Sunlight glints through the solar roof of the California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco. Photo by Kevin Wong/Creative Commons license/Flickr.

Sunlight glints through the solar roof of the California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco. Photo by Kevin Wong/Creative Commons license/Flickr.

According to Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, renewables are successful in Germany and not in the U.S. because Germany has “got a lot more sun than we do.” Sure, California might get sun now and then, Joshi conceded during her now-infamous flub, “but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.” (She recanted the next day while adding new errors.)

Actually, Germany gets only about as much annual sun as Seattle or Alaska; its sunniest region gets less sun than almost anywhere in the lower 48 states. This underscores an important point: solar power works and competes not only in the sunniest places, but in some pretty cloudy places, too. (See related “Pictures: Kickoff Time for Green Stadiums.”)

A PERVASIVE PATTERN

The Fox Business example is not a singular incident. Some mainstream media around the world have a tendency to publish misinformed or, worse, systematically and falsely negative stories about renewable energy. Some of those stories’ misinformation looks innocent, due to careless reporting, sloppy fact checking, and perpetuation of old myths. But other coverage walks, or crosses, the dangerous line of a disinformation campaign—a persistent pattern of coverage meant to undermine renewables’ strong market reality. This has become common enough in mainstream media that some researchers have focused their attention on this balance of accurate and positive coverage vs. inaccurate and negative coverage.

Tim Holmes, researcher for the U.K.’s Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), points out press coverage is important because it can influence not only “what people perceive and believe” but also “what politicians think they believe.” PIRC’s 2011 study of renewable energy media coverage surveyed how four of the highest-circulation British daily newspapers reported on renewables during July 2009. A newspaper’s balance of positive and negative renewables coverage tended to align with its editorial ideology. The difference was astounding. In one instance, negative coverage of renewables was just 2.5 percent; in another, upwards of 75 percent.

A follow-up 2012 study by public relations consultancy CCGroup examined five of the most-read newspapers in the U.K. during July 2012. Researchers found more than 51 percent of the articles featuring renewables were negative, 21 percent positive.

In case that seems lopsided, the U.K.’s opinion climate is probably the most anti-renewables in any major country. (See related “U.K. Dash for Shale Gas a Test for Global Fracking,” and “As U.S. Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Its Coal Problems Abroad.”)  That’s largely due to a longstanding campaign by nuclear advocates fearing competition, especially from windpower, whose British resources are the best in Europe. Sir Bernard Ingham, former Chief Press Secretary to Prime Minister Thatcher and later Britain’s leading spokesman for nuclear power, reportedly claimed to have personally stopped two-thirds of Britain’s windpower projects. At over 80, he’s still at it.

Such ideologically correlated bias, and a growing body of misinformed and disinformational negative media coverage in other countries, prompted the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) in 2012 to launch an Energy Fact Check website for journalists, policymakers, and the general public.

DISCREDITING JOB CREATION

Charles Lane, a Washington Post opinion writer, proclaimed in October 2012 that “expensive electricity is bad for industry, as Germany is discovering. Fact is, subsidies for green energy do not so much create jobs as shift them around.” Yet a recent study commissioned by Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry found that the renewable energy sector provided around 382,000 jobs in 2011, up four percent in a year, and more than doubled in seven years. More jobs have been created than lost in Germany’s energy sector—plus any jobs gained as heavy industry moves to Germany for its competitive electricity. (See related “Pictures: A New Hub For Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.”)

Yet a myth persists that countries lose more jobs then they gain when they transition to renewables. This upside-down fantasy rests largely on a 2009 study from King Juan Carlos University in Spain, by an economist reportedly tied to ExxonMobil, the Heartland Institute, and the Koch brothers. His study asserted that, on average, every renewable energy job in Spain destroys 2.2 jobs in the broader Spanish economy. This story was picked up by news media around the world and is still promoted by U.S. anti-renewables groups. But its methodology and assumptions were promptly demolished by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Spanish government, among others. A 2012 report for the International Labour Organization (ILO) even cites Spain, which built a renewable export industry, as a counterexample: “The green economy presents a good opportunity to increase competitiveness, promote the creation of quality employment and reduce the economy’s environmental impact,” says Joaquín Nieto, who heads the ILO Office in Madrid, especially “when Spain needs to kick-start its economy.” Sure enough, despite new electricity taxes and a halt to subsidies for new renewable projects, Spain’s latest solar projects continue to be built to compete without subsidy. (See related “Pictures: Spanish Solar Energy.”)

