Posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2008
Doh! I felt such a fool. While checking the manuscript of The Last Oil Shock for the new mass market paperback edition, available from 17 April, I noticed a real howler.
In order to expose the fantasy of the hydrogen economy I had done a calculation to show how much additional low-CO2-emitting electricity generating capacity would be needed to run Britain’s road transport on ‘cleanly’ produced hydrogen. To my acute embarassment I discovered I had mistakenly treated the total number of kilometres driven as miles driven. That meant all the results were a third too high.
In the original edition, published a year ago, I claimed it would take the equivalent of 67 Sizewell B nuclear power stations, solar panels covering every inch of North Yorkshire, or a windfarm covering the entire southwest region of England. Having reworked the sum for the new edition, it turns out it would take 42 Sizewells, solar panels covering Lincolnshire, or a windfarm covering the entire northwest region of England. There, I hope that makes everyone feel better. Even after correcting such a whopping input error, the idea of the hydrogen transport economy remains absurd.
The other principal arguments advanced in The Last Oil Shock have also proved robust, and today seem more relevant than ever: oil production has scarcely risen early 2005; the price of a barrel continues its northward march, having just topped $115; senior oil executives now talk openly about physical and geological limits to oil production; the damaging impacts of biofuels are becoming excruciatingly obvous; and even Alan Greenspan now agrees that Iraq was “largely about oil”.
The debate has moved on so rapidly that former US Energy Secretary James Schlesinger could argue last September “we are all peakists now”. Well, not quite. Her Majesty’s Government remains splendidly unconcerned, and Gordon Brown maintains “…the world’s oil and gas resources are sufficient to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable future”. But perhaps he can say that with some confidence; the way things are shaping up, his forseeable future is not very long.