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If you can’t beat them, invest in them: Oil companies and investors look toward renewable energy

Austin Wang

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Oil and gas companies are feeling headwinds from the decreasing costs and increasing popularity of renewable energy. Consequently, they are looking at cleaner solutions. In 2017, oil and gas consultancy agency Wood Mackenzie recommended traditional energy companies invest heavily in renewables.  Companies have obviously taken note.

European companies lead the charge

In 2018, big oil and gas companies spent about 1 percent of their budgets on renewable energy investments. European oil companies, in particular, have embraced the shift to renewable energies. According to a study by the Carbon Disclosure Project, about 70% of Europe’s renewable capacity has been funded by large traditional European energy companies.

Furthermore, European oil companies are funding nearly all of Europe’s current developments in renewable energy capacity. Shareholder pressure is a driving force behind renewable energy investments, so companies are starting to be more conscious about sustainability.

Ultimately, renewable energy is still a risky business where disruptive technology and uncertain government policies can heavily affect returns.

Investors turn towards renewables

Investment funds are also taking note of the renewable shift. The renewable energy industry offers an attractive CAGR of almost 21% according to a report by Technavio. Institutional investors who have traditionally favored oil and gas companies due to more consistent profits are now being drawn in by the renewable industry’s high growth prospects.

A $1 trillion Norway-government-owned investment fund, the Government Pension Fund Global, has announced it will invest $14 billion into the renewable energy industry.

Renewable energy companies are also often dependent on government subsidies to make a profit. Given the current political climate, subsidy-reliance has deterred investors away from renewable energy companies. Luckily, buzz over The Green New Deal may provide a catalyst for greater renewable energy investment. Even if The Green New Deal is never implemented, its proposal could still cause renewable stock prices to rise since it signals that U.S. voters are more willing to adopt clean energy policies.

Conclusions

While a renewable revolution is still far from here, rising renewable energy investments are a good sign for the planet’s health. If even oil companies are breaking tradition and putting their money into renewable energies, there are likely huge growth prospects for the industry coming soon.

As renewable energy companies gain more capital, they can afford to invest in more research and development. Even a temporary surge of capital could be enough to bring along the next breakthrough in GreenTech.

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Energy

How Switching to Renewables Impacts Policy In the West: A Quick Look Back and a Bright Look Forward

Elisha Israel

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Since World War II, the United States has been an economic and military leader. But more generally, the United States has always been a resource-rich country. As the demands of consumers grew with technology, some Western countries started to realize that they didn’t have adequate resources. Cue renewables, but first, let’s take a look back at history.

A brief look back at history

These demands led to the beginning of the fossil fuel resource wars of the 20th and 21st century. One of the earliest and most striking examples occurred in 1951. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1950 on a platform of nationalizing the British-owned Iranian oil industry. Mossadegh’s platform of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry was a threat to both British interests and the rest of the Western world.

In a joint operation between Britain’s MI6 and the United States’ CIA, dissent was nurtured in Iran. Ultimately, this led to Mossadegh’s overthrow in 1951. This relatively early example of Western interference in fossil fuels is only the tip of the iceberg. Political, economic and military interference in the Middle East, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa would ensue.

As interference continued, the United States began protecting Western pipelines and shipping routes across many other locations around the globe.

Renewables pave the way for exciting developments in energy

The rapidly declining cost and increased accessibility of energy storage create a huge opportunity. Whether solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or any other abundant method are the means for energy generation, the concern of maintaining baseload power becomes less of a concern.

When we are able to store enough energy to meet all the needs of our energy economies on both micro and macro scales, the need for fossil fuels in our energy economy becomes minimal to none. Clearly, the impact of renewables could be massive. The other concern is the fossil fuel demand for plastics. Research and developments are continuing in this space from a variety of diffferent organic and lab-based materials.

As the need for fossil fuels decline, the need for global protectionism and intervention by current fossil fuel consumers lessens. The economic interests of those parties lessens as well, leading to a reduced need to protect fossil fuel-based pipelines and shipping routes.

The energy economy is critical

This leads to foreign policy driven by mutual economic interests that don’t include fossil fuels. The energy economy is essential. Without it, everything stops. And the current opportunity that it presents leads us to a future that is not only more equitable to our environment, but also more sustainable in the long term.

