Energy subsidies are measures that keep prices for consumers below market levels or for producers above market levels, or reduce costs for consumers and producers. Energy subsidies may be direct cash transfers to producers, consumers, or related bodies, as well as indirect support mechanisms, such as tax exemptions and rebates, price controls, trade restrictions, and limits on market access. They may also include energy conservation subsidies.
The global fossil fuel subsidies were $523 billion and renewable energy subsidies $88 billion in 2011. According to Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency without a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, we will not reach our climate targets.
Main arguments for energy subsidies are:
- Security of supply - subsidies are used to ensure adequate domestic supply by supporting indigenous fuel production in order to reduce import dependency, or supporting overseas activities of national energy companies.
- Environmental improvement - subsidies are used to reduce pollution, including different emissions, and to fulfil international obligations (e.g. Kyoto Protocol).
- Economic benefits - subsidies in the form of reduced prices are used to stimulate particular economic sectors or segments of the population, e.g. alleviating poverty and increasing access to energy in developing countries.
- Employment and social benefits - subsidies are used to maintain employment, especially in periods of economic transition.
Main arguments against energy subsidies are:
- Some energy subsidies counter the goal of sustainable development, as they may lead to higher consumption and waste, exacerbating the harmful effects of energy use on the environment, create a heavy burden on government finances and weaken the potential for economies to grow, undermine private and public investment in the energy sector.
- Impede the expansion of distribution networks and the development of more environmentally benign energy technologies, and do not always help the people that need them most.
- The study conducted by the World Bank finds that subsidies to the large commercial businesses that dominate the energy sector are not justified. However, under some circumstances it is reasonable to use subsidies to promote access to energy for the poorest households in developing countries. Energy subsidies should encourage access to the modern energy sources, not to cover operating costs of companies. The study conducted by the World Resource Institute finds that energy subsidies often go to capital intensive projects at the expense of smaller or distributed alternatives.
Types of energy subsidies are:
- Direct financial transfers - grants to producers; grants to consumers; low-interest or preferential loans to producers.
- Preferential tax treatments - rebates or exemption on royalties, duties, producer levies and tariffs; tax credit; accelerated depreciation allowances on energy supply equipment.
- Trade restrictions - quota, technical restrictions and trade embargoes.
- Energy-related services provided by government at less than full cost - direct investment in energy infrastructure; public research and development.
- Regulation of the energy sector - demand guarantees and mandated deployment rates; price controls; market-access restrictions; preferential planning consent and controls over access to resources.
- Failure to impose external costs - environmental externality costs; energy security risks and price volatility costs.
- Depletion Allowance - allows a deduction from gross income of up to ~27% for the depletion of exhaustible resources (oil,gas,minerals).
Allocation of subsidies 
A 2009 study by the Environmental Law Institute assessed the size and structure of U.S. energy subsidies over the 2002–2008 period. The study estimated that subsidies to fossil-fuel based sources amounted to approximately $72 billion over this period and subsidies to renewable fuel sources totaled $29 billion. The study did not assess subsidies supporting nuclear energy.
The three largest fossil fuel subsidies were:
- Foreign tax credit ($15.3 billion)
- Credit for production of non-conventional fuels ($14.1 billion)
- Oil and Gas exploration and development expensing ($7.1 billion)
The three largest renewable fuel subsidies were:
- Alcohol Credit for Fuel Excise Tax ($11.6 billion)
- Renewable Electricity Production Credit ($5.2 billion)
- Corn-Based Ethanol ($5.0 billion)
In the United States, the federal government has paid US$74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power ($50 billion) and fossil fuels ($24 billion) from 1973 to 2003. During this same timeframe, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion. It has been suggested that a subsidy shift would help to level the playing field and support growing energy sectors, namely solar power, wind power, and biofuels. However, many of the "subsidies" available to the oil and gas industries are general business opportunity credits, available to all US businesses (particularly, the foreign tax credit mentioned above). The value of industry-specific subsidies in 2006 was estimated by the Texas State Comptroller to be just $3.06 billion - a fraction of the amount claimed by the Environmental Law Institute. The balance of federal subsides, which the comptroller valued at $7.4 billion, came from shared credits and deductions, and oil defense (spending on the SPR, energy infrastructure security, etc.).
The most important subsidies to the nuclear industry have not involved cash payments. Rather, they have shifted construction costs and operating risks from investors to taxpayers and ratepayers, burdening them with an array of risks including cost overruns, defaults to accidents, and nuclear waste management. This approach has remained remarkably consistent throughout the nuclear industry’s history, and distorts market choices that would otherwise favor less risky energy investments.
Many energy analysts, such as Clint Wilder, Ron Pernick and Lester Brown, have suggested that energy subsidies need to be shifted away from mature and established industries and towards high growth clean energy. They also suggest that such subsidies need to be reliable, long-term and consistent, to avoid the periodic difficulties that the wind industry has had in the United States.
According to the OECD, subsidies supporting fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil, represent greater threats to the environment than subsidies to renewable energy. Subsidies to nuclear power contribute to unique environmental and safety issues, related mostly to the risk of high-level environmental damage, although nuclear power contributes positively to the environment in the areas of air pollution and climate change. Subsidies to renewable energy are generally considered more environmentally beneficial, although the full range of environmental effects should to be taken into account.
