"When the well runs dry" – Irish Times series

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    • #708777

      I wasnt sure whether to stich this in here or in the genral forum. Seeing as this is the first installment of 3, I figured it merited its own thread.


      When the well runs dry

      Ireland is the ninth most oil-dependent economy in the world – how well prepared will we be when the world’s supply of oil and gas runs out, asks Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

      One thousand barrels per second – that’s the staggering level of current oil consumption worldwide. President George Bush, an oilman to his core, admitted last February that the US is “addicted to oil”. But so too is the rest of the world – including Ireland; we are even more dependent on imported oil than the gas-guzzling US.

      But at least Bush has admitted it. As Steve Sawyer, climate change expert at Greenpeace, said of the president’s State of the Union address: “The first step in curing an addiction is recognising that you have a problem.” It was even speculated that this might foreshadow the establishment of an “Oilaholics Anonymous” programme.

      For every barrel of oil added to known reserves, five barrels are being consumed, as the Irish Academy of Engineering noted this week. “As a consequence total reserves are now at their peak and will decline steadily until oil runs out in approximately 2050/2060.” And with demand outstripping supply, this will lead to ever higher prices.

      Dr Colin Campbell, a former oil company geologist and founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, predicts that global production will peak in 2008, while French prime minister Dominique de Villepin is not alone in believing that the world has entered the “post-oil era”, and the Pentagon has flagged a new era of “resource wars”.

      The US consumes 25 per cent of all the oil produced worldwide and must import more than half of the 20 million barrels a day needed to support the American way of life. And since its once mighty oilfields now account for just 3 per cent of known reserves, alternatives must be found to importing more oil from unstable parts of the world.

      That’s why Bush has increased the budget for “clean energy” research into zero-emission coal-fired electricity-generating stations, solar and wind-power technologies, and “clean, safe nuclear energy”. Also on the White House’s energy agenda is a research drive to replace petrol and diesel with hybrid, electric, ethanol- and hydrogen-powered cars. Breakthroughs in these areas would enable the US to replace more than 75 per cent of its oil imports by 2025, Bush said. “By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past”.

      Some of the world’s leading oil companies are already diversifying into renewable energy, as a hedge against peak oil; BP has adopted the sunflower as its logo, with the slogan “Beyond Petroleum”. All of them are making spectacular profits, none more so than Exxon Mobil, which posted a surplus of $32 billion (€25.2 billion) in 2005 – the biggest recorded.

      For more than a century, oil has been the lifeblood of the world economy. Not only has it provided fuel for industry, power stations, cars, trucks, buses, ships and aircraft, but it is also the feedstock for plastic polymers, petrochemicals, nylon, synthetic clothes and numerous other products we take for granted.

      All of this was fine when oil was cheap and plentiful. But it isn’t now, nor will it be in the future. What’s pushing up the price is the law of supply and demand, with China as the principal driver; its consumption has nearly doubled in the past decade and is likely to double again over the next 10 years, devouring an extra six million barrels a day.

      India, Brazil and other major developing countries will also sustain a high level of demand for oil in the decades to come, against the backdrop of dwindling reserves. Even with a steep rise in production in the Middle East (which accounts for 65 per cent of known reserves), this cannot be met – so the price of crude oil will rise dramatically.

      BRITAIN, OUR NEAREST neighbour, has seen the writing on the wall. With its own supplies diminishing and the country set to import up to 80 per cent of its gas by 2020, massive investments are being made in pipeline and storage facilities in order to diversify the sources of supply beyond Russia and Algeria, to Qatar and even as far as Malaysia.

      This is obviously designed to ensure that Britain does not become too dependent on Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly – especially in the wake of what happened last January, when it pulled the plug on Ukraine. But supplies of natural gas, though more plentiful than oil, are not infinite, and production is expected to peak around 2030.

      At present, 95 per cent of Ireland’s energy comes from fossil fuels, of which 90 per cent are imported. What if these supplies were disrupted due to geopolitical conflict? How are we to deal with continuing price hikes for oil and gas as wells inevitably dry up? And what plans are in place to keep electricity running through the national grid?

      In a major energy review published last month, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources called for an informed debate on nuclear power. However, it seems highly improbable that this option would find favour with the public, at least until other, less controversial avenues have been fully explored.

      We need all the alternative energy we can get, because Ireland is the ninth most oil-dependent economy in the world. Oil accounts for more than 57 per cent of our overall energy consumption, significantly above the EU average of 43 per cent; indeed, we’re even more dependent on “black gold” than the US – and we have no oilfields of our own.

