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UK energy crunch within 5 years PDF Print E-mail
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Business leaders, including Sir Richard Branson, have criticised ministers for not doing enough to avoid a potential oil crunch and are calling on the next government to take action. "Governments need to urgently, urgently wake up," insists Sir Richard in an interview.

His Virgin Group is one of six companies that have formed a coalition called the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security. The taskforce - made up of engineering group Arup, architects Foster and Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solar Century and Stagecoach, as well as Virgin - has launched its second report looking at the oil crunch, just months before the next general election.

It warns that Britain is unprepared for the oil shortages and price volatility that it predicts will become a reality in the next five years. As a result, British businesses and consumers will face higher travel costs, increased food prices and higher utility bills. The taskforce hopes that the new government will heed its warnings and seek to reduce the UK's dependence on oil. "If somebody had been able to warn the world five years before the credit crunch, the credit crunch could have been avoided.

The same thing could be said for the oil crunch," says Sir Richard, whose airline and train companies are affected by volatility in the oil price. "We suggest there should be a workforce for government and industry to work [together] on addressing this problem. "We have to move from coal and oil to gas and nuclear.

We need to move our cars from oil-consuming cars to electric cars and clean-fuel cars." He even suggests that targets should be set for the car industry: "The government should say, 'For 2020 there should be no more oil cars running in this country and for 2015 no new cars can be sold using oil,' just to force people to move over to clean energy."

The group believes that "peak oil" - the point where global oil production reaches its highest practicable rate - will occur in the next decade, potentially by 2015, with production levels of 95 million barrels per day. In 2008, 85 million barrels per day were produced.

Once peak oil is reached, experts are divided as to whether oil production will then plateau or decline. The taskforce believes it will decline and with demand for oil in developing countries increasing, that would lead to potential shortages in supply and thus rising prices. Oil is currently trading at about $75 a barrel but is predicted to rise above $100 by 2014-15.

"The days of cheap and easy oil in the quantities that the world needs it are over," warns Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy. But how much sway does the group have? Mr Marchant admits that the response it got to its first report, released in October 2008, was "lukewarm at best". That was largely because its release coincided with the credit crunch, says Arup chairman Philip Dilley. "I think because of that [the report] got lost a little bit," he says.

The drop in demand for oil, in the West at least, brought on by the credit crunch, pushed back the group's forecast for when peak oil will occur. "The recession bought us two years of time. So it bought us a little breathing space," Mr Dilley says. However, even if demand in the West falls, the real concern is about increased demand in developing countries.

If the economies of emerging countries continue to grow at the rate they are, demand for oil will far outstrip supply. The government has denied that it is ignoring the issue but said it was unsure as to when peak oil may occur. "We don't have a firm view on what the future holds for oil supply and demand but we do recognise the risks,"

Chris Barton from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) responded. "We are taking action to mitigate those risks and we plan to do more." But one member of the taskforce at least would like to see more. One of the things highlighted in the report is the fact that a rising oil price would lead to higher transport costs, food prices and energy bills, and the poorest in society would be the ones who feel it the most.

"Ministers must take this warning seriously and wean the UK off its addiction to oil - because ordinary people will experience the withdrawal symptoms when the wells run dry," the organisation's executive director Andy Atkins said. "The government has been dithering for too long. We need bold political action to rapidly build a safe, clean and prosperous future for us all."

One thing is for sure - whoever emerges triumphant from this year's general election will be under pressure to address the issue of oil supply.


Global warming on back burner PDF Print E-mail
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The chances of a global climate deal this year have taken the second major blow in a week in the US. In the latest development, the US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can spend as much money as they like to influence elections.

The decision is likely to unleash a flood of business cash attempting to drown plans for a climate and energy bill in the Senate. It follows close on the Republican victory in the race for the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat - an election that tilted the balance of power and made it even more difficult than before for Democrats to muster enough votes to get climate laws through the upper house.

