MP travel: offsetting the carbon cost

A frog reader suggested we remind readers of the Green MPs carbon offsetting arrangements. Yesterday, they declared their travel spending since the beginning of the year, and committed to do it annually. Parliament is considering standardising such disclosure – great!

In 2006 the MPs measured their emissions from air travel to create a baseline. Air travel makes up the vast bulk of emissions from travel for the MPs, and was easier to calculate than other forms of travel – although by no means simple or quick to measure!

Since 1 Jan 2007, the Green MPs have been paying to offset their air travel emissions. They pay from their own pockets – it is not paid for by Parliament. They are currently paid up to the end of 2008, with emissions for 2009 to date still being collected and calculated.

Offsetting is not perfect. In a Green world, there would be alternatives to fossil-fuelled air travel, such as much better provision of video-conferencing facilities, biofuelled aircraft, other swift transport options for inter-city travel, and MP life may even be a little less frenetic. But to a great extent, our MPs represent New Zealanders all over the country and the public needs access to them, so they need to travel. Our MPs continually advocate and work for a low emission transport system, and alternatives to travelling such as flexible working hours that reduce flight demand. We’ve also long advocated a carbon price (either via tax or ETS) that prices domestic flight emissions, and for international emission to come into Kyoto. A price on liquid fuel emissions in the ETS, which was due to come into effect 1 Jan 2009 when first mooted by Government in 2007, is effectively a compulsary offset. However, it is now uncertain whether it will even come into effect in 2011 as provided for in the ETS Act.

We use one of the most credible offsetting companies, carboNZero. It is owned by the CRI Landcare Research, is Kyoto compliant, enables the money to go to native forest sequestration, and has won many awards.

We also continue to pressure other MPs into making offsetting common practice across parliament, and to get better access to video conferencing facilities. The MPs’ secretaries go to considerable effort to make an MPs visit to a particular place as efficient and productive as possible.

45 thoughts on “MP travel: offsetting the carbon cost

  1. Turnip28 said:
    “…electricity will need to meet more of our TOTAL energy needs in the future, especially if you are using it to generate things like hydrogen. This means that right NOW we would need to direct ENERGY into the production of wind,solar etc…”

    On this I have to agree. The good thing is that most of the power companies are also in agreement and are considering various renewable generation options. The not so good thing is that many are continuing to invest in large gas-fired power plants, believing or just hoping that natural gas prices will stay low. They won’t stay low. I don’t know how fast gas prices will rise but it is inevitable that they will rise. Long term, the cost of renewable power is likely to be cheaper than power from coal or gas but it does take a significant investment, and right now such investment is falling off :( We can hope that low interest rates and lack of investor confidence in alternative investments might encourage more investment in proven renewable power generation such as wind farms, geothermal and solar thermal.)

    Trevor.

  2. Turnip28 – I did not break the 1st law of thermodynamics. The conversion of electricity to hydrogen is around 75 to 80% efficient. Your mistake is thinking that the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen doesn’t take much energy. It does, and it is the natural gas that provides most of it. All I was saying is that if we are going to use natural gas to produce hydrogen, then it is more efficient to do it using steam reformation (the direct route) than it is to burn the natural gas to produce electricity and then use that electricity to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen.

    Looking further ahead, we will need to turn to alternatives to fossil oil for transport fuels. I see natural gas as being an important intermediate step, but sooner or later that too will run out. (Sooner if Genesis get their way :( ) After that, we will need to consider hydrogen and whether to use it directly or to convert it to natural gas or other hydrocarbons.

    What I am NOT saying is that it will all be business as usual. Air travel will be cut back as fuel prices sky rocket (pun intended). Fast electric trains will be used more. Teleconferencing will increase. The world will be quite different. Interesting times lie ahead…

    Good night.

    Trevor.

  3. I have to agree with BJ. Hydrogen is going to be a niche player rather than being the foundation of the replacement for the petro-economy.

    There is no way that hydrogen can be efficient if the system relies on an electrolysis and reverse electronic system. However the large diesel engines used in trucks, buses and ships can run on-board eletrolysis and use the resulting hydrogen to improve combustion efficiency with modest improvements in overall systems efficiency. This is because the hydrogen is being utilised in a way that improves the overall system efficency by a greater amount than the on-board electrolysis reduces it. But this seems to be a consequence of the design and operating characteristics of these large engines, so I wouldn’t expect to get the same result fitting one of these devices to my old ute, not even the design licensed by Kent University.

    The Keny design consumes 360watts to produce 4 litres of hydrogen per minute which is injected into the (typically close to) 360kw engine’s air inlet. As long as the hydrogen improves combustion efficiency by greater than 0.1% (or 0.2% when the engine is idling) then overall engine efficiency is improved. Even tripling those percentages to allow for the poor conversion of diesels joule content into electrical power at the electrolysis unit still requires only a modest improvement in combustion efficiency to improve overall system’s efficiency. On a small diesel engine rated at only 100kw and a much steeper torque curve you might need 10% or 20% improvement in combustion efficiency to overcome the increased alternator load. Horses for courses is the guiding principal for all emerging tech.

  4. Thanks for that frog. To be honest I’m glad that peak coal might not be too far off – the last thing the climate needs is a giant shift from burning oil to burning coal.

  5. “We produce hydrogen from natural gas rather than from electricity because we produce electricity from natural gas (at less than 100% efficiency), and the direct conversion is more efficient and cheaper. If we take away the natural gas, then yes the monetary cost will go up, but not the energy cost. (It is because it takes a lot of energy to break the bonds in H2O that we can get a lot of energy out of hydrogen for its weight.)”

