Second only to water, energy sourced from natural fuels (oil and gas) is the most democratic commodity on the planet. We all depend on it, we all use it, and we all want it to be plentiful, available, reliable and affordable.
And yet, today, even as the world enjoys unparalleled prosperity, as of this very moment, over 2 billion people on the planet have no access to electricity.
Every industry with the exception of energy is challenged with the goal of producing the things people want. Every industry, with the exception of the energy industry, inevitably produces things people don’t want.
For an industry to always produce what people want requires that you understand everything in the world. Or what computer scientists call artificial intelligence.
Electricity, sourced from fossil fuels, which represents about 87% of the energy we consume on a daily basis, is the result of a perfect intelligence. Fossil fuels aren’t renewable, but they are reliable. Without reliable energy, our modern lives come to a complete stop.
I recently asked someone what causes them anxiety in their life. Their answer was long. For me, it’s getting a low battery alert on my cell phone. And before you scoff, I’ll make the following claim: Every person reading this knows within 10% how much battery life they have on their phone. And the reason is simple. Without our phones, we are cut off from the world. In 2015, 52.7% of the global mobile phone population accessed the internet from their mobile phone. This grew to 63.4% by the middle of 2019.
Without a tiny, reliable phone battery, our energy-hungry smartphone lacks power to function as the instrumental component we depend on to sustain our quality of life.
Now consider what would happen if the notification on your living room wall alerted you that you have only 15% battery left. Not 15% left to power your phone, but your car, lights, computer, refrigerator… Now imagine there’s no readily available energy source for the rest of the day. That could become our world if we get this energy debate wrong.
This debate is between renewable energy vs. reliable energy. But does it need to be a debate? Must we choose between reliable energy or renewable energy?
In Santa Barbara County, we have an opportunity to choose both. We have an opportunity to leverage the economic benefits of reliable energy, while pursuing the assumed social benefits of renewable energy. We have an opportunity to produce fossil fuels locally while deriving the enormous revenues associated to help underwrite a county energy plan.
Is this being done in other places? Yes.
Norway is on the verge of transitioning to a 100% electrified transportation system by 2025. They can do this because they can afford it both as a general population (Norway has the third-highest per-capita income in the world), and because the Norwegian government has the money to provide substantial investments in technologies that are helping their transportation sector achieve 100% electrification.
One of the key reasons Norway can afford these substantial investments is thanks to their oil and gas exports. Norway produces nearly 3 million barrels of oil per day, and their oil exports represent a significant source of national revenue. In 2018, Norwegian oil exports to Europe totaled 33.3 billion in U.S. dollars. And Norwegians are enjoying the benefits.
We should take a page out of Norway’s energy strategy playbook to achieve similar results, including a future zero-carbon transportation system, and a multimillion-dollar annual revenue stream to fund essential programs and services that benefit Santa Barbara County residents today.
That is what most people would call a win-win.