Electric cars

November 24, 2008

I see Australia is the latest country to start the switch to electric cars and wean its population off dependence on oil.

It follows Denmark and Israel’s lead.

New Zealand has already clinched a deal with Mitsubishi for a fleet of electric cars to be introduced in 2009. And in Japan, Japan Post is replacing its vehicles with electric equivalents.

In England, London has already been at the forefront of electric car usage and Boris Johnston has given a grant for the scheme to be extended across the boroughs of the city.

Now Brighton and Hove are planning a similar system. They successfully secured a £2.2 million grant from the EU for their project. Their 10 charging points will cost £30 000 altogether or £3000 each, quite a bit cheaper than the London counterparts.

The Australian model will be powered by renewable energy. The recharging stations will be powered by wind turbines.

Project Better Place will raise $1 billion to provide 250 000 recharging stations in the east of the country.

This works out at $4000 per recharging station.

Thats a lot cheaper than the £7000 it takes to install a recharging station in London, but I guess the price difference is down to the sheer massive scale of the Australian project.

The similar Danish system is also run by wind turbines. Around 20% of Denmark’s electricity production comes from wind, but the fact that the car batteries are traded in to charge – and they store electricity from the grid – with a number of batteries charging at any one time means that wind power can provide base load even when the wind is not blowing.

In fact, 2 million electric cars in circulation would provide Denmark with a standby capacity of electricity over 5 times its needs.

Project Better Place are in discussion with another 30 countries keen to implement the system. The mayor of San Francisco wants electric cars there.

The same company has already done the same in Israel.

Norway has about 50 recharging stations, but plans to have 400 on the go by 2011. The Norwegian Car company Think currently makes around 10 000 electric cars a year and can’t up with demand but does plan to open new factories to increase production.

Not to be left behind the Swedish Government are planning to provide a network of recharging stations across the country. It plans to be oil-independent by 2020.

The Finns seem to have taken a different approach. They have started a scheme where they convert your existing car to electric using lithium ion batteries. They claim that the top speed of your car will be a little less but the acceleration of the car will be better.

Even the Icelanders – slated by new Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy as being in an ‘Arc of Insolvency’ – have just shook hands on a deal with Mitsubishi to fleet test their electric cars in the country in 2009, similar to the New Zealand deal.

Another country in Murphy’s ‘Arc of Insolvency’, Ireland, will shortly announce plans to have 10% of all its cars powered by electricity by 2020. Project Better Place are already in talks with the Irish Government. Its predicted around 50 000 jobs could be created in Ireland with the establishment of such eco-friendly policies.

So much for the environmentally aware Scandanavians and the forward thinking Irish in their Arc of Prosperity you might say. What about Scotland?

Until recently Scotland had only one electric car. That was a G-Wiz, the electric car much used in London, with a slightly dodgy safety record. It also had only one public recharging station, in the Braehead Shopping Centre.

Clydebank Housing Association has provided electric cars for its tenants at Radnor Park. They are recharged at the local power station that provides electricity for the flats.

Its been funded by a £37 000 Community Scotland grant.

The Department of Transport is also planning to pilot a ‘green van’ scheme in various locations in England from Newcastle, Gateshead, and Liverpool to Leeds and Coventry. In Scotland only Glasgow has been selected.

James May, of BBC’s Top Gear, is not a fan of the Westminster Government’s ‘green transport’ policy:

‘People think it’s about style or performance, but it’s down to the science. There has to be a hydrogen infrastructure in place to provide the energy to make electric vehicles work properly. We are nowhere near that point.’

Far from ‘kick-starting’ the revolution, May says the Government is simply ‘window-dressing’. ‘There’s a feeble bit of Congestion Charge relief if your drive an electric vehicle. This is no more a Green-vehicle strategy than my cat,’ he says.

Newer electric cars like the Smart Fortwo Electric can plug into a mains socket, has a top speed of 70 mph and can travel for 75 miles without a recharge.

The new Tesla Roadster is an electric sports car, assembled by Lotus. It can do 0 – 60 in 3.9 seconds and can travel 244 miles on a single charge of its battery. Of course it does cost 99 000 euros or around £84 000.

Tesla Roadster

75% of Scots in a recent survey said they would consider changing to an alternative powered car if they became readily available.

The Scottish Government has planned a consultation exercise on electric cars this Autumn. But there are already calls for the SNP Government to try and get Project Better Place’s network in Scotland.

But if it doesn’t act soon Scotland could be the poor relation of Europe in electric car takeup.

Spain has announced a target of 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2014.

Germany is launching its own network of electric car recharging stations.

