Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peak Oil

Peak Oil is the point at which global oil producution reaches its maximum, and from there on it's all downhill. With oil demand continuing to grow, the only consequences can be shortages and rapidly increasing prices. Peak Oil is predicted by some (based on experience and scientific analysis) to occur in 2010.

An excellent site on this subject is

It might make you think, it might make you worry; but if we have an understanding of what the likely problems will be, we can at least prepare for them.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Biofuel debate

The Independent published my letter yesterday and today there was a response from Nigel Clarke of York. (I live in York, too.)

His point was that the energy value from an acre of biofuel crop was much less than the energy value of food grown on the same area.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Carbon or Carbon dioxide?

Apparently the UK emits 2% of the world’s CO2 or 150 million tonnes. I was confused when I saw an advertisement from the Carbon Trust talking about 648 million tonnes, so I phoned them up and then sent the following email.

“Your advertisement in today's Independent talks about annual CO2 emissions of 648m tonnes, while the DTI report "The Energy Challenge" quotes 150m tonnes. One of your customer advisors pointed out that your figure is for CO2 but the DTI figure is the carbon component only. If we take the atomic weight of carbon at 12 and oxygen at 16,carbon accounts for 12/44 of the weight of CO2, or 27%.

"Dividing 150 by 27% gives 550, not 650. Is your figure for CO2, or have you included other greenhouse gases as well? I'm about to publish a book on this, so I need to know the right answer!”

Here’s their reply:

“Dear Mr. Day,

"The figures cover carbon emissions from fuel use and so do not include carbon emissions from other processes or emissions of other greenhouse gases.

"The figure of 648 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent to 176.4 million tonnes of carbon) is the total UK carbon emission consumption.
This is different from the UK carbon emission production. Our figures differ from the 2002 UK Production Footprint, produced by Defra in 3 key
* Ours includes aviation fuel use;
* We use slightly higher water transport figures; and
* Our report talks about UK consumption and so includes carbon
emissions from products produced overseas and brought to the UK for consumption (e.g. Chinese T-shirts and German cars). For consistency, our figure excludes emissions from products and services which are produced in the UK but which are then sent overseas for consumption (e.g. Scotch Whisky sent to the Far East). The UK is a net importer of products and services and so our consumption footprint is higher than our production footprint as a consequence.

"There is a breakdown of these differences on page 22 of our report 'The carbon emissions generated in all that we consume', which is available from the Carbon Trust website at this link.

"Note: The figures presented in this report are in terms of carbon not carbon dioxide.”

A clear and comprehensive answer. So now we know!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Green Motoring for Christmas

I saw this in the Private Eye Christmas Gift guide and just had to share it. Do you know a 4x4 driver with a conscience? This is just the thing for their stocking!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Biofuels - the truth!

Here's a letter I've just sent to the Independent:

"It’s time to nail the lie that bio-fuels are carbon-neutral. (Brown’s ‘green’ tax changes hit biofuel, 8th November) Growing crops for bio-fuel absorbs the carbon that bio-fuels emit, but it does not remove the emissions created in planting, fertilising, harvesting, transporting and processing these crops before they can be made into fuel.
Bio-fuels are not green. The EU demands that 5.75% of all road fuel should be biofuel by next year but we will have to import the crops to meet this target because Europe does not have enough agricultural land. In Brazil they cut down the rain forest to grow more sugar cane for ethanol; in Malaysia they cut down the rain forest to grow oil palms; in the US they subsidise the production of ethanol from wheat and maize, leaving less grain surpluses for needy nations.
The truth is that in the face of climate change and energy shortages we are desperately seeking substitute fuels so that we can continue our present lifestyles. It is time we managed energy demand rather than assuming we will always be able to expand supply. We must plan for fundamental changes; otherwise the imminent oil shock, gas shock, electricity shock and very-cold-houses shock really will be a shock."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How green is Brown?

New green taxes were expected in yesterday's pre-budget statement, and when they came they upset the environmental lobby and everyone else as well.

Sir Nicholas Stern's recent report on the costs of climate change said that every country should devote 1% of GDP to combating climate change, but the new taxes are estimated to cover little more than a tenth of that. We saw an increase in petrol duy of 1.25p/litre and a doubling of air passenger duty. Stamp duty will also be abolished on "zero carbon-emission" homes for a limited period. This will apparently encourage more to be built, though there will be no immediate benefit from the new rules because there is no stamp duty on new homes, only on the sale of existing properties. Apparently such homes could save 8m tonnes of carbon per annum by 2050; not a great deal compared with the UK's total annual emissions of 150m tonnes.

The petrol duty was seen as not nearly enough by Greenpeace. They wanted the Chancellor to bring back the "fuel escalator" which added regualr increases to the price until the government abandoned it in 2000 in the face of the fuel protests which blockaded refineries. Transport organisations said the increase was unjustified as it would simply put up the prices of everything in the shops. There was criticism of the air passenger levy as well: it would not stop people flying but simply cost them more.

