Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Likely? Not Remotely.

One of my all time favorite books is The Prize: The Epic Quest of Oil, Money, and Power (1991) by Daniel Yergin.  The book provides a solid foundation for any engineer to understand the subject of energy and geopolitics.  Energy and geopolitics have been inseparable for the last 100 plus years - - the next 100-years may produce an era of even greater convergence.

The sequel to the Prize is out this week - - The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011).  The book picks up in the 1990s and continues, remarkably, to just a few months ago.  Two important themes are embedded in the book (Which I have not read, at 804-pages it is going to take awhile.  Plus, I didn't get the Kindle version - - I took it to heart from the book that we have plenty of oil left.) from which I have taken from the various reviews.  One critical theme is the role technology has played in pushing back the limits of "Peak Oil."  Yergin dismisses the idea that the world's supply is rapidly running out.  Thanks to new technologies, he estimates that the world's total stock of will keep growing.  New technology (from offshore engineering to hydrofracking) is probably the short answer.  A more complete answer would involve the convergence of the forces of globalization, advances in information technology, and rising demand for oil resources. 

The other theme is climate change.  Surprisingly, Yergin argues that climate change and global warming are serious problems.  As the Economist highlighted in their September 17, 2011 book review (Energy: The Power of Infinity):

"Stopping the increase at 450 parts per million - - when the climate is generally expected to be no more than two degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times - - is the world's ambition.  How likely is this?

Not remotely.  Mr. Yergin suggests fossil fuels supply 80% of the world's energy needs and, as the main driver of China's and India's growth, they will remain preeminent for decades.  This is a lot to worry about, and Mr. Yergin's book, which includes almost 100 pages on the history of climate change and politics should be required reading for all those in warming denial.  The author finds at least some cheer in recent breakthroughs in alternative sources of energy, chiefly solar and wind.  On current form neither is remotely able to stand against coal.  Yet a rising wave of innovation - - what Mr. Yergin calls a unprecedented "great bubbling in the broth of energy innovation" - - suggests that one day they may.  Most of this is of course happening in America.  Between 2001 and 2010 investment in the American clean-tech industry increased tenfold.  Most of the climate science that Mr. Yergin describes, with an appealing fondness and respect for its obsessive practitioners, happened in American too."

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry but Yergin is wrong with regard to oil. The estimate reserves are at 1.4 trillion barrels of oil (EIA). This will last around 60 years at current consumption rates. However these rates are increasing. The most recent finds that have gained attention including the find in Norway would only provide a fraction of of a years supply for the world.


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