      With Ireland “more exposed to the dual threats of price increases and supply disruption than any other country in Europe”, Joint Oireachtas Committee chairman Noel O’Flynn TD (FF) said: “The alarm bells are ringing and action to develop policies that deliver sustainability and ensure economic growth are an immediate national imperative”.

      Until the Celtic Tiger era, Ireland’s oil consumption per capita was below the EU average. But for every 1 per cent increase in economic growth, oil use has gone up by 2 per cent, according to Gerard O’Neill, of Amárach consultants – largely as a result of the explosion in car numbers and road traffic generally since the mid-1990s.

      The figure for private cars rose by more than two-thirds between 1994 and 2004, from 939,022 to 1,582,833. Over the same period, the number of goods vehicles (trucks, commercial vans and so on) nearly doubled, from 135,809 to 268,082 – reflecting the fact that more and more freight is being moved by road to serve the booming economy.

      Petrol or diesel is needed to keep all of these cars and trucks moving, so it’s no wonder that the transport sector is the fastest-growing contributor to Ireland’s energy bill and the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for causing climate change. Ethanol and other biofuels may provide an alternative, but not in the immediate future.

      Overall, the transport sector consumes 40 per cent of the energy we use, and its consumption is growing by around 8 per cent a year. We have become one of the most car-dependent countries in the world – largely because of a pattern of development that apes Atlanta rather than Amsterdam – the sprawl city versus the compact one.

      We also need more gas for space heating and electricity generation. With the Kinsale Head gas field running out of supplies, the best prospect is the Corrib field off the Mayo coast, once the row over Shell Exploration and Production’s pipeline plan is resolved. It is estimated to hold seven trillion cubic feet of gas – enough to supply 60 per cent of the Irish market for 10 years.

      AFTER IT RUNS out, and assuming no other fields are developed, we will have to import all our gas, via Britain, from the European grid supplied mainly by Gazprom. As for whether Europe would be “held to ransom”, the benign view taken in Brussels, Dublin and other EU capitals is that Russia wouldn’t “bite the hand that feeds it”.

      Nonetheless, its use of geology to further geo-political aims in relation to Ukraine sent shivers down spines and led to an urgent energy review, and it was hardly surprising that the Green Paper produced by the European Commission last March identifiedenergy security as the top priority – well above switching to renewable sources.

      Friends of the Earth (FoE) found this focus understandable, but warned that Europe is vulnerable in relying on “oil from the volatile Middle East and gas from an increasingly authoritarian Russia”. It said the most effective way to secure supplies would be to stop wasting energy and produce more from renewable sources, such as wind and biofuels.

      “The EU Commission is missing an opportunity to lead a revolution in how we produce and consume energy. Europe should invest heavily in energy-saving technologies and in renewables like solar and wind power, instead of clinging to fossil fuels and nuclear – a policy grounded in the days of the dinosaurs,” said FoE’s Jan Kowalzig.

      As he pointed out, if Europe cut its energy consumption simply by using existing energy sources more efficiently, it would save €60 billion worth of gas imports over 15 years. And with the prices of fossil fuels soaring, it makes economic sense for business and industry – and householders, too – to reduce their energy bills.

      The Commission itself, in a Green Paper published last June, suggested that energy efficiency could cut consumption by 20 per cent between now and 2020. Half of the savings could be made simply by member states implementing legislation dealing with the energy efficiency of buildings, domestic appliances and energy services.

      Ireland, however, has been “totally unprepared” to deal with the emerging energy gap, according to Tommy Broughan TD, the Labour Party’s energy spokesman. Indeed, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey is only now finalising a Green Paper on energy policy – the first in the State’s history.

      The fact that energy is not even included in his Department’s title speaks volumes about the Government’s complacency – until it was jolted to take action by the steep rise in oil prices and gnawing uncertainty over future gas supplies. Now, there’s a scramble to find solutions that would also help to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

      Last March, Dempsey introduced a grants scheme to encourage householders to switch from oil- and coal-fired heating to renewable technologies, such as wood pellet boilers, solar panels and geo-thermal heat pumps. There was a flood of applications, and more than 3,500 grants were approved within the first three months.

      But the money allocated for the scheme is capped at €27 million and the number of homes that will benefit – 10,000 – is miniscule in the context of the national housing stock of 1.5 million units. So too are the savings; by the end of its five-year life, these will amount to 54,000 barrels of oil and 23,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

      Meanwhile, after a very slow start, the wind power industry is more confident that Ireland will achieve the EU target of generating 13.2 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Wind will account for 80 per cent of the 1,400-megawatt renewables mix, with existing hydro and new small hydro schemes making up the balance.