The whole problem with green taxes is surely that if people pay them, the policy has failed. If taxes are supposed to stop people doing things that will harm the environment they will only work if people have an alternative. Otherwise, it's just gesture politics and another way of getting money out of people!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Download my presentation

Next week I shall be talking to a conference organised by the Institute of Actuaries. My theme is, of course, "Will climate change your life?" and I shall also be looking at the prospects and problems of the energy crisis.

If all goes well, the presentation will be available for download as an MP3 file here. Look for it from Tuesday 5th December.

End of the road for hydrogen?

With climate change on everyone’s mind and rumours of an energy crisis, what could be better than a car which doesn’t run on fossil fuels and has no emissions except water? BMW’s new Hydrogen 7 fits the bill. This is the V-12 BMW 7 modified to run on hydrogen. It has a petrol tank as well; it also runs on petrol, which is handy if you are far from the UK’s only hydrogen filling station – one of only six in the world.
Of course, if hydrogen catches on there will be filling stations all over the country, won’t there?
Hydrogen cars sound ideal, but there are practical problems. First, the hydrogen tank takes eight minutes to fill and it takes up most of the boot space. Even then, the hydrogen tank provides a range of only 125 miles. To get enough hydrogen into the fuel tank it has to be chilled and liquefied. Gradually it warms up and boils away, so if you don’t use the car over the weekend you’ll find less in the tank. Park up at the airport while you take your three-week holiday and when you get back it’ll be nearly empty.
The fact that the hydrogen has to boil off for safety reasons may be why hydrogen vehicles are illegal in France. Even over here you are advised not to park the vehicle in an enclosed car park. You cannot see hydrogen, you cannot smell it and it burns with an invisible flame. Like petrol vapour, when mixed with air it is highly explosive. At least you can smell petrol.
Where does hydrogen come from? It is either extracted from natural gas or electrolysed by passing a current through water. Extracting hydrogen from natural gas leaves carbon dioxide, which must be captured – otherwise the process produces as much CO2 emissions as if you had just burnt the gas. Electrolysis produces no CO2, but it does produce a lot of waste heat so the energy content of the hydrogen is significantly less than the energy of the electricity used. Electricity itself comes from coal, oil or nuclear, and the electricity produced is also much less than the fuel put into the generation process. Producing hydrogen this way is very inefficient.
All these factors make it very doubtful that hydrogen will be the fuel of the future. As we approach Peak Oil and petrol becomes more and more expensive, economies and cutting back on our travel will be the only solution.

How will you change your lifestyle when petrol costs £5/litre?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The end of oil?

Among all the media fuss we get about climate change, very occasionally we get a hint that there might be problems with energy on the horizon. The British government published an energy review earlier this year, which led to a lot of fuss about whether or not we were going to build more nuclear power stations, and whether we would be consulted about or not. Actually, although nuclear provides 21% of the UK's energy, that's only about 7% of total energy demand. As far as transport is concerned, nuclear is relevant only to electric trains or trams and the very few electric road vehicles that exist, because nuclear only provides energy in the form of electricity. (The day they build a nuclear car I'll give up driving!)

The truth is that the world is facing an energy shortage - not just electricity, but oil, gas and, to a lesser extent, coal. The UK in particular has changed in a generation from a nation totally self-sufficent in energy to one importing over 50% of its coal, 5% of its oil and 10% of its gas. Gas is the fuel we use most of, and by 2020 we will be importing about 90%.

Peak Oil is the point where the world reaches the maximum possible level of oil production. Peak Gas is the same for gas. The US reached its own peak in 1970; the North Sea has also passed its peak. Peak Oil for the whole world is expected in 2010. That's right - 3 years away! That won't be the end of oil, of course, just of cheap oil. We're used to paying more each year. We can cope with 95p/litre or £5/gallon. How would £10/gallon affect you - or £20? The truth is that the level of rises we can expect will demand radical life-style changes. Today you may drive a 4x4 (SUV) because you can afford it; in 10 years many people may not be able to run a car at all.

What started me thinking about this was the new report from LogicaCMG published today: "Mind the Gap" You can find it at

At least someone is at last taking our energy position seriously! Also have a look at the link for ASPO - theAssociation for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.

Monday, November 06, 2006

So will climate change your life?

The answer seems to be "Yes! Immediately! In all sorts of terrible ways! We must act NOW!"
Maybe. I've created this blog because I believe that people are in danger of overstating the case. I don't deny we've got a problem, I just don't believe that we can be so specific about what it is, and what we can do about it.
I think we're ignoring a bigger and more immediate problem - Peak Oil. Peak Oil is where the oil begins to run out - where the price goes up and we go short. And the price goes on going up. I predict that we'll see $100/barrel by Christmas, and that will just be the start. At least if we can't afford to start our cars we won't be emitting any CO2!

What do you think about global warming and climate change? Is it the biggest threat to human civilisation, or "the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" ?