Sunday, June 08, 2008

Towards $150 a barrel- should Brits learn to "hypermile" ?

I am sure many are aware that the oil price hit two new records on Friday.

First it exceeded $139 a barrel for the first time and second it recorded its biggest ever one day increase (around $11 or a 9% rise in one day).(FT story here ).

There seems no end in sight to the increases. Aside from the underlying factors of growing demand and the threat of dwindling supplies, a steady stream of alarming geo-political stories keep it bubbling ever higher. The latest was the suggestion from an Israeli minister that an attack on Iran is now "inevitable" due to the fact that it's nuclear programme is apparently continuing unabated*.

The effect at the petrol pump is seen each day. Today I paid £1.17 a litre. I am slightly afraid to convert that in into gallons but it is definitely well above the £5 a gallon level.

The result for me has been to largely stop using the car. In fact I drove today for the first time in 3 weeks since I drove back from Heathrow airport.

This has been relatively easy for me for two reasons:

1) I live in outer London, commute to work by train and most other facilities are in walking distance.

2) My wife and son have been visiting family in Ukraine so there has only been me to think about. I wanted to see if I could manage without a car and found I could. This would be much more difficult with a baby and I probably won't try when he returns !

The only times I would have definitely used a car and haven't were in visiting my Mother in Kent. I took the train instead and found quite a civilised group of weekend train users. From my experience this wasn't the case 10 years ago when weekend trains always felt slightly dodgy and full of those too poor to own a car. That is a gross generalisation and certainly unfair to some. However now the weekend trains are full of those too poor (or stingy !) to buy fuel but possibly having a car sitting outside their house.

Anyway today I returned to the car as I needed to take some rubbish to our local tip. As I was using the car I carried on to visit my family and then had my painful price experience at the petrol station.

I recently heard a story on the BBC about the US phenomenon of "hypermiling". Despite the name, it is actually a very simple concept of driving your car in a way that maximises fuel efficiency. Like anything a minority become rather obsessive about it but the basics are very straight forward and include:

a) Stop as little as posssible as stopping and starting uses the most fuel. So when you see a red light ahead slow down and aim to reach the red light when it changes to green. This is much more efficient than racing to the red light, stopping and then starting again when it changes to green.

b) Inflate your tyres to the maximum recommended level. Soft tyres are severely fuel inefficient.

c) Avoid excessive speed. The most fuel efficient speed is supposed to be about 55 mph. Car manufacturers always quote the maximum fuel efficiency of the vehicles at a constant 56 mph.

d) Avoid carrying around unnecessary junk in the car. Anything that makes the car heavier will reduce fuel efficiency.

See this site if you are interested in more.

If fuel keeps rising further I can see hypermiling gaining more followers, out of necessity rather than fun. Today I tried driving at a constant 55 mph on the motorway and was surprised that rather than being honked at to go faster, I looked in my mirror to see a top of the range BMW and a Porsche Cayenne happily following me at the same speed ! The oil price rise is really causing some changes ! My only doubt is that I am not sure if I can convince my wife on her return that it is best to drive at 55 mph on the motorway !

*(It is probably a question for a much a bigger article but doesn't the fact that the US, the UK and others now appear to have lost their appetite for any further military action of a "policing" kind now free middle ranking powers to take "the law" into their own hands ? The world policeman has had enough so prepare for some local vigilates? As history shows the world is much less stable without a globally recognised superpower. There was no globally recognised superpower in 1939, 1914 or 1870 to name just three years that heralded major wars.)

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