The seventh annual European conference on Peak Oil was held in Barcelona, Spain on October 20-21. The conference theme was Peak Oil: From Below Ground to Above Ground. This could probably be classified as the first conference of the formally-incorporated organization ASPO- International, which came into being following the Cork (Ireland) conference in 2007.
Spain was an interesting choice of venue in part because its government, along with Germany and Japan, has set some of the most aggressive goals in the world for ramping up renewable energy industries and supplies. They have enacted policies to encourage renewable development including subsidies and feed-in tariffs for electrical power supplied to the grid by renewable sources.
“Below Ground” topics included updated presentations covering similar topics as previous ASPO-Europe conferences, from some well-known speakers and a few new faces.
“Above Ground” presentations and panel sessions focused on renewable energy supply, local solutions, and social aspects of Peak Oil.
Josep Huguet – Opening Ceremony: Innovation
(did not get a translation of this speech)
Kjell Aleklett – Welcome & Introduction
Peak Oil is not a theory, but reality – oil will be here for only a short time. In December 2000, Colin Campbell had the idea to start ASPO. In Oct 2001 Colin and Kjell decided to organize the Uppsala conference, which was held in May 2002. There were only local press and one journalist from Associated Press that covered at the time, but now if you Google “Peak Oil,” it shows millions of hits.
In 2007 in Cork, ASPO members agreed to form ASPO-International, now with >30 national-level affiliates, most of them formally incorporated as non-profits. Also in Cork, James Schlesinger said: “You can declare victory, (but be magnanimous in your victory).” Still, most of the world hasn’t heard the message.
“The oil boom is over and will not return” – King of Saudi Arabia.
There is now a bet between Kjell and BP Chairman Dr. Tony Hayward – if in 10 years (2018) world oil production is higher than now (86.5M bbl/d), Hayward wins the bet (winner gets “the cost of a barrel of oil”). If world production is lower than that, Kjell wins.
The world needs a crash mat after peak oil, to avoid a hard landing.
Panel – Ugo Bardi, moderator
Kjell Aleklett – Peak Oil and Economic Growth in Africa
Africa represents a “reverse oil-export model” – the continent is wealthy in resources, but at the bottom of the economic ladder. Resources are being exported, to the detriment of internal prosperity and economic growth; oil revenue leaves the country and is not invested domestically, so there is no opportunity for improvement or internal consumption of their resources. If Africa doesn’t prosper, there will be more immigration pressure on Europe and other problems. We should study the past, and the end of past empires, to understand our future. We are approaching the end of the age of oil – there will never be another period or civilization with oil available like the present.
Graphics: best case and worst case for oil (2007). The few remaining undeveloped big fields are in Iraq, the other big fields are depleting, and most are declining. Solar and the wind will only supply a small fraction of our near-term energy supply.
Table: where the fossil fuels are (The US has most if coal is included), very little in Africa (a little coal, some natural gas, some oil). Look at Daqing, China – 2.6M people now living and working in those oil fields. There is a tight relationship between oil supply, the economy, and military strength. Chart: GDP & per capita oil use (tight relationship). Chart (China & India): economic growth depends on oil. China is looking around the world and locking down supply, while in African sub-Sahara, some of the poorest countries in the world, oil is being exported with no benefit to the people. This constitutes robbery. We should help them use their own oil, help pull them out of deep poverty, and this will result in better long-term outcome for Europe too.
Africa’s oil production will probably peak around 2012.
Sustainable world scenario: we need enormous amounts of alternative fuels and renewable energy supply by 2030 to offset oil depletion. Data supports a worst-case oil endgame (price vs. production – supply plateau). The ExxonMobile graph shows 4-6% decline per year in existing fields. Meanwhile, it’s increasingly difficult for new projects to get capital so new field development may slow.
Carlos de Castro – World Energy-Economy Scenarios with System Dynamics Modeling
Carlos demonstrated multivariable modeling results of the population, oil extraction, technology, GDP per capita using a geological (geophysical constraints) and economic framework. There are probably major (negative) feedback relationships between Peak Oil responses and Climate Change. The biggest uncertainty for modeling is forecasting technological change.