Portugal is also announcing its own network of recharging stations. It will build 1300 stations by 2011.

France has recently announced a $549 million investment in electric and hybrid cars.

With the SNP Government’s commitment to renewal energy surely the Danish model based on wind turbines is the way forward? The combination of providing much more base load than we need and have the rest exported, the reduction of carbon emissions and the prospect of being oil independent when the oil finally runs out must be the favourite way ahead.

Back to James May:

‘The wind blows, the waves roll, the sun shines. The moon in the sky plucks at the sea to makes the tides, and Tennyson’s wild cataract leaps in glory. And he wasn’t talking about an eye infection. All of this will go on for as long as there is a world, and we need convert only a very tiny amount of it to electricity to keep driving until the sun goes out.’

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Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.

RANKINGS

1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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Home Nations Olympic teams in history

August 25, 2008

My previous post described how the 1908 Great Britain Olympic football squad was in fact the English national amateur team.

One other thing of interest in that Olympics was that the Home Nations representated themselves in some sports.

For example, in Hockey there was a English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh side. (This before before the independence of Ireland and the partition of Northern Ireland.)

They competed with France and Germany to get the medals.

England won gold. Ireland won the silver. Scotland and Wales shared the bronze, as there was no 3rd place play-off.

Scotland beating Germany 4-0 at hockey in the 1908 Olympics

England and Ireland representated themselves at Polo.

The IOC rules about countries competing only if they have an IOC committee in place where enforced at these London games.

This was a British ploy to prevent the situation that had happened two years previous in the 1906 Intercalated Olympics – basically a mid term Olympics between 1904 and 1908.

Peter O’Connor, an Irish long jumper, high jumper and triple jumper, was sent to Athens by the GAA and the IAAA, Irish sport authorities. Of course, Ireland at the time was not independent from Britain and hence Peter and other Irish atheletes found themselves listed as representing Britain.

In a controversial long jump competition, Peter came second, but as the Union flag was raised to represent his silver, Peter climbed the flagpole and waved his Irish flag instead.

He later won the gold medal in the triple jump.

That’s why the IOC ruling was enforced in 1908 by the London Olympics, to try and stop any such political statements. However to primarily appease the Irish they allowed the Home Nations to represent themselves at some sports; particularly in those sports where Ireland had a good chance to win a gold medal.

A knock-on effect of this ruling was that Finland – at the time ruled by Russia – was listed as Russian. This was particularly upsetting for the Finns as Russia had not even bothered to send a team.

They decided to have no flag instead.

The official report on the London games stated “it might on another occasion be better to consider separate entries from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales…as well as from both New Zealand and Australia”

Even in the imperial mood of 1908 came the realisation that separate teams were the way forward.

One hundred years later and we’re still having the debate in the UK!


Güldenstädt and the Caucauses

August 13, 2008

I hope the current ceasefire between Georgia and Russia holds, so that diplomacy can take hold instead of war.

Certainly its a positive sign.

So I’m going to be positive too and write a small piece on a not so famous naturalist, Johann Anton Güldenstädt.

Güldenstädt was a Latvian naturalist and explorer, born in Riga in 1745. He studied in Germany before making the first scentific expedition to Georgia and the Caucauses.

From 1768 to 1775 he travelled throughout the region observing and noting species, languages and culture.

The Terek River starts in the mountains of Georgia. It runs near South Ossetia to North Ossetia before turning east to run into the Caspian Sea.

Its obviously here that Güldenstädt first collected the Terek Sandpiper, detailed in BWP as in 1775. (I say collected as thats what the old naturalists did. They shot the species to identify it, optics being rudimentary at the time.)

Terek Sandpiper

Its a widespread species across much of Asia, even found on African coasts and Australia. Its breeding range now stretches to Latvia and Finland and it is coincidental that it is called a Terek Sandpiper in view of the fact that the Terek River is only on its migration route southwards.

Its a very rare vagrant to Scotland and the rest of Europe.

Another species collected by Güldenstädt is the Güldenstädt redstart. This large mountainous redstart is found in the high altitudes of the Caucauses and the Himalayas.

Guldenstadt-redstart

It is also known as the White-winged redstart but doesn’t Güldenstädt’s redstart sound a lot better?

Its one of the top reasons for birders to visit Georgia.

Güldenstädt also collected and described the Ferruginous Duck and several freshwater fish.

It was only after his death in 1781 that Peter Simon Pallas – a far more well known naturalist – published an edited version of Güldenstädt’s journal; Travels in Russia and the Mountains of the Caucasus.

Perhaps when Georgia gets back to some sort of normality after this conflict, birders will once again travel to see his enigmatic redstart.


