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Europe Losing the Green Race


Europe likes to think of itself as a global green leader, but it doesn’t have much to show for its efforts. Electricity prices are skyrocketing as the costs of subsidizing expensive renewable technologies are passed on to consumers. The continent’s refusal to drill for shale gas has made it a sink for American coal. Now, Bulgaria’s minister of environment, Julian Popov, is convinced that Europe isn’t even succeeding at renewables. He writes for the FT:

Applications for energy industry patents have increased dramatically in the past decade, mostly driven by research and development in the field of renewable energy. A recent paper by MIT and the Santa Fe Institute shows that Japan comfortably leads the race in solar power patents (7,398), followed by the US (5,246) and China (2,063). Europe has 1,951 patents….

The first country in the world to fully install smart meters is in Europe – Italy. However, the EU looks set to lose the smart grid competition as well. Bloomberg New Energy Finance says last year the US led smart grid investment ($4.3bn), closely followed by China ($3.2bn), which is likely to become the largest smart grid investor next year. The EU lags far behind with only $1.4bn of investment. This is despite the economy of the EU being roughly twice the size of that of China….

The significantly higher levels of investment in smart grids in China and the US will inject new skills and knowledge into their workforces and further erode the competitiveness of EU labour.

Popov’s conclusion is dour: “Europe is losing.” A large part of this “loss” is coming at the hands of China, which is propping up its own green industry with more government money than even the EU. Low wage costs in the developing world also make it difficult for places like Europe or the US to compete on things like solar panel manufacturing. The EU’s response to China’s solar dominance has been to slap duties on Chinese solar imports (in fact, just this morning Brussels unveiled a new round of duties on Chinese solar glass), risking a trade war with one of its biggest trading partners.

Europe can’t out-subsidize China, and it’s struggling to out-innovate the US, as these patent numbers suggest. It is crippling its economy and has no green successes to show for it. Europe has managed to reduce its emissions in recent years primarily because its economy has stalled, while America has achieved significant reductions thanks to shale gas ousting much dirtier-burning coal.

Developing sustainably requires balancing green ideals against the need for a robust economy. Europe is firmly ensconced in the sour spot between those two ends.

[Wind turbine image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Nothing fails as spectacularly as Government central planning. It should be recognized that America’s greater success has been despite hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on green energy boondoggles like the most recent $139 million of taxpayer money lost on Fisker electric cars. A success which must be entirely credited to the free market oil drillers development of Fracking, and the Government’s inability to stop them from drilling on private lands in some states.

  • Joseph Blieu

    The use of the phrase “dirty burning coal” is used falsely to throw a bone to the greens and make yourself sound like you are on the bus. In modern coal plants particulate and SO3 emissions are tightly controlled and are much smaller than what comes out your or your diesel trucker friend’s stack or tail pipe per MMBTU (or volume or any unit). 19th century London or modern China foolishly did/do not use these controls because they are/were too cheap (or too poor) to pay for them. This says nothing about current US coal power production and its cleanliness. There is no black fog around coal plants.

    CO2 is often identified as a pollutant from coal. Natural earth processes emit 96% of atmospheric CO2 4% is human in origin. 33% of that is from coal. Forest fires emit CO2 equal to 15% of coal generated CO2 but wild fires emit more mercury per year than all coal burning.

    Why not just say that burning coal releases more CO2 per MMBTU than burning a hydrogenated fuel like gas or oil, rather than falsely claiming that it is a dirty dirty fuel. I can make a sooty natural gas flame too if I want, emission controls are needed to make all fuels clean.

    If Dirty Dirty means only that it emits CO2 than say that instead.

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