清洁VS肮脏|《经济学人》:凡事都有两面性,清洁能源也一样

2017-03-02 从余启 我与我们的世界 我与我们的世界

欢迎打开“我与我们的世界”,从此,让我们一起“纵览世界之风云变幻、洞察社会之脉搏律动、感受个体之生活命运、挖掘自然之点滴奥妙”。

我与我们的世界,既是一个“奋斗”的世界,也是一个“思考”的世界。奋而不思则罔,思而不奋则殆。这个世界,你大,它就大;你小,它就小。

欢迎通过上方公众号名称打开公众号查看历史信息”来挖掘往期文章,因为,每期都能让你“走近”不一样的世界、带给你不一样的精彩

 

本期导读:人类社会发展的整个历程,每时每刻都充满各种各样的挑战。人类每克服掉一项挑战,就会前进一步,但每前进一步,又都会有新的挑战在等待着人类。人类进入新世纪已有近二十年,到今天,人类所面临的挑战并不比之前先辈们所面临的少

 

所有挑战中,气候变化是最亮眼的一个。为应对气候变化,世界各国都积极采取措施,而其中最令人关注的,便是大力发展清洁能源产业。根据研究机构彭博新能源发布的报告,2016年,全球清洁能源领域的总投资额已攀升至2875亿美元。

 

与此同时,世界各国政府对清洁能源产业的财政补贴规模也甚为可观。2008年以来,全球范围内对清洁能源产业的财政补贴规模高达8000亿美元。一方面是在处处寻觅投资机会的资本洪流,一方面是在处处造成影响的政策法规

 

人类社会,特别是民族国家出现以后的人类社会,始终存在着两只手,一只无形的手,名叫“市场”;一只有形的手,名叫“政府”两只手始终在你来我往,从未停歇,演绎出一场又一场令人回味无穷的把戏,好不热闹

 


Clean energy’s dirty secret

清洁能源背后的肮脏

 

Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems

风能、太阳能正在打乱电力市场体系

 

But that’s no reason for governments tostop supporting them

但这并不意味着,各国政府需要停止支持清洁能源

 

ALMOST 150 years after photovoltaic cells and wind turbines were invented, they still generate only 7% of the world’s electricity. Yet something remarkable is happening. From being peripheral to the energy system just over a decade ago, they are now growing faster than any other energy source and their falling costs are making them competitive with fossil fuels. BP, an oil firm, expects renewables to account for half of the growth in global energy supply over the next 20 years. It is no longer far-fetched to think that the world is entering an era of clean, unlimited and cheap power. About time, too.

 

There is a $20trn hitch, though. To get from here to there requires huge amounts of investment over the next few decades, to replace old smog-belching power plants and to upgrade the pylons and wires that bring electricity to consumers. Normally investors like putting their money into electricity because it offers reliable returns. Yet green energy has a dirty secret. The more it is deployed, the more it lowers the price of power from any source. That makes it hard to manage the transition to a carbon-free future, during which many generating technologies, clean and dirty, need to remain profitable if the lights are to stay on. Unless the market is fixed, subsidies to the industry will only grow.

 

Policymakers are already seeing this inconvenient truth as a reason to put the brakes on renewable energy. In parts of Europe and China, investment in renewables is slowing as subsidies are cut back. However, the solution is not less wind and solar. It is to rethink how the world prices clean energy in order to make better use of it.

 

Shock to the system

市场遭受震动

 

At its heart, the problem is that government-supported renewable energy has been imposed on a market designed in a different era. For much of the 20th century, electricity was made and moved by vertically integrated, state-controlled monopolies. From the 1980s onwards, many of these were broken up, privatised and liberalised, so that market forces could determine where best to invest. Today only about 6% of electricity users get their power from monopolies. Yet everywhere the pressure to decarbonise power supply has brought the state creeping back into markets. This is disruptive for three reasons. The first is the subsidy system itself. The other two are inherent to the nature of wind and solar: their intermittency and their very low running costs. All three help explain why power prices are low and public subsidies are addictive.

