High Oil Prices Can Help Make Cyprus Green
THE RECENT surge in world oil prices to record levels of $50 a barrel is the result of strong worldwide demand (especially from China and America), a weak American dollar, and instability in the Middle East, among other factors. A return to the low prices of the mid 1990s is unlikely, according to the OECD, which predicts continued high prices well into the next decade. Right now, oil is being pumped, sold and burned at the unprecedented rate of over 70 million barrels a day (about 12 billion litres a day). Fossil fuels are a dirty and ultimately expensive way of creating the energy we need. The burning of all this oil to run our cars, make our electricity and heat our homes pumps huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, significantly contributing to global climate change. Most major cities, especially in less-developed nations, suffer from chronic air pollution from vehicle emissions, causing serious health effects.
As long as oil was relatively cheap, there was little economic incentive to develop alternative forms of power or improve energy efficiency. For years, new technologies for alternative power production, cleaner vehicles, and more energy-efficient buildings were ignored and under-funded. But high oil prices have changed that, and this is definitely good news for the environment. In this second of a series of three articles on oil prices and the environment, the emergence of super-efficient cars is examined.
In 1997, Toyota introduced the first mass-produced electric hybrid passenger car, the Prius. The Prius combines a conventional petrol engine with a highly efficient electric motor to greatly improve mileage, compared to conventional cars. At low speeds, the electric motor draws power from an on-board battery to drive the car. Under normal driving conditions, the petrol engine takes over, driving the wheels and also powering the generator to recharge the battery. Braking energy is also used to drive the generator. In this way, the Prius can cover almost twice the distance that a similar conventional car could on a litre of fuel, and go as much as four times further than a big SUV, without compromising on performance. Even so, it is only very recently that the Prius and other hybrid vehicles (Honda produces a hybrid version of the Civic) have been promoted from mere curiosities to popular models in their own right. Prius has just been named 2005 European Car of the Year, and strong demand in the US has forced Toyota to increase production to over 100,000 vehicles in 2005. The rising cost of fuel has certainly been one of the more important factors in this success. According to Toyota’s figures, the average Cypriot motorist could save as much as £1,000 each year on fuel costs by switching to a Hybrid car.
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