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Michael Lynch: Will Dishonesty Kill Cleantech?

Michael Lynch: Will Dishonesty Kill Cleantech? thumbnail

Public debate having become weighted with bombast and extremism, there is still a potential penalty to be paid for dishonesty.  Many forget the story of the debate on homelessness in the 1980s and the sad end of activist Mitch Snyder, famed for extravagant, often tongue-in-cheek protests.  It was thought by some that the issue of homeless policy suffered from the misrepresentation of the problem as one affecting families displaced by condo conversion, when in reality mental illness and substance abuse were the overwhelming causes.

There are those who argue that it is sometimes necessary to, shall we say, exaggerate the seriousness of a problem to get the appropriate attention, and this can certainly be seen in many areas related to energy.  Public figures like David Letterman comment on fracking by describing the “destruction of the Delaware River Valley” and Yoko Ono warned “President Obama, you have two beautiful daughters.  Do you want their health, environment and futures to be irreversibly destroyed by fracking, like the suffering children of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio?”  A previous post mentioned Jackson Browne’s warning that nuclear power would lead to our domination by giant mutant sponges.

Given the decline in the level of political debate recently and the rise of internet trolls, it might seem trivial to worry that dishonesty about an issue of policy could harm some advocates.  But the challenge for Cleantech, most especially the more expensive subsets of solar power and electric vehicles, is the crying need for public support, specifically money, in order to proceed.  As spending grows for these areas, so will scrutiny and as reality conflicts with the claims of advocates there is a very strong likelihood that public opinion will shift, as it has in a number of other nations and some states in the U.S.  Although numerous renewable energy advocates insist that they no longer need government support, this appears to be completely untrue.  That particular point will be explored in some depth in this post; a subsequent post will discuss the cost of solar.

Since the election of Donald Trump, numerous stories have appeared insisting that renewable energy will not have to worry about any steps he takes to cut subsidies for the sector.  For example, the New York Times noted “…the American energy market has already shifted away from the most polluting fossil fuels, driven more by investors and economics than by federal regulations.”

Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund argued on the Huffington Post, “Market forces and technology – not government regulation – are increasingly making old, dirty power plants uneconomical.”  And Jeremy Deaton for Nexus Media said on, “Analysts found that new solar or wind installations are cheaper than a new coal-fired power installation just about everywhere — even without subsidies — while the cost of renewables continues to fall rapidly.”


And of course a plethora of stories have argued that the age of petroleum is over, this time not relying on peak oil supply theories, but peak oil demand.  Specifically,Thierry Lepercq, who says that oil demand will be hit on multiple fronts. He lays out five tsunamis: solar power, battery storage, electric vehicles, “smart” buildings, and cheap hydrogen.”

Reality is very different.  In country after country, where government financial support for renewables has declined, investment in solar has also dropped.  The Guardian in England reported, “UK solar power installations plummet after government cuts:  The amount of household solar power capacity installed in the past two months has plummeted by three quarters following the government’s cuts to subsidies, according to new figures.”

In Japan, solar investment appears to have peaked in 2015, as subsidies have been cut and solar power related bankruptcies have been increasing.  Spanish solar installations in 2015 dropped to the lowest in 20 years after the government shifted policy, and in Germany, solar capacity increased by less than 3% in 2016.

Reports of installations in Chile or Dubai that are selling power cheaply are interesting, but hardly representative of the industry. Costs have come down to where, combined with subsidies and mandates, solar is often attractive. But wherever solar power has boomed, it has been with significant government support and the withdrawal of that support has seen sharp declines in investment. Obviously, in places like Spain or Nevada where homeowners are being charged for having solar panels, it is not clear whether the fees are fair representation of the costs incurred due to the intermittent nature of renewable power, but to pretend that there are no costs, and the fees are merely an unfair tactic by big utilities, risks alienating the voters who must ultimately decide the issue.

By being less than honest, advocates of solar power and electric vehicles are threatening that support, especially as they insist that these technologies are competitive. Regardless of developments in federal renewable policy in the new administration, state level regulations will determine the prospects of the industry, and if the public believes the mantra that solar is now competitive with fossil fuels and withdraws financial and regulatory support, then the future could be bleak.



