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Trump: Ugly for world, ugly for climate, ugly for clean energy

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About 10 minutes after Donald Trump gave his acceptance speech for his remarkable election as US president, I was invited into the driver’s cockpit of the very fast train travelling from Madrid to Zaragoza, in Spain.

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Hurtling towards disaster? What does a Trump presidency mean for the global energy market?

It was a remarkable vision – hurtling at 300kms/hour through a thick fog, barely able to distinguish what lies ahead. The world may be having a similar sensation as it tries to make sense of a Trump presidency and anticipate what happens next.

The reality is that we simply don’t know. As one observer put it yesterday, the media and the others who got everything so wrong will now try to tell us all the things that will happen as a result of all the things they said would not happen.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t look good. And on any conventional assessment, it is a disaster on many levels – particularly for the efforts to address climate change and for the clean energy industry in the US.

Trump is convinced that climate change is a hoax, most likely propagated by the Chinese. He has mocked the idea of a carbon price, vowed to pull the US out of the Paris climate deal and pull down clean energy policies, and promised to “save” the coal industry and allow a free-for-all for oil and gas drillers.

Trump

He will likely appoint a leading climate denier, Myron Ebell, to head the Environmental Protection Agency and transition the body out of existence. His first appointment to the Supreme Court will almost certainly be of a judge sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry.

But as experts such as Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, point out, Trump can’t change physics. Climate change is still happening. It was hard enough to deal with that with a supportive US on board. Without it, the rest of the world will need to redouble its efforts.

The Conservative Turnbull government – which today finally added Australia to the list of countries that have ratified the Paris climate deal – still has no real policy strategy on how it will meet its targets, and could well take the lead of the Trump administration on future ambition, in much the same way it did when George Bush was in power. Frankly, though, that scenario represents no detour from its current trajectory.

That leaves Australia equally vulnerable to the future economic shocks that will be the fate of the US if it eschews the transition before it. Barack Obama identified the risks to the US economy if other countries gained the upper hand on clean energy technologies – given the size of the seismic economic and geopolitical shifts that are inevitable in such a profound transition.

Australia still seems blind to those risks, even if business is now starting to wake up to the realities of wind and solar. And that takes us to another crucial point – if Trump cannot change the laws of physics, neither can he halt the change in technology.

The energy transition to cheaper and cleaner energy is happening, regardless. Trump can slow down the pace in the US, but it will accelerate elsewhere, leaving the US at a significant disadvantage; although it should be noted that US renewable investments are driven to a large extent by state-based targets.

HSBC has noted that Trump’s policies put at risk the decarbonisation and clean energy uptake seen during President Obama’s time in office, with potential to slow both the US energy system transition and domestic measures to mitigate climate change.

But at the same time Trump has no control over the solar market, which is heading towards 2c/kWh, and he has no influence over battery storage, which is heading to below 400/kWh and to its major inflexion point.

This is a crucial point. Wind and solar and their enabling technologies are getting cheaper with or without the Americans, and the fossil industry will be disrupted.

The brand of populism pedaled by the likes of Trump and Australia’s Pauline Hanson has no room for facts, because they have no political capital, and rely on nostalgia and attacking the establishment.

So the incumbent energy oligarchs have no reason for complacency or satisfaction from this result. Brexit and Trump show the appetite for disruption, and falling technology costs deliver the means for it on an unprecedented scale in the energy industry – the sector which has wielded enormous political and economic power in the last few decades.  

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  • Tim Forcey

    Perhaps Trump will have a climate change epiphany some day as did that other “billionaire” and Australian parliamentarian Clive Palmer.

    • john

      Who has gone with his witless ideas.
      He meaninglessly ruined his coolum golf club with the stupid idea of putting monstrosities around the course. The PGA left after one year,because of this stupidity.
      Coolum the town lost out big time.
      Clive did not get anything to do with climate change.
      Yes i know he had a press conference with Al Gore.