De Castro assumes a positive relationship with economic growth, which is challenged by some in the audience. His model takes into account net energy to society, ERoEI (attribution: Hall, Ayres).
Salvador Pueyo – Simple “Epidemic” Model of Oil Depletion
Hubbert linearization is very similar to SIR modeling of infectious diseases, so the presenter applied this modeling methodology to develop country-level and global oil production profiles.
Both Hubbert linearization and SIR give good results on a country-by-country level, although there are countries (Russia) which have experienced a punctuated equilibrium with multiple linear curves. For modeling oil depletion on a global scale, however, this method does not work as well. This means that at world scale, above-ground factors like economic crises (reduced capital investment, etc.) are important to take into consideration.
Jean Laherrere and colleague Jean-Luc Wingert (author of ‘La vie après le petrole’) – Forecast of Liquids Production
Below-ground story: World conventional oil production (less heavy) continues on a bumpy plateau, basically flat for more than 3 years. We may have peaked in July 2008 (Aug, Sept. were down) – but first, we need to define what we mean by “Peak Oil”: it’s probably best to use all liquids including NGL. Either way, ultimate recoverable (URR) is 2000-2200 billion bbl (barrels). Jean showed a creaming curve which demonstrates an asymptotic approach to URR. The problem with creaming curves is that you do not know if there will be another discovery/production cycle. If there is no new cycle, then the ultimate will be about 2000B bbl with NGL contributing about 50B bbl. “Extra heavy” contribution is limited by low rates of extraction.
Jean noted that Colin Campbell predicted the coincidence of PO and economic crisis. Such a crisis may lead to a short downturn in production followed by a secondary, possibly somewhat higher peak about the not-yet-produced oil of the downturn period. This rebound effect will make it more difficult for the peak oil message to get heard during the secondary peak. In the current economic crisis, it may be hard to see the “signal” of oil peak in all the “noise” of financial chaos, which depresses demand.
Wingert discussed previous “hard” and “soft” economic crises in Argentina, Japan, and the U.S. and their impact on oil consumption. For a “soft” crisis (economic recession) there is little impact on oil production. But a more severe financial crisis causes the collapse of demand (Argentina 2001, US 1973). Argentina recovered in three years.
We should be talking more about solar (photovoltaic) and the wind, to offset declines in liquid fossil fuels.
Mariano Marzo – Security of Natural Gas Supply in Spain
Spain’s energy sources are 48 % oil, 22% gas, coal 15 %, with the remainder nuclear, hydro, biomass, and wind. Spain has a high rate of energy-intensive economic growth with a rapidly growing natural gas (NG) component (increasing 14% a year increase for last five years!), coming mainly from LNG – Spain is not yet connected to the European gas pipeline network. All its NG is imported, mostly from Africa. Spain also has a fully liberalized energy market which favors LNG.
A big problem with LNG is the fact that exporting countries lack NG liquefaction capacity and this is becoming more serious as demand grows. Not enough investment is taking place in the gas-producing countries. Spain’s NG consumption is expected to increase substantially, with pipelines (from Africa) as well as LNG growth.
Delays in pipeline and LNG projects have led to lower future estimates of NG supply. This heavy dependence on imported supply raises serious energy security issues for Spain, given that world NG production is expected to peak by 2040 or sooner.
———————– LUNCH —————————-
Ret. Hon. Edward Schreyer – North America Energy Policy – Use and Misuse
The NAFTA agreement between U.S., Canada, and Mexico has energy provisions with Canada (but NOT with Mexico). However, the growth of Canadian exports to the U.S. is not primarily driven by this energy contract, but by Canadian greed. Schreyer recalled the concept and history of “the commons” and “Commonwealth” (Virginia, Massachusetts, …) in the U.S. ( a reference to this month’s bailouts of major banks, insurance, and other financial industries).