Both events underline the overwhelming influence that US domestic politics has on the planet, as the rest of the world waits for the nation to confirm its offer to cut greenhouse gas emissions. If the US does not pass a climate law, the EU might refuse to increase its own conditional emissions targets to 30%.

Together these outcomes would leave plans for a low-carbon economy in the western world in tatters, and would see the world considerably overshoot the limits recommended by scientists. Already, the US Chambers of Commerce, which says climate legislation threatens profits, is reported to be planning a massive campaign of advertising before the mid-term elections in the autumn.

It has already said it will support candidates who oppose the climate laws. Until now, expenditure on political advertising was limited by a cap imposed in 1990. Now the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations must be allowed exactly the same freedom of speech as private citizens - including the right to spend unlimited amounts at elections.

Senators and congressmen need to secure millions of dollars for re-election, and critics say this comes at a serious price, with US coal and oil firms among the major donors. On the White House website, President Obama said: "The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. "It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

" The Supreme Court decision could prove a landmark in US environment politics, as some US environmentalists view corporate lobbying and campaign financing as the single biggest obstacle to environmental reform. Just one oil firm - Exxon Mobil - was recently reported by the London-based New Energy Finance to have spent $14.9m lobbying in six months, 23% more than all the clean energy firms put together.

The report added that oil and gas companies spent a total of $82.2m on Washington-based lobbyists. The developments in the US come as emerging world powers - the BASIC bloc of Brazil, South Africa, India and China - meet this weekend in India to discuss how they will move climate policy forwards following the weak outcome at the Copenhagen summit.

Reuters report a Brazilian proposal for BASIC to create their own fund to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change. This is way beyond their obligations under the current UN climate protocol, but it is a response to accusations from G77 poor nations in Copenhagen that the emerging rich were enriching themselves by putting the climate at risk.

Renting is greener PDF Print E-mail
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The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) claims that overcoming our obsession with owning goods could be a “secret weapon” in meeting climate change targets.

It has called for a fifth of all household spending, £148 billion out of an annual total of £732 billion, to be converted to renting by 2020. In a report published today the watchdog calls for the transformation of a large part of the retail sector into a service industry specialising in renting goods, with each item used by many different people during its lifetime.

Wrap identifies five categories of goods suitable for renting: high-end clothing; glassware and tableware; tools and equipment for house and garden; vehicles; and telephone, audio and recreational equipment. On clothing, the report proposes that hiring should replace 10 per cent of the retail market within ten years.

Liz Goodwin, Wrap’s chief executive, said: “It could be quite liberating and free our homes and garages from all that clutter that we rarely use. By hiring, we can also get better party dresses and handbags or a better drill to do some DIY than we would be willing to buy. “Why would anyone want to own that many things anyway?

We need to have the confidence that we can get things when we need them but we don’t need to have them sitting beside us every day.” Ms Goodwin, who said she owned only one evening dress in her “pitifully small wardrobe”, said people needed to understand the environmental cost of ownership. “I hope that, in the future, we will look back and be glad that we have moved on from the day when we felt we needed umpteen pairs of shoes,” she said.

The report, based on research by York University, calculates that better use of resources could deliver 10 per cent of the carbon dioxide savings that Britain has legally committed to making by 2020.

Shifting a fifth of household spending from purchasing to renting would cut emissions by about 2 per cent, or 13 million tonnes of CO2 a year, through a fall in manufacturing and lower consumption of raw materials. A Wrap official said that there would be no net loss of jobs in Britain because most goods were manufactured overseas. He said that positions lost in retailing would be balanced by jobs gained in a greatly expanded rental industry.

He also said that there would be additional greenhouse gas savings — not calculated in the report — from reducing the size of homes because people would not need as much storage space.

The report says that 20 per cent of the market for tools could shift from purchasing to hiring by 2020 and up to 90 per cent by 2050. On vehicles, it says renting could account for 20 per cent of the market by 2020 and 50 to 90 per cent by 2050.

