by Richard T. Stuebi
It was barely reported, but on August 8, the cleantech world lost a very important messenger, Matt Simmons.
In 1974, Simmons founded the energy-focused investment banking firm Simmons & Company, which came to serve many of the most important oil and gas firms in the world. Simmons personally came to be known as a savvy and controversial analyst of the fundamentals of the petroleum industry, and advised not only corporations but also President George W. Bush on energy matters.
In the early 2000’s, with oil prices at low levels and while practically no-one else was watching or caring, Simmons exhumed the peak oil theory and gave it strong analytical support — and maybe more importantly, an unsurpassed level of credibility, as most proponents of the peak oil notion had been viewed as marginal extremists. Simmons’ 2005 book Twilight in the Desert is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of energy, as it strongly makes the case that the decline of the massive Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia is inescapable — and with it, the prospects for ever-increasing oil production and petroleum-fueled economic growth can only be fantasy.
No doubt, Simmons’ views made him an unwanted commentator among many in the oil bidness. He had gradually stepped out of the firm he founded and made a global presence, in part because of some negative remarks he made earlier this summer about BP (NYSE: BP) in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. He had retreated from Houston to Maine, where he was a key figure in the formation of the Ocean Energy Institute to pursue offshore wind and other forms of ocean-based renewable energy. Although not a die-in-the-wool tree-hugger, Simmons was one of the few Texans that had seen the light that fossil fuels — regardless of their desirable energy density — were ultimately a road with a dead-end, and foresaw the need to begin moving to new forms of energy production.
I only met him once, but I will miss Matt Simmons, as he was a powerful force for good in the cleantech world.
Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.