    • Carl Raymond S

      That’s one hope. It does take a lot of wilful blindness to deny climate change. He does have kids – you’d think he might spare a thought for their well being, even if he’s not long for this earth.
      The other hope is that his appointment of Myron Ebell to lead the EPA Transition will make people so angry it sparks a popular uprising. Maintain the rage.

    • Geoff

      Oh really! And look where that lead – absolutely no where! Is clive palmer still around?

  • Brian Tehan

    Trump doesn’t have control of states like California, for example, that have very strong climate change and renewables programs. Also the private sector implementation will continue, presumably without government support. He can’t stop it dead in its tracks.

    • john

      You have put your finger exactly on where the real effort and heavy lifting is being down at local and state government.
      Federal Governments in the Western area have failed miserably frankly.
      Look at Au for instance the State Governments are taking up the slack, however federally we have direct action.
      I guess direct action is akin to punching someone in the face instead of restraining them, as to its value hmmm nothing.

    • Geoff

      Bring on Calexit!

      • neroden

        California is 10% of the US population and IIRC has more government employees than the federal government does. Basically, the federal government can’t do anything to it. The deal has for a while been, if California decides to ignore federal law, it gets to do so. Gonna be interesting.

        • Carl Raymond S

          Ah, thank you for that. Enlightening. I feel better already. The battle against GHG emissions is technological and doesn’t require a universal mid game, only a universal end game. The ‘green spots’ will flourish, then the seeds will spread – as have computers, mobile phones, steam trains and every other disruption through the ages.

  • Adam Smith

    His latest comment is that the market should decide. As you point out the momentum of renewables should continue to carry through and this is probably at a time when the tipping point was already crossed. Though it is popular to rubbish Trump as a buffoon, most likely he is a billionaire, has survived a long time, did roll all competing Republicans and kicked the bleeding heart Democrats butts. Let’s hope he does drain the Washington swamp and lock Hillary up. It’s a beautiful thing!

    • john

      Which part about your comment is in any way related to mitigation?
      Ok i give you this let the market decide.
      Well for new build energy supply the market has decided and it is not FF old mate it is RE as it is cheaper and quicker to bring to market.
      Why do you think all those wind turbines are being built why do you think all those solar panels are being put on consumers houses?
      Answer it is a good deal for the consumer and for the commercial producer a total no brainer.

      • Adam Smith

        Yep my renewable energy shares are doing well today, thanks for asking. Obama has achieved very little in 8 years and Hillary would have been a further 4 years of wasted time. If Trump can kick start the US economy and reduce the $20 trillion debt, then the whole world will be in a far better place. It is a gamble that the American people have taken, so buckle up.

        • john

          You do know if his economic plan is implemented the USA debt will increase by $ 5 trillion dollars, not a good prospect.
          The whole world yes is dependent on the USA having a stable and dependable direction.
          In fact it is that important that interest rates are set off the largest economy in the world if you go off on a tangent then the rest of the world has a big problem.
          When we have the largest corporations not paying any tax to support a state we have a problem.
          Off shoring to a low tax in the case of some countries the corporation sets the bid so we get tax at this rate $.0027 in the dollar yes that is correct 2.7 cents for ever dollar profit you make we have a problem.
          Mate we honestly live in the age of corporation so far in front of government regulation it is not funny.
          If you think the Donald is across this good luck.
          Frankly i am not so confident.

          • Adam Smith

            Did Hillary say it would add $5 trillion? Don’t forget Trump has to get his tax cuts through the Congress, which means the rest of the Republicans have to back it. I think they have evolved since Reagonomics, however it is still a valid monetary policy to reduce the fiscal drag and accelerate the economy via tax cuts to business. The Coalition in Australia has the same idea, which was previously expounded by Labors Shorten, Bowen and Swan. Australia is now falling significantly behind the rest of the world and international business will not be attracted to set up here, unless they can transfer price. You know the biggest rationale behind the Chinese curbing pollution and swinging to renewables is that the People’s Party wants to keep 1.3 billion people happy. The clear result from the election is that, what Hillary calls the deplorables, the victims of the GFC and globalisation, veterans etc, are not happy and make up a large section of the 320 million Americans. If Trump can deliver for these deplorables via tax cuts for business, infrastructure projects, sealing the borders to illegals, renegotiating trade deals etc, then the whole country could see renewed growth and prosperity. The continued development of renewable energy is not necessarily incompatible with growth. Elon Musk himself says the Trump victory should have little impact on Tesla. No doubt he will be happy to take the tax reductions and renegotiated trade deals.