Now the party is over, it’s time to grow up. It seems we knew better in the 1960s – resource stewardship, protection of public “common” property – but then we forgot what we learned and we have to learn the lessons again. Once it seemed the world was too vast for humans to have an impact. Now we’re clearly changing the world – the IEA projects CO2 emissions are rising 35-40% by 2030. If that happens, we have failed. North America has seen a steady rise in the use of fossil fuels since 1985, even while the technology (renewable energy sources) was there to grow in a less fossil-fuel-intensive way. Climate and Fossil Fuels are joined at the hip; we must de-carbonize. Any country that doesn’t take advantage of their renewable resources is being irresponsible.
To do renewables on a scale that would make a serious reduction in CO2 emissions is mind-boggling. The scale itself is part of the problem. The time to start is now.
Q&A – tar sands are now 50% of Canadian oil supply, as conventional production is declining steeply. With the current financial crisis and very high capital costs for tar sands development, turbulent times are coming for oil & gas industry in Canada.
Louis de Sousa – World Oil Exports
Higher oil prices will lead to less oil exports, as wealth transferred from importing countries to exporting countries will be used to generate additional energy-intensive growth. [Pieter personal note: true unless the revenue is transferred out of the country, like in sub-Saharan Africa – see Kjell’s presentation.] This can be modeled; we call it export modeling or net-export modeling.
The consequence of this is that net world oil exports have already peaked, several years ago. If this leads to a recession, however, negative feedback loops may endanger economic growth in these export countries. Their revenue could drop substantially, from a combination of lower oil prices and lower volume of exported oil.
Andrew McKillop – Energy Transition and Alternative Energies
McKillop proposes an energy “Bretton Woods” system with authority to force fossil-fuel intensive countries to start using less fossil fuels and to fix prices at roughly $125 / barrel. The goal should be energy security for everyone on this planet.
The best source of new energy is “negawatts,” the energy we don’t use through conservation and efficiency. We can reduce the energy required for electrical power, habitat, transport and food supply.
Mr. McKillop talked about an alternative-energy investment bubble but was challenged on this by Jerome Guillet, speaker on the second day.
Chris Skrebowski – Entering the Foothills of Peak Oil
With oil prices dropping 50% over the last few months, fewer new project development will take place at $70 a barrel. Skrebowski’s megaprojects analysis shows that production from IOCs peaked in 2004 and fell 6% last year. Globally, we discover about 1 barrel for every 3 barrels produced now. Of the world’s 120 largest oil fields, at least 44 are declining.
This was a pessimistic overview: new projects are not compensating for depletion rates of old fields. Megaprojects analysis of production in 2011 is a little unclear, but it’s very clear we will see a peak by 2013, or no later than 2014. Project delays and cancellations could push peak forward to as early as 2011.
Most of the world’s oil fields are like Alaska – high oil prices are needed to justify continued investment in field development. To keep production up (flat, or increasing), you need many new oil fields, and we don’t have them.
Chris looked at 160 oil fields for EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) impact and found only one (Forties field, North Sea) for a billion-dollar Apache project that got a significant raise in production.
Chris’s talk ended on a more positive note with suggestions (electric trains and trams etc.) that would take some pressure off future supply/demand imbalance and high prices.
Ugo Bardi – Earth’s Mineral Resources: an Energy Analysis
Mining most minerals on earth are possible because they are concentrated as ores, making it possible to extract at reasonable energetic costs. Once we even found nuggets of pure mineral (gold, copper) but no longer – the good stuff is gone. When concentrated minerals (ores) are mined, a ‘peak’ occurs in their production profile, similar to the basic Hubbert curve for oil. After this, there are often large quantities of dispersed (non-concentrated) amounts that can be mined, but extracting them is very energy intensive. The upslope of this secondary peak is called the mineralogical barrier, and it involves a major step up in energy consumption.
The only elements which are not subject to such a jump in the foreseeable future are Fe, Al, Ti, Si, and Mg. (Try and make a mobile phone out of these!)
