Archive: energy

December 31st, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

To 2014 and Beyond

Happy New Year to all our visitors and fans.

Looking ahead, here are some thoughts to add to the endless lists of 2014 anticipations – if you like these things see Mark Anderson’s top ten for 2014, or Thomas Fry’s 33 for 2030, or David Brin’s speculations on the year ahead. Brin is an exception but most of these kinds of articles are lists of technologies and anticipated developments. I know these lists ‘sell papers’ as we used to say, and provide a certain kind of infotainment. But I don’t take them too seriously except as brain teasers. Check them out if you want.

Me? I expect the big stories of 2014 will include…

…a shift in politics to debating how and how much to increase Social Security in the United States. This meme broke through in 2013, and moved the Overton Window over by a surprising margin, away from “how to cut Social Security” and at least to ‘how to maintain it.” This shift in the political winds cannot come too soon as we face an impending retirement crisis and looming wave of elder poverty.

…a dawning realization that fracking, however successful in the next decade or two at tapping previously hard to get oil and gas, has not fundamentally changed the longer term (21st Century) energy picture in which conventional (and thus cheaper) oil has peaked, and thus we face a mostly more expensive future in energy. Cheap gas is the exception but the energy picture still demands that civilization prepare for the fossil fuel phase out to come. Negotiating this passage will literally determine whether modern civilization is maintained.

…a continuation in the downward curve in solar energy cost per watt generated, meaning that it becomes more likely that solar will become a dominant supplier of electricity sooner than later. The electrification of the transportation fleet will gain momentum in 2014.

…space exploration and exploitation will proceed more aggressively in 2014. The success of China on the moon, and the amazing drive of SpaceX and other private companies in space will make the next half-decade a likely dawn of the next era in space, the era that leads to truly occupying space.

…it is hard to know when or if a weather event will tip the balance of public concern toward a crash effort to mitigate, slow down, and prepare for global warming. The latest, and most dire, predictions suggest that this had better happen soon.

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

…finally, a global struggle with and about the deep issues of privacy versus security, continued drift to richer and poorer society, and the future of employment and work, will likely heighten in 2014. There is a reason, which is more than artistic or admiration of the actors, that the Hunger Games series has already placed its first two films in the top 20 grossing films of all time and is a world-wide phenomenon. There is a hunger for change that is rumbling. The fact that life imitates art in way that reeks of parody but is all too real just adds to the pressure. (In this case activists hanging a banner to protest a proposed pipeline were charged under an absurd terrorism statute – thus precisely proving the point of the banner.)

2014 will be a year of great opportunity and great challenges – not all that different than 2013 or, I suspect, 2015.

Let’s have a great year!

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June 3rd, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy | Comments Off

New energy future is possible

At the annual Future In Review conference, one of the most interesting presentations was that by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, reviewing their future of energy study that was chronicled in their report and book, Reinventing Fire. In brief, Amory explained in his dispassionate, engineering style, that it is possible to grow the U.S. economy by 158% by 2050, while completely phasing out the use of oil, coal and nuclear power, keeping the amount of natural gas we use steady, and relying instead on renewable energy and distributed grids using no newly invented technology. This could be done at a savings, according to the RMI study, of $5 Trillion. Below is an infographic created by RMI that sums up their scenario for how such a future will be created. The question is, is this a possible or a probable future?

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April 10th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy | Comments Off

Re-thinking the Future of Energy

Last week I attended an excellent monthly breakfast program of the Washington Clean Tech Alliance. The April program featured a panel on the future of natural gas. I attended because I am very interested in whether the energy picture has changed as much as it appears, in the past three years.

In 2006 when I wrote my last book, Turning the Future Into Revenue, I began the energy chapter with the following words, “The world is running out of oil. Just in time.” At that time, two years before oil prices hit their (so far) historical high of $147 a barrel, investors and institutions were catching up to peak oil, the knowledge that at some point we will have used up half the oil in the world and started down the back side of the supply curve. The only question is when. It seemed to many observers, circa 2006-2009, that the halfway point had been reached. It is still safe to say that the cheap and easy oil days are mostly behind us, but the energy picture has become more complex recently.

Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas bearing shale rock, or fracking, when combined with improved horizontal drilling has begun to push the peaks forward in time. The biggest change in the energy picture, we learned last week, comes from shale gas. At the same time I was writing about energy in 2006, the natural gas industry was warning utility commissions that big price increases were on the horizon, because of short supplies, increases that would take the price per million BTU’s to $14. The U.S. and Canada were gearing up to build port facilities to import liquefied natural gas. Today the price hovers a bit below $2, because there is a glut of gas being developed in the shale oil fields in North America, and instead of anticipating import facilities, the focus is on the need for export facilities.

This chart, from the Energy Information Agency, illustrates how much more natural gas is anticipated by 2035, and how much of that comes from shale fields. At the WCTA session that I attended, there was confidence expressed that the gas is there and recoverable. The larger concerns focused on how to develop sufficient demand for all the gas by switching much electricity production and transportation to natural gas. In addition there is concern that the price has been driven so low that exploration and development will slow, having become uneconomical.

On the risk side there are concerns about water supply, as it takes a lot of water to produce a barrel equivalent of natural gas. While gas is cleaner than coal or diesel at the point of combustion, there is concern that gas leakage at the well head can make it actually a dirtier fuel in terms of green house gases, although the industry assures us that this is a technical issue that can be fixed by best practices. And of course there is concern about long run contamination of ground water from fracking chemicals used to force the gas from the shale rock. Again, the industry assures everyone that the shale is so much deeper than ground water there is little chance of contamination through migration. However, since the fracking pipes are left behind when a well plays out, leaving a long term channel between layers of rock, it seems reasonable to predict that some migration will occur in the very long run.

