The collapsing oil price that is reshaping the global economy could derail the green energy revolution by making renewable power sources prohibitively bad value, experts have warned.
A new “era of cheap oil” would be good news for consumers and motorists – but analysts say the consequences for politics, industry and the climate could be even more radical.
The ripple effects could help the Conservatives to remain in power at next year’s general election by making voters feel richer as bills fall – while hurting Scotland’s oil-reliant economy and setting back its campaign for independence.
The falling prices could damage the North Sea and fledgling fracking industries and make it harder for the UK to hit its legally binding targets to cut carbon emissions. But the biggest threat posed by falling oil and gas prices – in the UK and globally – is to the renewable energy industry dominated by wind-, solar- and hydro-power, experts say.
“Renewable energy subsidies have been mostly sold to the public on the basis of the economic benefits,” said Peter Atherton, an energy analyst with Liberum Capital. “But the economic arguments hinged on the idea that fossil fuel prices would get more expensive, while expensive renewable subsidies would be able to come down over time. That’s looking doubtful now.”
Anne Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch price comparison website, said: “More subsidies are likely to be needed [for green power] as the gap between the cost of fossil fuel power and renewable power gets bigger.” The extra subsidies would be borne by households in the form of higher energy bills.
Green energy technologies such as solar and wind had been banking on sharp increases in fossil fuel prices to make them increasingly competitive and help to attract the huge amount of investment required to build renewable power plants. But that “economic case” is now in danger of being lost, with the environmental argument seen by many as being insufficient to drive through high levels of green energy investment.