Saturday, 31 May 2008

How to win the battle against the soaring price of fossil fuel

Cutting your petrol costs

The easiest way to cut your fuel costs is to use your car a little less. Cycling and walking won't cost you anything (or, at least, a lot less in the case of cycling), and even public transport is likely to prove better value than jumping in your motor. However, for the millions of people who have no choice but to continue using their vehicles, there are a few easy ways to try and combat rising fuel prices.

A visit to www.petrol is a good start. This is a free site, which helps you track down the cheapest petrol prices in your area, and also lets you know just how much more you could be paying if you drive into the wrong petrol station. In south London, for example, it's possible to pay as much as 135.9p for a litre of diesel, or as little as 122.9p – a saving of around £5 for every tank.

Another way to cut your fuel bills is to make sure you sign up to the loyalty schemes of any fuel companies that you regularly use. Most of the major petrol station owners, such as Shell, BP and Esso offer loyalty schemes that will reward you with points every time you shop with them. These can then be redeemed for money off your petrol in future.

Another option is to pick yourself up a credit card that pays cashback, and make sure that you pay for all your petrol using the card. American Express's Platinum card, for example, will pay you 5 per cent cashback on all purchases for the first three months, and then between 0.5 and 1.5 per cent on purchases thereafter – depending on how much you spend on the card each year.

If you regularly buy your petrol from Shell garages, it's also worth considering the Citibank Shell Mastercard, which pays you 3 per cent back on all fuel purchases made at Shell stations, and 1 per cent on all other purchases.

If you drive a very long distance each year, it may also be worth signing up to one of the fuel providers' business accounts. Sites such as allow individuals who consume more than 250 litres of diesel each month to sign up to these plans, which can save you up to 3p a litre.

Finally, if you've got a diesel car that's 20 years old or more, there's a good chance you can get it to run on vegetable oil, which you should be able to pick up for as little as 10p a litre from a local restaurant.

Cut your energy bills

If you haven't reviewed your energy situation for a few years, there are a few things you can almost certainly do to save money. Siobhan Parker of switchwithwhich points out that receiving quarterly bills and paying by cheque are about the most expensive way of dealing with your energy costs. However, if you switch to a monthly direct debit, and manage your bills online, you can save yourself tens of pounds in charges.

Better still, regularly updating your meter readings online ensures you don't get any nasty surprises, and are always being billed for what you've used.

Next, it's worth checking to see whether you could get a better deal with a different supplier. In most areas of the UK, you should get the choice of a handful of different electricity and gas companies. And, says Parker, there are greater savings to be made if you buy your gas and electricity from the same provider.

If you're worried about oil and gas prices climbing even further, another step you can take is to plump for one of the fixed or capped rate tariffs which most energy providers now offer.

As the name suggests, capped tariffs allow you to benefit from any falls in energy prices, while ensuring that you won't ever pay more than a pre-determined amount if prices continue rising.

Both fixed and capped rates run for a specific time period – usually two or three years – but, Parker says, consumers will usually have to start off paying as much as 25 per cent more than the regular rate at the start of the contract. If prices continue to rise, you'll be in the money. But if they fall, you could find yourself worse off than you would have been. The premium on capped and fixed rates is the price of peace of mind.

Websites such as, and allow you to compare the different tariffs offered by competing providers in your area.

Finally, if you really want to work on cutting your energy bills, then there are a number of things you can do to make your home more energy efficient. Some of these will require a short-term investment – such as insulating your walls or installing double-glazing – while others are just common sense, such as turning lights off and not leaving appliances on stand-by. For more details on ways to make your home more energy efficient, visit

Hedging your exposure

Another way to mitigate the rising cost of oil is to invest in it. There are a number of different ways to do this, the easiest of which is to buy an exchange traded fund from the likes of ETF Securities ( These will allow you to track the oil price, and grow your money if it continues to rise.

However, given the rises in oil that we have already seen, a direct investment could be a risky bet. If you're simply looking to offset the effects of any further rises in the price, a better way to hedge your future exposure would be to take a "leveraged" bet on the oil price. For example, ETF Securities' leveraged ETFs will earn you 2 per cent for every 1 per cent rise in the price of oil. This means that you can put less of your money at risk for the same potential return.

