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Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. This is expected to happen at the midpoint of depletion, that is, when only half the oil that will ever be produced has been consumed, and the other half is still underground.

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When oil production starts to decline, the economic impacts will be dramatic. Economic growth is largely dependent upon a growing oil supply. The International Energy Agency has forecast oil demand to expand at a rate of 1.3% annually over the period 2004-2030. This is likely to lead to large spikes in the oil price along with the price of gas and electricity which are closely linked on financial markets.

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British local authorities are now starting to consider the potential impact of peak oil on their services and communities. The preparations they have made are as follows:

Woking Borough Council in Surrey has achieved major cuts in the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of its buildings largely by converting to combined heat and power (CHP), that is, small, local gas fired power stations, which provide both electricity and heats to buildings nearby. CHP is highly efficient because it exploits the large amounts of heat that are normally wasted in electricity generation to provide space heating and hot water. Woking says this approach has cut gas consumption by as much as 30% and emissions by even more which is a great achievement. But although Woking has cut its gas consumptions, its dependency upon gas is now even higher than before because a far greater proportion of its total energy comes from this single source. Woking is now proud that it now generates 82% of its own electricity, and distributes it through a private wire network.

The preparations the US cities have made are as follows:

In the Arlington County, Virginia, the board has published an environmental initiative called fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative To Reduce Emissions) This document outlines the aims put in place in the right direction towards preparing for peak oil:

– Increase purchase of wind-generated electricity from 3% of the total electricity purchased by the county to 5%

– Install solar energy technology (eg: solar water heating) in one or two county facilities to demonstrate its efficiency and effectiveness.

– Prepare a strategic energy plan and a climate action plan for County operations and the community.

– Plant at least 1,200 trees in 2007.

The measures put in place are as follows:

– Many transportation options, including transit, and the development of a Master Transportation Plan.

– An energy-efficient County fleet, including hybrid-electric vehicles, vehicles running on bio-diesel fuel, and ART buses powered by natural gas.

– An aggressive tree planting program, which includes the purchase of wind-generated electricity.

– A renewable energy program, which includes the purchase of wind-generated electricity.

The document also recommends three things that individuals can do for themselves, which again would also be useful in beginning to mitigate peak oil

– Drive a fuel-efficient car, walk, bike, or take transit. If 10 people trade in cars that get 24 miles per gallon for more efficient cars that get 40 miles per gallon, this action alone would reduce CO2 emissions by 40000 lbs per year which is equivalent of taking four of those cars off the road.

– Get an energy audit, and implement the recommendations. This year, the county will support 20 demonstration home energy audits. I recently purchased an energy audit for my home and have learned many things I can quickly do to save on energy costs.

– Replace one frequently-used light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb. If every household took this simple step, Arlingtonians would achieve the emissions equivalent of removing 1,000 cars from our roadways and save a million dollars a year. It was suggested by experts that the County should distribute at least 2,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs at public events, to reduce CO2 by 100 tons.

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