The “Switch Energy Project” highlights the scale of our energy challenges

September 24, 2012

Every year in Washington DC, the annual Environmental Film Festival screens thought-provoking films. And at this year’s festival in March 2012, one of the world premieres was the film “Switch.”


“Switch” follows Dr. Scott Tinker on a spectacular journey to explore the world of energy in a sweeping period of transition. And we’re pleased to announce that Dr. Tinker will join us for the 2012 ASPO-USA Conference in a session featuring ASPO-USA Board Member Dr. Tadeusz Patzek.

The Switch film works tirelessly to explain the world of energy in an easily accessible way for a general audience, and works to communicate its five key points:

1. Energy drives the modern world and underpins every other issue.

2. We choose our energy based on four qualities: affordable, available, reliable and clean.

3. But clean is complicated. All energies have environmental impacts, which need to be managed effectively and affordably.

4. Even so, the biggest challenge of energy is scale – the enormous amount of energy we demand.

5. And the only way to counter scale, is with efficiency.


But the true triumph of Switch, and what makes it a truly significant film, is the level of access granted to director Harry Lynch and his team as they worked on this project. Many of the sites visited are remote, restricted, and/or required specialized transport to access. But the filmmakers were able to negotiate a path for Dr. Tinker as they filmed his journey from coal mines, to offshore oil platforms, to solar thermal plants, biofuel production centers, and highly-restricted nuclear facilities.

Longtime advocates of the Peak Oil issue may find some disagreement in aspects of the film, for instance, the phrase Peak Oil itself is never mentioned as part of the final film. Energy-return-on-invested (EROI), a concept very familiar to those that follow these issues closely, is also not addressed. Despite these omissions, the film does an excellent job demonstrating the scale and complexity of our energy challenges.

In their 3 year project, director Lynch and his team have created an entire energy education package. The Switch website features an extended video collection that is well worth examining, including extended interviews with over 25 energy experts, extended videos of Dr. Tinker’s energy site visits, and topic videos to educate the audience on issues ranging from efficiency to fracking to policy and renewables.

The 2012 ASPO-USA conference takes place at the University of Texas at Austin, and it is a convenient place to find both Dr. Tinker and Dr. Patzek. Tinker is the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and also a Professor at the University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geology. While Patzek is the chair of UT’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

Tinker and Patzek do disagree on some energy issues, including Peak Oil, which should lead to an exciting session when they meet on stage at our conference. A University of Texas article on Peak Oil by Jeremy Simon in March 2012 highlights both Tinker’s and Patzek’s positions (and also quotes ASPO-USA Advisory Board member, Carey King).

In the article, Tinker states that he believes we are a ways away from a combined peaking of oil, including conventional, unconventional, and other sources of petroleum. He also feels that peak demand will create the conditions necessary for the energy transition to develop: “Oil will not run out. Instead, the tension on price caused by demand and supply will allow for alternatives to take oil’s place. This is already happening, slowly,” Tinker is quoted as saying.

Patzek however believes that supply is in fact the significant issue, stating: “We’ve reached the peak of sort of conventional oil — anything that was discovered between 1850 and 2004 — in about 2004 to 2005… All those giant [oil] fields that we have discovered are now slowly petering out and no new super giants are on the horizon. Therefore, our rate is going to go down.”

Video of Dr. Patzek’s debate with John Hofmeister from Feb. 2012

ASPO-USA is thrilled to promote continued information exchange, discourse, and debate to critically examine America’s energy challenges and opportunities. These discussions will continue in the conference session featuring Dr. Tinker and Dr. Patzek, as well as throughout our annual conference as a whole. We invite you to join us Nov. 30 in Austin, TX to add your voice to the discussion. And we invite you to examine the Switch energy project for yourself and to share it with your friends and colleagues.

D. Ray Long serves as the Assistant Director for ASPO-USA and resides in Washington D.C. He received his Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University and a Masters in Engineering studying alternative energy at Wayne State University. Previously he served as a consultant focusing on residential appliance energy standards for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program.

D. Ray Long

Over the past few years I've had the privilege of serving as a consultant for the US Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, the associate director for a national non-profit organization, and the educational program manager for a professional development association. My experience encompasses a variety of roles from strategic communications, energy efficiency analysis, oil & energy policy, energy content development, social media strategy, and event management - where I've organized and implemented eight conferences across the nation over the past decade. My two degrees in engineering  are from Michigan State University (MSU) and Wayne State University (WSU). The Bachelors of Science degree from MSU in Applied Engineering Sciences (AES) is a program that combines the technical engineering coursework with a concentration in supply chain management - which included courses in finance, marketing, management, and business law. The goal of the AES program was to blend the engineering and business worlds and develop graduates' ability for solid technical problem solving in a business context. At WSU, my Masters of Science degree is in the Alternative Energy Technology program, where I studied renewable energy systems including hydrogen fuel cell, solar heating and photovoltaic, wind turbine, and biomass conversion. I am an individual member of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and a Certified Business Energy Professional (BEP). Today I continue to write on energy policy and other topics my blog:

Tags: Consumption & Demand, Education, Media & Communications