The Scot who is vice-chairman of US energy major Chevron said in Aberdeen last night that he hoped renewable-energy sources could make great progress in coming years.
He added, however, that the world needed to be realistic about the demand renewables could satisfy over the medium term.
Peter Robertson, who was born in Edinburgh, said that, on a global basis, expanding renewables to meet even 25% of the world’s needs would be far more difficult than proponents of that approach seemed to understand.
He said a major share of the world’s renewable energy was now produced from primitive sources that would be difficult to produce at commercial scale or that had other drawbacks.
For example, about half the world’s current renewable energy or about 6% of the world’s total energy demand was supplied by wood, animal dung and other biomass burned for cooking fires and heat.
He said: “Adding to the burdens and complexities of meeting future demand, energy development will be taking place under carbon management in some form.”
Mr Robertson, giving the 2009 annual lecture of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said Scotland had been blessed with rich sources of both hydrocarbons and renewable-energy resources.
He said: “The best wind resources in Europe are located here. Europe’s best tidal and wave resources are also here and technology development is under way.
“Scotland holds 60% of the UK’s biomass resources and hydro power currently supplies more than 10% of Scotland’s power.
“Scotland’s energy future is certainly promising but, as the study of Scotland’s future electricity generation that was just conducted by Wood Mackenzie for the SCDI makes clear, significant challenges remain; particularly in the areas of scale and investment. There are also the world’s future energy challenges.
“With billions around the world aspiring to higher living standards, the strong correlation between energy and growth means that all countries are concerning themselves with energy security.
“Geopolitical uncertainties ranging from regional tensions and civil unrest to terrorism and piracy will continue to cloud the future energy picture.
“I believe that meeting the challenges – to advance economic, energy and environmental security – will be among the greatest tasks of our lifetimes. It will be the work of decades, but that work must start today, if we are to be sure that the world’s energy system in 2050 looks any different from today’s.”
SCDI north-east chairman Duncan Skinner told last night’s event that there was no doubt that this year was going to be the most challenging for the oil and gas industry for some time.
He added: “From SCDI’s perspective, I hope that the UK media can resist talking down the industry over the next year. We have a highly competitive, skilled and internationalised industry based in the north-east and, with the global economy still predicted to double in size over the next 20 years, the demand for energy has certainly not gone away. The current downturn may also have the upside of finally prompting real government support for the industry.”