UBS: Solar will be the default technology, and will replace nukes and coal

Global solar growth as projected by UBS. Solar has barely even begun its growth spurt...

Global solar growth as projected by UBS. Solar has barely even begun its growth spurt…

A key factor in our belief that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is not only inevitable but will be here sooner than nearly everyone currently believes, is not just the factual evidence of its mind-boggling, rocketing growth. Renewables are growing from a very small percentage of generating capacity–it would take many years of expansion at even their present staggering rate for them to play a major role in providing the world’s electricity. But that well-documented growth is the necessary starting point.

The more compelling rationale for our belief is, as we’ve reported in these pages numerous times, the world’s major investment banks have bought into the clean energy future–both rhetorically and with their resources–and have largely abandoned new investment in nuclear power and fossil fuels.

These are three of the top five viewed posts on GreenWorld since our inception:

*Goldman Sachs sees a solar future for the U.S.–and that has nuclear utilities running scared.

*Within 2 years, Deutsche Bank says rooftop solar will be the cheaper option for everyone

*Citigroup: The revolution will not be televised

We’ve also written about Bloomberg and other investment firms and analysts, all of which have come to the clean energy conclusion.

Today it’s investment giant UBS’ turn. This week, UBS released a report predicting that within a decade, 10% of the world’s electricity will be solar-powered and, more importantly, that the growth rate of solar will only continue to accelerate.

Indeed, UBS says solar power will be the “default” energy technology–within years. “We believe solar will eventually replace nuclear and coal, and [be] establish[ed] as the default technology of the future to generate and supply electricity,” wrote the analysts.

Despite the stated support for clean energy by other investment houses, UBS thinks most remain too pessimistic, or unaware, of the true ability of solar power to transform our energy system: Their conclusion: “We believe the financial community and most industry experts largely underestimate the global solar capacity growth, as falling costs, supportive regulation and the opening up of new solar markets seem to go largely unnoticed.”

The reference to “industry experts” is certainly dead-on; most so-called experts continue to downplay solar–and other renewables as well–possibly because they still can’t get beyond the antiquated concept of “baseload” power. Baseload power is not a holy grail, it was a means to an end: providing electricity reliably 24/7/365. And in the 20th century, that system was essential. But a renewable-powered 21st century grid, coupled with an ongoing focus on energy efficiency, can also provide reliable electricity 24/7/365–and can do it cleaner, cheaper and safer than the nuclear and fossil fuel-dominated baseload model.

One key to the renewable-powered system is storage, and the advances there are as astonishing as those in renewable generation. It was just April 30 that Elon Musk announced Tesla’s PowerWall battery storage system for homes and larger uses. Only six weeks later, Tesla has doubled the output capacity of its basic home PowerWall system–at no extra cost to consumers. Yet the original PowerWall was so groundbreaking–especially on price–that a DOE National Lab director this week said, “This is the future, now.”

Meanwhile, the U.N.’s too-little-known International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) this week released a major new report on storage in an effort to jump-start further developments in storage technology.

Finally, there is another compelling reason to believe the days of nuclear and fossil fuel power are coming to a rapid end. And that may be the most surprising reason of all, given the frequent disparaging characterization of the anti-nuclear movement as a bunch of old hippies. While there is at least a nugget of truth in that (which doesn’t, by the way, mean we’re wrong; in fact, we were just early), the reality is that the most anti-nuclear sector of society today is the young. According to a new poll released this week, “Just 1% of those aged between 18 and 24 were in favor of nuclear power compared to 24% of those aged over 70.”

Every age group favors solar power–and a lot of it–but that level of non-support for nuclear means it is exactly what the big investment firms have figured out: a dead-end technology with, as Johnny Rotten once sang to us old hippies and punks, “no future.”

Michael Mariotte

June 12, 2015


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4 thoughts on “UBS: Solar will be the default technology, and will replace nukes and coal

  1. Mark Robinowitz

    The first thing I was taught when beginning to use solar panels a quarter century ago was to lower energy use before trying to power things with PV. The same is true with a civilization scale approach. Solar is great, I’m using it to type this, but it’s not going to be a one for one substitute of our current consumption and it cannot power an ever growing exponential growth economy on a finite planet.

    Cities that import 99.9% of their food, mostly across time zones, are going to have to relocalize production to function in the lower energy future.

    Part of the decrease in PV panel prices is due to outsourcing their production to Chinese factories.

    The most important metric is the amount of Energy Return on Energy Invested, but that’s rarely mentioned anywhere.

    We had better stabilize the nuke waste while we still have concentrated energy to do this.

    Here’s an anti-nuclear perspective that incorporates limits to growth and thermodynamics:

    Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth
    By Richard Heinberg on Jun 05, 2015
    Can we transition to these renewable energy sources and continue using energy the way we do today?

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Ever-increasing energy efficiency is a critical component of a sustainable energy system, no question about that. It’s worth noting that energy consumption peaked in 2006-2007 and has not returned to former levels despite substantial economic growth since then (quality of that economic growth is up for discussion, but there’s no question it has occurred). We are not nearly as pessimistic about the ability of clean energy sources to power a planet that is growing economically–without such growth it seems unlikely we can improve the lives of billions still living in poverty, which surely should be our goal. But that’s a discussion that goes beyond the scope of energy itself.

      1. Mark Robinowitz
        Peak(ed) Energy was 2007 in the USA (101 quads)

        Much of the economic growth since 2007 has been virtual, not actual (in terms of resource).

        Digital money can grow faster than resource use, one of the causes of economic overshoot.

        I don’t know of any “clean energy source” that does not require inputs of fossil fuels and mineral ores. My PV and wind system certainly required this, as does everyone else’s.

        In the long run, Peak Soil is probably more important than Peak Oil, but that involves an ecological crisis that is not primarily a climate concern (related, but the primary destruction isn’t climate). There are many limits to endless growth, energy is only one of them.

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