Ken Livingstone may have lost the London Mayoral election last night to Boris Johnson by 6% of the votes, but I note a legacy from him in terms of coming-clean about peak oil, which I had not heard any politician do hitherto. This was in a statement made at an environmental hustings earlier in the run-up to the election. When David Strahan from Global Public Media asked him what he would do to protect London from the impact of peak oil he replied: "I don't see this as a threat. I see it as an opportunity... [which] may be the only way that we face-up to having to reduce our energy-consumption".
He continued: "Almost every government on the planet is too cowardly to tell its people how much they should pay for energy, [but when peak oil brings escalating prices] we'll know the real cost of putting oil in the tank of our car, and we will scale down our energy consumption to cope with that".
I couldn't agree more, but a golden-age is unlikely to be the immediate consequence. When peak oil does bite, and I think we are seeing the onset of this now, the price of oil will increase to an unforeseeable level from its current $120 dollars a barrel (some analysts are talking about $200 but it's really unpredictable). However, policies or suggestions of how exactly oil will be replaced in practical terms were not offered by any of the three final Mayoral candidates, other than the usual references to "renewables", e.g wind, solar, hydroelectric and carbon capture (i.e. to make coal-fuelled power cleaner). It should be noted that none of these means address directly Transportation, which is the major end-user of oil.
There was support for Combined Heating and Power (CHP) from all three voices, but exactly how sustainable this is depends on the fuel used. On a smaller scale, these units can be run on wood-chips, but to fuel a city the size of London, natural gas is the more likely source, and there is much speculation about European supplies of gas over the next decade. Recently Ukraine froze when Russia cut its gas-supplies by 50% over money apparently owed, and even acknowledging the much greater efficiency of CHP which can yield substantial economy in both fuel consumption and hence CO2 emissions, such a strategy would be vulnerable to the vagaries of gas provision in the wider context.
Probably it is dangerous to rely too much on any single source of energy. The biggest issue over peak oil in this country and the rest of the world is how to keep transportation running if oil-based fuels become crushingly expensive and indeed in limited supply over the next decade. Even the CEO of Shell recently commented that there would be a gap in supply and demand for oil by 2015, i.e. not later than this, and many estimates are closer to 2011/2012, i.e. in 3 years or so. For a city like London, public transport is vital and Ken's controversial congestion-charges have reduced car-use to some extent. This and the rising cost of fuel is particularly tough on road-haulage, and I note that the dollar price of oil per barrel is almost numerically the same as the cost per pence of diesel per litre, i.e. around $120 and £1.20 respectively.
Providing biofuels on a comparable scale to those distilled from crude oil is not really an option, because there is only so much arable (crop-) land available and if we grew no food at all we could still match less than half the amount of fuel the UK gets through annually. It is a logical consequence then that the number of vehicles on the roads will fall drastically and the likely scenario is a relocalisation of society into communities of reduced population, but the deconvolution of a conurbation the size of London with 8 million or so people living there, is not an obviously manageable process.
Providing electrified transport, eg. trams, as are used extensively and with great efficiency in other European cities - Prague is a good example - might be one solution to keeping London moving, and I suspect such an undertaking ought to begin around now if it is likely to succeed in time to meet the peak oil energy crash - the "Oil Dearth Era", as I have referred to it.
Boris Johnson suggested extracting geothermal energy from the great underground holes moled-out for the cross-rail transport project which could match the output of a typical power station, i.e. around 1 Gigawatt (1,000 Megawatts), but it would not be trivial to use this as a means to run transportation (e.g. to make hydrogen, for which there is no existing infrastructure); however, it might feed electricity into the national grid to power trains both overground and underground and a putative tram-system.
Either way, for London, this is now Mr Johnson's problem while Mr Livingstone writes his memoirs.