A 2010 study by Global Subsidies Initiative compared global relative subsidies of different energy sources. Results show that fossil fuels receive 0.8 US cents per kWh of energy they produce (although it should be noted that the estimate of fossil fuel subsidies applies only to consumer subsidies and only within non-OECD countries), nuclear energy receives 1.7 cents / kWh, renewable energy (excluding hydroelectricity) receives 5.0 cents / kWh and biofuels receive 5.1 cents / kWh in subsidies.
In 2011, IEA chief economist Faith Birol said the current $409 billion equivalent of fossil fuel subsidies are encouraging a wasteful use of energy, and that the cuts in subsidies is the biggest policy item that would help renewable energies get more market share and reduce CO2 emissions.
In February 2011 and January 2012 the UK Energy Fair group, supported by other organisations and environmentalists, lodged formal complaints with the European Union's Directorate General for Competition, alleging that the Government was providing unlawful State aid in the form of subsidies for nuclear power industry, in breach of European Union competition law.
One of the largest subsidies is the cap on liabilities for nuclear accidents which the nuclear power industry has negotiated with governments. “Like car drivers, the operators of nuclear plants should be properly insured,” said Gerry Wolff, coordinator of the Energy Fair group. The group calculates that, "if nuclear operators were fully insured against the cost of nuclear disasters like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, the price of nuclear electricity would rise by at least €0.14 per kWh and perhaps as much as €2.36, depending on assumptions made".
The subsidies the nuclear and fossil-fuel industry receive — and have received for many years — make their product “affordable.” Those subsidies take many forms, but the most significant are their “externalities.” Externalities are real costs, but they are foisted off on the community instead of being paid by the companies that caused them.
Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, has examined the health and environmental impacts of coal, including: mining, transportation, combustion in power plants and the impact of coal’s waste stream. He found that the "life cycle effects of coal and its waste cost the American public $333 billion to over $500 billion dollars annually". These are costs the coal industry is not paying and which fall to the community in general. Eliminating that subsidy would dramatically increase the price of coal-fired electricity.
IEA position on subsidies 
According to IEA (2011) energy subsidies artificially lower the price of energy paid by consumers, raise the price received by producers or lower the cost of production. "Fossil fuels subsidies costs generally outweigh the benefits. Subsidies to renewables and low-carbon energy technologies can bring long-term economic and environmental benefits". In November 2011, an IEA report entitled Deploying Renewables 2011 said "subsidies in green energy technologies that were not yet competitive are justified in order to give an incentive to investing into technologies with clear environmental and energy security benefits". The IEA's report disagreed with claims that renewable energy technologies are only viable through costly subsidies and not able to produce energy reliably to meet demand. "A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, in some cases providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support," the IEA said, and added that "cost reductions in critical technologies, such as wind and solar, are set to continue."
Fossil-fuel consumption subsidies were $409 billion in 2010, oil products ca half of it. Renewable-energy subsidies were $66 billion in 2010 and will reach according to IEA $250 billion by 2035. Renewable energy is subsidized in order to compete in the market, increase their volume and develop the technology so that the subsidies become unnecessary with the development. Eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies could bring economic and environmental benefits. Phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies by 2020 would cut primary energy demand 5%. Since the start of 2010, at least 15 countries have taken steps to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies. According to IEA onshore wind may become competitive around 2020 in the European Union.
See also 
- Feed-in tariff
- Renewable Energy Certificates
- Renewable energy payments
- Financial incentives for photovoltaics
- EU wind industry faces tough challenge - and politicians should not make it worse EWEA 04 Feb 2013
- Fossil fuel subsidies are “public enemy number one” – IEA Chief EWEA 04 Feb 2013
- Energy subsidies in the European Union: A brief overview. Technical report No 1/2004 (PDF). European Environmental Agency. 2004. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
- United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics. (2002). Reforming energy subsidies (PDF). IEA/UNEP. ISBN 92-807-2208-5. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Douglas F. Barnes, Jonathan Halpern (2000). "The role of energy subsidies" (PDF). Energy and Development Report (World Bank): 60–66. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Jonathan Pershing, Jim Mackenzie (March 2004). Removing Subsidies. Leveling the Playing Field for Renewable Energy Technologies. Thematic Background Paper (PDF). Secretariat of the International Conference for Renewable Energies. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Pernick, Ron and Wilder, Clint (2007). The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity, p. 280.
- Koplow, Doug (February 2011). "Nuclear Power:Still Not Viable without Subsidies". Union of Concerned Scientists. p. 1.
- Brown, L.R. (2006). Plan B 2.0 Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble W.W. Norton & Co, pp. 234-235.
- Forthcoming, Draft synthesis report on environmentally harmful subsidies, SG/SD(2004)3. OECD. 2004-03-16.
- "Renewable Energy Being Held Back by Fossil Fuel Subsidies - IEA". Oilprice.com. 1 November 2011.
- Legal bid to halt nuclear construction, Energy Fair, published 2011-11-07, accessed 2012-01-20
- UK 'subsidising nuclear power unlawfully' BBC, published 2012-01-20, accessed 2012-01-20
- "Complaint about nuclear subsidies may prevent new reactor builds". Energy and Environmental Management. 24 January 2012.
- Tim Keating (3 February 2012). "Death to PV Subsidies". Renewable Energy World.
- World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet How will global energy markets evolve to 2035? IEA November 2011 6 pages
- Henning Gloystein (Nov 23, 2011). "Renewable energy becoming cost competitive, IEA says". Reuters.