Perhaps the thing that struck me most was how much the outlook on peak oil has changed since the first conference in 2005.
Four years later, the view on oil and biofuel has grown considerably worse.
We now know that conventional crude did in fact hit its peak-plateau in 2005, having remained around the 74 mbpd level ever since. The expected growth from non-OPEC mostly failed to materialize... More pessimistic observers now think the 87 mbpd all liquids peak recorded at the height of the 2008 boom was the peak, and the more optimistic ones have cut their expectations to under 100 mbpd, with 90 mbpd looking more likely.
Biofuels now have a black eye from the corn ethanol frenzy of 2007-2008, which has all but collapsed. Ethanol from algae and cellulose still looks about as far in the distance as it did in 2005, as no one has figured out how to produce either one at commercial scale or with an acceptable net energy return. And biodiesel has remained a minor player, with little expectation for it to scale up any time soon.
But the most surprising change has been the outlook for North American natural gas. In 2005, the majority of observers seemed to think it had peaked for good, and saw gas prices remaining in a high range of $11-15/Mcf. I don’t think any of them expected the recent boom in North American shale gas, and there was certainly no suggestion that gas prices would crash to nearly $2 this year.
In fact the main worry about gas now seems to be that the shale gas boom will prove to be short-lived, and sucker us into building more vehicles and infrastructure to use it just as it sputters out.
Reading reports like these gets me thinking about how much I can't wait to have an electric car that I charge from my rooftop solar system, so I just don't have to worry about this stuff as much. Of course, my electric car and solar system won't help get food produced and to market if we have another oil price spike like the one in 2008. That's why things like the drive toward local and regional food sources, and the explosion in numbers of home gardens, may offer a more accurate glimpse into our future than most people currently realize...
The more we can build resilience into our food, energy and transport systems now via a mass proliferation of energy efficient technologies and buildings, stable renewable energy sources, efficient clean transport, and regional networks of small (and notso small) farms, the better... Which is, of course, exactly what the doctor ordered for solving -- and adapting to -- climate change as well...