Renewables Can Preserve the Economy, Drive the Recovery

May 13, 2020

During the difficult months ahead, those parts of the economy where workers can operate safely with adequate social distancing will be able to carefully proceed.
Following the crisis, we’re going to have a lot of communities flat on their backs. Shovel ready renewable projects, wind and solar, will be ready to go in many rural communities and small towns, if we can get the permitting and paperwork out of the way.


In many parts of the world, including California and Texas, wind turbines and solar panels now produce electricity more cheaply than natural gas and coal. That has made them attractive to electric utilities and investors alike. It also helps that while oil prices have been more than halved since the pandemic forced most state governments to order people to stay home, natural gas and coal prices have not dropped nearly as much.

Even the decline in electricity use in recent weeks as businesses halted operations could help renewables, according to analysts at Raymond James & Associates. That’s because utilities, as revenue suffers, will try to get more electricity from wind and solar farms, which cost little to operate, and less from power plants fueled by fossil fuels.

“Renewables are on a growth trajectory today that I think isn’t going to be set back long term,” said Dan Reicher, the founding executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University and an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration. “This will be a bump in the road.”

Of course, the economic slowdown caused by the fight against the coronavirus is taking a toll on parts of the renewable energy industry just as it is on the rest of the economy. Businesses that until recently were adding workers are laying people off and putting off investments. Among the hardest hit are smaller companies that sell solar panels for rooftops. Their orders have dropped steeply as customers put off installations to avoid possible contact with the virus.

Morning Sun – Mt Pleasant, MI:

The first windmills of what will be the biggest renewable energy project in the state are expected to start going up next month.

Considered essential infrastructure under the governor’s stay-at-home order, work on the windfarm in north-central Isabella County has continued throughout, said Albert Jongewaard, development director for Apex Clean Energy.

Sometime around the middle of May, he said they expect to take delivery of their first turbine components so they can meet the ambitious goal of constructing 136 wind turbines and the associated infrastructure by the end of 2020.

They anticipate meeting that goal.

“Things are still moving along according to plan,” he said. That includes getting the pieces for the farm. So far, the COVID-19 crisis has not affected their supply chain.

Workers are currently building a substation at the intersection of Weidman and Crawford roads, he said.

While the pandemic didn’t shut the project down, it did add complications.

They’ve juggled work crews around so that gangs of workers from different companies aren’t on location at the same time, he said. They’ve also closed their development office in Rosebush and hold meetings remotely instead of in person.

They’ve also adopted work practices based on Centers for Disease Control recommendations and industry best practices, he said. This is not just to keep work crews safe.

More than 100 workers are in Isabella County working on the project, he said. Apex has also talked to subcontractors about keeping the community safe.

“At the end of the day, we see ourselves as guests of the community,” he said.

North American Wind Power:

Wind power is a key building block for economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19, which will enable governments to renew critical infrastructure for a sustainable future. The wind industry will help to deliver jobs, clean and affordable power, and energy security needed for a sustainable economic recovery.

Calling on governments, intergovernmental bodies and global lending institutions, the statement suggests key actions policy makers can take to put wind energy investment at the center of their economic recovery and growth plans with three overarching themes: investment for a sustainable and resilient future, an enabling environment for clean energy, and empowerment of people to drive the energy transition forward.

Yale Environment 360:

Still, analysts agree the renewable energy sector’s fundamentals are strong. A lot has changed since the last global meltdown, the financial crisis of 2007-08. Technologies have matured and prices dropped, to the point where renewables in most cases provide cheaper energy than fossil fuels. Battery storage, key to making clean power steady and reliable, is improving rapidly.

“Renewable generation sources have become extraordinarily competitive from an economic standpoint,” said Dan Shreve, head of global wind energy research at consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. “It’s a terrific story. Do we expect any of that to change in the near term? No, I don’t think so.”

