The COP21 outcome capped a dramatic year for energy—low oil prices, low natural gas prices, an extension of the US tax credits for solar energy installations, Tesla’s battery wall, and much more. COP21 doesn’t have binding accords, it has something better—a compelling new message. Those of us in the branding community are always encouraging our clients to “Simplify the message” and “Clarify what the brand stands for.” Previous energy and climate summits in Kyoto and Copenhagen foundered on this very point. Finally COP21 got a message to the world simplified down to its essence: “2ºC by 2050=catastrophe for everybody” Once that hit the media, people got it, and something else very valuable emerged: consensus. All nations have to do something painful, and every nation has to make up their own agenda. These crucial realizations have got everybody scurrying.
Both articles review industry trends, and both come to a conclusion that fossil fuels are on the way out. I’d like to disagree on this later point. Not because I want to see us keep burning coal and oil, but because predicting the demise of big energy just isn’t logical.
Think about it: the energy industry employs some of the best engineering talent in the world, and they have a lot of reserves in cash and in mineral rights. What I suggest will happen is that Big Energy is going to apply some serious design thinking and figure out how to extract the carbon from the hydrocarbons before it gets converted to energy. There are some technologies to so this already, coal gasification and the dissociation of natural gas. Neither of these are competitive now, but when Big Energy is forced to ‘mark to market’ the value of its minerals (and the market value is currently shrinking) they will have lots of incentive to apply engineering talent to the problem. And it is a good thing, too. Until batteries are a lot further along, we (the energy using citizens of the world) need fuel we can burn to provide quick “Base Load” energy. Eventually, we will get to supplying our energy needs with renewables. In the mean time, finding ways use the Hydrogen in Hydrocarbons for clean burning energy, and pulling the Carbon out to use for other things (big market for carbon fiber!) is a great business for big energy to be in.
2015 marks not the death of hydrocarbons, but their transfiguration.
David Laufer is Managing Partner of BrandBook LLC, an Atlanta based design firm specializing in branding for expertise-based enterprises. He is the author of Dialogues with Creative Legends, Aha Moments in a Designer’s Career (New Riders, 2012). He is a founding trustee of the Atlanta Chapter of AIGA, the professional association for Design, and is active in Little Free Libraries, a global literacy action movement. @Dav1dLaufer – www.brandbook.us