26 Comments on "Michael Lynch: Will Dishonesty Kill Cleantech?"

  1. Dredd on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 1:31 pm 

    Being under insured is worse than being over insured, but no insurance is the ultimate insanity (The Evolution and Extinction of Affordable Insurance).

    How would you like your warnings to be … underestimates, overestimates, or no estimates?

  2. baha on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 2:36 pm 

    As usual this article is totally one sided. The other side is: As renewables prove to be more efficient and sustainable, FFs will be displaced by market forces…And Forbes will go out of business.

  3. Anonymous on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 2:56 pm 

    Well, forbes is no stranger to dishonesty, its a core part of its business model after all.

    Here we have another wall st mouthpiece, yammering on about how ‘cleantech’ requires subsidies to be ‘competitive’. The unstated implication (as always), is that ‘dirtytech’, is innately competitive and cost-effective. What forbes and their ilk seldom, if ever tell any of its readers, is dirtytech itself, would not exist in anything like its current size, scope or scale, without massive public subsidies. ‘dirtytech’ in all its varied forms costs are massively distorted by corporate welfare and taxpayer subsidies. Since one of the core purposes of many of these subsidies is to make FF artificially ‘cheap’ to end-users(that’d be you and me btw), few people give that particular issue much thought.

    The direct, and indirect subsidies for oil, gas, coal, nuclear etc, absolutely dwarf anything ‘cleantech’ receives. Pointing that out however, would poke huge holes in their favorite narrative that the current costs of ‘dirtytech’ are free of subsidies and are ‘competitive’, whereas ‘cleantech’, can only exist with gov’t handouts.

    But selective reporting and opinion masquerading as fact, are a feature in the empire of lies, not a bug.

  4. Cloggie on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 3:02 pm 

    The direct, and indirect subsidies for oil, gas, coal, nuclear etc, absolutely dwarf anything ‘cleantech’ receives.

    Do I understand it correctly that Anonymouse is quietly transcending into a renewable energy believer?

  5. Gerard B McHale on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 3:07 pm 

    Wholesale spot price of electricity hit $393/Mwh for 30 minutes for New England early AM on Tuesday.
    That is twelve times average price, due to cold and lack of natgas pipeline supply.

    I’m certain few on these boards know pricing, terminology, capacities, etc. of the myriad aspects of the electric market except for what info is available on the net.
    While it is a great research tool, if one is strongly inclined to only seek out self reinforcing sources that buttress previously held beliefs,one is apt to remain woefully misguided.

    An interesting, if highly repugnant, exercise might be to glance at sites skeptical of renewable fuels.
    Then mull over which Fake News you are most comfortable with believing.

  6. Anonymous on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 3:38 pm 

    WTF is that supposed to mean? You a are fucking idiot clogtard. A boat-level retard. Seriously. ‘Belief’ never entered into any of it. Are you too stupid to distinguish between the simple observation that ‘renewables’ are artifacts of fossil-fuel production and distribution networks? I can connect those dots, so do many others here. You, never have. At no point, have I ever taken a pro-fossil-fuel, anti solar or wind position. You’d know that, if paid any attention whatsoever. Too nuanced for you I guess.

    ‘Belief’ is for christians, little children, corporatist shills, and morons like you.

  7. Cloggie on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 4:00 pm 

    Are you too stupid to distinguish between the simple observation that ‘renewables’ are artifacts of fossil-fuel production and distribution networks? I can connect those dots, so do many others here.

    How many of these “dot-connectors” here have relevant formal education and know what they are talking about?

    Renewables are NOT inherently artifacts of fossil-fuel production. You can produce solar panels and wind turbines both with fossil and renewable energy. Energy = energy. In Europe everybody knows that and a broad majority supports building a renewable energy future.

    Keep shooting yourself and the planet in the foot with your fossil fuel addiction.

  8. makati1 on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 5:47 pm 

    The end of oil will kill “clean tech”. It needs oil to exist. End of discussion.

  9. GregT on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 6:17 pm 

    “Energy = energy.”

    Right Cloggie. They won’t be putting a man on the moon any time soon with Solar PV or wind turbines.

    “Renewables are NOT inherently artifacts of fossil-fuel production.”

    “Renewables” are not renewable without fossil fuels, no matter how much you would like to pretend them to be. You aren’t that dumb Cloggie, which leads me to believe that you are simply trolling.