The disinformation campaign about job creation is not limited to Europe. A Cato Institute article claimed that if people believe a commitment to renewables will fuel job growth “we’re in a lot of trouble.” Yet in 2012 alone, more than 110,000 new U.S. clean-energy direct jobs were created, and in 2010, the U.S. had more jobs in the “clean economy” than in the fossil-fuel industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that direct employment in May 2012 totaled 181,580 for oil and gas extraction, 87,520 for coal mining, and 93,200 for iron and steel production. BLS doesn’t similarly classify solar or wind jobs, but reputable analysts have determined from bottom-up industry surveys that in September 2012, for example, the U.S. had 119,016 direct solar jobs (89 percent full-time, the rest at least half-time), up 27 percent in two years—more than in steel-making or coal-mining. Had you heard that before? Why not? (See related, “Mojave Mirrors: World’s Largest Solar Plant Ready to Shine.”)

THE COST OF DISINFORMATION

The sad truth is that the debate on clean and renewable energy is unbalanced, and seldom by accident. The CCGroup’s study showed that only 10 percent of articles focusing on renewables even contained comment from a spokesperson from the renewable energy industry. This violates basic journalistic standards. Renewables must be a part of their own conversation. Much of the conversation on renewables is misinformed and misrepresented. And when bad news does happen, says ACORE president and retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, opponents of renewables are pushing it “as if it’s the only news. They are dominating the conversation through misrepresentation, exaggeration, distraction, and millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising.” (See related, “Historic Pearl Harbor Looks to New Energy Future.”)

This misleading coverage fuels policy uncertainty and doubt, reducing investment security and industry development. Disinformation hurts the industry and retards its—and our nation’s—progress. As Germany has shown, investing in renewables can grow economies and create jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions even in a climate as “sunny” as Seattle. (See related “Pacific Northwest Proposal to Store Renewable Energy Underground.”) We just have to get the facts right, and insist that our reporters and media tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Amory Lovins co-founded and chairs the Rocky Mountain Institute—an independent, entrepreneurial, nonprofit “think-and-do tank” that promotes the efficient and sustainable use of resources. He is author of Reinventing Fire, and is an adviser to National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative. This post originally appeared at the RMI Outlet.

 

 

Comments

  1. David Bradbury
    DISS, UK
    August 21, 2013, 5:32 pm

    Marcus Gibson needs to check his facts. Tourists staying away – complete rubbish. “Why should the beauty of various national parks be victims?” Victims of what? A change of view What about beautiful Sizewell beach near us – it has the benefit of a big white nuclear powered dome in the middle of an SSI / ANOB . What about the people who live near Ferrybridge or Drax power stations? No pollution or visual impact from them for the local residents ?? Think again. With a mixture of tidal, wind , solar – and perhaps some nuclear and biogas (think methane from sewage) – when one isn’t available , the others will make up the shortfall.
    When the beautiful countryside is full of 20000 fracking rigs, will Marcus be happy then? If you don’t want them, where is your power coming from in 15 – 20 years? Look at more than the view and evaluate the full picture of energy usage and creation for the UK for the next century.

  2. A Parker
    August 20, 2013, 7:20 pm

    The cost-to-performance curve of renewables is gradually coming down — though for many of us it can’t seem to come fast enough. As it does, I think you’ll hear the voices of anti-progress, anti-clean energy, fossil fuel-vested folks fade into irrelevance.

