As published in the Vancouver Sun
Expect peak oil production to arrive in something more like five years than the 50 years forecast by much of the energy industry, environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Thursday.
It won’t be because the world is running out of oil, but because that’s how fast he’s betting innovations in cheap renewable power, batteries and electric vehicles will start to overtake traditional oil and internal combustion engines, Kennedy told the Globe 2018 conference on sustainable business in Vancouver.
Kennedy recounted a retiring Shell executive a year ago who talked about oil demand peaking in 10 years, “not because it’s too dirty to burn, because they’re not going to be able to sell it.”
Kennedy spoke as part of a Globe panel discussion with Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman and Wal van Lierop, a leading clean-technology investor and founder of Chrysalix Venture Capital.
And he made the bold prediction on the day federal Natural Resources Minister re-committed to the Canadian government’s strategy of attempting to boost renewable energy and clean technologies while “making the best use” of its petroleum resources by ensuring Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion get built.
Talking to reporters after the panel discussion, Kennedy characterized that as “a political minefield (that Canada) is trying to negotiate.”
“I’m glad they’re spending that money on renewables, I wish they weren’t building the pipeline, that’s what I’ll say,” Kennedy said.
Globe, held every two years, puts some 2,000 business leaders and government officials together to talk about ways to do business more sustainably at a time of growing tensions between traditional resource industries and new, cleaner alternatives.
Kennedy and Van Leirop are among the most bullish of clean-technology boosters. Yet, with only 3,500 cars on the road as of 2017, electric vehicles are a small fraction of one per cent of passenger cars in B.C.
Their panel discussion, titled “beyond clean capitalism,” was billed by organizers as an update of the discussion they had at the 2014 edition of Globe to talk about how much progress there has been made since then in making sustainability the ‘cost of doing business.’
Van Lierop argued that in a lot of instances, economics are already pushing investment into clean technologies.
For power utilities, the cost to install solar wind power has dropped below two cents a kilowatt hour, van Lierop said, “so it’s no wonder that new capacities in energy generation have, primarily in North America, been the new stuff.”
“Clean energy has crossed the cost cap,” van Lierop said, and he questions whether new fossil-fuel projects approved today will have a lifespan of 40 or 50 years, the time frame typically expected to amortize large capital project.
“That’s a stretch,” van Lierop said.
Kennedy has “applied hope” for the future of clean technology, even as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration continues to eliminate incentives for solar and wind energy and promote development of oil and coal.
That, Kennedy said, will hurt America, but won’t necessarily slow down innovation.
“India and China will step in where the U.S. leaves a vacuum,” in terms of developing renewable energy, Kennedy said.
However, Vrooman said for the transition toward clean technologies to move as fast as enthusiasts want, the world of finance will have to keep up.
Vrooman said that from Vancity’s research, the investment world remains very conservative. More of Vancity’s customers have indicated they would like to make so-called green investments than they have green investment products to put money in.
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Part of Thursday’s agenda involved pushing government towards being friendlier to so-called clean innovations, perhaps a welcome distraction for federal ministers attending the event and taking criticism over Ottawa’s support of the Trans Mountain project.
“The key message is that clean innovation is a huge opportunity for all parts of the Canadian economy,” said Stewart Elgie, co-chair of the Smart Prosperity Leaders Initiative, a group of business leaders and academics.