Energy Journal: Little to Show for $2 Trillion Spent

April 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

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What do you get for $2 trillion? The International Energy Agency says almost nothing.

That is the amount invested over the past 20 years in renewable-energy projects such as wind and solar power. In that time carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy consumed have fallen by less than 1%.

A less than 1% fall, for $2 trillion invested.

One main reason for this is the continued success of coal—while the black stuff may be in retreat in the U.S. as electricity demand falls and gas has become more competitive, it has been the fuel of choice for much of the world.

With the new Chinese leadership seemingly being more proactive toward pollution, the South China Morning Post says the golden decade for coal-fired power there is at an end.

But until low-carbon alternatives get cheaper, coal will continue to be favored, the MIT Technology Review says.

What chance of that happening when 42 developed countries subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $396 billion? The Overseas Development Institute, which looks at climate finance and subsidies, describes this as “throwing green money after brown.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts sees a resilient clean energy sector that registered a record amount of additional generating capacity in 2012 despite a substantial fall in investment levels.

So what’s next? The Wall Street Journal asks The Experts, an exclusive group of industry and thought leaders, what technological breakthrough is most likely to change the energy equation in the next 10 years.

The IEA’s head, Maria van der Hoeven, will hope one or more of these things happen—she said the drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled, and she warned of the consequences of a further 20 years of listlessness.


Some of the world’s largest, most influential, and least known companies are stepping into the light.

Commodities brokers such as Trafigura, Gunvor and Vitol, which move vast quantities of oil, agricultural products and metals around the globe, are increasingly willing to swap transparency for investment funding, as the Journal’s Andrew Peaple explains.

Tapping capital markets, as Gunvor is doing, is one way of gaining funding. Another is an IPO, as pursued by Glencore. Either way, the giant trading houses will have to open their finances up to a little more inspection.

In Switzerland, where many traders are based, the government wants to improve transparency. At this week’s FT Global Commodities Summit in Lausanne, protesters gathered to demonstrate their opposition to what they see as a murky, overly-influential world.

Speaking inside the conference the head of Cargill, America’s largest closely-held company, rejected this perception but said trading houses have a joint responsibility for promoting openness.


Syria is a minor player in the global oil market, but its crude has long been a vital export with ready buyers in Europe.

Sanctions imposed because of the yearslong civil war are on the verge of being eased, the New York Times reports, the first move to create economic incentives for residents in the north and east of the country where the oil fields are situated.

Next door in Lebanon, a country where Syria has long striven for influence, a nascent oil and gas industry is taking shape, the New York Times says.

Encouraged by the success of neighboring Israel, which has begun pumping gas from the giant Tamar field, oil and gas are being touted as a possible magic bullet to end the economic hardship that has hung over Lebanon since the civil war in 1975.


Crude oil futures were up Thursday morning after the steep falls earlier in the week, but uncertainty over speculative positions still to be liquidated means the downward slide may not be over. The Journal’s market report is here.

Corrections Amplifications

European lawmakers voted earlier this week not to postpone issuing new carbon permits. Wednesday’s Energy Journal incorrectly said that lawmakers voted to postpone issuing the permits.

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