Saturday

1st Oct 2016

Opinion

Transport - go green or go under

Are there any political leaders in the EU who say we must (urgently) move towards renewable-energy-transport and that road-building can no longer be our top transport priority? The issue is getting urgent and we must prepare for the risk of oil depletion and global warming, which could result in a six-metre rise in sea levels.

Even a small risk of oil running out should be enough to make us urgently review our transport sector. The economic arguments are powerful: There is big money to be made by "electrifying" Europe's transport fleets and the car industry is indeed quietly moving towards the electric car. But the political will is missing.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Rupert Wolfe Murray is an independent consultant based in Romania (Photo: Horia Marusca)

The "Peak Oil Theory" of global oil supplies "peaking" in 2012 was not taken seriously by the mainstream until recently. That attitude is starting to change. Shell Oil recently sponsored an advert in Time Magazine that quoted a former US energy secretary as saying: "We can't continue to make supply meet demand for much longer. It's no longer the case that we have a few voices crying in the wilderness. The battle is over. The peakists have won."

If oil did peak, the consequences for our transport system, food supply and economic system would be devastating. Although there is growing interest in renewable energy, it is still considered somewhat marginal, uncompetitive and untested. There is no sign of a "rush to renewables" that could be compared to the "dash to gas" that took place in the UK during the 1980s. We are still tinkering at the margins.

The EU's new transport policy must be based upon renewable energy. The first challenge is a conceptual one: People need to understand that a transport system can function on electricity just as efficiently as it now does on oil. The case for a renewable transport system needs to be communicated to the public and a massive investment plan worked out.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a combination of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power could provide us with a carbon-free power supply. The most exciting developments seem to be taking place in the solar energy industry, where prices are falling rapidly.

European electrical grid to northern Africa

A German utility recently commissioned a study into extending the European electrical grid to northern Africa – a potential major supplier of solar energy. Apparently Morocco could provide all of Europe with electricity if three percent of the country was covered with solar panels. Cost is a major barrier here, but if we consider that global companies will spend $3.4 trillion on IT this year according to Gartner, a consultancy, it is clear that the cash is available.

Another barrier to the development of electricity as a replacement fuel is the challenge of storing electricity. The electric car could provide a solution to this problem. The concept is simple: electric cars would charge up at night, when electricity is cheap, and during the day the grid could draw off some electric power from individual cars, when extra power is needed.

According to the Zero Carbon Britain group, if Britain's car fleet became electric, it would provide the grid with more than enough reserve energy to meet any surges in demand.

Electric cars, bicycles and improved public transport could take care of almost all transport requirements at the urban level. But what about long distance transport? There is talk of biofuel and hydrogen fuelled planes, but the future for these fuels does not look promising.

The train from Naples to New York

A strong transport policy would confront the energy and transport lobbies and phase out aviation altogether, replacing it with high-speed trains and wind-powered ships. A French train recently broke the 500-km-an-hour speed record. If the Russians and Americans took the plunge, they could build an "Intercontinental Peace Bridge" across the Bering Straits and it might be possible to one day get a train from Naples to New York.

What about freight? Our economic system has become so dependent on big trucks that it is hard to think what could replace them. Europe's freight-train infrastructure has become so neglected – with the exception of Germany – that upgrading it would cost trillions of Euros.

But there is another alternative: the airship. Interest in airships is currently growing and scientists say that future "freight airships" could pick up containers directly from a factory yard, fly across the world and deliver inside another factory yard. We need to urgently develop these future forms of transport before it is too late.

Rupert Wolfe Murray is an independent consultant based in Romania and author of the blog: www.productive.ro/blog

Column / Crude World

Why Putin's union doesn't want to work with the EU

The EU should not dismiss institutional cooperation with the Russia-led economic association. But Moscow's previous behaviour with Ukraine and Moldova shows it won't let its neighbours turn too much to the West.

Opinion

Steel overcapacity crisis - from Europe to China

While the debate has escalated about China’s steel overcapacity, it is not exactly new. The first postwar steel crisis occurred in the US and Europe. Beijing seeks to avoid a deja vu of bad policies.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFAEFA Supports a YES Vote in the Hungarian Referendum
  2. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  3. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  5. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  6. World VisionNew Tool Measuring Government Efforts to Protect Children Released
  7. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  8. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  9. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  10. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  11. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  12. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List