The new General Electric is a shell of its former self as it sheds most of its business units and its industrial coverage is down to its aircraft engine, renewable, and power plant businesses. GE CEO John Flannery has called the three “highly complementary businesses poised for future growth”. Yes, each is based on turbine technologies, but I can see how green zealots cringe when they see the association between fuel guzzling planes, coal and natural gas-driven utilities and wind turbines. It is, however, the reality as GE sees it.
The Washington Post has an article on BP and how the oil giant was “forced to shrink to greatness”. It shows how the US government almost put the company out of business after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and how the rest of Big Oil shunned it. It has trimmed down and is starting to invest again. Renewable investments may reach $500 million a year, a tiny fraction of BP’s $15 billion or more in capital spending. Its big bet is on natural gas and that utilities will increasingly move from coal to gas. CEO Robert Dudley says “This is not a race to renewables. It has to be a race to reduce emissions,”The “great dual challenge,” is to do that while generating enough energy to lift people out of poverty and absorb population growth.
You could argue that GE and BP are not ardent supporters of renewables, but how do you explain the situation in Germany? Foreign Policy says
For years, Germany’s Energiewende, or renewable energy transition, was held up as a best practice for other nations to follow. After all, in just 15 years Europe’s biggest economy turned a third of its electricity generation green by subsidizing investments in solar energy and wind power. In doing so, it added 300,000 jobs to the economy. Even while it was in the process of phasing out nuclear power, Germany managed the transition while its factories hummed along, the economy posting record growth and trade surpluses. In the late aughts, Merkel was dubbed “the climate chancellor” for her engagement on behalf of the climate.
Yet, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of euros on subsidizing renewables, Germany will struggle to meet its 18% renewables target for 2020. The country continues to rely heavily on its coal and lignite, and more recently on natural gas from Russia.
Progress is more visible in smaller countries like Denmark (especially with wind), Kenya (especially with solar) and Iceland (with geothermal). If you include hydro power in the renewables bucket (many hard-core green fans argue that dams cause ecological damage so aren't as as sustainable) Norway, Canada and Costa Rica are shining examples. The little island of Palau has announced plans to move completely to solar power in the next few years.
There is also good news from the state of California. Assembly Bill 32 pushed the state to reduce emissions by 2020; California did it in 2016, dropping from 1990’s 431 million metric tons to 429 million metric tons.
The next big hope is China which is said to be investing $ 360 billion (mostly in wind and solar energy) during the five-year 2016 to 2020 period.
Renewables are making nice gains in the utility sector, but that is not being matched in transportation (tankers, trucks etc.) and heating – which together account for 3/4 of global energy consumption.
A number of fan boys keep arguing otherwise, but the disappointing German experiment in particular tells us the BP comment about “the dual challenge” will be our reality for the foreseeable future.
Renewables are a bit like Artificial Intelligence. Every few years we get excited with progress but you look a few years later and the adoption progress is uneven.