Rare is the good news story on the environment; rarer still does it come from the private sector.
It is to giggle, isn\’t it? Good news on the environment has been bombarding us from every side for centuries, almost all of it coming from the private sector. Farming becomes ever more productive, reducing the amount of wild land being ploughed up. Energy is used ever more efficiently reducing both fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions needed to create a certain level of wealth. Wealth itself, lifespans, increase, leading to falling fertility rates.
Good news about the environment from the private sector is rare?
So today\’s report in the Guardian of a possible breakthrough in solar power is to be celebrated. If all comes good, it will mean photovoltaic (PV) cells can be produced nearly as easily and quickly as on a printing press – and rather than being confined to the roofs of smart homes, PV cells could eventually be put on a variety of small surfaces.
This is indeed good news and to be welcomed. However:
To get there, however, will require a lot more government support.
Nanosolar, the company making today\’s announcement, had among its financiers the US government. That\’s right: Kyoto-busting President Bush is funding this green innovation.
Yes, this is true.
The UK government has a subsidy for renewable energy – but it is clearly not set high enough, because alternative-energy use in the UK is way behind target.
And this simply shows that the UK government aimed its subsidy in the wrong direction. Spending the cash on basic science, something which is a public good, rather than on subsidising Jeremy Leggett, which is not a public good, turns out to have been more effective. Really, who would have thought it?
By successfully fostering green technologies, the UK could become a centre in this fast-developing business. But doing that means spurring companies on with subsidies and firm targets.
Again, no. There\’s two possibilities here. One is that this new technology does not work as advertised. Thus the argument for subsidy fails, as we don\’t have an example of its being successful. The second is that it does work, in which case we can stop subsidies altogether. For we now have a technology which makes solar cheaper than coal, which was our aim. OK, so we\’ve done it. No more cash subventions needed.
We do have phrase which describes the stupidity of continuing such spending after we\’ve succeeded. For who bothers to reinvent the wheel?