High fossil fuel prices could paradoxically jeopardize the transition to renewables if voters are cold-eyed

High fossil fuel prices could paradoxically jeopardize the transition to renewables if voters are cold-eyed

In many ways, the high energy prices of 2022 unintentionally favor renewables, as they are the cheapest form of energy and not dependent on the usual players (fracking, OPEC, Russia, etc.). So, coupled with concerns about climate change (and the extreme weather of 2022), voters in many countries are eager to address this issue, and renewables are ready with fairly rapid deployment capability.

But if those same voters are beaten enough, the momentum could go the other way.

Here and now, Europe is facing gas shortages this winter thanks to the reduction of Russian natural gas, gasoline prices in 2022 have exhausted everyone in the world and have not only driven up the prices of filling reservoirs, but have fueled global inflation as virtually all consumer products are shipped using fossil fuels (on ocean, rail and haul trucks).

Through it all, many parties have offered possible solutions ranging from renewable energy to “baby drilling” in the United States (repeat from 2008) to right-wing politicians offering easy answers and outright lies. For now, renewables are profiting from this clash of the Titans, but in the end, voters choose the path they want, and in times of turmoil and trauma, reactionary views can often prevail.

Voters are perfectly willing to kill the messenger and fall for easy answers. The only thing holding this back is that the absurdity has yet to gain traction.

But there are many worrying signs that this could bite:

“Drill, baby drill” posits the easy answer that more oil will solve the problem of high gas prices, but it won’t, as refinery shortages caused much of 2022’s price spikes. But even center and left politicians are drawn to this easy answer.

Macron made a statement on the end of energy abundance. Many predictable reactions resulted from Kinsley’s gaffe (with more than a grain of truth), and his government won the last election by less than a majority. Easy answers from the right can gain traction and bring them to power where they can undo progress toward renewable energy.

Australia has a new government fighting climate change, but if it doesn’t act fast enough it could lose the next election. They have the right idea – the transition to renewable energy – but voters love instant gratification, and lies and easy answers can provide it (even when they lead to more failures). And remember that isolated problems can overcome long-term climate concerns.

In New Zealand, support for incumbent progressive Jacinda Ardern is down due to inflation, same for Biden and Trudeau, et al. Incumbents usually pay the price for global problems like inflation despite the fact that they didn’t cause it, nor do they have a magic giant red “Fix Inflation Now” button on their desks. that they refuse to support.

War fatigue may cause Western nations to waver in their support for Ukraine. This would accelerate the return of Russian oil and gas to the market to lower consumer prices. This of course makes the transition to renewable energy more difficult.

On the other hand, electric vehicle sales are currently on the rise thanks to massively increased demand and moderately increased supply, but history has shown that when oil prices drop after surges, customers instantly return to the purchase of new gas-guzzling SUVs (blocking these emissions for their 15-20 year lifespan).

Piecemeal implementation of renewables can backfire when there is not enough firming up for long distance transmission in place. A weak wind in the UK, for example, can convince voters that renewables are unreliable and should therefore be abandoned. In fact, the problem was that there was not enough storage/capacity to move the energy. Only one piece of the puzzle was in place. And this is armed against renewable energy.

Building a network centered on renewable energies to take into account their variability would avoid these kinds of problems, but it is a complex and not easy answer. This Mark Jacobson plan would solve these problems, but requires that everything parts are implemented, not just some. And here’s how to fix the recent weak wind problem in the UK.

A recession is predicted for next year and it could be long and painful. In countries with center or left-wing leaders, voters who choose to kill the messenger (the incumbent) may choose to elect conservatives who promise easy answers and more comforting fossil fuels. Inflation is on everyone’s mind and a quick fix is ​​very appealing to voters. The absence of a red wave (midterms 2022 in the US) cannot be taken for granted and there is no guarantee that it will be replicated elsewhere. Also in early 2020, renewables were touted as a possible method to achieve post-Covid economic recoveries, but this was quickly forgotten.

The end result of all of this is a possible slowdown in the deployment of renewables, or even in the worst case, turning voters against progress and renewables.

In a nutshell, it all boils down to voters killing the messenger (the incumbents) and falling for single issues or easy answers.
In times of trouble and panic, the easy answers are incredibly seductive.

None of this is a foregone conclusion, and voters turning to renewables are neither orderly nor inevitable. However, we can take steps to keep things on track:

Implement a policy that works to rapidly accelerate price parity for solar, wind, electric and grid-level energy storage. The US Inflation Reduction Act helps on this front, but more is needed and every other country on the planet needs to take action on this front as well. This also (responsibly) includes accelerated mining permits for renewable minerals to reduce battery costs.

Work from a comprehensive renewables implementation plan to ensure renewables are firmed up enough that low wind or low sun days don’t catch the grid off guard. This can be accomplished with long distance power transmission (interconnections), grid level energy storage, home battery storage, intelligent demand side management and many other tools available to us. By working together they can eliminate variability issues, but all the parts have to be working for it to work properly. And the public needs to be told why all the parts are needed to make it work, not just to install the wind turbines and solar panels. And they should be regularly updated on the current status of the transition and what remains to be accomplished each year.

Then enact tougher laws to reduce carbon pollution and institute a carbon tax cut. Canada has a carbon tax in place — most of its citizens get a carbon tax rebate every 3 months which is set at the average usage level. If you use the average amount of carbon, you don’t lose money (so this tax is not regressive for low-income people). If you use less carbon than average, you make money. If you use more carbon than average, you pay for your pollution.

While the Tories fight tooth and nail (and conveniently forget that reimbursement exists), it’s a reasonably well-designed system.

The EU has a cap and trade system that needs to be strengthened rather than watered down, which could happen if things get worse and voters see more fossil fuels as their holy grail.

And finally, we need to educate voters on how renewable energy works and how we can quickly transition to it with the right policies, the right implementation, by increasing their production and putting strict laws on the books to accomplish all this quickly. And that the political right tries to weaponize inflation to prevent the defeat of climate change.

Educate voters about upcoming attacks so they can choose to oppose them before they are fed lies.

Thanks to commentator Ron, whose comment on my recent article inspired this article.

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