One thing we have learnt this week – plastic Lent

lent word cloud 2018Its not that its plastic lent or lent is plastic!  Lent has arrived again this year.  This I’m going to major on plastic.  Over the last year plastic waste has moved up most peoples agendas with particular concerns over plastic ending up in the oceans.  For lent this year I’ve decided to reduce my plastic use (as has my daughter who far more bravely than me is going to post what she does use on the internet).

I have decided to start small and make one change every month for the next year (or I should say we as a household).  I will be updating this as we go along.  Lent just brings an extra focus handily close to the start of the effort and hopefully by making a small sacrifice then will remember Christ’s bigger one – which is the point.

January.  We bought (plastic) containers but use these to put food in that might dry out like cheese when stored in the fridge.  The saving is huge on plastic bags (and in the long term will save money).

February. We stopped buying fizzy drinks in large 2L plastic bottles (buy cans).  Note we never buy water in plastic bottles.  Started taking paper bags to the shops to put fruit/veg in instead of plastic bags that shops insist you use.  This morning bough loose potatoes and refused plastic bag to put them and put them straight in my bag.

Yes these changes are small on an individual basis but if all started making them…

Here are some more ideas from Bettina interviewed on yesterdays Radio 4 PM (log in required unfortunately).

Loose Tea.  Teabags contain plastic – yes I could not believe it either.  The COOP is going to stop using it in its everyday teabags and whilst this is my first company endorsement ever, I don’t care.  We will be buying these in future particularly when they are still fair trade when other companies are doing away with it.

Make you own soap/deodorant etc.

Go for refills.

Make a less plastic lent!


Full “No oil in the lamp” Lent guide here.


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Tree planting

B and W birch trunkThere was an interesting, encouraging but realistic article in the Guardian today on tree planting.  The easiest way to cut carbon emissions is not to produce the carbon in the first place.  One if not the easiest way to do this is in the area of agriculture and one of these areas is forestry.  It seems as part of the Paris climate agreement countries have pledged to plant trees and lots of them.  China has pledged to plant a forest the size of Ireland.  Countries in latin America have pledged to restore 20M Ha of damaged forset and in Africa pleageds have been made to restore 100M Ha.   India has said they will plant 13M Ha hectares.  Last year volunteers made a start on this planting over 66 million trees in one day A whole heap of other countries in Europe have also made pledges.  Worldwide its now 120 countries.

There are many good reasons for planting trees.  These include wellbeing (mental health benefits, physical health benefits (from natural products), but also other tangible physical benefits.  These include creating or increasing rainfall and holding soil together.  Trees also act as windbreaks and can be used for fuel.  Chopping forests down risk creating desert.  I saw this first hand over 20 years ago in Sumatra.

So why the enthusiasm?  Its easy to see governments see this as an easy win.  In principle planting trees is not unpopular.  We need some caution though.  Mistakes have been made in the past.  In the UK monocultural plantations of non native species were planted by government.  These proved unpopular.  In addition private forests in the UK have been badly managed.  This is an issue with new planting it needs looking after.  I have written before about a carbon offsetting tree scheme by a rock star in a very remote part of Scotland,  the very young trees had all died.  In the developed world the best way is to involve local populations.  This has been done successfully in Mali and Pakistan using a system agriculture called agroforestry.  In this crops and trees are interspersed.

Another note of caution.  Whilst deforestation has slowed in countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia a good deal of logging (illegal or legal) is still taking place, mainly to plant monoculture such as palm oil.   The easiest forest is the one still standing not the one to be planted from scratch.




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One thing we have learnt this week – Polish coal

smog-3125312_1920UK insurer Aviva has criticised this week for pouring money into Polish coal this week and undermining the fight against climate change.  We tend to think of King coal as been if not dead at least on its way out but whilst it may be down, its not quite out.  France has announced its closing all its coal fired power stations (it cannot have many) and the UK is on its way to closing the lot (with no effects on the increasingly renewable dominated grid yet), but some countries still use a lot of coal.  These countries include China (also phasing out coal), India (not doing so), Germany (a surprise) and Poland.  Polish coal is used not just for generating power and making steel but also for heating houses.  So you have a mix of industrial pollution, pollution from coal fired power station, from cars and from houses.  The pollution has got so bad drones are being used in at least one city to search for culprits.

Unfortunately the country is planning to build another 10GW of new capacity.  It was pointed out by a defender of this that new kit uses a lot less of the black stuff than of old.  It used to take 4Kg to generate 1Kw now it takes 700g.  Even so Poland is going to have to stop burning coal not just for its own sake but also that of its neighbours.


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Is your home still behaving badly?

insulationIs your home still behaving badly?  On a recent sort out I found some old publications. Its interesting to look back at this older stuff to see what’s come to pass and what hasn’t.   I have written on one about electric cars recently.  I found this publication “Is your home still behaving badly?” from the Energy Saving Trust”.  Its an energy advice pamphlet from ordinary people from 2002.

