Greenland: Yes We Can

November 26, 2008

Greenland has overwhelming voted for more autonomy from Denmark in yesterday’s referendum.

Over 75% of Greenlanders backed the plan.
Just over 23% said no.
The turnout was around 72%.

I reckon that’s an impressive turnout given the dark Arctic winter days. Those in the north of the country must be coping with little or no daylight at this time.

Its a clear sign that the island is heading towards independence.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, the First Minister Hans Enoksen has a timescale of independence in 12 years time.

Others prefer a shorter timescale.

The former foreign minister Aleqa Hammond sees independence in 8 years.

And the head of the Greenland union SIK, Jess Berthelsen, sees it happen in 4 years.

The defeated unionists like the Democrats leader Jens Frederiksen and rebel Siumut politican Finn Lynge are now left arguing over the timescale and the feasibilty of independence.

Lynge in particular thinks that with only 57 000 people, Greenland cannot be independent. He said it was ‘impossible for an island with 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants to become an independent state.’

‘There are simply too few of us to provide the personnel necessary to develop a viable state’.

The ex-First Minister Lars-Emil Johansen rejects that criticism. Echoing the slogan of Barack Obama he simply says ‘Yes We Can’.

Greenland is rich in oil, gas, gold, diamond and other minerals.

Scottish companies like Cairn Energy are keen to develop the Greenland oil and gas potential. It is now the largest oil company investing in Greenland with a total of 8 licences around the island. Greenland’s oil company Nunaoil has a 8% stake in those licenses.

Its part of the Greenland Government’s plan to diversify its economy which is currently largely based on the fishing industry.

And speed the path to independence.

The world’s current smallest states by population:

1 Vatican City 920
2 Tuvalu 11,640
3 Nauru 13,050
4 Palau 20,300
5 San Marino 28,880
6 Monaco 32,410
7 Liechtenstein 33,720
8 Saint Kitts & Nevis 38,960
9 Marshall Islands 59,070

Currently the population of Greenland would put it at no. 9 in the world.

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Eyes north to Greenland

November 25, 2008

Today is the day of Greenland’s referendum on wresting more powers from Denmark, in a move that is seen as a precursor to full independence for the Arctic island.

Greenland flag

A yes vote would see key economic powers move from Copenhagen to the Greenland Parliament and decrease Greenland’s dependence on the annual block grant of 472 million euros it receives from Denmark.

Greenland would also take control of its oil resources and mineral wealth, although the current referendum deal leaves the possibility of a Danish share when annual oil revenue exceeds $12.6 million. Estimates say north east Greenland might have around 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. Climate change is making access to those resources much easier and cheaper. One report quotes a Greenlander looking forward to having a wine industry in the near future!

Greenlandic would be recognised as the country’s official language. It is spoken by the vast majority (around 50 000) of the population.

There are only around 57 000 people in Greenland. Around 39 000 are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A ‘yes vote’ is widely expected. It is said that about three quarters of the voters are already decided on voting for more autonomy.

The expected change in autonomy will then be implemented on the 21st June 2009; the day instigated a few years after devolution in 1983 as the National Day of the country. It also voted that same year to leave the EU in a referendum, having previously joined as part of Denmark.

The First Minister of Greenland, Hans Enoksen, supports the ‘Yes vote’.

He expects that with more fiscal autonomy the demand for full independence will increase.

“Agreeing on self-rule is the only road forward,” he said, pointing out that “the Greenlandic people have wished for many years to be more independent.”

He set out his timetable for full independence:

“Greenland will be independent in 12 years … for my 65th birthday.”

Other politicans share this broad timescale. Lars Emil Johansen, one of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, says he dreams the day will come by 2021, in time for the 300th anniversary of Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

“Of course we can be the masters of our own destiny and fly on our own wings”

His advisor Hans Jakob Helms agrees:

“Home rule was a compromise,” Helms said. “It’s a simple fact that home rule has reached its limit and there’s a need for more room for self-government.”

Around 300 years of a political union? The parallels with Scotland and the rest of the UK are striking. And similarly to the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland, the Greenland referendum is also non-binding. However the Danish Government will respect the wishes of the Greenlanders.

And like Scotland, Greenland has its own Unionist doubters of independence.

The Greenland Democratic Party are against further devolution – they are campaigning for a ‘No vote’ – and against full independence:

Palle Christiansen, the political spokesperson of the Democrats, who are part of Greenland’s opposition, warned against hurrying the process, noting that ‘self-rule brings with it more than just oil revenues.’

