Upton-on-line Diaspora Edition - 21st October 2004

Published: Tue 26 Oct 2004 10:27 AM
Diaspora Edition
21st October 2004
In this edition:
Why Turkey is and isn’t European, all at the same time; funeral anthems for the death of a philosopher – republican obsequies for Jacques Derrida; and for dwellers on planet earth, some numbers on the potential and limitations of renewable energy.
Cold Turkey
The possible opening of negotiations between Turkey and the EU on Turkey’s ultimate membership of the Union has unleashed an increasingly shrill debate in French political circles. It remains for Heads of State to give the green light but the European Commission has recommended that they do so on the basis that Turkey has met a raft of Euro-sensitive internal reforms. While President Chirac has on a number of occasions voiced his support for Turkey’s candidacy (and he is constitutionally free to take the foreign policy decision), an increasingly nasty clamour has the President murmuring all sorts of caveats about things taking a very long time.
This is an issue of enormous moment for Europe and for the Middle East. It could prove to be fatally divisive both within Europe and for Europe’s relations not just with Euro-sympathetic Turks but Euro-sympathisers throughout the Mediterranean world. It could also determine the nature of the European Union itself. Upton-on-line has been particularly struck by the extent to which the same set of facts can produce diametrically opposed view points. Here are a few:
Geography: Turkey is European because part of it is physically in Europe (the bit west of the Bosporus). Supporters can argue that Western Turkey (where many people live) is no further East than Finland or Estonia. Turkey is not European because 95% of its surface area is in Asia extending as far as the frontiers of Iran and Iraq.
Population: Turkey should be in Europe because its population is European both in terms of skills and outlook as witnessed by the fact that large numbers of Turks already live and work throughout Europe and because Europe needs an injection of vital younger citizens when in most EU countries an ageing population will soon lead to steep population declines. Turkey should not be in Europe because within 15 years it will have a population of 100 million and, as the most populous state in the Union, would swamp the others.
History: Turkey belongs in Europe because its predecessor state – the old Ottoman Empire – was for centuries an integral part of the European balance of power and controlled all the territory as far as the gates of Vienna. Turkey does not belong in Europe because (Christian) Europeans spent centuries repelling Ottoman attacks and forcing the Turks back almost to the edge of the continent.
Religion: Turkey qualifies as European because it is a democracy whose inhabitants have made the separation between Church and State that Europeans have and whose (overwhelmingly) Moslem faith is no different from that shared by millions of EU citizens in countries like France. Turkey does not qualify as European because, notwithstanding its expressly secular construction, the EU is a region whose culture and mores reflect Judaeo-Christian values. And in any case, there’s a risk Turkey might not stay secular.
Geo-political: Turkey is part of Europe in a strategic sense since it is a longstanding member of NATO and has one of the most significant military establishments in the Alliance situated right on the front line of an unstable region where the EU needs a stout shield; Turkey is not a part of Europe because it makes no sense for the EU to extend its borders to such unlovely places as Syria or Irak. Byelorussia is bad enough. Europe likes nice stable neighbours who can provide a buffer zone.
Keeping faith: Turkey should begin entry negotiations because the promise of such an event has been held out as a carrot since 1963 and its status as a candidate confirmed in 1999 – and besides, opening negotiations doesn’t mean you have to conclude them; Turkey should not be permitted to open negotiations because Europeans have never really meant to let them in and good faith demands that they should finally front up and say so.
You get the drift? The same stark dichotomy was echoed in the utterances of French MPs during a recent parliamentary debate (which was not subject to a vote because the anti-Turkish forces in the President’s centre-right governing party didn’t want to embarrass him – just send a message. Here are two statements by two MPs within the governing party (the UMP):
· “Would we have forged a Europe with a Germany that denied the Holocaust? The Turkish state continues to deny the genocide of around 2 million Armenians. Is there some sort of hierarchy of genocides? General de Gaulle dreamed of a Europe that stretched from the Atlantic to the Urals. Are you ready to live in a nightmare extending from the Atlantic to the Euphrates?” M. Philippe Pemezec (Upton-on-line can’t work out whether the worked up deputé was genuflecting before the great national hero or castigating him – a check on the world map shows that the Urals are far further east than the most eastern point of the Euphrates, lining up with Turkmenistan, Iran and Oman. Was the General for or against?)
