Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quick review of "Profit from the Peak" book: significant investments in sustainability and infrastructure?

I was provided a copy of "Profit from the Peak" from John Wiley & Sons, a new book on the history of fossil fuel development, and the associated investment opportunities that take advantage of emerging energy development as well as in targeted segments of 'traditional' oil & gas (i.e. discovery, development, refining, and distribution).

Just started reading it a week ago, but noted an area of particular interest: how the maturation of oil field development and 'peak oil' have spurred incredible investments in infrastructure (including development of sustainability / alternative energy projects).

There is a general consensus that we are past 'peak oil' (the optimum rate of production), and discovery of new major oil fields is not anticipated. Therefore, Middle East countries, who are awash in royalties, are now investing in and building infrastructure for refining, chemicals production, and distribution (will they invest in the retail side?).

This level of investment in infrastructure by Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Bahrain is simply amazing. These countries are investing in engineering & construction services to the general level of $350 billion in the near future. The reason for this investment level: the oil producing companies in the Middle East have determined that they if they can control more of the downstream lifecycle for oil & gas, they can substantially increase their profitability, compared to that associated with oil production. And with production and development investments not predicted to rise appreciably given the state of peak oil, this is the time to invest in other parts of the lifecycle.

And that requires skills and labor in engineering design, construction, and operations; along with significant requirements in materials (i.e. steel, cement, networks / telecom, monitoring systems, chemicals, etc).

What does this mean for the AEC sector, and for sustainability (specifically alternative energy development)? Some thoughts:

  • Many of the global AECs are currently very active in the Middle East, and have set up new operations / offices there. The talent required to deliver on these projects is coming from multiple locales: India, China, EMEA, US. But talent availability remains a bottleneck.
  • Given the huge level of investments and associated demand for talent, many of these global AECs are somewhat strapped for talent here in the US. One executive told me that between the two markets of Iraq rehabilitation and UAE development, that the US market for them has become secondary.
  • The 'greenfield' opportunities (building new facilities, as opposed to retrofitting older ones) means that owners are very open to new technologies and designs; particularly those that will optimize use of precious resources in the area, such as water. Two primary sustainability markets are benefitting as a result: alternative energy development (solar PV), and water treatment, distribution, and recycling.

What does this mean to cleantech start ups? Build relationships with practitioners in the leading global AECs; not the corporate development or business development leaders. Why? The practitioners, in most cases senior program managers with client relationship and deployment responsibilities, are the ones who can make decisions on integration of new technologies, since their clients are the ones will who pay (as opposed to investment on the part of the AEC firm). I think this applies to early stage cleantech firms as well, that may still require success in a 'test bed' or pilot demonstration before scaling to a larger infrastructure project.

Interesting reading....may post again on other topics in this book....

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