  10. Cloggie on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 6:35 pm 

    Right Cloggie. They won’t be putting a man on the moon any time soon with Solar PV or wind turbines.

    Nobody says that, won’t happen any time soon. Not on the agenda, have more pressing problems, like setting up a 100% renewable energy base first.

    “Renewables” are not renewable without fossil fuels, no matter how much you would like to pretend them to be. You aren’t that dumb Cloggie, which leads me to believe that you are simply trolling

    Can I ask you to write a letter to the European Commission, presiding over 500 million Europeans, among them quite a lot of smart engineers, much smarter than me, and inform them that in your humble opinion they have embarked themselves on a completely futile exercise of planning for a 100% renewable energy base by 2050, because, you see, renewable energy can’t exist without fossil fuel, as per GregT.

    You could save us in Europe a lot of money. Don’t forget to add solid reasoning to that letter. Like the link to a study, you still haven’t presented me yet, but no doubt you some day will.

    The end of oil will kill “clean tech”. It needs oil to exist. End of discussion.

    You can end the discussion all by yourself. You still have to grasp the meaning of a discussion forum.

  11. GregT on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 6:42 pm 

    “Can I ask you to write a letter to the European Commission, presiding over 500 million Europeans, among them quite a lot of smart engineers, much smarter than me, and inform them that in your humble opinion they have embarked themselves on a completely futile exercise of planning for a 100% renewable energy base by 2050, because, you see, renewable energy can’t exist without fossil fuel”

    Too cheap to meter comes to mind Cloggie. Also driven by ‘quite a lot of smart engineers’, much smarter than you or I. And Cloggie, why even bother with alternate electric power generation in the first place? We have plenty of fossil fuels left to last for at least another century. Kind of pointless, don’t you think?

  12. tahoe1780 on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 7:49 pm 

    Traveled recently (by diesel/electric train) from Bellingham to Portland. Saw mile after mile of infrastructure – buildings, bridges, roads, runways, etc. Just how much of that could be built/will be maintained using renewables only? I can see keeping the lights on a bit longer, but as for the rest???

  13. Harquebus on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 8:33 pm 

    “Renewable energy sources are often advocated for their low CO2 emissions at point of use, but the overall product lifecycle is often forgotten about completely. In addition, many chemical products are needed in mining operations, leading to severe long-term pollution.”

  14. Davy on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 8:37 pm 

    Exactly Tahoe, we are talking about a civilization that has grown to such a size that even the finest virgin oil of the highest quality would likely not be enough. How is alternative energy with all its yet to be perfected performance going to create a new world and support the existing decaying one. Granted we still have fossil fuels in the mix but I feel no energy or energy mix can support what we have for much longer. Too many unresolvablle problems of too many varieties. We have become too much for ourselves. I agree with you alternatives have the potential to keep the lights on longer but I have yet to be convinced of a future with alternatives running things.

  15. Boat on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 11:38 pm 

    The numbers for the US and world energy scene will be released soon. You will find wind and solar stealing market share. Oil still has a healthy demand and growing. Guess what, decades of oil still around. GDP for the world expected to grow also. Doom is out for 2017 and collaspe gets smaller in the rear view mirror. In the US we can get Cuban cigars now. Can it get any better?

  16. Jerry McManus on Wed, 11th Jan 2017 11:46 pm 

    Michael Lynch, shilling as he always has, ‘lo these many years.

    This time for a petroleum industry that would really hate to see their big, fat, juicy government subsides for their token “green” energy projects get taken away by a bunch of wild eyed idiots who think so-called “renewables” are anything but a giant government feeding trough for already morbidly obese multi-national corporations.

  17. GregT on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 12:00 am 

    “In the US we can get Cuban cigars now. Can it get any better??’

    Than Cuban cigars? Not likely. That’s about as good as life gets, for some.

  18. GregT on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 12:05 am 

    And Kevin, the word that always so desperately alludes you is collapse, not ‘collaspe’.

    Have you tried lately to upgrade your spell checker? Or are you still running 3.1?

  19. Kathy C on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 4:36 am 

    Having dipped my toes in the world of blogging after being away for several years I am surprised to see the same old arguments being rehashed.

