NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Impossibility of Rapid Energy Transitions

December 11, 2012

For decades, politicians have made promises of transitioning to cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. National security is also a justification that politicians have employed in an effort to garner support for energy transitions. Even now, there is a transition from imported oil and coal to natural gas power plants, says Kenneth P. Green, a senior fellow with Canada's Fraser Institute.

However, despite promises and billions of dollars spent on trying to start an energy revolution, little has been achieved. This is largely because the technology can be very expensive. But more importantly, these technologies don't have the momentum behind them to create an energy transition.

There are three different types of momentum that are necessary when talking about making energy transitions:

  • Technological momentum -- When the impact of a technology reaches far beyond itself. For example, the light bulb spawned thousands of variations of it, which led to entire buildings having light fixtures.
  • Labor-pool momentum -- The necessary supply of trained talent to enable a transition to other energy sources. This is important because their needs to be specialized engineers, designers, regulators and operators that are needed in the new energy industry.
  • Economic momentum -- The costs of development are extremely high and have lengthy lifespans which means that it takes a long time before the costs have been recovered, making it difficult to find investors.

Source: Kenneth P. Green, "The Impossibility of Rapid Energy Transitions," The American, December 6, 2012.


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