With renewables tax incentives set to expire, market liquidity seemingly harder than ever to find, a supercommittee fail and EPA regulations pending, many in the energy industry may have a hard time being grateful this year.
But the industry is also at an inflection point, where the dying of old ways is opening possibilities for new beginnings.
Concerns about climate change may have led to heavy regulation of coal-fired power plants and carbon pricing, but Shell has in the meantime been building one of the world’s largest stockpiles of biofuels.
“We are not afraid to explore discontinuities in our business,” Shell chief energy adviser Wim Thomas told Breaking Energy in a recent interview. The company’s shift to natural gas and renewable fuels is “not by accident” Thomas said.
Natural gas has in many ways become the symbol of the future for the energy industry. Even supporters of renewables acknowledge gas-fired generation will play an important role in “firming” wind and solar power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
But the relatively new breakthrough technology that has allowed America’s abundant shale plays to be unlocked is in many ways a reincarnation of the past. Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) depends on century-old cement for safe well casing.
As the industry watches one era come to a close it can be thankful for the new era that is being ushered in, with the innovative sector building on its past accomplishments to lead the way into a new energy future.