So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that government financing of “green energy” has become such a hot topic in Congress, especially over the last twelve months. From the fall of the solar manufacturer Solyndra in 2011 to the recent collapse of Amonix, government-backed renewable energy programs receive “all the buzz” on Capitol Hill.
Yet as these fiery debates rage on, politicians and energy wonks tend to ignore another issue that remains just as integral to the sustainable movement—energy efficiency.
While lawmakers argue about renewable energy, utility companies have been actively offering incentives to encourage energy savings (check out this example in Michigan). These efforts have actually done more to reduce fossil fuel consumption and nuclear
waste than renewable investment.
The European Union has long pushed renewable energy development, but even European countries have started to encounter economic obstacles to their efforts. The main issue with renewable development is that new technology requires huge capital investments, and the payoff often doesn’t come for a while.
Germany has been stealing most of the limelight today with its promise to go “nuclear-free” by 2022 and become fully “renewable” by 2050. Twenty percent of Germany’s electricity comes from renewable sources, and three percent alone comes from solar. These numbers are impressive and show extraordinary potential for the future. Unfortunately, the government is starting to realize that it bit off more than it could chew.
Officials recently announced that the government would only be able to cover half of the program’s $420 billion price tag, and reports say bankers are unlikely to front the rest. Germany emerged as an economic leader in the European Union economic crisis, but its policymakers are panicking as they discover that large-scale renewable investment is a bit
over their budget.
Currently, the average German family of four pays $14 a month in subsidies for renewable energy programs, while the average household pays 36 cents per kilowatt-hour on average; Americans, in contrast, pay around 9.8 cents.
Spain, the first country to make “solar” cool, essentially withdrew from the green race a couple years ago in an effort to save its economy, and it continues to struggle with debt problems. Renewable programs have stagnated overall, and the future remains uncertain. Italy, on the other hand, has a more practical reason to become more self-sufficient. Most of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear plants in France, and this imported power is very expensive. Solar programs have gained some momentum, justified by the country’s ideal climate. But economic setbacks, combined with the Mafia’s corrupt absorption of subsidies, have increasingly shifted the government’s focus to offshore drilling.
Last week, the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti announced that the country would be reopening its coastlines to drilling in an effort to stimulate its lagging economy. In other words, renewable programs have been placed on the backburner until further notice.
At the same time, China is taking advantage of renewable subsidy programs throughout the world, including those of the U.S.A. Several countries buy their solar panels from China, placing it as a renewable industry leader.
In summary, renewable energy has been struggling throughout Europe, while China has made a pretty penny from its renewable-related exports.
As for the United States, renewable energy sources comprise 14.3 percent of our total domestic electricity production, leaving the remainder open to fossil fuels and nuclear power.
If we truly want to limit our dependence on oil and cut back nuclear waste immediately and avoid the economic pitfalls of our neighbors, we have to attack the problem at its source before we fully venture into renewables.
We need to become more energy-efficient.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that about ten percent of our federal government’s energy-related tax subsidies go to energy efficiency, while almost 70 percent goes to renewable energy. Ironically, energy efficiency continues to stimulate
the economy on a large scale as it cuts utility costs and makes businesses cheaper to run, while government subsidized renewable programs have only made a small dent in our fossil fuel and nuclear consumption.
Moreover, some businesses that waste electricity are rewarded with deductions on their tax returns, while those who opt to be energy efficient receive no benefit.
According to Energy Department figures, the amount of energy necessary to support just one office worker for a day produces twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as that person’s drive to work. Simple improvements in lighting, heating, cooling and windows
could do a great deal to limit our wasteful energy practices, but the incentives for these areas are hard to come by.
Should we lose hope in green power and slash all renewable subsidies? No. We simply need to reprioritize.
Renewable energy is still “all the rage” in the “sustainable” world, and renewable programs will continue to gain ground as technological advancement lowers the cost of investment. They are a step in the right direction and worthy of government support.
But the source of our energy consumption is clearly the more pressing issue at hand. We can’t overlook the potential of energy-efficiency as we strive for a more sustainable world.