Energy costs.  The average house uses £590 pounds – far too much (2002)!  Now its over double that (2018)!  However given the amount that energy has gone up since then there is some evidence for the assertion that energy costs would be even higher if many of us had not taken some energy efficiency measures in the meanwhile.

Lights.  Technology has moved on a lot in the last 16 years.  The talk then was all about compact fluorescents.  The example costs given are impressive and even with electricity prices at 7p a unit would pay for themselves and more over their life.  The light was poor compared with incandescent bulbs and they needed to warm-up.  They improved on all counts though.  I’ve got rid off almost all them and replaced them with LED’s, then a distant dream.  I found they gradually put out less and less light.

White goods.  Sorted.  Thanks to the energy rating system.  Try buying anything less than an A rated, you’ll struggle.  Same for computers/TV’s/anything everything you buy is much more energy efficient.

Heating.  Mixed I think.   Boilers are all A rated at least and condensing models.   There were a lot of issues over reliability (probably due the mix of electronics and heat) but that is said to have improved.  Most people have thermostatic radiator valves fitted and better controls (both recommendations).  How people use their heating is another matter though.  Much depends on insulation.

Insulation.  This an area where there is still much to do.  Many houses still do not have much in the way of insulation in the loft.  Certainly in the millions in the UK.  Cavity wall insulation has proved very controversial with damp problems and government support has waxed and waned.  Pipe and tank insulation is another area where more needs to be done.  Many people simply cannot be bothered with any of this and it can be disruptive.  One big innovation since 2002 is loft insulation made form recycled plastic, much nicer to work with.

Double glazing.  Still not economic despite increases in gas prices, people tend to replace single windows with it when required.  That’s the way it will go.  Can be a problem still in conservation areas and old houses.

Lifestyle.  How you use all the above will dictate your energy use.  The average energy bill and the drop in electricity consumption does suggest people are slowly learning to live more energy efficient lives.



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One thing we have learnt this week – is solar killing gas?

DSCN1669Is solar killing gas?  The government is struggling to get energy companies to build new plant despite the contracts for difference paying gas fired plants record amounts of money it turns out this week.  So is gas going to go the same way as coal.  Over the last few years the amount of coal power on the UK grid has plunged.   President trump take note – its not wanted or required.  The massive rise in renewable energy has killed king coal (or nearly in the UK).  Have the lights gone out- no (well only in localised areas due to storms).

Is solar killing gas? The early signs are there.  The quantity of new plant planned is falling and is now less than half that planned a few years ago.  At the same time offshore wind and solar are forecast to be cheaper than gas (and anything else) in just a few years time.  On shore wind is almost certainly cheaper now.  The real threat to gas and other forms of power generation is not so much renewables themselves as energy storage.  The battery is coming of age and its this that will kill coal, gas and nuclear.  Where this leaves fracking is a moot point, but since the election the government shows signs of going lukewarm on it.



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UK electricity use continues to fall

DSC_1734UK electricity use is continuing to fall and no one is sure why.  The electricity use in the EU is rising.   Last year the decline was 2% and there has been a 9% fall since 2010.  Up until now declining industrial production explained the fall (although the EU has had this as well).   The explanation for the EU increases are easier to explain.   The huge migration of refugees in recent years, bitcoin mining and increased electric vehicles.

Personally I think the fact that the UK electricity use is continuing to fall is down to the use of more efficient products.  Every time something wears out and we replace it the item we replace it with uses an order of magnitude less power.  LED bulbs have plummeted in price.  Not only is the light indistinguishable but the price is such that you  do not need to be an eco enthusiast to use them.  Many people I know like myself are gradually replacing conventional bulbs with them.   This use of more efficient products  has in my view been driven partly by the large rises in electricity prices over the last 10 years.  Prices in most EU countries were higher to start off with and UK prices have caught up.  How much longer this fall in UK electricity use will continue is a moot point with electrification of the economy but for the moment this is good news.


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One thing we have learnt this week – plastic waste

00005_optI saw a very disturbing report on plastic waste last night.  There is plastic waste litter everywhere.  This report ranged over the entire UK and I mean the entire UK.  It was really shocking.  Watch it and you will see.  Some Americans on my church homegroup were shocked by the litter in our city, but its really the same everywhere.  For my two jobs I cycle down two country lanes and there is both litter and larger stuff dumped all the way along.  On one the layby has been sealed off since so much stuff has been dumped.

There is no excuse for this.  Kerbside recycling is much improved (although as the above report makes plain plenty of people are putting recyclable material in the landfill waste streams).  Any larger stuff is free to dispose of at the “dump”.  Why and what mentality causes people to chuck plastic waste out their car windows is beyond me? (and I’ve nver seen someone do it) but it has to stop.

There are reasons to see that we can change.  Graffiti is a much reduced problem in the UK now than it used to be.  As a family we have decided to reduce our plastic use.  I will be reporting on this going forward but it seems likely that we will try one method of reduction a month.