· “It’s all about showing that the river of Islam can subsume itself in the ocean of democracy and human rights. We can’t, on the one hand, make the integration of French Muslims and secularism one of the key social priorities of our country and accuse the Bush Administration of aggravating a clash of civilisations that would impose Ben Laden and his terrorists on the world while at the same time tell the secular Turkish state that it cannot belong to Europe.” M. Pierre Lellouche
Once again the European Union seems to have spent decades papering over fundamental difference with verbal sticking plaster thereby getting itself an awful long way down the creek without a paddle. The crew are now divided three ways. On group favours going over the waterfall; a second favours sinking the canoe; the third (and most impeccably European) group are proposing a lengthy conversation on the basis that Euro-negotiators can extend rivers and suspend waterfalls almost indefinitely.
And what does the long-suffering Turkish political establishment think about all this. In the words of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Le Monde, 22 October):
· “We have, to be frank, some difficulty understanding what’s at the bottom of all the contention in France surrounding Turkey’s candidacy. For our part we are perfectly relaxed. Our future in Europe is a long distance race, not a sprint. But when I hear all these things I have to ask myself, have we forgotten everything? Including the fact that we share many points in common and links with France whether it be at the political level or culturally, economically, commercially - even militarily. Isn’t France one of our principal investors? The process that leads towards our adhesion didn’t start yesterday. And so far, this country has always been there supporting us. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Turkey is a State based on the rule of law, it is social, democratic and secular, living in harmony with Europe while at the same time being a part of the Moslem world. What better trump card could Europe play than cement such a reconciliation? If the European Union isn’t a Christian club, if it isn’t simply an economic entity but a place of shared political values, then Turkey qualifies as a part of it.”
Turkish patience – and forbearance – is quite out of the ordinary. It shows how coveted EU membership can be notwithstanding its Byzantine eccentricities. No surprise then that all sorts of people in countries like Morocco and Lebanon to mention two, can think of excellent reasons why they too could qualify. All of which must be a serious worry for Mr. Erdogan and President Chirac alike as MPs across Europe conjure up the prospect of an unstoppable opening of the floodgates if Turkey is allowed in. This debate has an awful long way to run however EU leaders decide to fudge the matter in December.
Terminal deconstruction
The Americans bury presidents and idols of the screen, the British bury princesses (and animals), and the French? Well, they bury philosophers. You can’t get away from them. No corner of a French park is safe from a stone figure staring ironically, disbelievingly or (very occasionally) smugly down at the transient world of ordinary people playing, reading, walking or making love. Needless to say, petri-fication in some forgotten corner of a park is only the final stage in what is a protracted ritual of national canonisation. It starts when Le Monde opens the door to immortality by devoting a whole supplement to a recently deceased savant. Such has been the happy fate of Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).
Regarded as variously dangerous, deluded or depraved by uncomprehendingly conservative philosophers (who by definition are not raised in France) but fêted by those inclined to decode and deconstruct conventional wisdom, Derrida became a national treasure before whom only genuflection would suffice. Hence the outpouring of grave lamentations from politicians of every conceivable colour. Whether they had read him we will never know. It doesn’t matter. In France this is a bit like the death of Christopher Reeve or Elvis.
That said, one can’t help but suspect that more people quoted and lionised Derrida than understood him. Here’s how Derrida explained deconstruction in a 1992 interview reproduced as part of Le Monde’s homage:
“…deconstruction isn’t simply a philosophy, neither is it a collection of hypotheses, nor even the question of Being in a Heideggerian sense. In one sense, it is nothing. It cannot be a discipline or a method because that would be to transform it into a method with its own rules and procedures that could then be taught… It isn’t a technique entailing norms or procedures. Of course, there can be regularities in the way in which certain types of deconstructive questions can be posed. Viewed from this angle, I can see how the possibility of teaching arises which entails in turn the effects of a discipline etc. But even in terms of its principle, deconstruction isn’t a method. I have tried to ask myself what a method might be in a Greek or Cartesian sense, or again in a Hegelian sense. But deconstruction isn’t a methodology in the sense of entailing the application of rules.
“If I was wanting to provide an economical and elliptical description of deconstruction, I would say that it is a way of thinking about the origin and limits of the question “what is…?”, the question which dominates the entire history of philosophy. Each time we try to think about the possibility of “what is…?”, to ask a question about this sort of question or to ask ourselves about the necessity of this language in a certain language or tradition etc., what we’re doing at this moment is only taking part up to a point in the question “what is? And therein lies, the difference of deconstruction. It is, in effect, a questioning of something that is more than a questioning…”
It’s all pretty straightforward, really. (And if not, you can always blame upton-on-line’s budget-constrained translation department.)
