Dieter Helm Wrong: No Need to Wait for New Technology

Whenever I see Dieter Helm publish something, I expect to find some errors writing about. His newest opinion piece for CNN does not disappoint that expectation.

He presents this misguided observation on renewable energy:

What would be even better is if some of the money were spent on new technologies. Current renewables can’t bridge the carbon gap. Low-density intermittent energy just doesn’t generate enough electricity to carry though decarbonisation. But future renewables just might, and here is not only the best hope on the climate front, but also precisely where the U.S. stars.

That should probably read “through”, not “though”. But anyway, while it is true that renewable energy sources like wind and solar are low-density and intermittent, that only means you need to build more of them.

Instead, Helm wants us to wait for some new magic technology which may or may not be developed soon enough to make a difference for the climate. Waiting is wrong. Existing technology needs to be deployed full speed ahead, never mind the cost, which will always be much cheaper than the damages from global warming avoided by such deployment.

And deployment is extremely effective in getting prices down. Americans still pay double of what Germans pay for rooftop solar, while using quite the same technology. The reason is that massive deployment brings down prices. Waiting for some marginal improvement would mean no massive deployment, and therefore actually less progress with getting prices down.

Helm also writes this:

 Sadly Europe is engaged in a dash from nuclear and gas towards coal.

It needs to waste less money on current expensive renewables — especially the really expensive options like offshore wind — and get serious about future renewables.

That is true as far as nuclear is declining. It is not true for the mid or long term prospects of coal. Building new coal plants is not profitable with rising market shares of renewable energy, which cut into the capacity factors of these plants.

And “current expensive renewables” are transforming rapidly into “cheap future renewables”, exactly by following the sound strategy of deploy, deploy, deploy, and deploy some more, and ignoring anti-renewable propaganda from people like Helm who try to stand in the way of doing something about global warming.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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