    Either I don’t understand what you are saying or you just broke the 1st law of thermodynamics, the energy put into breaking the H2O bond is MORE than the energy returned from combining H2 + O -> H2O.

    The reason we generate hydrogen from natural gas is that it costs us less energy to do so if you change from producing H2 via CH4 to produce H2 from H20, you will need to come up with MORE input energy to produce the same volume of H2. Where are you planning to get all that energy from, simply saying renewable energy, means that you don’t get it, energy is never free and always has an energy cost.

    “But when peak oil bites and gasoline (petrol) and CH4 (natural gas) prices climb through the roof, the costs of manufacturing hydrogen from hydro, wind, solar, wave, tidal or geothermal power will start looking attractive.”

    I still don’t think you fully understand the problem, all that solar,wind,hydro,wave,tidal,geothermal will be used to heat homes, cook food and meet the demands of a declining electricity grid, there is no energy left over to create any hydrogen.

    IF you want to create hydrogen from electricity then in the NOW like YESTERDAY you would need to be building a lot more wind,solar,tidal,geothermal power. Instead we are looking at our electricity needs in the future and basing it on our electricity needs today, your view expressed in your posts demonstates that this approach is wrong. In short electricity will need to meet more of our TOTAL energy needs in the future, especially if you are using it to generate things like hydrogen. This means that right NOW we would need to direct ENERGY into the production of wind,solar etc and away from things like tvs,computers,cars,radios, public health care, food, etc.

    Since we are not doing this then i fail to see where all this hydrogen is coming from? Wind turbines don’t magically appear out of thin air.

    “I think that part of the problem with discussing these issues is that most people only look a few years ahead, but some scientists, engineers and green party supporters look much further – to a time when peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, and peak uranium are past, prices of these are way higher than today and global warming is no longer speculation but is obvious. Holding discussions when the different parties are looking at different timescales can become… interesting.”

    I agree and you also need to look at human history as it is full of examples where a decline in a civilizations net energy led to quite wide spread civilization collapse, we aren’t any different from those people so why would you think it would be different this time? The human race will survive but there are going to be a hell of a lot less of us and we will be living with less energy.

    Finally you are making the classic Economists error, in that you believe that when the price reaches a point all these other renewable sources can just appear out of no where, price has no information about the future status of the resource, it only reflects the costs associated today. The more complex the society the more energy that society will need to invest in order to change. Look at how the Oil price went to 150 then to 40 and now back into the 70s, there is no solid information in that oil price that can help you develop a renewable energy solution, at 150 your renewable energy source was profitable how about at 40 or 70 now your not.

  6. Isn’t there enough coal to last a century or two though? Even if use of it increases year on year?

    In many ways this is a bad thing though, because of how dirty coal burns.

  7. We produce hydrogen from natural gas rather than from electricity because we produce electricity from natural gas (at less than 100% efficiency), and the direct conversion is more efficient and cheaper. If we take away the natural gas, then yes the monetary cost will go up, but not the energy cost. (It is because it takes a lot of energy to break the bonds in H2O that we can get a lot of energy out of hydrogen for its weight.)

    Yes, gasoline prices are cheap, even now. (Do I detect an American influence here?) And yes, some of the proponents for a hydrogen economy are making stupid claims. But when peak oil bites and gasoline (petrol) and CH4 (natural gas) prices climb through the roof, the costs of manufacturing hydrogen from hydro, wind, solar, wave, tidal or geothermal power will start looking attractive. The big question then is what do we do with that power, and is hydrogen part of that answer? For cars, the answer is probably battery-power vehicles or PHEVs, and almost certainly not hydrogen. But for aircraft for flights of more than a few minutes, batteries are not the answer. Hydrogen-powered planes are possible, but so are LNG (liquified natural gas) planes. Since LNG can be made from hydrogen and is easier to work with, the issues become safety, cost of the technology, conversion efficiency and performance. I don’t know which (if either) technology will have the edge, but I can confidently predict that the price of air travel will rise.

    I think that part of the problem with discussing these issues is that most people only look a few years ahead, but some scientists, engineers and green party supporters look much further – to a time when peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, and peak uranium are past, prices of these are way higher than today and global warming is no longer speculation but is obvious. Holding discussions when the different parties are looking at different timescales can become… interesting.

    Cheers,

    Trevor.

  8. kevyn said :

    “add two words and the argument becomes closer to why our cars have internal combustion engines instead of electric motors.
    The current process for commercially producing hydrogen comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel.
    In fact hydrogen is also made from water using electrolyis, which is good reason for not smoking when checking the electrolyte level in your car battery. ”

    I know that hydrogen can be made from water, I also know that you need to put energy in to break the h20 bonds, there in lies the reason why we don’t produce hydrogen from electrolysis. We produce it from natural gas because that process uses less energy.

    So if we remove CH4 and have to produce H2 from electricty the cost for H2 in both dollar terms and energy terms increases. Technology improvements will not give you a doubling of that efficienacy, remember you don’t get to 100% and you can’t go higher then 100%, to do so in either case requires that you change established scientific theorys.

    Also please don’t get me started on the stupid numbers where the hydrogen zelots say hydrogen will cost 4-5 dollars a kg at the pump and then compare that to a gallon of gas at 4-5 dollars, why do the hydrogen guys always ignore the enormous taxes on gasoline, gasoline is a lot cheaper than people realize.
    If you are removing the tax from hydrogen, how are you building the roads to drive your hydrogen powered cars?

