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A Green Dream Deferred
Britain's Bursting Green Jobs Bubble

Promoting green jobs isn’t just an American phenomenon, it’s a global pastime. And no wonder: for a politician, there are few things better than promising clean, renewable domestic energy and job creation to boot. But talk is cheap, and just as this dream hasn’t been realized in the states, it’s also falling short in Britain. The FT reports:

The so-called “green jobs” boom in renewable energy has not lived up to the hype. As government policy flip-flops in favour of one form of energy to another – one minute offshore wind, the next minute, fracking – investors are losing faith.

In March, SSE, the big energy company, announced a freeze to its bills until 2016, at the expense of 500 jobs and its involvement with several offshore wind parks. In the past year too, the second phase of the world’s largest offshore wind farm, the London Array, was scrapped; energy group RWE ditched its Atlantic Array and Scottish Power Renewables dropped plans for an Argyll Array.

Global investment in clean energy fell 12 per cent in 2013 according to Bloomberg.

There’s a reason renewables aren’t taking the world by storm: they can’t compete with fossil fuels. Government subsidies and feed-in tariffs can help prop up the current generations of solar panels and wind turbines, but that doesn’t affect the underlying calculus. Green energy costs more, and that puts a very real limit on its deployment.

Instead of chasing the green jobs chimera, hoping to deploy more panels and turbines today, we’d be much better served investing in the research into and development of green technologies capable of competing with coal and natural gas on their own merits. It’s not as sexy, but it could actually work.

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  • bigfire

    Environmentalist believes in all forms of energy, except the ones that works. We must double our investment in Unicorn Power.

  • Corlyss

    “just as this dream hasn’t been realized in the states, it’s also falling short in Britain.”

    One would think that after 250 years of technology producing more with less the greenies would figure out that technology rarely depends on more bodies to do the work. Why would “green jobs” prove different? Unless of course the whole thing was a scam to make turning over control of energy and energy policy to Dems/Progs/Libs seem a smart idea rather than the obviously stupid idea it is . . .

  • FriendlyGoat

    Who is the “we” who should be investing in the alternative research? Governments?

  • Fat_Man

    “investing in the research into and development of green technologies capable of competing with coal and natural gas”

    What technology are you talking about?

    It isn’t solar or wind.

    It can’t be bio-fuels as we have already demonstrated that they cause tremendous social, economic, and environmental damage.

    I assume that very few greenies would accept nuclear as a green alternative even though nukes use far less natural resources and produce no CO2.

    I can’t think of anything else, and I don’t think there is anything else. I think there is enormous upside in researching and developing fourth generation nuclear fission reactors. I think we should continue research into fusion. But, I don’t think there are any other rabbits to pull out of our hats.

    • OldNHMan

      I have no doubt that if fusion were perfected tomorrow (let’s say Polywell fusion, just as an example, because it’s cheap in comparison to the other two fusion projects), could be mass-produced and deployed across the planet in a decade, the Greens would find something ‘bad’ about it that would allow them to bleat about it and throw up roadblocks, political or ‘environmental’. I can hear them now: “But it will use up all of the deuterium, tritium, and boron on Earth in a couple of billion years!” “But that would fuel consumerism and rising standards of living across the globe and we all know that’s bad for Gaia!” “But if it’s truly green we’ll lose all of our political clout and then what will we do to make a living? We have to stop it RIGHT NOW!!!!”

      • Fat_Man

        OldNHMan: you and Bigfire are undoubtedly correct about the reaction of Greens to good news. That was not my point. My point is that there is precious little technology that has enough energy upside to be worth researching or developing. Mead’s repeated calls for more research are vain.

        • OldNHMan

          You’ll get no argument from me on that point.

          When it comes to some kinds of research in regards to solar it will likely be materials research as a means of lowering the cost of manufacturing solar or increasing the efficiency of PV cells at the present cost.

          There are PV cells out there that are quite a bit more efficient than anything on the market today but the cost to make them is prohibitive, either due to the materials or processes used in their manufacture. That takes them well out of reach for any use except maybe in space.

          About the only research I can see that would help reduce man’s carbon foot print would be nuclear, be it conventional nukes (newer Gen III and Gen IV reactors), thorium nukes (needs more development), or fusion. Those are some of the few energy technologies I can see that have the energy densities needed to power out technological societies. Everything else is just wishful thinking at this point.

          • Fat_Man

            PV will never be cost effective no matter how good and how cheap the cells are. See above for the reason.

    • Loader2000

      Solar panels have vast room for improvement. You only have to get to about 25% efficiency at 50% of the current cost, and it will make business sense for every commercial building to put them on their roof. In other words, it is not as if solar can only make modest gains in efficiency. There is potential for enormous gains in efficiency with the right technology.

      • SongDog

        As long as you are connected to the grid and expect the power company to furnish what you need at night or when it rains, you are a leach, because about a third of the cost of running a fossil fuel plant is the cost of the capital necessary to buy and build and keep all that equipment running and ready to take up the load nearly instantly. If you and other solar users (one of whom, leach and all, I plan to be when my next house if finished). As long as my neighbors will pay for the machinery that backs me up, I’ll take the handout.

        Now don’t rat me out.

