Archive for the ‘energy’ Category
I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways
This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.
So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.
There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres are mandated.
Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130. If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.
We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.
I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.
Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.
The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.
I breaking my own rule about linking to a paywalled story. I got it through a tweet – so maybe that is why their alarm bells didn’t ring. It is, in a way, a “no surprise there” story but it confirms why for the last ten years so much has been spent on roads and how little on transit.
The story is headlined “Corporations fill Liberal coffers“. The Sun has put together a database of corporate donors using Elections BC data. The number two donor is The New Car Dealers Association of B.C., giving $822,814.New Car Dealers Association of B.C. president and CEO Blair Qualey said dealerships have long been supporters of parties that have a free-enterprise approach.
“They are entrepreneurs at heart and like small government, few regulation and low taxes,” said Qualey of the association’s 350 auto dealers.
“They like to support democracy and make contributions locally to candidates in all the parties,” he added.
He noted that auto dealers have also made contributions to the NDP.
Individual dealers, you note, NOT their Association.
At that all party meeting I blogged the BC Road builders were handing out cards – to a fairly predictable response. Oh no, they replied, it’s about infrastructure. Yeah, right. If we simply made better use of the infrastructure we have we would not be building as many new roads – but there might be quite a lot more work for repairs and maintenance. Knocking down a huge bridge that had many years left in it does not make economic sense to me.
What strikes me is how obvious this all is. It is only because an Association makes a big donation to a party that this is getting noticed. What the Sun database needs to be used to do is to track how much money goes to candidates – and how much of that comes from what looks like individual small donations. Because these are not just new car dealers – they are the people who have money to donate, from whatever business they happen to be in, and they all say they “like small government, few [sic] regulation and low taxes”. If someone who just happens to be a car dealer donates to the BC Liberal candidate in their riding, so what? It has always been the case that the candidates with the most money do well. Those with little or no money hardly make a dent. It is only in places where majorities are thin that these candidates make a difference – which is why the two big ones get really worried about “vote splitting”. But that is all about first past the post, and is a distraction
Actually, roads are not at all “small government”. Road construction is a huge business and right now most of it is paid for from taxes. They are not too happy about those that are tolled but the policy – only new roads or bridges, not existing ones – means that toll revenues can only be used to increase road capacity, not reduce it. And the money so collected can only be used on that project, not diverted to other transportation policies. The BC Liberals have been very firmly attached to this policy – even though the last bit – ” and there is a free alternative” is looking a lot less credible on the issue of Fraser crossings.
Similarly, the people who fuel the cars favour less regulation and so on. But also rely very heavily indeed on subsidies. And in BC we seem to be only too willing to allow new fossil fuel extraction to be conducted without even demanding royalty payments. Alberta, of course, demands far less for its oil than, say, Norway. Encana, you note, is number three on the list.
De-regulation has been delivered, under the guise of making government more efficient. So processes like environmental assessments have become pretty much a foregone conclusion. And anyway, there is no-one left in the enforcement branches to see that there is compliance with any conditions that might have been imposed. This doesn’t just apply to BC, of course, but Canada as a whole. Perhaps what is surprising is that all that this has created is growing public disquiet and unrest – and a few spectacular environmental disasters. Mostly, so far, elsewhere.
Perhaps what this article illustrates best is how far Christy Clark has fallen in the eyes of the very organizations that normally cheer for her. The mainstream media in general and whoever is pulling the strings at the Sun these days.
Thanks to Sightline again for the link to an AP article in the Seattle Times. It is a very useful, non-technical review of the lack of progress in battery technology. “It’s why electric cars aren’t clogging the roads” which is a useful bit of reality check against the optimism expressed by the report I looked at yesterday.
As for the electric car industry, lithium ion batteries have proved to have two major drawbacks: They are costly, and they do not allow automobiles to go far enough between rechargings. A123, a maker of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, went bankrupt last year because of poor demand and high costs after receiving a $249 million federal grant.