    Remember that just a decade ago supposedly smart people in the auto industry, even some in the motoring press, swore the public would never go for hybrids, let alone full electric vehicles.

    Short term, it appears the disinformers on AGW and renewable energy (often one in the same) hold a very strong position in the propaganda fight. In the longer term, as the reality of devastating storms and catastrophic contamination events hit home, the general public will come to demand smarter energy choices.

  3. Don_in_Odessa
    Odessa, Florida
    August 15, 2013, 6:04 am

    Well here’s the real life experience of a home owner who had the innocence to actually believe he could afford solar energy for his home. Wanted to be able to provide electricity for the biggest essential in my home during frequent power outages. That being my up to date relatively low power consuming, 21cu/ft refrigerator/freezer. Here is what I found out when I tried to see how many batteries and solar panels I would need. I had already bought two 95 watt high efficiency panels a charge controller, an inverter and a 105 AH deep cycle battery to power a 120v, 40 watt pump for my small back yard aquaponics hobby. And that it would do, taking care not to run the battery down more than 50% at a time, that little set up would run the pump for 12 hours per day in sunny Florida, USA. Wondering how much more I would need to run my refrigerator, I hooked up a larger inverter to the battery, set the whole mess next to fridge. and plugged her in. Battery discharged 50% in 2 hours. This tells me, to power just my fridge, I would need 11 more $150 batteries and only God knows how many 95 watt panels since all the solar people have a different idea varying from 2 to 11 of those @ $200/each. Well that’s a lot of hamburger. Since I have a propane cooking range in my home, I think I will just pressure can the cow meat and the chicken meat the next time the power stays out for too long. And settle on a couple of solar battery chargers for the flashlights and radios. For the average American “Joe” the notion of powering your life with solar seems like a pipe dream and one for another generation at that. I could not be more disappointed.

  4. Roger Mason
    Austin, Texas
    August 14, 2013, 12:03 pm

    Just to debunk one of Marcus Gibson’s statements:
    “If America is so keen on wind power why not install dozens of windfarms in the Grand Canyon, Moab, Yellowstone?”
    While it’s true that those places will never have wind farms because they are national parks, they also don’t have enough wind to make it worthwhile. In West Texas where there is plenty of wind, there are wind farms. Enough so that in Texas where oil is king, they produce enough wind-generated power to make it the leading producer in the U.S. And yes, it’s cheaper than electricity produced from coal or petroleum.

  5. Donald Blowers
    Canberra Australia
    August 11, 2013, 1:15 pm

    When I was 21, I was in Sydney on a football playing tour. The bus stopped near a shopping centre. i went into a big store and bought my father a new colour television. It cost me, in 1973, 1000 dollars. When i brought it onto the bus, some middle aged people told me not to let my father watch the television, as they had read, in the telegraph, that it will cause eyeball cancer. They said he could listen to the sound, which is good but I would have to cover up the screen and watch the old black and white.
    Negative comments on energy today are from that same bus.
    Generating energy, using coal, without cleaning up the mess is what people are still suggesting.
    I have been in the power industry for 43 years.
    The new energy technologies now ready to implement are amazing.
    My work for the past 20 years has been in the management of the power grid in Australia. I have watched the industry come now to a cliff where it must change the way the ecconomic model works or fail.
    The CEOs in the power industry now have to think like a communications company director and modernise, clean up their act and progress with R and D or fail.
    At the highest level in the industry all over the world, there are people shaking their heads talking about the terrible instability and insecure fluxuating nature of wind and solar generation.
    The people I work with 24hrs a day on the control desk, know by now that this is a myth and that green energy will lead to a smoother, much more secure energy supply. This is alrady emerging. I am having a much more peacful night shift now then i ever did and this is beacuse of this shift in process and methods of energy distribution and control.