        • Fat_Man

          Its that old nights and rainy days thing. Solar will never be cost effective from the viewpoint of the entire economy. Like you said, it works if you can leach grid back up without paying for the cost of unused capital. Factor that cost in and the panels could be free, and it sill wouldn’t work economically.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    There is still the question of “Are so called green technologies really green?”. If green means good for the growth of life, then the increase in carbon dioxide is good for a scientifically proven 15% increase in plant growth. And seeing that plants are at the bottom of the food chain, a 15% increase in all life.
    However, if you are talking about the green technologies that allow the so called Greens to bilk the Taxpayers out of trillions of dollars to support their boondoggles, then that isn’t green at all.

    • Corlyss

      So true. Think of ethanol – they went all in on that one, only to find out it doesn’t work as a green technology. But now it’s too late to do anything about the fact that it doesn’t work because Iowa is heavily invested in ethanol production and it’s the first presidential caucus state. All these “green” stories remind me of kudzu. The moral of kudzu is we know too little about big systems we think we have to “tweak” to improve some aspect of life or save some species from Mother Nature’s decisions, yet we go right on and introduce marvelous engines of unintended consequences as if we never made any mistakes at all. Mizz Rachel went nuts over the decline in eagles so she engineers a campaign to eliminate DDT with the result that 50 years later some half a million people have died of malaria because DDT was banned (but they’re only people, so what the hey), and killing big birds is now considered an unavoidable consequence of wind farms, which are vastly preferable to silly birds anyway. Sheer folly all around.

  • Craig Austin

    Every real “green” lifeform depends on CO2 for life. The “green” movement wants to eliminate it. They should take off their green coveralls and let us see their red armour.

  • Boritz

    “…it’s a global pastime”

    ‘pastime’ seems a fitting word to capture the quasi-seriousness of the mission.
    Let’s start with solar walk-way/flower bed lights. Try to make one that stays on all night till dawn and that doesn’t need maintenance/replacement after one or two seasons. Let’s see if we can do that before trying to make cars and houses dependent on it.

  • Joseph Hall

    I have a 4.14 kW “unicorn” power system on my roof. It doesn’t do anything, except now my electric bills are zero. Haha.

    This article is pure fantasy. Good luck with it, you’ll need it. The age of fossil fuels is over. The age of renewables is here. But keep writing these articles shilling for dying industry. But what you should do is use a typewriter. I hear these computers and internet will never take off…..

    • teapartydoc

      It’s nice that you are wealthy enough to be able to afford that. Most aren’t. That’s why smug attitudes and statements such as yours are nothing more than banal bragging. There’s nothing wrong with wealth, but remember: the politics you seem to support with your statement will come after your wallet sooner or later.

      • GlobalTrvlr

        No, he was able to do it with massive subsidies from people poorer than him, and backed up by systems the power company are required to build and maintain to certain levels of availability, and then they are forced to pay him for way over market value for any electricity he offsets, which is how he gets it “free”.

    • SongDog

      See my comments above. When there are enough unicorns sitting around on folks houses, the capital equipment costs on the grid will be allocated to so few folks (rate payers) they will scream for relief, Relief means sending you a bill for some of that capital. After adding that into your original costs, it just won’t work. I know, I’m building my own unicorn. But it will be great until they catch up with me!

    • megapotamus

      You run your house from that? No. Your ‘input’ back to the grid is subsidized and your contribution is swamped in signal noise. Though you have profited you have not provided the juice to toast a single piece of bread.

  • cookiebob

    IF they would spend the time and effort into making fossil fuels clean… it would be worth it. But Wind is just not going to happen anytime soon. And even Hydro has it’s limits… remember the salmon runs in the Columbia before the dams… and now? So called clean energy is just another form of dirty energy.

    I have never understood the insane opposition to the kind of energy that has built our modern world! I love our modern conveniences! Why do they hate technology?

    Environmentalists are simply Luddites of today.

    • OldNHMan

      I think it’s more that they have a romantic and unrealistic view of life as it was before the Industrial Revolution. They ignore the major downsides while extolling the few upsides to such a life.

  • cookiebob

    Every form of so called green energy will turn out to have unintended dirty consequences. Solar on a few roofs looks good now, but there will be a dirty problem when they are on all our roofs.
    That is just how life works.
    Take those new horrible mercury filled light bulbs, not only don’t they last even close to the time they claim… to charge those outrageous prices… our twenty year bulbs we put outside last year? More than 50% have burned out. In one year. What do they care? How do you get money back? I don’t even remember where we bought them let alone kept a receipt… they can lie with impunity.
    And on vacation in Canada this summer the grandkids broke a bulb. A mercury bulb. Have you read the clean up when you break one of those? I can’t believe we have something that dangerous in our homes around children!!!!! They are made of glass… glass breaks!
    Environmentalists are idiots. Dangerous to our health idiots!!!!!

  • GlobalTrvlr

    Utilities like SSE see the true costs of trying to shift to renewables – not just the first costs, which are highly subsidized by taxpayers, but the enormous costs of the T&D buildout, the early closure and lost investment of perfectly good machines, and then installation of synchronous condensers to replace those lost “heavy iron” machines, and the costs to interconnect to other countries and systems to provide that emergency backup that wind & solar can’t provide. Running a power system off of renewables is like flying a 787 with a 1000 small Cessna engines strapped to it. You can’t dispatch, you have no reliability, you can’t drive impact loads, etc, etc – but most pro-renewable articles never address those costs. But the utilities see it and that is why company after company, country after country are pulling back. The cost is enormous.

  • megapotamus

    The only ‘green’ technology that holds such promise is nukes. Thorium reactors can obviate some of the foremost objections to atomic power. Not that there is any reason to curb substantially the 3-4% of global CO2 emissions released, in all ways, by man.

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