Cut to a whisper

June 19, 2008

In 1999, Scotland had eight MEPs. In 2004 due to other European countries joining the EU that was reduced to 7. With more countries joining the EU, the UK has had to cut its number from 78 to 73.

There was cross-party support in Scotland to keep our 7 MEPs and they hoped that such a lobby would keep its MEP numbers intact. Alas, Westminster has decided to cut Scotland’s numbers further down to 6 MEPs.

New numbers for MEPs sample selection (low numbered nations):-
3 Northern Ireland
4 Wales
5 Malta
6 Luxembourg
6 Cyprus
6 Estonia
6 Scotland
7 Slovenia
9 Latvia
12 Ireland
13 Finland
14 Denmark

As you can see both Malta and Luxembourg by dint of their independence have 5 and 6 MEPs respectively.

Both have a population less than Edinburgh. They have more influence in Europe than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. They are Members of the Council of Europe, attend European summits, and each have the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on a rotating basis with all of the other members.

Ireland has a population about 1 million less than Scotland with twice as many MEPs.

Denmark has a population around Scotland’s size with 14 MEPs.

And this Labour Westminster Government wants to cut our representation?!

Scotland will now have lost 25 % of its representation in the last ten years.

Incidentally, Germany over the same time period and with new nations joining Europe has the exact same number of MEPs; 99. Luxembourg who will have exactly the same number of MEPs as Scotland with under a tenth of the population of Scotland are also unchanged.

Northern Ireland has a fixed ratio of three MEPs as the EU class that as a region. Regions can’t go below 3 MEPs.

If Northern Ireland was independent that number, with a population comparable to Slovenia, would rise to 7.

Wales, like Scotland and Northern Ireland, is considered a region and hence both can’t have less than 3 MEPs. Wales has lost none of its representation over the same period.

If the Welsh are feeling happy about this, I’ll just remind them that Wallonia, a region of Belgium, with roughly the same population, has 9 MEPs. And Latvia, an independent country with around 2 million people, has that many MEPs. Wales would have 11 MEPs if independent on that basis.

England will have 60 MEPs, but if independent that number would rise to about 70.

Scotland will now have the same number of MEPs as Yorkshire.

With its large geographical area – although you wouldn’t know it if you looked at a BBC weathermap – its own Parliament and legal systems that implement EU legislation; you may have thought Scotland had a great case for retaining its already meagre influence.

Not according to Bridget Prentice, the UK Electoral Affairs minister and Labour MP for Lewisham East.

She told Struan Stevenson, a Conservative MEP, just one of the cross-party support of Scotland’s case: “I acknowledge the issue of distance that Scottish MEPs face and would suggest taking steps to mitigate the time burden of travelling across the Scottish electorate, such as allocating travel responsibilities among the Scottish MEPs or more frequent use of video-conferencing.”

So she proposing dividing up Scotland between the MEPs? Our Scottish MEPs are elected for the whole of Scotland; that’s their constituency! How can she face her fellow Scottish Labour MEPs and MSPs, similarly campaigning for Scotland’s euro voice?

No wonder Mr Stevenson had this to say on her ideas: “Bridget Prentice has a fairly scant understanding of the Scottish dimension – surprisingly for a woman who is herself Scottish – but she’s been closeted too long in the cushy southern shires of England and forgotten the geography of Scotland. Her trite ideas, like video-conferencing and sharing travel, are ludicrous to the point of being risible.”

Surely its time for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have their own voices in Europe.

Scotland having its own voice would stop the situation where our fishing industry and Scottish ministers and MEPs are ignored by the UK Government.

A UK Government that has just cut Scotland’s voice in Europe to a whisper.

Its time to tell Westminster where to go!


Broadband take-up

June 14, 2008

These are the latest World Broadband ratings by ITIF:-

I’m going to concentrate this blog on the first column. That of broadband penetration; what percent of the countries population has access to broadband internet at home.

A recent Ofcom study found the UK’s figures slightly higher than ITIF, sitting at 57%. I hope this is indeed the case. I’ll use the Ofcom figures as accurate for the UK and the ITIF figures as accurate globally. Where the Ofcom figures match in the case of Belgium and the US, I’ll put the UK behind both countries as a low ranking 57%.

