Coffee House

The green squeeze

18 February 2012

Bjorn Lomborg’s article on why Germany is cutting back on its support for solar power is well worth reading and has clear implication for this
country’s debate about energy policy. As Lomborg argues:

‘there is a fundamental problem with subsidizing inefficient green technology: it is affordable only if it is done in tiny, tokenistic amounts. Using the government’s generous
subsidies, Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed “acceptable.” It is estimated that this increase
alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.’

At a time when living standards are being squeezed, these increases in energy bills are particularly economically damaging and politically unsustainable. They are also doing little to
help the environment: Lomborg calculates that ‘by the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.’

The government’s role in energy policy should be to try and incentivise the kind of research and development that can lead to price-competitive green energy. (For instance, nano-technology
could vastly increase the efficiency of solar power.) As Lomborg notes, it is only once this work has been done that it makes sense to try and move businesses and households onto these new forms of
energies. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.

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Show comments
  • daniel maris

    Countryman –

    You got it wrong on the patent. It was granted in October 2011. It’s not a perpetual motion machine any more than a nuclear fission reactor is. Time you read up on the subject I think rather than arguing from ignorance.

  • HFC

    denial maris:

    I followed your link and found that NASA applied for a patent last March but that it has still not been granted.

    NASA, or anyone else for that matter, applying for a patent is one thing but having it granted is quite another.

    In any event, many patents have been granted over time for, amongst many other things, various perpetual motion machines – but still they never have or ever will work.

    So, even if a patent were to be granted it wouldn’t prove that the invention works – it would just shows that the patent examiner thinks it might work.

  • daniel maris

    HFC –

    Did you know NASA patented a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (aka cold fusion – the jury’s still out on what is actually happening at the sub-atomic level)? That was in October last year.


    No ifs or mights about it.

  • HFC

    “Good for you, but they (oil shares) might be worth a lot less next year if cold fusion technologies are actually about to come to market as some claim.”

    There you go again, denial maris, using ‘might’ & ‘if’ to bolster your claims for the fanciful concept of cold fusion.

    I’ll take my chance and hold onto my oil shares…at least until I hear that patents have been granted to ‘some claimants’.

  • Robin of Bagshot

    To quote from the Ruhr University study published last year:

    “Hence, although Germany’s promotion of renewable energies is commonly portrayed in the media as setting a “shining example in providing a harvest for the world” (The Guardian 2007), we would instead regard the country’s experience as a cautionary tale of massively expensive environmental and energy policy that is devoid of economic and environmental benefits. As other European governments emulate Germany by ramping up their promotion of renewables, policy makers should scrutinize the logic of supporting energy sources that cannot compete on the market in the absence of government assistance.”

  • Drayner

    I don’t want anything to do with solar panels until they are being old for under a fiver at Lidl. I learned my lesson with the Betamax debacle.

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