  9. I think you misunderstand me Trevor, when i was refering to the Aircraft and its going away I was talking about how its going away as we use it today.

    H2 and CH4 will not allow us to use Aircrafts as we do today.

    It does not matter how good an energy transformation infrastructure is the 1st and 2nd laws of themodynamics put up a big NO!!! Riechard Engels PEM elctroylser can’t fix this equation wind -> electricity -> hydrogen -> electricity -> kinetic energy.

    A human being living in the west will not be able to maintain his level of energy income, this means they will need to learn to live with a lot less.

    You can’t produce CH4 from biomass as a replacement to oil, the same is true for hydrogen. In the case of biomass the enviromental devastation would be enormous. In the case of h2, we simply are not building renewables fast enough, especially when you consider that we are only talkin about electricity use as we use it today not as we may need to in the future.

    Remove fossil fuels and try to build a society that looks like today (uses the same amount of energy), you can’t I’m sorry that this statement is an absolute, it isn’t as its an application of scientific theory if you don’t like that then you need to change the scientific theory.

  10. Trevor

    I have never in my life seen a cheap-safe way to store and use bulk H2. Liquid is good but too cold… cold enough that common materials simply snap. Pressurized it takes too much pressure.. the structure required to get the energy density gets expensive. It cannot be used in a common IC engine. I do NOT see it beating CH4 when you can convert an EXISTING vehicle to use that for a kilobuck give-or-take.

    Half the cities are already reticulated for distribution of CH4. Farmers have access to it from natural processes on the farm.

    The objective IMHO, is to start moving now, and that means that breakthroughs in H2 storage and production techniques that need a decade to come to the mainstream are likely to be 5 years too late.

    I reckon that the people who discuss the arguments against the H2 economy as being the conversion back to electricity need to re-examine their assumptions about storage. Fuel-cell efficiency is pretty damned good, certainly no worse than anything else… but vehicle designs that have foundered on the construction of fuel tanks to hold the damned stuff litter the history of space-flight. It is all well and good to be able to put in a massive steel tank with cooling systems and the like to manage your excess power generation and it is another thing entirely to stuff such a thing into an airframe.

    Having a massive high-pressure tank a meter behind my back in my car isn’t a comforting thought either.

    You and Turnip are good people but this sort of argument is counterproductive. It wastes good effort on a non-issue. We don’t have to choose this path or that. One of them will be taken to be sure, but we do not have to choose and probably should not try.

    respectfully
    BJ

  11. It is OK turnip – you can be one of my students if I do decide to take some science classes. I didn’t mind supervising and marking some of the undergrad varsity student’s lab work, but it was a long time ago.

    Be warned though, if you claim absolutes like “can’t be used”, you had better back it up, and check first to see if anyone has actually done it.

    Also be sure that your references actually support your arguments. Your link
    http://www.oilcrisis.com/hydrogen/crea.htm
    actually mentions that the lighter weight of hydrogen is an advantage for aircraft, but not other transport methods. The arguments against a hydrogen economy are largely centered on the low efficiency of conversion back to electricity – a conversion that is not required on a jet aircraft. The 2004 article also suggests a conversion efficiency from electricity to hydrogen of 75%. More recent developments suggest that 80% might be achievable in volume production. This article also suggests that renewable resources would need to generate over 20% of the country’s electricity before storage would be an issue. New Zealand already generates over 20% of its electricity from renewable resources and already spills water at times when supply exceeds demand.

    I am glad to see that you do agree with me that methane (Natural Gas) is also an option, so oil is not our only option for aircraft. Note that methane can be produced from biomass or hydrogen, so is not necessarily a fossil-fuel, although currently its low cost and availability make production from hydrogen uneconomic and barely economic from biomass.

    Trevor.

  12. Turnip, It’s taken a while to read the link you gave and the rebuttal from Richard Engel, a proton exchange membrane researcher.

    Obviously that limited amount of reading on the subject doesn’t quality me to form an opinion on whether “the hydrogen economy” is a worthy goal to work towards or a dangerous distraction. But one of your opening sentences in your initial response to Trevor does offer a clue:
    “The process for producing hydrogen comes from natural gas a fossil fuel.”
    add two words and the argument becomes closer to why our cars have internal combustion engines instead of electric motors.
    The current process for commercially producing hydrogen comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel.
    In fact hydrogen is also made from water using electrolyis, which is good reason for not smoking when checking the electrolyte level in your car battery.

    The similarity with the why most of still use ICE’s is because fossil fuels are so cheap and abundant that there has been no point exploring alternatives.

    According to Richard Engel “A proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer can be designed to electrochemically generate hydrogen at pressures of 2000 psi or greater, thus eliminating the need for mechanical compression. The PEM electrolyzer uses a solid electrolyte membrane that can be expected to last the lifetime of the electrolyzer. No caustic alkaline or acidic fluid electrolyte is required. Additional advantages of PEM electrolysis over alkaline electrolysis include lower parasitic energy losses and higher purity hydrogen output. PEM electrolysis is potentially a simple, sustainable, and cost-effective technology for generating, compressing, and storing hydrogen.
    With funding from the California Energy Commission’s Energy Innovations Small Grant (EISG) program, SERC designed, built, and tested a prototype high pressure proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer. The electrolyzer was successfully operated at pressures of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch. If commercialized, high pressure PEM electrolysis could eliminate the need for energy-intensive mechanical compression of hydrogen and increase the overall efficiency of hydrogen energy systems.”

