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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U.S. shocked by Scottish Independence?

October 2, 2008

The Scotsman has published a story saying that the U.S. would be shocked by Scottish Independence.

It is a rather shoddy piece of journalism. It mentions a ‘Sir Christopher’ leaving the reader to try and work out exactly who he was. (Sir Christopher Meyer?)

It also quotes Lord Kerr, former U.S. ambassador:

“If it were to happen, people would be stunned.”

I am more stunned at that statement.

The very nation who declared Independence from Britain in 1776 stunned at another nation’s independence from the UK? Half of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were either Scots or of Scots descent.

Anyone who looks at maps through time would see a gradual decline in the (British Empire) red countries around the world.

The map of the world in 1920

In fact, anyone who looks at a similar map today would need to strain pretty hard to see red. Apart from the British Antarctic Territory the rest of the red would be placed on small islands mainly in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today's map of the world

Islands like the Falklands (claimed by Argentina) and Gibraltar (claimed by Spain) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (claimed by Mauritius and the Seychelles). Places that without British sovereignty would be in territorial danger by other countries.

Pretty much everyone else from the 1920s map shown has declared independence from the UK.

So why looking at today’s map would anyone by ‘stunned’ by Scotland’s independence?

Sure, Scotland may have had a large hand in creating that Empire, but that imperial past is long gone. Its out of date.

Just like the Treaty of the Union.

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Why the UK should have separate Olympic teams

August 26, 2008

Team GB took 311 athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games according to the Team GB website.

Yet the IOC only provides each country a limited number of slots for their athletes.

That meant for instance Hayley Haining couldn’t go to Beijing when Paula Radcliffe declared herself fit.

Now there are always going to be losers in any qualifying system for the limited slot placement in the Olympics.

But separate Olympic teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would widen the opportunities for our athletes, and ensure that as many athletes as possible fill each countries slots.

Consider this:

The UK with a population of around 60 million sent 311 athletes.

England’s population of around 50 million is slightly higher than Spain’s 46 million. Spain sent 312 athletes to Beijing. (These and other countries figures obtained from the Yahoo Olympic site.) You’d probably be talking at least the 311 athletes in a English Olympic team. (The Team GB breaks down England by region but subtracting the other countries totals from the 311 Team GB total gives an English total of 268 athletes.)

Scotland’s population is around 5 million. Slightly higher than Croatia’s 4.6 million. Croatia sent 110 athletes to Beijing. Probably the same numbers as a possible Scottish team, although New Zealand with 4.2 million sent 209 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 26 athletes at the 2008 Olympics.)

Wales’ population is around 3 million. Just slightly smaller than Lithuania. They sent 74 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 14 Welsh athletes in the Beijing Olympics.)

Northern Ireland’s population is around 1.8 million. Not far off Slovenia’s 2 million. They sent 62 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 3 athletes, although Northern Irish athletes are also eligible for the Irish Olympic squad.)

Let’s add that up:-

England 311
Scotland 110
Wales 74
Northern Ireland 62

Thats a rough estimate of 557. That’s an increase in athletes for each country from their 2008 totals.

Might even be more if the Home Nations can begin to emulate the New Zealand population density rate. The UK – as four countries – could possibly send about 700 athletes, more than double the present number; a number that would never be possible for the single British Olympic Committee given the UK’s population.

The key here is widening participation in sport for our top athletes.

Athletes that have experience in the Olympics generally do better in the next one. They know what the Olympics is all about, they have seen what it takes to compete at that level, and work that bit harder to achieve their Olympic dreams next time.

Athletes that don’t make the slot places may just give up altogether.

With 4 different Olympic committees, sport all over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could flourish.

And of course, there’s no reason for the IOC to object to four different IOC bodies in the UK. There were 12 territories represented at the 2008 Olympics that are not recognised countries.

Bermuda has its own representation. Britain own those islands; Bermuda is not independent or have a seat at the UN. Bermuda sent 6 athletes to the Olympics. And for a population of 66 000 people that’s simply staggering.

Thats almost 1 in 10000 people there being Olympic athletes.

Or England sending 5000 athletes to Beijing.


Madrid plane crash tragedy

August 21, 2008

Tragic news from Spain where around 150 people have died in a plane crash as the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was taking off from the runway.

The fifteen year old plane had passed its safety inspection in January of this year.

However, doubts must be raised now over the safety record of these ageing planes.

The FAA in America had enough doubts in spring this year to order American Airlines to cancel all flights of the MD-80 series planes; Delta also cancelled their flights of their MD-80 series – in total over 6000 flights were cancelled.

Hopefully any lessons will be learned and all remaining MD-80 series planes will again be checked for their safety.

An MD-82 Spanair plane regularly flies from Glasgow Airport.

And since I’ve mentioned Glasgow Airport, it seems that Ferrovial, another Spanish company, has been ordered to sell either Glasgow or Edinburgh airport by the Competition Commission. Ferrovial, the Spanish transport and construction company, who built the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and own BAA, may also lose Gatwick and Stansted Airports that serve London.

It seems Glasgow Airport is the favourite to be sold among the Scottish airports.

And one of the buying frontrunners is the Manchester Airport Group.

MAG is owned by a consortium of Manchester and surrounding councils and currently own four airports.

But is it really in Glasgow’s interest to be owned by the Manchester group that would obviously favour Manchester Airport over Glasgow?

Already we see that Scots need to travel to Manchester Airport for many flights. This trend might increase if MAG owned Glasgow Airport.

Wouldn’t a better buyer be a similiar consortium of Glasgow, Renfrewshire and surrounding councils rather than a Manchester based bid?

That way Glasgow Airport would stand a great chance of maintaining and expanding its number of flights – and any profits be split amongst the councils to provide better services for us all.

It seems though that already Glasgow City Council have said they are not interested in the airport.

That seems a shame.

The deal that Ferrovial loses the airports is not finalised yet. BAA is sure to try and argue their case and it may take time before any handover is agreed.

Perhaps in the intervening time, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and other councils can meet and work on a joint bid.

Or is it only the Manchester area councils that have ambition nowadays?

UPDATE: Following this post urging the councils to prepare a joint bid it seems that they are now willing to put in a bid together with MAG.

Perhaps some councillors read my blog!

It still doesn’t fully allay my fears of Glasgow Airport run as second best to Manchester.

I suppose even a junior partnership is better than nothing, though.


SNP win Glasgow East

July 25, 2008

Yes. The SNP have won Glasgow East.

It might be a shock result but is anyone surprised?

I’m not going to go into Labour’s terminal decline in Scotland today.

I’ve already posted quite a bit on Labour’s slapstick election campaign too.

No. Today should be about celebrating the SNP’s magnificient win.

A justified result for the SNP’s brilliant campaign team and candidate John Mason.

A win that delivered the promised ‘political earthquake’. (Yet another SNP promise delivered!)

An earthquake with tremors felt around the world:-

The USA: New York Times and Time magazine
Canada: The National Post
India : Top News
South Africa : News 24
Australia : Sydney Morning Herald
France: France 24
Spain: EITB 24

to name but a few countries coverage.

Now thats what I call putting Scotland on the world stage!

To do it permanently, independence is the next step.

Bring it on!


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.