Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Sunday, January 06, 2013
a plea for sanity!
This post was inspired by two things - an odd comment on a Facebook group and an even stranger one in a book that was otherwise sound.
The first involved a superb new build of a Lynton and Barnstaple engine and I commented that it was a classic, neat and very modern design but would be better if it was designed as a wood burner or at least a multi fuel engine. The comment was 'why? Surely good steam coal is better?' Well in the past the best steam coal was Welsh, but every Welsh pit has now closed. The point being steam coal now has to be imported. The second, and much more important point, is that Peak Coal is only a few years away, and we are already seeing huge increases in the amount of coal being used. This can only mean rapidly rising prices and eventual shortages and rationing. And much faster depletion on the other side of the bell curve. Will heritage or even steam worked community lines really get a good share of good coal?
The second odd comment was in a book on the current economic crisis. Until the very end it was an excellent analysis of worldwide economic decline, but the last chapter seemed to have been overtaken by a couple of cornucopians, the weirdest statement being that 'future energy supplies will be more abundant and cheaper'!! This is an amazing thing to see in print, as it derives exclusively from a strange blend of wishful thinking, junk science and conspiracy theory. Of course future energy supplies will be neither - otherwise they would have been exploited decades ago! They will be scarcer and far more expensive, and will get scarcer and costlier.
Perhaps this is just angst. Many people are very scared of what the future holds. I'm not one of them, obviously. But I am a realist.
A realistic approach to energy means that we now need to concentrate EXCLUSIVELY on sustainable energy. Anything that relies on fossil fuels is doomed. So ALL planning for the future has to take this into account, or it is pointless. If ignored there will be further misallocation of resources, and we no longer live in a world where we can indulge ourselves in that way.
Which brings me back to wood. Wood is renewable. Its energy content (by weight, but not by bulk!) is not far off that of good steam coal, and it is higher than the bitumous muck and brown coal that is just about all that is left in the ground. Best of all the UK is an excellent place to grow wood, even taking into account inevitable future climate changes. You can grow a lot of bulk in a small area, because it grows upwards. It can be harvested and cut using just human energy. And it can be grown alongside our railway land, making it very energy-efficient to harvest and store. It is also carbon neutral providing constant replanting is done. Wood will clearly trump coal in the near future, and there will be a rush to convert coal burning steam to wood burning - as well as replacing hopeless diesel locos with wood burners (or electrics of course). But burning wood directly is much more energy efficient than burning wood to generate electricity. It is also far more resilient. We need this sort of future thinking if we are to successfully build a new transport system in the UK. And we should be planting that wood now ...