Indeed, with oil companies in a tailspin, clean energy’s steadiness also increases its appeal to investors, in Shreve’s view. “Folks looking for a safe haven in a very turbulent market may continue to turn to this sector,” he said.

Even the breathtaking drops in oil and gas prices may not be enough to undermine wind and solar. While oil is central to transportation, it doesn’t play a direct role in power generation. And its low price will mean drilling is scaled back. Since natural gas — which does go up against wind and solar in electricity markets — often flows from the ground along with oil, its supply is likely to decline too, bringing its price back up. 

“Which means it won’t be competitive with renewables,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Indeed, Shreve said nuclear and coal-fired power plants faced far stiffer headwinds than renewables. “That’s been the case for the last five years. It was expected to be the case for the next five years, regardless of the COVID crisis,” he said. Early retirements of such plants, particularly the ones for which finances were already in trouble, could pick up pace, he said.

Another sector likely to take a hit is electric cars. That has less to do with low oil prices than with unemployment slowing sales for all cars, Jaffe said. “If you believe that people were going to have the next car they buy be an electric vehicle, if you delay by two or three years the next time they’re going to buy a new car,” that will slow the transition, she said.

Fewer electric cars means less power demand, which hurts the renewables outlook. But Jaffe said the pandemic could hasten the economy’s electrification in other ways, including a long-term increase in remote working, which would likely shift energy demand away from oil-based transportation needs, and toward residential use, which is more heavily electric.

8 Responses to “Renewables Can Preserve the Economy, Drive the Recovery”

  1. sailrick Says:

    Interesting related article here.

    Why ‘Baldies’ can save us

    Build-anywhere long-duration intermittent-energy storage’ can largely solve the problem of wind and solar’s intermittency …..

    The two main Baldies technologies are thermal energy storage and liquid-air storage, which as their names suggest, store electricity as heat — in volcanic rocks or molten salt — and as cryogenically frozen air.

    • grindupbaker Says:

      Yes. As with all of the parts of the topic the conversion efficiency is required, and it isn’t shown in that glossy advert. Ideas are alway the 1st step of course so it’s great as far as that goes. Just to make it clear what I mean and let others chime in with all the other efficiency factors (I’m not bothering this year) suppose it has 50% efficiency then double my rough estimate of 480,000 km**2 of land used for solar PV panels with their 20% efficiency (or, of course, increase PV efficiency to 40% or any combo). Same for wind turbines. It’s needed to compare the cost of the cheapest land on Earth plus its transmission wires to where it’s needed against development cost of the obvious nuclear fission and fusion to compare the options sensibly rather than by anecdote.

      • grindupbaker Says:

        My land use factor is too high because much (most ?) of the power will be delivered without storage but it will be inversely proportional to the geographical area of the electricity grid and it’s going to be significant most places on Earth. With the solar PV panels it’s the 50% day/night, with wind turbines the wind statistics.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Living in central Texas, I’m a big fan of covered parking. If all we did was put solar over big parking lots around here, that would be improved land use from my perspective.

        • grindupbaker Says:

          I decided not to spend any time/life getting accurate data for the area paved by humans when I pondered it last week for 10 minutes but it might well be a significant portion of the area of 20% eff. solar PV needed for human energy demand. Somebody else should work it out for a change. You should work it out so’s to clarify that you aren’t going to just be Mister Anecdote (though I very like anecdote, it’s fun).

  2. grindupbaker Says:

    It deserves a U.N. process to produce regular reports along the lines of the IPCC AR reports so that all the pros and cons are assessed by experts and compared, rather than comparing innumerable anecdotes, advertisements and infotainment movies that are for the purpose of making wealth for the movie makers.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Shovel ready renewable projects, wind and solar, will be ready to go in many rural communities and small towns, if we can get the permitting and paperwork out of the way.

    There’s also the flip side of potentially deferring major projects for energy storage (like new pumped storage) and funding for new grid transmission lines to carry heavier or more distributed loads.

    Still, any nail in the coffin of coal power plants is a plus.

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