EIA joins chorus to dismiss oil price threat to solar

Adam Sieminski, chief energy analyst at the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has joined the chorus of experts dismissing the threat low oil prices pose to the future of solar power and other renewable energies, stating that there is no “head-on competition” between the energy sources.

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Sieminski stressed that government policies will shield most of the clean energy industries, and praised solar’s stability and improving cost and efficiency for providing a long-term, viable alternative to fossil fuels.

With Brent crude oil trading at $49.04 a barrel in London yesterday, fears were once again raised that such historic lows would be to the detriment of the clean energy sector. But Sieminski moved quickly to dispel such fears, lending his voice to a chorus of experts who, in recent weeks, have all dismissed the argument that cheap oil spells the death knell for green energy.

"A lot of the demand that is coming for wind and solar additions in the U.S. is supported through tax incentives and state energy programs that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewables," said Sieminski.

These incentives provide a safety net for clean energy, he added, but did warn that lower oil prices may see greenhouse gas emissions creep up in the Western World, which could undermine many governments’ attempts to tackle climate change in the coming few years.

The upshot, Sieminski suggested, is cheap oil might well encourage economic growth, which could potentially see more funds steered into renewable.

While dismissing oil’s impact on wind and solar installations, the analyst did suggest that the growth of the hybrid and electric vehicle industry could be stunted while gas is $2 a gallon in the U.S. – a reality that could see a resurgence in the popularity of the classic U.S. "gas guzzlers" such as pickup trucks and large cars.

However, there are other factors that come into play on this front, suggested Sieminski. With car ownership numbers declining, many younger Americans have turned their back on the traditional automobile, and with a growing number of U.S. cities offering perks for electric car drivers – such as the right to use a carpool lane, free charging stations and parking – the market for electric vehicles could be on the verge of huge growth.

"Is the growth in all-electric vehicles really being driven by gasoline prices, or is it social?", mused the analyst.