Do low gas prices hurt renewable energy adoption? Not really.

Gas prices have fallen dramatically in the US, and many assume this will hurt the renewable energy industry. A new study suggests otherwise. 

Lynne Sladky/AP/File
A motorist puts fuel in his vehicle at a Westar gas station in Miami. Falling oil prices have a limited impact on renewable energy, and their volatility actually underscores the value of clean power sources, argues a new blog post from the Brookings Institution.

Gas prices have fallen dramatically in the U.S.--40 percent in six months--and it's assumed by some that this will hurt the renewable-energy industry.

With the financial advantage of solar or wind energy curtailed by cheap oil, the logic goes, consumers will be less interested in switching from fossil fuels.

That's not necessarily the case in reality, however.

Falling oil prices have a limited impact on renewable energy, and their volatility actually underscores the value of clean power sources, argues a new blog post from the Brookings Institution.

First, the authors claim oil prices and renewable-energy adoption aren't directly related, because each represents a different sector of the energy market.

Oil is primarily used as a transportation fuel, while renewable sources are used to generate electricity.

According to the International Energy Agency, diesel and other petroleum fuels constitute just 5 percent of global power generation today--compared to 25 percent in 1973.

So they aren't necessarily competing for the same market share--unless you include generating electricity used to charge the fairly small number of plug-in cars currently on U.S. roads.

Second, since cost is based on technology rather than the availability of an actual commodity, renewable energy is also considered more stable over the long term.

The cost of electricity generated from renewable sources is tied to the efficiency and availability of technology like solar cells and wind turbines.

That cost has already declined a reported 80 percent for solar, and 60 percent for wind, over the last five years--and further reductions as technology continues to improve.

In contrast, oil is a finite resource, especially from sources that are easily and cheaply available. Even with temporary production spikes, it will only grow more expensive to extract over time.

Few analysts claim any certainty about how long production increases like the U.S. shale boom will last, making oil a more uncertain prospect than renewable energy over the long term.

So while oil is cheap for now, the future still appears to remain bright for renewable energy.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to