cheap-energyEnergy certainly feels cheap these days. Oil dropped to less than $30 a barrel in January 2016. It’s since recovered to around $50, but that’s still a far cry from the heady days of 2008, when a barrel of the black stuff would set you back $140. Coal and natural gas have also plunged from their 2008-2009 highs.

Recent advances in technology, including the shale gas revolution, renewables, and greater energy efficiency (combined with the global economic slowdown after 2008) have put significant downward pressure on prices. That’s been bad for exporting countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but good for importers like the European Union. In 2014, almost 54% of the EU’s total energy consumption came from imported sources.

How important is it that energy stays cheap? We had a comment from Bódis, who believes that securing cheap energy is vital to keeping Europe competitive. Is he right? Europe has other advantages (such as good infrastructure and a skilled workforce). How important is it that energy is cheap?

To get a response, we put Bódis’ comment to Arlan Brucal, Research Officer at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE. What would he say?

brucalCountries with relatively lower energy prices, such as the US, have comparative advantage over EU in producing and exporting energy-intensive products. However, energy price is just one of the multitude of factors influencing the competitiveness of EU. Moreover, policies that improve the competitiveness of energy-intensive exports at the expense of low-energy-intensive industries may do more harm than good to the EU economy. Of course, doing nothing can be equally detrimental and then some.

Thus, the increasing energy price gap between EU and its major competitor merits an in-depth analysis in order to determine the cause of the gap and identify the means by which it can be addressed, which may require investments in alternative sources of energy and/or energy efficiency.

For another perspective, we also put Bódis’ comment to Dr. Jonathan Cobb, Senior Communication Manager at the World Nuclear Association. Does he think an economy like the European Union can still be globally competitive if it doesn’t have access to cheap energy resources?

cobbI think we’ve got to ask what is ‘cheap’ electricity. Electricity produced by poorly-regulated fossil fuel power stations that contributes to air pollution that harms the health of millions of people is not cheap. It’s got a huge human cost.

Countries in Europe have been absolutely right to seek to improve the way that they generate electricity. More than half of the electricity in Europe comes from low-carbon sources: about 27% nuclear, 13% hydro, and 13% from other renewable sources. That’s something we should be very proud of, and we need to increase that low-carbon share further. We should be working, through international agreements such as the yearly United Nations climate change meetings, to put pressure to have more environmentally acceptable electricity generation across the world so you can’t have cheap and dirty electricity being used for a competitive advantage.

Next up, we had a comment from Catherine, who thinks the free market cannot be trusted to provide cheap, green energy on its own. She also believes there is a danger of one or two big companies monopolising the best technology and charging exorbitant rates. Is she right?

How would Arlan Brucal respond?

brucalThe direction for the global energy market is clearly going for cheap and clean energy sources. The continued investment growth and improvement in cost-competitiveness of renewable energy sources are driven by several factors, including government subsidies and policies to promote renewable technologies but I think these would diminish over time as consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of renewables and as energy security and environmental concerns on fossil fuel continue to grow.

Now, is there a danger that one or two big players will dominate the market? It is possible, but to say that these big players would be able charge high prices is unlikely. Global competition, coupled with continued innovation, can ensure that prices for renewable energy will continue to fall.

Finally, what does Jonathan Cobb think?

cobbWell, free markets can help drive lower prices. But, at best, the market is only going to provide what the customer buys and, for the majority of customers, that’s simply electricity. I choose to be on a low-carbon tariff, but others won’t make that choice. And there’s no way customers can buy ‘long-term-planning’ electricity, or ‘reliable supplies-in-20-years’ electricity.

Our current markets focus on too short a time horizon. They don’t incorporate the true cost of carbon emissions; the European Emissions Trading System is not doing that effectively. They favour generation sources that can give short-term returns but won’t offer the most cost-effective generation in the long-term. They don’t protect against price-volatility of fossil fuels. They don’t take into account the cost of dealing with intermittent supplies, and they don’t deal with the long-term planning which is needed to ensure we’ll have affordable and reliable electricity for decades to come.

To address the second point: You may have a large company producing electricity through a very good technology and supplying it at a competitive rate, but I think the fact that electricity can be generated through such a wide variety of different technologies and supplies, can come from inter-connectors across Europe, means that there’s very little likelihood that a small number of companies could charge highly-inflated prices for electricity and not have competitors come in and offer a more cost-effective option.

