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Green transport: United in fight to cut energy consumption

EXPERTS from organisations involved in the battle to reduce emissions and consumption from transport met in London last week.

With climate change high on the world agenda, and transport taking flak for its contribution to it, delegates from across the transport industry gathered to hear what is being done.

Session one: Why change is needed

TRANSPORT dominates the UK’s use of oil, with 74% of the supply powering cars, planes, buses, trains and lorries.

Chaired by the former environment minister Michael Meacher MP, Reducing Transport’s Energy Use: Taking Real Action sought to focus on proposals put forward in the Government’s Energy Review. It looked at the developments and partnerships needed in order to hit targets. It also posed the question whether enough is being done to reduce transport’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Oil is not going to run out as some have claimed, but rather supply will hit a peak and then begin to reduce, according to Dr Michael Smith, chief executive of oil industry forecaster Energyfiles. The problem is that the falling supply and rising demand will create a sizeable gap, meaning there will be energy have and have-nots, but the haves will be paying a fortune for the privilege.

There are various suggestions to increase supply and reduce demand for oil – such as extracting oil from sands in Canada and Venezuela, using biofuels or gas/coal-to-liquid technology – but even if all these are successful, they will only reduce the gap, not fill it.

Increasing consumer efficiency is the only way to close the gap, Smith said.

He urged the Government to take more risks with incentives and penalties to encourage the take-up of new technologies and promote travel that does not produce carbon, such as walking and cycling.

Robert Evans is CEO of Cenex, a DTI-funded organisation set up to tackle climate change and ensure the UK motor industry is competitive in low-carbon technologies.

He said Britain was doing well with research and development of alternative technologies, but was behind Japan and the US when it came to getting them to market. Cenex is putting together a procurement consortium of fleets to try to stimulate the market, but Evans said government incentives were needed as well. He said uncertainty over future values of alternative vehicles was a particular stumbling block.

‘If a leasing company does not know a residual value it makes it incredibly challenging to launch a new product at a competitive rate,’ he said.

Session two: Cars

VOLUNTARY emissions reduction agreements for car manufacturers are not working and should be replaced with mandatory regulated targets, according to Alex Veitch, strategy manager for transport at the Energy Saving Trust.

The EU agreements, made by trade associations, aim to reduce average CO2 output to 140g/km by 2008, but the majority of manufacturers look set to miss the target.

Veitch said there were structural problems with the scheme, as the associations had no control over the manufacturers themselves. There is no financial incentive for meeting the target, and a brand’s reputation will not benefit.

Some 70% of people would support regulation based on mpg, Veitch said, and this would provide the industry with greater certainty. The EST is also throwing its weight behind calls to increase vehicle excise duty for higher-polluting cars.

‘Realistically, you need at least a £1,000 penalty before people even think about changing a car,’ Veitch said.

‘VED is a very powerful tool and we’d like to see the government use it more effectively.’

Mark Evers is tasked with reducing transport CO2 in the London area in his job as principal of the Transport for London Policy Unit.

Transport accounts for 21% of emissions in London and Evers believes significant savings can be made through technological innovations and behavioural change. London mayor Ken Livingstone has targets of reducing CO2 every five years up to 30% in 2025. While Livingstone’s approach to getting people out of cars has been controversial, Evers said: ‘Congestion charging has worked.

‘The success of the scheme shows that it is possible to change people’s behaviour. There has been a 4% shift from the car since 2000 and a 16% reduction in CO2 emissions within the congestion charging zone.’

Nevertheless, Evers believes more can be done.

He stressed the need to make public transport more attractive and get more people walking and cycling. TfL has a pilot project in South London – Smarter Travel Sutton – that will use different measures in one place to try to impact on pollution and car use.

It aims to reduce traffic by 5% over three years through travel demand management, utilising car clubs and personal travel planning. If successful, the lessons learned could be applied to a wider area.

Session three: vans

A PANEL of green experts was convened to examine how successful the Government has been in investing in sustainable transport.

Dr Jillian Anable felt that while changes to company car tax had been successful in reducing CO2 emissions from business drivers, there had been little focus on vans.

Anable, research fellow at the Centre for Transport Policy at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, felt there should be more attempts to reduce emissions from vans, such as voluntary agreements from car manufacturers.

‘Something like that, but mandatory with tough targets, is one of the ways to go,’ she said.

‘We don’t really know what the trends are or have been for LCVs.

‘Only 15 to 20% of the distance travelled by them is carrying freight, the rest of the time they’re running around empty.’

Dawn Haines, transport policy manager at the London Borough of Lambeth, said public sector fleets were often restricted by tendering guidelines when buying vans, and ended up getting the cheapest vans rather than the greenest.

Melanie Edmunds, transport policy officer for the RSPB, queried why no CO2 emissions data was available for half of the government’s road-building projects.

Peter Lipman, a director of Sustrans, wondered why such projects existed at all given the need to reduce CO2.

He said: ‘The tendency seems to be to pump money towards large projects that build new infrastructure, which promotes growth, rather that persuade people to travel less.

Session four: Biofuel problems still need to be overcome

PRODUCTION of biofuels in Europe is growing, but there are still problems that need to be addressed.

Dr Ausilio Bauen, head of the bioenergy group ICEPT at Imperial College London, said biodiesel was the most widely produced fuel as Europe worked towards the challenges set by the 2003 EU Biofuels Directive – for 5.75% of all fuel to be biofuel by 2010.

But policy uncertainty, different policies between member states and the need for fuel quality standards are still factors that need to be addressed.

The UK government is at the forefront of development of carbon and sustainability assurance schemes, Bauen said, and global financing for the fuel is on the up – biofuel investment is second only to wind power.

The view of biofuels from the producers’ perspective was provided by Malcolm Watson, technical director of the UK Petroleum Industry Association.

He spoke on the progress being made towards the Renewable Transport Fuels Objective. The government wants 5% of all fuel sold to be biofuel by 2010. Watson said the industry may struggle to hit that target because of the need for development and testing.

B5 biodiesel (5% biodiesel, 95% diesel) and E5 Bioethanol (5% bioethanol and 95% petrol) are likely to be the main sellers, he added.

Second-generation biofuels – such as converting straw and wood to ethanol, and sugar beet to butanol – would advance progress further and promise huge CO2 savings. But the implementation of such fuels is hampered by factors such as limits on space to grow the crops needed to make the fuel and the need to develop, test and install extra equipment at refineries, terminals and service stations.

However, Watson expects B5 to dominate the diesel market by 2008 and E5 to dominate the petrol market by 2009.

Paul Jefferiss, head of environmental policy at BP, talked about progress towards developing sustainability assurance for biofuels.

There were issues about growing feedstock, he said, such as the output of CO2 during production worldwide, social and community issues about workers, labour and impact on local areas.

There were also concerns about GM crops, competition with food and land and trust and credibility from consumers.

Jefferiss said Europe may be able to hit its Bioethanol targets by 2010 but it would be a big stretch. The UK will need to import vegetable oils for biofuel production, as the domestic feedstock supply will not be enough.

Progress is steady, but there still needs to be a formal accreditation, certification and audit process, he added.

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