Reading: Fuel for thought

While digging around the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) web site I discovered Fuel for thought, a publication by the Future Fuels Forum 2007. This June 2008 publication informs us how the Future Fuels Forum thinks transport fuels will pan out in our future with modelling from now to 2050.  It is an interesting document and I suggest you read it if you are at all interested in the future of transport fuels in Australia. Click the cover page below to download the PDF (1.5Mb).

challenges and opportunities (PDF)

CSIRO 2008: Fuel for thought - The future of transport fuels: challenges and opportunities (PDF)

Apart from being relatively easy to read and informative for those of us without a scientific or economic background it provides great insight into the conservative information upon which our governments are making decisions that impact your future and mine. It isn’t all conservative mind you. The modelling for a continuing rise in demand for oil and a sharp decline in supply shows we could pay as much as $8 per litre for petrol in the not too distant future and the authors do stress the urgency with which alternatives for oil must be found.

While the document was written before the global financial crisis really started to bite the bulk of it remains relevant. If you do read it I’d like to know what you think so please leave a comment.

City Living versus The Great Australian Dream

For a few years now I’ve harboured a dream to be able to live life without a car. I have this imaginary lifestyle in my mind where I live in the centre of a city. Everything I need is within walking or cycling distance. On the rare occasion that I need to do a long road trip I’ll just hire a car.

A series of articles that appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Lithgow Mercury (here, here and here) got me thinking about it again. You see, Sydney planners are wanting to build an underground rail line from Central Station to Parramatta. Along that line they want to build high rise (up to 15 storeys) apartment blocks with the aim of encouraging their increasing population to live withing walking distance of the new mass transit system. From a sustainable mobility perspective the Sydney plan sounds great. The problem is the planners are fighting The Great Australian Dream. The big house with the big backyard.

Aussies want at least four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a double garage and room for the kids to run around out the back. The Great Australian Dream is the main driver behind urban sprawl in all our capital cities. To get the big block you have to live in the outer suburbs. Living in the outer suburbs means you will most likely need to drive a car to work, if not all the way then at least to the nearest decent public transport. As a result The Great Australian Dream clogs our roads in peak hour and causes us to curse everyone else following the same dream we are.

The sad news is that the Great Australian Dream is a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a peak oil world. The Sydney planners know it and so do a lot of other people, particularly Europeans who are practiced at living the width of a wall away from their neighbours. The rising cost of oil as supplies diminish will increase demand for public transport but Governments will be unable to build and maintain the infrastructure required to service the urban sprawl. We are going to have to adjust our definition of living and part of that adjustment will be living closer together, closer to public transport and closer to work.

Right now I’m almost living The Dream. I’ve got a big yard in a very quiet neighbourhood. The house is small but I’ve got a big shed. The problem is that I’m 35km from work and about 15km from the city where my better half works. There is no nearby public transport so getting to work would involve a drive followed by multiple bus and train journeys. Cycling and working from home are my best options for reducing car use but neither can be achieved every day due to distance and the need to see clients or work at clients’ sites.

So, what would it take to get me living closer to my neighbours, closer to public transport and closer to work? I’ve been mulling this over for the last few days and it all comes down to two words – lifestyle and happiness. To achieve the lifestyle and happiness I desire when living in a city centre I’d need the living environment to meet five criteria.

1. I am not prepared to live in a shoe box. I’m a country boy and I like my space. That doesn’t mean I need a big house, it just means I need room to move and an uncluttered environment in which to live. Good views would help.

2. If I’m going to move from being surrounded by not much to living shoulder to shoulder then I want to do so in a truly environmentally friendly building. It will need to be well insulated, take advantage of winter sun and summer breeze and have lots of natural light and ventilation. The building or development will have its own power supply, preferably cogeneration or trigeneration powered by natural gas.

3. Silence. I don’t want to hear the neighbours and I don’t want them to hear me. I don’t want to hear traffic even with the windows open.

4. There will be secure storage for bicycles and general living stuff underneath the building. There should be no need to clutter the place up by bringing bicycles upstairs or locking them to anything you can find. Each tenant should have their own private storage space.

