Thursday, August 17, 2006

LPG subsidies will drive us down the road to ruin

Don’t waste your money on an LPG conversion. LPG is a by-product of refining crude oil, so when Australia runs out of oil in the next ten years, we run out of LPG too. The price of LPG will climb with the price of petrol as world oil supplies dwindle.

John Howard’s subsidy for LPG conversions for cars is short-term political opportunism that demonstrates he doesn’t have any real interest in sustainable long-term energy and transport alternatives.

For example, Australia is selling natural gas for 3 cents per litre to China by the shipload, when we could be running all our cars, trucks and buses on compressed natural gas (CNG). Our reserves of natural gas will last up to 30 years, so this would buy us more time as we transition to renewable alternatives.

You can even use home refilling stations to pressurise natural gas overnight and fill your car up – but these are not yet readily available in Australia.

It is a pity our politicians are ignoring CNG, just trying to buy votes, and intent on driving us all down the road to ruin.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The problem is not petrol, its transport

Our political leaders such as John Howard and Steve Bracks have been quite remiss in not developing transport solutions that are sustainable and cost effective for the future.

We have known for some time that Australia's oil reserves will effectively run out in about a decade, Bass Strait oil runs out even sooner. Yet virtually no effort has been made to provide viable alternative transport modes and options. The focus has almost been exclusively on cars and trucks running on petroleum distillates (such as petrol or diesel), and on building freeways.

Now there is a predictable public backlash to petrol prices rising to nearly $1.50 per litre - which is inevitable as the world's oil supplies dwindle and wars rage . Within two years the price could rise to over $3.00 per litre, which will have massive flow-on effects for our economy and lifestyles.

So what are the gut reaction "solutions" proposed by some our parliamentarians?

  1. Ethanol (blended with petrol) - this is a nonsense solution as you need more fossil fuel inputs to grow crops and create then transport the ethanol than the energy value provided by the ethanol.
  2. Provide petrol subsidies (or removing the excise tax) - more short term thinking that will further encourage consumption and not address the root cause - that we are running out of oil
  3. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) - while this fuel is cheaper than petrol or diesel, it is a byproduct of refining crude oil, so it will run out when the oil reserves do, so this won't even buy us any time.
However, our reserves of natural gas (also from the oil fields) will last for over 30 years, and we could be running all our cars and trucks on compressed natural gas (CNG), but there has been no significant action on developing the infrastructure to supply this as fuel to consumers. Instead, we sell it by the shipload to China for 3 cents per litre, which is quite remarkable. We could use CNG to buy us more time to develop long term sustainable transport options.

Better public transport such as railways would also greatly reduce our increasing reliance on oil for fuel, but there has been very little investment in improving or extending our railway infrastructure or services over the last twenty years.

So, Greenprint suggestion #2 is to use CNG as fuel to buy us more time to develop long term solutions to our transport requirements.

Related article: Alaska puts heat on petrol, politicians

LETTER: Leadership lacking on petrol

Peter Bulkeley, Buderim, Qld
August 5, 2006

This is an interesting and topical letter that was published in The Age.

John Howard says of high petrol prices: "Everybody's got the problem, America's got it, Europe's got it, Asia's got it." Notice he did not include Middle Eastern countries, which are sitting on oceans of oil. In fact, Saudi Arabia cut the price of its petrol by 33 per cent in May to about 21 cents a litre.

If Australian governments had shown leadership over the past 20 years, most of us would be driving natural gas-powered vehicles rather than gloating over huge contracts with China and Japan to whom we give gas for a few cents a litre. Instead, we have a handful of cars and some public buses running on the fuel that is, to us, what oil is to other countries.

Mr Howard and his predecessors have not displayed the leadership needed to put relentless pressure on car makers to develop affordable natural gas cars and to stand up to the oil companies that resist that course. The oil companies' political clout, combined with the readiness of Mr Howard to follow George Bush into the Middle East to protect America's (and Exxon's) thirst for oil, makes the quest for a solution elusive. Not utilising our abundant natural gas is like the Saudis driving on $2-a-litre ethanol made from date peel.