    That doesn’t mean we can suddenly start using hydrogen for to replace fossil fuels for transport or space heating but it is why BChydro is installing a pilot hydrogen storage system to replace diesel back-up generators for an off-grid run-of-the-river hydro system in a remote Canadian township. In fact, it is in the role of emergy back-up generation and other situations where diesel gensets are currently the standard that PEM/fuel cell units will make a viable contribution.

    Maybe, in a few decades when natural gas goes the same way as oil we will see a hydrogen economy or we may see a carbon-to-methane economy. It all depends on what happens to the tech, the demands to reduce atmospheric carbon concntrations, politics and economics. All of which, we can attempt to predict at our own peril.

    Three items I read on greencarcongress suggest that the next few years are going to see unexpected revolutions in the way we use fossil fuels in road transport.
    Opel has been sold to a joint venture between a Russian truck manufacturer and a Canadian electric vehicle manufacturer.
    Saturn has been sold to Penske corp, which makes the first LED headlights to be certified by the US DoT and designed the diesel engines used by Hyundai, as is the US distributor for Smart.
    BorgWarner have bought the company that developed the Corona ignition engine and BorgWarner have stated that they intend to eliminate spark ignition engines from the new car market within five years.
    Revetec have announced that, on satisfactory conclusion to the current prototype testing of their cam-drive ICE two chinese car makers will jointly develop an automotive production engine.

    So within five years we could see four competitive systems matching the efficieciency of PHEVs. An Opel electric as early as 2010, a Saturn diesel in the USA where diesels haven’t yet gone mainstream, the emerging Chinese market with a non-conventional engine for consumers not yet wedded to conventional engines and a conventional petrol engine with an unconvential way of sparking for markets wedded to conventional engines and fascinated by electronics and plasma type devices.

    Most of those technologies are potentially retrofittable if manufactures use their current performance vehicle units model – ie HSV, FPV, Nismo, Alpina, AMG, Abarth.

    We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when peak oil delivers the necessary price signals.

  13. BJ I know you can use hydrogen of course I like you know its a pain!!!

    When ever someone throws the word hydrogen into a future energy debate I always roll my eyes.

    methane as you have alluded to is a much better choice.

  14. Turnip

    He’s right you know. It CAN be used… it is a pure pain in the >>> and it is still crummy energy density and it makes things break, but it can be used. If we had to, we could.

    It is easier to add a little carbon (take it OUT of the air first so you stay neutral) and use the resulting methane.

    Which STILL USES the H2… just twists it into a more convenient molecule.

    respectfully
    BJ

  15. I give up Trevor

    You need to go and take some science classes before joining the debate.

  16. jarbury – oil is a wonderful thing.

    Nearly everything we do involves oil, from transportation, to drugs, plastics, fertilizers etc.

    That’s my point – that we’re wasting it enormously by burning it to drive cars around cities when there are obvious alternatives like public transport (particularly electrified train networks) and promoting land use patterns that do not require so much driving everywhere.

    There are many uses of oil that are difficult to replicate – and fortunately we’re not “running out of oil” any time particularly soon. It will just become more expensive in the future, which is perhaps a good recognition of its value.

  17. Turnip28 – would that be the post in which you said “Solar and Wind give pretty good net energy gains over their lifetimes, but they produce electricity which isn’t any good at running your aircraft.”?

    Or your first post when you dismiss “alternatives to fossil-fuelled air travel” by saying that “Currently there is no replacement for aircraft”, conveniently ignoring three important words from frog “fossil-fuelled” and “travel”?

    Or your fourth post in which you said “oil is our primary source of energy” without qualifications such as “transport energy”? Oil is just one of our primary sources of energy.

    You also seem to be misreading my posts, attributing to me “cover(ing) the world in solar cells” when I never mentioned solar cells, although I did mention hydro, wind and geothermal.

    Trevor.

  18. jarbury – oil is a wonderful thing.

    Nearly everything we do involves oil, from transportation, to drugs, plastics, fertilizers etc.

  19. Trevor Said:

    “I never said that hydrogen was an energy resource. Also, I never said that hydrogen powered planes would soon be used – we need to invest in a lot of new generation fron renewable resources to cut back on our fossil fuel usage before hydrogen will be manufactured in enough quantity to be viable for these applications.”

    You seem to believe that if we cover the world in solar cells we can manufacture limitless hydrogen and power everything.

    Did you read my post? or more to point did you understand it?

  20. Fascinating reading in the above comments – especially your giant essay turnip.

    This all makes me think that we’re being incredibly wasteful burning through so much oil in our cars all the time when there are other obvious alternatives (electric cars, public transport, more efficient land-use patterns).

    Oil does seem like the “holy grail” of energy storage, and there just simply isn’t another thing out there to move on to – unless it is electricity or perhaps atomic power in some shape or form.

    An odd, but potentially interesting question to ponder is: what would be powering the spaceships in Star Wars? Not oil I imagine….

  21. “We used coal because we could expend less energy getting it than any other alternatives, though I suspect that this is what Kevyn means by his use of the word efficiency.”

    That’s pretty much correct. I think I worked in systems analysis for a bit too long and forget that not everyone thinks of the efficiency of the whole system rather than just it’s individual working parts. What I mean by efficiency is simply the ratio of energy to exergy.

    The switch to coal is a good example of how all the parts of the system had to be put in place before coal ceased to be an expensive niche commodity. Newcomen’s steam engine was largely used by the coal industry to pump water from the mines. It wasn’t used in manufacturing until canals reduced the cost of transporting the coal and Watt’s steam engine provided a smooth delivery of power rather than the pulses of power that Newcomen’s engine delivered.

