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Lights go out in Seoul amid energy crunch

The bustling entertainment districts of one of the world’s largest cities, Seoul, were pitched into darkness early Tuesday as the government clamped down on energy use to cope with rising oil prices.

Neon signs and outdoor lights were ordered switched off in the business and entertainment districts of the South Korean capital, in a tangible sign of how the oil price rise is hurting the resource-starved country.

… About 92,000 establishments nationwide have been targeted by the government lighting restrictions, local media reports said. Those failing to adhere to the regulations could face up to 3 million won (US$2,700) in fines.
(9 March 2011)

UK must follow Spain down the road to lower speed limits

George Monbiot, Guardian
Should we reduce the speed limit to cut oil consumption? Should we impose new taxes on the banks? Should we stop hawking weapons in the Middle East? The answer in all these cases is obvious, but none of these reforms will happen until we’ve become brave enough to tackle vested interests.

This week, Spain reduced the speed limit on its motorways by 10kph (7mph). The British government should follow it, and then go further. Here’s why.

It’s taken a while – many years of denial and obfuscation in fact – but at last both the British government and the International Energy Agency are catching up with what campaigners have been saying for years: that petroleum cannot last forever. Global demand is rising, and there will soon come a point when supply can no longer match it. A few years ago, disruption in a second-tier producer like Libya (1.8 million barrels per day) would scarcely have caused a ripple. Today it spreads near-panic among the consumer nations.
(9 March 2011)
A few years ago George Monbiot was wafflilng on peak oil. He seems fully onboard now. -BA

Scrapping the fuel duty rise will hurt Britain economically

Caroline Lucas, Guardian
A small fuel duty increase means less consumption. The Green party wants to ease the strain by scrapping the VAT rise

Even if like me you don’t spend a lot of time behind the wheel, you can’t ignore the cost of fuel. According to AA figures released this week, it’s now averaging at just over 132 pence a litre. With the situation in Libya deteriorating and the pressure for reform across the Middle East meeting fierce resistance from other absolutist regimes, costs could rise further. Add in the growing threat from dwindling reserves and peak oil, and it’s clear that the long-term trend in oil prices can only be to go upwards.

Some voices have argued for a fuel stabiliser to fix the price of fuel, so as to insulate motorists from fluctuations. But that would be economically irresponsible. Governments have historically found it incredibly tough to guess the right price of anything – and working out a stable price at which fuel prices should be kept is no different. What price do you stabilise petrol at, when the trend in the global oil prices for the past two decades has been upward? And even if it did work, lowering duty as crude prices rise would effectively mean that the government was subsidising the cost of oil.

Others have argued for a discount to offset fuel duty increases for remote rural communities. Attractive though this sounds in principle, it would be both hard to target and expensive to administer. Furthermore, given only about half of the 20% of people on the lowest incomes drive cars, it would not be the most progressive way of helping those who need it most.

More effective would be measures to address the cost of heating fuels. …

Some of the loudest voices are calling on the chancellor to scrap the planned fuel duty increase, due in April. But that essentially means using tax-payers’ money to fix a problem that we cannot control – the long-term upward trend in oil prices. And it would result in a significant drain on public finances. A report commissioned from the Policy Studies Institute for the Green Alliance calculates that using a fuel duty cut to bring pump prices back to December 2009 levels would cost the taxpayer almost £6bn in the first year alone.
(11 March 2011)

“Repair-Ware” Household Gadgets Designed To Last Forever With Easy Fixability

Jaymi Heimbuch, Treehugger
I am completely in love with this concept for small household appliances by designer Samuel James Davies. The idea is to have a small appliance that can be easily taken apart and repaired by the user; in fact, the entire premise of the design right down to the visual appeal is to promote a culture of repair. The overall appearance is one of accessibility and takes away the high-tech intimidation factor. Check out how lovely it looks in action

… This steam iron is part of a larger project called Repair-Ware, which is intended to promote repairability among household gadgets.

Yanko Design pointed us to the design by Davis, who writes, “The brand and range of appliances aim to create a culture of repair amongst their users. This brings together not only the manufacturers knowledge of the product but also that of the user. This culture is created through a website and forum which allow the user to share knowledge, learn, buy new parts and ultimately carry out their own repairs.”
(9 March 2011)
Nice images at original. -BA

As Oil Prices Soar, Report Finds Solar Hot Water Would Save Mainers $, Oil

Environment Maine
Portland, ME ? As oil prices rise steeply, an Environment Maine report released today finds that Mainers could cut oil and other fossil fuel use and reduce pollution through the deployment of off the shelf, cost-effective solar hot water technology. By taking advantage of this ready-to-go technology to produce hot water for homes and businesses, Maine could save more than 7 million gallons of oil and reduce global warming pollution by the equivalent of eliminating the pollution from 27,700 cars on Maine’s roads.

“We need to do everything we can to get Maine off oil, and installing solar hot water systems is one of the no-brainers. We have long had the technology and know-how to harness the zero-cost heat of the sun to produce hot water, while at the same time cutting pollution and putting people to work in our communities. And more than ever we have a workforce that is ready to install these affordable solar systems on roofs across the state,” said Environment Maine Field Associate Nathaniel Meyer, speaking in front of Senator Justin Alfond’s East End home, which has a rooftop solar hot water system.

“Solar hot water is one of the safest investments you can make – with relatively small upfront investments, the financial and environmental return is guaranteed,” said Phil Coupe, owner of ReVision Energy, a company that has installed over 2,600 solar energy systems since 2003, and currently employs 35 people. “Maine is ripe for this technology. We get 33% more sun than Germany, the world leader in solar installations. On a sunny 20-degree day, a solar hot water system can generate water that’s 130 degrees – water that’s too hot to shower in.”

Meyer and Coupe were joined by Portland residents Ken Winship and Glenn Harmon, both of whom have solar hot water systems installed on their homes. “Thousands of homes and businesses are already saving energy and money by harnessing the sun for hot water – like my house, Glenn’s house, and the Portland Boys & Girls Club,” said Winship. “The return on my investment since I had it installed has beat out other investments, like buying fuel oil or investing in the stock market. It makes a lot of sense.”

In addition to reducing pollution that fuels global warming and the pollution that contributes to respiratory problems, the report found that solar hot water heating delivers a variety of benefits to the economy:

•Solar water heating could reduce energy bills nationwide by $9.9 billion annually, saving residential customers 3.2 percent and businesses 1.6 percent of their current energy expenditures. By eliminating the barriers to solar hot water, policy makers can help provide homeowners and businesses long-term savings and protect them from risks of wild swings in energy prices.
•The United States currently ranks 35th in the world for per-capita solar water heating capacity. Europe’s solar thermal industry, for example, employs 40,000 people and brings in $4.1 billion in annual sales. …

Environment Maine is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working on behalf of over 5,000 members and activists to protect clean air and water, preserve Maine’s extraordinary natural heritage, and move the state toward a clean energy future.

Additional coverage of the press conference held yesterday found here:

(10 March 2011) …