    The denial of reality is still strong and IMO ties into the denial of death. Those who can’t get in touch with the undeniable fact that we are mortals, which means in the end everyone who is alive dies, are desperate to believe that “salvation” is out there. The specter of extinction raises the fear of the death of meaning. This evokes even stronger denial of reality, for “meaning” is the last refuge against personal fear of death. People strive to be “immortal” by leaving progeny or art, literature, or some act to make the world a better place (by whatever personal definition they have of better). If humans go extinct none of that matters, nothing matters.

    Hard sometimes on blogs to separate the trolls (paid, or just the ones who like to pick fights by saying stupid things they know will get a response) from those who are desperately trying to deny reality.

    For anyone who really wants to try to figure out what matters in a world headed to extinction I suggest the novel “Everything matters” by Ron Currie Jr.

    One can argue that some part of us continues to exist after death. Not having died yet I can’t say, but I doubt it. But visit a nursing home as a way of getting in touch with not only the mortality of your physical body, but also what can be expected to happen to your body before you die. Ask yourself how many people over 100 are alive in the world. How many over 150.

    Meanwhile wiki gives the average lifetime of mammal species as 1 million years. Note reports of increased species extinctions in the world. It was always in the cards for our species to go extinct. As our actions on earth increase the extinction of other species, do we have any reason to think that our actions on earth won’t decrease the time our species has to exist. Rather the evidence is increasing that in fact we are creating an unsustainable world for human life. Perhaps the neocon rush to war is seated in that realization. As Richard Heinberg said in his first book, one of the possible scenarios for the end of oil was “last man standing”. When I read his book it seemed to me the most likely way things would end and it seems ever more likely.

    Labeling my thoughts as nihilism is just another way to avoid reality. Give someone’s thoughts a pejorative name and you can ignore them. In fact I don’t think human life has MEANING. Yet I think there is loads of meaning in the world. Its meaning on the daily, personal scale. When I hug someone it means I care about them. When I compliment the clerk at the grocery store I can tell by the smile on her face that it means something to her.

    I did Hospice volunteering for 10 years. When told you are going to die you can deny, fight, and struggle to the last breath. Or you can accept, take help to ease any pain, get right with those you love before you go. Despite all the “right to life” stuff, more and more people are choosing the second option, going into death as gracefully and peacefully as possible. More and more people are signing living wills. More often than the dying being in denial is the family being in denial. They would sometimes rather see their loved one suffer because the mortality of the loved one reminds them of their own mortality. When I saw families do that it always seemed to me an incredibly selfish thing to do.

    Since I accepted the inevitability of death from a young age, I never found it depressing to work with the dying, for I could bring something good to someone in that most inevitable moment of their life. That meant something to me and them.

    Accepting extinction was admittedly a bit harder for me. When the peak oil community was just talking about human population going down to 1/2 million or so, I felt depressed about the fact that billions would die for that population correction to occur. Then I remembered that every one of them would die regardless, dieoff was about when you died, how you died and if you left any progeny. As for meaning, 3.5 billion humans have lives of unbelievable poverty. Extinction means the end of children being born into a life of suffering. If the suffering of those people doesn’t mean anything to you I would suggest that that is a form of nihilism.

  20. makati1 on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 5:22 am 

    Well said, Kathy, Well said. I’m 72 and still in reasonably good health, but I know that my time is short. I am using it to help some younger family and friends to prepare for coming events as best we can. The future is not going to be pleasant and deniers will not be able to deny for much longer. We have made our bed and now we must lie in it, filth and all.

    I have accepted death and have no thought that there is anything after except nothing, like a burned out bulb. I live each day as a gift, not knowing if there will be a tomorrow, but I plan for a long life and hope to make 100, just to watch the wind-down of humanity. And, it is winding down, as you mentioned. Faster every day.

    The death of billions may take decades or happen tomorrow. Never has a species held the power of nuclear energy and the ability to wipe out all life on a planet in a day. We do. Nothing would surprise me. I think there will be zero humans on this planet by 2100. I hope I am wrong.

  21. Davy on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 5:38 am 

    Yea, Kathy, the meaning of meaning is allusive. I have been through a lot including near death more than once over my 50 plus years. I have had spiritual experiences. Was that delusional or real? I have no clue. I doubt there is anything after you die but there is more to it because we are part of something greater. Having gone from A-Z in search of meaning I am now finding meaning in the “Ecos”. I look around at nature and this amazing planet and it is there I am finding meaning. My family is part of that. I am pretty disgusted with everything else but it is what it is. I too find the denial of death a fascinating human trait. Death for me is something one should use to motivate and define life. Death shows value or lack of it. Death is one of those realities we really know for sure. It wakes us up from our denial and delusions. I am afraid of dying like everyone else but what I try to avoid is the circular neuroses of being afraid of being afraid of dying. I am a doomer because I like to reality test optimism not because I like death.