Some estimates for various material extraction/production, in megajoules per Kg:
Steel 22, Al 211, Cu 48, Zn 42, Ni 180, Lead 28.
Total extraction of metals around the world consumes 480 GJ/Yr. Ideas for extracting minerals from the moon or from asteroids at energetically economical costs are fantasy – it won’t happen.
Marcel Coderch – The Nuclear Illusion
The oft-hailed ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ has run into major problems. A large-scale program to make a serious impact on climate change, like 1 gigaton CO2 reduction (of the 7 Gig reduction needed), would involve 700 one-gigawatt nuclear power plants in addition to more plants for replacing existing aging plants, since many plants are approaching retirement age (see charts showing average age of plants, and estimated retirement dates). This implies building 21 one-gigawatt plants per year over the coming 50 years, as well as investing in 11 to 21 fuel enrichment plants, 18 fuel element factories, 10 Yucca Mountains to store the spent fuel, and 5 times the current uranium mining capacity. A simple EROI model shows that such a program will only start to make a net CO2 reduction, and start to make money from the program as a whole, after 32 years – if it’s on schedule and all goes well.
Current experience with new plants shows they are still over budget and behind schedule, even in early stages of construction (Finland plant example – several reactors under construction). These lengthy construction times, high costs, and high level of uncertainty will make investment money difficult to find, especially at a time when financial risk management and obtaining loans has become a major problem.
The U.S. largely ended nuclear plant construction in 1973 when financial credit dried up.
In the present financial environment, no private company can find the capital to build nuclear plants without government help, and governments are increasingly strapped as well. Note that Barcelona has half-dozen huge new buildings that have been abandoned as no capital is available to complete construction.
The presenter shows EROI analysis for nuclear plants and materials – 20,000 tons of steel, 500,000 tons concrete, etc. and estimates energetic payback time. He quotes a University of Sidney study which shows it takes 7.9 to 14 years to get net energy back, and an EROI in the range of 3:1 to 4:1. In the previous example of building 21 nukes per year, it will take 27 years before (positive) net energy comes from the system.
Victor Bronstein – Peak Oil and Policy in Latin America (presented in Spanish with simultaneous translation)
Civilization has entered a post-industrial era. The world has gone through a great transition, now we’re in a new world of social and economic development. ASPO-Argentina was set up to look at energy-related issues beyond the simple economic aspects.
We need to define the field, the problem, and the method. The field is “energy.” In Argentina, the problem is a lack of investment, an energy crisis, and the end of cheap oil. Method: research the relation between energy and civilization.
For agrarian Argentina, biofuels are an option – but it’s a complex problem, not a simple answer.
Review of history of oil and power in Latin America – a region that, in spite of natural wealth, had a hard time to develop. Spanish and Portuguese conquerors extracted natural resources; exploited and subjugated the native population; natives and their cultures were wiped out. In the 19th century, liberating leaders had a vision of Latin America united against its exploiters; this history sets the tone for political developments now. Industrialization came only in the mid-20th century for Argentina, and even later for Brazil. Economically, it’s an unfair region – obscene differences in wealth abound.
Oil sector: there are 3 players – oil companies, consuming countries, and producing countries. The U.S. is always part of the picture, as it considers Latin America to be its “backyard.” The U.S. created conflicts to achieve its objectives (Panama once belonged to Colombia – but when the U.S. wanted a canal, it encouraged a separatist movement, and the U.S. took over in the resulting chaos).
In the 20th century, oil companies were nationalized – “To defend oil is to defend our sovereignty.” 1922 YPF (Argentina), 1935 Pemex (Mexico), 1953 Petrobras (Brazil). Recent U.S. administrations have worked to make it easier for U.S. oil companies to operate there; Latin American oil is cheaper than Middle Eastern, closer to U.S. – Latin Americans feel threatened, so they are taking steps to renationalize their oil companies (Venezuela, Bolivia).