How can we ensure cheap, clean energy for Europe? What’s the best way to achieve a competitive, cheap and secure energy supply whilst also cutting carbon emissions and preserving the environment? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – David Kutschke
This debate is part of the SHAPE ENERGY project. By participating you are confirming you are 18+. Contributions to the debate may be directly quoted (anonymously) in the SHAPE ENERGY reports. If you do not want your contribution to be used, send us an email within two weeks of posting your comment.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 731264.
SHAPE EnergyEU_


98 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Giulia Noia Dipresa

    Endhorsing the spreading of alternative energies… funding research, trying to abandon oil… it can be done, the governments just have to want it. Here in southern Italy the production of energy from alternative sources is really high… It’s going to take time but we should really begin on this path.

    • Bódis Kata

      That’s not really clean.

    • SBMontero

      Greece is a country where the sun shines nine months a year… How about investing in photovoltaic energy that is free? I know that the Hellenistic government isn’t to much expense, but, Is there no Greek who has thought, or…?

  2. Vytautas Vėžys

    Cut off financing for sun/wind energy farms and invest in nuclear power.
    Seriously, ask scientists, not people who has no clue what they are asked about.

    • Giulia Noia Dipresa

      yes, I know nuclear is cleaner than most sources but what about the radioactive waste?

    • Vytautas Vėžys

      Giulia Noia Dipresa They could be recycled and reused better and better when technology advances, but “Green energy” discourages research in nuclear power as not profitable.
      And word “radioactive” is way to strong. Proper stored nuclear waste took little space, is safe for environment and people and requires little to none management cost after stored.
      We are not storing nuclear waste in barrels leaking green glowing fluid in underground waters like they show in cartoons.

    • Borislav Sotirov

      Vytautas Vėžys , nuclear recycle in your dreams. And it only make the waste more and more radioactive in every cycle. So this is a bulshit.

    • Simone S. Messina

      Uhm, lots of scientists research solar panels and other renewable sources too. I’d say the most common answer has always been “a mix of things”, including nuclear, sure, but not ONLY nuclear.

      Unless of course we’re talking nuclear fusion, which would be a boon but still seems a long way away.

    • Vytautas Vėžys

      Simone S. Messina Well cold fusion is neither clean or safe. GreenPeace would bomb any research centers if they knew the risks of researching it. And every million spent on “Research of tidal energy harvesting” is one million taken from “New generation nuclear reactors”…

    • Helge Pharrherr

      Borislav Sotirov You’re wrong. By squeezing every last ounce of power out of the waste, it becomes inert, essentially being fissioned until you’re left with inert lead.

    • SBMontero

      Yes, let’s ask to the Danes, Swedes, Finns… or ask to the Lithuanians, who don’t reach 20% in renewable energies, all experts, all european remember Ignalina and LEO LT, yes.

      C’mon! ¬¬)-~

    • Dorian Jakov Štern-Vukotić

      Borislav Sotirov You might be confusing taking fuel out of the waste vs using the waste as fuel.
      If its radioactive, it emits energy.
      If emits energy, it is a potential fuel.
      I reccommend reading about fast neutron reactors

  3. Goran Penic

    Only what is needed is good will from the right people (decision-makers)
    Clean energy is out there…

  4. Lonzo Bildelberg

    yeah, if you split atoms in controlled reactors, and research how to put together atoms in controlled reactors

  5. Zisis Adamos

    By investing in nuclear power, preferably safe nuclear power such as LTF reactors, fusion although this is a long term goal and in the meanwhile funding research aimed towards increasing solar cell efficiency.

  6. Bobi Dochev

    The cheapest energy is still the Nuclear energy! And it is clean and safe enough! Oh… and I’m quite sick to pay subsidies for your “cheap” energy!!!

    • Tchoum Xav

      There is nothing clean about millions year’s worth of nuclear waste. The entire station need to be dismantled stone by stone, there is nothing “cheap” about it, not even the insurance states have to pay just to run nuclear power stations. What a myth.