  22. Davy on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 6:00 am 

    “Hudson Bay to Experience Periods of Above Freezing Temperatures, Possible Rainfall During January of 2017”

    “Such a kick has been pushing climate zones northward — sparking numerous instances of unseasonable weather. Meanwhile, some researchers have indicated that the Jet Stream has also tended to produce higher amplitude ridges and troughs as the Northern Hemisphere polar zone has warmed faster than the rest of the world. In these more extensive ridge zones, this climate change related alteration to atmospheric circulation provides big avenues for warm air to enter typically frozen regions during winter”

  23. Cloggie on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 6:14 am 

    When younger I feared decay and death, but no more. At old age there is nothing terrible about dying (at old age). Witnessed the death of both my very dear parents from real close during the recent years. Took care of my mother during her last months so she could stay at home. Her death meant the end of every connection with my youth and the (happy) house where I was raised in. Spend a week in a state of total serenity while scanning the many photo albums left over, as an act of meditation and last dedication. Regularly and gladly visit the stray field behind the crematorium in the forest and stand there for a few minutes. Both fought until the very last to stay alive. My father as always joking, my mother as always afraid. Don’t waste too much thought about the meaning of it all, did that when I was younger. The meaning of life is simple: be born, grow, blossom and die. You can spend your time as a clochard under a bridge with a bottle or you can raise a family, run a business, invent something, create something. The second option has more meaning. For me the Tao is still the most meaningful interpretation. You can never understand life, it is a total mystery. The cycle born-growth-blossom-death applies to everything: flowers, humans, companies, countries, civilizations, species, planets, star systems, the universe. Always liked to live and still do. Don’t mind to die when the candle has burnt.

  24. Davy on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 6:24 am 

    Well said Clog. I have some of the same feelings. Meaning for me is a moving target and it is others who help shape how that moves. Thanks for the personal insight.

  25. rockman on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 5:02 pm 

    Kathy – Yes, aging can bring about philosophy changes from ones “indestructible” youth. To paraphrase you: life happens…and then it stops. But it’s tough to accept the reality that for many not being born is merciful. Human nature to struggle to hang on by your finger nails no matter how desperate the circumstances.

    And since you’ve already got a little taste of my somewhat twisted sense of humor I share one of my well rehearsed ad libs I got to use again at lunch Monday. In a wheelchair some will ask about my condition and I’ll explain it’s progressive multiple sclerosis. Less common some will ask if it’s fatal. My response: Yes, unless I get lucky and something else kills me first. And even less rarely some get it and smile. LOL.

    As you sort of say: you can’t die if you aren’t born. What happens in between? Some you can control…some you can’t. You familiar with the term “lagniappe”? Common in the S Louisiana of my youth. Means something extra, something special. Like the 13th donut in a dozen. For me all I’ve experienced and will in the future is lagniappe. I cheated faith and survived past my 19th birthday. Unlike your hospice experience watching life pass so suddenly was unsettling to say the least. Now…no biggie. Oddly getting a lot closer to the finish line then the start I’m becoming more appreciative of the lagniappe.

    And extinction isn’t difficult to consider for me. But being part paleontologist and seeing countless extinctions in the fossil record it strikes me as just a natural as death itself. IOW why should mankind be more deserving the T-rex? LOL.

    Damn, reading back that’s a lot of philosophizing and at it ain’t quit Happy Hour yet.

  26. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 12th Jan 2017 5:58 pm 

    I think it’s way overstating things to worry that dishonesty could “kill” clean tech.

    OTOH, it’s not doing it any good. I tend to be fairly sympathetic toward it, but the wildly exaggerated claims made in (and especially in the misleading titles of) many green tech. articles just give the deniers fuel, as they can claim that BOTH sides of the argument are quite dishonest.

    Clean tech can be honest and straightforward and let the numbers do the talking as it progresses. Much to the chagrin of the “super-greens” the progress will take time, but it will be very significant as time passes.

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