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Problems with solar PV

Problems with solar PV are few and far between but I’ve had a few issues recently.  The first is an ongoing problem with grey squirrels nesting under one module on the main roof.  Obviously there is an issue with them chewing through the wiring.  I have seen them have an experimental try at the DC cables on the newer system (see below).  I drove them out but recently they show signs of coming back.  This is despite the water that must pour under the module when it rains.

The second of my problems with solar PV has been potentially more serious although relatively easy to solve.  Last Tuesday when it snowed I realised one of the inverters (4 x 250W, 2 per inverter) was not working.

DSC_3621I found two cables had parted at a connector. I taped over them with frog tape in the meanwhile getting a shock from the panel side (despite the snow on the module).

DSC_3623Eventually I discovered the remains of the old connector which had melted.

DSC_3625What to do?  Was it something I could repair itself.  The second question was had the arcing from any potential short damaged the modules on that inverter or the inverter itself?  On the first point there was no working at height, its on a shed that is just above head height.  It would involve working from my neighbours shed roof but she was fine about that.

With cuts to the feed in tariff many of the installers/dealers have closed including the company that installed the system (apparently).  There is a company that sells systems and system components that I know about that has been around for many years.  I rang them and ordered the connectors.  In the meanwhile I covered the module concerned to stop any output and reduce the chances of arcing.  When the connectors arrived they were difficult to fit.  No instructions came with them nor could I find any on the net.   I covered the two modules up and had a go but could not get the connectors together.  After several phonecalls to the supplier (who were very helpful) and looking a video on youtube I went back after dark and had more success.  Would everything work OK.  The next morning revealed yes it would.

DSC_3627 This is a minor issue and was easy to solve since I had easy access.  This problem on the old system on the main roof would need professional help and hence the need to keep the squirrels at bay (with chickenwire).  The reasons for the arcing?  Probably the connector had not been installed properly 6 years ago (the supplier of the connectors thought).  Its amazing what you can get away with though with no damage to the rest of the system.  A last thought.  If this had happened in the loft though we would have had a fire.


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One thing we have learnt this week – hydropower in Dubai

640px-Hatta_Dam,_Dubai,_UAEThe last thing I think about when thinking about the middle east is hydropower in Dubai, or anywhere in this region for that matter.  Dubai to me is large skyscrapers, lots of motorways with people driving large cars, shopping malls and tourists having picnics on sand dunes.  Its not the first place in the world I would think about for hydropower.  In fact its the last place.  However this week I have learnt that there are two schemes mooted for a reservoir in Dubai.  I must admit that I believed that most water in the middle east came from underground aquifers which are probably running out.  But people need to drink and there is an existing reservoir on the island of Hatta.  This is an unusual situation for the reservoir since its both an island and an exclave in United Arab Emirates territory.  Where the water goes at the moment is a bit of a mystery to me.  However an existing reservoir exists fed by springs and rainwater.  It does rain in the middle east deserts – just not very much.  There are other ways for water to gather and form springs though at night the temperature falls to near freezing point (an example of the greenhouse effect in operation).  At this point the atmosphere cannot hold its previously saturated moisture and it precipitates on rocks sand etc.  Its goes underground and forms aquifers and springs depending on the local topography.

The middle east is joining the renewables revolution.  The proposed hydropower  in Dubai is to be linked with wind and solar power.  It will be a pumped storage scheme is a proposed capacity of 400MWp.  Solar power will be used to pump the water up the hill.  The dam currently exists and will be converted to pumped storage from merely water storage.  How this will affect the existing water use is unclear.  Dams in the tropics are net contributors to global warming due to the release of methane from bacteria in the sediment at the bottom of the reservoir.  Since this dam already exists this objection does not apply and and looks like a good idea to me.  With mountains down the western side of Saudi there is obviously more potential for hydropower than you would think in this region.  All the countries now have renewable programmes but are still very wedded to oil and gas.


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All roads lead to Hinkley C (literally)

All roads lead to Hinkley C (literally).  This is what an old friend who used to go my church told me the other week.  He is a landscape architect who works in South West England.  Much as I would like to forget about Hinkley C its not possible to get way from it for very long.  A few months ago the National Audit office wrote a report saying it was very bad news for the taxpayer.  Another report by another professor of energy has recently come out and said it should be cancelled ASAP.  It also looks at the other ongoing nuclear projects and finds they are not much more financially viable.  However there is one aspect that is being ignored of all this and that is all roads lead to Hinkley C.  The demand for concrete and other building materials as well as skilled personnel is in the South West is greatly affected by the Hinkley C construction project.  This is according to my friend making contracts for other things much more expensive or in some cases impossible to go ahead with since the companies are making good money out of Hinkley C.

It looks very likely in 2018 the Hinkley C construction project is going to face a crisis to do finances.  If it does so will the other potential projects with other companies involvement.  The question is what will the government do then?  There is with trident renewal a clear need to have nuclear reactors and if the government wants them it will have to pay.  The nuclear disaster is not over yet….



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