What Does Peak Oil Mean for Renewables?

5 Oct

Came across this exchange in a Q&A in the newsletter Energy Bulletin:

Question: As a leader in the renewables industry, what do you see as the pros and cons of this plateauing of world oil production for both the renewables industries and the oil industry?

Leggett: I think it would be a mistake for renewables advocates to in any way celebrate what peak oil is going to do for the renewables industries because the bigger issue is that our economies are going to be gravely stressed, right down to the challenge of keeping social cohesion together, and this is a huge challenge. That’s said, there’s no doubt that when we get off the peak, or mini plateau or whatever it is, and we go down the decent, and the shock hits the system, we’re going to have to mobilize clean tech, energy efficiency and renewable technologies as fast as we mobilized tanks and aircraft and all the rest in the run up to World War II, and faster if we can. And the good news here is that at that point, people who work with these technologies day-to-day, like myself, feel very strongly that they can be mobilized faster than most supposed energy pundits would suggest. That’ll be the good news.

The bad news is there’s no scenario I think where they can be mobilized fast enough to make the difference. So there’s going to have to be behavioral change, structural change in society to wrestle with that problem. But then when we get going, provided that people don’t make a suite of stupid decisions and go to the longer flash-to-bang time technologies like coal to liquids, tar sands, nuclear power and really zero in on where Silicon Valley is putting its money today, which is clean tech, then who knows. Maybe we have a chance then of engineering a real renaissance in society, because you get all the rolling fringe benefits of renewables then–the local production, the local economies, the enhanced security, the air quality, the whole suite of things that just happen to spring from the innate characteristics of renewables. And that’s an upside that I describe in “Half Gone.” I’m not going to say it’s going to happen, but I do believe it could happen. And frankly, that’s one of the things that gets me out of bed every morning.

Note the reference to WWII … scary.  Oil production will peak and then decline some time within the next 40+ years.  Will we be ready when that happens?  Or will all hell break loose, like it did in the late 1930s when Europe exploded in a war that ended up killing tens of millions around the world?

At least the conversation is on the table.

By the way, Half Gone is a book by Jeremy Leggett (the guy quoted above) about the energy crisis.  Haven’t read it, but it got pretty good reviews on Amazon UK.


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