Donald Trump’s election has been viewed with horror by environmentalists. Not only does the next US President believe that climate change is a hoax (something his naval advisors will be setting him straight about in the near future) but he seems determined to expand America’s most polluting energy sources.
In addition to promising to restart the US coal industry, Trump – himself a shareholder in Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline – is determined to open up Federal land to the fracking industry.
But Trump’s ability to “Make America Pollute Again” may be limited. As Chris Hallam at Construction News notes:
“Whilst Mr Trump has promised to ‘save’ the US coal industry, the best he’s likely to achieve is to stave off its demise for a while, by cutting regulation and reneging on environmental commitments. In the long term, the coal industry will wither because it cannot compete with shale gas and the relentless rise of renewables in the US.”
According to Hallam, solar and wind generation in the USA have passed the point where they rely on government subsidies to remain profitable:
“Solar generation is now a sustainable business model without the need for subsidies and every time solar capacity doubles in the US, costs drop by a quarter. Continued innovation will further drive cost down.”
Shale gas will no doubt enjoy a temporary boost if Trump is able to open up Federal lands that contain untapped sweet spots. However, despite the media hype that claims 100 years of shale gas, sober analysts put the total recoverable shale gas in the USA at eight years at today’s rate of consumption.
The biggest loser to temporarily cheap shale gas (itself vulnerable to falling world prices) will be coal, not renewables. This is because coal and gas are largely centralised fuels for pumping electricity across national grids. Meanwhile a large part of the growth in renewables is occurring at the business and household level, where people are voting with their feet and going – at least partially – off grid.