    One of the main reasons for focusing on energy efficiency as a major part of the solution is to question why we are using high-order energy sources for low-order heating needs, such as hot water and space heating. Most of that type of energy use can use direct solar and thermal storage with good isolation between hot and cold spaces.

    It gets more sophisticated with reducing transport oil use but again it comes down to understanding the whole system and using computers to slide human qurkiness out of the equation. Things like computer controlled manual gearboxes, automatic engine stop/start, biofeedback to drivers, and Ford’s ecoboost V6 engines that has been deliberately designed to mimic the power and torque delivery of V8s so that drivers won’t tend to keep thinking that they’re driving an “economy car”. Thta last point is surprisingly import. Thinking that the car is doing all that’s needed to be economical takes the pressure off drivers to do simple things like pre-planning journeys (or actually learning how to use the sat-nav).

    As you say, achieving 100% efficiency is something that’s almost impossible in most equipment, but more importantly when all the inefficiencies in an entire system are calculated don’t be too surprised to find that many of the systems in which we use energy are remarkably close to 100% inefficient. If the system is only converting energy into exergy with 1% efficiecny then we actually can double efficiency six times before it becomes impossible to get a further doubling of efficiency, and that’s only because you reach 64% efficiency. Note that this is system efficiency not simply conversion efficency.

    I obviously don’t need to educate you on this subject, merely wanted to clarify that I was using the term energy efficiency in it’s economic system context, as per the Ayres Warr Model of Economic Production.
    http://commoditiesbrokeronline.com/commodities-broker/oil/implications-of-the-ayres-warr-model-of-economic-production-an-introduction/
    and
    http://www.iea.org/Textbase/work/2004/eewp/Ayres-paper1.pdf

  22. Turnip28 said:
    “The process for producing hydrogen comes from natural gas a fossil fuel.”

    Yes, in the USA. Even in New Zealand, hydrogen is manufactured from natural gas, and indeed natural gas is a fossil fuel. But this is NOT the only process for producing hydrogen. Hydrogen can be made from coal, but it is readily made using electrolysis. Norway was routinely using surplus night-time electricity (from hydro generation) to produce hydrogen before World War II, and New Zealand can do the same. As we increase the number of wind farms and exploit more run-of-river hydro and geothermal power, we will have more surplus generation at times of low demand.

    However the point I was making is that hydrogen CAN be used to fuel airplanes, so oil is NOT the only option. What is not practical for any commercial air travel is an electricity-powered plane – unless you use that electricity to manufacture hydrogen and fuel the plane with that.

    I never said that hydrogen was an energy resource. Also, I never said that hydrogen powered planes would soon be used – we need to invest in a lot of new generation fron renewable resources to cut back on our fossil fuel usage before hydrogen will be manufactured in enough quantity to be viable for these applications.

    Note that hydrogen-powered planes have been considered, as have liquified natural gas powered planes (built and flown), and their performance doesn’t leave a lot to be desired:
    http://www.tupolev.ru/English/Show.asp?SectionID=82
    suggests that over Mach 6 is possible.

    Trevor.

  23. >>Your bellyaching that we Greens should reduce our consumption to nothing first

    Well, engaging in the same level of air-travel as most other CEOs would be a start. That would be a serious reduction on the current level. There is simply no excuse for flying all over the country when there are many alternatives, the major one being telecommunications.

    Sure, people can argue about offsets, and handing their “entitlement” over to others, but don’t you see the problem? Everyone can rationalise their behavior in the exact same way – changing nothing.

    I’m not sure why you’re getting so bothered by this. I watch what people say, and watch what they do, and I see differences.

  24. BP

    The Green message is that we Have To DO BOTH! We must reduce our overconsumption and waste…. and we have to find new sources of energy and adapt to the future.

    Which is what we do, to your everlasting annoyance. Your bellyaching that we Greens should reduce our consumption to nothing first (on the one hand) and that there’s nothing little NZ can do that makes a difference ( so that as a country we shouldn’t even try ) is simply wearying.

    I’m getting tired of your BS lines, stuff like this which is BY DEFINITION impossible

    “Offsets? C’mon. You know that won’t decrease the temperature to the degree needed. What if everyone just carried on as they, but paid a penance? That would help a little, but it’s nowhere near what need to be achieved.

    OK If it is an ACTUAL offset being purchased it is not a penance. Someone has to have a method of taking the CO2 out of the atmosphere to sell (We buy actual offsets, not penance).

    If everyone were to use offsets SOMEONE would be doing big business pulling that CO2 out of the air and it would make a big difference. IF offsets are available and purchased, CO2 gets/stays sequestered.

    This is how the use of the word “penance” is a lie… and I doubt that even you believe it.

    You see, when you mislead people on purpose yourself as you so often do, it is easy for people to decide that nothing you say is worth listening to at all.

    As for your demand that we lead by example by committing ourselves to doing things that we already do the hard way in ways that would simply kill the party, that’s just DUMB.

    We do NOT advocate that “nobody should take the plane”. We do NOT advocate hair shirts. That’s YOUR fantasy world. Go live in it yourself.

    BJ

  25. But hasn’t the Green message been that we must CHANGE?

    We must change our ways, and reduce our impact. Yes, this will be a little inconvenient. It’s inconvenient taking the bus instead of flying, but it is worth it. Sure, it’s nice to meet the public face to face, wherever they may live, and get back to Wellington in time for meetings. But in order for the planet to survive, we must reduce, reduce, reduce. We must change our ways. The days of air travel are over. Adapt. Show leadership, so that others may follow.

