Will Falling Renewable Energy Costs Do In Fracking?

Dominic Alves/CC BY 2.0

So, Informed Comment has a top 10 list of reasons why fracking won't be around as long as its supporters would have you believe, or like. It all comes down to market forces, and really is just one reason divided up into ten different pieces. Juan Cole is betting that falling costs for solar and wind power will natural draw investment away from hydraulic fracturing, and in just four years time. I'm not sure I share his optimism.

A quick run through of Cole's ten pieces of the rise of renewable energy pie:

1) By 2016 solar PV could be producing electricity at less than $0.50 a watt, 2) Germany is producing more and more solar power solar power, 3) solar power generating windows, 4) Britain keeps expanding offshore wind power, 5) as does Japan, in the wake of Fukushima, 6) the massive solar power potential of the US, 7) Desertec! 8) Three quarters of a million homes in Australia with solar panels, 9) China's massive solar power push, 10) Chinese investment in Middle East solar power.

If we're talking about huge national pushes for solar power, India's National Solar Mission ought to be included as well.

All of this is well and good, and is a big deal, but I'm just not sure this logic fully holds out:


However hard they try to suppress government funding and tax breaks for renewables, Big Oil and Big Gas are doomed to lose, and in only about 4 years. At that point where it is just cheaper to generate electricity with renewables, no one is going to invest in hydrocarbons. Even with a price advantage it will take decades for renewables to displace hydrocarbons (the electricity grid, transportation, batteries, all have to be redone). But it isn’t a matter of “if.” It is a matter of when. All the anti-climate-warming propaganda and pro-hydrocarbon advertising is intended to slow this process; even Big Oil and Big Gas are not so stupid as not to see the writing on the wall. But if their delaying tactics can make them billions in the meantime, they have every reason to go for it, especially if they are moral cretins who don’t care about the health of the planet.

It downplays the political influence of Big Oil, Gas, Coal to a huge degree. While money is the end all be all of these corporations, everything else be damned, the amount of cultural inertia in the transitional period when renewable energy prices fall but aren't yet sufficiently deployed to offset significant amounts of fossil fuels (electricity is one thing, liquid transportation fuels another entirely) could drag out that transitional period far longer than is fully rational economically speaking or beneficial for people or the planet.

While I do believe it's not a question of if renewable energy takes over from fossil fuels but when, the point when this actually happens really cannot be predicted simply by comparing prices, either now or those predicted for the future.

Tags: Fracking | Natural Gas | Renewable Energy

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