'Peak Oil' Advocate: World 'Desperately Needs' New Energy
Oilprice.com: If energy independence for the US comes at the cost of reducing carbon emissions, and vice versa, which target do you think they should aim for?
Dave Summers: The hope that hydrocarbon production from the shale reservoirs of the United States will lead to energy independence has about a couple of years of life yet before it is shown to be the unrealistic hype that it is.
The continuing rise in energy costs, both here and in Europe, is likely to continue to sap any strong drive toward growth and a rapid recovery from the events of 2008. This cost factor is not getting the recognition that it should, and this unrelenting drain on the global economies does not have an easy resolution. The quick fixes anticipated from investment in renewable energy has not been found to really help that much, and while every little bit helps, there are no magic solutions on the horizon that will help in the intermediate term and sooner.
And after a certain number of cold winters it becomes harder to convince the general populace that global warming remains a critical problem.
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Oilprice.com: Do you think the coal industry's days are numbered?
Dave Summers: Ultimately no, but in the short term there will be a reduction in demand for coal in Europe and the United States. But in the longer term there is still no viable replacement fuel that will meet the needs of the growing power markets in places such as China, India and most of Asia and Africa.
As the costs for imported fuels rise, the need to develop indigenous resources will become more vital, while the selection of the cheapest available import to sustain the competitiveness of domestic industries will likely surmount the pressures for change.
Oilprice.com: Many claim that oil consumption in the US will continue to soar to record levels, yet due to the fast rate of decline in production from fracking wells compared to traditional wells this seems unlikely. What do you predict will be the maximum oil production that the US could achieve?
Dave Summers: It is difficult to foresee where all the additional oil that will be needed to meet the projection of sustained growth in supply is likely to come from. Increasing production depends on finding enough people with enough money to fund the drilling costs, and without sustained successful investment, after a while the pool of likely investors shrinks.
Again I don't see the current trends being sustained for more than a couple of years, for that reason. It also requires good potential sites for drilling, and those are becoming smaller and harder to identify.
Oilprice.com: Which renewable energy technologies do you think hold the greatest potential to make a meaningful addition to global energy production?
Dave Summers: I have always thought that we did not take enough advantage of the underground. There is a small but growing use of geothermal energy (and ground source heat pumps) but there are other advantages to putting buildings and other construction underground that will likely eventually dawn on enough people that it will become a more sustainable industry.
But I have been waiting for that to happen for 40 years, and it may well take as long again before it comes to pass.
Oilprice.com: Who or what is the biggest obstacle to renewable energy?
Dave Summers: Depends on where you are. In Botswana it was finding folk to do the maintenance in the villages. I look out of my window at a snow-covered back yard, in a state where neither wind nor solar has much viability, hence the local university is installing a geothermal system. Where do I get the heat? From the surrounding forest, I purchase wood almost every year for use in a tile stove, and the firebox is wrapped in copper tubing. But, as the British experience showed centuries ago, burning wood is a luxury, and coal was cheaper, as the forests disappeared.
Sadly the folks that discuss future energy alternatives tend to come to the discussion with their own agendas, so that it is difficult to have an open discussion that does not end up in emotional argument.
The world desperately needs new forms of energy to replace those that are starting to run out. The time available before those needs become critical is getting shorter, and thus an open debate is vital. But because of the politics there have been a number of decisions to move technology forward before it was really ready, and that has hurt new development, and is likely to continue to do so.
Keeping solar panels clean without scratching and power degradation has been something I first discussed in an ASTM panel over 30 years ago. Maintenance is likely the biggest hidden problem at the moment.
Oilprice.com: Which geopolitical hotspots should we be keeping our eyes on over the coming year for potential problems?
Dave Summers: The situation in the China Sea is starting to become a greater concern, and it is a reflection more, I believe, of the potential energy sources under the sea, than it is for any particular right to own tiny islands in the middle of nowhere.