 

First, the splurge of public subsidy, of about $800bn since 2008, has distorted the market. It came about for noble reasons—to counter climate change and prime the pump for new, costly technologies, including wind turbines and solar panels. But subsidies hit just as electricity consumption in the rich world was stagnating because of growing energy efficiency and the financial crisis. The result was a glut of power-generating capacity that has slashed the revenues utilities earn from wholesale power markets and hence deterred investment.

 

Second, green power is intermittent. The vagaries of wind and sun—especially in countries without favourable weather—mean that turbines and solar panels generate electricity only part of the time. To keep power flowing, the system relies on conventional power plants,such as coal, gas or nuclear, to kick in when renewables falter. But because they are idle for long periods, they find it harder to attract private investors. So, to keep the lights on, they require public funds.

 

Everyone is affected by a third factor: renewable energy has negligible or zero marginal running costs—because the wind and the sun are free. In a market that prefers energy produced at the lowest short-term cost, wind and solar take business from providers that are more expensive to run, such as coal plants, depressing power prices, and hence revenues for all.

 

Get smart

双手需要巧用 


The higher the penetration of renewables,the worse these problems get—especially in saturated markets. In Europe, which was first to feel the effects, utilities have suffered a “lost decade” of falling returns, stranded assets and corporate disruption. Last year, Germany’s two biggest electricity providers, E.ON and RWE, both split in two. In renewable-rich parts of America power providers struggle to find investors for new plants. Places with an abundance of wind, such as China, are curtailing wind farms to keep coal plants in business.

 

The corollary is that the electricity system is being re-regulated as investment goes chiefly to areas that benefit from public support. Paradoxically, that means the more states support renewables, the more they pay for conventional power plants, too, using “capacity payments” to alleviate intermittency. In effect, politicians rather than markets are once again deciding how to avoid blackouts. They often make mistakes: Germany’s support for cheap, dirty lignite caused emissions to rise, notwithstanding huge subsidies for renewables. Without a new approach the renewables revolution will stall.

 

The good news is that new technology can help fix the problem. Digitalisation, smart meters and batteries are enabling companies and households to smooth out their demand—by doing some energy-intensive work at night, for example. This helps to cope with intermittent supply. Small, modular power plants, which are easy to flex up or down, are becoming more popular, as are high-voltage grids that can move excess power around the network more efficiently.

 

The bigger task is to redesign power markets to reflect the new need for flexible supply and demand. They should adjust prices more frequently, to reflect the fluctuations of the weather. At times of extreme scarcity, a high fixed price could kick in to prevent blackouts. Markets should reward those willing to use less electricity to balance the grid, just as they reward those who generate more of it. Bills could be structured to be higher or lower depending how strongly a customer wanted guaranteed power all the time—a bit like an insurance policy. In short, policymakers should be clear they have a problem and that the cause is not renewable energy, but the out-of-date system of electricity pricing. Then they should fix it.


 

往期精彩:


美俄关系|《经济学人》:当特朗普的商业主义遭遇普京的沙皇主义

诗图一家|《人生就是一场旅行》:该走的必然会走,该来的定然会来

诺奖得主谈新政府|《全球脑库》:白宫迎来特朗普,人们的日子会更苦

信仰之光|《血战钢锯岭》:美日战争,温情于杀戮中游丝般生存

死人VS活人|《水调歌头》:人的生命,或重于泰山,或轻于鸿毛

寿命那点儿事儿|《天下人》:长命百岁难,难于上青天 

 

注:

1:公众号后台回复“20170225”,可获取本期《经济学人》下载方式。

2:本文为原创,若发现不错,欢迎转发共享,转载请注明出处。

3:英文转自《经济学人》,非商业用途,仅限个人学习之目的。

4:可将本公众号设为“置顶公众号”,第一时间收到最新消息。

5:若有任何方面的问题,可随时联系进行沟通

6:关注可搜索 我与我们的世界 或meandourworld也可扫描下方二维码:

 

