HOUSTON – Investments in oil and gas have decreased in favor of alternative energy in recent years, but with alternative energy technologies still able to supply only a small fraction of useable energy, rushing the transition would be a costly mistake, according to a new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Recent government climate pledges imply a desire for a rapid, impractical displacement of fossil fuels that could leave the global energy transition in a “valley of death,” argue authors Gabe Collins, Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs at the Baker Institute, and Michelle Michot Foss, fellow in energy, minerals and materials. Their report does not call for climate inaction, but instead emphasizes the complexity and scale of the transition.
“Pushing to defund fossil fuels — before lower-carbon resources can credibly ‘fill the gap’ —risks destabilizing a global energy-food-water-human well-being nexus that, sufficiently perturbed, would likely delay energy transition efforts for decades,” they wrote.
Past energy transitions, such as from wood to coal or sails to steam, took decades to meaningfully replace the previous technology. Prematurely constraining access to fossil fuels in the latest transition would pass massive economic costs on to consumers, Collins and Foss argue.
For example, the heavy transport of goods collectively accounts for close to 40 percent of total global oil use. With alternative energy sources not yet able to sufficiently substitute, consumers all over the world would feel “energy price pain” on even basic necessities such as food.
“What happens between now and the late 2020s, in all likelihood, will fundamentally determine the failure or success of an accelerated energy transition,” they wrote.
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