      However, it seems unlikely that we will do anything really radical, such as following Sweden’s example. It aims to become the first country in the world to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, by focusing on renewable energy sources, and has set out to break its dependency on oil as early as 2020. The brave new world beckons for us all, sooner or later.

      © The Irish Times

      [Oops I should have posted this earlier!]

      Nuclear neighbours

      Britain’s plans: Whether we like it or not, Britain’s plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace its ageing Magnox reactors will give a new lease of life to Sellafield. But we also stand to benefit from this nuclear-generated electricity through an interconnector across the Irish Sea.

      The British government’s energy review, published on Tuesday, confirmed that nuclear energy is back on the agenda. However, private sector promoters will be required not only to fund the construction and operation of new plants but to cover long-term decommissioning and radioactive waste management costs.

      Given that British taxpayers will have to fork out €82 billion to write off the nuclear industry’s existing liabilities, it seems unlikely there will be a rush to take up the new terms; they will become attractive only if oil prices double and the value of carbon in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme recovers from a low of €15 per tonne.

      But nuclear power is not the only item on the menu. The energy review also pledged to boost the government’s target for renewables such as wind power from 15 to 20 per cent and also laid emphasis on the development of “clean coal” technology and the need for more energy efficiency in homes and businesses.

      At the root of the latest review is a deep concern in Whitehall that Britain should not become over-dependent on any single source of energy – particularly imported gas. Long-term energy security is the government’s objective, preferably achieved in ways that would also help cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, what worries those opposed to nuclear power is that the new reliance on this macho technology could undermine investment in the less “sexy” areas of renewables and energy efficiency – quite apart from multiplying potential terrorist targets as well as the risks of radioactive discharges to the environment.

      © The Irish Times

    • #782913

      the main thrust of this article is sound, i.e. that a move away from carbon fuels is important.

      The conclusion that oil is running out anytime soon is not clear at all. Despite the articles claim that less oil is being discovered, there are gargatuan amounts of known deposits . They are however very expensive to get at and will not become economic unless prices rise further.

      It also fails to point out that the current high price of oil is almost entirely the results of three recent political events .

      The election of “hug the state, screw the companies” chavez, the iraq war , and “i want, i want, i want, i want nukes” ahmadinejad “i want nukes if you didn’t know”

      It is perverse , but President Bush has done more for the environment in toto than anyone else in living memory.

    • #782914

      @a boyle wrote:

      It also fails to point out that the current high price of oil is almost entirely the results of three recent political events .

      The election of “hug the state, screw the companies” chavez, the iraq war , and “i want, i want, i want, i want nukes” ahmadinejad “i want nukes if you didn’t know”

      It is perverse , but President Bush has done more for the environment in toto than anyone else in living memory.

      Pardon my ignorance, A B, but wheres “toto”? :confused:X2

      Re Chavez – oil price quadrupled post Sept 11, and with Iraq. The initial election of chavez did not substantilally effect the price, however his re-election was much aided by rocketing oil prices post Iraq – something that has led to their gdp growth rates being 16-17%.

      It is an irony, but had the US not invaded Iraq and had oil remained around 34 – 38 bucks per barrel, Chavez probably would not look so great – and perhaps other south american voters wouldnt hold him up as the poster boy that he has become 😉

    • #782915

      As Shell discovered to their detriment overstating ‘proven reserves’ is very costly in the markets

      If anyone remembers the dying days of Bula it fell on proven russian reserves sold by Mir investments. I am extremely sceptical of a lot of russian discoveries and as Shell are finding the costs of recovering the proven reserves can be huge.

      A very good article that puts a lot of his previous work together in as concise a way as was possible.

    • #782916
      hutton wrote:
      It is an irony, but had the US not invaded Iraq and had oil remained around 34 – 38 bucks per barrel, Chavez probably would not look so great – and perhaps other south american voters wouldnt hold him up as the poster boy that he has become ]

      Chavez is a thug with a private militia whose double standards would have made Nixon look like an honourable man. His subversion of the Bolivian and Equadorian elections has set both democracies back a decade and he is despised by more moderate but proven socialists such as Michelle Bachelet of Chile and the recently election Alan Garcia whose election to Peru he attempted to subvert.

      Relying on lunatics like this is exactly why this country needs to create some hold over its own energy supply.

