Trump’s Hot Air vs Australia’s Solar Revolution

What’s the difference between bad (Trumpian) energy policy and good (clean energy based) energy policy? For Los Angeles and San Diego which both experienced an extreme, climate change driven, heatwave over the past week, about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In other words, fossil fuel burning under Trump policies would be of much greater magnitude and extend for far longer into the future. This would pump more heat trapping carbon into the atmosphere and ratchet global temperatures much higher.

According to a recent science-based article from Joe Romm at Think Progress, what it means is that the 110 to 120 degree (F) heatwaves of today, under Trumpian policy, will turn into the 131 degree heatwaves of tomorrow.

(Trump’s heatwaves vs Australia’s solar surge.)

In other words, it’s not a question of whether climate change will worsen. It will, at least for a while. It’s a question of how bad things will get. And from Obama to Trump we have a clear example and contrast between various helpful policies like increasing CAFE standards, the Sun Shot Initiative, the Clean Power Plan, and the Paris Climate Summit to various attempts to force people to buy coal, allowing the most toxic high emissions trucks on the road, putting up vast swaths of public lands for drilling, all while denying the scientifically proven existence of climate change and doing everything possible to roll back and withdraw from past positive policies.

One of these governments is clearly not like the other. And while we, as environmentalists and clean energy advocates could criticize individual climate policies for not going far enough, we must certainly concede that they were, on net, significantly helpful.

To this point, I’d like to call your attention to a recent spot-on statement by Dr Michael E. Mann:

And we are coming to realize how much more F’d we will be if we let those like Trump win out.

In the end, so much of the future of humankind is decided by international, national, state, and city government policy. If policies support a transition away from fossil fuel burning and toward a renewable energy based economy, then fossil fuel burning will halt more rapidly and warming will be reduced.

If, on the other hand, governments (like the one under Trump) fight to extend fossil fuel burning indefinitely into the future, to deny access to clean energy and to prevent the advance of efficiencies and energy savings, then warming will proceed very rapidly along what is known as a business as usual pathway. A pathway that is better described as the fast lane to increasingly hot and hellish conditions on Earth.

One future is probably survivable by human civilizations. The other future is very painful and difficult, calling prosperity and even habitability for large regions of the Earth’s surface into serious question.

(U.S. Heatwaves under some climate response [RCP 4.5] vs Trump policies leading to no climate response [RCP 8.5]. Image source: Think Progress and The National Climate Assessment.)

That other future is the one that pro fossil fuel governments like the Trump Administration are fighting for by trying to delay or deny access to renewable energy all while attempting to extend the burning of fossil fuels indefinitely.

So we are at a crossroads in more ways than one. But we should hold a measure of cautious optimism due to the fact that the economics of renewable energy are increasingly superior to those of ailing fossil fuels. And, in some cases, these economic conditions have been enough to overwhelm the negative, pro-fossil fuel policy stances of certain federal governments presently holding sway.

Take Australia, for example, which since 2013 has been headed by pro fossil fuel parties led by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. These governments, holding thin majorities have done whatever they could to water down clean energy policies, reduce emissions cuts and support fossil fuels. During recent sessions, they have repeatedly attempted to send taxpayer money to coal facilities so that they will continue to operate (sound familiar, Rick Perry?).

But despite these efforts, solar energy is surging throughout Australia. Recent reports indicate that solar adoption rates will grow threefold in 2018 over the previous record year 2017. In total, Australia is on track to add about 4 gigawatts (GW) of solar to its present 7 GW total capacity.

(Major increase in clean solar adoption in Australia has primarily been driven by falling solar prices even as various Australian states continue to push hard for adoption despite the federal government’s fossil-fuel backing. Image source: Green Energy News and WA Today.)

What’s driving all this new solar? Well, for one many regions in Australia still incentivize solar. Meanwhile, some federal policies supporting solar still remain in place. But the one factor that has changed dramatically is that the cost of solar energy now out-competes practically every other major source in Australia. Panel prices are presently around 50 cents per watt down under and are falling to 40 cents per watt. This means that many customers can now recoup their investment in 3-5 years time. And with electricity prices running high, this is a really big incentive.

Solar possesses what is called a positive learning curve. What this means is that the more solar panels produced, the lower the future cost of solar panels. Both wind and batteries benefit from the same economies of scale. But if politicians like Trump increasingly use subsidies to prop up fossil fuels while fighting to kill off clean energy, then that horrible business as usual future that Joe Romm mentioned above is a very distinct possibility.

Or as Michael Mann put it — how F’d up do you want to see things get. From where I’m sitting, they’re already messed up enough.

Hat tip to Kassy

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