The New Sustainability

The green energy business is maturing as major players in the industry begin to see it as sustainable – financially:

[J]ust because the first round of modern environmental spending has been inefficient doesn’t mean the next round must be too. Today, institutions with unsentimental investors are ramping up strategies that could accelerate a shift toward an economy that uses natural resources more efficiently — a shift that will stick to the extent that it proves lucrative. Big electric utilities are buying into the renewable-energy business, often more aggressively than governmental clean-energy mandates require them to do. To be sure, they’re angling to look green, they’re still making most of their power profit from fossil fuel, and often they’re lobbying against tougher renewable-energy policies even as they make those investments. What’s changing, though, is that they’ve decided that renewable energy has grown too big to ignore. Utilities that set investment strategy for decades, not just for months or years, are concluding that the cost of renewable energy has declined to the point that, in some places, it’s competitive with conventional power.

Similarly, the World Bank has said it no longer will bankroll the construction of coal-fired power plants in the developing world except in “rare circumstances.” The bank’s primary mission is to facilitate economic development in poor countries, so it can’t justify purely bleeding-heart initiatives. The new stance is a bet that cleaner energy sources have gotten sufficiently economical to enter the mainstream.