    • #782917

      @Thomond Park wrote:

      Chavez is a thug with a private militia whose double standards would have made Nixon look like an honourable man. His subversion of the Bolivian and Equadorian elections has set both democracies back a decade and he is despised by more moderate but proven socialists such as Michelle Bachelet of Chile and the recently election Alan Garcia whose election to Peru he attempted to subvert.

      Relying on lunatics like this is exactly why this country needs to create some hold over its own energy supply.

      I agree completely that we should do our utmost to achieve ‘energy independence’…..

      However without going to far off-topic I think your description of Chavez making “Nixon look like an honourable man” is bizarre and daft. Michelle Bachelet and Alan Garcia remain to be proven. Afaik, the only lunacy we currently depend on for oil is one which primarily relies on US foreign policy ….

      Come off it TP, youve been spending too much time with that waffler Eoin Harrass, or got too much sun this weekend! :p 😀

    • #782918

      I could take a converse position and say that I am spending too little time in Latin America of late talking to real people who have seen the effects of great visionaries before.

      I feel that it is all too easy to overstate the role of US foreign policy on energy prices the real drivers for me have been the emergence of the new economies of China, India and Brazil who are undertaking the type of industrial projects that were the centre pieces of the European economy in the 1960’s and are extemely energy intensive. Combine this with the way that hedge funds make the market and the smallest geo-political event is a great excuse to hike prices disproportionately for the record Venezeula has never exceeded 4.5m ppd

    • #782919

      The first of these should be of particular interest to archiheads 🙂

      How a lot of hot air creates a legacy of cold houses

      The growth in new housing is all very well, but builders are not yet bound by EU directives on energy efficiency, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

      Over the past decade, successive Government Ministers have trumpeted the output of new housing in Ireland as prodigious, exceeding 80,000 units in 2005 alone.

      Every year has racked up a new record and, within a relatively short time, new homes are set to outnumber old in the overall housing stock.

      The many tower cranes on the skyline in Dublin and other urban centres are the most visible symbols of the construction boom that is currently driving the Irish economy. New apartment buildings, office blocks, shopping centres and other developments are built at breakneck speed and fill up quickly.

      What’s not so evident is that buildings of all categories account for at least 40 per cent of our energy consumption, amounting to €3.5 billion a year. But with the prices of gas, heating oil and electricity all on a steeply upward curve – and set to rise by at least 20 per cent this autumn – everyone is feeling the pinch.

      We are already spending more than most of our EU counterparts on energy, despite relatively mild Irish winters.

      Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) estimates the average household’s annual energy bill for electricity and space heating at around €1,700, with associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of 8.5 tonnes a year.

      The main reason is that Irish homes are not very energy-efficient. Older houses have always been harder to heat, but even new houses and apartments are major consumers of energy – largely because the Government dithered for so long over changing the building regulations to impose higher insulation standards.

      A 1998 Department of the Environment memo acknowledged that the regulations needed to be revised, but warned: “We don’t want to signal this to the outside world just yet because the next leap in building standard insulation will probably involve making it difficult for ‘hollow block’ construction, used widely in Dublin, to survive.”

      The new regulations were not introduced until 2002, with an exemption for all planning applications lodged before the end of that year, which meant that nearly 300,000 new homes were built under the old standards; the Government put the narrow interest of one section of the concrete industry ahead of the public interest.

      As a direct result, we are left with a “legacy of cold houses for coming generations”, as one Austrian expert put it. Dr Christian Rakos director of the Austrian Wood Pellets Association, who spent a year working with SEI, said all the new homes built here in recent years could have been much better insulated at very little cost.

      But the EU is catching up with us. Under its 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, all buildings put on the market for sale or rent must have a Building Energy Rating (BER) – in effect, an “energy label” – which will show their energy consumption for space and water heating, ventilation and lighting, and associated CO2 emissions.

      This was to come into effect for new houses from January 1st, 2007, but it won’t. Under “transitional arrangements” made by Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, construction works for which planning permission was sought on or before June 30th last are exempt, provided they are substantially completed by the end of June 2008.

      According to Kevin O’Rourke, head of the built environment section at SEI, the BER will probably be expressed in kilowatt hours per square metre per year.

      The rating will also be on “some sort of scale”, though whether this will be as clear as the “A, B, C, D” rating for domestic appliances has yet to be decided, because houses and other buildings are obviously more complex.

