Sunday, 13 June 2010

Margin of Error

The former UK government chief scientist Sir David King recently announced that he believes that, as global demand for oil outstrips supply (peak oil!), oil companies will be forced to drill in unconventional places (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10278831.stm.)
We are already seeing the beginnings of this with the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands, which would not previously have been considered financially viable.

An important factor to consider is the Net energy: the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), i.e. the energy delivered by an energy-obtaining activity compared to the energy required to get it. According to the Ecologist magazine, cited in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins (2008 edition), the EROEI ratio for tar sands is less than 2:1 (compared with 35:1 for offshore wind generation and 87:1 for tidal range). This is not really viable, especially when one considers the environmental impact of extraction from such places.

Alarmingly, Sir David King also said in his statement that
detailed, objective analyses showed that conventional oil reserves were actually 30% lower than generally accepted. and
"As early as 2015, oil production capacity is going to begin to be challenged in terms of meeting rising demand, particularly from continuing growth of the economies of China and India."
This is HUGE! Peak Oil in 2015?

Previously on this blog I have commented on reports that the 2009 World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Authority, had been distorted due to fears for the US market (see here http://environmentchaos.blogspot.com/2009/11/hard-choices.html ). If Sir David is right, we have no time.

The Hirsch report for the US government in 2005 stated the requirement for a 20 year lead-in to prepare for peak oil and avoid chaos. 2015 is only five years away. We must start our energy descent now, we must start building local resilience, planning for the twin impacts of peak oil and climate change, now. The alternatives are not at all pleasant!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Walking the walk?

I am pleasantly surprised at David Cameron's announcement committing the UK government to cutting its carbon emissions by 10% in the next 12 months, in line with the 10:10 campaign. His decision to publish the energy use of government headquarters, including the cabinet ministers, is very positive. Now we have a chance to see if they will "walk the walk".

The inclusion of the Energy Bill in the Queen's Speech, with its promise of an emissions performance standard (if it is set at the right level), and the steps towards development of a "smart grid" are all VERY good.
The pressing need to wean ourselves off oil continues to be vividly illustrated by the BP-financed disaster, Deepwater Horizon. But we MUST realise that our consumer-led and massively resource-heavy lifestyle cannot continue.

It is not a question of just "switching over" to electric cars and wind turbines. The recent report released by the Royal Academy of Engineering (www.raeng.org.uk) says that switching all the 30 million cars in the country to electric would drain the National Grid of around one fifth of its capacity and increase current electricity demand by 16%. With the 70GW grid running at nearly full capacity, it would require building the equivalent of 6 large nuclear power stations or 2000 wind turbines to meet demand. With most electricity production in the UK still being generated using gas and coal then how much difference will be made?

Of course, this is looking at it a little bleakly, if the "smart grid" becomes fact and small-scale generators are able to feed in power to the grid, then extra demand on the grid may be met, at least in part.
This is an area where the potential for genuine community-owned decentralised power generation, with the added value of building local resilience, has real possibility.

I suppose the question is whether we can all "walk the walk" and reduce our impact enough to survive.