The researchers over at Strategic Business Planning Company have been contemplating scenarios that lead to the demise of oil. The first part of the scenario is beyond obvious. Oil (and coal) are non-renewable resources; they are not sustainable; burning fossil fuels will stop — eventually. It might cease ungracefully, and here are a few driving forces that suggest the cessation of oil could come sooner, not later. Stated differently, if you owned land that is valued based on carbon deposits, or if you owned oil stocks those assets could start to become worth less (or even worthless).
We won’t spend time on the global warming scenario and possible ramifications of government regulation and/or corporate climate change efforts. These could/would accelerate the change to renewables. There are other drivers away from fossil fuels including: National Security, Moore’s Law toward renewables; and, efficiency.
1. National Security. Think about all the terrorist groups and rogue countries. All of them get part, or all of their funding from oil (and to a lesser extent, NatGas and Coal). Russia. Iran. Lebanon, where the Russians have been enjoying the trouble they perpetuate. The rogue factions in Nigeria. Venezuela. Even Saudi is not really are best friend (15 of the 19 bombers on 911 were Saudi citizens). Imagine if the world could get off of fossil fuels. Imagine all the money that would be saved, by not having to defend one countries aggression on another if the valuable oil became irrelevant. Imagine how much everyone would save on military. This is more than possible with the current technology; but with Moore’s law of continuous improvement, it becomes even more so.
2. Moore’s Law. Moore’s law became the law of the land during the computer chip world, where technology is doubling every 18 months, and costs are reducing by half. (See our blog on The Future of Computing is Taking on a Life of Its Own. After all these decades Moore’s law is finally hitting a wall.) In the renewable world, the price of solar is dropping dramatically, when the efficiency continues to increase. For example the increase of 30% on imported PV, matches the cost reductions of the last year. In the meanwhile battery efficiency is improving dramatically, year-over-year. Entire solar farms have been bid (and built) for about $.02 per kilowatt and wind and/or solar with battery backup is about $.03 per kilowatt. At that price, it is far cheaper to install renewable power vs coal or NatGas, especially given the years to create/develop for fossil fuel plants.
Note, that we haven’t even talked about peak coal and peak oil. Those concepts are alive and well, just that fracking technology has pushed them back maybe 10 years from a production supply-side perspective. At some point you hit the maximum possible production (on a non-renewable resource) and production can only go down (and prices go up) from there. The world production of oil is now up to 100m barrels per day. But oil wells deplete at about 4%-5%, so you need 4% more new wells every year. Fracking drops about 25%-30% in the first year! So you need about many more wells each year to stay even. But let’s go on to efficiency and probably the major demand-side force.
3. Efficiency. The incandescent light bulb, produces very little light… it produces more than 95% heat, and just a tiny bit of light with 100 watts of energy. With only 10-15 watts an LED light can produce the same light was required 100 watts in days of old. The internal combustion engine is hugely inefficient, producing mostly (unused) heat and directly harnessing only 10-15% of energy from gas or diesel… plus it took huge amounts of energy to mine, transport, refine, transport, and retail the fuel. Electric engines are far more efficient, and they produce no toxic emissions. A great book that talks about energy, efficiency and trends is by Ayers & Ayers, Crossing the Energy Divide. The monster power plants (nuclear, coal, NatGas) have serious efficiency issues. They produce huge amounts of heat for steam turbines, but most of the heat is lost/wasted (lets say 50%). Electricity must be transmitted long distances through transmission lines (where up to 40% can be lost in transmission).
Producing power as needed, where needed, makes so much more sense in most cases. Right now, using today’s technology, pretty much everyone can produce most of their own power (PV or wind) at about the same cost as the power monopolies. But Moore’s law is making the renewable technology better and better every year. Add some batteries and microgrid technology and you have robust electric systems.
The losers in these trends/scenarios can be the BIG oil companies and the electric monopolies. They will fight move until they change, or they lose. Just like peak oil, it is a mater of time… but the time is coming faster and faster…
Saudi is trying to keep prices high enough to complete their oil Initial Public Offering so they can diversify out of oil. Venezuela is offering a new cyber coin IPO (their Petro ICO) with barrels of buried oil as collateral (See Initial Kleptocurrency Offering). But what if that oil becomes a stranded asset? Your Petro currency becomes as worthless as the Venezuelan Bolivar.
You really want to carefully consider how much and how long you want to own fossil fuel assets… Fossil fuels may be dead in a decade or two… Moore or less.