A common feeling is “the U.S. is going to come and get us” because of its growing energy needs, and energy security. This motivates Latin American nations to present a united front against the threat from the North. (Poem… Brothers together) .
Albert Morcego – Energy Plan for Catalonia
Albert reviewed sources of energy for Catalonia, including 2.4% from renewables. Most energy is imported, some nuclear.
Looking at the future, the “base scenario” is business as usual (BAU). But we need a long-term plan for post peak, to deal with high oil prices, price volatility, and possible scarcity. It must also be a social plan. We must try to replace oil with other sources, and reduce the environmental impact of current energy model (BAU).
(details of the plan)
The new scenario for Catalonia’s future must encompass energy, the environment, and the economy. Multiple crises are happening simultaneously – economy collapsing, expensive energy and food, and climate change. By the end of 2015, oil may be >$250, and we may have natural gas supply problems in 2012-15 time frame. By 2011 we may be living under a much stricter CO2 agreement. By 2018, oil from non-conventional sources will be in decline. By 2030, the growth of energy demand stops as the region transitions to a low-carbon future.
Q: what about faster depletion or sudden crisis? A: yes there will be an emergency plan.
Q: massive expansion of roads underway, and airport expansion, what’s the purpose? Can it be stopped?
Colin Campbell – Peak Oil – Turning Point for Mankind
Colin reviewed geological history and the oil age when oil was created. As it’s not being created now, it is by definition a finite resource. And, draining the barrel is a finite activity. For us, human consumers, just as important as the size of the barrel is the size of the tap.
There are 2 distinct kinds of natural resources – minerals, and energy. Minerals can be used and reused (recycled), but energy is lost on consumption. There are 2 types of energy resources: mined resources (coal, uranium, tar sand, oil shale) – with the useful component in varying concentrations. The other (typically drilled) is free-flowing: it’s either there, or not.
Reflect on the modern world: cars everywhere, burning finite petrol, cities choked with traffic, airplanes, industrialized agriculture turns oil into food, lights on everywhere, and then there’s the military. We’re addicted to cheap energy.
History: 10,000 years ago farmers started using external sources of energy: animals, slaves, and burning wood. We were the first species to trade – goods exchanged had energy/labor equivalence when trading. Now with money, the exchange is no longer energy equivalent. We enable great financial distortions; banks loan more money than they have in assets. Tomorrow’s Expansion was collateral for today’s debt – only works as long as expansion continues.
Flat earth economic heresy: the market will deliver; one resource can seamlessly replace another.
Quotes Adelman (MIT): “minerals are inexhaustible.” The truth is, geologists can only describe Cretaceous, not change it.
Oil endowment evaluation defines what to measure, decipher reserve reporting (now a complete mess, unreliable data), finally, relate discovery to future production rates. What to measure? Define regular conventional oil, excluding heavy oil, tar sand, shale; treat polar separately.
To decode “reserve growth” we must understand the industry’s practice of reporting conservatively. Prudhoe Bay example: originally estimated size as 12-15B bbl, but only 9B reported officially; looks like URR will be ~13B bbl.
Then there’s OPEC: in 1980 Kuwait reported 64B bbl, in 1985 it jumped to 90B bbl, then Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Saudi Arabia raised their reserve numbers. Venezuela then counted their heavy oil. So ~300B bbl is now falsely included in the public record and quoted without comment. The best estimate is they are 42% depleted. We can expect Middle East plateau soon and then decline.
The relationship between discovery and production: see North Sea classic pattern of discovery, 26-year lag, then production ramps up. Note Russia shows a double-hump pattern; Soviet policy was to produce both difficult and easy fields at the same time; but after the collapse, they’re typically going after the low-hanging fruit first.
Chart of world discovery vs. production; we can expect continuing decline in discovery. We may have peaked in conventional production in 2005, and for all liquids in 2008. Data is so bad we don’t know exactly, but it’s not important – the long decline starts. The glass is half-full now.
