Shafts of sunlight

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, February 8, 2012

I really am becoming worried about the mix up between the politician’s actions creating greater degrees of austerity and industrialist’s inability to create more work locally.

Spain is a recent case — they announced a cessation of subventions in January for renewable energy systems, which puts at risk thousands of jobs in start-ups associated directly and indirectly with the solar power industry. This is all the more surprising because Spain has the most available sunlight in Europe so the industry had hoped to develop not only PV systems but also solar concentrating systems that are thought to be the next generation high capacity systems.

Somehow technologists, engineers, permanent government staff and politicians have to ‘get their act together’. They must calculate better the long-term potential impacts of new ventures and of any subsidies they may wish to offer to kick-start a new consumer regime. Solar energy is a precise case. Having for years suffered scientific barbs about European pollution many ministers agreed to subsidise the production and installation of clean technology — wind and sun power in particular.

So generous were the subsidies that ordinary farmers became ‘wind farmers’ renting out their land for the production of electricity. And many householders rented out their roofs— installing a much larger area of photo-voltaic capacity than they needed so they could sell-on excess power to their electricity supplier.

The manufacturing industries for these systems boomed within Europe.The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) produces annual reports on the industry noting the feed-in tariffs (FiTs) offered by governments to stimulate the markets, the installed capacity, and the future capacity planned or indicated by the industry. The countries dominating growth in Europe were Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic; and over 2010-11 the European PV installations doubled to nearly 17 GW; while globally, the installed capacity was about 40 GW. The European growth surprised finance ministers who had to find their FiTs payback while also looking for ways to reign-in budgets due to the general austerity measures expected across the EU.

Technically the sunlight impinging on the earth’s surface in one minute is equivalent to a year’s energy demand.

This is a forever renewable resource if only we could capture it effectively. Research indicates how this may be done, engineers show how captured energy may be distributed and politicians look for re-election by promoting wild schemes. Isn’t it time we prevented politicians from interfering in our lives?

The potential for fictional technocratic futures portrayed by several authors are horrendous so we need a democratic system of checks and balances, which a parliament provides. But somehow we must stop soap-boxing by candidates coming up to elections, and the constant silly bickering and points-scoring that the ‘parliamentary’ process seems to offer at present. I wonder if this is because politicians have their backs against the wall and don’t know what to do?

Well, let me suggest that the funds spent on electioneering might be better spent on educating the electorate on the issues facing the nation. And during the term of a government the ministers ought to offer many forums for open debate of these issues — to listen to the [now] informed people, to the experts and engineers, and to the financiers to grasp the better ways forward.

These two simple suggestions may lead us to a gradual steerage through troubled times rather than imposing on us a rough start/stop regime that leaves us all confused with many projects left abandoned, wastefully half complete and unproductive.

Frank-Jurgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business community