Tuesday, September 29, 2009

our perilous path to energy enslavement

Techworld | Saving the world is not just for movie plots anymore. All indications are that another major economic crisis is looming, and it will have more far-reaching and long-lasting effects than the recession we're just starting to climb out of now. The problem is oil, and unless it's solved, reforming healthcare and winning wars abroad won't be possible.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to watch Andy Grove talk about saving the U.S., and I was once again taken with what made him a truly great CEO. It isn't that he is articulate or simply on message -- it's that he conveys a combination of intelligence and passion rarely found in any current leaders. It is also fascinating to see he can still make ex-Intel executives sweat at an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) More about Intel alumni reunion, even though many of them now run their own companies.

Hidden in the messaging at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) last week was a goal to dramatically lower U.S. electricity bills and, in conjunction with Andy and the ex-Intel employees, save the country from becoming an energy slave to China by 2020. At the core of this is the view that the current Obama administration may be focused on the right things but in the wrong order.

For instance, if we don't fix the energy problem -- in short, our addiction to oil -- first, then other things -- like healthcare More about healthcare reform and the war on terror -- will fail.

Here is the problem in short form. China's need for oil is increasing at a near-vertical rate, and it should pass the U.S. in consumption is just a few years. Production isn't increasing much at all, which means there will be massive oil shortages.

The most credible projections I've seen place the shortage crisis at around 2013-15 (there is clear disagreement on the cause but the effect is consistent) and suggest that oil will veer upward of US$150 a barrel at that time. That would suggest gas prices exceeding $7 a gallon -- and going vertical after that.