At the same time, over the years the percent of fossil fuels in the global primary energy mix has barely changed. Do you think they also underestimated the growth in fossil fuel use?
I think you meant the decline not the growth. I agree though that everyone that talked about the decline of fossil fuel was wrong so far. In 10 years though I can see oil being used much less, but natural gas will still be used just as much.
Global fossil fuel growth has grown. For example in 2012 coal + oil + nat gas consumption was 126 TWh. In 2022 after the covid crash it was 137 TWh.
This is a story that doesn’t get enough attention, and it isn’t a new story. Renewable adoption has been on the high side of projections for at least 15 years, and renewable targets have (almost always) been easily met well ahead of schedule. That means we’re setting the targets too low.
Yet largely un-investable. Solar stocks are nothing you’d want to hold.
The money is in the installation and construction.
Why is that? It seems like solar and wind farms once they are installed have very low operating costs, zero costs for their “fuel”, and don’t have to be taken completely offline for maintenance. It seems like they are the closest thing out there to a money printing machine. What am I missing?
System costs. The most obvious one is storage (backup costs). There is also increased variability and instability costs (balancing costs). Connection costs to the grid are also higher. Many places with the best sun and wind are far from cities and the existing grid. Offshore wind is an obvious example.
For, say, 30% penetration levels the total grid level costs are an order of magnitude or more for wind and solar. This is an old study, but it gives you the general idea.
So the 100+ year old infrastructure that has been built to support mostly fossil fuel and to a lesser extent nuclear electricity generation doesn’t support wind and solar very well. One wonders how sticking hydro generators out in the middle of the desert, think Hoover Dam and Lake Powell, or isolated places like Grand Coulee Dam or many of the TVA sites came into being. Surely they would have been as unprofitable.
Most (all?) of them are major infrastructure projects, with extremely long time lines (expected service life). They are considered unprofitable for profit-seeking businesses because of that point because business requires a relatively short ROI time frame (quarters and maybe a few years). Major infrastructure has a payoff time frame in terms of multiple decades–far beyond the capability of most major profit-seeking businesses.
I don’t know the numbers, but what comes to mind is that they aren’t distributed and intermittent power sources. But then again, if they didn’t exist maybe they wouldn’t be built today.
Of course, I don’t think there aren’t any hydro projects being planned in the US. More the opposite…
Confidential Agreement Revealed Between Biden Administration and Environmental Groups Over Dam Removals
So it comes down to a question of vision. In the past we were able to think intergenerationally and now we struggle to think beyond the next quarter.
I remember a prominent “thought leader” bristling at criticism that he lacked “the vision thing”, 35 years ago. Seems he was just a bit ahead of his time?
When pressed about what his potential agenda might be, he referred to the need for a broad, defining purpose or political agenda as “the vision thing.”
However, (some guy’s) mention of “the vision thing” was widely interpreted as an admission of his struggle to articulate a grand, inspiring, and overarching theme or vision for his presidency.
Critics often pointed to this perceived lack of vision as a weakness in his leadership style, as opposed to the highly thematic and narrative-driven presidencies of (other folks)
I don’t know, Puck. You asked a question, were presented with some pretty strong economics and then came up with a situation from almost a century ago.
Solar and wind clearly aren’t money-printing machines, except maybe for the subsidies.
As were the transcontinental railroads.
All the commercial airlines, in total, according to Buffet haven’t made in money in their 100 or so years. Doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable or useful
I’ll take Mr. Buffet at his word. However, that doesn’t answer Pucks’ question about solar/wind not being money printing machines. I offered an answer. Not sure he liked it, but there you are.
Infrastructure is a service. It costs money. Ask the people of Georgia.
If you look at the likes for that post, you will see that I did like it. You actually answered a question that I asked, and I appreciated that. I will remember this comment of yours before bothering to do that again.
There are two different lines of thought that got confused in this thread. One is building wind and solar. And the other is running wind and solar. Building wind and solar hasn’t been that great. It is similar to a lot of young industries (cars, airplanes, airlines, computers) where there is lot of competition and it takes a long time to shake out the weak hands.
For utilities running wind and solar it has been fine. Utilities are basically guaranteed to make money, just not too much.