Fischer: Agriculture’s role in energy industry must continue to increase
Laramie – The role that energy plays in agriculture is growing, commented professional engineer James Fischer at the 2012 AgriFuture Conference in Laramie on Oct. 16-18, who added, “We should be fishing for a sustainable supply of energy, or we could have a whale of a problem.”
“We have an energy situation that we ought to be concerned with,” said Fischer. “I am not one to come to Wyoming and tell you not to get all the natural gas you can or to not use your coal, I’m saying there are only so many dead dinosaurs. If we keep using our fossil fuels at the rate we are on a global basis, we are going to be limited.”
World energy consumption
“Unless we do something to figure out how we are going to move forward, there are going to be conflicts,” Fischer said.
He also added that links behind energy consumption and affluence will begin to appear.
“The higher energy consumption results in higher GDP, which translates to quality of life,” he explained. “All countries want to move up, but if they get there the same way we did – using a lot of fossil fuel – we are going to limit our supply even quicker.”
In developing as a nation, the United States underwent a huge industrial revolution, which utilized massive quantities of fossil fuels. The availability of such fuels limits developing countries’ abilities to utilize the same strategies the U.S. did in growing.
Fischer also noted that in developed countries, energy consumption has leveled, while developing countries are seeing increases in energy use.
What’s at stake?
“The best case scenario is that in the future we have a number of technologies that allows us to transition from heavy reliance on petroleum to relying more on domestic and renewable resources,” Fischer comments. “All fossil fuels will be in our future – it is how we manage them now that determines what will happen later.”
In the worst case scenario, Fischer says that fossil fuels will continually be used at high levels and no further research will be done toward renewable, in which case, a supply disruption could happen.
“We would be buffered by the strategic petroleum reserve, in that case,” he explained, “but the reserve is 4.1 billion barrels. We use about 19 million barrels each day. Is a seven month supply sufficient?”
Fischer also questioned what marks a trigger for when the reserves should be utilized.
“The triggering point should be for our national defense, in my mind,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen just because gas prices are going up.”
How much time?
While some programs are currently in place, Fischer questioned if they will be soon enough.
“The United Nations has a program called SE4ALL,” he explained. “Their goal is to ensure universal access to modern energy by 2030. Right now, 1.3 billion people don’t have access to electricity, 1 billion only have intermittent access and 2.8 billion don’t have access to clean cooking. That is a lot of people to give energy to.”
Fischer continued, “We need to double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the energy efficiency itself.”
For people in the U.S., he asked, how much time do we have?
It takes 15 years for the U.S. to change the fleet of cars in the U.S., said Fischer, noting that even if the technology is available today, it will take 15 years for all the cars to turn over to the high efficiency rate. Appliances take 10 to 20 years to change, and buildings take 80 years.
“There is no silver bullet. I suggest silver buckshot,” Fischer said. “We need to increase renewable energy supplies, reduce demand and increase efficiency, and we will still need fossil fuels.”
With a number of tasks to take on to increase energy availability, Fischer commented that the first goal should be raising the corporate average fuel economy.
“We can have the best climate impact and increased energy security by raising fuel economy,” Fischer said. “The worst thing we can do is to let them stand where they are.”
He also added that current uncertainty in energy policy is a disincentive for businesses to get involved.
“I can build a business if I know the policy, but I can’t build business on uncertainty,” Fischer noted. “We have to put something together that makes sense.”
Ag and energy nexus
He continued to note that the increasing role of agriculture in the energy industry can also help to increase energy independence and efficiencies.
“If we rely on agriculture and energy, at one time, we will need energy in agriculture,” he said. “Ag will supply the energy and become more efficient, using less energy.”
Production agriculture utilizes about 21 percent of the energy in the U.S., which amounts to about 10.25 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).
“We use more energy in the home for refrigeration and preparation than we do in the field,” Fischer commented, noting that 31 percent of food system energy use comes from those sources.
While there are a number of efforts that would be necessary to continue to achieve sustainable energy, Fischer noted that some successes have been seen already.
“America was importing less oil in 2012 than it was in 2008, and we are drilling more,” Fischer said. “We have seen significant changes.”
“Achieving sustainable energy isn’t an easy job,” Fischer added, “but we have to be successful.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.