There is a growing awareness of Peak Oil; the political benefits of denial are declining. The IEA is changing position (1998 “unidentified unconventional” was a coded message for future unavailable oil. Now the have a new position: “Let’s leave oil before it leaves us.” “Big” oil companies are selling off assets, merging (now just 4 companies), buying their own stock. “Days of easy oil are over” – Shell & other oil company statements.
Population explosion: in year 1AD about 300M people. Now, 23B bbl regular oil supports 6.6B people; by 2050 only 8B bbl must support 9B people. We may face a 3rd great depression (1870, 1930, … now?).
New force: resource nationalism – resources don’t belong to the highest bidder anymore.
We need an oil depletion protocol – cut imports to match world decline rate; coal and nuke are used to help the transition to solar, tidal and wave energy, geothermal, the wind, sewage to methane.
Petroleum man is extinct this century – can humans survive without him? But, this is an optimistic message: we can be happier with less.
Luca Barillaro – Oil Futures Market & Speculation; Problems and Remedies
Luca, an oil trader, explained some of the complexities of the oil futures market. Nymex WTI crude trading of 300K contracts exchanged daily, each representing 1000 barrels; other exchanges trade 250K contracts, so globally 550M barrels are traded per day, but only 86M real barrels are moved – lots of speculation: “paper oil” is about 6 times real oil production. Traders can buy contracts with assets of only 8 – 10% of value, or for intraday, they only need 3.5% – trading for commodities with assets they don’t have.
Oil futures are traded out for 8 years traded (2015). The crude oil market is very speculative (chart of prices, great volatility); nobody can predict the price 1 year out. Absolute price is not the issue, but how it gets there (speed of trend). Luca showed a chart of oil price in Euros – now back to 60, where it was in 2007. Players are forced to liquidate to cover their positions, so others will also sell since the price is going down.
Speculation is the effect (symptom) not the cause, of high prices. Markets are driven by people who have emotions (fear, greed). Politicians reacting to speculation usually don’t help, and often make it worse.
Recommendation: reduce position limits on world exchanges; require higher margins for traders; establish more energy markets.
Speculation managed correctly, can actually help the situation and improve energy awareness.
Charlie Hall – Economic Implications of changing EROI ratios
This energy crisis is real. We were warned: H.T. Odum, M. King Hubbert, Jay Forrester
(list of books and articles, 1969-86). In “Limits to Growth” – standard run, the model has not failed, it’s mostly accurate so far. The economists got it wrong: Abundant energy allowed almost any economic theory to “work” much of the time. Economics 101 has it wrong. Real economics is about stuff, not faith.
Charlie shows a biophysical model of the economy – energy and raw materials in, humans transform and exploit natural resources, process material, energy losses at each step, consumption, finally waste and heat – like an ecosystem. This is the minimum diagram of the real economy.
More effort doesn’t produce more (drilling example, US oil production vs. drilling effort)
Wall Street – what’s going on? When the growth of energy supply stops, the capitalist Ponzi scheme collapses. Dow corrected for inflation would be at ~3100.
Charlie discusses EROI concept – oil & drilling, corn ethanol, Canada natural gas with EROI dropping fast. The Bubble Chart shows EROI for basic energy sources vs. exajoule size of annual contribution to energy supply; there’s no good substitute for liquid fuels in quantity and quality.
As EROI decreases, more $ are spent getting energy, so less is available for discretionary spending. Chart: consumer expenditures for energy, with feedback paths for energy production and infrastructure maintenance for 1949, 1970, 1981, 1990, 2007, 2030. Without fundamental changes, energy ROI constraints the economy.
Jérôme Guillet (Jerome a Paris, TOD) – Offshore Wind: Options for non-Recourse Financing
Jerome Guillet talked about financing offshore wind farms. The Wind is small now, but it’s the same size nuclear industry was 30 years ago and can scale up similarly. Europe is working toward a goal of 20% electrical supply from renewables by 2020, with wind being the major component – 40% of new capacity since 2000. The Wind is a major part of the solution to peak oil, and it’s on track to double-digit growth.