5. The building or development will need to have shared facilities that provide safe and secure space for kids and adults to be active and get outdoors. Ideally it would be in a precinct that restricts the entry of cars thereby freeing up as much space as possible for parks, barbecues, swimming pool, gyms, etc. To my mind the design has failed if it encourages or necessitates car use.

That’s it. If I could find a place like that I’d seriously consider moving to the city centre or a public transport hub. I’m not sure about you but I haven”t seen or heard of any developments that meet, or even come close to, the above criteria in my city or others.

This brings us back to Sydney. If the designers and developers of the urban living environments along the Central to Parramatta mass transit system are going to tempt those chasing The Dream to live in their developments they are going to have to focus on lifestyle, not just stylish buildings. They are going to have to provide outdoor living space while building high quality, high density housing. And they are going to have to make the developments environmentally friendly otherwise they’ve lost before they’ve begun.

At least one Australian politician understands sustainability

The ASPO Australia web site has a transcript of an address given on 04 Mar 08 to the Brisbane Institute by the Honourable Andrew McNamara, Queensland Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation. In his presentation entitled “Highway of Diamonds” the Minister talks about sustainability in terms of climate change, peak oil and population density. The transcript is well worth a read.

The most interesting thing I took away from it was his reference to papers written in the 40’s and 70’s that show we’ve known for over 50 years that our world would not be able to support ever increasing numbers of humans with ever increasing appetites for consumption, yet we’ve turned a blind eye in the name of progress.

Amory Lovins – Winning the Oil Endgame

If you haven’t heard of Amory Lovins, he is the co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He is a respected critical thinker that promotes transformation of the energy and automobile industries through the use of efficiencies and alternatives.

Amory and his fellow thinkers have a new book out called Winning the Oil Endgame. You can download the book from the Winning the Oil Endgame website. You can also watch a speech he recorded recently on TED Talks where goes through the principles outlined in the book in about 20 minutes.

Highlights include his belief that China will leapfrog US car technology with super efficient cars within the next ten year and his firm belief that the US can be completely oil independent of imported oil if it wants to be by minimising consumption and substituting alternative and biofuels for oil.

Source: AutoblogGreen, TED Talks

Petrol to hit $1.50 per litre this week in Australia

Just in case you hadn’t heard, petrol will be reaching the previously unheard of price of $1.50 per litre this week. The Service Station Association (SSA) is saying the peak is expected in the next day or two, but prices will slide back to under $1.40 by early next week. On my drive home from work today the prices were approaching $1.49. It will be interesting to see how long it stays below $1.50. I have a feeling the is softening us up for more high prices.

Source: ABC

ABC competition for free entry to the Renewable Energy and Regional Australia Conference

ABC is running a competition where there are 10 tickets to the Renewable Energy and Regional Australia Conferencec to be won. The conference will be held in Bendigo, Victoria on 16, 17 and 18 September 2007.

To enter the competition click here. You better be quick. Entries close at 9pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on Monday 10 September 2007.

Click here to learn more about the Conference.

Australia, the peak oil microcosm

The ASPO Australia web site has an excellent article that uses Australia as an example to provide perspective on peak oil. The article, Peak Oil Down Under, is written by Dave Cohen from ASPO USA. To quote Mr Cohen’s opening paragraph:

Australia serves as a microcosm of a world entering the peak oil era. It can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Aussie oil production has peaked. As their oil companies struggle to offset production losses as demand grows, Australians must face up to the stark choices these circumstances present. One road, taken by the United States long ago, creates dangerous, ever-growing dependencies on imported oil to fill the supply and demand gap. The other road, leading to energy independence and security, spawns alternatives that allow Australia to move beyond oil. Will the Land Down Under seize the opportunity they now have to make the right choice?

This article on ScienceAlert Australia and New Zealand on the International Energy Agency’s recently released Medium-Term Oil Market Report adds to strength to the peak oil debate.

Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012 … It is possible that the supply crunch could be deferred [by decreased demand growth] – but not by much.

Source: ASPO Australia, ScienceAlert Australia & New Zealand