Christiansen cited the administration of judicial affairs as just one area which would incur major costs on the Greenlandic government.

And a minority of members of the Siumut Party have openly dismissed talk of independence, much to their party’s disgust:

“Greenland will never be an independent state,” Finn Lynge recently stated, much to the dismay of his Siumut party, which is part of the government coalition and strongly in favour of a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Its not great times for the government coalition. It may be falling apart under scrutiny from the Greenland Audit Commission, which might result in the referendum result becoming a springboard for a subsequent snap General Election in the country.

“There are only between 50,000 and 60,000 of us living here in geographically and climatically extreme conditions. With such a tiny population it is impossible to provide the human contributions needed to turn Greenland into a modern and independent state,” Finn Lynge said.

Greenland has many social problems like alcoholism and a high suicide rate.

“No one can build an independent state on heavy drinking”, Finn Lynge has stated.

So will the Unionists win the day?

Will the credit crunch and the example of their neighbour Iceland’s financial troubles persuade the Greenlanders to vote against further powers for their Parliament?

We’ll all need to wait and see.

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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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The tide is turning

September 29, 2008

Its been announced today that major new tidal energy projects will be launched in the Pentland Firth, the Sound of Islay and the Antrim coast.

The Pentland Firth in particular has been described as ‘the Saudi Arabia of tidal power’ and could provide Scotland with half its electricity [Robert Gordon University estimate] (Over 15 TWHrs per annum).

Tidal farms around Orkney and Shetland may produce 25 000 MW (73 TWHrs per annum).

Although the annual needs are measured in TWHrs, the actual plant machinery is measured in MW or GW. It is then factored into how much electricity it can provide in a year, taking a third as a load factor.

For instance,

A 6 GW plant provides 6 x 365 (days in a year) x 24 (hours in a day) x 0.33 (load factor)

i.e. 17.2 TWHrs.

Installed nuclear plant has 2.09 GW, (July 08). [6.1 TWHr]

Installed renewables plant have 2.96 GW (Sept 08 figure). [8.64 TWHr]

In total, Scottish electrical plant from all fuel sources has 10.3 GW [30 TWHr]. As you can work out from the Robert Gordon figure, this pretty much equates to what Scotland uses in electrical requirement.

But, as you can see with the figures talked about regarding the Pentland Firth and the Northern Isles alone, Scotland has far more energy potential than it needs, it has the capability to export vast amounts of electrical power.

Just using tidal energy alone. And tidal energy is ‘always on’ unlike wind power (36.5 GW estimated plant). And I haven’t mentioned Wave Power (14 GW estimated plant) either.

The nuclear argument is a red herring. As long as we build over 2 GW of renewable plant by the time the last Scottish nuclear plant Torness is decommisioned (expected in 2023), we should replace the nuclear output with ease.

Scotland doesn’t need it.

The tide is turning.

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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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Sub sea cables and double standards

August 17, 2008

It seems the Scotsman has a story of the SNP being ‘slapped down by Westminster’ over attempted talks to create a Scotland to Norway subsea cable.

At the heart of the matter is Westminster wanting to enforce the Scotland Act of 1998 which forbids the Scottish Government to have any international relations and any involvement of the generation and supply of energy.

Why this is an issue for Westminster now – with an SNP Government – is a mystery.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland’s unilateral involvement with aid for Malawi.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland promoting Tartan Day in the U.S.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive funded a feasibility study into running subsea cables from the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland Isles to the Scottish mainland.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive were considering plans to run subseas cables to Ireland and Norway.

Yes. You guessed it. All initiatives started by the last Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive.

All breaking the terms of the Scotland Act.

Previously not an issue.

But now when all the SNP Government want to do is talk, its strange that Westminster is hiding behind the terms of the Scotland Act in trying to deny them a freedom of speech.

The law should be the same for everyone; no matter which Government – it can’t be overlooked when your pals break it.

Otherwise its a bad law and needs to be revised.

The fact that all parties in the Scottish Parliament – SNP, Greens and Independent for independence; and Liberal Democrat, Labour and the Conservatives in the Calman Commission (with the blessing of the Westminster Government) – want the powers of the Scottish Parliament increased, changing the terms of the Act – agree on revising the law, all imply the latter conclusion: Its a bad law.

The mature approach then from Westminster would be just to let those breaches pass – as it did in the past – before the Act itself can be changed; instead of enforcing a law that has the agreement of no-one.

Enforcing it now seems petty, small-minded and just plays into the hands of the SNP.

And just reeks of double standards!!