    Offsets? C’mon. You know that won’t decrease the temperature to the degree needed. What if everyone just carried on as they, but paid a penance? That would help a little, but it’s nowhere near what need to be achieved. It just lets people carry on with their polluting ways.

    You see, when you make these excuses yourself, it’s easy for others to make excuses, too. So don’t be surprised when they ignore your sanctimonious, empty, pompous, posturing about changing and cutting back.

    Clicks fingers. “Heathrow!”

  26. Turnip

    Too many words. Good, but too many words.

    We have a lot of changes coming, and wandering over to the oil drum http://www.theoildrum.com/ (really good stuff there today) or to Chefurka’s analysis http://www.paulchefurka.ca/WEAP2/WEAP2.html can be really scary and eye-opening for people, but I see a path through all of it which allows most humans (as in more than half of us) to keep something like civilization and have something like a future.

    There is NO requirement that we achieve the sort of energy density that we see in JP5 in order to heat homes, run trains or cars or do anything else where access to power is not subject to changes of position on the planet. For air travel and some other purposes, the ability to create a synthetic fuel that has the desired characteristics out of a combination of additional energy and chemical reactions does exist. The Jet Aircraft becomes more expensive and less commonly used. It doesn’t disappear altogether.

    The key is to have enough of the other forms of energy to be able to do that. Which means that for the next 100 years we will be collecting photons and burning neutrons every which way we can.

    My answer to everything is “Cheap Access To Space”. It doesn’t address overpopulation or ocean acidification, but it can provide answers to almost all the other problems that have been discussed on this blog.

    There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

    respectfully
    BJ

  27. dunno, if we ever get the nack of fusion we might have more helium availible, lol. would need bigger balloons though :P

  28. Hydrogen is a *storage* technology for energy. Not a very good one, but we do not have many (any?) better ones.

    It is not just Austrians that are making the mistake of putting faith in technology, but economists of most types do this (yes I am an economist, no I do not have faith in that particular “cargo cult”).

    Turnip makes some good points. And it comes down to a paradigm shift in developmental economics where we do more with less rather than rely on ever cheaper energy. As Turnip points out there is not much prospect (this side of cold fusion that appears to be at best a dud, probably a hoax all along IMO) of any such technology in the future.

    One day there may well be some unpredictably break through (like a practical method of harnessing zero point energy – ha!) but we cannot make policy on wishful thinking.

    Lastly: Zepplins sound cool to me. Cruising the world at 2,000 feet in a floating hotel rather than crammed in to a seat in an aluminum tube. But they will have to be inflated with Hydrogen. Helium is far too useful and there is *no* way we can make it in useful quantities. Pissing it away in airships is criminal (as is pissing it away in party balloons).

    Hands up those comfortable in a modern hydrogen airship? (My hand is up)

    peace
    W

  29. Kevyn – you are using the word efficiency in the wrong context.

    Human beings have 3 sources of energy that we can use:

    – Gravitational
    – Nuclear
    – Sun

    We also have two very important laws.

    First law of thermodynamics:
    Energy can be transformed but it can’t be created or destroyed. (Conservation of Energy)

    Second law of thermodynamics:
    Entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

    So what does this mean well energy can be converted from one form to other forms, not all of those other forms of energy will be useful.

    Human beings harness energy sources via technology, overtime engineers refine the technology so that it becomes more efficient at converting one form of energy to another.

    Kevyn’s premise that all we need is better efficiency and things will be fine is false, the efficiency of the technology is bound by the laws of thermodynamics this creates an upper bound
    or maxima efficiency for your technology, in theory the best you can achieve is 100%, in practice you wont achieve it.

    So why did we move from human power -> wood -> water/wind -> coal -> oil

    Well each of those energy sources, note oil, water, wind, coal, wood are not real energy sources as they require inputs from the sun, however we consider the suns energy to be free, we also consider the moons gravitational energy to be free along with nuclear as well.

    We also have this basic pattern that can be applied:

    Humans use a technology to transform an energy source into another useful energy source.
    The technology overtime will usually become more efficient but that efficiency has a theoretical upper bound and a practical upper bound, which is less than the theoretical.

    A very good science that deals with efficiency and upper bounds is computer science.

    Let’s look at wood as an example of this pattern:

    Wood burns and produces heat, so human beings learned a technology (building a fire) to transform the energy source (wood) into a different form of energy (heat)

    However in order to do this human beings had to expend energy, why? Well they needed to gather the wood and bring it back to their camp.

    As long as the amount of energy we expend is less than the useful energy we receive back then we can say we have a net energy gain.

    Of course as per the first law of thermodynamics we don’t really have a net energy gain in the sense that we created energy out of nothing, we just don’t include the sun light falling on the tree helping it grow, why because we didn’t expend any energy allowing that to happen. If human beings had planted the forest and tended the trees then we would need to include that energy in our above equation.

    If we advance to the late medieval age 1400AD

    What’s going on well human beings have a number of useful technologies such as windmills and watermills. Each of these technologies converts an energy source into kinetic energy which can be used to perform work and grind wheat into flour.

    When we invented the windmill did we invent a new form of energy, nope the wind was there before the windmill it was there all along the technology allowed us to transform it, what effect did this have on society; it reduced the amount of energy we needed to expend producing flour.
    This changes our net energy gain equation, since we now have less energy being used to produce flour we free up energy for other things.

    The wind mill didn’t just become efficient over night; it was able to transform wind to kinetic energy at its invention. Overtime it may evolve to become more efficient at doing this.