The report identifies £143 billion of annual expenditure on goods that could have been used for longer. It says that clothing is only being used, on average, for 66 per cent of its potential lifespan. Using items for their full lifespan would save consumers £47 billion a year, it claims.

Wrap also calls for changes in diet to reduce emissions from livestock. Its report says: “The UK diet is currently too high in meat, dairy, high-fat and sugary foods and too low in fruit and vegetable intake.” It suggests that households could cut consumption of meat and dairy products by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 50 to 75 per cent by 2050. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, will attend a Wrap conference today at the Royal Society in London, where the report will be published.

He said: “In the UK, we have just over 3 per cent of the global market [for low-carbon goods and services]. This will grow as consumers become increasingly environmentally aware and companies realise that waste is just a resource in another form and that sustainability is the key not only to the environment but to business success.”

Methane as worrying as CO2 PDF Print E-mail
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Already, scientists consider methane as the second most damaging greenhouse gas produced by human activity after carbon dioxide. It is mostly emitted by agriculture, most famously from cows burping but also from ploughing soil and allowing vegetable matter to rot. Landfill is also a major cause of methane and the burning of coal and natural gas.

Before it was thought every tonne of methane was around 25 times more damaging to the atmosphere than every tonne of carbon dioxide.

The report, published in Science, found that the warming effects of methane are increased through its interaction with aerosols like sulphate molecules.

The finding has implications for any climate change deal decided by the UN in Copenhagen in December.

At the moment targets are focused on cutting carbon dioxide but scientists are now arguing for more emphasis on cutting other greenhouse gases as well -especially because methane breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere so cuts will have a more immediate effect.

Dr Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said the study could influence climate change negotiations.

"This is an excellent analysis demonstrating that methane emissions have the potential to add more future warming than hereto realised. This new research complements the well-established result that carbon dioxide emissions have been responsible for a large fraction of the global warming observed since pre-industrial times," he said.

"There is a requirement to distil this more complete understanding of how the many different atmospheric gases interact, both between themselves and with humans. Policy decisions must account for such interactions and links to emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and atmospheric aerosols."

US DOE funds extreme research projects PDF Print E-mail
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The U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $151 million to 37 forward-thinking energy research projects.ARPA-E, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, has selected 37 forward-thinking energy research projects to receive a portion of $151 million in funding.

The $151 million is part of the $400 million that ARPA-E has received from the Recovery Act. ARPA-E received 300 applications for the initial round of funding. Ultimately, 37 research projects in 17 states received funding with 43 percent going to small businesses, 35 percent to educational research teams, and 19 percent to large corporations. 

The projects that received grant money from the initial round of ARPA-E funding were separated into several different energy categories:

  • Energy Storage
  • Biomass Energy
  • Carbon Capture
  • Renewable Power
  • Direct Solar Fuels
  • Building Efficiency
  • Waste Heat Capture
  • Vehicle Technologies
  • Water
  • Conventional Energy

The technologies being researched in these projects are bold; one might even say they are a bit extreme. A research team at the University of Minnesota received $2.2 million to advance their research of direct solar hydrocarbon biofuels made from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide using bacteria as the catalyst. 

Two different research teams based out of Arizona State University (ASU) have received more than $10 million from the initial round of ARPA-E funding. One team is working on an energy storage technology that could lead to long-range and low-cost batteries for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. 

The second ASU project team is also working with a group from North Carolina State University on direct solar fuel technology. Like the University of Minnesota team, researchers at the two universities will examine how cyanobacteria can be used to create fuel from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. 

Exelus, Inc in Livingston, N.J., received a $1 million award to advance a technology that could convert a byproduct from oil refineries into usable fuel. This could lead to the recovery of 45 million barrels of gasoline on an annual basis. 

Although the initial project awards were just announced recently, details about the second round of ARPA-E funding will be made available in the coming months.

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