Coverage of our work

Vancouver Observer: "Clean Energy Tech Reaching a ‘Tipping Point’ Versus Fossil Fuels"

The Vancouver Observer covers our latest Low Carbon Leadership Series event in Vancouver, Greening the Dragon: How B.C. Can Cash In On China’s Clean Energy Ambitions, featuring Ethan Zindler of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Here’s a copy of the original article by Mychaylo Prystupa: 

There’s good news for those hoping for a global shift away from fossil fuels, and towards clean and renewable sources of energy, said a prominent Washington D.C. energy analyst, who spoke Wednesday at a conference in Vancouver.

Ethan Zindler of Bloomberg New Energy Finance said the world is approaching a tipping point in clean energy investment.  So much so, that he said it is no longer accurate to describe wind, solar and biomass power as “alternative energy.”

“We’re not far from a day when investment in clean power generation will surpass that of fossil fuel [electricity] generation,” said Zindler, at a downtown conference organized by Clean Energy Canada.

In 2012, global investment in highly polluting coal and gas power generation was approximately $310 billion he said, whereas investment in clean energy was a comparable $225 billion.

Driving this investment move said Zindler was not so much a concern for climate change, but a “hard headed financial” appraisal of clean energy technologies that have been dramatically dropping in price.

Most notably, the cost of large utility scale solar projects dropped 50 per cent, from $3.25/watt in 2010 to $1.55/watt in 2013.

Zindler also expects a record year in 2014 for solar panel installations in this country, especially in Eastern Canada.

Meanwhile, China leads the world in clean power investment with $61 billion last year.

Canada invested $7.5 billion in clean energy in 2013, said Zindler.  Most of that was in Ontario, according Clean Energy Canada.  By contrast, an estimated $27 billion was invested in Canada’s oil sands.

Zindler said China’s clean energy push is driven mainly by smog and air quality concerns.  Beijing’s skyline can be hardly visible due to coal power emissions.  But on that front, it may turn the corner.

“We’ve seen when [China’s] government make ambitious goals, they tend to get there,” said Zindler.

Likewise, he sees electric vehicle (EV) sales taking off in North America.  After a few disappointing years for automakers, purchases of EVs are expected to jump from 190,000 last year, to 450,000 in 2015.  This change is driven by rapidly declining lithium-ion battery costs – the most expensive component of an electric car.

B.C. pursues natural gas

But the scene in this province may not be as green.  B.C. is aggressively pursuing natural gas fracking and LNG plants to supply hungry Asian energy markets.

While the fossil fuel is classified as “clean energy” by some, one at the conference said natural gas development is preventing the development of truly renewable energy industries.

“I’m mindful of BC’s large economic risk of so single-mindedly pursuing this [natural gas] industry, and dropping the ball on the clean energy industry,” said Nigel Potter, CEO of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

Some also doubted the conventional wisdom that natural gas emits half of what coal power pollutes, due to so-called “fugitive emissions.”  Alberta and Saskatchewan still rely heavily on burning coal to generate electricity.

Nonetheless, Zindler expects the continued shale gas boom, plus increasing drill efficiencies, to keep natural gas prices steady well into 2020.

Eco-author Tzeporah Berman was in attendance and said governments need to do more to encourage the renewable energy sector.

“We now have the technology and market interest in clean tech.  Yet with the B.C. and federal governments, we see a renewed focus on oil and gas.”

“They’re on the wrong side of history,” said Berman.

Print this article