I know I have covered this ground before, but it is worth re-stating. What we want is the comfort and convenience of the car without its environmental impact. It is based on the mistaken idea that if we could get rid of the internal combustion engine – or the fossil fuel it now runs on – all would be well. And that is not true. The problems we have due to cars include urban sprawl, health impacts from that as well as the direct impacts of vehicle collisions (even if we can bring ourselves to trust computers to drive the cars for us), huge economic dependency of both societies and individuals from over-investment in a movement device that spends nearly all of its time stationary, congestion and delay. If every car was suddenly to become zero emission tomorrow, nearly all of the problems of motordom would remain to be solved.
it has conflicting functions. Its primary job is to store energy. But it’s also supposed to discharge power, lots of it, quickly. Those two jobs are at odds with each other.
“If you want high storage, you can’t get high power,” said M. Stanley Whittingham, director of the Northeast Center for Chemical Energy Storage. “People are expecting more than what’s possible.”
At this point I expected a diversion to fuel cells: mercifully that isn’t there – but again yesterday’s report was full of optimism about hydrogen. Which is not a fuel at all but simply a way of storing and transmitting electricity – and not a very good one at that. It is horrendously expensive and very inefficient – simply because hydrogen is the smallest molecule and thus extraordinarily hard to store.
That does not mean we cannot expand the use of electricity in transport – just that we will have to concentrate on technologies that we know work, even if they are not quite a perfect replacement for the convenience and mobility of the private car. What we need to convince ourselves about is that neither of those things is a project killer. We don’t actually need so much mobility if we only could redesign and retrofit our cities to be more accessible. If what we want was in easy reach by walking – or cycling – and both modes were safe and attractive – we will do a lot more of both, reducing both our carbon impacts and the size of our waistlines. For longer journeys, fixed route public transportation that is unhampered by single occupant vehicles can be readily powered by very long extension cords – trolleybuses, streetcars and trains. As long as these have adequate priority the expense of grade separation can be avoided. Yes, private cars will be delayed. Good. That improves the case for modal shift and saves lives.
I also think that by now somebody ought to have taken the step of putting a set of lightweight trolleypoles on the roof of a hybrid bus – or shoving a hybrid power plant into a trolleybus. Then we in Vancouver could see extensions of trolleybus routes to useful destinations – and redeployment of diesel buses to the suburbs. So the #41 to UBC gets converted, the #9 extended to Brentwood – and the inner set of “express bus” wires along Hastings get used for SFU services instead of being an historical anomaly of earlier faster trolley bus service to the PNE.
For one group, the use of lightweight cheaper batteries is already paying off handsomely. In general I do not think that electric bikes are such a great idea. For better health outcomes alone, I favour human power as much as possible. But we have an aging population. When you are young, you have time but no money. In middle age you have money but no time. Then, just when you have money and time, your knees give out. That is when a power assisted pushbike makes all kinds of sense.
So we can indeed reduce the use of oil (and other fossil fuels) in transportation – and it doesn’t require any kind of technological advances. We already have “good enough” technologies which are getting better. Information technology has done a great deal to reduce much of the frustrations inherent in using transit, and for facilitating things like bike shares and car shares which could be so effective in increasing its range and effectiveness if only they were integrated properly.
What is missing is not some whizzo battery – or personal rapid transit or a cheap fuel cell. It is political will and resources. And that has been the case for nearly all of the time I have been conscious of the issues – over fifty years! Conservatism – the power of the special interest group we refer to as “the elite” – the 1%. That is the root cause of the problem – however you decide to define the problem. Unaffordability of housing, traffic congestion, bad air quality, environmental impact, global warming. All of these issues are based on the incredible selfishness of a very small group of people. Many of who spend a great deal of time and money telling us how much they care about these issues but none of which ever seem to get solved. Even though the solutions have been staring us in the face all that time.
VANCOUVER – Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of current levels while maintaining or improving living standards and quality of life, according to Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, an international review released today by the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP).
