Renewables MMI Still Flat, Debate Rages on ‘Bridge Fuels’

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Our Renewables MMI was flat this month. While solar and wind still remain hot investment markets, the political discussion going on right now about the next four years greatly overestimates their abilities to provide jobs or a one-for-one replacement of the production of natural gas.

Renewables_Chart_October-2016_FNL

The metals that go into wind turbines, solar panels and other green energy producing instruments are not seeing the fruits of increased adoption. Part of that is still the individual metals markets. Steel, for instance, saw a small increase this month, but it wasn’t enough to make up for losses by silicon and the other metals in the Renewables MMI. Check our our Raw Steels MMI for more on that.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton even walked back her support of solar as a jobs program.

When asked by an audience member, “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?” Clinton said that the U.S. is, for the first time energy independent and also “we are, however, producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels. And that’s an important transition,” she said.

This is much closer to an “all of the above approach” than what Clinton said last month, implying that production of solar panels could replace coal and oil and gas jobs.

“We’ve got to remain energy independent,” she continued. “We have enough worries over there without worrying about that,” Clinton said.

Bridges to Clean Energy

Natural gas as a bridge to future renewable sources for electrical power generation has long been touted by shale drilling tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens as a cleaner burning alternative to coal and an excellent backup source of power until wind and solar are able to provide stored energy when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

On his website, Pickens says, “Natural gas is not a permanent solution to ending our addiction to imported oil. It is a bridge fuel to slash our oil dependence while buying us time to develop new technologies that will ultimately replace fossil transportation fuels.”

The new generation of gas-fired “flex” power plants, many of which have recently been built in California, are designed to ramp up and down quickly to accommodate shifting supply from wind and solar. Facilities like these bolster the idea that the notion of a “bridge” is misguided and that gas can act as a destination fuel as a backup for solar and wind for generations. But, that wouldn’t get us to cleaner energy, either.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The push-pull between renewables and back-up sources will continue to play out over at least the next five years. It’s a debate that only storage technologies can decide for good.

Actual Renewables Prices

U.S. Steel plate increased to $594 a short ton this month from $591/st in September, an increase of .5%. Silicon increased to $1,822.59 a metric ton this month from $1,811.74, a jump of .6%. Chinese steel plate fell to $447.36/mt this month from $450.69 in September, a drop of .7%.

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