Path Home Shows 2011 Show Archive September 2011 Show 1136 Interview with Garry Golden - Oklahoma's Solar Future

Interview with Garry Golden - Oklahoma's Solar Future

We visit with industry insider and energy futurist Garry Golden and discuss how an energy state like Oklahoma transitions into an alternative energy state.
Interview with Garry Golden - Oklahoma's Solar Future

Garry Golden

Show Dates

Show 1136: Interview with Garry Golden - Oklahoma's Solar Future

Air date: September 4, 2011



Rob McClendon:  So, will today’s energy leaders in Oklahoma be able to make the transition to a more renewable energy future?  Well that is just one of the questions I was able to ask futurist and energy strategist, Garry Golden.

There is an aerospace company here in Oklahoma that literally began as a buggy-whip manufacturer.  How do our traditional hydro-carbon based companies here in Oklahoma that are so important to our economy, how do they transition from oil and gas to the next big thing in energy?

Garry Golden:  So, transitioning out of your dominant, your historical product or services, always difficult because of the talent or the leadership orientation towards the past and the present.  And, companies that have succeeded in transitioning into a new platform, they’ve done it around a new vision that is compelling enough to move the entire company.  So I think for the hydro-carbon sector in Oklahoma to be successful in transitioning to a new energy model, they do want to preserve their role around fuels.  So rather than necessarily going in to wind or solar energy which produces electricity, I think that their opportunities are probably more oriented towards fuel, such as bio-fuels, solar fuels, that allow them to leverage their experience in dealing with chemicals and bio-fuel liquids.

Rob:  But it is fair to say that they will be transitioning out of an extraction economy?

Garry:  It’s difficult to say.  So the two, the transition that we’re occur, we’re seeing today, the transitioning that we’re seeing today, is one from moving from an energy industry shaped by extraction of fuels from the ground, whether it’s natural gas or oil, to a world in which we grow energy above ground.  That could be through a bio-fuel system or it could be something known as electro-fuels, which is light converted directly into a fuel.  So in order for them to make that transition, they will need to bring on new people into the organization that don’t have the geo-science background, but have a bio-materials and a nano-skill materials training.

Rob:  Now you said electro-fuels, now I’m somewhat familiar with fuel cells, are they the same thing?

Garry:  It’s different.  So an electro-fuel is the notion of creating a fuel, a chemical bond, whether it’s hydrogen and hydrogen or hydrogen and carbon; so it’s a chemical fuel that breaks apart and releases energy, without bio-mass.  Traditionally when you think about bio-fuels, you have a feed stock of bio-mass whether that’s you know, corn or soy or waste material from agricultural systems, that provide you with a bio-mass input.  And an electro-fuel uses simply sunlight to create those fuels.  So it’s a different model, but still part of the same type of growing energy paradigm.

Rob:  Visit with me if you would about energy sectors that we’re really trying to push here in the state, and the first one being natural gas.

Garry:  Sure; so natural gas is, has been the game changer in the global energy industry over the past few years.  Particularly around the ability to extract shell natural gas at a reasonable cost.  The upside to shell gas is that it provides us with cleaner hydro-carbon fuel from coal and oil.  But the challenge with shell gas is twofold, one is the life of a shell gas plain, of a region that has shell gas, tends to be much shorter than traditional oilfields.  So take the Barnett Shell in Texas, after about 10 or 15 years of serious development, most geologists believe that it has reached a plateau in its production.  So while there is a lot of shell gas opportunity in the United States and abroad, the lifespan of these shell gas plains tends to be shorter.  So, I think the first challenge is production.  Second challenge with shell gas relates to public perception.  We’re only at the very beginning of this potential push-back and skepticism towards the hydro-fracking, fracturing method used to extract this resource.  So it’s very difficult to understand how these different forces play out.

Rob:  Well in this part of the country where we have no shortage of either sun or wind, what is the future of solar and wind energy.

Garry:  So I look at the future of solar and wind in two ways, one is the use of wind and solar around central grid production; so using wind and solar to produce electricity that’s fed onto the grid.  Now the challenge with that is, you’re then competing with natural gas and coal and nuclear power on their pricing structure; so it becomes a difficult to image, high growth, solar and wind around central grid production.  The long-term disruptive potential is in distributive solar; so solar energy that is not necessarily feeding the grid itself, but that provides onsite power generation for the end user.  That could be the most transformative application of solar energy.

Rob:  And, wind?

Garry:  Wind will likely be a grid-scale energy source for the foreseeable future because of the hardware and the dynamic of capturing energy from the wind is different than the light.  So wind is likely to remain a central grid source of energy.

Rob:  What role will conservation play?

Garry:  So it’s difficult to say that conservation will change the game.  I think there are two types of conservation to think about, one is the structural changes in the economy.  So anytime you shift from a manufacturing or an agricultural economy to a surface-knowledge economy, there’s a conservation gain in energy per gdp, alright, per output.  And I think that’s very important.  In terms of personal consumption, I think that’s it important that we encourage behavior around conservation, but also recognize that any types of incremental gains from energy conservation won’t be enough to solve the challenges that we face in the near future.

Rob:  Now many would argue that Tulsa, at one time, was the center of the energy sector; how does our state regain that?

Garry:  So it did, Tulsa arguably lost that role as the energy capitol to Houston over the past 20 or 30 years.  I think if we were looking at a future in which Tulsa becomes the energy capitol again, I think it will be around this notion of renewable fuels.  It might also be able to regain that status around this notion of distributive power generation.  So an alternative to the large power plant grid model that brings the power generation down to the local level.  So those two very large capital-intensive energy strategies that Tulsa might get lucky around.

Rob:  So how does a state that is so energy-based make that transition?

Garry:  With leadership and the right vision.  So I think the, what you need to see in the state of Oklahoma are individuals that are able to simultaneously speak to the incumbents of the hydro-carbon sector, but also attract the entrepreneurs that want to create the next wave of energy innovation.

Rob:  And I continue my conversation with Garry Golden on our website, where I ask him if being a futurist means you can predict the future.