The more wind you use, the cheaper it gets, as the marginal costs are zero – it brings wholesale electrical costs down. In Denmark, for example, consumers collectively save more than the government spends on subsidies for wind energy.
Integration into the grid is not as much of a problem as often suggested: the first 20% can be absorbed without any problem; the next 20% only need minor adjustments in the grid. After that, major adjustments or some form of storage are needed. Gas plants are used as “peaking” supply, and no new generation capacity is required. France found wind power added stability to the network.
Bankers can make things happen by helping to finance big wind projects and companies. Non-recourse financing is a proven tool, with $30B renewable energy projects financed in 2007, low-risk stable revenues, speculation not possible with feed-in tariffs. The risk is primarily regulatory (political), not technical issues. Engineering is proven, there are few delays or cost overruns, power availability is in 92-96% range. For offshore wind farms, the biggest issue is long-term operation and maintenance – salt water environment, difficult access in bad weather, etc.
Present crisis – can’t loan money to new projects at least till end of 2008, banks still scarce
2 projects are underway with 5MW turbines: Q7 in Netherlands, C-power in Belgium.
Mario Giampietro – reality check on feasibility & desirability of biofuels as alternative to Fossil Fuels
What happened to common sense? Ethanol from corn, corn stover, biofuels from liposuctioned fat… In 1945 Brody wrote, “fuel from corn is stupid.” In general, energy from biofuels is a bad proposition, unless it is from waste. It’s used to support conglomerates within the WTO agreements. Bioeconomics is useful to study feasibility and desirability of biofuels.
Mario showed graphs and calculations for people-hours (labor) required to power society with the output of agric and energy sectors. Energy input is another story; many biofuels processes have EROI under 2:1 which suggests they are not worth pursuing. There are substantial issues of scale including required land area, to support even a portion of our overall energy needs.
Bob Lloyd – The Growth Delusion: Why People don’t want to believe in PO and climate change
In the “social dimension” was a talk by Bob Lloyd from Australia. He explores territory similar to that illuminated by Nate Hagens (of The Oil Drum): “The Growth Delusion: Why we don’t want to believe in Peak Oil and Climate Change.” Logical as we like to think ourselves, the human brain seems to have evolved in a way that permits us to accept, without question, nonsensical concepts such as the perpetual growth of real stuff, “sustainable growth,” and “trickle-down” economies that will somehow make everyone well-off. People are addicted to growth.
Peak Oil and Climate Change are seen as threats to growth, so the concepts are denied or attacked. In the developing world, growth is seen as an ethical argument; everyone must grow to be secure and affluent – it’s their turn.
Attitudes toward issues like future energy scarcity and climate change seem to originate in the same region of the brain activated by religious belief. Our brain seems to be poorly organized for planning ahead and for dealing with long-term, slowly-developing problems. Our ability to solve complex problems may be compromised by the very structure of our brain, which does not bode well for anticipating and preparing for oil’s impending production decline, or for Climate Change.
It seems increasingly unlikely that the world can achieve the necessary transition in the time available, with the remaining stock of fossil fuels.
José Luis García Ortega – Renewable Revolution
Jose of Greenpeace (Spain) looked at the potential for Spain to go to 100% renewable energy supply by 2050 (50% by 2020). The solar/wind potential is there, and combined with aggressive efficiency programs, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, and hydrogen generation as a stored energy supply, the goal is achievable – technically and economically. Jose concludes that the goal is feasible, and the obstacles are mainly political. However time to make the transition is growing short, and the solution will have to revolutionize existing systems.
Gonzalo Piernavieja Izquierda – Wind pumped hydropower station for El Hierro (Canary Islands)
An impressive application of renewable energy is described in “Wind/Pumped-Hydro Power Station for El Hierro Island.” Like many islands, this member of the Canary Islands (Spanish possession) is heavily dependent on diesel fuel to power generators for electrical power, using fuel carried by 26 oil tankers each year.
