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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Republicans and Hurricane Gustav

September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav makes its way steadily to Louisiana.

As New Orleans is being evacuated and response teams are put in place, it strikes me that this time George Bush is learning from his mistakes over Hurricane Katrina.

But will Hurricane Gustav make the Republicians reassess their stance on climate change?

John McCain has at least made encouraging noises in the direction of tackling the situation. Then he goes and appoints as his Vice Presidental candidate a woman who believes that global warming is not man-made and has an appalling environmental record in her home state in Alaska.

A clear sign that he is pandering to the hard right of the Republican party.

This just smacks of a continuation of the Republican environmental policy instigated under George W. Bush. The defining environmental policy of Bush’s government was a refusal to sign the Kyoto agreement that introduced emission targets.

So do I think the Republicans will reassess their stance? I suspect not directly.

What may make the difference is that these Hurricanes affect the oil price in the United States, as they cut off oil production in the U.S. gulf coast.

Unfortunately, it may take a few of these hurricanes before America finally gets the message on climate change. By that time the global oil price could have sky rocketed and the U.S. may well have made more environmental damage by drilling for oil in environmentally sensitive areas in its lust to keep its oil price low.

As climate change becomes more pronounced, hurricanes and other weather phemonema will get more dangerous.

How many of these extreme hurricanes will New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf coast have to endure before Republicans take the environment seriously?

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Buddy, can you spare £24 million?

July 11, 2008

The Labour Party continue to sink to new lows.

One minute Gordon Brown is telling us to avoid food waste, the next he is tucking into this menu at the G8 conference in Japan.

Let them eat cake!

Meanwhile the Labour Party are £24 million in debt.

Desperate to make a fist of the Glasgow East by-election, the Labour Party last night prostituted itself at a gig at Wembley last night.

Want to become a character in a Alastair Campbell novel?

Tennis with Tony Blair?

Dinner with John Prescott?

These prizes and much, much less were all up for auction as the Labour Party tried to stave off bankrupty; banned as they are from selling peerages!

Apparently Alistair Campbell has been phoning up the rich and famous trying to sell tables at the event with not much success.

But he’d be hard pushed to do a worse job than Charlie Gordon, Cathcart MSP, and the ex-Scottish Labour MSP leader Wendy Alexander.

Not only did Wendy admit to breaking the law on donations but her attempt to pass the blame to lowly clerks has now unravelled too.

Its just as well she already resigned.

How much would she fetch in the auction?

Don’t tell me. £995!

I knew you would say that.


Labour concedes defeat in Glasgow East

July 9, 2008

Now Labour’s senior ministers are conceding defeat in the Glasgow East by-election to the SNP! “We are going to lose Glasgow East and we should be planning for the aftermath.” said one.

No wonder Margaret Curran looked glum at her campaign launch today – as this picture from the Telegraph shows.

The Labour Party campaign searching Glasgow East for Labour voters.

The balloons do add to the party mood, don’t they?

When commentators said Margaret Curran would run a negative campaign they weren’t joking!

Maybe she’s just realised Labour has almost no local activists, and they’ve just spent their campaign budget buying balloons from the pound shop!

With speculation growing that Gordon Brown may not survive a defeat in the Glasgow East by-election, and Harriet Harman wanting to run Labour’s by-election campaign from Westminster – while Gordon is away on G8 business, Harriet has a free hand – there is yet more bad news for the Prime Minister.

A poll in The Times today is another devasting blow for Gordon Brown.

75 % of people think Gordon Brown is a loser.

60 % of people who voted Labour in 2005 think Gordon Brown is a loser.

67 % of people think Gordon Brown is a weak Prime Minister.

72 % of people think Gordon Brown is not up to the job of being Prime Minister.

Only 26 % of people trust Labour with the economy.

82 % of people think the economy will get worse under Labour.

In the light of this, it comes as no surprise that Harriet Harman is taking soundings from local Constituency Associations regarding her popularity – while Gordon is in Japan, raging at interviewers that ask him if he will stand down for the good of the party.

Thw Telegraph is actively urging her to stand for Prime Minister and depose Gordon Brown. Or David Milliband. Or anyone else it seems.

Harriet is taking over PMQs tomorrow in Gordon’s absence. Everyone will be watching to see how well she does. A good performance may go far in securing her leadership credentials.

Milliband and other contenders will be watching.

More balloons for Labour!


Weekend warriors

June 18, 2008

Sometimes cited as a place where an alcohol ban has been successful, the islands of Chuuk (formerly Truk) in the Federated States of Micronesia, has recently suspended the act.

The Federated States of Micronesia lie in the Pacific Ocean, north of Papua New Guinea. They and its western neighbour Palau form the Caroline Islands.

The first Old World explorers to the Caroline islands were the Spanish (1526) and Portuguese(1527), though the Spanish did not assert control till 1875. They sold the islands to the Germans in 1899.

Incidentally, German Caroline Island stamps are very collectable, if you have any. The very early ones are just German stamps with the word Karolinen printed over them.

The Germans lost the islands to the Japanese at the start of the First World War, and the Japanese lost the Islands to the United States in the Second World War.

The Federated States of Micronesia gained its independence from the US in 1986; Palau achieved it in 1994. Both countries still have a compact with the United States that allows the US to station its defence posts in the islands in return for financial aid.

One of the islands in the Chuuk group, Moen, had a referendum of the prohibition on alcohol in 1977 with a 93 % Yes vote, a move prominently supported by the Moen women and the local Protestant church. This was to try and stop the young men getting drunk at the weekend; so called ‘weekend warriors’.

The effects of this prohibition were to drive drinking underground, and drinking after a short lull returned to its previous levels before it was introduced. Tax revenues were also affected. So long as the drinking was in private and without disturbance, the police had a relaxed attitude.

People however felt the streets safer and the alcohol ban was enforced in neighbouring islands in the Federated States of Micronesia.

This year though the ban has been suspended. The Micronesian nation has become a magnet for tourists, particularly for scuba divers, and particularly in the Chuuk islands at the heart of the alcohol ban.

Tourists and prohibition just don’t go together. The ban had to end. Foreign money was much more important than a temperance movement.

There has been little evidence for a temperance movement in Scotland, but the alcohol comsumption figures are at startling levels.

In particular the rise of underage drinking is a worrying trend.

Alcohol consumption in Scotland

We can see from the graph that alcopops have came from nowhere and ciders have increased. These are drinks prodominately associated with young drinkers.

The violence and anti-social behaviour of our young people in some ways match the ‘Weekend warriors’ tag of the Chuuk islands.

Their ban didn’t quite work.

Reports are that the Scottish Government is considering an increase of the legal age to buy alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets from 18 to 21. This is an attempt to stop underagers buying alcohol in off-licenses; its far easier for them to appear 18 as it is to appear 21. However 18-year olds and over can still buy alcohol in pubs and clubs. It is hoped that such environments will provide an element of supervision for young adults.

Nowhere near a ban then.

Scotland’s drink culture is engrained. Years of trying to change the culture, promotion of healthy drinking levels or abstinence, education, advertising bans etc. just haven’t worked. Children being admitted to Scotland’s hospitals for alcohol abuse are testament to that.

As with the smoking ban introduced in 2006, legislation is always the last resort taken to changing the culture. Its also the most effective.

Lets hope any new legislation is helpful. These proposed ideas may not go far enough to curb Scotland’s ‘Weekend Warriors’ and change the drinking culture.

But they’re a good start.


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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