Friday, May 30, 2008

Liveblogging at API/Newsweek Energy Series (Part IV)

All panelists seemed to agree that energy efficiency is and should be a major focus to curb our energy use and clean up our emissions.
But we still need vast amounts of energy…what should we use?

Chevron is excited about geothermal power, and they are in fact the largest producer of the power on the planet (13% of all geothermal generation, mostly in Indonesia and the Philippines where they were already drilling for oil). Siegele continued:
“We’re going to need every molecule of alternative energy. I’m not dismissing it, but if you look at the numbers of where the world is going and who’s driving the price, all of the forms of energy are going to grow. The era of findings cheap oil is over. That’s not to say there’s not an abundant supply, but it’s getting to be very costly to get it. On the other hand, a lot of these good other energy solutions have a distribution problem.”

He was quite straightforward about Chevron’s priorities. Although the company is spending nearly $3 billion in the next three years on renewables, they spend “considerably more” (as in most of their $72 billion after-tax profits) on conventional oil and gas technologies like deep oil drilling and oil shale development.

David Victor of Stanford noted that energy markets are going to get “very interesting” when liquid fuels and electricity fuels like coal start competing with each other. For example, right now liquids are used in transportation fuels and coal makes electricity. Crossing those resources between the markets is something we haven’t done before.

“But the real test of new energy technologies,” he continued, “will be when the price of oil comes down. Can biofuels or more efficient vehicles survive then?"

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, chair of the California Energy Commission, is concerned about the current focus on high gas prices.

“When this happened in the 1970s and 1908s, people waited it out. If we do that again, we’re not going to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us! I want to hear that investors are taking advantage of this. We can’t hold our breath while prices are high and then go back to exactly what we were doing before. There’s got to be real change.”

But the general consensus on the panel seemed to be that we’re not moving fast enough on renewables to make them a significant market share. Therefore, fossil fuels are going to be our future (85% of our energy, one panelist said, until at least 2030).

Pfannenstiel did point out that although California won’t make its 20% renewables goal by 2010, it will probably hit it in 2011 and 2012. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to make renewables 33% of the energy system by 2020. Pfannenstiel thinks that’s actually going to be easier than the first target of 20% because the infrastructure (transmission, for example) will already be in place.

“And this drive for renewables is driving other technological innovations,” she explained. California’s publicly owned utilities are installing new “smart meters” on homes that will give homeowners huge amounts of information on how they use their energy, when they use it and what appliances, machines, etc in their home use the most. This is leading other technologies like big in-home displays for the information, smart grids, etc. We’re driving new technology with this new information.

Photo courtesy of API

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