The headline is attention grabbing. Unfortunately, the report it points to is a lot less exciting. It is an important message to get across – that we can indeed reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we don’t need to wreck the economy or reduce our standard of living to do that. The apparent choice between the economy and the environment is simply a diversionary tactic dreamed up by the “business as usual” crowd. Who can readily be identified as the present governments of Canada and British Columbia and their paymasters in the fossil fuel and automotive industries. And who, in recent years have been busily pushing us in the wrong direction.
I suggest that you download the report - it is a 40 odd page pdf – a give it a once over, and hang on to it if you need some quick reference material. But do not expect anything especially new or earth shattering. It is simply a review of reports produced on eight countries and what they could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Only three have actually reduced their emissions in recent years
Sweden, Germany and the UK all managed (small) reductions in GHG while growing GDP.
But most of the report is summarizing studies which looked at what could be done – and is based on one study in each country, some of which are not exactly new.
What did strike me is the lack of emphasis on land use – admittedly one of the hardest things to do and one of the slowest in producing results, but I would argue one of the most important in bringing about structural change. These are all overwhelmingly urban countries – that’s where most of us live and will continue to live. Unfortunately because it is tough to change, it is not happening very much here. All the stuff about transportation is focussed on better energy efficiency for cars – and electrifying them. Not on reducing the need for motorized transportation. There is the usual focus on energy efficiency for buildings, but hardly anything on the location of those buildings.
Research shows, for example, that Americans generally consume more energy – and emit more carbon dioxide – getting to and from a typical building than does the building itself. Research also shows that location and neighborhood factors can create a dramatic difference in how much energy is consumed and emissions are generated in the getting to and fro.”
“Additional research also shows that even ordinary households in transit-oriented locations save more energy and emissions than “green” households in sprawl, across several housing types. In other words, a home with no green technology, if in the right place, is actually greener than a house with every bell and whistle imaginable, even if the latter gets a platinum rating.”
That comes from a recent article in The Atlantic on the shortcomings of LEED. And while it was about Americans it applies equally to Canadians.
The Energy Revolution report that covers the Canadian issues does have this acknowledgement of the importance of transportation
The report recommends transportation demand management through government investment in public and non-motorized transport, better urban planning and limits to urban sprawl, and freight transport management. Proposed behavioural changes are confined to the transportation sector, including greater dependence on public transit, more active transport, a shift to smaller vehicles, and “teleworking.”
which does cover the ground but fails to indicate which ones are likely – or actually important. Nothing at all of course on the current trend of a reduction is car use, even though there has been no real shift in transit provision, or better urban planning and most of the investment – especially in BC – has been lavished on highways. And while teleworking reduces commuting it can increase travel.
My biggest beef with the studies cited is that none appears to have identified the potential for rebound demand in energy efficiency programs. This has been observed – when energy efficiency produces cost savings for consumers they tend to consume more. Your fridge and furnace cost less to run so now you can buy an wine cooler – or a much bigger tv. Your car mileage is better, so now you can drive more.
It is important to have good news stories about greenhouse gas emissions – that all is not lost and there is a point in trying to do much better. We can certainly do far better than we have done - Canada in general and BC in particular. Canada is the only country in the comparison that is a net exporter of petroleum (there is no mention of coal) – and in BC whatever we might have achieved through our carbon tax or run of the river hydro has been vastly overshadowed by our ramping up of extraction of fossil fuels. Coal and natural gas are keys to the present government’s “jobs strategy” even though neither are very significant employers. And we are also very much on the radar to increase exports of bitumen (from Alberta) and coal from BC and the US. There is not much gain for the planet if we reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions but vastly increase the ability of other places to more than replace what we have cut.
I was alerted to this story by the Globe – which this morning is trumpeting going behind the paywall as “access for all” (Orwell would be proud: newspeak lives). I am not going to link there since they were in any event simply recycling something. Not – I hasten to add – plagiarism. Just what we all do – and in this case adequately cited, though without the necessary web links. Which of course Google gets quite quickly.
The Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles is available from the Wiley online library - and since it has yet to appear in the paper version of the Journal of Industrial Ecology you can get the whole thing as a pdf though that may not last for long. What the Globe was doing was reporting on an on line discussion on Leo Hickman’s blog – part of the Guardian’s web presence – and one that I freely admit I had missed.