    We have only just started to scratch the surface of the opportunities in power stability management. In the future it will all be done in the home and my focus will be to provide our share of the energy as efficiently as we can. In the old system with huge base loaded coal stations, we often ran in extremely wasteful outputs in orter to control this rediculous method of providing energy in the 21st century.
    The main issue that will have to be managed is the fact that the majority live in high density housing and can not have sufficient solar to provide their needs. However, with the cost and effectiveness of batteries improving at an incredible rate, the high density housing can have green energy stored at home in batteries. The energy can be supplied by smart mettering of wind and solar energy located anywhere in Australia. This energy storage provided for the wind companies will effectively double their value in the market and halve the value of fossil fuel generation. Batteries are already beimg leased to consumers in other countries by renewable energy companies. The share price of such companies are booming as it is obviously one factor in the mix that has enormous growth certainty.
    There is one more stunning consequence of the R and D investments that have been so successful in battery and electric car technology. This is the economic shock when it suddenly dawns on the masses out there, that the cost of energy in the form of petrol is 500% more expensive then solar or wind energy that we can access at home. It’s a bit like the home phone, when mobiles and the internet started to show the true potential.
    The other thing that the old long lunch, lay back, power industry CEO will suddenly realise is that the demand for power from the transport industry will save their hide and create a whole new growth opportunity.

    i am sitting here at home. My wife is in Asia meeting with some old friends. I can pick up my mobile phone and talk directly to her in China for free. i can see her face clearly and all my old friends there chatting to me. All i had to do was spend a few seconds downloading a free application on my phone and anywhere on the planet where there is WIFI we can talk for free.
    In 2025, in Australia, it wont matter if you are in a home or high density city complex, there will be energy available for your home use and also energy for your private transport at around 7 cents a kilowatt hour. ( in todays dollars).
    This I might add, will mean that you can drive your EV car 300 miles for 5 dollars worth of electricity.

  6. jnffarrell1
    August 11, 2013, 12:49 am

    Waste not want not or…. Waste is good for you. No matter how they package it the lobby selling waste is bound to lose.

  7. Jenefer Lane
    Canada
    August 10, 2013, 1:26 am

    Seems to be the same tactics used to deny that climate change is happening and is human caused. The aim is to hinder progress in renewable energy so that growth of fossil fuels can continue. You’d think that anyone with intelligence would see this, but the blinders of greed, apathy, religion and self-interest prevent them. Well, those of us who DO see, must keep going forward with research and development of solar, wind and other clean energy. Eventually the doubters will catch on and catch up.

  8. Marcus Gibson
    London
    August 9, 2013, 6:52 am

    The idea that the ‘media’ are disrupting the natural order of things, ie the introduction of renewables – is ludicrous.

    First, the UK’s onshore windfarms are causing fury in rural areas as tourists stay away from once beautiful landscapes – in Scotland and central England in particular – now destroyed environmentally by hideous lines of windmills. A real democratic deficit here..

    If America is so keen on wind power why not install dozens of windfarms in the Grand Canyon, Moab, Yellowstone? Why should the beauty of our Lakeland and Pennine areas be victims?

    Moving on to costs, which this article fails to address, the UK has spent $8bn on imported windfarm infrastructure – worsening the already huge trade deficit. And worse still, Scotland is likely to follow Denmark in having the highest household energy costs of any developed nation.
    Renewables are appropriate, and fun, for isolated communities, but they cannot meet the massive, constant demands of industry, housing and cooking – often just lighting only – and then only on windy days.
    None of Scotland’s many windfarms worked during the recent coldest winter in 150 years – because there was no wind. And Scotland’s First Minister wants to make the country ’100% renewable’ dependent.

    The notion that the renewables industry in Germany provided ’382,000 jobs’ is also a ludicrous, obvious exaggeration. Environment ministries are, like environmental ‘scientists’, incapable of factual statement! Every commentator knows this.

    The truth about renewables is this: it is mostly a fad for the rich and trendy, and very few ordinary people want it, or want to pay for it. They are happy with low-cost oil, gas, nuclear and clean coal – so get used to it.

    The author is on ‘Rocky’ ground.. again.