          • john

            No Hillary did not do the modeling it was done by financial institutions.
            Now as to China and why they have a problem just like India.
            The capital of India Dehli has had to close down the schools because the Pm2.5 in fact the real measure is PM2 to PM10 yes small particle is highly detrimental.
            So a link to what is the reason China is making sure they reduce PM2 to PM10 and all the other problems caused by not putting in place a good practice bottom line of business.
            Just remember we have diesel vehicles that are emitting stuff that is not exactly good for you or more importantly for your kids.
            Yes there are 9 videos in the series some cover the USA.

      • john

        When the energy input is zero it is impossible to compete with that when your energy input is anything higher.

  • SpartyNeil

    Way to early to pass judgement on Trump and the US clean energy industry. The horrible free trade agreements and high taxes have made it impossible to develop a clean-tech manufacturing company that can build in the US and sell overseas. In 20 years in manufacturing I have never had a Japanese, Chinese or Korean company buy my US products despite technical advantages in many cases. India and China mandate local content while their manufacturers pay 0 to 3.4% for an import tariff into the US. There may be short term policy changes but for US companies to succeed we need far more favorable general business climate and need to be treated on even ground selling and buying overseas.

    • john

      Interesting comment.
      You probably know Peter F Varadi.
      As your a manufacturer I would expect so.
      So the problem is scale of manufacture correct.
      That has always been the problem until you get up to large scale the cost per item is too high.
      That is where the Chinese especially have been able to get it down with large scale and low cost of labour. Mind not much labour in a robot plant.
      If your making inverters it is the energy efficiency that should shine though.
      If it is voltage control equipment the product has to meet industry standards and be best of market.
      Setting out your know life expectancy of your product and if it is better over 5 or 10 years than the comparable product, where is the problem?
      Get the information out to the potential buyer, if your product is the same and has no added advantage you have a problem.

  • Kenshō

    I think Trump is slightly different to Abbott and it’s prudent to expect more unpredictability from Trump. Abbott is a Christian and an ideologue. Will get elected then meet reporters in the morning with bicycle pants, ready for his morning cycling program, telling us symbolically – I mean action, I mean business, I’m here to get things done. Trump isn’t nearly this organised or orchestrated. Trump’s method is more genuinely the beginners mind or the empty mind then something emerges depending on how he feels roused in the moment. In extremes this leads to dramatic explosions of colour and contrast, making him very entertaining and gaining media acclaim for shock value and incredulous appeal. If we observe his speeches, he pauses and grabs for words to encapsulate his incredibly vibrant inner disposition. Trump genuinely loves himself and has full confidence in his fail safe ability to navigate the apparent tribulations of this process, find a path through the darkness and drive relentlessly towards his goals. It’s up to everybody else, every other nation, to help reach his goals, by presenting irresistible and attractive win win propositions. No opposition will be courted. Those without grace and appeal need not approach. Only those other certain individuals and strong characters, who know an alliance or approach will serve both parties. All proposals need to inspire confidence in the swiftest path to greatest rewards and glory.

  • Rob G

    Trump will come under increasing pressure globally.
    He has an easy way to kick start jobs in those manufacturing states, by backing renewables. He does support renewables (and coal as noted), but only one of those has a future…. He is a business man not a politician, and the case for action is financially strong. He also isn’t beholden to vested interests… but then again he’s a nutter.

