Experts, at least the ones I have talked to, cannot see how renewables and electric cars will make a meaningful impact on hydrocarbon demand in the medium term. Factors such as intermittency of supply and storage, coupled with economic growth in India, China and Africa and the requirements for chemical inputs are some of the factors that drive their opinion. Add to this the energy required to produce cement and the methane contribution from red meat farming and it covers many of the themes suggesting the modern economy would fail quickly without oil and that this is not changing anytime soon.
When I talk to the investors, however, they tell me that it is now much easier to finance renewables than oil. The returns required are often 5-10x higher for fossils than for wind or solar. Though some are fearful of the potential knock-on effects of the “CRD-IV” Basel regulations.
When I hear Rob West speak, he tells us about the is the possibility that the current low investment in oil and gas may meet the natural decline curves on the way-down and growth demands on the way-up to form a spike in the Oil price. Such increases have previously been the portent for economic slow-down, the rise in violent protest and countries going to war with their neighbours.
There are countless articles that repeat the claims about the fall in Solar prices being dramatic enough to threaten conventional and nuclear generation. Here’s just one sample on “oilprice.com”:
“The Next Stage Of The Solar Boom Is Already Underway”
However there was a rather underreported article recently in the FT which migh suggest something different:
[…] Yingli was the world’s largest solar-panel maker in 2012 and 2013, exporting all over the globe and celebrated in China as a national champion…..Today Yingli is insolvent. It has been defaulting on debt payments since 2016, and in 2018 it was kicked off the New York Stock Exchange because its market capitalisation had sunk below the minimum $50m threshold. Although Yingli still makes solar panels, its factories operate at a loss and the most valuable asset it has left is the land underneath them….The company is the highest profile casualty of a change in policy that is being felt across the renewable energy sector in a country once celebrated as the world’s clean energy champion. Chinese investment in clean energy is plummeting — down from $76bn during the first half of 2017, to $29bn during the first half of this year.
Maybe the fall in the price of solar may not be all to do with manufacturing efficiency and fall in production cost, perhaps it’s also to do with the marginal cost of production, large fixed asset factories, sunk costs and supply-and-demand.
Whatever opinion you may rationally deduce is of no relevance. We’re going down a renewables route on a green agenda that no longer needs to stand the test of traditional economics and logic but will become a defining shared belief. Something that can’t be questioned. Something that is above rational thought. As one of the UK Ministers said a few years ago “We no longer need experts”.
If members of our network are to proposer in the short-run they must understand the impact these forces will have on their business and take action. In the long-run economics and logic will re-assert, but by then the world will have changed and who knows what we might discover we can do by making seemingly irrational choices? Perhaps there will be game-changing, unpredictable inventions found. You cannot prosper in the long-run if you don’t survive the short-run.
As John Maynard Keynes said in 1925, “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”.