Why Do Projections Always Underestimate Clean Energy Growth?

Picking up on a recent list by Michael Noble showing how projections have historically vastly underestimated renewable energy growth, David Roberts notes that the same is true for projections of demand-side energy efficiency and mobile phone use. What do these all have in common?

One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.

While the potential of renewables, efficiency and mobile phones has constantly been underestimated, the costs of environmental regulations has constantly been overestimated.

Every time there’s a new air or water regulation proposed, industry predicts a level-10 economic apocalypse. EPA counters by saying it will only be a level-5 economic apocalypse. Invariably, it’s a level-0 economic apocalypselow costs, lots of lives saved. Yet the political class approaches each new regulation with a peculiar Zen-like no-mind, as though it is the first such argument and all perspectives are equally supported by past experience. Same with projections of energy efficiency and renewables. (…)

For visions of a clean energy future, brothers and sisters, look not to the soothsaying of thine “experts,” but to history, and to hope. Amen.

In other news, Indonesia may be about to embark on a “crash programme” for renewable energy. It aims to more than double its geothermal fleet, which at 1200 MW is already the third-largest in the world, by 2014, followed by a ten-fold increase by 2025. Targets for solar, wind, hydro and biomass are also notable.

And China seems set to frontload its solar PV deployment. It may install 5-7 GW in 2012, which would make it one of the world’s biggest markets.

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