Dr. Michael Webber, author of PETEX's "Changing The Way America Thinks About Energy: A Compendium of Commentary"
Michael Webber works with PETEX to address global energy issues
5/27/2010Michael E. Webber, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He has recently published a book with Petroleum Extension Service (PETEX) entitled “Changing The Way America Thinks About Energy: A Compendium of Commentary.” In it, Dr. Webber offers his unique perspectives into our current global energy crisis and the potential uses of alternative energies, such as solar, wind, next-generation biofuels, and many more.
“PETEX has an outstanding reputation within the energy industry, and they have a broad catalog of books available,” says Dr. Webber. “It is an honor to have my work as part of that catalog.”
Dr. Webber answered a few of our questions about teaching, studying alternative energy and the current BP oil spill.
What made you interested in teaching?
“Teaching is a very important part of finding solutions to society’s problems. Working with PETEX is a wonderful platform to offer those solutions to the petroleum and energy industry. PETEX has a truly unique global reach within this industry; so working with PETEX gives me an opportunity to take my research and findings to a worldwide audience.
I enjoy meeting with students and groups [because] the looming energy transition has spawned a strong sense of community among advocates, enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, investors, experts and regulators. They are all interested in being a part of the transition—for a variety of different reasons—but are not quite sure what we are transitioning to. The “energy transition” is the process we will go through over the next 10 to 20 years during which we will change our fuel mix from the one we’ve been using the last 100 years (heavily fossil-fuel based, with petroleum, natural gas and coal comprising 85% of the mix) to something different. Nobody knows for certain what the new mix will be, but many people are pretty certain it will look much different than today.”
How does teaching add to the public conversation about alternative energy?
“An educated and engaged public citizenry on these topics is ultimately the best way to successfully manage an energy transition. Unfortunately, we often lack accurate and accessible information about the trade-offs of different energy options and are given false either/or choices about energy. A good example of these false choices is the pithy refrain that we must either believe in protecting the environment or having a robust economy, when we should obviously choose both. The key to overcoming these barriers is to get better, balanced information out to the public and change the way we think about energy.”
What attracted you to studying alternative energy?
“I have been studying energy directly or indirectly ever since I took Thermodynamics as a sophomore at UT Austin in 1990. I then studied combustion and emissions during graduate school, made emissions-monitors at a startup, studied energy policy at the RAND Corporation, and then joined UT Austin, where I continue to look at energy from a variety of angles. I’ve also founded a research group at the university called the Webber Energy Group. We analyze energy problems at the intersection of science, engineering, and public policy on topics related to energy and the environment.
What do you think will be the repercussions of the current BP oil spill for alternative energies?
"The BP oil spill will likely drive prices up for oil and gas production because of new safety and environmental regulations, which will help make renewable sources competitive in the marketplace."
You can order Dr. Webber’s book online or browse other PETEX publications.