Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Forum for the Future produces world scenarios

Had a quick look at the scenario planning report produced by Forum for the Future and Capgemini. Interesting stuff and well presented.

It's always interesting, when looking at scenarios to see both what has been included and what has been left out. Forum for the Future has no scenario for world depression or economic collapse and there is an assumption that climate change has had no serious impact. All scenario assume no significant resources constraints to overall development, although they may change the path of development. This makes sense in that planning for economic collapse if virtually impossible until you are certain that is what is happening, and by that time there are little resources to do so. If we have significant climate destabilisation, then that is a whole different set of scenarios.

Choices of what to include are equally interesting. The Business as Usual scenario called National Interest looks at where we are headed if we all go with the flow, and it's not comfortable. This is nationalistic world of who knows who, secret deals and lack of standards and openness that we have come to expect.

Global Interest is the optimistic, full steam ahead let's crack this together scenario and reminds us that the challenges of energy and climate change are a big opportunity for business.

Patched up Globalisation sees China fail to rise to world domination as expected due to internal problems and there is an element of clinging to the old order as well as moving with towards energy security while addressing climate change. This will likely be a more comfortable scenario for many than the more progressive Global Interest.

Me and Mine Online is the scenario that really caught my imagination. What would happen if the networked, online, constantly connected early adopters became the norm? What if all the ideas coming down the line like Grid 2.0, Distributed manufacturing, virtual worlds ubiquitous. Governments, companies and countries become less important than online groups. Supply chains are very short for everything from finance to products. Am going to think about this one some more as it has profound implications.

I can find very little to be critical of, so I will nit pick briefly.

A personal gripe here that applies to a number of reports I have read recently. If the report is more than 6 pages long and I am really interested so will want to jot notes on it, I will print it out to read. So please -
no huge chunks of dense color - it uses lots of expensive ink and I can't write on it
no clever formatting - no odd page sizes - this report would not print on an XEROX laser printer, it cut off the right hand side and kept getting stuck.
no really small writing - if I have to read it online, I keep having to zoom in.
thank you!

I encourage you to download the report and have read. It's well presented and only 19 pages long cover to cover.

Share and enjoy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Scenarios on a Page - Draft PDFs

Here is the first cut of the updated summarise in PDF format. Any feedback or further ideas for headlines always welcome.

Business as Usual - the four miracles required
Enlightened Transition - a graceful transition to sustainable energy
Fair Shares - a slow and chaotic transition
Enforced Localisation - economic collapse

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Energy Return on Investment vs. Price

In response to the statement "As the oil price increases, the tar sands and oil shales will become commercially viable", I heard myself say firmly "It's not the price of oil that is the issue but energy return on investment" a little voice inside was saying "but......."

The Energy Return on Investment (EROI) argument goes "it's the energy you have to put in, in order to get energy out that is important". Natural gas is used to heat the oil shales, thus melting the small amount of bitumen they contain which can then be extracted. So you are effectively converting Natural Gas into oil, with a return on investment of about 5-10% in energy terms.

That argument holds good if the energy being used to produce the new source of energy has an equivalent price. (Or if one type of energy production gets tax benefits.)

A nuclear power station requires ongoing amounts of uranium (180 tonnes/pa per GigaWatt) and mining and processing uranium takes a substantial amount of energy. Depending on how much of the mining, processing, enrichment and work to decommission open cast mines is included. EROI is between 1.86 and 60. There have even been claims that nuclear has a negative EROI. Suppose you believe in the negative number but the uranium is produced in a country that also has cheap, low grade coal. This country sells the enriched uranium to another country with high electricity prices for their nuclear power plant. You can therefore have a negative EROI but a positive commercial return for both the uranium producer and the power plant operator.

So next time I answer in their, I shall instead start with the more careful "Well it's not as simple as that...".

New IEA Forecast - And changes since 2004

The World Energy Outlook 2008 was launched last week and is going to be presented in Dublin by Fatih Birol today. There have been some interesting changes since 2004:
(data in million barrels a day)

2004: Total oil, including new discoveries about 120mbd by 2030
2008: Total oil AND natural gas liquids, which weren't included before, just over 100mbd by 2030, oil less than 80
That is a drop in estimates of a third for oil!

New discoveries still at approx 20mbd by 2030 and that is conventional crude oil, not tar sands or oil shales. Given that world discovery levels have been falling since 1965, this seems optimistic.

What hasn't changed, and what leaps out at me, given the credit crunch, the current drop in oil price and the lack of development taking place in the oil industry, is the sharp drop in current production that starts about now. Regardless of when peak oil occurs based on oil left in the ground, peak production is happening now without significant investment in undeveloped fields. According to the 2008 graph, these newly developed fields need to be providing about 5mbd by 2010 and 15 by 2015. That is just to maintain output of crude at current levels for the next decade.

More details here

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Presentation to Tax People in Ireland

Had great fun doing an energy scenarios excercise with the tax departments of Ireland's south west region. They were very imaginative when asked to come up with holiday ideas for 2020, from a space trip to a sing along at Youghal, and in ideas about implementing transaction taxes or local currencies.

Here are the key slides:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Four Miracles required for Business as Usual

We have always been keen to have Business as Usual included as one of our energy scenarios, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to think up a plausible story to explain how life can carry on unchanged. A number of miracles would be required and we think that, despite our best efforts, many people will find the following scenario unconvincing...!

Miracle 1. Credit Liquidity

Heroic efforts by countries world wide to shore up the banking system works and credit starts to flow between banks making it possible for them to offer credit to businesses and individuals. But it is not banking as before. Governments restrict the range of financial products to those which can be readily understood. Credit default swaps and many other derivatioves are banned. This leads to widespread unemployment in the financial sector but many of those who lose their jobs are re-employed to police the new system.
Miracle 2. Wages increase rapidly without inflation

While Ireland boasts about its low national debt compared to its European neighbours, its level of household debt is the highest in the developed world at 190% of household income. The British figure is 159% and America's 135%. Once the banks are again able to offer credit, people in Ireland need to be in a position to borrow in order to spend and put that newly created money into circulation thereby growing the economy. Borrowing power is based on earnings capacity and asset value so in order to borrow more Irish people must increase their earnings and the value of their collateral - most often property such as a house - must rise too. There are only two ways to achieve this. One is to restart the housing boom on the basis of rapidly increasing wages, or inflation to decrease the relative size of the debt against the property. As this is a Business as Usual scenario, inflation is out of the question, so we have to assume that Ireland develops a type of business in which it can outperform other countries and where its services are in in high demand. This is

Mircacle 3. Business found to replace Construction

Ireland is identified as world data hub and pulls off a deal with Google, Microsoft and many other cloud computing providers to host their data centres. Ireland's mild climate makes the energy costs of maintaining servers at a stable temperature low, and on the basis of these contracts to host 10% of the worlds servers, two 4GW nuclear power station are built. The construction of the new data centres and power stations creates a new boom for the economy, at least in the short term.

Data for sizing the power required:
3871 GW world electricity capacity
72 GW = 2% is used by servers
7.2 = 10% of that
6 GW = Ireland current capacity

Miracle 4. Stable and low energy prices

In order for the economy to recover in a Business as Usual scenario, stable and low energy prices are required. The building of two nuclear power stations to service the data centre business stablises the energy price in Ireland, although the costs of building the nuclear power stations are high and energy prices are significantly above what they were prior to 2007.