Monday, June 23, 2008

Panic Over?

Tanker drivers back at work - oil price stable (more or less) - Dyson to build electric cars and Honda launches a hydrogen car - five new main railway lines - retail sales up in May - Gordon in Saudi - ...and a renewable energy strategy which will cut our use of oil. So is it all over?

I’ve been away on holiday and it’s amazing what can change in a week. Before you ask, no, we didn’t fly anywhere, we went to Newcastle by train and walked the whole length of Hadrian’s Wall. (Well, all but 10 miles!)

Hello. I'm Anthony Day and I’m back again to talk to you about staying in business and staying profitable. Last time we were worried about the price of oil and a tanker drivers’ strike which was making petrol unobtainable as well as unaffordable. This week the drivers have gone back to work for a pay rise of only 14% and oil has (almost) stopped rising. But who’s worried about oil when there are suddenly a range of alternatives?

First, James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner king, is turning his talents to designing electric cars. He’s developed a super-efficient electric motor. Honda have announced their hydrogen car and Network Rail are looking into building no less than five new high-speed rail lines across the UK. The feel-good factor is reinforced by the news that retail sales in May were the highest for 22 years, but if you still think we need cheaper oil Gordon’s been out there in Saudi not only asking them to pump faster but also suggesting that they should invest in renewables in the UK.On 26th June the government publishes its Renewable Energy Strategy. The predictions are that this will include plans for 3,500 wind turbines and will reduce the nation’s use of oil by 7% by 2020.

So is this all good news? Is the panic over? Can we all go back to making money? People accuse me of being depressing, but all I’m trying to do is be realistic and look at the best choices for business in a future that’s far from clear.

The most important point is that we have an energy crisis, and while there are solutions like electric cars, new railway lines and thousands of wind turbines; none of these can become a reality in less than 5 years and the rest will take more like ten or twenty. Oil prices are high today. They may drift up and down over the coming months, but they are unlikely to drop below $100. My prediction is $180 by the end of the year and $300 by the end of 2010 unless we see a dramatic global recession. as I predicted last time, gas and electricity are on the rise and some reports talk of a 40% increase by Christmas.

As business people, what can we do? Maybe we should try a protest - it worked well for the tanker drivers! However, few businesses can hold their customers to ransom like that. Rather than waste time and effort on protests and demonstrations (a bit like Canute trying to turn back the waves) we should consider what to do to make the best of it. We need to assess the effect on our supply chain; on our suppliers and our customers. This need not be negative - suppliers of home insulation are surely going to see an upturn!

We need to act now, but we also need to plan for the future. Scenario planning lets you prepare for a number of alternative futures and therefore be more ready to cope with what actually happens. Take some time with your team to brainstorm to think the unthinkable and decide what you could do about it.

The truth is that the future is not rosy for those who believe that we can go back to business as usual. The good news is not good when we examine it in detail. For example, electric cars need to be built and bought, and are you going to buy one? How much energy will it take to replace the UK’s 30m cars? We’ll all charge them up a night when electricity demand is low - except demand won’t be low because we’ll all be charging our cars. So we’ll need more coal or gas or nuclear to run the power stations. Could be a bit of a problem as we are already finding it difficult to cope with current demand for electricity without all this demand displaced from oil. Much the same applies to hydrogen. The car itself is pollution-free but there’s a massive carbon footprint at the power station where they generate the energy to produce the hydrogen. The renewables strategy will apparently reduce our dependency on oil by 7% over 12 years. Given that North Sea oil output is declining by about 6% per annum, this is merely a drop in the bucket. And even Gordon Brown admitted that his visit to Saudi would have no immediate effect on prices at the pumps.

My message is that we have to plan for a different future in order to succeed. Those that don’t, like Canute, will first get their feet wet and then be washed away.

I’m Anthony Day. If you want to talk about scenario planning for how energy, climate and resources will affect your business, give me a call on 01904 654 986.

No comments: