Has Renewable Energy Peaked?

For quite a few years, pundits claimed that fossil fuel production had peaked, or was about to peak. Renewables were widely seen as the future of energy. That was then, and this is now. Fossil fuel production has exploded, especially in the U.S., and investment in renewable technologies, solar and wind, is in decline. In the U.S., cronyism keeps some dollars flowing toward well-connected “green” tycoons, like billionaire Tom Steyer, one of the Democrats’ biggest donors. But Europe and the rest of the world are rapidly cutting back on investments in renewables. At Watts Up With That, Steve Goreham tells the story:

Major climate legislation faltered across the world. Cap and trade failed in Congress in 2009, with growing opposition from the Republican Party. The price of carbon permits in the European Emissions Trading System crashed in April 2013 when the European Union voted not to support the permit price. Australia elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the fall of 2013 on a platform of scrapping the nation’s carbon tax.

Europeans discovered that subsidy support for renewables was unsustainable. Subsidy obligations soared in Germany to over $140 billion and in Spain to over $34 billion by 2013. Renewable subsidies produced the world’s highest electricity rates in Denmark and Germany. Electricity and natural gas prices in Europe rose to double those of the United States.

Worried about bloated budgets, declining industrial competitiveness, and citizen backlash, European nations have been retreating from green energy for the last four years. Spain slashed solar subsidies in 2009 and photovoltaic sales fell 80 percent in a single year. Germany cut subsidies in 2011 and 2012 and the number of jobs in the German solar industry dropped by 50 percent. Renewable subsidy cuts in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom added to the cascade. The RENIXX Renewable Energy Index fell below 200 in 2012, down 90 percent from the 2008 peak.

Once a climate change leader, Germany turned to coal after the 2012 decision to close nuclear power plants. Coal now provides more than 50 percent of Germany’s electricity and 23 new coal-fired power plants are planned. Global energy from coal has grown by 4.4 percent per year over the last ten years.

This chart tells the story; it shows annual global investment in renewable energy projects:


After years of hoopla, wind and solar combined produce less than 1% of the world’s energy. It now appears that renewables may remain permanently insignificant.