These are fast-moving times for energy. Almost every week, news comes of a new wheeze for generating power. German scientists have proposed turning the deserts of North Africa into enormous sun farms, to produce concentrated solar power. A Canadian company is creating an alternative Green fuel from human sewage. We all know the reasons for these developments. Too much carbon in the atmosphere is forcing the West to revise its attitude to fossil fuels. Britain has taken a lead in speechifying on the subject. This has meant an ill-considered dash to build wind farms, which can only top up the energy we use, as we mortgage the fuel security of the future to gas.
We need to develop serious Green alternatives, such as offshore tidal power using underwater turbines?a technology already pioneered in Canada. To do this will require more Government investment in research: one of the demands of Country Life’s Countryside Manifesto.
The countryside has a special interest in the subject. Often it is farmers and land managers who are most directly affected by the extreme weather events associated with climate change. Equally, rural Britain can help mitigate the problems of climate change, for example, by carbon sequestration and better harvesting of water. In one area, country eyes ought to be specially sharply focused on the debate: transport. Nowhere relies so much on the internal combustion engine for its day-to-day existence as the countryside.
Given noises about increasing the cost of motoring, rural areas will be anxious that alternative, non-polluting methods of fuelling the car can be found, simply to keep the rural areas working. But again, the countryside itself can provide solutions. Bio-diesel, which can be made from rapeseed as well as left-over cooking fat, and bioethanol, made from wheat and sugar beet, are established fuels, which only need an imaginative tax structure to encourage general use. It seems increasingly untenable that land can be set aside when it is capable of growing Green energy crops.
The motor industry has caught onto the environmental imperative rather quicker than the Treasury. Even motor sport, hardly a natural ally of the environmentalists, is exploring the technology to store and recycle the energy used in braking, so that it can be fed back to the engine as needed. Where Formula 1 leads, domestic car manufacturers will follow. Honda is already on the case. Considerable attention has been given to the Toyota Prius, because of the supposed environmental benefits of its hybrid (electric and petrol) engine. As it does not deliver a higher mileage per gallon than some conventional engines, it is perhaps a torchbearer for the Green cause rather than the ultimate solution. More promising is Saab’s new BioPowered car, capable of running on either bioethanol or petrol or any mixture of the two. This is a valuable characteristic at a time when bioethanol distribution is poor. It may be, however, that the availability of Green fuel is set to change. Richard Branson could make it his next big thing through Virgin Fuel.
We do not think that the countryside will remain in production of these Green crops forever. Ultimately, hydrogen fuel-cell technology will overcome its difficulties and develop to the point that it is widely used. Fuel cells are the future. By the time they are adopted, however, the land will once more be in demand for growing food?another consequence of global climate change, turning what are now crop-growing regions into deserts, as well as an increasingly westernised diet in China. Harvesting biofuels will keep the land in a productive state, ready for conversion back to food production when that is needed. There is every reason for the Government, as well as the countryside, to encourage Green energy.