Radically predictable
With profundity of this order, sorting out the real world was a piece of cake. Less than two months before his death on October 9th, Le Monde beat its way to the door of the dying master for a final interview before his thoughts went cosmic. (For Anglophone readers this is very roughly the French equivalent of British soldiers rehearsing the Queen Mother’s funeral procession in deserted London night time streets on and off over the last twenty years). After applying finishing touches to a lifetime’s oracular wisdom, Derrida showed he was a man who could switch seamlessly to the world of political action and fearless realism. He laid out the bones of a new, altermondialiste Europe which would lead the world to new understandings. Here it is in all its radical predictability:
“…a Europe altermondialiste, transforming the concept and practice of sovereignty and international law. And possessed of a real armed force, independent of NATO and the USA, a military power which, while being neither offensive, defensive or preventive, would intervene without delay in response to the resolutions of a new United Nations which would finally be respected…”
Lest that seem too radical, Derrida took care to propose some more down to earth and immediately realisable intimations of heaven on earth:
“If I was a legislator, I would quite simply propose the removal of the word and the concept of marriage from the civil code. ‘Marriage’, an incarnation of religious, sacred and heterosexual values with the accompanying vows of procreation and eternal fidelity, is a concession made by the secular state to the Christian church and in particular its monogamous form which derives neither from Jewish … nor Muslim [traditions]. In suppressing the word and the concept of marriage, this equivocation, this religious hypocrisy which has no place in a secular state, there would be in its place a civil union, something contractual, a sort of generalised civil marriage, improved, refined, flexible and able to be adjusted between partners of whatever sex or number.”
Perhaps it was no surprise then that Marie-George Buffet, the National Secretary of the French Communist Party, paid the most genuine tribute amidst a sea of fawning commentators most of whom wouldn’t be seen dead near any of these propositions. As she put it:
“An indefatigable thinker, a writer who made no concessions, Jacques Derrida scrutinised the world and philosophy with an eye that was always new. A committed carrier of particular values, Jacques Derrida was the last representative of a generation of philosophers who never ceased to critique the way the world works and prise away its masks.”
Upton-on-line suspects that Buffet is right. While France likes to draw pleasure from the scourges marks inflicted by its radical philosophers, the distinctly comfortable, bourgeois look of most on the French Left suggests that this is as conservative and conformist a society as you could hope to find.
The potential – and limitations – of renewable energy
Special Note: the following article is drawn from an address delivered by Simon Upton to the 2004 Resource Management Law Association Conference in Taupo, New Zealand. Many of the facts are drawn from the work of Professor Vaclav Smil, a remarkable academic working at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Smil is an expert on energy and bio-geochemical cycles (amongst other things). He is one of the most balanced and judicious contemporary commentators on ecological and sustainability issues. This publication strongly recommends two of his most recent books: The Earth’s Biosphere (2003), and Energy at the Crossroads (2004), both published by MIT Press. They are long on science and short on rhetoric. Most importantly, they are scrupulous about describing what we do not know rather than asserting what the author would like to believe the answers to be. The second book, in particular, is a must-read for those determined to debate energy and environmental issues.
There are two main public policy reasons why governments are concerned about the types of energy we rely on: security of supply; and environmental impacts (most notably greenhouse gas emissions). Resource limitations are not a compelling reason for concern at the global level given the scale of coal resources and potential for further oil and gas discoveries as well as oil substitutes. Two recent meetings of the Round Table on Sustainable Development at the OECD focussed on the possibilities – and limitations – surrounding renewable sources of energy for power generation and transport. The first meeting focussed on the barriers to a greater market penetration by renewable energy sources, especially for electricity generation. The second discussed the future of the road transport sector with a particular focus on whether liquid fuels could be placed on a sustainable basis or, alternatively, replaced by some sort of system based on hydrogen. A detailed description of the material presented at the meetings – together with some numbers for New Zealand – can be found at
Upton-on-line produces below some extracts from that material which describe the sheer abundance of renewable energy – and the inherent limitations that make harvesting it so difficult. It’s useful to have a sense of the relative size of the renewable resource. Most people have very little idea of the actual potentials available and what can plausibly be harnessed. There’s a sense that “renewables are a good thing” but the reasons why they don’t command a bigger market share are shrouded in mystery.
