“The stone age didn’t end for the want of stone”. This clever insight, now cliche, sums up the prospects for oil. The closer it gets to getting scarce, the more plentiful will become the alternatives.
Even the most hardened champions of oil concede that it will run out at some time. Therefore, the argument that we need an alternative is no longer consigned to the greens.
The problem is that the oil may do lasting damage before it runs out. Climate change is an accepted fact. Given that we are geared up for living in this climate, a new climate might be very painful for many parts of the world, including us.
There are two main approaches to solving the problem: we cut down on our energy use and we stop using dirty energy.
It is easier for cities to make an impact on energy use as there are greater densities of population. So how is Dublin doing on this score?
We’re doing bugger all, is the answer. Very little is being done to wean us off fossil fuels.
Our main source of electricity, Poolbeg Station, is relatively benign in that it runs mainly on natural gas. But Dublin also gets electricity from coal and peat burning stations.
On the car side, the situation is pretty disastrous. The number of new cars being registered in Dublin each year is around 65,000 up from 35,000 in the mid 1990’s. The good news is that these new cars are much less polluting than the old ones. Cars typically emit less than 10 per cent of the pollution than they did 20 years ago. The downside is that they are spending a lot more time queueing in traffic.
This is something that the local authorities could really do something about. There is a revolution happening and it’s the hybrid car.
These are cars, like the Toyota Prius, which run on electricity at lower speeds. At higher speeds and for longer journeys they depend on their normal engines.
The next stage in this revolution is to have plug-in hybrids. If cars could be recharged overnight they wouldn’t have to use their engines at all. In Dublin, where the vast majority of journeys are under 20km, this would mean huge reductions in carbon emissions.
At the moment, the state allows some tax advantages for hybrid cars. But a city policy of promoting hybrid and electric cars and bikes could make a large dent in our emissions and set Dublin to the forefront in the race to produce a green city.
Of course, people will point out that our electricity is also overwhelmingly produced by fossil fuels.
That’s true, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Dublin has an enormous potential for wind power. Not in the mountains, where it would be very contentious, but offshore.
Europe’s highest average windspeeds are barely 20 miles from Dublin, in waters just 100 meters deep and well out of view from land.
Offshore wind, is the resource that could power our changeover from petrol engines to electric motors. Now all we need is a bit of leadership to make it happen.