They developed a sustainability plan in 1997. The island’s favorable wind regime and unique topographical features enable a system that pumps water to a high reservoir when the wind is blowing, and there is excess power; later, when there is high demand or less wind, the water is released, passing through power-generating turbines to a lower storage basin. They hope to supply 80% of their electrical power from this system in the first year. Their long-term plan is to convert to 100% renewable supply.
Q: estimated price per kWh?
A: only rough calculations so far, hard to estimate.
Q: number of turbines?
A: 5 or 6 1-MW machines. Capacity factor 40% average on islands (Trade Winds)
Richard Myer (Ephron) – Potential for Solar Energy to Replace Decreasing Extraction Rates for Fossil Fuels
Not only oil but also uranium and coal will be peaking in the next few decades. Alternative sources must be in place before critical energy supplies decline. Other measures to close supply gap include higher efficiency – live slower, less aggressively, halt population growth, hydroelectric. What types of renewables will cover which supply gaps? Since most supply electrical power, it makes sense to transition the vehicle fleet to electric power where possible (save remaining oil for aviation).
This presentation explored the potential for utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) projects, technology in which Spain is rapidly gaining world leadership (400MW installed, 1.4TWh/year). These systems use solar-tracking reflective arrays to heat a working fluid (oil, water, or molten salts) which drives a conventional steam turbine to make electricity. Recent developments use oversized arrays and store excess thermal energy in molten salt, which can continue to heat water to steam and keep the generators spinning for up to 8 hours after the sun goes down, providing a better match to peak demand.
See the Scientific American article “Grand Solar Plan – PV & CSP.” Europe’s strategy: trans-Mediterranean HV direct electrical supply from N Africa.
Juan Requejo Liberal – The Territory Recovery Factor in an Energy Scenario Based on Local Resources
The territory is the historical reference for society, but with present economic developments, the geographical functions cannot follow. We end up with extremes like China, where housing is expanding vertically in high-rise buildings, whereas in the USA the urban sprawl is horizontal.
It is stock/riches, not flow that is important.
Pedro Prieto Pérez – Can Wind and Solar Close the Gap?
80% of our energy now is from fossil fuels; GDP, the standard of living, and energy consumption are tightly correlated. Energy consumption, like financial assets, is distributed very unequally around the globe – 20% of the population consumes 80% of world energy. This is one of the motivators for massive human migration across borders. “If you see George Bush embracing a 3rd-world leader and promising 1st-world benefits for trade with the U.S., don’t believe him” – it’s not possible, nor sustainable.
Spain gets 10% of its electrical power from the wind, and there’s potential for much more (as well as hydro). Obstacles take the form of supply not being near big-city consumers, so substantial grid upgrades are needed. Since the wind is intermittent, the system also needs rapid-dispatchable backup power behind the wind farms. SCALE is the big issue, however; to offset anticipated rates of oil/gas decline will take massive renewable-energy programs, having huge requirements for concrete, steel, other basic materials as well as up-front energy investments that will take a long time to pay back.
Kjell – Conference Summary and Wrap-up
Kjell Aleklett closed the conference with a summary.
On the “below-ground” front, little has changed since the 2002 conference at Uppsala. Information indicates a peak in oil production is here, or imminent; the problem is communicating the message to policy makers. They don’t like to think about, or talk about, Peak Oil, as it represents a potential decline in GDP and the end of growth. “Peak exports” may be something they, and economists can grasp more easily.
When decline is well underway, it will speak the message politicians can’t; if they still deny it, we may be in for some difficult times for democracy.
In closing: A special award was presented to Jean Laherrere and Colin Campbell, recognizing 10 years have passed since their seminal paper on Peak Oil in Scientific American in 1998. They were each given a beautiful “fire alarm” bell to commemorate their role in raising the alarm a decade ago.
We propose Ali Samsam Bakhtiari award for 2009 conference, possibly at a joint conference with ASPO-USA in the United States