The profitability of renewable energy and resources

An immediate and comprehensive transition to solar energy must take priority over all other economic considerations. Any further delay will cost society more than it would to make the transition. The quicker and more comprehensively fossil energy and resources can be supplanted by their solar counterparts, the greater the cost saving to society and the less the strain on government budgets threatened by ever higher clean-up costs in the wake of fossil-fuel-induced catastrophe, be it storm or flood damage or regional wars over energy, the growing cost of waste disposal or the cost of maintaining an ever more bloated environmental protection bureaucracy. Almost all environmental damage can be traced to the use of fossil and nuclear energy and fossil raw materials. The greater the investment in solar resources today, the lower the costs imposed on tomorrow.

The longer this transition is postponed, the more costly it will be to implement, as the external costs of the fossil resource base are swelling exponentially.

Yet despite modern society's propensity for squander and waste, the energy debate is being conducted in the most pernickety and parsimonious of terms. There must be a thorough cost—benefit analysis, we are told, to determine whether we can 'afford' a sustainable energy supply. At least, prominent politicians and businessmen seem to assume that society is inclined and compelled to think in such penny-pinch ing terms. Energy for tomorrow must not cost more than energy that cannot last beyond today! The use of such inappropriate yardsticks is symptomatic of the moral prostration of politicians, and the expression of the shameless self-aggrandizement of the business world over the present and future victims of a wantonly destructive energy system.

The debate about the cost of renewable energy illustrates just how far we have to go before we achieve the levels of civilized behaviour in this area that elsewhere we regard as a matter of course. Nobody has the right to simply leave their rubbish lying in the street — patently, the cost of proper disposal must be paid, which in Germany adds up to over €200 ($182) for a four-person household. Energy waste in the form of emissions, by comparison, can simply be tossed out to pollute the atmosphere and environment. Even if renewable energy did cost more than is actually the case, the correct response would be to pay up without demur and alter our spending priorities accordingly. This principle must take precedence over all cost considerations in respect of renewable energy. Those who can see the dangers of continued reliance on fossil resources, but who nevertheless maintain that averting these dangers must be a commercially viable proposition; those who maintain that the introduction of renewable resources must not infringe competition rules to the detriment of fossil resource suppliers: such people will run the economy into the ground within the first half of the 21st century. Ultimately, they are a danger to themselves. The broad-brush approach to the issue of renewable energy and the blanket dismissal on the basis of allegedly too high costs reflect a desperate search for excuses to justify the blatant failings of the fossil energy system.

Irrespective of the basic principle that we must afford investment in the solar future and take it forward as a matter of priority — before road-building and military projects, before subsidies for old structures and, as individuals, before buying expensive cars or foreign holidays — optimal costing of solar investments is indispensable if best use is to be made of the financial resources available. For various reasons — not just to do with avoiding environmental damage — the cost considera tions for solar energy and materials differ from those that pertain to fossil resources. The many factors just discussed which contribute to the potentially far higher productivity of solar resources will only be reflected in cost calculations if profitability is not calculated simply by applying the metrics developed for conventional fossil fuel power generation to solar resources. As long as the wrong measures continue to be used, solar resources will trade below their real commercial value.

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