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Henry Hewitt

Henry Hewitt

Henry Hewitt is an investment strategist and portfolio manager with 36 years of experience in renewable energy. He is also a seasoned writer having published…

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The End Of The Beginning For Renewable Energy?

The End Of The Beginning For Renewable Energy?

In April, 2010, BP took the front page, and held it for months, as it struggled to plug the blowout on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that would cough up 3 or 4 million barrels.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a bitter reminder of the coming difficulties and risk involved in getting what is left of the world’s oil reserves up and out of places that are a lot harder to get at – deep sea, where pressures are extreme; the arctic, where conditions are even more challenging; tar sands, the poster child for too much carbon; and in thousands of small, disparate patches, where ‘tight oil’ comes from driving water, sand and a few chemicals into fissures miles underground. In the U.S., these wells average around 100 barrels a day (see chart below). Herding cats does not seem a likely way to make the U.S. the swing producer to knock Saudi Arabia off its perch. Related: The Front-Runners In Fusion Energy

Things got harder for explorers as 2014 came to an end, and the price of Brent, the international benchmark, was well on its way to a total 61 percent fall in under 12 months. The question is not so much whether the price of oil will be high enough to get the next trillion barrels out of the ground (roughly the current world rate of consumption for another 30 years); it is whether or not the climate can “afford” to have that happen. Peak oil, whether from insufficient supply or demand, makes for an interesting cocktail party discussion. It has even become a political litmus test. However, it is largely irrelevant. Sheik Yamani’s dictum, that the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones, should not be dismissed. Related: Oil Prices Responding Positively To Bad News, But Why?

BP, the abbreviation for British Petroleum (which was originally known as Anglo-Persian and then Anglo-Iranian Oil), ran a PR campaign for several years suggesting its initials stood for Beyond Petroleum. Though their green credentials ended up in a watery grave, they were on to something. Whether or not the collapse of Brent crude signals the beginning of the end for the age of oil, it is perhaps, in Winston Churchill’s phrase, “the end of the beginning” for their principal competitor, renewable energy. And that is a good thing, because we could be getting close to tripping over the upper limit of how much CO2 can be pumped into the atmosphere without triggering catastrophic climate change effects.

In April of this year, BP was in the headlines again, this time in conjunction with the growing movement to keep most of the next trillion barrels in the ground. “Investors holding $2 trillion in assets ask regulators to require transparency a day after 98% of BP shareholders demand similar information.” Much heat, less light, has been generated during the past year or so concerning the ‘imperative’ that most of the remaining fossil fuels on earth (especially those still in the earth) stay put. Otherwise, it is argued, the atmosphere will heat up over 2o centigrade and millions of lives and billions of dollars’ worth of property will be threatened. Related: Forget Asia. US Natural Gas To Be Exported To Mexico

The 2 o C redline depends upon certain assumptions entered into computer models that deliver such prophecies. But the effects of climate change will take place along a spectrum of temperature scenarios. The 2 o C threshold is an arbitrary one agreed to for the purposes of policy, not for any particular scientific significance. Therefore debating the intricacies of the 2 o C target is not important. What is beyond doubt is that CO2 holds heat and more CO2 will hold more heat and the related effects will be expensive.

The purpose of this series of articles is to show that fossil fuels are not the only asset class that can be measured in the trillions of dollars now under threat from climate change.

Read Part 1 by clicking here, Part 2 by clicking here, Part 3 by clicking here and Part 4 by clicking here.

By Henry Hewitt for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Scottd on June 16 2015 said:
    So this is your second article where you state lower oil prices signal the end of fossil fuels. In what world could that be true? Lower prices will encourage more oil consumption as any reasonably intelligent could surmise. And the oil price will reach an equilibrium where it will be profitable to drill. Lower price= Less drilling=Less supply.= Higher price.= More drilling.
  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. (ret.) on June 16 2015 said:
    Scottd knows how to read a graph. And knows the real world.

    Consider why the graphed production kept climbing but the number of rigs stayed constant. Numerically talented people would conclude that the average rig became more efficient, kept producing more oil over time. Then at the tippy end of the production curve, it hit a peak and dropped slightly. That is supply and demand. There is less recoverable oil at $50/br than at $100/br.

    No sane person claims that we have run out of oil, or stones. Those more efficient rigs broke the middle east oil monopoly and the price tanked. There is a global price war going on. It has little to do with a 2 deg F temperature rise and more to do with fracking. With fracking, the USA has oceans of hydrocarbons as recoverable (cheap) assets.

    We will not see the end of the beginning for the alternate fuels (now measured in decades) until they can compete with carbon combustion. Without the heavy thumb of government on the scales of commerce, the alternate fuel industries would vanish. They have never been competitive for our base load, and barring a break-through never will.

    Those who disagree are free to pour their life savings into green energy. When this occurs, when energy costs to the consumer, drops, I will buy this pitch.
  • Mike Donnigan on June 16 2015 said:
    "...because we could be getting close to tripping over the upper limit of how much CO2 can be pumped into the atmosphere without triggering catastrophic climate change effects."

    Climate change porn. Yawn. I swear climate hysterics have, with a complete absence of objective proof, have simply taken global warming as a new religion. They are the new watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside):

    "Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection. The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated."
    Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair IPCC Working Group III
  • Texx on June 16 2015 said:
    The most ubiquitous entity in the history of man, Google, hired the best research folks they could find to see if 'green energy' will work...business wise. The report concluded 'green energy' will never work: it costs more to produce than can be recovered in profits. Google shut down its 'green energy' project. End of story. There will be some other energy-source discovered or invented, but the 'green energy'
    approach is dead. Quit the bantering for the current wind, solar systems.
  • Roland on June 16 2015 said:
    It would probably be better to keep half of the next trillion barrels in the ground, and produce the other half at $200+/bbl, than to produce the trillion at $100+/bbl. And more profitable for oil investors! Would it be wiser? I will continue to bet against the human race doing anything based on wisdom. Politicians & talking heads will continue to bloviate. They are not connected to reality.
  • Peter Gray on June 16 2015 said:
    I have a book on my shelf titled "American Petroleum Refining" issued in 1945. In the chapter The Problem of the Future it predicts that oil at the level of 1942 production would last around 15 years. I will tape this article to my book.

    As to CO2 controversy it would help to see some honesty from the reporters on the subject. I have one request for you: if you are presenting an advocacy piece because of your personal believes -- which this article clearly is -- please state so at the beginning. Don't pretend to be open minded and willing to risk a debate. Save us the precious time which we may be spending otherwise. Sermons are OK but only to the converted.

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