清洁VS肮脏|《经济学人》:凡事都有两面性,清洁能源也一样

清洁VS肮脏|《经济学人》:凡事都有两面性,清洁能源也一样

2017-03-02 从余启 我与我们的世界 我与我们的世界

欢迎打开“我与我们的世界”,从此,让我们一起“纵览世界之风云变幻、洞察社会之脉搏律动、感受个体之生活命运、挖掘自然之点滴奥妙”。

我与我们的世界,既是一个“奋斗”的世界,也是一个“思考”的世界。奋而不思则罔,思而不奋则殆。这个世界,你大,它就大;你小,它就小。

欢迎通过上方公众号名称打开公众号查看历史信息”来挖掘往期文章,因为,每期都能让你“走近”不一样的世界、带给你不一样的精彩

 

本期导读:人类社会发展的整个历程,每时每刻都充满各种各样的挑战。人类每克服掉一项挑战,就会前进一步,但每前进一步,又都会有新的挑战在等待着人类。人类进入新世纪已有近二十年,到今天,人类所面临的挑战并不比之前先辈们所面临的少

 

所有挑战中,气候变化是最亮眼的一个。为应对气候变化,世界各国都积极采取措施,而其中最令人关注的,便是大力发展清洁能源产业。根据研究机构彭博新能源发布的报告,2016年,全球清洁能源领域的总投资额已攀升至2875亿美元。

 

与此同时,世界各国政府对清洁能源产业的财政补贴规模也甚为可观。2008年以来,全球范围内对清洁能源产业的财政补贴规模高达8000亿美元。一方面是在处处寻觅投资机会的资本洪流,一方面是在处处造成影响的政策法规

 

人类社会,特别是民族国家出现以后的人类社会,始终存在着两只手,一只无形的手,名叫“市场”;一只有形的手,名叫“政府”两只手始终在你来我往,从未停歇,演绎出一场又一场令人回味无穷的把戏,好不热闹

 


Clean energy’s dirty secret

清洁能源背后的肮脏

 

Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems

风能、太阳能正在打乱电力市场体系

 

But that’s no reason for governments tostop supporting them

但这并不意味着,各国政府需要停止支持清洁能源

 

ALMOST 150 years after photovoltaic cells and wind turbines were invented, they still generate only 7% of the world’s electricity. Yet something remarkable is happening. From being peripheral to the energy system just over a decade ago, they are now growing faster than any other energy source and their falling costs are making them competitive with fossil fuels. BP, an oil firm, expects renewables to account for half of the growth in global energy supply over the next 20 years. It is no longer far-fetched to think that the world is entering an era of clean, unlimited and cheap power. About time, too.

 

There is a $20trn hitch, though. To get from here to there requires huge amounts of investment over the next few decades, to replace old smog-belching power plants and to upgrade the pylons and wires that bring electricity to consumers. Normally investors like putting their money into electricity because it offers reliable returns. Yet green energy has a dirty secret. The more it is deployed, the more it lowers the price of power from any source. That makes it hard to manage the transition to a carbon-free future, during which many generating technologies, clean and dirty, need to remain profitable if the lights are to stay on. Unless the market is fixed, subsidies to the industry will only grow.

 

Policymakers are already seeing this inconvenient truth as a reason to put the brakes on renewable energy. In parts of Europe and China, investment in renewables is slowing as subsidies are cut back. However, the solution is not less wind and solar. It is to rethink how the world prices clean energy in order to make better use of it.

 

Shock to the system

市场遭受震动

 

At its heart, the problem is that government-supported renewable energy has been imposed on a market designed in a different era. For much of the 20th century, electricity was made and moved by vertically integrated, state-controlled monopolies. From the 1980s onwards, many of these were broken up, privatised and liberalised, so that market forces could determine where best to invest. Today only about 6% of electricity users get their power from monopolies. Yet everywhere the pressure to decarbonise power supply has brought the state creeping back into markets. This is disruptive for three reasons. The first is the subsidy system itself. The other two are inherent to the nature of wind and solar: their intermittency and their very low running costs. All three help explain why power prices are low and public subsidies are addictive.

