Have Recent Natural Disasters Changed the Business Case for Renewable Energy?

As we’ve seen with hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the scale of natural disasters is getting worse, but, as Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environmental editor, says, the price of a solution is getting cheaper.

He writes, “In the US alone, the cost of the damage caused by the two hurricanes is estimated at $290 billion – or 1.5% of GDP. The toll in the worst-hit Caribbean islands has not yet been calculated but it will be far greater relative to the size of the battered economies. But while the problem has never looked grimmer, the most likely solution – a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy – has rarely looked as desirable or financially feasible as it does now.”

To prove his point, he cites recent news from the UK that offshore wind prices have fallen by half in the past two years and, for the first time, represents an energy option cheaper than nuclear or gas. But can technology keep up? Maybe.

Watts references Elon Musk’s newest initiative — to construct the world’s biggest lithium battery, one which could potentially support the grid in Australia. Researchers in Spain Chile are also experimenting with renewable energy. He writes, “In Spain, one company – Acciona – is already combining batteries with turbines to extend the duration of wind supply. In the deserts of Chile, a giant solar plant uses locally mined salt as a store of thermal energy. Elsewhere power companies are experimenting with silicon and graphite – which may one day provide abundant alternatives to scarce lithium.”

However climate change is affecting these weather events, and whether we can expect more to come, storms such as Harvey and Irma have created a growing sense of urgency.

In an article Watts authored Sept. 6, he quoted Dann Mitchell, a research fellow at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute as saying, “These events offer wider lessons on how prepared we are for a warmer future. It is likely that rainfall events, in general, will become more extreme, as will heatwaves and droughts. So, events like Irma and Harvey also help us understand if we are prepared for them and who will be most affected.”

He also pointed out an interesting finding. He writes that historically unusual weather is no longer freakish. “The floods that hit Houston last week were described as a once-in-500-years event because records suggested there was only a 0.2% chance of such heavy rainfall. However, precedent is an increasingly unreliable guide in a changing climate. In the past three years, Texas has been hit by three 100- to 500-year events, according to local media.”

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