The study looks at both the potential of increased emissions from the manufacturing process – especially for batteries – as well as the source of the electricity. The EV has often been criticized as an “elsewhere emission vehicle” (49 million google hits on the phrase) – it may have no tailpipe emissions but if the electricity comes from a coal fired power station …
Here are the key conclusions
The production phase of EVs proved substantially more environmentally intensive. Nonetheless, substantial overall improvements in regard to GWP [global warming potential], TAP [terrestrial acidification potential], and other impacts may be achieved by EVs powered with appropriate energy sources relative to comparable ICEVs [internal combustion engine vehicles]. However, it is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion. The electrification of transportation should be accompanied by a sharpened policy focus with regard to life cycle management, and thus counter potential setbacks in terms of water pollution and toxicity. EVs are poised to link the personal transportation sector together with the electricity, the electronic, and the metal industry sectors in an unprecedented way. Therefore the developments of these sectors must be jointly and consistently addressed in order for EVs to contribute positively to pollution mitigation efforts.
All of which is fair enough since all they are doing is comparing one sort of car to another sort of car. Which is why the big problem of electric cars gets completely missed. As I have often written on this blog the problem is the overuse of cars – far more than how those cars are powered or constructed. As a policy issue in urban areas – and after all most of us live in urban areas – what we need to confront – here and elsewhere – is that when most people use a single occupant vehicle for most of their trip making, the consequences are dire. Traffic congestion is the one that gets most noticed, as it is the most obvious, but add to that the horrendous toll on life and limb caused by collisions, the health impact of not using your own muscles enough and being sedentary for most of the time, and the sprawl of urban areas onto productive farm land and essential natural areas (loss of biodiversity and the greenhouse gas collection function of forests are merely examples).
I find it offensive that I am being accused of “a rapture of techno-narcissism” when I have long been advocating some very old fashioned ideas. Electric trains, trolleybuses, and trams as well as human powered bicycles were all widespread at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Not to mention the somewhat obvious wisdom of building places where it was both possible, safe and pleasant to walk – something humans were able to do for millennia prior to gadarene rush to rebuild cities to accommodate the automobile. Or even something that seems revolutionary in Vancouver but has always been instinctive in older cities – places to sit down comfortably outside in public spaces without any payment being required.
Something similar seems to be going on with the debate about the pipeline. I really do not think that the main issue is the possible impact of spills on either land or sea. It is the problem of burning ever more fossil fuel that worries me. The oil sands are one of the worst offenders simply because of the amount of energy it takes to convert tarry sands into liquid fuels. If we had better ways of moving ourselves around – and we could have very easily and relatively cheaply – then the oil could stay in the ground. Possibly not forever – since there are so many other really clever things we can do with petro-chemicals, for which there often fewer readily available alternatives. Burning the stuff or making non-biodegradable plastic bags is simply profligacy, given the increasingly precarious future we face.
Or as Bill McKibben states
“We also figured out that we’re not going to win just fighting one pipeline at a time. We have to keep all those battles going, but we also have to play some offense, go at the heart of the problem.”
Jago Dodson & Neil Sipe of Griffith University in Brisbane actually entitled their presentation “Oil Vulnerability & Cities” but that is the subtitle of their book – and that has the much snappier title I used. Room 1700 at SFU had 30 people in it at 7pm last night. Is that because Urban Studies talks do not give anyone professional credits? Or was there a hockey game on tv? After ten minutes a few more stragglers arrived and Anthony Perl did the introductions. Griffith University and SFU have some kind of “twinning” arrangement which apparently paid for their trip.
The have been looking at the impact of higher oil prices on Australian cities. In 1990 oil was AU$20 a barrel but by 2004 reached a $140 peak. Since they are partly transport planners and saw this as a policy and planning problem they thought that this was a useful topic to research since there would have to be a response. They did not want to engage in a debate on the future sustainability of oil supplies, but showed an IEA chart dated 2008 which showed a steep decline in conventional oil supplies expected from that year forward. At present Queensland is experiencing an energy boom due to its exploitation of natural gas and coal which as (in his words) “put a floor under energy prices”.
