Are We Reaching the Renewables Tipping Point?

With problems in the Ukraine recently and the call for further sanctions on Russia, it suddenly became clear how dependent certain European countries are on fossil fuels such as gas. While the UK only gets a small amount of its gas from Russia, Germany is dependent for around 30% of its supply. Sanctioning Russia by not using their power source may seem morally right but it is financially disastrous.

This raises the old problem of being dependent on other countries and states for fuel supplies, one of the issues that creating more renewable energies is supposed to address. According to one of the world’s largest private investment banks, we may be reaching the tipping point with renewables becoming the main provider rather than supplementing the production of large scale power stations that depend heavily on fossil fuels.

The Guardian recently reported that UBS bank in Zurich had produced a report stating that centralised power stations were becoming too inflexible to provide the energy that we need for the future. Indeed, it is going to be cheaper, according to the bank, for households and business to produce their own energy rather than get it off the grid in the future.

The key, say the authors of the UBS report, is that batteries enabling storage are coming down in price which means that by 2020, they will be a viable and cost effective option for homes and business who want to store electricity. Not only will this help develop the electric car market and make it more competitive with petrol powered vehicles, but will enable businesses and homes to generate greater savings by storing their own power more efficiently.

The other key factor will be the reduced cost of installing solar power and more advanced technology for turning sunlight into electricity. Earlier in the year the CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggested that  “wind and solar have joined a long list of clean energy technologies – geothermal power, waste-to-energy, solar hot water, hydro-power, sugar-cane based ethanol, combined heat and power, and all sorts of energy efficiency – which can be fully competitive with fossil fuels in the right circumstances.”

There is a suggestion in the renewables industry that we are reaching the tipping point. At last, governments seem to be accepting that a reliance on fossil fuels is unviable and, with the costs coming down for renewables, we may at last be looking at future where super efficiency in the way we use energy is combined with a wide range of renewable technologies. Gas and nuclear power may well pay a significant role in this, especially with new initiatives to exploit shale gas reserves.

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