Alternatively, you could invest in covered warrants or use spread betting to hedge your oil exposure. These options are much more highly leveraged, meaning you need to invest only a small amount of money to make a relatively large return if the oil price rises. Obviously, if the price falls, you could lose some or all of your money, but if you look at it as buying insurance against the rising cost of oil, it can certainly make good sense.

full article

Friday, 30 May 2008

Tax windfall enough to cover fuel duty freeze, says IFS

Windfall gains made by the Government from taxes on North Sea oil would more than pay for a postponement of the 2p rise in fuel duty scheduled for this October.

Research exclusively conducted for The Independent by the Institute for Fiscal Studies reveals that the Government will make a gain of around £1bn in this tax year, compared with the estimates made in the Budget. That is because the Treasury bases its estimates on the average oil price forecast by independent observers, which stood at only $83.80 per barrel in March. The price of a barrel touched $135 recently, and the consensus of independent forecasts now stands at $103 for the year, with Government oil revenues rising commensurately.

In 2009-2010 the windfall gain could be even higher at £1.25bn, according to the IFS. The cost of postponing the 2p increase in fuel duty, by contrast, is about £550m. Indeed, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, could also afford to postpone the controversial rise on vehicle excise duty for older cars, a move designed to raise an extra £465m in 2009-2010.

Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the IFS, said: "The direct impact of higher oil prices on the profitability of North Sea oil companies would in isolation boost tax revenues by enough to delay October's planned 2p increase in fuel duty by up to a year."

full article

UK energy regulator plans help for fuel poor

Britain's poorest households should get more help finding the cheapest power and gas deals under a new plan to soften the blow of soaring energy prices.

UK energy regulator Ofgem published its "Fuel Poverty Action Programme" on Friday which it says aims to get consumers who pay more than a tenth of their income on heating and lighting their homes onto the cheapest tariffs available.

"We have to find ways to identify and target more effectively low income and vulnerable customers most in need of help from the government, suppliers and non-government agencies," Ofgem Chairman John Mogg said.

Under the plan, the Department of Work and Pensions will look at new laws to allow more information to be shared by government and energy suppliers to improve targeting help for poorer customers, while another government-funded scheme will ensure the most vulnerable customers are on the cheapest tariff.

full article

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Maximize your fuel efficiency

Drive more efficiently

* Drive sensibly: avoid aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration and braking. (5 percent to 33 percent fuel economy benefit)

* Observe the speed limit:gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. (7 percent to 23 percent fuel economy benefit)

* Remove excess weight: avoid keeping unnecessary items, especially heavy ones, in your vehicles (1 percent to 2 percent fuel economy benefit per 100 pounds)

* Avoid excessive idling.

* Use the cruise control.

* Use overdrive gears.

Keep your car in shape

* Keep your engine properly tuned:fix vehicles that are out of tune, have serious maintenance problems or have failed emissions tests. (4 percent fuel economy benefit)

* Check and replace air filters regularly. (up to 10 percent fuel economy benefit)

* Keep tires properly inflated. (up to 3 percent fuel economy benefit)

* Use the recommended grade of motor oil. (1 percent to 2 percent fuel economy)

Plan and combine trips

* Combine errands into one trip.

* Stagger work hours to avoid peak rush hours.

* Consider telecommuting if permitted by your employer.

* Take advantage of carpools and ride-share programs.

* Consider public transit.

* Reduce aerodynamic drag by placing items inside the trunk rather than in a roof carrier whenever possible.

Choose a more fuel efficient vehicle

Research vehicles before buying and select the most fuel efficient vehicle to meet your needs.

full article

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


Best and Worst Fuel Economy. Find the most and least efficient 2002 model year cars and trucks.


Gas-saving tires roll up in popularity

The rubber is meeting the road in automakers' quest for a quick gas mileage boost.

Automakers have developed a budding affection for "low-rolling-resistance" tires to squeeze a few extra miles per gallon from every model.

"They are putting much more emphasis on fuel economy than ever before" when it comes to picking tires, says Mike Martini, president of the Bridgestone division that supplies automakers.

Gas-saving tires have rolled out in the past, but attracted limited interest in an era of low-cost fuel. They are made with specially formulated compounds and tread designs that cut road friction. But sometimes, there was a trade-off: less road grip or durability.

full article

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The prices at the pumps are accelerating, but you can slam the brakes on fuel use

With the cost of petrol now exceeding £5 per gallon, the wallets of some drivers might be running on empty.

But there are a number of steps that any driver can take to cut their costs.

Simple changes to your routine can make a big difference. For example, according to the Money Savings Handbook, a guide published by the consumer organisation Which?, just driving at 50mph instead of 70mph could skim as much as 30 per cent off your fuel bills.

Other tricks of the trade include not using a roof rack and checking your tyre pressure. According to estimates, a roof rack or box can add up to 30 per cent to your fuel bills because of the obstruction it causes to the car's aerodynamic flow, while under-inflated tyres can add another 8 per cent as they cause more resistance, forcing the engine to work harder.

The same principle applies to cluttered boots, in that fuel use will go up as the engine labours to transport heavy loads.

Even switching off the air conditioning can cut costs by as much as 10 per cent if you normally have it on all the time, and a further 25 per cent can be saved by simply changing up and down the gears at the correct times.

full article

Tips to help your family cope with inflation

Tips to help your family cope with inflation

Inflation is rising at its fastest level in six years, so follow our advice to beat the great squeeze. By Niki Chesworth

Family finances are being squeezed from all sides as inflation is rising at its fastest level in six years, according to official figures.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) rose by 4.2 per cent over the last year but there have been even bigger hikes in electricity and food prices – up by 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively – and petrol prices which are 19 per cent higher.

The credit crunch has hit the mortgage market but there are a few green shoots. The Nationwide, for example, trimmed fixed rate mortgages by as much as 0.3 per cent last week in response to the Bank of England's £50bn cash injection to the banking system. Abbey, meanwhile, reduced its flexible and tracker rates by 0.05 per cent last week in addition to cutting some of its fixed rates by up to 0.17 per cent. As the mortgage is likely to be the biggest family bill, switching to get a better rate should be a priority.
Inflation-buster : Anyone on a variable rate mortgage has probably not benefited from the 0.75 per cent cut in Bank of England base rates since November, as lenders are not passing on rate reductions in full. Switch a 25-year £150,000 repayment loan from 6.5 per cent to 5.84 per cent and save around £732 a year. If money is really tight switch to interest-only on a temporary basis – saving a further £2,000 a year.

Further price rises are to come after British Gas warned this week of sharp increases in wholesale fuel prices. Some analysts forecast the average energy bill could rise by as much as 46 per cent this year hitting £1,327.
Inflation-busters: Some 4m households have never switched utility company from the original local monopoly supplier – even though the average family of four could save around £200 a year. Of the eight in 10 that have switched, many could benefit from changing again. Pay by direct debt, manage the account online and opt for duel-fuel for the biggest savings. Visit or Increase energy savings by a further £250 a year by following the tips at

full article

Beat half-term holiday rip-offs

Save £200 on your annual petrol bill

With clever use of websites and cards, you could save hundreds of pounds on your annual fuel bill. First find the cheapest petrol in your area, using This website will give you the rates on all forecourts within your area. Asda is consistently the cheapest. An Asda in Gateshead was charging 107.9p a litre, but a mile and a half down the road, the rates were 114.9p. With a 50-litre tank, you would save £3.50 at Asda.

You could make further savings by using an Asda credit card which offers an additional 2p off each litre, bringing your total saving to £4.50. Over the course of a year, you would save £234 assuming the difference between the stations remained the same and you filled up once a week.

Meanwhile, Tesco offers one Clubcard point for each £1 spent at a Tesco forecourt. These points are worth 1p so if you bought £50 worth of petrol you could save 50p.

Go to Manchester for £1

Virgin Trains is offering £1 singles between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly until the end of June. It is part of a trial of online printable tickets. You have to visit and go to the tickets@home section on the left-hand side. You then select which times you want to travel. Prices range from £1 to £7 each way so you could book a return over the half-term holidays for £2. In contrast, a standard open return costs £230 — allowing you to save £228. Tickets are only available for travel on weekdays because of maintenance work

full article

Monday, 19 May 2008

New boilers offer an escape from soaring fuel bills

For the domestic energy consumer facing ever higher bills, one of the most efficient ways to stay warm and keep the lights on has been a pipe dream so far, but record high fuel prices have focused minds on making it reality.

Large-scale combined heat and power plants are widely used across Europe to supply residential areas with warmth, hot water and electricity.

Now, a scaled-down version of the technology is becoming more attractive for use in individual households as gas and power costs soar in line with record oil prices.

Although micro combined heat and power (mCHP) mean homeowners have to invest new boilers, it allows them to sell any extra power they make back to the national grid and eventually make a profit.

At the same time, the increased efficiency cuts carbon emissions and could enable households to become entirely energy independent.

The technology has been commercially available in Britain since 2006 but is gaining popularity as oil prices drive up energy bills and public concern over global warming intensifies.

"It's part of a whole suite of solutions, which we should be developing," said Robin Oakley of environmental group Greenpeace.

"The underlying principle of getting more energy out of the same fuel is a very good one ... Realistically, at the domestic level people make a decision about a boiler when the old one breaks, but high prices are focusing everyone's minds."

full article

Sunday, 18 May 2008

PM's new homes 'not green enough'

Gordon Brown's plan to build 3 million homes by 2020 is coming under renewed criticism from a powerful group of MPs just days after Caroline Flint, the housing minister, inadvertently let slip that prices are to fall by 10 per cent.

The environmental audit committee is accumulating evidence to assess the impact of 3 million new homes. Tim Yeo, its chairman, is concerned that new homes are not near transport hubs and have few employment opportunities, so leading to increased commuting. In addition, too few new homes, he argues, are built with sustainable materials, many proposed settlements are located in flood plains, and there are fears about inferior quality. Yeo also wants more money diverted into energy efficiency. 'We are years behind other European countries,' he said.

The committee has already taken one week's evidence, with more sessions scheduled this week. The report will be published in July.

Criticism of Brown's housing plans, a central plank of his premiership, will be unwelcome for the Prime Minister whose time as Chancellor coincided with a housing boom caused in part by a lack of newly built homes. The number of new homes built this year is likely to be about 150,000 - 50,000 fewer than last year.

full article

Saturday, 17 May 2008

scheming power firms rig prices to con families out of £400 every year

Households are being overcharged by more than £400 a year for gas and electricity because power companies are fixing prices, it is claimed.

The official consumer body Energywatch says the power supply industry in Britain and Europe is rigged against consumers.

It also accuses the Government of being docile and complacent while millions struggle to pay their bills.

Householders have already been hit with a 15 per cent increase this year, and the industry is suggesting another 25 per cent rise.

The giant power suppliers claim they are simply passing on increases in the wholesale cost of gas, which has been driven up by a record leap in the price of oil to more than 120 dollars a barrel.

However, Energywatch says this link between the gas price and oil is unjustified, artificial and outdated. The watchdog says the link amounts to a form of price-fixing.

full article

Friday, 16 May 2008

Concern over small biomass option

Small-scale biomass power plants can have a greater environmental impact than other renewables, a study says.

UK researchers found that although the facilities offered carbon savings, they produced more pollutants per unit of electricity than larger biomass plants.

They suggested the way the feedstock was transported produced proportionally more pollutants than larger sites.

The findings challenged the view that such schemes offer an green alternative to grid-based electricity, they added.

Supporters of community biomass schemes say the power plants are sustainable because the fuel, such as wood chips, can be sourced from the local area.

full article

Trapped' homeowners can't switch to cheaper energy tariffs

People looking to avoid energy price hikes by switching to cheaper deals could be trapped with their current supplier if they have defaulted on a payment and owe money, according to

The independent financial comparison website, owner of, says some 726,000 people missed a gas or electricity bill in the last six months and warns that just as many could be trapped into expensive tariffs if they don't settle their bills.

Sean Gardner, founder of, said: "Generally speaking if you have defaulted on a recent energy bill and still owe your supplier money, you will be tied into that contract until you pay up.

"With wholesale energy prices increasing, it's inevitable that gas and electricity prices will rise again, so we anticipate large numbers of people to look to switch to the most competitive deals once that process begins.

"However if you've missed a bill you won't have that luxury and could be hit with price hikes that you just can't avoid. The only way to release the shackles is to pay up and move on."

British Gas owner Centrica has warned it will have to increase prices to maintain profits, sparking speculation that an average household could face yearly fuel bills of more than £1,300.

The rules on switching provider state that any money a customer has not paid to a supplier becomes a 'debt' after 31 days. Suppliers are then allowed to stop their customers changing to another company until the 'debt' is repaid. Suppliers also have the choice to allow you to switch.

full article

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Ships bring water to parched Barcelona

Climb down the stony banks of the massive Sau reservoir in the mountains above Barcelona and you get a real sense of why this famous city is so short of water that it's resorted to bringing in emergency supplies - by ship.

Nestling in a deep valley of stunning cliffs and forests, this vital source of water has sunk so low it's exposed the eerie sight of a medieval village that was flooded when the reservoir was opened in the 1960s.

The huddle of ancient stone buildings, including a church with its spire, has now re-emerged into the light and stands as a potent symbol of the severity of this water crisis.

full article

British Gas to raise prices as profits slump

Millions of homeowners face a second rise in the gas and electricity bills this year as British Gas owner Centrica grapples with a slump in its profits.

British Gas customers were dealt a 15 per cent rise in their energy bills in January as the company struggled to deal with the near doubling in the cost of buying gas in the wholesale markets.

That price rise did not go far enough for Centrica however as a trading update revealed that as the continued rise in wholesale gas prices "has caused profit margins in British Gas in the first half of the year to be squeezed to levels below our long run expectations."

British Gas has lost 100,000 customers since the January price rises, leaving total customer base at 15.9 million the company reported today. The group had 17.7 million British Gas customers at the start of 2005.

full article

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Cash cuts see green grants halved

The number of government grants made to people who want to fit solar panels or other green energy systems to their homes has halved, the BBC has learned.

It comes after the low carbon buildings programme cut the maximum grant on offer from £7,500 to £2,500.

The Renewable Energy Association, which says the programme is failing, has accused ministers of complacency.

But the government says uptake went up considerably last month after the need for planning permission was removed.

Europe's third worst

Figures seen by the BBC show that in 2007, 2,339 grants were made nationwide, compared with 5,104 the previous year.

Britain is the third worst performer in EU for producing energy from renewable sources - 2% of the UK's energy is produced in this way - and it has been told to raise its share to 15% by 2020.
In comparison, Germany has 200 times as many homes fitted with solar photovoltaic power.

But critics say the low carbon buildings scheme has been confusing and stingy, and has provided little incentive for people to go green.

Last month the programme was extended by a year to April 2010 but the £2,500 cap remained.

full article

Vote for 'Tomorrow's Lifestyle Home'

The brief is to design a home for families of every generation, where you could stay for life.

From 2013 every new house must comply with 16 'lifestyle home standards', such as wider doors for wheelchairs, higher wall sockets and an accessible downstairs lavatory, and from 2016 they must also be zero-carbon.

Ms Flint paid tribute to the British housebuilding industry's attempts to meet these targets.

"Our goal is to build not just more homes, but better homes.

"The UK housebuilding industry is at the forefront, not only signing up to the target but coming up with the innovation to make this happen," she said.

full article

Saturday, 10 May 2008

'Lazy, short-sighted and irresponsible'

A leaked government memo to British MEPs about how the UK plans to reach the EU's ambitious target of increasing its use of renewables in energy consumption tenfold to 15% by 2020 from the current 1.5% has provoked anger and disbelief among green campaigners.

"Lazy, short-sighted and irresponsible," is how Caroline Lucas, Green MEP, describes it.

The memo recommits Britain to its target (part of an overall EU one of 20%) but is shot through with references to "cost-efficiency" (seven) and "flexibility" (14) - and demands more of both, with officials refusing to say what that means. It suggests that ministers plan to trade their way to the target, importing renewable energy from elsewhere in the EU - Romania perhaps - and even outside Europe.

The government is even demanding relaxation of proposed rules governing the admission of large-scale projects such as the Severn Barrage towards the meeting the targets - even if they are not fully operational until after 2020. "They now want to extend this and weaken the criteria even further after exerting pressure to include this clause in the renewables directive," said Frauke Thies, EU renewables campaigner at Greenpeace. "They're trying to water it down here and every which way. And their trading plans will meet a lot of resistance."

Lucas says it "beggars belief" that the government is failing to meet the UK's potential for renewables, "shutting its eyes, closing its ears and burying its head" towards all the arguments in favour of incentives for investment - unlike the Germans whose feed-in tariffs have produced a surge in solar and wind power.

Malcolm Wicks, energy minister, insists that the commitment hasn't wavered and Britain has taken just 20 months to produce the second gigawatt (GW) of wind power when the first one took 14 years, putting it on course to be the world's leading offshore wind park. But any energy package has to take "pragmatic" account of the costs: an extra €25.6bn for the EU by 2020 when Britain's share will be €6.7bn or a quarter compared with the comparable cost of fossil fuels.

full article

Monday, 5 May 2008

300,000 more elderly in fuel poverty trap

Nearly a third of a million more pensioners will be unable to afford to heat their homes properly this year.

Age Concern boss Gordon Lishman said "fuel poverty" - when more than a tenth of household income goes on energy bills - was m danger of returning to 1997 levels, before Labour came to power.

Energy bills are set to soar by an average £250 - meaning one in six of Britain's 12 million elderly will find the cost of proper heating too much, a 300,000 rise on the previous figure.

Mr Lishman said: "The Government's fuel-poverty strategy should be urgently revised.

"Gordon Brown must prove he is in touch with people's concerns by holding his own urgent summit to get the strategy back on track." For people on State pensions, annual bills of £1,200 will mean almost a fifth of their income goes on fuel.

full article

High petrol prices see Americans ditch SUVs

America's love affair with sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and pick-up trucks is finally over.

The gas-guzzlers that ply the country's freeways and clog its city streets and parking lots are falling victim to ever-rising petrol prices, rather than concern about the country's oversized carbon footprint. The fall-off in sales is dramatic however.

Even offers like that from a Denver showroom of a year's free petrol with each new SUV isn't shifting the pick-ups and 4x4s quickly enough to stave off financial ruin for the country's car manufacturers.

With petrol now selling for almost $4 (£2) a gallon, consumers are trading in their Humvees and Ford Explorers so fast that for the first time, one in five cars sold in the US is now a compact or subcompact. In another first, sales of six-cylinder vehicles were bypassed by smaller four-cylinder, mostly Japanese, cars in April.

In some cities sales of hybrid cars outnumber the lumbering vehicles that are still pouring off the assembly lines at Ford and General Motors in Detroit. The occasional Smart car can even be seen nipping through the traffic. "The era of the truck-based large SUVs is over," said Michael Jackson, boss of the country's largest car retailer Autonation. Another car executive called it the most dramatic shift in the market in 30 years.

full article

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Green tax revolt: Britons 'will not foot bill to save planet'

More than seven in 10 voters insist that they would not be willing to pay higher taxes in order to fund projects to combat climate change, according to a new poll.

The survey also reveals that most Britons believe "green" taxes on 4x4s, plastic bags and other consumer goods have been imposed to raise cash rather than change our behaviour, while two-thirds of Britons think the entire green agenda has been hijacked as a ploy to increase taxes.

The findings make depressing reading for green campaigners, who have spent recent months urging the Government to take far more radical action to reduce Britain's carbon footprint. The UK is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, a target that most experts believe will be difficult to reach. The results of the poll by Opinium, a leading research company, indicate that maintaining popular support for green policies may be a difficult act to pull off, and attempts in the future to curb car use and publicly fund investment in renewable resources will prove deeply unpopular.

The implications of the poll could also blow a hole in the calculations of the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, who was forced to delay a scheduled 2p-a-litre rise in fuel duty until the autumn in his spring Budget, while his plans to impose a showroom tax and higher vehicle excise duty on gas-guzzling cars will not take effect for a year. He is now under pressure to shelve the increase in fuel duty because of the steep rise in the price of oil.