Newman & Kenworthy – produced the first study of energy use and density of cities in 1989 (the image below was not the one they showed but comes from the same data set)
Unsuprisingly that showed that the US has the most use of energy for private transportation. Australia and Canada are not far behind. They forecast there would have to be an abandonment of car dependent suburbs, which had been the theme of the iconic Australian movie series “Mad Max“. At the time of writing oil prices are $103.80 US per barrel (12 April 2012). The energy returned on energy invested in producing motor fuel which was 50:1 in the 1950s is now 5:1 and for some fuels such as ethanol 1:1 [or worse according to some sources].
They began mapping oil vulnerability using data from the Australian 2005 census. Dependence on motor vehicles was shown by using the variables travel to work by car and number of cars owned and for socio economic status the Socio-Economic Index for Area (SEIFA). These were combined into the vulnerability index for petroleum expense rises (VIPER) index. They showed maps of Brisbane, where the most vulnerable lived in the outer suburbs with similar results for Sidney and Melbourne. On of the reasons they ascribed was that “public transport is not so good out there”
The 2ndgeneration of the index the ‘vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petrol and inflation risks and expenditure’ (VAMPIRE) included median household income and mortgages. The maps also now had data a from 2001 and 2006 which produces a map of growth in vulnerability. Last year they added six US cities and, more recently, Vancouver. In the US cities they used Census 2000 data, and for Vancouver the 2006 census data but without car ownership (as that data is not in our census) and just based it on the mode used for journeys to work. (see also Center for Neighborhood Technology which was covered here recently)
The maps showed that Atlanta is nearly all vulnerable with a few odd spots of low vulnerability near the centre. On both Boston and Chicago the effect of mass transit shows up. Both Las Vegas and Phoenix were “not as bad as you might think” but conceded that new areas were few people lived distort the picture. Even Portland looks poor as does Vancouver outside of downtown core but better than Boston & Chiacgo at the highest value index areas. In Sydney they have added motor vehicle data vehicle age and size which shows that older cars (more than 10 years) with larger engines dominate in the lower income outer areas. A regression of the data showed an r2 of 0.85 which is significant.
Their work shows that electric vehicles are not the answer as the owners of old large cars have low incomes. The capability of households to afford electric vehicles poses a policy problem of since market effects will almost certainly lead to the price of older gasoline cars falling as new electric vehicles start to become popular.
Greater urban density is also often suggested as the cure for oil vulnerability. He questioned the “palatability” of high density using an illustration of high rises in Hong Kong, and pointed out that development by the private sector is market driven and based on the distance decay function of land prices (land prices fall as distance from the centre increases). The viability of density in outer suburbs is questionable due to low land values. A network of public transport with high density development at nodes (stations) was proposed by Newman & Kenworthy in 1999 but Lenzen et al in 2004 showed that when automotive energy use is compared to total energy use the embodied energy in high rise buildings is taken into account, high total energy use is associated with high density. Is high density development more energy efficient overall? High wealth’s key to energy use since the wealthy consume more goods and services including international travel. Myors et al 2005 showed that co2 emissions per person are highest in high rises! The rate of change of land use density is in any event driven by private sector development is is relatively slow compared to the depletion of conventional oil reserves.
There has been some policy response to their work. The South East Queensland Regional Plan 2009 includes a commitment to “actively reduce oil dependancy” which looks good on paper but has not been put into practice. On the Gold Coast, there has been less highway expansion and the building of an LRT.
Paul Mees “Transport for Suburbia” (also available as a preview) recommends a high frequency integrated network. At this point he spoke about “no rush” at Broadway and Commercial at peak periods “You can’t really miss the bus” due to high frequency. See also Zurich’s cross town integrated network.
Their work can be read on google books “Shocking the suburbs”
Questions were raised on mortgage data – which may have been related to the CNT work.
