Never think conventional if it is about the future

March 14, 2013 | 00:00

Never think conventional if it is about the future

In the former editorial I argued that the fast changes in the energy sector could lead to a race between market developments and strategies in a more complicating environment. Let me explain.

It is some 45 years ago that scientists founded the Club of Rome (1968). Studies and reports followed. Among them was the well know book 'The Limits to Growth', published in 1972. For youngsters that is in the old ages, but for energy experts it is part of their time, taking into account that they are acquainted with longterm strategies and lead times.
 
This book drew worldwide attention. It became a bestseller. A wide spectrum of topics was presented. Two of those became frontrunners: the warnings against pollution and resource depletion. Concerning the latter those 'Romans' foresaw a rather disquieting reduction of available fossil fuels, based on their extensive computer models.
 
Not for that reason but certainly influenced by this outlook oil producing countries joined in OPEC raised their prices. So I was told by 'Sjeikh Yamani, the then Saudi Arabian oil minister and spokesman of the OPEC. An oil crisis in 1973 and for many countries an economical set back were the results. Later that decade followed by a second price wave.
 
The worries about pollution triggered a global discussion on the environmental behaviour of mankind in all aspects. Higher energy prices (natural gas and oil often had a price linkage) as could be expected furthered efficiency in usage. Henceforth the thinking about environmental friendly developments made progress. But in the same period the demand for energy increased for various reasons. So the 'prediction' of a fast resource depletion towards the end of the 20th century gained supporters.
 
The actual outcome showed a rather different picture. Higher energy prices brought the search for additional reserves and more costly exploration activities within reach. And so happened. Before the end of the century politicians and civilians learned that coal reserves were lasting for 200 or more years, natural gas was available for 80 to 100 years and oil at least for another 60.
 
Nowadays we experience a similar development. Even more remote areas came into view, like the Arctics. High prices and advanced technology make the exploration of shale gas possible. And more so called unconventional finds lay ahead. The lifetime of fossil fuels is stretched once again. As a stronger foundation for the development of renewable energy it could be regarded as an advantage, but certainly environmentalists will point to the downside of this. They fear stagnation of the efforts for the development of renewables.
 
Apart from more aspects than ever before this gives me also reason to use the term complification. One last remark. We talk about fossil fuels. The use of the word fossil scientifically is correct, but it is very often only perceived as something out of the old times and over the hill. In part 2 of the article about Russia's delicate situation Koranyi and Vatansever touch a possible uphill battle over gas prices.
 
Aside from that we should also bear in mind that the technology to use those 'conventional' fuels is not fossil at all, but very much of our time and age. And at least partly indisputably necessary to reach the ultimate energy destination.

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