analysis, multiple actions with checkpoints, readjustments as required.

    somewhat akin to a business plan for a a successful enterprise. WOW!

    but don’t expect one from gov’t or politicians. EEC action to date fails. too much hype, targets set in unreasonable fashion, turf battles within parties, elections affecting longjevity of plans/goals[reference the current actions among pelosi, dingell, and reid–talk of keystone kops. do a plan, execute legislation, and pass same in six months.

    most business operate on 2-5 year strategic plan with at least annual updates.

    the APPOLO/MOON program would not have worked with congressional management.

    the executive in charge has no plan that is visble


    you are correct. a transition plan is needed.


  10. a PLANNED transition would be a joy to see.
    Speak for yourself – those are the sort of things communist regimes do. I’d rather have chaos – and freedom.

    Just who is fit to do the planning? Are you going to trust the infinite wisdom spoken by his divine grace? Good luck with that.

    but don’t expect one from gov’t or politicians.
    Exactly right. And fortunately so. The best we can hope for with these bird-brained buffoons would be E85 mandates. No thanks!

    Trust Capitalism, especially at $90/bbl. Or $120/bbl. Or $200/bbl.

  11. I find it amazing that those that have no problem accepting evolution of species and scoff at intelligent design are skeptical of free markets and beg for intelligent designs for planned economies.

    (free markets = darwin in action)

    is it an amazing synchronicity that my “word verification” is “onftc”? As if the FTC has ever done anything but protect incumbents and the politically connected.

  12. neither capitalism nor “regimes” established and executed the major achievements of the 20th century–



    these were driven by national priority and significant leadership.

    two elements not in evidence today–priority,leadership on a national scale.

    these two items were achieved with buiness entrepenuers, not by them solely. true competetive process was also bypassed for the sake of time constraints. there was a master plan to begin the activity, with a lot of adaptation/change prior to achieving objectives.

    i continue to vote for a starting plan by who? and a response to HOW?

  13. “I’d rather have chaos – and freedom.”

    I think a lot of people would rather forego the sort of lack of planning we saw in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I can live without that sort of chaos. Governments can serve a useful role here.

  14. You know, when I spit out my peak oil manifesto, I put in a paragraph about “messy and human” response:

    “What should we do? We are not short on plans. The national news contains daily reports on hydrogen, wind, biodiesel, solar, ethanol, clean coal, biomass, and geothermal energy projects. And we see as many reports on the conservation front, with smaller, more efficient, gasoline, diesel, hybrid, and electric cars, efficient homes, and appliances. It’s not like we aren’t trying. We are just trying in the imperfect, messy, and sometimes even corrupt, human way.

    When I was writing that I was thinking about everything, public and private. I think it’s a mistake to lump all human error on one side or the other. And I think it’s a mistake to expect any beautiful and ideologically pure solutions at this point.

    The solution, if it proves to be one, is going to come out of the mess.

  15. Last I checked.

    Coal is far more costly than renewables.

    $3000/KW now, and $5100/KW later.
    It’s just insane!

    Nuclear is very expensive (especially since UK it would all b e funded directly by tax payer subsidies)

    And oil just hit 89$ a barrel.

    And the natural gas markets have been skyrocketing in price.


    I will admit though that BIOFUELS are far too expensive to do.

    Electricity on the other hand is a bargain at $0.70 cents an equivalent gallon.

  16. ==The government is clearly worried about its ambition to introduce more nuclear power as soon as possible.==

    Thats what this is all about.

    Since certainly natural gas or coal aren’t “cheap”.

    And they keep trying to ramrod Nuclear in on the UK citizens, and they keep getting blocked when they try to bypass an honest cost-benefit analysis compared to renewables.

    Right now, they are basically saying “WE DON’T WANT A COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS OMG!!”, “We’re just going to SAY it’s too expensive without it!”,,2014491,00.html


    ==Of course it is expensive. Not many energy sources can compete with fossil fuels on a purely economic basis.==

    Thats the catch though isn’t it.

    Renewables AREN’T expensive compared to the competition.

    They just are instead using a political maneuver to AVOID a real cost comparison.

    Since frankly Renewables like Solar Thermal, and Geothermal are actually very cost competitive!

    And the UK specifically has a lot of baseload potential with Ocean Current Energy.


    In short, the Labour Party thinks nukes are more important than renewables.

    THAT is what this is all about.

  17. neither capitalism nor “regimes” established and executed the major achievements of the 20th century–
    these were driven by national priority and significant leadership.

    There is some truth to that. BUT…

    I believe you have left out the greatest achievement of the twentieth century:
    Communism was far worse than Nazism, and it endured far longer.

    Now, you may believe that communism was destroyed by good leadership, but I would tend to credit capitalism with that victory. In the end, trying to keep up with capitalism (even just the appearance of doing so) is what destroyed communism. That, and the fact that lies about how great communism is, became too obvious for anyone to believe.

    Can capitalism achieve the same spectacular victory in China? Stay tuned…

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