Australian cities are highly centralized with respect to employment “No one wants to be in suburban office parks”
Their objective was to produce a simple model with a few variables for ease of use and comparability which has proved robust at the coarse level
It seems likely that saving energy on transport, then gets used on other equally energy intensive activities
Australia now has a carbon tax BUT it is NOT applied to transport fuel. This was ascribed to the political concern that marginal seats in the suburbs tend to decide elections. Queesland had seen a dramatic change in power after a subsidy to petrol was removed.
The forecast is not rapid change in urban areas due to building life.
My question – or rather observation – was that climate change is happening much faster than peak oil. The response was that they were mainly concerned about socio-economic distributional impacts, not passing the 350ppm threshold.
In Queensland a “balanced” transportation policy looks advanced – but is equivalent to ISTEA 1991
Social exclusion was mentioned but has been mainly a concern in the UK as an impact of bus privatization.
In Australia federal gas tax is not hypothecated to highways but the federal politicians area still “fixated on building things, pouring concrete – not better planning”. The rate of incremental policy change is not fast enough and there will be a shock
I do not know if this talk will be on the SFU web page as podcast – there was no evidence of video, and the use of the visual aids a was hampered by some basic fault in the compatibility of video files. It is indeed fortunate that it is easy to to find their work on line. However, I came away convinced that Australia is, like us, sleepwalking where this issue is concerned. I was charmed – but also alarmed – at the perception that we had a Zurich like transit system. Of course we don’t, and our spend rate on transportation is still heavily skewed towards roads and low density sprawl. As I pointed out they are actually fortunate to have retained employment in their city centres where they are served by electric trains (and trams).
But the current rush to exploit shale gas by fracking and the increasing rate of use of tar sands (they are not confined to Alberta) is creating an illusion that the oil shock can be deferred. That is not the case with climate change, and given recent experience with extreme weather events in Australia, their tenacity on holding on to their research focus seems …. perverse? Or maybe just endearing. After all, we all seem to prefer not to contemplate what is now inevitable, most tipping points having whizzed by like publication deadlines.
Australians, just like us, have not seen their personal incomes keep pace with inflation. They did drive until they were qualified to own a home, and are just as much auto dependent in Moonee Ponds as we are in Langley (…or Richmond, come to that.) We are slowly struggling to produce better urban development patterns and trying to find a way to fund transit (which should not be nearly so difficult as we have made it).But both of us – the whole world in fact – now face a future where the climate is going to be increasingly inhospitable. I think that impact is likely to be as sharp and probably faster than the economic impact of higher gas prices. But then I did notice this morning a pump sticker at $1.51 a litre. Is that enough to produce a revolution? I doubt it. Shame about the polar bears.
This is another of the Press Releases that I get, and unusually this one struck a nerve. First off there was the CBC news report this morning that Barack Obama was using his “bully pulpit” to persuade congress to end the massive subsidies to the oil industry. They have been getting them for over a hundred years to subsidize exploration and drilling – and not only do they not need them (they are, after all, hugely profitable) but there are much better things to spend taxpayers money on. (Buried in the block quote below you will find this gem “fossil fuels benefit from decades of subsidies and the support of powerful interests”. Indeed.) Secondly the Green Party of BC is in the process of developing its own “technology road map for the production of clean energy”, so it would certainly help if we could have access to one that has already been developed.
What also attracted me was the first recommendation of the authors is energy efficiency. This goes back to my days as a provincial civil servant at MEMPR’s Energy Management Branch. While everyone else in the energy ministry was busy try to get ever more coal, oil and gas out of the ground,we were trying to make better use of the stuff we already had. And since in the mid-nineties energy prices were low (though plenty of people didn’t see it that way) we had to work to find things with sensible payback periods. That wasn’t hard, even then – and is even easier now, I think. One thing we have to do is stop being quite so blinkered. Like the gas inspector from the City of Richmond who insisted that if I installed a high-efficiency gas fire in my living room, it would also need an air brick through an outside wall for combustion. Actually, no it didn’t, it gets that from the flue but I suppose he had not seen the drawings and did not like to admit ignorance.
