There has never been a better time to invest in Green Energy, Robert Rubinstein, a social entrepreneur, founder of The Triple Bottom Line Investing Group based in Amsterdam and green energy guru told Belong in an exclusive interview.

What Rubinstein likes to call “fuel free energy” is a smart investment which is “easily comparable with traditional fossil fuels and you only have to pay a one-time infrastructure cost,” he explained.

Rubinstein explained that in terms of getting big projects off the ground it makes sense for a good many renewable energy projects to be led by the traditional oil giants like BP, Shell and Exxon Mobile.

“They are good on big engineering projects,” said Rubinstein. He explained that only these massive global companies with their huge resources have the infrastructure to develop large scale projects like the so-called Tornado Alley wind turbines in the US states of Kansas and Nebraska.

Rubinstein praised Shell for announcing in 2017 to shift 30% of its revenue to electricity production where they will sell electricity direct to industrial customers, “that’s smart because they understand big energy projects,” he said.

In December 2018 Shell also announced it planned to double its investment in green energy from $2bl to $4bl.

Although Shell hasn’t made massive in roads yet into wind power, Martin Westlaar, the head of Shell’s Gas and New Energy Unit, said he wants the firm to win more of these projects and is looking at offshore wind opportunities in North America, China, India and Taiwan.

UK Offshore Wind – Steady Growth Forecasted

The UK has been a global leader in offshore wind production for a number of years and already has a number of the largest offshore wind farms in the world, including Hornsea One and Two of the coast of East Yorkshire and the Walney Extension Offshore Windfarm in the Irish Sea.

A further deal was announced last year, which will see investors pump £250 million over the next 11 years into the industry in exchange for £551 million of state subsidies. By 2030 a third of all UK electricity is expected to come from offshore wind.

The industry is also providing much needed investment into ailing coastal communities, which have seen traditional industries close, such as Barrow in Furness on the Cumbrian Coast and Kingston upon Hull on the Humber estuary.

In Other Sectors Green Energy Investment Falls in UK

Despite the huge advances in offshore wind the UK suffers from a stop start approach to government investment in green energy as a whole.

“It’s just very lumpy. You have this very sort of cyclic approach that governments have had in the past,” Paul Cowling, the director of offshore wind energy at the German firm Innogy SE, told the Guardian.

In comparison government policy on offshore wind in Germany and the Netherlands is much more transparent, he said.

Despite leading the world in the tidal and wave energy sector, poor government support has meant that in the last couple of years, Britain has thrown away its lead to other countries such as France and Canada.

The world’s first large scale tidal energy farm was opened off the coast of Orkney in Scotland in 2016. But despite good initial funding from the UK government for research and development, £23 million was provided by the Scottish government, support to put the huge turbines into commercial use was lacking.

“I think the UK is making a huge mistake with this. The UK is a world leader in this emerging industry, and it is just giving it away. The withdrawal of existing support systems leaves the industry without support. I will just turn my back on the UK and go elsewhere,” Dr Martin Edlund, which invested £25 million into undersea kite turbines that take energy from sea currents off Wales, told the Guardian. 

While the Edinburgh based company Atlantis, which developed the world’s first large scale tidal turbine connected to the grid off the coast of Orkney, subsequently moved much of its efforts to France where the government backed a new development for 2GW subsea turbines between Alderney and Normandy coast, an area said to have the fiercest tides in Europe.

“You have tidal and wave energy in Scotland and Wales, but Westminster is not interested,” said Edlund. 

Governments not the only Investors in Green Energy

Rubinstein explained that in fact governments can often be unreliable investors because “if an agreement is based on a subsidy and then that subsidy is taken away. So, it’s more the policy changes rather than the economics of it.”

There are now several companies such as Aquila Capital which buys large fuel free energy assets for pension funds in the same way that many pension funds have been tied up in hydrocarbons for years.

Mosaic is another company, which allows anyone to invest in pension funds in renewable energy assets in Europe. “They are looking for steady cash flows and little volatility, and that can be offered by fuel free energy,” said Rubinstein.

Rubinstein believes passionately that investing in renewables can make businesses incredibly competitive in the long term.

Small Scale as Important as Big Scale

The UK is also lagging behind its European neighbours in the implementation of energy co-ops, principally because the government recently got rid of key tax breaks for clean electricity schemes. On of the policies first victims was a site in Herefordshire in the West of England, which proposed to provide clean solar energy to 250 homes through the UK’s first community owned photovoltaic installation.

Although, despite the lack of government support, some community energy projects in the UK are coming to fruition. For example, Brixton Energy in South London, is a non-profit cooperative, which runs three solar projects in three council estates in the borough of Lambeth.

In contrast, in Germany and Denmark, community energy projects can sell their electricity directly to third parties and in Germany there are 1,000 community energy projects across the country.

The Nuclear Deception

In the race to save the planet from the effects of Global Warming, Rubinstein is adamant that nuclear power generation represents the worst of all investments. “There is not a single insurance company that will touch nuclear power plants, its all done with public money and it’s a lousy investment,” explained Rubinstein.

Whereas with fuel free energy you can create a lot of power with one small investment, they don’t take 10 years to build and you don’t have to decommission them when their life is over.

The German government have decided to close the last of their nuclear power stations by 2022 and have set up the Sovereign Nuclear Clean-Up Fund. The government has put 21 billion euros into the fund, which it will then invest in fuel free energy projects. “Hopefully that will grow at 25% a year and then in twenty years they’ll have this big pile of cash to pay for their nuclear clean-up,” said Rubinstein.   

While green energy represents a good investment and as an industry is growing quickly, it’s probably not growing fast enough to mitigate the effects of global warming. For people living on the low-lying islands of the Pacific and in the Artic, the effects of burning fossil fuels are already clearly visible. The question is, can the green energy revolution happen fast enough to save the planet from the worst effects of global warming? 

Edward Cowley