Regardless of the long-term risks, it is pretty safe to assume that an energy hungry world will continue to develop these resources. Whether there is really a 100-year supply, as industry advertising insists, is open to conjecture. But, on the whole, natural gas appears to offer a cleaner and cheaper bridge to the long-term energy future.

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March 30th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Innovation | Comments Off

Beyond 2020: A Nebraska Chamber Keynote

This week I had the privilege of delivering the keynote speech to the annual dinner of the Grand Island, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. I shared the stage with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who greeting the packed house, along with the many winners of annual Chamber awards.

I was thoroughly charmed by the success story of Grand Island, a community of 50,000 in the heart of Nebraska, as well the state success story. Nebraska has weathered the economic downturn in good shape, and has half the unemployment rate as the rest of the nation, at 4%. The state economic performance is better than the nation’s in a variety of economic indicators, including retail sales and growth in exports of goods. Grand Island went after the Nebraska State Fair when it decided to relocate from the state capital of Lincoln a couple of years ago, and now enjoys a beautiful new fairgrounds development. As Governor Heineman said in his remarks, this does not happen by accident.

Picking up on that thought, I opened my keynote speech with my favorite concept, that the future is not something that just happens to us, but rather is something we do. I had decided in this talk to begin with some history, setting the stage with stories of the techno-social-economic revolution of 1900-1930, and comparing that to our own time. Mostly I wanted to get to an important quote from the American industrialist Henry Ford, who said,

There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.

I asked if we are forgetting the third of Henry’s three principles, and illustrated the question with this disturbing chart (Hamilton Project) of annual employment and earnings of American men with a high school diploma only, from 1970 to 2010. What the chart shows is that, in 2010 dollars, such a man earns only half of what he earned in 1970 ($26,000 versus $48,000) and is much less likely to actually have a job. We are moving in the wrong direction.

Having set the stage with some historical perspective, I turned to future trends. Here I outlined six converging forces that shape the future and collectively offer more opportunity to shape a positive future than they do challenges to the future. The forces are:

  • Young and old populations
  • Technology acceleration, especially communications, nanotechnology, and biotechnology
  • Globe races ahead – the growth of the middle class in the world, while the middle class in the U.S. stuggles.
  • Century of cheap and easy energy winding down, leading to a new energy boom
  • Sustainability defined as the challenge of food security – a big opportunity for Nebraska
  • Income gap economics

  • In that final point I circled back to the beginning. I shared the now classic chart from the Congressional Budget Office illustrating the income growth of the 1% versus the income stagnation of the bottom 80% since 1979, warning that many people get upset by this discussion. But I argued that by focusing on the 1% we have focused on the wrong thing. The great future challenge is how to reverse the stagnation of the bottom 80%, and get their income back on a growth curve. This is not easy in world of global labor competition, but that is what we need to figure out how to do. I concluded with a core strategy for changing this downward slide, and that is preparing for the knowledge value economy, which thus requires educating millions of young people at a much higher level.

    It was a positive evening with a great group of people, and I enjoyed this speaking opportunity as much as any in recent years.

    You can review the mostly pictorial slides that I used below, from Slide Share.

    Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, Founder of, and founder and Curator of To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact

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    January 6th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Innovation | Comments Off

    Entering the new year 2012

    So, we are back. Had a wonderful holiday in Peru visiting Machu Picchu among other places. Truly an awe inspiring place, matched only by New Zealand’s south island, and parts of the Canadian Rockies for grandeur.

    Machu Picchu Christmas Day 2011

    We here at continue to work on getting the new site ready to launch. Given that we have years of content and it turns out a rather quirky legacy in terms of some back-room functionality issues, what we thought would be quick and easy has turned out to be a bit harder. We are still hoping to introduce the new look by mid-month, so please stay tuned. We will blog here a bit in the mean time.

    Many things are on my mind for 2012 in terms of future issues. Strategic issues include…

      How the rich-poor gap issue in the U.S. and the world will play out this year. Interestingly the Greek historian and biographer Plutarch, who lived from 46-120 AD once made this observation, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Unfortunately, so far the dynamic seems to be mostly that the severely wealthy interpret the current political climate as an attack on them, rather than as a call to re-ignite a system that builds the middle class and lifts up the poor.
      Energy and politics. Last year I forecast that 2011 would be a year in which it would become clear whether we’ve hit peak oil, or not. If it did become clear, the evidence is that we have not hit peak oil. Yet, one must wonder whether all the industry hype about shale plays in gas and oil really mean that a new era of abundance is here, or whether this will turn out to be more hype than reality. A whole lot of public policy and global economic implications are at stake.
      Climate change and global warming. Strangely 2011 was the year that this topic became virtually forbidden in the U.S. Politicians are not allowed to mention it, unless it is to say either they do not believe in climate change, or that the science is still too uncertain to do anything about it. My friend Dennis Walsh, a sustainability futurist from Canada, surprised me the other day by agreeing – saying its past time to talk about climate change, as there is no prospect of a sufficient public response anyway. Instead, he suggested, going forward it will be better to concentrate on raising the issue of planning for weather anomalies and local catastrophes. This is interesting. You’ll be hearing more from Dennis when we launch, which has also been delayed, but will also launch this month.
      Technology dominance. There may still be no more important dynamic in the world than the continued spread of communication technology, namely smart phones and wireless nets. It was strange to stand in Machu Picchu and talk to the kids at home via my iPhone – actually had better reception than some places around Seattle Washington.

    Finally, at some point I will say a few words about the Mayan calendar and the impending end scheduled for 21 December this year!

    Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, and Founder of To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact

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