Oil caught up in broader market weakness

Renewable electricity is now more profitable than energy from fossil fuels

Governments are deploying a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to manufacturers around the world in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This has resulted in renewable electricity becoming more profitable than energy from fossil fuels.

This article, authored by Yu (Ben) Meng, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Franklin Templeton and Anne Simpson, Franklin Templeton’s Global Head of Sustainability, was first published in Carbonomics: the path to net zero, OMFIF Sustainable Policy Institute Journal, Winter 2023.

If efforts to lower carbon dioxide emissions feel underwhelming to some, we see positive momentum worth celebrating.1 In market-based economies, profits are a strong motivator. Renewable electricity is now more profitable than energy from fossil fuels. These green profits didn’t happen by chance, however. Government incentives—both carrots, such as subsidies, and sticks, like carbon prices—helped redirect capital to make this happen.

Governments including Germany and China have long used carrots, such as loan guarantees and feed-in tariffs to kick-start solar photovoltaics (PV) production.2 In China, manufacturers received access to subsidized land, modern manufacturing infrastructure, special financing and tax cuts. In total, China’s industrial carrots helped scale up solar PV production 500 times between 2000–2016.3 Economists studying the mechanics of innovations find economies of scale, combined with learning-by-doing, play an outsized role in lowering costs and improving quality across clean-energy technologies.4

Look at the seismic shift in competitiveness of renewable electricity over fossil fuel options. From 2010–2021, the costs of solar PV electricity dropped 88%, which is now below the costs of fossil fuel electricity, as indicated in Exhibit 1.5 At these prices, solar PV is more profitable for power plants than coal or gas-fired electricity. It’s with an eye toward green profits that India’s largest power company is now committed to building 60 gigawatts of solar PV electricity by 2032.6

Renewables Costs Have Fallen Sharply

Exhibit 1: Global Weighted Average Levelized Cost of Electricity (US$ kWh)

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Our World in Data. As of December 6, 2022.

If carrots boost green profits, regulatory sticks like carbon prices offer a different, but complementary, way to tackle emissions. In theory, carbon markets are more efficient than government subsidies, which can drive overcapacity. The European Union (EU) operates the world’s largest and first major carbon market, followed by China’s carbon market launched in 2021.7 However, carbon prices are too low to redirect capital at the scale and speed we need. China’s carbon price is just US$8 per metric ton8 of carbon dioxide, far below the EU’s carbon price shown in Exhibit 2. That said, we’re less concerned for two reasons.

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Carbon Pricing—Not So Taxing

Exhibit 2: Emissions Trading Systems in EU, New Zealand, China, and South Korea (converted to US$)
January 4, 2021–December 6, 2022 (Daily)

Source: Bloomberg.

First, China’s carbon pricing will help squeeze out inefficiencies from its coal-fired plants in the near term, before scaling up in the future. Second, the EU implemented a carbon border tax that will have positive ripple effects across the globe. Countries that trade regularly with the EU can either forfeit money at the border when selling high-carbon products or invest more at home in clean energy systems to avoid the tax. The EU’s carbon stick will incentivize trading partners to transition their economies quickly.

In terms of green energy carrots, the United States is deploying procurement contracts to double its solar power capacity in 10 years,9 plus generous subsidies to build green factories that create jobs with better wages. In turn, as the Paris agreement’s concept of the “just transition” gains momentum, we see new support for the shift to low carbon energy—so long as we ensure we put people at the center of the plans.10 We believe the power of green profits is unstoppable.

Oil caught up in broader market weakness

Franklin Templeton

The company was founded in 1947 in New York by Rupert H. Johnson, Sr., who ran a successful retail brokerage firm from an office on Wall Street. He named the company for US founding father Benjamin Franklin because Franklin epitomized the ideas of frugality and prudence when it came to saving and investing. The company's first line of mutual funds, Franklin Custodian Funds, was a series of conservatively managed equity and bond funds designed to appeal to most investors.