Mar 21, 2014

Is this it for coal?

Fossil fuels have had their day, and a carbon crash is coming, writes RenewEconomy sustainability researcher and writer Paul Gilding.

It’s time to call it. Renewables and associated storage, transport and digital technologies are so rapidly disrupting whole industries’ business models they are pushing the fossil fuel industry towards inevitable collapse.

Some of you will struggle with that statement. Most people accept the idea that fossil fuels are all-powerful and it will take many decades to force them out of our economy. Fortunately, the fossil fuel industry suffers the same delusion.

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25 thoughts on “Is this it for coal?

  1. Mark Duffett

    Renewables taking over, are they? Let’s see how things are going in the country trying harder than any other to make it happen: Germany.

    (spoilers: emissions up, new brown coal plants under construction, most expensive consumer electricity in Europe)

    The excoriation of Nelder’s piece by Robert Wilson is also worth reading.

  2. Mark Duffett

    sorry, also meant to include

    …we are not remotely close to seeing renewables replace fossil fuels. There is still close to an order of magnitude difference between new fossil fuels being added to the global energy system and that coming from wind and solar.

  3. graybul

    Interesting . . when will Banks stop stumping up financing for failing fossil fuel entities?

  4. Dogs breakfast

    It’s true, it is inevitable, and hopefully basic economics gets us there rather than catastrophic consequences of global change.

    Nothing could be more appropriate than everyone who invests in ‘old’ energy losing all their dough. Perhaps some of that money might make its way to the next generation, an accidental inter-generational equity finder.

    But the luddites will hold on to the bitter end.

    Mr Duffett, is your money in ‘old’ energy?

  5. Tim nash

    People didn’t think the automobile would displace the horse and carriage. This is a similar situation, it will just become economic suicide to keep going forward with coal. I predict that solar panels will become so cheap that the idea that we used to pay for electricity will become laughable.

  6. Tyger Tyger

    Tim Nash @5. Well said. Until Henry Ford developed the production line and introduced the Model T in 1908, automobiles were considered a novelty, a rich man’s toy.

    Mark Duffett @1 & 2. Where to begin?

    This article: do you have any substantive criticism of Gilding’s argument? Do you dispute the points he makes about the decline in value of European utilities, Tesla’s market valuation, the use of battery systems to even out grid power, the increase in HSBC’s solar index, etc.? Because simply throwing out that quote beginning, “we are not remotely close to seeing renewables replace fossil fuels” is a pretty lame refutation, particularly in light of potential tipping points such as Tesla’s planned $4-5bn investment in a lithium-ion battery factory with the aim of reducing battery prices by 30% in three years and halving them by 2020 (The Guardian, 9/3/14); potential improvements in flow batteries; or using renewables to hydrolyse water, producing hydrogen for fuel cells.
    So many of the arguments against renewables rest on the point that we can’t always get power when we need it and storage systems are too expensive and inefficient to overcome that problem. Said arguments could be irrelevant sooner than you think.

    Germany: You conflate two quite separate issues: the role of renewables in the energy mix; and whether the Germans are right in closing down nuclear power stations.
    On the first front, between 2000-2011, electricity from renewable sources in Germany rose from 6.8 to 20.5% of total electrical consumption while, according to the U.S. Dept of Energy, per capita production of CO2 dropped 22.4% between 1990-2008.
    As to the nuclear question, it’s a vexed issue to say the least, but it’s nonsensical to run it as an either/or debate. There is no silver bullet and it makes no sense to take anything off the table because you happen to favour one solution over another. All clean energy options need to be seen as part of the mix, not to mention energy-use reduction through geoexchange heating/cooling, far tougher building regulations, public vs private transport and the list goes on.
    Personally, it doesn’t make much sense to me to see a country shutting down relatively safe, well-run nuclear power stations in the current circumstances, but then I’ve never lived through a Chernobyl; the Germans have.
    (Anyone interested in BOTH sides of the German “Energiewende” story can check out the link below, from where I obtained the figures quoted above.)

    Finally, Robert Wilson: just one word he uses in his “excoriation” of Nelder sees him hoist with his own petard: “Subsidies”. Can anyone name two industries – other than “defence” – that have been more subsidised in modern history than resources and nuclear energy? I know where I’d rather see my tax dollars go.

  7. JohnB


    Duffett watchers know that what Mark does well and consistently is to focus on the facts. Opinions are cheap. Intentional offense giving is worthless.

    If wind and solar were, indeed, capable of wiping coal power stations from the face of the earth, I expect that MD would rejoice in that fact and work to hasten the day.

  8. Tyger Tyger

    You honestly believe that, JohnB @7? I must say I’m fairly new to Crikey but the few comments I’ve seen from Mark are one-sided and “focus on the facts” somewhat selectively. I respectfully suggest you read all the links provided in this article, as I’ve just done, and compare the carefully referenced arguments presented therein with Mark’s one-track ripostes.

  9. AR

    Dire Duffer – an old man with all his financial eggs in the dirty basket of a dying technology, praying that nukes will be his golden egg but that goose has long flown.

  10. Mark Duffett

    I second Tyger Tyger’s invitation, particularly since my posts generally contain more references than just about any others. But bear in mind not all facts carry equal weight. Quantities that describe the big picture (the only one that counts for the climate) trump anecdotes, price crashes in flooded subsidised markets or fantastic growth rates off minuscule bases. On that score, then, what part of ‘still close to an order of magnitude difference between new fossil fuels and that coming from wind and solar’ is incorrect?

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