The WorldWatch Institute has a web page you should visit, even if the idea of sustainable energy roadmap is not top of your mind. You can also buy a copy of the report from there as a pdf or hard copy for $12.95. They are doing these studies in places like the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. Not that you will find those easily on this graphic of where the energy gets used.
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues.
Sustainable Energy Roadmaps Chart Course to Healthier Economies and Societies
Mix of GIS, technical and financing advice helps countries shift
from high-carbon imports to low-carbon domestic energy
Washington, D.C.—-By embracing an integrated mix of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid technologies, countries can put their energy systems on a more sustainable path while developing economically, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. The report, Sustainable Energy Roadmaps: Guiding the Global Shift to Domestic Renewables, lays out an innovative, targeted approach that details how countries can take specific technical, policy, governance, and financial steps to help make the shift to sustainable energy a reality.
“Still today, an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity, and another 1 billion have unreliable access,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Program and the lead author of the report. ”But expanding fossil fuels is not the solution to the world’s energy challenges. We need solutions that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable—-many of which are now at hand.Implementing our Sustainable Energy Roadmaps will enable decision makers to pursue strategies that are in the true interest of their people while protecting Earth’s climate.”
To develop a Sustainable Energy Roadmap, Worldwatch analyzes an area’s potential for energy efficiency gains and undertakes detailed GIS mapping of local renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, and biomass. The Institute also produces an infrastructure inventory that assesses solutions for grid renovation and energy storage. In addition to technical analysis, the Roadmaps explore the socioeconomic impacts of diverse energy pathways, including the potential for sustainable energy development to create jobs and reduce healthcare and electricity costs. Worldwatch’s Roadmaps can be applied almost anywhere—-in industrialized and developing countries—-and at multiple levels of political organization, from the municipal to the regional.
“When governments, energy specialists, and the public join in a guided conversation to consider their country’s energy status and potential, they can see more easily the options for freeing themselves from dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. “The Roadmaps show a route to sustained long-term economic development, universal energy access, cleaner local environments, healthier populations, and carbon-free energy systems. It’s impressive that some developing countries are now poised to make this shift more rapidly than many countries that are much wealthier.”
The burning of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels is a leading driver of global climate change and many other environmental and socioeconomic problems worldwide. Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion contributes to smog, water pollution, and acid rain and can trigger or exacerbate health conditions, including chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, and asthma. Many countries rely heavily on fossil fuel imports, making them dependent on foreign energy supplies and vulnerable to price fluctuations on the global market. Competition among energy-insecure countries over dwindling fossil fuel resources also contributes to civil or international conflicts, creating an unnecessary obstacle to development and prosperity in many regions.
Due in large part to massive subsidies to fossil fuels, the world’s energy resources are not utilized as effectively or efficiently as they could be. Coal, oil, and natural gas still account for more than 80 percent of the world’s primary energy consumption, despite the adverse impacts of these fuels on the well-being of both present and future generations. And although energy production from all major renewable energy sources—-wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal—-is booming, it remains far from its full potential. Developing local renewable energy resources, alongside job training and education programs, can provide quality long-term employment and help countries build strong economies with sustained growth.
In Sustainable Energy Roadmaps, Worldwatch emphasizes four key components that can help countries and regions transition successfully to sustainable energy use:
- Capture synergies from energy efficiency and renewable energy. Expanding both energy efficiency and renewable energy capacity simultaneously results in increased energy benefits. Reducing energy demand through efficiency measures means that renewable energy can displace fossil fuels more rapidly. At the same time, many sources of renewable energy, such as solar photovoltaic (PV), have much higher efficiency rates than conventional energy sources. And, since renewable energy is often produced at or close to the location where it is consumed, less energy is lost in distribution through the grid.