    • Bobi Dochev

      So you consider the production of solar panel as “clean” :)
      And… there is no cheaper energy then the Nuclear! Go on! Wish you best of luck at replacement of oil and fossil energy with solar, but before you start just check the amount of energy you should replace, OK ;)

    • Helge Pharrherr

      Tchoum Xav Do you think cubic kilometers of radioactive coal ash are better than a football field’s worth of nuclear waste?

      How clean and safe nuclear power is depends entirely on the reactor design. Some designs would be capable of using modern reactors’ waste as fuel, solving the waste problem forever.

      Fusion reactors are also nuclear in nature, and the only waste those produce are a shitton of neutrons and lightly radioactive reactor components, with a side of Helium. Thankfully, Europe is on the cutting edge when it comes to Fusion research, with ITER, JET, Wendelstein 7X, and many other such projects paving the way for commercial fusion power in the near future.

    • Kacper Paździor

      It’s spelled “thorium”… molten salt nuclear reactor with liquid thorium fluorite as fuel. It also allows the spent nuclear fuel from uranium reactors to be burned to “300 years halflife” state.

    • Sean Murphy

      Not clean, yet cleaner than coal.
      But fusion would be clean indeed.

    • Bobi Dochev

      There is no such thing like clean energy – even hydroelectric power station has some negative effects on nature. Lets say that the Nuclear energy is the best alternative, combining cheap energy, relatively clean and manageable production and well maintained risk. Does it sound better now?

    • Kacper Paździor

      Depends on scrape of this Earth. In Spain might be fun… in northern half of Europe it’s not so fun to solar. Eventually it will go down to thorium reactors. Question is, if Europe will make their own, or if China will be selling them first.

    • Bódis Kata

      Hmm. Interstingly, Saudi Arabia is building a nuclear plant and they sure have plenty of sun.

      You need diversity.

  7. Domenico Galardo

    With nuclear the massive energy of the future. Stop waste money and resources with “green”, that anyway have to be at 20% max and not with public funds.

    • SBMontero

      Are you Italian? A country where the sun shines nine months a year, but whose renewables energy consumption doesn’t reach 20% of total. Well, there’re only two options, or the Italians are stupid, or their government is paid by fossil fuel companies and nuclear plant exploitation… or the two options can be given.
      What do you think?

    • Arthur Janik

      Stop reading and sharing Medinas Koran, and you will never kill eachother. This ideology is bad like fascism and sooner or later you will be killing your friends in the name of God anyway is it God or Satan? Read Mekkas Koran and learn love. Think Jezus is telling love your enemies and love your brothers and sisters, this is most important without love we have what we have. Think about it.

    • Amir Abdullah

      Well, you should be asking yourself the following, is God of the old testament really God or satan? And do you believe in a God that can die? Besides this, Islam is not the kind of Islam that western media wants us to believe. I just said it, look at the truth, there are reports of Europe having imported petrol illegally from ISIS. Is this your Jesus? Because I don’t believe in a hypocrite Jesus, I believe in the real Jesus who would bring actual justice to the world, not like the EU, where it is all about resources and money. Screw the EU.

    • Amir Abdullah

      And I’m no fanatic, just saying things as they are. Islam is not about killing, let alone killing innocent people. That’s capitalism’s job, like what is happening in Greece. The EU has taken everything from us and they want even more (talking about Greece), so who cares what the EU does, it’s a bunch of hypocrite lobbyists who make tons of wealth by every and all means possible.

    • Nikos Astroulakis

      Amir Abdullah “WE NEED MOREEE WARRR!! Islam is not peaceful, let’s go bomb the sandni@@ers” That’s the warmongering and propaganda they want us to believe. The same way they want us to believe that debt is good, corrupt banks are good, greedy vultures of the stock markets are good, exploitative megacorps are good etc etc Also, remember that human rights are bad for the economy!

    • Bódis Kata

      Don’t confuse the EU with the oligarchs.

    • Amir Abdullah

      Bódis Kata Do you mean the EU of the people or the EU of the oligarchs? Because I think the EU establishment represents the oiligarchs more than it represents the people. I don’t think there is any “union” in the European people.

