by Tamara Smith
ALMOST 150 years after photovoltaic cells and wind turbines were invented, they still generate only 7% of the world's electricity. Yet something remarkable is happening. From being peripheral to the energy system just over a decade ago, they are now growing faster than any other energy source, and their falling costs are making them competitive with fossil fuels. BP expects renewables to account for half the growth in global energy supply over the next 20 years. It is no longer far fetched to think the world is entering an era of clean, unlimited, democratised and cheap power- and it is about time.
However, there is a $20 trillion hitch. To get from here to there requires huge amounts of investment over the next few decades to replace the old, smog-belching power plants and to upgrade the pylons and wires that bring electricity to consumers. Normally investors like putting their money into electricity because it offers reliable returns. Yet green energy is different; the more it is deployed, the more it lowers the price of power from any source. That makes it hard to manage the transition to a carbon-free future, during which many generating technologies, clean and dirty, need to remain profitable if the lights are to stay on. Unless the market is fixed, subsidies to the industry will only grow.
Policymakers are aware of this dilemma. But, instead of doing what all the economic giants of the globe are doing and shifting the paradigms around how electricity is priced, in this country we are seeing a push by the Right to use this issue as an excuse to put the brakes on renewable energy and to demonise it.
There are a few possible reasons why political parties in this country might be doing this. Firstly, ineptitude and simply not being up to the task. Secondly, perceptions that embracing carbon pricing and a new way of pricing electricity is political suicide. Thirdly, too much money is being made by the current fossil fuel industry.
In February 2015 political donations data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) found that mining and energy companies declared donations to the Coalition of more than $1.8 million in 2013-14. It was reported in 2017 that political donations for 2015-16 totalled $1.3 million to the Liberal Party from mining and just under $1 million was donated by other resources companies.
The solution to transitioning us from reliance on fossil fuels to the clean, green economies of the future is to rethink how the world prices clean energy in order to make better use of it. Without a new approach the renewables revolution will continue to stall and we know what the consequences of this would be for the planet. The Greens have the courage to fix it - will you join us?