· The source of most renewable energy is the sun. The solar flux that reaches the upper atmosphere of the earth totals 5.4 billion PJ/year – a stupendously large figure. But because the earth is a rotating sphere, and because a large amount of the incoming radiation is reflected back into space, the amount actually reaching the earth’s surface is about an order of magnitude less – some 682 million PJ/year. Professor Ralph Sims at Massey University has useful described a petajoule as being a unit of energy roughly equivalent to all the crude oil in a large tanker. That much is comprehensible but if you can imagine 682 million oil tanker – let alone 5.4 billion of them – you’re doing better than me!
· After direct solar radiation come the secondary flows of solar energy – the kinetic energy contained in rivers, winds, and ocean currents, and the net photosynthesis of all terrestrial ecosystems available as biomass. Here are the numbers:
- Wind flows of around 4 million PJ/year
- Net terrestrial photosynthesis of around 2 million PJ/year
- River flows of 35,000 PJ/year
- Ocean currents: we simply don’t know. They’re significant but mostly beyond technical reach.
· To round out the renewables we need to add two non-solar sources:
- Geothermal flows of around 4400 PJ/year
- Tidal friction of around 100,000 PJ/year
· It’s against these orders of magnitude that it is interesting to set our current reliance on energy from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel generation expressed in the same terms provides a power flux of 310,000 PJ/year. So it lies ahead of river flows but behind wind flows.
· These are theoretical maxima. Only a fraction is ever going to be practically exploited (for a host of physical, economic and environmental reasons). Most of the wind, for instance, is so far above the planet’s surface that it is forever beyond reach. Most of the tidal friction is dispersed at incredibly low power densities. But it’s still important to appreciate the relative scales. And on this basis we can say that fossil energy use is 0.1% of the solar radiation that reaches the planet’s surface. But it’s already ten times bigger than the total theoretically available river flows of the world.
· Looking at some of these large numbers – especially solar and wind energy - you might ask why, if there is so much of the stuff, aren’t we using more of it? Why rely instead on the accumulated solar radiation stored in fossilised plants over hundreds of millions of years? It all comes down to the density of the power we are trying to intercept. In a nutshell, renewable energy sources (other than geothermal) are spread out over huge areas making it physically very difficult to harvest them. Because fossil energy is so dense, we’ve built our society around final energy uses with correspondingly high power densities. Take houses for instance. A century ago many houses had an installed electrical capacity of as little as 500 watts – enough for some low power light bulbs. Today the installed capacity of a large house can be as high as 20,000 watts or more (especially in countries like the US where affluent households increasingly opt for fully air-conditioned living environments). That’s a 40-fold increase.
· The same phenomenal demand for non-electric energy applies to transport, most obviously private motor vehicles. Vaclav Smil (from whose indispensable book Energy at the Crossroads, MIT, (2004) most of these estimates are taken) has estimated that the sort of energy at the disposal of an affluent US household today (counting in house, motor vehicles and the technological paraphernalia associated with many outdoor leisure activities) would, in Roman times, have required the services of about 6000 slaves!
· What, then, is known about the potential for our vast but highly dispersed, low-density renewable energy sources to make significant inroads in the demand for fossil fuels (which, by the way, are forecast to rise from 310,000 PJ/year to well over 500,000PJ by 2030)? More is known about some sources than others. At the global level, 25% of the world’s hydro-energy potential has already been harnessed. While there will undoubtedly be more dams, environmental, social and political limits mean additional hydro can make very little by way of contribution. Hydro-power has an inherently low density with installed capacity of around 4 W/m2 and actual production of around 1.7 W/m2 when spread across the 600,000 km2 of reservoirs that exist behind large (i.e. >30 metre) dams. (That, by the way, is an area twice the size of Italy .) Compare that 1.7 W/m2 with fossil fuel’s equivalent density of about 1000 – 10,000 W/m2 and you see the gap.
· How about bio-mass? Terrestrial photosynthesis produces 5 times as much energy potential annually as the world consumes in fossil fuels. That’s 1.55 million PJ/year. The trouble is that about 40% of that is already appropriated for activities like farming and fishing. Much of the rest supplies vital ecological services not to mention representing a vast reservoir of bio-diversity. So there are real limits to how much of the planet could be converted to producing bio-mass for energy – and that’s without getting into the side-effects of additional fertiliser use etc. Bio-mass also has very low energy density – about 1 W/m2 for the most productive crops like corn for ethanol – but by the time it has been converted either to liquid fuel or combusted for electricity with co-generation, the efficiency drops back nearer to 0.5 W/m2. If you then take account of the energy used in producing such crops the power density may shrink down to as little as 0.05 W/m2. The amount of bio-mass currently being tapped is about 40-45,000 PJ/year, most of this in the form of direct combustion of wood in developing countries. Much of it must be regarded as unsustainable. New bio-technologies that convert cellulose into ethanol might improve the power density of bio-mass by substantially increasing the amount of biological material that can be used as feedstock. But those technologies are not yet economic.
