Back in the day, when horse drawn carriages and buggies were the preferred mode of transport for anyone, there was a big fear in Paris, London and New York that there wouldn’t be enough stabling for all the horses required in the future, to say nothing of all the manure that was piling up in the streets. Then we invented motor cars, and the problem of peak horse manure disappeared.
That’s a salutary tale to bear in mind when we talk of peak oil. There will be a time when our consumption of oil peaks, plateaus and then starts to decline. And it won’t be because we ran out of stones, I mean oil, but because there are better, cleaner, more sustainable, and ultimately cheaper ways to serve our ever increasing energy needs.
And we will need more energy, even more than we consume today, which is more than ever before. Even though it’s slowing, the world’s population is growing; not only in numbers, but also in sophistication, affluence, modernity, mobility and increasingly digital lifestyles. Many countries have free broadband, and in some, access to electricity is considered a basic human right.
Let’s not be fooled by efficiency. It’s an inconvenient paradox that, the more efficient our cars, planes, homes and gadgets get, the more energy we consume as a whole, as more people enjoy the benefits more often. But we’re also becoming more efficient at producing power.
Forget about wind turbines and wave generators. What’s really reducing our need for oil is solar power. We’ve known for decades that the sun produces more direct energy than we can possibly use. It was just the ability to capture, transform and distribute that energy efficiently that needed some work. Now it’s happening in a big way, and soon the grid will be 80% powered by solar technologies – and most of that comes from you and me, ordinary households connected on the energy internet.
So I’m looking forward to peak oil. It will mean we’ve fully reconfigured our power paradigm and installed the killer app. It won’t make the sheiks and oligarchs happy, but the greens will rejoice. Bring it on!