The dirty secret of clean energy

The road to a future with an unlimited supply of clean energy is a rocky one. Ed Carr, our deputy editor, explains why energy features on the cover of this week’s The Economist.

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  • This video said absolutely nothing new. of course, there will be challenges and change. that's what changing the way you get energy for your country do. how about a worldwide grid in the far future, the sun is always shining somewhere and the wind ant water flows around the globe, stop living in a "box"

  • i for one am sick and tired of subsidizing the grid through huge electricity bills. the minute household wind and household solar coupled with natural gas appliances come even close to covering my consumption, i plan to cut that cord, the same way i cut my landline and my cable television. i predict a burgeoning market in things like the return of the icebox, albeit a modern hi-tech-lo-tech one, as we scramble to ditch the current ripoff.

  • Not much dirt here! Renewable s are throwing a wrench in the economics by lowering the price of energy. Batteries, to solve the indeterminacy of renewable s will stabilise the economics as they are an additional cost to renewable s. Yes, It will be rocky for a while but the future looks bright.

  • Dear Economist, try adding up how much energy we use in the UK not just electricity, then add in the energy used to make stuff in other countries that we buy. The amount is huge, now try and work out home many wind turbines and solar panels we'd need even if we stored energy. Hint the amount exceeds the capability of the UK land area. Also stop trying to explain the negative effects of renewables in price terms, there issue is that most "markets" require the grid to take renewables or pay not to take it otherwise nobody would buy it. This essentially means that the market favours none renewables that have a low capital cost such as gas. They make sources with high capital cost and low operating cost such as nuclear uncompetitive. This results in the irony that in Germany and the US "green" policies have seen nuclear switched off to be mostly replaced with gas and as a result carbon emissions rising.

  • Nuclear has the potential to give us the brightest future, free from CO2 emissions with lower energy costs and reduced maintenance costs. Wind and Solar are great, but they still take energy out of natural systems. In small quantities this probably doesn't matter, just like small quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere didn't matter, but who knows how it will change when things scale up?

    Nuclear has known risks we can plan for. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn close. At least until the dream of fusion becomes reality.

  • if renewable energy was such a boon for mankind why not cut the subsidies and let the free market decide which systems best meets peoples needs.

  • But simple fact is, do we want to ruin the planet and kill 1000's of people because it can't sustain this amount? Or suffer less now for the greater good? It's a tough question to answer briefly because there's a huge back story that goes with it.

  • Making renewable energy sound all too hard is just what the fossil fools want you to do. Yes, for a renewable energy future, lots of things are going to have to change, including the profit margin of the old fossils.

  • Nationalize the energy system, then you don't have to worry about whether or not it's profitable, and we can focus on maximizing efficiency independent of profit. Problem solved.

  • Hold up. I think your video should be named "How the need for mindless growth and never ending profits of capitalistic philosophy makes renewable energy look bad"

  • Mr. Carr,
    it would have been interesting to cover the whole story not just part of it. It
    is hard talking about costs without internalizing all of them in the LCOE (carbon included). Global warming isn't free! Its impact on the banking and the insurance sector isn't marginal.
    City low air quality has a cost as well. Londoners learned it the hard way back in 1952, Paris's citizens last year and people in China's mega cities have a hard time to remember what a blue sky is?
    Every coin has 2 sides, hope we'll get the other one soon!I am more than convinced that the Bank of England's governor would be delighted to share is thoughts with you and The Economist's readers.
    Best regards.

  • The supply question is really interesting. I believe it's unfortunate that we operate in an economic system in which we HAVE to make renewable energy profitable to make it our primary method of providing energy for ourselves. Through this perspective, the profit motive is holding us back from reducing our carbon footprint and improving the world. While we may need the profit motive to incentivize the innovation necessary to develop the technology to store renewable energy for when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow, once we have that technology, the government should nationalize the energy sector, taking the profit motive out of the equation. Therefore, we won't have to worry about subsidies artificially making this sector profitable for businesses.

  • Why doesn't anyone ever talk about what is going to happen to the environment when the batteries (specifically Lithium Ion) no longer hold a charge and don't have any economic value. What's stopping batteries from being the "used tires" of the 21st century?

    I see these Tesla Megafactories as an ecological disaster, the same way plastic has become.

  • Horrible title. The content itself wasn't as bad but you could tell how the arguments presented clearly tried tilting the balance towards the over-biased sensational title referenced before.

  • This is really disappointing from The Economist. No new argument here, the fact that renewables require a much stronger grid is well known and understood. Partaking in intellectual dishonesty by using sensational slogans to lure in readers.

  • If our governments don't aggressively start getting renewables out there energy companies will wait until absolutely forced to do so slowly adding it and when they own it then we have to pay their price rather then voting on what prices we see as fair market!

  • Can't believe that in 2017 the Economist would talk down renewables. Not once did I hear Levelized cost of electricity. Only reason why Solar and Wind development outpaced all new power infrastructure in 2016 is because they are cheaper; Government subsidizes Oil

  • Suppliers? I guess I don't get it. You need someone like tesla to provide the solar panels and a device to store the energy, but what else is their to supply? The sun shines and the wind blows. I hope that if we move to sustainable energy, we won't be forced to pay an unnecessary for profit middle man to provide said energy, other than the purchase of the initial equipment. It seems to me that suppliers like utility companies will be or at least should be obsolete in the future.

  • And I thought that that video saying that CO2 was good for the environment on PragerU was bad.

    Lots of holes here.
    1. Subsidies? $5.3 Trillion is used to subsidize Oil and gas. That's the other side.
    2. Intermittent energy? It's intermittent, but the battery storage, hydro pump storage, and maybe even flywheel storage technologies are working out already, with prices dropping (especially in the battery industry, -8{2926adbe9d5efe15cdd71803f3adbd0753091c5491a4687b622765a0a93bb12e} per KwH/year)
    3. The whole costs going down for everyone makes narrower profits thing has been endlessly commented in this comments section, point is it narrows profits for dirty fuels, and opens up the market for renewables.
    Also renewables are much easier to set up.
    To the point that if there is enough pushback, eventually, going off grid would be cheaper and much more viable.
    In the end economics will win people over anyway.

  • Wind and solar along with battery storage are the future.
    Investors that want to make money invest in the future.
    Investors that lose money invest in the past like fossil fools.
    Look how fast coal investors lost money as coal companies went bankrupt.

  • Dirty Secret? Are you kidding? Is that just a UK Tabloid style clickbait title? Because clearly the story is about setting out the nature of the challenges ahead, not anything secretive or failure inducing, deal breaking etc., on the part of renewables. Why the torrid sounding title?

  • PS in May of 2017, on one special day, California got 80{2926adbe9d5efe15cdd71803f3adbd0753091c5491a4687b622765a0a93bb12e} of it's power from renewables.

  • 1st problem: Gov't subsidies. They are only needed because Gov't subsidies exist for fossil fuels. Eliminate ALL subsidies and renewable energy clearly wins on price.
    2nd problem: Intermittency. Use batteries for storing excess power in high winds and peak sunshine but, most concerns over intermittency are naïve because wind and solar, combined, typically produce 100{2926adbe9d5efe15cdd71803f3adbd0753091c5491a4687b622765a0a93bb12e} of the time. Combined cycle nat. gas power plants can provide relatively clean power base-load power in times when capacity runs low on solar and wind. No need for coal and nuclear.

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