· Next comes wind. At the global level the flux is vast - say 4 million PJ/year. But much of that is unavailable for exploitation. Restricting the available resource to winds in excess of 5 m/s and within 10 metres of the earth’s surface would, it is estimated, yield about 186,000 PJ/year. That needs to be compared with current fossil electricity production of around 36,000 PJ/year. Despite major strides, wind power suffers from the inherent problem that it is unevenly distributed and its highest potentials are often far from where really large consumer populations live.
· Finally there is solar power of which, you will recall, there is 682 million PJ/year reaching the earth’s surface. The global mean energy reaching the surface averages 168 W/m2. That is a higher power density than any other renewable energy source. Obviously there is no ‘average’ available to intercept. There is more energy to intercept in the tropics than polar latitudes in winter! But even now, it is possible to covert solar radiation to electricity at densities well below that average – in the range of 20-60 W/m2 – and there is plenty of scope for improvement. Set alongside this huge potential, current global electricity generation from solar radiation amounts to barely 0.1% of total generation. Taking global demand for energy of all types, renewables according to the IEA provide just 5% and that includes a large chunk of distinctly low-tech – or more accurately pre-tech – burning of wood. In short, renewables provide the least significant share of the planet’s energy needs.
· The key point to make about renewables is that while their potential is enormous, the share that can practicably be tapped is much, much smaller. Furthermore, their usefulness is not spread evenly across the surface of the planet. Their availability varies depending on latitude, topography, the hydrological cycle and so on. So any proposed “solution” to the world’s energy problems based on renewables will be ‘regional’ in flavour.
· With roughly two thirds of global electricity generation based on coal, gas and oil, increasing the share of renewables in electricity generation would clearly make a useful contribution to reining in CO2 emissions. But electricity makes up only 15% of final energy consumption at the global level and electricity generation is responsible for only about 43% of total CO2 emissions. By fuel, the single biggest contributor to these emissions is oil, and nearly 60% of this is used in transport. So the quest for a larger share of renewable energy has to address not just electricity generation but mobility and here serious problems of technology lock present themselves.
· This has been the subject of a recent study conducted by 12 large automotive and energy firms entitled Mobility 2030 – Meeting the Challenges to Sustainability. The study – a $10 million project whose sponsors included seven of the world’s largest automobile companies – looked at mobility in the broadest sense and defined sustainability to include a wide range of issues including things like noise, safety and congestion.
· Given the particular expertise and focus of its sponsors, it’s most detailed analysis focuses on road transport which is responsible for the bulk of emissions and will be in the future. It is a large and fascinating piece of work which looked at the entire gamut of transport related issues that bear on long-term sustainability. Interestingly, many of the challenges such as health and environmental risks from local emissions and particulate, noise, safety and congestion look, to varying degrees, to be soluble. It’s the security of supply and greenhouse gas emissions issues that once again look the most difficult to solve.
· That’s because of a particularly acute case of technology lock-in. Where electricity generation uses a variety of technologies and energy sources (fossil fuels, uranium, geothermal, water and the other renewables), transport is massively dependent on liquid fossil fuel. And where electricity generation is achieving conversion efficiencies of up to 40% with currently available, commercially competitive technologies, transport modes relying on oil derivatives are no more than around 10-15% efficient.
· Yet we have increasingly constructed our entire civilisation around mobility systems that rely on liquid fossil fuel. That has affected the pattern of all urban growth over the twentieth century. The sheer freedom that mobility has given people has virtually re-defined what people define as their well-being in every country that has become motorised. And the ability to move people and goods over large distances has become the engine of economic development – some studies suggest transportation may be responsible for as much as 50% of all economic growth in some advanced societies since the Second World War.
· The lock-in here is as much cultural as it is technological – and it appears to be global. The project’s sponsors, working with the IEA, commissioned quite a bit of modelling work to flesh out the transport module of the IEA’s global energy models. The results are stark. A business-as usual base case which allowed for the sort of efficiency improvements which occur ‘naturally’ given technological improvements, predicted that transport (measured in tonne-kilometre/years) is likely to treble between now and 2050.