      There are also two approved methods for measuring energy performance, which could produce two significantly different ratings for the same house. This is seen by Gerry McCaughey, chief executive of timber-frame housebuilders Kingspan Century, as another gratuitous concession to the concrete industry.

      The industry is alarmed by the huge growth in timber-frame construction, which grew from less than 1 per cent of new homes in 1990 to 27 per cent last year. TV commercials claim that concrete homes are “better built homes” – even though credible evidence suggests that the energy performance of their rivals is higher.

      SEI’s “House of Tomorrow” programme, aided by a subvention of €8,000 per unit, is designed to accelerate change in how we build new housing. Using better insulation, controlled ventilation, double-glazing and more efficient heating systems, O’Rourke says savings of at least 40 per cent on household energy bills have been easily achieved.

      But the general standard is still relatively low because nothing has yet been done to strengthen Part L of the Building Regulations (dealing with energy efficiency) since the current version was adopted in 2002. It is not due to be revised until 2008; an option to do this in the context of implementing the EU directive was simply not taken up.

      A bigger problem area in terms of energy waste and CO2 emissions is the services sector, particularly air-conditioned office buildings. These consume twice as much energy as naturally ventilated alternatives, such as the pioneering Fingal County Hall. That’s why SEI has funded more than 70 building projects, mainly in the public sector, to show how a good environment can be created without air-conditioning.

      Last year, a report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors concluded that “green buildings” designed to use resources more efficiently are good for business because they can command higher rents, enjoy lower tenant turnover, improve business efficiency and productivity as well as costing less to operate and maintain.

      The message is getting through. Last November, the Inchydoney Lodge and Spa in west Cork switched over from gas to an innovative solar and wood pellet heating system. This is expected to cut its energy bill by half and pay for itself within five years; it also means that the resort will no longer be “held to ransom” by rising fossil fuel prices.

      Kelly’s Resort Hotel in Rosslare, Co Wexford, has also made the switch, retaining two of its three oil burners merely as back-up to a new heating system using wood pellets. Installed with the aid of an SEI grant, this will cut its €100,000-plus heating bill by up to 60 per cent as well as substantially reducing the hotel’s CO2 emissions.

      The highly carbon-intensive cement industry is the second largest industrial source of these emissions, belching out a tonne of CO2 for every tonne of cement it produces. This has been reduced by up to 300,000 tonnes per annum – or 7 per cent – through the manufacture by Ecocem of “green cement” from blast-furnace slag.

      But when the Office of Public Works (OPW) recently sought to specify alternative cement for building projects, the Cement Manufacturers Association – with tacit support from the Department of the Environment’s construction division – accused the OPW of rushing to judgment and putting a traditional industry in jeopardy.

      At a meeting with Minister of State Tom Parlon, the association – which includes CRH plc, the Se

    • #782920

      with respect to houses being built with poorer insulation than possible, it is done now , we can’t exactly go rebuilding them all !!

      There is a huge amount of alarmist hype with all of this. Our standard of living thus far has not been hugely affected by electriciy prices rises. Few ,as yet , time the use of their cooker, and wash dishes and clothes by hand just to save a few pennies.

      With this in mind it is readily possible to continue as we are without much risk. This is because for the most part we drive cars that are extravagantly large and unnecesarily heavy. Further tweaks in our taxes towards smaller cars would result in substantial savings at the petrol pump, offsetting expenses with the electricity bill.

      Overall we are currently so vastely wastefull of electricity (petrol), that there is a lot we can do without getting our knickers in a twist.

    • #782921

      Running on empty

      Road to nowhere: traffic near the Westlink toll bridge in Dublin. ‘Motorways have become the sinews of sprawl, encouraging the creation of new suburbs that are more car-dependent than anything previously built.’
      Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

      Life After Oil: Ireland has been allowed to develop in a way that sends people into their cars when they should be getting out of them, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

      Cars and trucks, roads and motorways, traffic congestion and suburban sprawl: Ireland is more like North America than northern Europe. And with the Government spending €30 million a week on motorways and other major road schemes, we are being locked into a US-style reliance on imported oil.

      Oil accounts for more than 57 per cent of our overall energy consumption, significantly higher than the EU average. Figures also show that for every 1 per cent rise in economic growth in Ireland, oil use goes up by 2 per cent – mainly due to the steep rise in car numbers, particularly over the past 10 years.

