Why solar and wind power need to be more than vanity projects


climate-change_1509200cSolar may be the way forward for sun-drenched countries like Haiti, but there are caveats. It’s expensive to get it going and oil and coal prices are expected to fall sharply, making fossil fuel the cheap and easy option for poor countries. Rich ones too, for that matter.

Consider Bjørn Lomborg’s commentary on wind-powered Copenhagen’s ambitions to be the world’s CO2-neutral city by 2025. It sounds good but it can only do this, says the good professor, if it hogs the right to “feel righteous”.

In other words, Copenhagen would have to be the only CO2-neutral location in the whole area, virtuously using electricity generated by the 100 new wind turbines planned for the greater Copenhagen area and the shallow waters around it. Everywhere else in the vicinity of the Danish capital would have to use “fossil fuels” in order to allow Copenhagen to offset needs unmet by its unpredictable wind power.

Professor Lomborg says the new wind turbines would generate enough power (360 megawatts) to “more than cover Copenhagen’s electricity needs – and the surplus can be used to offset the city’s remaining CO2 emissions, including from the city’s millions of non-electric cars.”

But, here’s the rub. “Copenhagen’s success thus depends on the surrounding areas not aiming for CO2 neutrality. After all, the whole accounting exercise works only if others are still using fossil fuels… In this sense, Copenhagen is hogging the chance to feel righteous.”

The implications are unsavoury, especially with fossil fuels expected to get a great deal cheaper by 2020.

Professor Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, makes a very important point. He rejects climate change evangelists cheering politicians on when they “spend public money on feel-good climate projects based on distant – and unreliable – predictions”. Instead, he argues that “citizens should encourage their leaders to invest those funds in clean-energy research and development, with the goal of making renewables inexpensive enough to overcome fossil fuels in the market.”

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac