Quite pretty really....

Quite pretty really....

We’re in a recession. Fair enough. Businesses will go bust and that is the way of the world, sad though that is. Different businesses ones will spring up to replace them. However, one closed yesterday which on top of the tragedy of 400 lost jobs in Wales, it could have an enormous impact on the environment.

Anglesey Aluminium, which opened 40 years ago, announced in August that it would cease smelting work, where the raw materials are heated up to create aluminium. The UK government had offered a £48m rescue package over four years but this was rejected by the plant’s owners because it was “not enough to break even”.

But Aluminium demand is on the rise, so the smelting will be done, but elsewhere in the world.

Energy GenerationSo what you ask? Well, the kicker is that plant on the outskirts of Holyhead, used 12% of the total electricity in Wales. Yes, that is not a misprint, 12% of the total electricity supply of a whole country. For one plant. Crikey.

Now this electricty has to come from somewhere, and AA has been pretty much linked to the nuclear power station at Wylfa, 14 miles away. One of the main issues was that it was due to be decommissioned, and other options were more expensive.

Estimates give the consumption of the plant as about 2,200 Million Kwh per year. Or if it came from the normal UK grid (at 544g/kwh), a footprint of 1.2 million tonnes of CO2. However, its from Nuclear, and the best research available ( quotes the g/kwh figure as 16g/kwh. So the footprint of the plant is more like 35,000 tonnes of CO2, just 3% of a non-nuclear power source.

So what happens when the slack in Aluminium production is taken up by India or China and fueled by a gas or coal? Well, the table below (using UK figures which are probably very optimistic) shows Anglesey Aluminium’s closure is likely to cause between 750,000 and 2,000,000 tonnes of extra CO2 in the atmosphere every year.

Makes you think doesn’t it?The impact

A low carbon Segway user yesterday

A low carbon Segway user yesterday

So we have finished our real world testing of the Segway PT, and we have made the following observations:

1 – The average footprint has increased from 16.6 to 24.9 g/km with more data points.
2 – We have also calculated figures for other large industrialised nations – e.g.: Italy is 21g/km, and the US is 30 g/km based on their standard electricity generation figures.
3 – Clear would suggest rider experience has a large impact on the footprint. Experienced riders were likely to be between 16.6 and 20.9 g/km, whereas beginners create between 26.1 and 40.1 g/km. It appears from the data that beginners use significantly more power to travel a given distance – I would suggest this is as a result of more energy being used for balance as opposed to forward motion.
4 – The Segway PT is still the lowest carbon motorised method of getting from A to B in the UK.

The link to the whole document is below:

Badger Impressionist

Badger Impressionist

It’s looking more and more likely that the government’s resident badger impressionist, Alistair Darling, is going to announce on April 22nd that old cars (over 10 years) scrapped when a new car is bought will get the owner a £2,000 incentive. Other European countries have implemented similar schemes – in Germany, for example, car sales increased by 40% in March compared with a year earlier.

Compare that with the UK where new car sales fell again in March with new registrations down 30.5 percent against March 2008. And assumming a new car typically costs about £16,000 so the government won’t even be out of pocket (VAT alone is £2,400 before road tax etc), so why is this idea straight from the “MG Rover” department of naivity and idiocy?

Fuel Economy / CO2

New cars are more efficient than older cars. Heavier maybe, but more efficient. A 2.0 manual petrol Ford Focus in 2000 produced 204g/km of CO2. A 2007 model produces 169g/km. Progress indeed.

However, manufacturers are also getting much better at tuning their car’s to perform well in the standard EU test cycle. With modern fuel injection systems, it’s simple to tune a car for ecomony at test speeds, yet still be able to publish good horsepower figures for selling cars. So anyone who believed we’ve really seen a true 17% improvement in CO2 for Ford Foci in 7 years is kidding themselves.

The SMMT shows that the average g/km of new cars sold in the UK between 1999 and Q2 2008 has dropped from 190 g/km to just 160 g/km today. Very admirable, however we need to remember these are “new” cars. And in 1999 people were buying 4x4s like hot cakes. Today though, the SUV / 4×4 has become ostracised from society and sales have fallen off a cliff. In fact the only area of the car market that’s growing is small cars, and they always have a low g/km figure. So of those 30g/km reduction, probably half of it is as a result of cars becoming more efficient, rather than an overall shift in buying trends away from 4x4s to smaller cars.
New Car CO2 in the UK

We also need to remember the CO2 required to build the car. There are a variety of sources for this, from the energy required to build the car (welding / pressing etc), the energy required for production of parts from raw materials and even the footprint required to scrap and recycle a vehicle. The SMMT (Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders) gives an official figure of about a tonne of CO2 for this whole process. This is widely believed to be far too low.

So let’s say that 1000kg of CO2 is created building a new car, that’s 1,000,000 g of CO2. And lets say that 30g/km is actually saved by getting a newer, smaller, more efficient car through the scrappage scheme. To offset the impact of manufacturing would take a minimum of 20,000 miles of driving, or almost one complete lap of the earth.

Another source is Professor Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University who for the Governmenet calculated that 85% of a car’s CO2 is from fuel , 10% production and 5% destruction. In the simplest terms that means owning one car is 8% more CO2 efficient than owning 2 cars over the same period.
(10%+85%+85%+5% v 10%+85%+5%+10%+85%+5%)

Economy and Jobs

There is no doubt that the economy is the primary focus here, and the government are desperately trying to shore up what remains of the British motor industry. However, 85% of the cars sold in the country are imported from abroad. So if you were really trying to help the British industry, you’d be better taking the protectionist route and giving a subsidy just for British built vehicles of….£13,333. And we should also remember that evidence in Germany has shown people are buying smaller cars (for example the VW Polo – ironically built for VW in Spain), and in the UK we manufacture just 2 small cars, the Mini and the Nissan Micra, which together make up just 5% of the UK market. So most of the public money spent will benefit other nations, rather than our own motor industry.
Electric Mini
And what about the miriad of garages and parts manufacturers who keep the older cars running? 95% are based in the UK, and the plethora of new cars on the road will put many more of them out of business.
Made in Britain

Here’s the kicker with new cars. Some cars can loose 50% of their value in the first year of registration. And this is only going to get worse – what is the market for a 1 year old car going to be like if you can get £2,000 off a new one?

And your £2,000 saving? The moment you drive off the forecourt that will be lost in depreciation anyway.

Time Lag

And this is the big one that everyone appears to have missed. This is not a scheme that can last forever, as there is no reason why the government should subsidise one industry (making up a relatively small part of our economy nowadays) while others feel the pain of a recession. All it will do is create a “Christmas / January Sales” effect pushing the problem down the line where everyone shops now, then the market dries up requiring huge discounting just to get any sales at all. No doubt there will be a strong take-up initially (who doesn’t want £2,000 free from the government coffers?), and people are already holding off buying new cars on the expectation of the grant, further hurting the industry (why would you buy now anyway if this is coming?). But what happens next? All the grants are given out, then what? An even worse drought in car sales, that’s what.

The likely end result is that we will have a short term “blip” in sales (just like Germany’s 40% jump), and an even bigger downturn in the long run. This could hurt the industry far more in the long run than the current “dry-patch”…

So what do we do?

So what should we do? Simple, take the estimated £1bn earmarked for the scheme and invest in research and development in the UK. That’s enough to create jobs for 10,000 people for 3 years developing the new technologies required for the drastic advances needed in automotive technology. The sad truth is that the UK’s cost base is never going to be able to complete with developing nations in manufacturing cars in the long term. Maybe today, yes, but not in 10 years. To really help the industry we need to be at the cutting edge of plug in hybrids, lightweight manufacturing techniques and the next generation of vehicles. The internal combustion engine has done well for us for 100 years, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in it’s current form, it has a finite life span, and if the government wants to have a UK motor industry it needs to get ahead of the curve and be at the cutting edge of the next generation of cars.

According to Autocar/ Clean Green Cars, the average CO2 emissions for new cars now stands at 156.6g/km – that’s 7.4g/km less than a year ago. And at that rate of decline manufacturers are going to reach the EU’s proposed 130g/km target by 2012.

That’s great news. What’s even better is that if you continue this trend past 2012, then by 2030 we’re going to be driving cars which actually burn petrol / diesel and remove CO2 from the atmosphere as if by magic. A brave new world, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Magical Cars in 2030

Magical Cars in 2030

Or it might just be the case that most cars have improved by a more realistic 2.5-3%, but people have stopped buying big luxury cars and 4x4s (sales dropped by 40%-ish for each). Sadly at some point we’re going to run out of people who are going to stop buying 4x4s as they will have already stopped. And at that point, we’re just going to revert to a more 2.5%-3%. And forecasting 4 years into the future, based on 2 data-points is a dangerous game.

The Clear Business Tool

Its a question any responsible managing director should currently be asking, and Clear have created a calculator to enable you to measure it. And best of all it’s free. No charges, no catches.

Many companies offset carbon footprint measurement, but the quality of results can be extremely variable. As a carbon offsetter, Clear Offset believes that the first step to reducing your carbon footprint is being able to measure it. And companies are less likely to do this if it costs £000s in consultancy fees. So we took all the knowledge we had, put it in a carbon auditing tool and gave it to the world for free. And best of all, it’s entirely compatible with DEFRA / The UK Government’s Quality Assured Offsetting Scheme.

So help yourself – the tool can be found here:

and let us know what you think…