Jesse Parent: “It’s not that “shale gas” is stealing the show altogether, it’s just that the US is chronically not well positioned, and the last five years have only made that worse” – that’s more or less how I feel about shale gas vs renewable development. My position and understanding of this situation has been evolving on this matter; I remember being initially put off by the amount of hype shale gas had gotten so swiftly. Yet now, even seeing how such hype has developed, I realize there are more dominant underlying factors as to why non-hydrocabon based innovation is less likely to take place here in the US – in the same tune as my commentary on why Thorium nuclear power is unlikely to prosper here in the US.
This week, the topic has come up again thanks to OurEnergyPolicy.org: “Digging a Hole with Natural Gas?” concluded with these discussion questions, and part of my response is below: Is an increasing reliance on domestically produced natural gas a threat to long-term energy security or stable access to electricity? Are there unintended negative consequences that will accompany a transition to natural gas? What does a safe and smart energy mix look like going into the future?
When I think about this topic, my thought process has evolved from simply what is going on in the US to what is going on around the world, and how that fits into the big picture. To be brief, I don’t see renewable energy innovation happening in the US on any grand scale; the politics of energy and the national mindset is not conducive to such now; there may have been a chance a few years ago – and especially so without the global economic recession. An Obama administration without being dominated by the recession and bailout mess, and the spearheading of healthcare as a big ticket item, would have been a much more likely ‘environment’ for renewable development. Whether it would have turned out well (Solyndra) is not for sure, but, the point is, I really don’t see a situation conducive towards renewable energy growth or development right now, in the US.
Fukushima, along with Solyndra and the economy have created a more conservative attitude (which may as of late be breaking), but the hype and ‘results’ (price competition and drop in CO2 emissions) of the shale gas boom has taken the wind out of renewable energies’ sales, sails, and turbines.
It seems more likely that at best intellectual progress would be made in some of the well-equipped US institutions, but as far as actual national development, and private market incentive, there is comparatively less potential within the US.
I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate to ‘blame shale gas’, or see shale gas / tight oil as blocking renewable progress; I’m beginning to see that as a more or less ideological statement of discontent – particularly those who think the US can/should get off of fossil fuels, right now. I don’t blame them for having such aspirations, but, the more I spend time examining both US politics and government functioning, the less likely I see a situation for renewable energy breakthroughs, full stop.
It seems much more likely that the US will cling to advancing hydrocarbon technologies, and perhaps look to adopt up-and-coming renewables from other countries; I think of Europe and the Middle East (UAE, for example), as being places with much more ‘incentive’ (less hydrocarbon options, less beholden to hydrocarbon industries), for any major breakthroughs to happen. Even in terms of nuclear power, I’d look to Japan or Germany, perhaps even someplace like India, as being much more likely to innovate than the US.
I say all of this because I have seen many remarks citing how shale gas will ruin the funding or sense of urgency that renewables needed – and I’ve felt that way in the past. I still do, somewhat, but there’s more to the story than that; the US isn’t well positioned in general due to the preexisting energy and economic environment. Throwing a gigantic new opportunity in refracking old sites, and the opportunity to refine and spread the use of US industry technologies to a thirsty global market, and it makes renewable progress even less likely.
United States Energy Consumption (L), Production (R) via EIA Annual Report 2011
So again, it’s not that “shale gas” is stealing the show altogether, it’s just that the US is chronically not well positioned, and the last five years have only made that worse, and not better, overall.
I think renewables will continue to struggle forward, and will not receive much more support until something important happens, or, there is a sense of “we’re finally out of that recession”, which is not yet the case. If the next presidential administration is Obama, a ripe opportunity may come again in the next few years provided the economy blossoms. If there is a Romney administration, this is less likely, especially if there is not economic progress.
In the mean time, the dominant inertia outcome is a stronger reliance on and celebration of natural gas – and I’d be very surprised if Keystone XL was not cleared as well, which is also cited in deterring the growth of non-hydrocarbon energy in the US.
If I was an adviser to the president on security or energy issues, I would very much continue to push forward for US focus on renewable energy and particularly getting off oil and retooling transportation. But there appears to be very little momentum for significant progress along those lines, given the current situation.
What are your thoughts? Check out the discussion over at OurEnergyPolicy.org
Is an increasing reliance on domestically produced natural gas a threat to long-term energy security or stable access to electricity? Are there unintended negative consequences that will accompany a transition to natural gas? What does a safe and smart energy mix look like going into the future?
- – -
For more of Jesse’s thoughts throughout the week and to see what news he’s following, you are invited to join the conversation via Twitter and Facebook.