Bring on the green energy investment

January 22, 2010


By Professor Danny Harvey

– Danny Harvey is a geography professor and energy policy expert at the University of Toronto. He is author of A Handbook on Low-Energy Buildings and District Energy Systems: Fundamentals, Techniques and Examples, and  the forthcoming Energy and the New Reality, Volume 2: C-free Energy, now available in preprint form here.

The world is facing the prospect of massive climatic change during the coming decades, and we’re already seeing the beginnings of this all around us and much faster than predicted – dramatic melting of sea ice, thawing of permafrost, increased loss of ice from Greenland, and drier conditions in many parts of the world.

Climate scientists are nearly unanimous in saying that dramatic and strong action is needed to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy as rapidly as possible.

Small, gradual changes are not good enough. We need large, transformational change – and it will occur sooner or later, and throughout the world.

Thursday it was announced that C$7 billion will be invested to build 2000 MW of new wind turbines and 500 MW of solar PV panels by a consortium headed by Samsung C&T Corp. The total new capacity is about 8 percent of the existing power capacity in the Canadian province of Ontario.

This investment is of the magnitude that is needed if we need are going to seriously address the climatic change issue and also create the critical mass to build a thriving green energy industry with strong exports, but we will need many more such investments.

Both wind and especially solar electricity cost more than the market price of coal or other alternatives, but the market prices do not include the full cost.

More importantly, investments now in emerging technologies helps to bring their costs down through learning-by-doing and begin to build the skilled workforce that will be needed as the pace of development accelerates, leading to yet further price declines.

In the long, we will need many dispersed large wind farms and solar power facilities, linked to each other and to hydro-electric resources in order to provide a reliable and controllable electricity system based entirely on renewable energy resources.

This will cost modestly more than we pay at present, but it is a small price to pay in order to avert near-certain climate disaster.

Higher electricity costs can be offset by more efficient use of electricity and by curbing our often-times very wasteful use of electricity – all of which will be good for us both economically and environmentally.

Note: More detailed analysis can be found in Professor Danny Harvey’s forthcoming book, “Energy and the New Reality, Volume 2: C-free energy”, available in preprint form here .

(Photo: A wind turbine turns round at a wind power plant on top of a mountain in Pyeongchang, about 210 km (130 miles) east of Seoul, May 4, 2007.)

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