By Jeff McMahon, Forbes
It’s not easy being green, Kermit the Frog lamented when he recorded the hit single “Bein’ Green” in 1970. But it’s getting easier as the flow of capital shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, a law and policy expert said in Chicago Friday.
“The flow of capital now is moving toward solar energy, retrofitting people’s homes, building wind power instead of building new coal plants,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“That money, that ingenuity, that innovation will make it easier for people whether they’re in India getting light for the first time through a bulb, or in Chicago. That’s how we make a difference on this.”
The shift in capital, already underway, has accelerated since powerful financial interests put their money behind a new energy economy at the Paris Climate Conference.
“That’s what happened to some degree in Paris,” he said. “The money was put on the table in a very serious way by different coalitions, so that the changes that are happening—there’s money to facilitate and lubricate that globally.”
Meanwhile, he said, no one can get a loan to build a coal plant.
Learner pointed to the share price of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, which he said has dropped from $74 five years ago, to the equivalent of 32¢ today, taking stock splits into account. Peabody warned investors Wednesday that it may go out of business.
“It’s lost more than 99 percent of its market value, so you’re going to begin seeing coal and oil stay in the ground as electricity use becomes more efficient. As renewables and efficiencies come into the market, there’s going to be less coal use here and abroad,” Learner said. “The process of bankruptcy is going to have some really bad implications, for communities, for workers, for mine reclamation, but one thing it’s going to do is it’s going to mean there’s less coal being mined.
“How do you keep fossil in the ground? The market for it is going away.”
In the next 20 years, 75 percent of the lights in Chicago will be LED lights, Learner predicted, a single technological innovation that alone will reduce the city’s energy consumption by 7.5 percent. It’s easy for consumers to buy the super-efficient LEDs because lightbulb manufacturers, like GE and Phillips, are shifting to LED, lightbulb retailers, like IKEA are shifting to LED, and the price of LED has dropped.
“If you go to buy a refrigerator you don’t have to buy the green one to get one that’s more energy efficient. Every refrigerator you look at will be 30 to 40 percent more efficient than the one it’s replacing,” Learner said. ”It doesn’t require everybody to decide, ‘I’m going to be green.’ They’re just going to save money.”