Five years on from financial meltdown

It is five years since the editorial pages of COSPP magazine reported the decentralized energy angle on how the ‘world’s economies started to crumble in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown.’

Writing from the US in the last weeks of the George Bush presidency, the Director of the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy, David Sweet, rehearsed the argument that, in times of economic austerity, it might at first glance seem that ‘luxuries’ such as charitable giving, foreign aid and sustainability fall to the bottom of anyone’s priority list of political and economic initiatives. But a second look reveals that green, decentralized energy can reduce power costs; that energy efficiency is good for business, profitable and, perhaps, the key to economic survival, particularly in tough times.

Well, five years on the argument is as potent as ever. The truth is that in times of economic downturn it’s even more important to stimulate the adoption of high efficiency, local cogeneration and other on-site power technologies to deliver cost savings to homes, businesses and industry. And investment in green energy programmes is a crucial way of creating new jobs in new business sectors and, where this is done early enough, significant export opportunities.

President Bush had in late 2008 already instituted a clean energy credit package. This has been superseded by several more significant support packages from President Obama; most recently, and most relevant for decentralized energy, his highly ambitious package launched last year to stimulate an increase in US CHP capacity by 50% by 2020. The jury is still out on how successful this will eventually be.

But crumbling economies are not confined to North America. That same issue of COSPP five years ago reported the International Energy Agency, in its latest World Energy Outlook, saying that: ‘current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable ” environmentally, economically and socially ” they can and must be altered,’ adding that the economic crisis must not be used as an excuse for inaction in improving energy efficiency and increasing the deployment of low carbon energy.

While the last five years have seen the continued march forward of large-scale renewables, and the emergence of new shale gas supplies, at least in North America, I’m not sure that CHP and decentralized have climbed the priority list. In both the US and Europe, there is much of talk of healthy prospects for growth, with the realisation of this growth still a year or two in the future.

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