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Four Billion Cars in 2050?

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
… I want to pick up where I left off – exploring the quantitative barriers to getting most of the way to a sustainable planetary civilization by 2050. Last time, I laid out what I was trying to do:

This post is the start of an attempt to sketch out what an integrated solution to the world’s food, energy, land, climate, and economy problems might look like. My basic goal is to get to a somewhat defensible story of how civilization could get to 2050 in reasonable shape, despite the problems of climate change, peak oil, global population growth, etc.

… if as a society we were serious and determined about solving our energy/climate problems, and we made the right investments, there seems to me little doubt that there are a number of feasible technical paths to a non-fossil-fuel energy infrastructure for civilization. Indeed, I argued that energy would likely become cheap again after a couple of decades of being expensive, once a renewable civilization was over the hump (the hump having been caused in part by failing to make more progress in the 1980s and 1990s).

However, there are many other resource constraints that we might hit along the way. So I want to continue surveying the terrain at a very high level and look at the automobile sector under the rough assumptions I outlined in Powering Civilization to 2050. In particular, how many cars might we expect by 2050, and how can we possibly power them, given that there will be less oil, not more, by that time. I think most readers would intuit that if society was wealthier in 2050, as I postulated, then if they possibly could, the planet’s citizens would tend to drive more, not less.
(18 February 2008)

There is no ‘green’ silver bullet

Gwyn Morgan, Globe and Mail.
People looking to solve personal problems often accept superficially analyzed “silver bullet” solutions. Public sector policy makers are also vulnerable to this phenomenon. A classic example is the search for “green alternatives” to hydrocarbon energy.

It’s been 15 years since Ballard Power listed on the TSE. The company’s vision of hydrogen-fuelled automobiles, powered by fuel cells emitting nothing but water, was enthusiastically embraced by policy makers and investors. Within a few years, Ballard’s stock market capitalization soared to tens of billions of dollars. As then chief executive officer of one of North America’s largest natural gas producers, I should have been a big booster of a hydrogen-fuelled future. Why? … Because hydrogen is manufactured mainly out of natural gas. But it was clear to me that there simply weren’t enough natural gas resources to supply existing users, plus fuelling a significant percentage of North America’s auto fleet. That remains true today.

The alternative method of producing hydrogen is the electrolysis of water. There’s enough water, but the electrolysis process takes a lot of electricity. Producing hydrogen in large quantities would require many new power plants, and most power plants burn hydrocarbons. The long-term zero emissions answer would be a massive nuclear power program, but don’t count on that happening any time soon.
(18 February 2008)
Contributor CP writes:
The author, Gwyn Morgan is ex-CEO of Encana, Canada’s largest integrated oil and gas producer. Therefore you might expect him to be down on biofuels, but his criticisms are based on arguments that appear regularly on EB.

Ryanair warns high oil prices could slash its profits by 50% next year

Fiona Walsh and Dan Milmo, Guardian
Budget airline Ryanair warned today that profits could fall by up to 50% next year on the back of high oil prices, declining consumer spending and the weakening pound.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said the European airline sector faces the possibility of a “perfect storm” of higher oil prices, poor consumer demand, weaker sterling and higher costs and there is now “a significant chance” that profits in 2008/09 will decline.

“At our most optimistic, a combination of flat yields and $75 oil would see profits grow by 6% to approximately €500m, but at our most conservative, if forward oil prices remain at $85, and consumer sentiment/sterling weakness leads to a 5% reduction in yields, then profits in the coming year could fall by as much as 50% to as low as €235m (£175m),” he said.
(4 February 2008)