The public's climate-change scepticism extends to the recent floods which inundated much of the West Country, and reported signs of changes in the cycle of the seasons. Just over a third of respondents (34 per cent) believe that extreme weather is becoming more common but has nothing to do with global warming. One in 10 said that they believed that climate change is totally natural.

full article

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Shell ditches renewable stake amid fears of a retreat to carbons

The future of the world's largest offshore wind farm and a symbol of Britain's renewable energy future was thrown into doubt last night after it emerged that Shell was backing out of the project and indicated it would prefer to invest in more lucrative oil schemes.

Shell said the decision to sell its 33% stake in the £2bn London Array off the coast of Kent was part of an "ongoing review of projects and investment choices" and was not part of any major rethink about renewables versus other oil and gas projects.

But environmentalists will see the decision to drop one of only two renewable schemes being worked on by Shell in Britain as a further sign that the company is retreating back to hydrocarbons at a time when the price of oil has risen to about $120 a barrel.

Shell, which earlier this week reported first quarter profits of £4bn, has been selling off much of its solar business while moving more into Canada's carbon-heavy tar sands. The Department for Business said last night that a number of successful offshore wind projects had seen changes of ownership in the past "and we would therefore anticipate that the project will be able to proceed".

But Shell's partner, E.ON, expressed disappointment at the decision and made clear the project was now on a knife-edge. "While we remain committed to the scheme, Shell has introduced a new element of risk into the project which will need to be assessed," said Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK.

"The current economics of the project are marginal at best - with rising steel prices, bottlenecks in turbine supply and competition from the rest of the world all moving against us."

full article

Top marques

Ask anyone on the street about the UK automotive industry and they might well ask 'what automotive industry?'

This would not be a surprise given the mainstream media's preoccupation with factory closures and economic gloom.

Fortunately, this special report paints a very different picture. The UK is not just an attractive place to make cars, but it boasts a disproportionately high number of globally recognised marques — spanning vehicle types from niche sports cars to heavy trucks and every sector in between.

Add to this an enviable reputation for contract manufacturing, a healthy smattering of world-leading research projects and an academic base that continues to produce some of the world's top engineers and designers, and it is clear that — far from being on its last legs — the UK's automotive sector is in pretty rude health. Here are 10 reasons why. The automotive sector has always embraced electronics, and more advanced technology is now finding its ways into cars. Here are 10 reasons why.

Hydrogen makes perky performer

From biofuels to hybrids and fully-electric vehicles, there are many routes to greener motoring and all will appear in greater numbers over the coming years.

But for true zero-emissions motoring, with vehicles capable of the performance we expect from petrol and diesel engines, most experts agree one candidate is more promising than all the others — the hydrogen fuel-cell.

The sticking point is the infrastructure. While biofuels can already be found on some garage forecourts, and electric cars can be plugged into the wall, the question of how to roll out a hydrogen infrastructure is more complex.

In a UK-led effort to solve this, fuel-cell specialist ITM Power last month joined Brentwood-based powertrain developer Roush Technologies on a project designed to stimulate the uptake of hydrogen-powered commercial vehicles. 'There's a general acceptance that in the early stages of the technology it will be attractive for logistical and support reasons on fleets of vehicles which return to the same depot every night,' said Roush's Adrian Graves.

ITM is developing an electrolyser system that can be used by organisations to generate hydrogen, while Roush is investigating how this system could be applied to fleets of vehicles, and what modifications would need to made to a vehicle's engine and powertrain. Graves confirmed they are also working with an unnamed global manufacturer of commercial vehicles that has a facility in Essex (Ford's Dagenham plant would seem to fit the bill).

Meanwhile, Hugo Spowers, the automotive engineer behind Morgan's hydrogen-fuelled LifeCar (The Engineer, 10 March) believes fuel-cell vehicles will take off as urban vehicles. Through the HYRBAN project, Spowers is working with a loose alliance of motorsport engineers to develop a two-seater urban fuel-cell car that he hopes could kick-start this revolution. The powertrain for the vehicle is being tested at Cranfield University and, with a lightweight composite chassis, will be assembled into the vehicle this summer. Spowers believes the vehicle's perky performance will make it more attractive than existing low-emissions urban vehicles. 'It will have a cruise speed and a top speed of 50mph. It will get there very quickly and stay there and will accelerate to 30mph in 5.5 seconds.'

full article