    If we advance to the Industrial Age 1850AD

    The steam engine allows us to use coal to produce kinetic energy, overtime the steam engine became more efficient at doing this, but from the day it was invented it increased net energy gain,

    Why well we didn’t invent coal the coal had been around all along, it was just useless since no technology existed to make it useful.

    Why coal is better than wood, coal comes from wood, but its energy density is much higher, this means I need more wood in mass and volume terms to produce the same amount of work.
    This also gives me a different net energy gain for wood and coal. I will expend less energy mining coal than cutting down trees, why because I need less coal.

    Once again efficiency of the technology has nothing to do with using the energy source.

    We used coal because we could expend less energy getting it than any other alternatives, though I suspect that this is what Kevyn means by his use of the word efficiency.

    Not the above line is exactly what evolutionary theory predicates.
    Evolution favors’ animals with a higher net energy gain, why? Those animals can use that extra net energy gain to reproduce.

    If we advance to the oil age say 1920AD:

    We invent a number of technologies this time as we need to drill for the oil, then refine the oil to gasoline and then put the gasoline in our combustion engine which finally produces kinetic energy.

    However once again because oil is more energy dense than coal, this whole process turns out to provide a larger net energy gain, the combustion engine wasn’t less efficient and then all
    of a sudden more efficient it always provided a better net energy gain because the underlying energy source oil had a higher energy density.

    If we advance to post oil age say 2050AD:

    Well unless we find something that is more energy dense than oil, very doubtful then civilization’s net energy gain could decline, this means we will be spending more energy producing energy.
    This isn’t a doomsday scenario it is simply reality and no amount of pretending will help. People like Rodney Hide show a complete misunderstanding of science when they make stupid claims that technology will fix the problem, technology can’t produce energy as per the first law of thermodynamics, all it can do is transform it and as to efficiency this is again bound and not unlimited.

    We will need to spend more energy producing energy, this means there will be less energy for everything else, while solar and wind provide very good net energy gains it doesn’t help that we have invested in an OIL transportation energy infrastructure.

    Oil quite simply represents the combined energy of the sun falling on the earth for millions of years.

    You CAN NEVER REPLACE this with bio-gas, since the bio gas produced in one year only represents the energy of the sun falling on the surface of the land for one year, oil contains this energy from a combined millions of years. It does not matter how efficient you make the conversion you WILL NEVER BREAK THE FIRST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS.

    I would also add that we made a mistake from moving from coal to oil, in fact give me a time machine and I’ll go and fix it. Why because at around the same time we found something else, electricity. If we had ignored the oil and instead built a society based just on electricity everything today would be fine. Even if we had just burnt the oil to produce electricity things would still be fine, instead we built the most COMPLEX energy transportation infrastructure in the history of mankind and we think we can just switch it off in a couple of years without major civilization collapse, history shows otherwise. If we make the combustion engine more efficient all we do is move judgment day into the future, we don’t remove it.

    I see oil as a test to move on to a more advanced species, history has shown that human beings choose the easiest path as per the theory of natural selection. If humans had broken the theory 100 years ago and made a better choice we would be in a better position today, alas hindsight is wonderful thing and human foresight isn’t very evolved.

  30. Hydrogen don’t make me laugh.

    Look lets all repeat the following lines one thousand times
    – Hydrogen is not an energy source.

    The process for producing hydrogen comes from natural gas a fossil fuel.
    The only reason hydrogen costs what it does today is because the net energy gain for natural gas is so good, If you take that away, then we would need to spend more of our energy producing hydrogen in order to maintain our current production levels. In short the price of hydrogen will increase and more importantly maintaining a hydrogen transport infastructure will cost more energy, reducing the avaliable energy for other tasks in society.

    In short we expend less energy drilling oil and then producing gas than we do in capturing some energy using that energy to produce hydrogen and then using more energy to produce hydrogen. I would go one step further and say we expend considerable less energy, this is a very real problem that you can’t remove via wishful thinking.

    So many people on this board and I dare say within the green movement want to feel warm and fuzy, they think all they need to do is imagine a green tomorrow filled with bio-fuels and hydrogen powered aircraft. They think if they imagine it then it will magically appear. Human imagination vs the Universe, the universe will win everytime.

    I do not include BJ in the above category he knows this is real problem and he knows it will not be solved by Green Imaginations.

  31. Oil is not the only fuel usable in aircraft.

    Liquid hydrogen is feasible, but it will take a while to develop the planes and the infrastructure, and there are a number of technical issues to deal with along the way. The most obvious is that liquid hydrogen is very cold and needs to be kept that way.

    Liquified Natural Gas (methane) might also be an option.

    Frog suggested biofuel, which sounds very reasonable to me and could be used with little or no modifications to our current planes.

    Trevor.

  32. Turnip, I absolutely agree that oil is a fantastically cheap and plentiful energy resource. Except that really means we’re up sh1t creek when we hit a supply peak and it starts becoming really really expensive.

  33. For long hauls over the ocean I expect to see LTA return. It is 6-8 times faster than ships and much more efficient than the aircraft. It would also be a stone-beeyatch to fly anywhere near the mountains or into Wellington.

    The thing you are missing Turnip is that we WILL wind up prioritizing. The only place where the sort of energy density and weight considerations that make oil NECESSARY is in the aircraft.

    Almost anything else can be powered with something else. The aircraft demand CAN be supplied by biofuels at a price and the price of the faster plane is going to go up to reflect the price.

    The price of the Zep will be lower. Your vacation will include more travel time and less beach time. Most people won’t go quite so far. Zeps and trains and electric cars.

