Energy subsidies

I don’t really remember the last time I dealt with the topic of subsidies. There are huge transfers that takes place in the economy as a result of government interventions through a combination of taxes and subsidies. It is hard to see what the real effects are because the result is always nett of a combination of different forces and programmes. As a result, it is hard to see whether the end result was intentional or not. Often, the end result can be intentional but brought about through a combination of transfers or policies with differing stated intents.

Take for example the whole issue of fuel and energy subsidies. There are explicit and implicit subsidies and they are applied at different levels, to different parts of the value chain, captured by different parties. Of course, the result is to some extent lower cost of energy, but it is also more energy used than otherwise would be. Well, why would you favour wasting energy? Often, it’s because it can help to divert perhaps certain industrial activities that could have downstream impacts such as helping to alleviate poverty, create employment, strengthen social cohesiveness and the list goes on.

After a while, you realised that in the sphere of politics and governance, economics only holds to a certain extent. And competition often can be defined within a single dimension but actually practised over that. What this means is that if you think you’re working hard for school grades, you’d be outcompeted by someone who recognizes that his grades mean little if it is not directed towards getting to a good school or a good job. There is always a greater arena that you are actually competing within.

What this means for renewable energy is that they are not just competing with fossil fuel in terms of adoption and capital for deployment but also consumption and subsidies. Of course there is lots of subsidies going around – for example, for hydrogen. The question is whether it is worthwhile pouring subsidy into that or a more mature energy vector that has the potential to decarbonise (for example, biomethane). However, there are limitations to biomethane or bioenergy because of feedstock limitations, because of the dispersed nature of the feedstock, and the difficulties associated with deployment.

Well, there are also budget limits and land limits. It is strange how people prefer to invest in areas that have more unknowns and uncertainties rather than areas where limits are more ‘known’, but the market could still be sizable. In Australia especially, I think there is incredible upside to taking the long-term view in things because it is a market where sensibilities do tend to eventually prevail.

Originally the intent was to rant about fossil energy subsidies but look where that got me.