      Ireland is already among the most car-dependent countries in the world, according to a report published in 2000 (Transport Investment and Economic Development, by David Banister and Joseph Berechman, University College London Press). Figures showed that the average car here is driven 24,400km per year, a distance that is 70 per cent higher than France or Germany, 50 per cent higher than Britain and 30 per cent higher than the US. These statistics reflect our dispersed settlement pattern and the huge growth in long-distance commuting. The number of people driving to work jumped 16 points to 55 per cent between 1991 and 2002, while the average length of commutes increased by nearly 50 per cent, from 11km in 1996 to nearly 16km in 2002.

      Over the past 10 years, Dublin has been allowed to sprawl all over Leinster, with suburban estates springing up on the outskirts of villages and towns within an 80-100km radius. And the Government didn’t lift a finger to halt this unsustainable sprawl or to ensure a steady supply of affordable housing in the capital.

      Local councillors were allowed to get on with rezoning vast tracts of land for commuter housing in places such as Gorey, Co Wexford, nearly 100km from Dublin. While this was under way, Martin Cullen – then minister for the environment – declined to use the powers available to him under the 2000 Planning Act to rescind the local plan.

      Last October, after a sod-turning ceremony for the N11 Gorey bypass, Cullen – now wearing his hat as Minister for Transport – hailed it as one of the fastest-growing towns in the south-east. “The demographic change which Gorey has undergone has been immense. We in Government must respond to this change,” he said.

      In effect, he was conceding that there had been a failure of political leadership. Although Taoiseach Bertie Ahern once identified sustainable development as “fundamental” to his vision of Ireland, neither he nor his Government did anything to make it a reality on the ground. Instead, we got rampant unsustainable development.

      Houses on the outskirts of Carlow, Gorey, Mullingar, Portlaoise and other towns in Leinster might have seemed like bargains compared with the stupendously high property prices in the capital. But the Dubliners who bought them must now fork out a rising portion of their disposable income to pay for petrol or diesel to keep cars on the road.

      So, too, must those who bought sites and built houses in rural areas, remote from essential services such as shops and schools. Yet this equally unsustainable trend of suburbanising the countryside has been promoted by the Government’s so-called “Sustainable Rural Housing” guidelines, despite its inherent car-dependency.

      It’s not just Dublin that has acquired a long-distance commuter belt. A similar pattern of development, perhaps quite not so far-flung, can be seen within the extended catchment areas of Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Sligo and other centres of employment; this accounts for the long tail-backs of traffic on their approach roads.

      Because of the lack of clear planning policies to consolidate Ireland’s cities, towns and villages, motorways have become the sinews of sprawl, encouraging the creation of new “suburbs” that are more low-density and car-dependent than anything previously built. Cars are needed to get around, especially in the countryside. The number of cars went up by more than two-thirds from 939,022 in 1994 to 1,582,833 in 2004, reflecting the relative level of prosperity. Over the same period, the number of trucks and commercial vehicles nearly doubled from 135,809 to 268,082, as more and more goods are being transported by road to serve the booming economy.

      The market share for rail freight has fallen from 5 per cent in the late 1980s to less than 1 per cent today. Indeed, the consultants who carried out the 2003 Strategic Rail Review warned that the business was “at risk of irreversible decline if the current policy vacuum continues”. Three years on, policy is as vacuous as ever.

      Consultants Booz Allen Hamilton calculated that a rail freight meltdown would cost Irish society €63 million a year – €27 million in extra road maintenance and €36 million as a result of pollution and accidents. Yet the Government has no plans to introduce any scheme of incentives or allowances to encourage more use of the railways for freight.

      Other EU member-states such as Britain, Denmark and Sweden are pressing companies to consider rail, or at least keep the option open. The reason is simple: their governments realise that the higher costs of energy, labour and environmental compliance will make it cheaper to rail freight across Europe rather than sending it by road.

      Because of our reliance on roads for freight, as well as the explosion in car numbers and air travel, Ireland’s transport sector accounts for 40 per cent of total energy consumption. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport are increasing by up to 10 per cent per year, seriously jeopardising the prospect of meeting our Kyoto target.

      Successive budgets have failed to tweak Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) to reflect energy consumption or CO2 emissions. VRT is crudely based on engine size, with cars of up to 1,400cc charged at 22.5 per cent of the retail price, 1,401-1,900cc at 25 per cent and 1,901cc-plus (which would include all SUVs) at 30 per cent. This regime has persisted despite a commitment in the National Climate Change Strategy, published in 2000, that there would be a “rebalancing” of VRT to favour more fuel-efficient cars. Other proposals included fuel economy labelling for all new cars and the possibility of raising fuel taxes still further to cut consumption. The only changes made were a 50 per cent reduction in VRT on hybrid electric cars (such as the Toyota Prius), introduced in 2000 and due to expire at the end of this year, and a similar level of relief on the purchase of “flexible fuel vehicles” running on bio-fuels, which was introduced last December for a trial two-year period.

