Oil is not going away for decades- if ever

DHL truck

An impending terminal crisis in net energy is looming over the global economy, according to Jonathan Rutherford of Insurgent Intelligence. The kind of growth that some multinational companies have been conducting is “green growth,” he notes with no signs of “degrowth.”

“In my view, at best, they will vigorously pursue ‘green’ growth, i.e. via the rapid scaling up of renewable energy and promoting efficiency etc., but with no intention of actively reducing the overall level of energy consumption — indeed, most of the mainstream ‘green growth’ scenarios assume a doubling of global energy demand by 2050,” he writes.

Stated simply, Rutherford does not believe that growth in green energy supplies will outpace or even keep up with global energy demand. With energy supply being critical to global economic prosperity, he argues that an energy crisis is looming and could stall economic growth. 

There is a trend that Rutherford observes regarding “green growth,” which is the increase in using renewable energy. However, he says that while more companies will incorporate this energy path, the overall amount of energy being used will increase.While advanced societies will continue to invest in green growth and tax and control carbon-based energy- they will not find adequate sources to keep up with the demand put on by a digital economy.  Society is left with two choices- either slow down economic growth through campaigns to control the amount of economic activity or continue to use fossil fuels. History suggests that humans will choose the later. 

Rutherford quoted a report he co-authored with Josh Floyd and Samuel Alexander for Resilience. The authors cited how “green growth” does not add up to the outlook of “long-term sustainability.

An argument that supports the skepticism surrounding energy sustainability was given by Minqi Li, Professor of Utah University’s Department of Economics. “An increase in economic growth rate by one percentage point is associated with an increase in primary energy consumption by 0.96 percent,” she wrote.

Australia was used as an example to express doubts as to whether the supply can meet the demand. One risk explicitly stated how the pressure for “tree plantations to compete with critical land-uses” would mean less land for agricultural uses.

Rutherford states,  "economic growth depends on not just increases in gross energy consumption and energy efficiency, but the availability of net energy. Net energy can be defined as the energy left over after subtracting the energy use to attain energy- i.e. the energy used during the process of extraction, harvesting and transportation of energy. Net energy is critical because it alone powers the non-energy sectors of the global economy." 

He goes on to describe his skeptism that net energy will keep up with demand growth.

"There are strong reasons for thinking that the rate of increase in gross energy availability will slow further in coming decades. Recently a peer reviewed paper estimated the maximum rate at which humanity could exploit all ultimately recoverable fossil fuel resources. It found that depending on assumptions, the peak in all fossil fuels would be reached somewhere between 2025–2050 (a finding that aligns with several other studies see i.e Maggio and Cacciola 2012; Laherrere, 2015)."

Currently, fossil fuels make up 86% of energy use and shockingly enough has been practically unchanged for over three decades, even after the trillions of dollars in investments in alternative sources (solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and even bio). 

It gets even more alarming when you consider that over 95% of all fuel used for transport comes from oil. With 60-80% of oil fields in decline, even the recent advancement of fracking will not solve the supply problem. Combine this with the depletion of recoverable coal reserves and you have a problem. Rutherford argues that using current growth projections of energy use, the world needs to find four Saudi Arabia equivalent sources of oil to provide global energy demand. He projects that an oil capacity crunch will cause a major price spike and send the economy into a tailspin. 

While there has been a ton of investments in green transportation, there is little reason to think that oil demand will subside anytime soon. To date, there has been no evidence that oil demand is in decline and with lower oil prices demand continues to accelerate. 

In order for green technologies to supply the necessary supply for global energy demand by 2035, an investment of $3 trillion a year would be required. Compare this with the current estimates of all energy investments in 2035 (including carbon forms) of being just $2 trillion dollars. Current oil demand is outstripping all renewable investments and supplies and will continue through 2050. 

Regardless of how you feel about a carbon-based economy, it turns out to be good for the trucking industry. The energy sector is one of the largest sectors providing demand for truckload services. Ranging from equipment to service the drilles, to the sand that helps fracking operations, oil demand has a huge impact on the number of industry-wide truckload miles. For every rig that is drilled in North America, results in an additional 1.1 million truckload miles.  

In places like North Dakota and Canada, the impact is even more profound. According to a study from the North Dakota State University (home of the Bison and one of the greatest dynasties in college football history), fracking contributed over $35B to the state's economy, of which half went to trucking operations. 

In transportation, energy use is behind some company’s decisions in vehicle design. Tesla is developing an electric truck, but Toyota has taken a different path. The Japanese automaker’s Project Portal is developing a big rig powered by hydrogen. A gif attached in the article by Jalopnik demonstrated how a Toyota big rig powered by a fuel cell is twice as fast as that of a diesel-powered big rig. Both rigs were reported to have a load of 35,000 lbs.

Jalopnik was quick to note in its article that the hydrogen powered rig is not yet a fully-developed “electric truck.” The hydrogen fuel-cell powered truck was described as a prototype based on a Kenworth T660. Much of the energy comes from two 6kwH lithium-ion batteries and 4 high-pressure hydrogen tanks. With a 1,325 lbs.-ft. of torque and 670 horsepower, it fits the profile of a classic Class 8 rig.

Nikola One is another company developing a hydrogen-powered electric truck.

DHL recently unveiled its contribution to the electric truck, Electrek reports. Working with Ford, DHL adapted a Transit van to create the StreetScooter WORK XL.

DHL takes pride in being “a market leader in green logistics” as one of the members of the Board of Management Post, Jurgen Gerdes, claimed. He sees the electric truck as “the perfect vehicle for parcel deliveries in major cities.” Allowing the company to meet the demand for “rising parcel volumes in an even more environmentally friendly and quieter manner.”