Michael Cembalest, the CIO of J.P. Morgan, Made a Pilgrimage to Manitoba to Spend a Day with Vaclav Smil.

Another Don Quixote Thanksgiving. Every year at Thanksgiving1, we look in-depth at an issue that affects markets and portfolios. Last year, we examined the unraveling situation in Europe. Unfortunately, most concerns we expressed last year have been borne out, and are getting much worse (I spent the weekend reading legal documents on a Eurozone break-up, just in case). Like Don Quixote, Europe went on its journey for all the wrong reasons, adopting a half-pregnant monetary union to support a political objective that had arguably already been achieved by 19552. This year, a look at something just as worrying in the long run as the fiscal problems of the West: the search for energy solutions. This journey has been fraught with similarly quixotic dead ends, fairy tales and blunders ignoring economic (and thermodynamic) realities.

This is important to us, since energy cost and availability is central to how we think about growth, profits, stability and our portfolio investments. As part of this effort, I made a pilgrimage to Manitoba to spend a day with Vaclav Smil. Vaclav is one of the world’s foremost experts on energy, and has written over 30 books and 300 papers on the subject (he’s #49 on Foreign Policy’s list of the 100 most influential thinkers). Vaclav’s book “Energy Myths and Realities” should be required reading for politicians or regulators impacting energy policy. We start with an unflinching look at these realities before turning to solutions, and some potentially encouraging developments, which have less to do with how electricity is generated, and more to do with how it might be stored.

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