    • Geoff

      Mate, the GOP have the presidency, the house of reps and the senate. The GOP are down right nutters and all agree that climate change is crap. They will push their agenda, especially the koch brothers, claim that this will bring jobs to the american people and they will accelerate trying to become an energy super power. trump has been noted to say “frack now and frack fast” which will bring their environment to their knees. We’ve seen what an extreme right wing nut job can do in 2 years, now put that into over drive and increase those years into 4.

      • Johnny Elvis

        Maybe. If you go https://www.greatagain.gov/policy/energy-independence.html you can see how he won the Presidency. The People will impeach him faster than Bill Clinton if he wavers. Social media and alternative media got him elected. Americans are very hopeful, and DJT had better not betray us.

        • Geoff

          My concern for you guys is the environmental damage that is coming your way. I checked on the link you sent. Complete contradiction. Clean air and water Vs energy independence, I know which is going to get the chop when it comes down to money.

          • neroden

            Trump is no ideologue; he contradicts himself routinely. Trump will figure out how to line his own pockets and slap his name on things and he doesn’t care about very much else…

  • brucelee

    Labour and Greens should be going full attack to change the accounting rules around fugitive fracking emissions. With those real numbers in play, the Turnbull plan falls woefully short and they’ll Have to respond with increased effort, or be usurped.

  • Kenshō

    Trump versus Musk
    Donald Trump is into being in the drivers seat and Elon Musk isn’t. Musk will build a relationship with another company then reluctantly integrate a task in-house, when that other company lets him down, is too slow or can’t keep to mutual purposes. Trump has a first instinct to go it alone, trusting no one and will only find it within himself to cooperate, if it proves more difficult to win a battle himself. Musk has had a sheltered life being around other capable people, geniuses, avant-garde, lyrical, envisioning utopias and out of touch with true street people, whereas Trump knows evil and has battled almost everybody already. Musk “likes to do good things” taking all into his utopia like a big love puddle, whereas Trump doesn’t care about others feelings or his own and will use ruthless methods if suits his goals. Musk will build a car to compete with a petrol head to say, see, it’s got adrenalin racing as much as what your doing, whereas Trump doesn’t care what anyone else is doing. Musk will say, look Trump its beautiful, faster, works better for the economy, is cleaner, greener and Trump will only care if it competes. Musk will reluctantly take centre stage if others need inspiration and Trump is the inspiration.

    • Geoff

      where the hell are you going with this?

      • Kenshō

        Self awareness determines effective action.

        • FeFiFoFum

          Nicely written Kensho ..

  • Kenshō

    Trump versus the NSW Greens
    Trump is the unmoved mover, whereas if paths somehow crossed, the NSW Greens would petition Trump with creative placards, upbeat campaign messages and yell for Trump to disarm himself. The NSW Greens will take it on as a test of strength to stand apart from others, whereas Trump would rather be apart. The NSW Greens will fight for the future, whereas Trump will only consider what is immediately present. The NSW Greens are seeking the strength of their feelings by rallying together to hold up a placard, whereas Trump is leading and expects others to follow. The NSW Greens will polarise against others for the sake of extolling their virtues, whereas Trump is far more likely to synergise his goals with others when it serves him to do so. The NSW Greens value disarmament and aggressively accuse others, whereas Trump knows he’s not virtuous and values aggression. The NSW Greens use aggression to picket, shout and get the guts to campaign, whereas Trump will use aggression to get the upper hand in a negotiation. We may not expect Trump to cooperate though he will if he understands it suits him, whereas the NSW Greens have been a protest party so long, they have reluctance to actually set a goal to govern. Trump has always felt in power, the power of his conviction to lead and the ability to face down all obstacles, whereas the NSW Greens have the power of their values. The NSW Greens couldn’t implement a utopia if it was given to them, whereas Trump would implement anything if it is better than what he had before.

  • Orellian Tay

    Trump is for energy independence, he does not care how the energy is created. Since renewables are now competitive with fossil fuels they will be fine. In the future they will be more competitive, it is just a matter of time.

    Of course, this is based on what I read about renewable energy of course.