- Integrate multiple renewable energy sites and sources. One challenge to a rapid transition to a renewable energy economy is the “variability” of renewable resources such as wind and solar: power generation depends on factors like the time of day, cloud cover, and wind patterns. Such variability can be reduced greatly by harnessing renewable resources from both different areas as well as different energy sources. In the Dominican Republic, for example, wind resources in the north are strongest in the early evening and peak in the winter months, whereas wind resources in the south are strongest in the morning and peak in the summer. Integrating wind power from both areas into the electricity system can provide a relatively consistent level of wind power throughout the day and year. Similarly, wind and solar power can be integrated with the burning of combustible renewable fuels such as biomass and biogas, which can provide reliable generation on short notice during periods of particularly high energy demand, or at times of low generation from other renewable sources.
- Promote strong and feasible policy solutions. Identifying both energy efficiency measures and strong renewable resource potentials are important steps to making smart energy planning decisions, but effective policies are vital to ensure that the benefits of sustainable energy are fully realized. A long-term vision for sustainable energy, concrete policy tools and incentives, and a streamlined and transparent governance structure are all important to creating a stable and profitable investment environment for scaled-up investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Analyzing the regulatory environment in a country or region is an important first step to understanding what policy tools are most effective and politically acceptable. A toolbox full of proven effective and affordable mechanisms exists, and best practices from around the world provide important guidance for action. But ultimately, policymakers must decide which concrete tools to apply.
- Identify lifecycle costs and financing opportunities. Around the world, renewable energy is already cost-competitive with fossil fuels—-if the long-term economic and societal costs are taken into account. But fossil fuels benefit from decades of subsidies and the support of powerful interests. It is therefore essential that energy developers seeking to pursue energy efficiency and renewable energy projects gain access to appropriate financing tools. Because the renewable energy industry is still relatively new, there is a general lack of knowledge on the part of investors and banks about how to effectively fund such projects. Capacity building within the financial sector is necessary to develop long-term loans for renewable energy development and to minimize the perceived riskiness of sustainable energy investment. Options within domestic public funds, multilateral lending agencies, and bilateral financing must be explored, and networks between the key finance actors must be actively promoted.
In October 2011, Worldwatch released the first detailed country study implementing its roadmap approach, a wind and solar roadmap for the Dominican Republic entitled Roadmap to a Sustainable Energy System: Harnessing the Dominican Republic’s Wind and Solar Resources. The Institute is currently developing national Sustainable Energy Roadmaps for the governments of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. Worldwatch recently embarked on its first project at the regional level, providing advice to the seven member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA). The Institute is actively exploring opportunities elsewhere to help decision makers pursue a strategy for transitioning to domestic sustainable energy solutions.
Every morning I scan the main stream media for likely news stories. The census is big today of course but without the mandatory 10% long form, there is no data on commuting. So while the growth of Chilliwack and Squamish gets noticed, no-one is talking about why. I doubt that job growth in either place kept pace and freeway expansion probably played a role but we will not know for a while – at least in terms of hard statistics. Port Moody grew because they thought they were going to get the Evergreen Line.
I also get various summaries – the Sightline Daily being one of the most relevant for my purposes. And that coughs up two stories.
That image is needed to illustrate “The Great Carbon Bubble” from the Nation. North America on January 4 is not only cloud free, it is nearly snow free too. But the media has stopped talking about climate change. The article is about why that would be: basically the big oil companies are making more money than ever, and have huge proven reserves, which must NOT be burned if we are to escape disaster. Climate change is already upon us – that’s what the picture above shows. The data is also clear – though of course many are paid to misinterpret it – and the Republican candidates – and our elected leaders at both provincial and national levels – are all denying the reality.
But of course there are small victories. Vancouver has achieved its Kyoto target even if Canada greatly exceeds its own. More people are refusing plastic bags and buying local: many are riding their bikes more often. Except of course The Planet Doesn’t Care About Your Eco-Friendly Lifestyle. Partly because “you think that single act of environmental kindness makes up for other sins” (‘single action bias’) and secondly you worry so much about the small things that you miss the big picture. We need “smart economics” (according to Gernot Wagner). Which may be my new favourite oxymoron – replacing ‘military intelligence’ and ‘gourmet hotdog’.
Cap and trade and carbon taxes anyone?