Houses of parliament image via mikepaws/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Three things you shouldn’t miss this week

  1. Article: Are fossil fuels about to become extinct? – With costs continuing to fall, Solar’s big break could be just three years.
  1. Article: Shell and BP alone eclipse renewable energy sector on access to ministers – Coalition government granted far more meetings to fossil fuel sector than renewable energy companies between 2010 and 2014, Guardian analysis reveals. 
  1. Podcast: Stephen Devlin talks about divestment and the carbon bubble in the Weekly Economics Podcast.

 

With less than a week to go before the UK election, energy policy has been pushed to the sidelines. Despite this lack of attention, important changes are underway and challenging the viability of traditional energy.
 
We’ve previously reported on the transformative potential of solar power: this is now increasingly recognised by financial analysts. In North America solar has become a threat for non-renewables and the entire power industry as it currently operates, according to Wood Mackenzie Research Director Prajit Ghosh. This week Bernstein forecast that in several key markets solar plus storage will become cheaper than retail electricity within three years. Tesla and Bill Gates are among those racing to develop reliable and affordable power storage to compensate for the variable nature of sun and wind power. The dominance of the traditional utility model based on centralised, fossil-fuelled power stations is facing an increasingly genuine challenge.
 
It’s not only utility companies that are under pressure. This week saw the profits of fossil fuel companies, including BP, fall as they restructure and the industry accumulates debt to cope with the falling oil price. Public pressure on the industry is mounting as the divestment movement gains momentum – just yesterday the Church of England announced it would end investment in coal and tar sands, with the Pope also expected to make the moral case for combating climate change. An industry insider, the former Shell Chairman James Smith, accused fossil fuel companies of leaving it to others to come up with real solutions. In reality the sector’s resistance to change is probably more proactive: allegations made this week suggest Shell lobbied the EU to undermine renewables targets to favour gas.
 
This brings us back to the role of the next government in driving energy policy. This week not only saw successful lobbying at the EU-level but also a disturbing cosiness between Whitehall and big energy companies. While change already seems under way in spite of political apathy, given the huge transition still required, it is important energy and climate policy moves to the centre stage.