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" ?