Randy Udall speaks in Steamboat about peak oil, challenge ahead for US

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Randy Udall

— Renewable energy expert Randy Udall used the saga of human flight during a talk Wed­nesday night as a metaphor for the challenges and opportunities presented by finite petroleum resources.

Udall suggested to an audience of about 100 in Steamboat Springs that if Orville and Wilbur Wright could solve the complexities of designing a flying machine 107 years ago, today’s society should be able to apply that same Yankee ingenuity to finding sustainable energy alternatives for our oil-based economy.

“They were bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio — neither went to college,” Udall said. “But they became fascinated with this idea of human flight. In the space of three or four years, they unlocked the secret of dynamic stability” in their early designs for aircraft wings.

American society needs to apply that same resolve and gift for science today, Udall implied, to stave off climate change and reduce dependence on the flow of petroleum that is due to go into decline before mid-century.

Udall co-founded the Assoc­iation for the Study of Peak Oil-USA and spoke at an event hosted by Transition Steam­boat and the Colorado Environ­mental Coalition.

Peak oil is a term that represents the tipping point when petroleum production is maxed out and begins an irreversible decline. With the United States having reached the peak of domestic production in about 1970, and the world’s top oil-producing nations consuming more and more of their domestic product with less to export, there are serious implications for the United States, Udall said. Add to that the aggressiveness with which China is roaming the world to tie up oil in Venezuela and coal mines in Australia, and the plot thickens, he said.

“The whole future of the American experience is tied to energy in one way or another,” Udall said. “Energy is indispensable to our sense of well-being and to civilized life.”

However, Udall said, since America emerged from World War II with its industrial capacity intact while the rest of the developed world rebuilt its bombed-out cities, we have enjoyed energy consumption that is unprecedented in the history of the world.

“Our experience of the last half-century gave us very misleading indications of what will happen in the next half-century,” Udall said. “We grew up in it, so we think it’s entirely normal, but this was a once-in-a-planet experience.”

The reality is that half of the fossil fuels consumed in all of human history have been consumed since 1980, Udall said, and that rate of consumption won’t be sustainable indefinitely once peak oil is reached. Instead, he said, we must find ways to sustain our increasingly complex society.

Charles Lindbergh became the world’s first celebrity when he flew nonstop across the Atlantic — a feat perceived as godlike in the U.S. and Europe, Udall said. Then Amelia Earhart became our first goddess when she set off to fly around the world. And now, Udall implied, our challenge is to make similar leaps.

“I see this photograph of the space shuttle (accelerating into space) as the perfect visual metaphor for our society,” Udall said. “There are 300 million of us who’ve been just rocketing along the last 40 years, each one of us consuming our body weight in petroleum each week. We’ve got to take this beautiful and wonderful civilization we’ve built and reshape it for the next half-century.”

Comments

Guy 3 years, 11 months ago

Nice piece Tom. In addition to the importance of groups like Transition and CEC bringing speakers such as Randy to share his insights, it's equally important to have writers like yourself who take the time to come-out and in-turn share them with the broader community.

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George Danellis 3 years, 11 months ago

Well said, Guy. I was unable to attend and appreciate reporting on events like this.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

Though, strictly speaking the issue of "peak oil" is largely irrelevant. The real issue now is simple supply and demand. With the rest of the world, particularly China, increasing demand then clearly the days of cheap oil is over. The countries that can continue to drive their economies while reducing their consumption of oil will have cost advantages over those nations that use more oil.

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ybul 3 years, 11 months ago

The biggest problem with any new energy source is the investments in the old energy sources. Coal, Oil and Natural gas are simply hydrocarbons, they are created each and every day. The germans made oil during WWII.

The most promising renewable energy source I have seen was a fuel cell produced by Anuvu in the early 2000's. They won every fuel cell vehicle contest, their cells were hand made by people with PHD's and the cost was not terrible. They expected the cost to fall rapidly when put into mass production.

The problem is that their company was purchased and shelved as far as I can tell. Guess the oil industry did not like the potential competition and shut down their operation. Too bad that their technology is patented and can not be taken off the shelf for the benefit of all.