    • Amir Abdullah

      Nikos Astroulakis Yep, I just happen to be Greek ;)

  8. Elisabeth Tsamitrou

    Not cheap…Free energy you mean…The planet is the home of all…You cannot take the energy and sell it…It does not belong to you or anyone else

    • Maciej Bilda

      What are you? A teacher? You cannot take knowledge and sell it… It doesn’t belong to you or anyone else! Renounce to your salary!

    • Helge Pharrherr

      Of course you can take energy and sell it. Any energy you produce belongs to you, as you paid for the infrastructure required to produce it.

    • Elisabeth Tsamitrou

      You can keep your ideas born and planted in an era of huge propaganda…Oh and by the way …You can sell your mothers too

    • Helge Pharrherr

      Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and in the real world, resources cost money. Free energy is a ludicrous idea that simply can not work.

    • Elisabeth Tsamitrou

      As long as you maintain this old fashioned idea… Nothing will ever change

  9. James R

    Simply use solar roadways, coastal wind turbines, a tidal dam for the straight of Gibraltar and solar panel and wind turbine fields in North Africa and Morocco

  10. Dimitar Peev

    ITER, when it’s ready and if it’s possible. Until then – nuclear power with slight little additions of solar energy. No other ways.

  11. Łukasz MachaUnder Bednarz

    Automatic mines
    The mines tend to be modernized in power plants that use, for example, to override graphene mutations to convert the temperature and pressure into electricity.
    The mine is free. At one point, it is one big power plant which may also be a shelter or an underground plant nursery.
    Why are mines anyway?
    Because they are already there and useful to use.
    Next energy project?
    Solar transparent with the possibility of increasing the insulation of the transmitted light flying above the clouds over the polar polar day.
    By this, you can control the amount of light coming on ice.
    This gives the side effect of rebuilding the glaciers.

    next sun reactor:)

  12. Sean Murphy

    Applying a dynamo to every cyclette in every gym.
    Free Energy!!!
    (And you get payed for it!)

  13. Thanos Koum

    Easy, break up the EU and have the tears of the Antoinettes power hydroelectric power plants

  14. Wojciech Małecki

    Just make low price of energy via government act – and limit salaries of management – suddenly energy becomes low cost.

  15. SBMontero

    Before answering that question we have to make ourselves one more important. Why is Europe not energetically independent? If we respond, perhaps we can answer to how to ensure cheap and clean energy for Europeans. First we have cheap and clean energy, then the rest.
    We know that the percentage of cheap and clean energy in Europe doesn’t exceed 25%, and to include nuclear energy, 1/3 total energy produced in Europe, in that section is to call imbeciles to Europeans -We’re still waiting for a EU report about what is being done with the waste produced by nuclear power generation and how much store costs to all Europeans-.
    We know that there’re countries that have opted for renewable energies in their race towards energy independence. This is the case of the Nordic countries, although Denmark is the most striking for its progression. Denmark has gone from 20% in renewable energies of total energy expenditure, to more than 40%. Lykke Friis wants Denmark to be completely energy independent by 2050 and for this it is committed to 100% renewable energy, especially wind power.

    Against this we find countries like Italy, Greece and Spain, where renewable energy does not reach 20% of the total. And I point directly to these three countries because the sun shines in these three countries nine months a year, although the case of Spain is the most bleeding. A minister of the current Spanish government, who had to resign for practices of dubious financial morality, imposed a tax over solar energy designed to curb investment and self-consumption.
    We also miss the EU’s investments in renewable energies in the outermost regions such as the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Reunion, Mayotte, St. Martin, Greenland, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, where energy independence is even more important. We know the case of El Hierro in Canary Islands where the whole island is energetically independent through renewable energies, and with a cost to its inhabitants much lower than non-renewable energies.

    Is the EU able to guarantee cheap, clean energy for Europe when the percentage of renewable energy in most European countries doesn’t reach 20%? And the answer is NO.

    This data isn’t strange, it’s logical. The name of EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action & Energy is Miguel Arias Cañete. I don’t need to say anything about him, Corporate Europe Observatory already did… https://corporateeurope.org/power-lobbies/2014/09/many-business-dealings-commissioner-designate-miguel-arias-canete
    This is the explanation of why the EU is so little interested in investing in European energy independence through renewable energies.

  16. Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Subsidise clean green energy and phase out the huge oil subsidies. In the meantime tax oil profits but keep oil prices the same so the burden falls on the oil oligarchs.