This leads us to the end of the fossil fuel resource war, opening up economic opportunity in new and exciting ways in a distributed energy economy.

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Energy

How will solar energy hold up against Hurricane Dorian?

Austin Wang

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As Hurricane Dorian wreaks havoc across Florida, electrical grids across the state will go down. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, between 7 and 10 million people lost power in the middle of a brutally hot summer. When traditional energy grids go down, people can often turn to solar-powered generators for power. However, will the solar panels powering 380,000 homes in Florida be able to withstand a hurricane?

Solar power during Hurricane Irma

Based on past disasters, probably yes. During Hurricane Irma, most solar panels survived the disaster with minimal damages. Florida’s largest utility, NextEra Energy Inc., only had around 400 out of their 1 million panels damaged over the course of the storm. Most utilities recognize that Florida is disaster-prone and purposefully build solar panels to be incredibly sturdy.

Both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Dorian were rated as category 5 hurricanes, so we can expect solar panels to do just fine. However, most utilities are still taking down or bolting down their panels just to be safe.

Can solar disaster-proof our energy grid?

After Irma, some homeowners were even able to immediately continue using solar-powered generators and solar-storage. As blackouts grow increasingly common with climate change, solar-powered backup systems could become increasingly popular. The resilience of solar panels only adds to the narrative that solar panels are often a cost-saving addition to a home.

The Bahamian government is also planning to increase reliance on renewable energies, which may reduce their vulnerability to blackouts. Directly after Hurricane Dorian struck, the Bahamas suffered constant blackouts. Luckily, the Bahamas plan to produce 30% of the country’s electricity through renewable sources by 2030. Hopefully, a more diversified energy portfolio will help the country prevent blackouts.

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Energy

Climate change poses a serious threat to power grids

Austin Wang

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It’s common knowledge that the oil and natural gas industries are bad for the environment, but the fact that oil and gas threaten electricity supply is much more counterintuitive. Climate change and the resulting extreme weather are a growing cause of blackouts, and as “dirty” energies contribute to climate change, they also indirectly threaten the stability of the power grids they supply.

Blackouts become a rapidly-growing threat

While it may seem far fetched that climate change has caused significant increases in outages, there has been a huge rise in blackouts over the past decade. A report by Climate Central finds that from the mid-1980s to 2012, blackout rates increased tenfold. From 2003 to 2014, an estimated 147 million people were affected by weather-related blackouts.

Storms, tornadoes, and extreme heat all cause blackouts, and climate change only increase the frequency of these events. As global warming continues to raise temperatures, blackouts will become more and more frequent.

Heatwaves make electric grids unusable

Today, heat waves are a serious threat to energy security. Yesterday, one of the largest electric grids in Texas declared an energy conservation emergency as temperatures rose above 100 degrees. As residents scrambled to use air conditioning, electricity demand spiked across Texas. The Energy Reliability Council of Texas suggested that residents reduce energy demand from 3 to 7 pm to prevent blackouts.

Similar energy emergencies could happen all across hot arid regions of the U.S. A study from UCLA’s Institute of Energy and Sustainability found that climate change could cause sweeping blackouts in LA. The combination of a growing population and rising temperatures could easily increase air conditioner use and trigger power grid shutdowns.

Blackouts during extreme heat can be incredibly dangerous as people struggle to cool their homes. In the 1995 Chicago heat wave, an estimated 739 people died due to extreme temperatures and power failures.

Detroit takes a stand to improve power grid security

In Michigan, the state with the most weather-related power outages, citizens are advocating for change. An estimated 800,000 Michigan residents suffer from weather-related blackouts every year and outages are expected to become more frequent.

Detroit has taken steps towards improving power grid security. Utility DTE Energy proposed a $4.2 billion dollar plan to modernize Detroit’s energy grid and make it more resilient to weather-related disasters. However, some argue against fixes that fail to target the root of the problem.

Instead, many activists in Detroit are advocating for the expansion of solar energy. Using solar panels to create community-based micro-grids would allow communities to continue using power during blackouts. Decentralizing the energy supply could also make utility bills cheaper and reduce citizens’ reliance on large utility companies. On a larger scale, solar energy would also slow climate change and the resulting extreme weather effects.

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