Bill Gates punctures the renewables fantasy balloon

I know that renewables provide a useful but limited resource for our energy needs. I know that they are economic only in some specialised niches in the energy sector. I dislike the distortion in the market caused by subsidies generally and power generation subsidies in particular. I “know” because I have worked within the energy sector including the renewables sector for some 40 years. I have made the calculations myself and I don’t rely on advocacy reports or alarmist scenarios. I have made the calculations of the various benefits accruing to the developers, the equipment manufacturers, the power plant owner/operators and the consumers. Grant subsidies allow the developers to make money at the cost of the consumer. Feed-in tariffs and tax breaks allow the owner/operator to make money at the cost of the consumer. Subsidies attract the “cowboy” developers and manufacturers who take their money and arrange a suitable bankruptcy at the appropriate time. If subsidies are reduced or removed, it is all too easy for the owner/operator to walk away without losses and without liability. It is consumers and the duped small investors who pay the cost.

I pay little attention to publicity hungry “personalities” who jump on the nearest fashionable, image enhancing band-wagon. I am highly suspicious of the rich and famous supporting “causes”, without any exercise of mind and primarily for the sake of publicity and image. I admire but don’t much care for Microsoft’s autocratic ways (and  I do use Windows) and see Bill Gates as extraordinary in his field but not as any kind of expert on energy matters. But he is a “personality” with a very valid claim to fame – in his area. So it is gratifying to read this report, even if it has no real impact on my views, at least as one example of a rich and famous “personality” who bothered to think.

The A-Register:

Retired software kingpin and richest man in the world Bill Gates has given his opinion that today’s renewable-energy technologies aren’t a viable solution for reducing CO2 levels, and governments should divert their green subsidies into R&D aimed at better answers.

Gates expressed his views in an interview given to the Financial Times yesterday, saying that the cost of using current renewables such as solar panels and windfarms to produce all or most power would be “beyond astronomical”. At present very little power comes from renewables: in the UK just 5.2 per cent, the majority of which is dubiously-green biofuel burning1 rather than renewable ‘leccy – and even so, energy bills have surged and will surge further as a result.

In Bill Gates’ view, the answer is for governments to divert the massive sums of money which are currently funnelled to renewables owners to R&D instead. This would offer a chance of developing low-carbon technologies which actually can keep the lights on in the real world.

“The only way you can get to the very positive scenario is by great innovation,” he told the pink ‘un. “Innovation really does bend the curve.”

Gates says he’ll personally put his money where his mouth is. He’s apparently invested $1bn of his own cash in low-carbon energy R&D already, and “over the next five years, there’s a good chance that will double,” he said.

The ex-software overlord stated that the Guardian‘s scheme of everyone refusing to invest in oil and gas companies would have “little impact”. He also poured scorn on another notion oft-touted as a way of making renewable energy more feasible, that of using batteries to store intermittent supplies from solar or wind. 

“There’s no battery technology that’s even close to allowing us to take all of our energy from renewables,” he said, pointing out – as we’ve noted on these pages before – that it’s necessary “to deal not only with the 24-hour cycle but also with long periods of time where it’s cloudy and you don’t have sun or you don’t have wind.” ……

I would go further of course. A low-carbon economy itself is nothing to aspire to unless it makes commercial sense. It does not now and will not for many years to come. It achieves nothing for climate but does increase costs, everywhere and particularly in the developing world where fossil fuels are needed most. In Europe, the obsession with renewables has delayed the financial recovery and has cost almost 20 million jobs.

Though Bill Gates does not qualify as an energy expert, he certainly does qualify as an influential investor. He even qualifies as an informed investor in the energy sector. So some little common sense from one of the very rich and famous to balance the irrational, do-gooding and sanctimonious mouthings of others is always welcome.

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