There are so many events aimed at best eco-practices for companies and entrepreneurs that they can all blend into one. But the Green Shoots talk hosted by the London Glasshouse association (founded to provide support and inspiration for entrepreneurs) was a definite cut above the rest. The speaker was entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett, a well-versed expert in sustainability given that he is the founder and CEO of Solarcentury, the UK’s leading provider of solar solutions, as well as a former oil industry consultant and Greenpeace campaigner.
Leggett was engaging and an enviable fount of knowledge about the world’s energy industry and the looming crisis it faces. “All escape clauses have gone” he began, we will not be able to avoid “the mother and father of all energy crises”, an event he also referred to as an “energy shock” that will be followed by an “energy famine.” When is this cataclysmic event going to happen? “On the watch of everyone in this room.”

Of course, Leggett hopes the peakists (those who believe oil supplies have peaked, making oil less available and increasingly less affordable) are wrong. But given that he’s an ‘early peakist’ himself, and believes that oil production has actually already peaked, this is just a hope.

Even with enhanced oil recovery techniques that extend the life of existing oil fields (such as drilling horizontally and carbon dioxide flooding) he explained, and the oil that can be extracted from the Canadian Tar Sands in Northern Alberta or the liquid fuel that can be made from coal, we won’t be able to bridge the energy shortfall. And, given that extracting oil from tar sands and fuel from coal are notoriously “filthy processes” that emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases, none of these alternative scenarios even begin to take into account climate change.

Here’s an example that demonstrates problem: Canada’s Tar Sands will produce 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2015, said Leggett, the same amount that the UK is predicted to consume by 2025. Hardly a reason to hail the Canadian Tar Sands as the answer to our oil needs, or the next North Sea (as large sectors of the media have done).

What should we do? Concentrate our energies and money on “getting out of oil” and into energy conservation, advised Leggett. A technology-agnostic approach is the way forward — combining many different energy sources such as solar, biofuels, wind, hybrid, hydrogen and so on — and represents our opportunity to get it right this time round. Beware of the “nuclear vampire” he also warned. “Money will be tight and there’s going to be great competition between energy sources.” It’ll be up to us to ensure that the money goes towards renewable energy.

Story by Giovanna Dunmall. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2008