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For higher wages and job security, follow the money

Published: 
Sunday, January 8, 2017

One of the hardest notions to break is that we are stuck with the same choices and economy that we have today. But we can bring about rapid change if we make the right choices. The Oil Workers Trade Union (OWTU) must choose to lobby government to rapidly expand renewable energy and close down or privatise Petrotrin at the soonest possible time. That makes a lot more sense than striking for higher wages from the loss making, taxpayer subsidised Petrotrin debt-bomb. That’s just kicking a dead horse.

The medium-term fossil fuel industry outlook is wobbly and the long-term end of the fossil fuel age is already announced by world leaders committed to cutting carbon emissions. Who wants to start a career in a dying industry? OWTU workers should invest in skills that allow participation in the clean energy economy.

For higher wages and job security, follow the money. Globally, in 2015, the renewable energy industry attracted more investment and created more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. In the US, the world’s largest energy market, solar companies created jobs 12 times faster than the general economy. None of these jobs or investments landed in T&T because of a conflict between government policy that calls for a modest ten per cent renewable power generation by 2012 but subsidises electricity prices so that there is no economic incentive to do so.

Renewable energy investment in T&T is 0.00; renewable energy capacity is also 0.00. Everything starts with liberalising the economy. T&T’s state controlled subsidy economy was never a good idea, but it is now a wasteful system that smothers opportunity at all levels. State-owned companies like Petrotrin must be privatised or shut down. If Petrotrin is allowed to continue it must be prepared for US$10 a barrel oil within a decade. I know that some predict that oil prices might shoot back up to $100, which might be the case for a period. Nobody buys a lottery ticket without having hope of winning

Thierry Lepercq is the head of research, technology and innovation at French energy giant and the world’s largest private power producer Engie SA. In an interview with Bloomberg Lepercq predicts US$10 crude based on what he calls five energy tsunamis. And its all linked to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

1) The falling cost of power and battery storage. Since 2016 new solar and wind energy capacity has been cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries. Prices continue to tumble as China expands its renewable energy economy of scale. In the US, Tesla has started production at its Gigafactory, which will double the world’s production of lithium-ion batteries, essential for Tesla’s electric vehicle production target of 500,000 Model 3s by 2018.

2) The rising number of electric vehicles. European countries are discussing banning combustion engine vehicles starting from 2025. So far the list is limited to the Netherlands, Norway and Germany. However, when this happens all car makers will be forced to mass produce electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are the better technology and at some point in the 2020s ( Bloomberg in a separate analysis thinks 2022) they will become cheaper than combustion engine vehicles. As usual, follow the money.

3) Green building codes in the EU require that new homes are nearly carbon neutral. Smart use of materials and sunlight retain heat so there is less need for heating fuel.

4) Cheap hydrogen. Japan is investing heavily in hydrogen technology. Hydrogen may be as cheap as natural gas in less than ten years. Japan is investing heavily in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. So you’ve heard of the housing bubble. US$10 crude is part of the coming carbon bubble, when fossil fuel reserves will become worthless as a result of cheaper renewable energy and negative policy to reduce carbon emissions.

Some places like Saudi Arabia may still be able to produce at that rate, but the return will be so poor that fossil fuels will be a business that nobody wants to be in. In protectionist countries the fossil fuel industry may muddle on like a Caroni Ltd or India’s erstwhile Ambassador vehicle. When will this be? 2025? 2050? Who knows for sure?

I hope that the OWTU has the good sense to not be in existence that long. Its members’ interests are served best by rebranding itself the Renewable Energy Trade Union. The government must help them along and save the country by closing down Petrotrin and eliminating all fuel and electricity subsidies so that T&T can create jobs and wealth in the renewable energy revolution.

In the US, the world’s largest energy market, solar companies created jobs 12 times faster than the general economy. None of these jobs or investments landed in T&T because of a conflict between government policy that calls for a modest ten per cent renewable power generation by 2012 but subsidises electricity prices so that there is no economic incentive to do so.