  17. Elias Secchi

    Reducing the use of fossil fuels is our first priority because of environmental and healthcare costs.
    I think that our best choice is to build new nuclear plants which can give us very much energy with low CO2 emissions.

  18. Natalia Řehák

    The key to address this energy crisis is in Science. Researchers in ITER are investigating FUSION energy, the same energy produced in our Sun (not to be confused with nuclear FISSION energy, which nowadays is generated in nuclear power plants). Fusion energy is clean, efficient and virtually unlimited.
    With 10 g of Deuterium and 15 g of Tritium, it is possible to generate enough energy for a person to consume in their lifetime.
    That’s why it’s so important to invest in Science, and I ask our politicians to take this matter seriously and I ask you to inform yourselves about tomorrow’s future.
    (More information in http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu/understandingfusion/ )

  19. Natalia Rehak

    The key answer to address this crisis is in science. Researchers at ITER are investigating fusion energy, which is clean, efficient and virtually unlimited. To give you an idea, 10 g of deuterium and 15 g of tritium produce enough energy for a person’s lifetime. Fusion energy is the same energy produced in the Sun, and scientists are trying to develop it here on Earth (not to be confused with fission energy, generated in today’s nuclear power plants).
    During the Middle Ages, there were wars for salt, which today is considered a basic and everyday life product. We want energy to be considered the same way as salt today, a limitless source. Just imagine, no wars for energy, no more people suffering. Funding money in science is the key to a more peaceful world.
    (More info in http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu )

  20. Natalia Rehak

    The key answer to address this crisis is in science. Researchers at ITER are investigating fusion energy, which is clean, efficient and virtually unlimited. To give you an idea, 10 g of deuterium and 15 g of tritium produce enough energy for a person’s lifetime consumption. Fusion energy is the same energy produced in the Sun, and scientists are trying to develop it here on Earth (not to be confused with fission energy, generated in today’s nuclear power plants).
    During the Middle Ages, there were wars for salt, which today is considered a basic and everyday life product. We want energy to be considered the same way as salt today, a limitless source. Just imagine, no wars for energy, no more people suffering. Funding money in science is the key to a more peaceful world.
    (More info in http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu )

  21. Róbert Bogdán

    By using fossil fuel for maximized technological progress rate. That’ll bring tomorrow new energetic solutions still unavailable today. I don’t see the point in solving tomorrow’s problems with today’s technological resources. Tomorrow they’ll be outdated and obsolete.

  22. Yordan Vasilev

    I think, Europe needs of new generation technologies. Please, ask the EU scientist to innovate new nuclear centarls, new hydro and photovoltaic energetic sources. This will make Europe more competetive.

    • Georgi Karov

      rather totally block Russia and other tyrannies … not very productive to feed the parasites.

    • Miguel Hilário

      Russia exports natural gas and oil e.g. not clean.

    • Raf Naegels

      yes captain obvious. it never was an all or nothing story. we will still be depended on russian gas for a long time.

    • Miguel Hilário

      Raf Naegels Are you dumb, no we wont. Solar and wind is on a rise and full clean energy dependance is predicted for the next decades.

  23. Dimitar Peev

    Nuclear energy and if and when ITER is ready – fusion energy. Wind and other similar sources are only supplementary.

  24. Luis García

    finish the powero fo the lobbys in Brussels and in every capital. The symbiosis between political and economic power produces nothing good; always against the citizen’s interests….that is the problem now in EU, for this is Le Pen and others in its good positions in the parlaments…

  25. João Machado

    Fusion energy. Stop sanctions on Russia. Stop privatising, start nationalising. Invest (wisely!) In renewables

  26. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

  27. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

  28. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

  29. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

  30. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

  31. Simion Truta

    Create robots with “unsxhaustable source of energy” to run the providing spots! And the educational sistem to work and get specialized for maintainance and check periods, than the cultural agenti can be more eficient and pay more important visits to schools and unis regarding the “diversity and devlopment of added trades during technological progres,( that’s if we really have to go ahead or it’s might be inevitable to carry on) meanwhile if we can slow down and concerve our life experience for longer then even removing some of the newest technology by archiving it and teach pupils how to keep those doctrines safe as soon as we already know it!

required
required Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.