Jeremy Leggett: Why Greed May Bring New Growth for Renewables


Jeremy Leggett, CEO of UK-based Solarcentury (makers of the C21e complete solar tile, pictured above), is becoming somewhat of a regular on TreeHugger. We’ve written about his appearance on CNN International’s Principal Voices, we’ve covered his views on peak oil and agriculture, aviation and the Stern Report, and we’ve even interviewed him ourselves about the future of renewables, the economic implications of peak oil and the environmental impact of solar. Now we’ve come across an interesting article in The Guardian’s business section in which Leggett sets out the reasons why greed is good, at least when it comes to investment in renewables. Among the points covered are Leggett’s belief in business as an agent for change, the story of his awakening to the threat of climate change, and the optimistic predictions for growth in clean tech (predictions which Leggett believes may themselves be conservative):

These are giddy figures, but Leggett believes they still might underestimate the potential of 'clean' energy to replace oil, coal and gas: 'When the history books are rewritten, people are going to be amazed at how fast these technologies broke through into fossil fuel markets.' What gives Leggett confidence are the growing science of global warming and climate change - and greed.

Leggett’s take on greed is that while the early pioneers were generally idealists, he is now seeing increased interest in solar, and renewables in general, from people who are more interested in profit. While this might make some environmentalists uncomfortable, the Soalrcentury CEO sees it as a necessary step in ramping up the fight against climate change:

When the first climate models were published, Leggett left academia and went to work for Greenpeace for a decade, before leaving to set up Solarcentury. Frustrated with empty government promises, he - like other businesses - wanted to do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, before it was too late: 'Climate change, that's our raison d'etre.'
Nowadays, though, clean technology is appealing to a much broader audience, says Leggett: 'Increasingly... there is a preponderance of people who just smell the money, and that has to happen if we're going to defeat this monster.' Every time global manufacturing output doubles, costs fall by 20 per cent, he claims.

None of the above is reason to think we are out of the woods yet – renewable energy still faces many obstacles to progress. Among the most painful for UK-based companies, says Leggett, is the twin challenge of insufficient government funding, and inconsistent application of that funding – making it near impossible for companies to plan for consistent, sustained growth. However, as the business world wakes up to both the need for clean energy, and the opportunity it represents, Leggett is hopeful that appropriate funding will be forthcoming. We'll be watching closely to see what his company does with it. ::The Guardian::via Solarcentury::

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