Spending $200 Billion



$(US) 200 billion is the sum which Germany has reportedly spent subsidising solar photovoltaics (PV) in the last 15 years. The figure was quoted by Prof. Dieter Helm – as a professor of energy policy, he should know 1 – on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 17 December. At present exchange rates, it equals £130 billion.

We should always be aware that resources are finite. We cannot spend the same money twice. I admire Germany’s rate of progress, but even with that, solar now supplies 7% of its electricity. That is under 2% of its delivered energy.

Just perhaps, some of the £130 billion should have gone into areas which offer a higher ‘bang per buck’ and need to be kick-started? I might suggest thousands of energy efficiency measures 2, low-CO2 renewable heat in general and certain renewables which are proving more ‘institutionally’ difficult to get going 3.

Perhaps ‘new’ energy efficiency measures might include commercial LEDs and the more efficient DC motors which are now used in many small ventilation and pumping systems. Those were known in laboratories 40 years ago but only entered commerce in the last 20-25 years.

Dieter Helm also referred in his interview to ‘new renewables’. I would be fascinated to know what these are considered to be! ‘Old’ renewables, as one might put it, have nearly always been classified in terms of the following list: solar heat, solar electricity, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro and bio-energy. (A few further ‘old’ renewables were said to offer promise; e.g., wave energy, but have not yet become significant, probably due to the technical difficulty.)

This seems to sum up one issue in moving to a more sustainable energy future. What we mostly need are not ‘glitzy’ new technologies; i.e., so-called ‘bling’, but more thorough and careful application of the technologies that we already know.

Too many policy makers are reluctant to support the ‘lower-tech.’ priorities. We need to spend resources on a par with Germany’s £130 billion. We need to prioritise the right areas.



1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieter_Helm

2 See for instance the blog www.onlyelevenpercent.com

3 Biomethane from waste materials, for instance, including domestic ‘putrescible’ refuse, has not made much progress. Councils have favoured incineration even for ‘wet’ raw materials. Why, I do not know. In the process, it loses much of the original energy value and some of the opportunity to recover high-grade energy; e.g., from the plastics, is lost.