      The case for imposing a punitive level of VRT on SUVs is overwhelming. These diesel-draining monsters, which account for 8 per cent of new car sales in Ireland, are not only extremely inefficient in terms of fuel consumption, but also belch out much more CO2 than ordinary cars. A 50 per cent rate of VRT would be more than justified. Even without the proliferation of SUVs, transport’s reliance on oil will be the hardest to fix of any sector – at least until a new motor fuel becomes commercial viable and widely available. In the meantime, people will have to adapt to rising oil prices by driving cars less often, living closer to where they work and taking fewer trips by air.

      © The Irish Times

      Government stuck in the fossil age

      Political leaders must face up to their duty and set more long-term objectives to guarantee sustainable energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, writes Frank McDonald

      It is now 26 years since the late George Colley, then minister for energy, travelled to Jutland to see the first two experimental wind turbines built by the Danes. It’s what happened afterwards that’s so instructive: Denmark went on to become the world leader in wind energy while Ireland only recently started running to catch up.

      By 2002, the Danish wind turbine industry was generating €3 billion a year in revenue, employing 20,000 people and supplying 18 per cent of Denmark’s electricity demand. And Ireland? Despite having the most favourable wind regime in Europe, by the end of 2002 we had a mere handful of wind farms supplying just 1 per cent of our demand.

      The situation has improved since then. Electricity generated by wind power increased by 70 per cent last year (admittedly from a low base) and Ireland is now expected to exceed the EU’s 2010 target of generating 13.2 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources – and wind is likely to account for 80 per cent of the total.

      But 2010 is less than four years away, and it’s clear that much more long-term objectives need to be set sooner rather than later, if we are to guarantee sustainable energy in the future and, simultaneously, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. That will need a broad political consensus to underpin it, such as Denmark has achieved.

      With less than a year to go before the next general election, the chances of all the Dáil parties following the Danish example are remote, as Green Party energy spokesman Eamon Ryan TD conceded. But he takes heart from previous Irish examples of the strong political consensus that emerged at times of crisis to “change tack”. Ryan cited the Lemass/Whitaker era, when Ireland changed from a closed economy to an open one, and the “fiscal rectitude” policies of the late 1980s, when we needed to ward off national bankruptcy. He is convinced that a similar cross-party approach is now needed if we are to move from fossil fuel dependency to energy self-sufficiency.

      “The principal problem is the lack of a coherent, strategic national energy policy,” according to Noel O’Flynn, Fianna Fáil TD and chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee dealing with the issue. He pointed to the current National Development Plan (1999-2006), under which €6 billion was allocated for roads and just €145 million for energy infrastructure.

      Eamon Ryan believes that long-term targets must be set, with 2050 as the horizon. “We should set out to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds – by then, we’re not going to have oil. Each step on the road to achieving that target is incremental, and we’ll be forced to ask ourselves why we’re building motorways everywhere.”

      For example, within a corridor just 30 kilometres wide to the north of Dublin, we could end up with four motorways – the M1, the M2, the M3 and the proposed Outer Orbital ring road – a situation without precedent anywhere in Europe. Yet our greenhouse gas emissions are nearly double what they should be under the Kyoto Protocol target.

      It was Noel Dempsey, as minister for the environment, who signed up in 1998 to cap the increase in Ireland’s emissions at 13 per cent above their 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012. Now, as the minister responsible for energy policy, he is about to produce a Green Paper on how we can substitute renewables for oil, gas and other fossil fuels.

      The paper is also likely to deal with curbing energy waste by using it much more efficiently in power stations, homes and workplaces. Already, Dempsey has introduced grant-aid programmes for combined heat and power (CHP) plants and the use of wood pellets for home heating, as well as an excise relief scheme to promote bio-fuels.

      Other innovative measures should include giving tax incentives or stamp duty relief to people buying new homes that are built to be more energy-efficient. Pending the adoption of stronger building regulations, this type of initiative would underpin efforts by local authorities such as Fingal County Council to specify higher standards.

      The concept of “walkable communities”, well-served by public transport, also needs to be promoted as an alternative to sprawl; cutting car dependency makes sense from an energy perspective, but it would also help to reduce levels of obesity, heart disease and other serious health risks, as the Institute of Public Health said last week.