That is what our elected officials should work on, however, they do not seem to be out for the people. From all I have heard what we need is to institute the fair tax, which probably would solve many of our problems in this country.

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boater1 3 years, 11 months ago

"Though, strictly speaking the issue of "peak oil" is largely irrelevant. The real issue now is simple supply and demand. With the rest of the world, particularly China, increasing demand then clearly the days of cheap oil is over. The countries that can continue to drive their economies while reducing their consumption of oil will have cost advantages over those nations that use more oil."

they are completely connected. if new huge discoveries of oil kept coming online then it would match increased demand and oil would not spike so much. the opposite is happening along with dimished production from existing field.

...sell that big gas hog NOW because in a short while it will be like before and it's not dropping the 2nd time around. i'm amazed at all the people who have no memory of even a few years ago and bought big suv and trucks all over again in the last year or 2. you deserve to have your wallet drained in the near future.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 11 months ago

Boater1, Supply vs demand is what matters.

Peak Oil was a relevant concept when demand was US and Europe and demand was not changing that much. In that model, it was going to take declining production to cause scarcity and increase prices.

But now with China, India and others increasing demand, a whole lot of supply needs to be brought online rapidly for pricing to remain the same. When demand is increasing by 5% a year then the markets are not balanced even if supply increases 2%.

So we can expect increasing oil prices regardless of when Peak Oil ever occurs.

BTW, Anuvu was not bought out. It was working with Chrsyler to put a fuel cell into a car, but the project got shelved. It appears to still exist as a consulting firm. Fuel cells are extremely tricky because it is not that hard to get them to work with pure fuel, but any contaminants tend to destroy the reactive surfaces. The hard part is designing a fuel cell that can withstand a purge process that restores peak efficiency.

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ybul 3 years, 11 months ago

Anuvu, had a fuel cell in a Nissan. You could buy one if you wanted, though as they were hand made it was $100K. They had a boat also, but i never heard of any discussions with Chrysler. They were a private company and little info was available about them.

From my conversation with one of their muckety mucks, he expected to break ground on a mass production facility and bring the product to market he expected the cost to be similar to an internal combustion engine. Then within a year after being bought out, they went away as far as I can tell. Did not keep a personal contact for the individual I spoke with.

As far as peak oil goes, simply get ag and food distribution off big oil and you will free up 30% of consumption in the US.

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ybul 3 years, 11 months ago

hmm, the last time I googled them there was little information on them. This time there were numerous search results. Maybe simply I fell for the snake oil.

Though I still think when one gets down to the basics oil is simply a hydrocarbon. Created via the harvest of sunlight through the combination of hydrogen (water) and Carbon (CO2). If one really focused their efforts, following the fisher-tropsche model, all you have to do is add heat to hydrogen and carbon to make oil as the Germans did in WWII.

In addition if one looks at how deep oil is being found, it is below all known fossil formations and thus most likely formed in some other fashion than through the decomposition of plants and animals. Shoot all one really needs to do is look at all of the oils created every year via soy beans, coconuts and other things to understand that oil is not a billion year old substance and because of our current system, figuring out how to manufacture an oil substitute is the most logical solution to our perceived energy problems.

The bigger problem with rising prices is the depreciation of the dollar, which has been going on since the inception of the federal reserve.

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kathy foos 3 years, 11 months ago

The Steamboat Ski Area could be the first in the world to convert to alternative energys for operations of their utility"s. Say...put waterwheels in the Yampa for some electric ,Solar things all over.New buildings on top all new alternative concepts.Maybe the lift would have to be normal power,but all other options could be considered.

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kathy foos 3 years, 11 months ago

Another thing,Routt County should pass legislation to make this county protected from oil and gas industry with the toughest safety laws in the U.S.To get away from the oil industry,just make them be safe.....That enough to scare them off forever.

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exduffer 3 years, 11 months ago

Sun, try getting that water wheel idea past the flyfishers. Oh and the is a more technical term for water wheels, dams.

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