    The changes are coming and there’s no stopping them. BP has the point that we have to adapt, and that’s one place we agree. We disagree when he claims that adapting is the only thing we SHOULD be doing, because making things worse than they have to be isn’t right.

    respectfully
    BJ

  34. turnip, There is one vital aspect of the transition from one energy source to another that you have missed. The transitions from manpower to horsepower then wind/hydro then wood then coal then oil were all energy efficiency transitions. You get more output for the same investment in labour and time. Initially the technologies for using the new fuels are inefficient, limiting them to niche industries with extreme economic factors that make the switch to the more expensive fuel cost effective. Then, over time the technology for using the new fuel improves so that less is needed to get the same amount of work. Then you have the happy feedback loop between more efficient machines making the fuel more attractive and economies of scale in producing the fuel driving down the price of the fuel.

    Of course, you’re right about the Austrian school being totally ignorant of this. They are simply assuming that because we have been able to shift to ever more efficient fuel sources since the start of the agricultural revolution we can keep doing it. But they keep making that assumption in the absence of any proven energy source capable of replacing oil. Worse, they dismiss energy efficiency as irrelevant because they are too poorly informed to be aware that that is actually what has been delivering “productivity” increases for the last 300 years.

    So, if we can’t turn to a more efficient fuel then we can turn to more efficient ways of using what fuels we do have. But, like you say, without widespread awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency we wont overcome human inertia, especially in the “instant rewards” mentality that has become almost all-pervasive in recent decades.

    Lazy economists, lazy news media, stupid politicians, selfish innumerate citizens. Thank goodness the European car industry is letting the profit motive drive step-change solutions to fuel efficiency by niche marketing to aware consumers so that the required technology is available. The forthcoming changes to the how the internal combustion engine is utilised in cars are as radical as the change from a Newcomen steam engine to Watt’s steam engine.

  35. Turnip

    A train between Wellington and Auckland downtown would not have to be a high speed maglev in a vacuum tube to beat the planes. All it has to do is go from downtown to downtown in 4 hours. Rain or Shine or Fog. What is it, 660 KM ? So we get an average speed of 165 KPH. Not that fast really… figure some slowdowns and speedups into it and it’d probably have to hit 220 on the straights. Not the problem you seem to think it would be.

    The real butt-kick is the Strait. THAT is not a simple proposition.

    respectfully
    BJ

  36. “Currently there is no replacement for aircraft.”

    The Japanese have been using high speed trains since the 60s. When you factor in the fluffing around at the airport, and the drive to the airport and the parking, a train can be quite a lot slower than an aircraft and still get there faster.

    Also if we kept sleepers instead of ditching the Silver Star, the dead time normally spent sleeping could be used traveling instead, increasing the efficiency of travel without increasing speed. I could check into the Wellington railway station after work, do some work on my lap top, have a sleep, and be ready for a business meeting in Auckland in the morning.

    On this subject I am highly annoyed that the train service from New Zealand’s largest city to its 5th largest no longer operates. It would be a very convenient way to get to central Auckland with no parking hassles.

  37. People treat oil as a resource and nothing more.

    That is a huge mistake, oil is our primary source of energy just as coal was before that and wood before that.

    If you make the mistake of treating it as a resource then you will also make the mistake that oil can simply be replaced with some other energy source, however you never provide the energy source.

    Most Economist make the above mistake, free market austrians make it big time, since they make a false asumption that when the price of oil becomes too high we will just switch it for another resource and use that.

    The real world doesn’t work that way. We didn’t switch over in one day from using just coal to using oil, the process was gradual, We also had a benefit to do so, oil provides a better return on investment over coal, coal provides a better return on investment over wood.

    You need the benefit to overcome the human inertia to resist change.

  38. laws of the universe = laws of physics.

    I have never said that economics has laws.

    however energy economics does as it is applying the laws of physics and chemistry.

  39. turnip28, there are no laws of the universe.

    There are laws of physics (as far as that branch of science has developed). They are inevitably not complete, but are as good as we get until someone develops them further.

    There are no “laws of economics”, as you might like to think. There are various economic theories, but they are not science, because economics itself is not a science.

    Economics is about how resources are apportioned and traded, and about how much of them remain.

    As far as aircraft go, well the internet and associated communications technology has cut down the necessity for flights already.

    And it will continue to do so. Hell, I would love to be able to fly less and be away from home less, but we do what has to be done with what the necessities of doing business and our communications technology provide.

  40. why is airtravel possible the answer and the greens don’t like it is one word oil.

    Oil is an excellent energy source why because it yields a high return for energy invested. 1920 you could invest 1 barrel of oil and get back 50, its down around 1 barrel of oil and getting back 10 today.

    bio-fuels are not an excellent energy source why because they don’t yield a high return for energy invested.

    The whole reason that we are communicating on this blog is because of oil,
    Oil is the sole reason that this complex civilization has developed.

    Complex civilizations CAN only develop when there is a surplus of net energy.

    Solar and Wind give pretty good net energy gains over their lifetimes,
    but they produce electricity which isn’t any good at running your aircraft.

  41. “In a Green world, there would be alternatives to fossil-fuelled air travel, such as much better provision of video-conferencing facilities, biofuelled aircraft, other swift transport options for inter-city travel, and MP life may even be a little less frenetic.”

    The classic Frog post, where Frog rewrites the laws of the universe.

    So all we have to do is vote the greens into power and Frog can use his imagination to imagine technology that doesn’t exist into existence.

    Currently there is no replacement for aircraft.
    maglev trains running inside a vaccum tube could replace the aircraft, but they are a long way off.

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