      One issue that urgently needs to be revisited is the introduction of carbon taxes, something that the Government flunked in 2004. As the ESRI has said repeatedly, this wouldn’t involve an increase in the tax burden, merely a re-balancing in line with the “polluter pays” principle to encourage efficiency and cut carbon dioxide emissions.

      The recent purchase of Lexus 450 hybrid cars for both Dempsey and Minister for the Environment Dick Roche was intended to “set an example”. But this was no more than a token gesture, given that both Mary McAleese and Bertie Ahern have just got new Mercedes S-class cars, which have a fuel efficiency of only 10 kilometres per litre. Clearly, the President and the Taoiseach believe that the comfort zone they inhabit is the natural order of things. Like most of us, cocooned by the smugness of living in the world’s second-wealthiest country, they haven’t spotted the elephant in the room – climate change, and the urgent need to start getting out of fossil fuels.

      “It’s time we had a mature debate on need to face up to this,” says Dublin City Council’s chief planning officer, Dick Gleeson. “Because if we don’t begin managing the future to protect it for our kids, and we end up boxed into a corner in 20 years’ time because of our addiction to fossil fuels, then we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

      It would also make sense economically. As Prof Kevin Leyden of West Virginia University has pointed out, even big business has discovered the green agenda. “Ireland benefited profoundly by embracing the last new wave of technology – computers – and would be well advised to note that green industry, products and processes are the next wave.”

      Fundamentally, it is up to the Government to lead change in society and plan for a sustainable future free from reliance on increasingly expensive and climate-damaging fossil fuels. Unless Noel Dempsey’s forthcoming Green Paper on energy addresses the need for that transition to the post-oil era, it will be a waste of time.

      © The Irish Times

      The sky’s the limit

      How your family holiday increases global warming.

      Aviation is consuming more and more energy, as increasingly people take to the skies on cheap flights. But flying is the most detrimental form of travel in terms of aggravating global warming; on a per-capita basis, CO2 emissions from aircraft are almost seven times higher than emissions from trains and three times more than cars.

      According to the website, co2balance.com, a single passenger travelling from Dublin to New York and back is responsible for 1.12 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Figures for other sample return flights from Dublin are: Tenerife, 0.88 tonnes; Dubai, 1.31 tonnes; Barbados, 1.42 tonnes; Cape Town, 2.20 tonnes; and Sydney, 3.79 tonnes. A family of four flying to Malaga for their summer holidays would rack up 2.24 tonnes of CO2 on the trip – enough to fill 5,000 wheelie bins, according to Dr Alan Drew, of the Irish Academy of Engineering. It must also be measured against the yardstick of emissions of three to four tonnes of CO2 by the average Irish family car for a whole year.

      EU moves to impose a carbon tax on jet fuel – which, bizarrely, remains untaxed and outside the scope of the Kyoto Protocol – are still being resisted by airlines, as well as by the US, China and Russia, even though aviation is the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and needs to be brought under control.

      In Ireland, the Government also massively subsidises regional air services – in competition with bus and rail; a 2004 study by DKM Economic Consultants found that the average subsidy of €71 per passenger works out more than 10 times what the railways were getting and 152 times the level for buses.

      © The Irish Times

    • #782922

      Quite a hard-hitting piece by Frank McD today. You just wonder, is it getting through to these schmucks at all that are running our country?? – Well apparently not so far …

    • #782923

      @Devin wrote:

      Quite a hard-hitting piece by Frank McD today. You just wonder, is it getting through to these schmucks at all that are running our country?? – Well apparently not so far …

      Chance would be a fine thing Devin 😉

    • #782924

      while not trying to support the governments minimal approach , it is very easy to point out how big the problem is.

      I note the times is pretty quiet in giving any solutions to the problem.

      As i see it in the short term : the only so much petrol going around , and we can choose to use it in our cars or in the electricity stations.

      Wind is great , wave is tooted as being great, but neither work all the time. It is hard enough trying to generate just the right amount of electricity when you can turn on and off all the generators at will , without having to worry about whether the wind is blowing.

      Regarding the creation of green house gasses , i am not sure there is any easy answer. To cover everyone’s needs the country would be festooned with windmills, and even that probably won’t be enough.

      Nuclear is undoubtedly the only solution; but with the people having been (wrongly) told that nuclear is dangerous for two three decades no minister is going to start advocating it. If all you drove were trabants for twenty years , you would assume people were lying if they told you of a japanese car that never broke down .

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