Sorting the ITIF list purely on Broadband takeup we get:-

1. South Korea 93
2. Iceland 83
3. Netherlands 77
4. Denmark 76
5. Switzerland 74
6. Norway 68
7. Canada 65
8. Finland 61
9. Australia 59
10. Belgium 57
11. United States 57
12. United Kingdom 57
13. Luxembourg 56
14. Japan 55
15. Sweden 54
16. France 54
17. Spain 49
18. Germany 47
19. Republic of Ireland 46
20. Austria 45
21. Portugal 44
22. New Zealand 42
23. Italy 41
24. Czech Republic 30
25. Hungary 29
26. Poland 23
27. Turkey 23
28. Slovakia 22
29. Mexico 20
30. Greece 18

I think that broadband takeup is the more relevant figure posted by ITIF. Speed and price are market factors, but the takeup figure roughly shows the percentage of people that use the internet and roughly shows your market audience. (Obviously countries with extremely large populations with lower takeup are not on the list e.g. China, India, Russia.)

Now regular readers might suspect that I’ll be analysing the UK figures in detail, and breaking them down to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would be right!

As this blog already is on the long side though, I’ll refrain from the compare and contrast – till later.

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Arc of prosperity

May 31, 2008

The credit crunch. Soaring oil prices. Soaring utility bills. Soaring food bills.

One of the worst affected countries is the UK, but probably the most affected country is Iceland.

Now Iceland is regularly hailed by the SNP as part of the Arc of Prosperity, one of an arc of Scotland’s neighbouring countries that always seems to be doing rather better than us, outstriping the UK economy by miles.

One of the SNP’s goals is for Scotland is to join that Arc of Prosperity and better its economic growth rate. Obviously they claim independence would be the best route to achieve this; it gives Scotland full fiscal control over its own economy.

(Other countries in the Arc of Prosperity:-

Norway. Population 4.7 million
Denmark. 5.4 million
Finland. 5.3 million
Ireland 4.3 million
Sweden 9.1 million

All apart from Sweden have populations in size similar to Scotland; and all have had sigificantly higher economic growth than Scotland and the UK for many years now.)

So whats happened in Iceland? With the country performing so well economically and with a population of only 300 000 people, the banks wanted and got foreign investment. The Icelandic Government even loosened its fiscal policy before the 2007 election. Foreign capital poured into Iceland.

Now when the U.S. subprime mortgage market collapsed and started the credit crunch, foreign investors panicked and the money dried up. Some wanted their money back. All this has devalued the Icelandic kröna and forced the Icelandic bank to set interest rates at 15%. The country is now suffering the worst effects of the credit crunch I mentioned at the start.

Compare this with the U.S. They too are suffering the credit crunch, but are still receiving massive foreign investment. Why? Because they have a vast consumer-led population (around 304 000 000, around 1000 times bigger than Iceland’s). Hence the dollar has weakened recently; but relative to the Icelandic körna isn’t so bad and interest rates arent so bad.

One rate to look at is the current CDS rates of banks. These are Credit Default Swaps, basically a measure of how much insurance the bank needs for its debt. The higher the number the worse off the bank.

For example, when the Northern Rock was nationalised its CDS was at 295. [18 Feb 2008]

CDS have been increasing throughout the banking sector however. The US Bank Bear Sterns was bailed out by the US Government with a CDS of 720. [Mar 2008]

Other March 2008 CDS of banks were:-

Lloyds TSB 133
Barclays 170
HSBC 145
Bank of Scotland 235
Alliance and Lecicester 342

but the British banks were nothing like the Icelandic banks:-

Landsbanki 610
Kaupthing 856

Iceland, with a small population; for years one of the best economies in the world. It made a mistake relying on too much foreign capital. And when that foreign capital ran into problems, so did it. Its tough for the Icelanders, having being used to the good life for years, and now feeling the worst effects of the credit crunch. The credit crunch may be global but Iceland are feeling short term consequences of their own mistakes. Yet had the U.S. subprime mortgage market held up it may have never mattered.

Thats why the Icelandic government is now thinking of joining the Euro. The Euro is strong and the Eurozone – those countries that use the Euro as their currency – is now the biggest economy in the world, after the dollar weakened in March 2008. The Eurozone has a population of 320 000 000 people and is expected to grow as other European Union countries meet the criteria for membership.

So then what of the Arc of Prosperity? Is it in financial ruins?

Iceland may be in trouble now but remember they started from an economic base much higher than the UK or Scotland. Their problems are all relative, and will probably only result in a decline in economic growth for a couple of years, before resuming their position back near the top of the world’s economies. Even if these problems do continue then they always have the Euro to fall back on if needed, although their fishermen probably won’t like joining the EU.

What’s more another Arc of Prosperity country – Norway – has just given them 1.5 billion euros to shore up the Icelandic economy. And if Norway can afford to bail out other countries in the midst of a global credit crunch then the Arc of Prosperity can’t be doing that badly.

The Arc is better placed than most to ride out the credit crunch. I’m sure Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling will try their best for the UK.

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