Solar power panels on a bright, sunny day with wind turbines in the background
Image credit: Eurostat
To understand the interplay between energy prices and the green transition, we have to understand why energy prices have soared. According to Per Jørgensen, there are five key drivers behind the surge:
Some observers have compared our current moment to the energy crises of the 1970s. In 1973, a war between Israel and its neighbours led to an oil crisis, which ultimately sowed the first seeds for the nascent wind industry. Could this crisis lead to a similar outcome?
It is not out of the question, but Patrick Gilly, Global Division Director of Energy Transition at Ramboll, explains that although prices are high right now, investors are unlikely to base their decisions on short-term price swings:
“Energy has always been volatile,” Patrick Gilly explains. “Investments into energy infrastructure are by nature long-term. That means investors are prepared for ups and downs, and they are unlikely to base their investment decisions on price swings during a single winter. The bigger question is whether investments into renewables can be as profitable as investments into oil and gas have been in the past.”
The answer to that question depends on a number of variables, including the price of raw materials, interest rates and regulation in the market.
Patrick Gilly expects commodity prices will impact the supply chain and cost of renewables. He compares it to a similar period starting in 2003-4 when high commodity prices led to an influx of investments in fossil fuels:
“These added investments led to a shortage of qualified workers and skilled engineers. Renewables will face the same challenge on the people side. It’s not just the price of raw materials, but also the ability to transport, and to install however many foundations for wind or solar panels,” he explains.
The price of raw materials used in solar panels and wind turbines has gone up over the past year, as rising energy prices have caused some manufacturers of commodities to curtail or stop production. But according to the International Energy Agency, commodity prices have had limited impact for new demand of renewable energy.
According to Per Jørgensen, interest rates will also have an important impact:
“With renewables, most of the cost is up-front. This makes them more sensitive to long-term interest rates, as the investment is recouped over a 30-year period, in contrast with, for instance, shale gas in the United States, where investments are recouped faster,” he explains.
The trillion-dollar question in the green transition is whether we are doing enough, and doing it fast enough, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“It is hard to assess if we are going at right pace,” Patrick Gilly says. “But we also have to remember the energy infrastructure we enjoy today took 70 years to build. We are trying to build the alternative in 30 years or less. So of course, we are not moving fast enough. But have we moved that fast in the past? I don’t think so either,” he adds.
To contact the editor of this article, please email Anders Brønd Christensen.