 

First, the splurge of public subsidy, of about $800bn since 2008, has distorted the market. It came about for noble reasons—to counter climate change and prime the pump for new, costly technologies, including wind turbines and solar panels. But subsidies hit just as electricity consumption in the rich world was stagnating because of growing energy efficiency and the financial crisis. The result was a glut of power-generating capacity that has slashed the revenues utilities earn from wholesale power markets and hence deterred investment.

 

Second, green power is intermittent. The vagaries of wind and sun—especially in countries without favourable weather—mean that turbines and solar panels generate electricity only part of the time. To keep power flowing, the system relies on conventional power plants,such as coal, gas or nuclear, to kick in when renewables falter. But because they are idle for long periods, they find it harder to attract private investors. So, to keep the lights on, they require public funds.

 

Everyone is affected by a third factor: renewable energy has negligible or zero marginal running costs—because the wind and the sun are free. In a market that prefers energy produced at the lowest short-term cost, wind and solar take business from providers that are more expensive to run, such as coal plants, depressing power prices, and hence revenues for all.

 

Get smart

双手需要巧用 


The higher the penetration of renewables,the worse these problems get—especially in saturated markets. In Europe, which was first to feel the effects, utilities have suffered a “lost decade” of falling returns, stranded assets and corporate disruption. Last year, Germany’s two biggest electricity providers, E.ON and RWE, both split in two. In renewable-rich parts of America power providers struggle to find investors for new plants. Places with an abundance of wind, such as China, are curtailing wind farms to keep coal plants in business.

 

The corollary is that the electricity system is being re-regulated as investment goes chiefly to areas that benefit from public support. Paradoxically, that means the more states support renewables, the more they pay for conventional power plants, too, using “capacity payments” to alleviate intermittency. In effect, politicians rather than markets are once again deciding how to avoid blackouts. They often make mistakes: Germany’s support for cheap, dirty lignite caused emissions to rise, notwithstanding huge subsidies for renewables. Without a new approach the renewables revolution will stall.

 

The good news is that new technology can help fix the problem. Digitalisation, smart meters and batteries are enabling companies and households to smooth out their demand—by doing some energy-intensive work at night, for example. This helps to cope with intermittent supply. Small, modular power plants, which are easy to flex up or down, are becoming more popular, as are high-voltage grids that can move excess power around the network more efficiently.

 

The bigger task is to redesign power markets to reflect the new need for flexible supply and demand. They should adjust prices more frequently, to reflect the fluctuations of the weather. At times of extreme scarcity, a high fixed price could kick in to prevent blackouts. Markets should reward those willing to use less electricity to balance the grid, just as they reward those who generate more of it. Bills could be structured to be higher or lower depending how strongly a customer wanted guaranteed power all the time—a bit like an insurance policy. In short, policymakers should be clear they have a problem and that the cause is not renewable energy, but the out-of-date system of electricity pricing. Then they should fix it.


 

往期精彩:


美俄关系|《经济学人》:当特朗普的商业主义遭遇普京的沙皇主义

诗图一家|《人生就是一场旅行》:该走的必然会走,该来的定然会来

诺奖得主谈新政府|《全球脑库》:白宫迎来特朗普,人们的日子会更苦

信仰之光|《血战钢锯岭》:美日战争,温情于杀戮中游丝般生存

死人VS活人|《水调歌头》:人的生命,或重于泰山,或轻于鸿毛

寿命那点儿事儿|《天下人》:长命百岁难,难于上青天 

 

注:

1:公众号后台回复“20170225”,可获取本期《经济学人》下载方式。

2:本文为原创,若发现不错,欢迎转发共享,转载请注明出处。

3:英文转自《经济学人》,非商业用途,仅限个人学习之目的。

4:可将本公众号设为“置顶公众号”,第一时间收到最新消息。

5:若有任何方面的问题,可随时联系进行沟通

6:关注可搜索 我与我们的世界 或meandourworld也可扫描下方二维码: