Saturday, May 03, 2008

Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, Fuel Prices and Peak Oil.

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.

Related Reading.


Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

On this (your) site, an ad appears for using water as fuel -

The lengthy ad claims that producing hydrogen on an "as you need" basis and introducing it into the carburator allows for a cleaner burn.

I will have to find a local user/installer before trying it!


Anonymous said...

Here's a craiglist ad (as quoted) from a Denver, Colorado installer:
"..Automotive Type Hydrogen Generator - $110 (Littleton)
Reply to: see below
Date: 2008-04-27, 10:41AM MDT

This is the second running of this HHO Generaor. Due to demand, the price is going up a little. Recent improvements have also taken place. Installation is now availible in the Denver area for a small price also. Most cars do not take the commercial units made due to size requirements. We can custom make one to fit your vehicle. Many cars and trucks perform very well with just a small amount of Hydrogen introduced into the air stream to enhance the compustion of the air/fuel mixture inside the engine. You don't need large amounts, or alot of electrical enhancing crap. Stainless Steel is still the best electrical conductor, and we make ours of 316 grade plate. Don't be fooled by using glass containers, they break, and do not seperate the gasses that your engine requires. Call me, 720-621-9994, and ask me any questions. If I can't help you, I can find out for you. Products are made as sold. We do not carry inventory as each vehicle is different. Each unit must be paid in full before it can be made.
Out of towners must pay shipping also. Price is for generator only.
Also, I wish to thank all of you that purchased the frist run. Response was overwellming. And to some of you who haven't recieved it yet, its coming.
Those of you who have Chrysler products will need to buy the Maf controler that is sold on ebay for around $20. That is the only make of vehicle that Hydrogen is not read by the o2 sensor that I know of so far.."


Anonymous said...

My apologies, the original site linking to yours is this one -
"..use electricity from your car's battery to separate water into a gas called HHO (2 Hydrogen + 1 Oxygen). HHO, also called Brown's Gas or Hydroxy, burns smoothly and provides significant energy - while the end product is just H2O!..
..The process is very safe because the combustible gas is extracted as needed and burned steadily from the water, unlike larger volumes of pure hydrogen which are highly flammable.."

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Boris will also advocate for more drilling and refining of oil, and expanding nuclear and wind power.

YEY BORIS! Boris may be a buffoon, but at least he's not a communist one. Bloody good news! Praise the Lord! Thank God! There is hope for Londonistan. What will Red Ken do next?


absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
elect a communist

someone who will work full-time
to destroy your country



Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi usspace,

yes it will be interesting to see what Boris does. I believe Ken is going to write his memoirs which will be interesting.

Not sure Boris has any say from his £11 billion budget about drilling any more oil-wells, that's more a national government problem, but we shall see what he does regarding keeping London running.

I see the forties field still produces half Britain's oil at the moment and efforts are being made to squeeze more out. There was a programme on TV last night in which it was reckoned that there will be production there for another 30 years, but obviously at a steadily (?) declining rate.

"Londonistan" - not heard that one before but it's good...I think?

Boris is a colourful character anyway and the voters must love him, to give him 56% of their thumbs-up.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi George,

I have come across these hydrogen generators, which I presume must come from on-board electrolysis, but I am not sure how the hydrogen is stored or used precisely.

I should need to see one running and know more about the technical specifications before I believe it... but that's the trouble: anything so good would be heavily protected by patents/secrecy arrnagements.

If I had developed this, I wouldn't want to tell everybody about it!

"Brown's gas", now I've heard of this too. It is supposed to be able to fuse and vapourise metals e.g tungsten, and it is said, to deactivate radioactive waste. Now for the latter to be true there must be a nuclear effect and I am not aware that Physics has any mechanism for this as yet, from a flame of H2/O2.

I can't offer a scientific explanation but maybe there is something in this, and one will be developed later on?

Theory usually follows practice!