As is the case for virtually all sectors of the global economy, the short-term prospects for wind and solar power look pretty grim. Lockdowns, social distancing requirements, and financial upheavals have put many new projects on ice and have halted production at factories making solar panels and wind turbines. Sales of home solar have struggled as people have put off spending during the economic slowdown.
Ironically, the shutdowns aimed at reducing the spread of the Coronavirus have led to renewable sources accounting for an increased share of power generation. Global energy demand has plummeted and, because of the low cost of solar and wind power, sources like coal and nuclear power have been curtailed in favor of the renewables. The dramatically reduced demand has pushed oil and gas prices to historic lows and has left fossil fuel companies struggling to find storage space for the glut of product.
When the world emerges from the pandemic, the question is whether renewable energy will end up on a faster track than before or will end up in a long-term slowdown. The answer will depend to large extent on the choices political leaders make.
Leaders will unquestionably be designing economic recovery packages. Such packages could accelerate the shift towards wind and solar power, or they could prop up the fossil fuel economy. Unfortunately, leaders are prone to be motivated by lobbyists more than by the greater needs of society. The global economic upheaval represents a real opportunity to change the pace of efforts to address climate change. Whether that change is a positive one or a negative one is just another looming question facing society when we emerge from the pandemic.
Photo, posted April 12, 2020, courtesy of Jeremy Segrott via Flickr.