· Needless to say this growth is accompanied by massive growth in emissions. Notwithstanding an allowance for improvements in per unit energy consumption of 18% for light duty vehicles and 29% for trucks and aircraft over the period to 2050, the sheer growth in predicted transportation swamps these gains and delivers a more than 100% increase in emissions. Most of this growth, not surprisingly, is in developing countries.
· To the challenges of emissions growth has to be added security of supply risks. Unlike the resources needed to generate electrical energy, the liquid fossil fuel needed to power the transportation system is not spread evenly around the planet. As we are reminded almost nightly, the most accessible remaining reserves are largely concentrated in highly unstable parts of the world. We have placed a lot of eggs in the same basket.
· The industry study concluded that while there are useful incremental gains that can be made from new technologies that are becoming available (like Toyota’s gasoline/electric hybrids), and while governments can influence their take-up by fiscal and/or regulatory instruments, these won’t be enough to shift the emissions trajectory away from an inexorably rising path. Only recourse to radically different fuels and/or power-trains can do that – both involving renewables. The study sketches two broad possibilities – advanced bio-fuels and hydrogen from carbon neutral sources. Both offer useful possibilities – both run up against significant problems. Bio-fuels have an immediate attraction in that they are liquid fuels and hence, potentially compatible with the current shape of our fuel distribution system. Of course, bio-fuels are already in use - sometimes extensively as in Brazil where all motor fuel contains a percentage of ethanol.
· But conversion of large amounts of bio-mass to energy would run up against physical constraints. If we are already appropriating roughly 40% of the planet’s terrestrial photosynthetic output, how much more can we appropriate whilst producing the food and other biological products we need as well as maintain biodiversity and ecological services? Advanced bio-fuels seek to minimise these pressures by greatly increasing the range of raw biological material that can be used as feedstock (thereby de-coupling bio-fuel production from food production) and improving the energy density of the fuel through improved conversion processes.
· In this connection the report mentions two promising technologies – the enzymatic conversion of woody lignocellulosic material (which would allow a wide range of biological waste material to be used rather than specific fuel crops); and biomass gasification followed by a biomass-to-liquid process (imaginatively known as BTL). As the report notes, neither of these processes has been proved on a commercial scale and there are a host of technical challenges that stand in their way. But even assuming those challenges can be overcome, there are still the inherent limits of biomass production on the scale required. To quote from the report: “A world scale BTL plant (one capable of producing 1.5 million tonnes per year) would require woody biomass collected over an area half the size of Belgium. Alternatively, a world scale lignocellulosic fermentation plant (0.2 million tonnes per year) would consume surplus straw from a planted area of wheat approximately one tenth the size of Belgium .”
· Hydrogen from carbon neutral sources is possibly more hopeful but starts with the handicap that it is not only incompatible with existing liquid fuel reticulation systems; it’s most practical use envisages a complete shift away from the internal combustion engine to fuel cells. In the immediate future, fuel cells offer the most efficient way forward since vehicles can capture 40% of the available energy as against the 10-15% ICEs use. But again, the gains are only incremental if the hydrogen is sourced from fossil fuels like natural gas. The silver bullet solution, if there is one, would be to make hydrogen from water by electrolysis with the huge quantities of electricity required to do that coming from renewable sources (which brings us back to wind and solar power). But given the current state of solar electricity generation technology, that is a distant prospect.
· It is interesting to note the Mobility Project’s sober assessment of this option with respect to the advanced hydrogen and bio-fuel options based, as they are, on renewables:
· “The SMP assessment is that the most accurate judgment that can be made at present about these advanced vehicles and fuels is that their current costs are much too high for them to compete in the marketplace with today’s vehicles and fuels. At these cost levels, the incentives required to bring about their introduction in significant numbers almost certainly is beyond governments’ ability to sustain financially.”
· In short, while there are useful gains that can be made through technical improvements in the near term, and the opportunity to influence demand for transportation (and the choice of modes) by pricing and regulatory measures, the sheer scale of the challenge leads one to the conclusion that, once again, publicly-funded R has an important role to play in trying to bring transport fuels based on renewable energy forward. If there is an obvious overlap of priorities with the electricity generation sector it is in the desirability of tapping solar radiation – its scale and density make it a most desirable source of electricity which, if produced cheaply enough, could bring hydrogen from water through electrolysis within reach. It is the ‘ifs’ in this sentence on which attention should primarily be focused.
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