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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shell Gives Heave-Ho To Wind, Solar and Hydrogen

The centerpiece of Obama's energy plan is "alternative" energy, such as wind and solar power. Tens of billions of dollars in the "stimulus" package go towards these technologies. The viability of Obama's energy plan is called into question by Royal Dutch Shell's announcement that it is discontinuing investment in solar, wind and hydrogen technology.

At present, alternative technologies cannot compete with traditional energy sources, notwithstanding all the hype. Politicians love energy hype, private sector companies love energy reality. Shell has just given a major heave-ho to hype in favor of reality by dumping plans to invest in wind, solar and hydrogen:
Royal Dutch Shell provoked a furious backlash from campaigners yesterday when it announced plans to scale back its renewable energy business and focus purely on oil, gas and biofuels.

Jeroen van der Veer, the chief executive, said that Shell, the world's second-largest non-state-controlled oil company, was planning to drop all new investment in wind, solar and hydrogen energy....

He said that instead Shell would focus its remaining renewable energy investments on biofuels, where it is conducting research into “second generation” fuels, so far with little commercial success.
It's not that Shell did not try solar and wind development. The technologies just don't exist to make such sectors viable alternatives:
Shell has invested $1.7billion on alternative energy in the past five years, compared with total capital expenditure of $32billion this year. It holds stakes in 11 wind power projects, mostly in the United States, with the capacity to generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity. It also operates research programmes into thin-film solar and hydrogen technology.
In fact, Shell was one of the major manufacturers of solar panels, supplying approximately 20% of all solar panels delivered worldwide. The fact that Shell would cut its investments in this area says a lot about the economic viability of solar energy.

Shell is not alone. Despite the massive stimulus payments allocated towards alternative energy, the public and manufacturers are not interested:

Despite plowing billions of taxpayer dollars into the ailing U.S. renewable industry, there's been little sign of new life in the sector, says the head of one of the largest manufacturers in the business.

And without a federal mandate requiring an increasing percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar power, the U.S. industry is likely to remain in a funk for at least another year, said Randy Zwirn, president of Siemens Energy, a unit of Siemens AG (SI).

"There's no surge in order activity," since President Barack Obama signed into law a nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package, said Zwirn in a telephone interview. The bill included around $15 billion in tax credits for the renewable industry, and tens of billions of dollars in grants, loans and loan guarantees....

In the face of such weak growth prospects and in an effort to cut greenhouse gases, Congress is focused on artificially creating demand.

One has to wonder about a President and Congress who build energy policy around fantasy and artificial demand, rather than reality. Sure, continue to develop the technologies in the hope that one day they will be viable. And use solar and wind to heat some homes and generate some electricity. But to think that such technologies will be a major alternative anytime soon is sheer folly.

In the meantime, the Obama administration is putting our country in energy jeopardy by refusing to expand domestic drilling, the only presently available and economically viable alternative to foreign oil.

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