A new study by oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell Group forecasts that wind power and energy from the sun and from waste may meet a third of our energy needs by 2060. The study assumes supplies of fossil fuels could peak in 35 years. While oil and gas consumption rise from current levels, the market share for new renewable energy may also increase fivefold -- to about 10% by 2020 from the current 2%.

"They [new renewables] will eventually compete in their own right," Georges Dupont-Roc, the oil giant's energy planning chief, said in a recent interview. As technology develops and the cost of new renewable energy production declines, wind power, solar, and biomass could all price themselves into the energy market by 2020, he said.

As an oil giant, Shell's view is significant. Its statements have been widely quoted and even formed the basis for a major pro renewables article and editorial in an early October issue of The Economist news magazine. The Economist, a British weekly with huge international circulation, argued that further construction of nuclear power plant was economically irresponsible and that renewables, such as wind, had been short changed. They should be receiving far more support because they are a better option than nuclear, stated the influential magazine.

Shell's rosy forecasts of a huge growth in "green" energy may, however, have a political agenda -- to forestall the possibility of a carbon tax by assuring outsiders that use of dirty, conventional fuels will decline anyway without government intervention. "The hidden agenda behind their scenario is they think there's no need for carbon taxes, they think it will happen naturally," one UK energy analyst told Reuters.

Shell denies that it embarked on the study to slam energy taxation -- but it is clear the oil giant remains firmly against government intervention anyway. "You can achieve much more through competition, by stimulating competition and making a framework where individuals and companies compete with a new idea and bring value than taxing and business as usual," said Dupont-Roc. "In the case of wind [subsidies were] less than $1 billion and it has opened up a completely new industry, which could be bigger than nuclear in 30 years," he said.