Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

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

Nordstream 2: Alternative pipeline facts

Arguments put forward by Nord Stream 2's Brussels lobbyist in defence of the Russian-led project are not consistent and ignore some basic facts.

The need for global cooperation in stopping Iran

Although Trump said he would tear up the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the new administration seems to want to work on a new policy toward Iran. Let's hope European leaders will respond in kind to this approach.

A bold call for traineeship equality

The EU ombudsman's slapdown of the EU diplomatic service's unpaid internship programs offers a glimmer of hope to a future of paid internships in Europe.

Africa is our destiny

U2's Bono writes that Africa should be at the centre of political leader's thoughts at the latest G20 foreign minister's summit and the Munich security conference this coming week.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  2. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  3. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  5. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  8. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  9. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  10. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  11. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  12. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  2. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  3. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  4. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  5. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  7. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  8. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics
  10. Dialogue PlatformWhy the West 'Failed to Understand' Turkey
  11. European Jewish CongressInternational Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony
  12. European Free AllianceCatalan Independence Referendum: A Matter of Democracy