One thing we have learnt this week – Saudi renewables programme

Rub_al_Khali_002Saudi Arabia is relaunching its Saudi renewables programme.  An announcement was made last year but but nothing much has happened since then.  The programme is still relatively small with bids being invited for 400MWp of wind and 300MWp of solar.  The Saudis include nuclear as renewables (which I don’t).  The thought of providing enough cooling water for this in such a hot part of the world as well as one that is so politically unstable makes this seem a nightmare to me.  A nuclear programme is also pressing ahead though.

So what is going on?  Has Saudi Arabia decided the oil age is over?  Are they running out of oil?  As this blog has covered before the country is uniquely dependent on oil and gas for its electricity consumption (especially gas which overlies their oil).  Electricity is really cheap being at a very maximum 6.9cents a kWh.  This makes it difficult for renewables to compete, but the costs are heavily subsidised.  The low price has led to electricity demand soaring by up to 8% a year.  One possible reason for the Saudis continuing to pump oil at low prices is they need the electricity.  By 2030 unless something gives they will use almost all their oil domestically for electricity production.  Hence their  Saudi renewables programme and our interest in it, since without Saudi oil peak oil will be back.




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District heating

Our cat loves the wood-burner!

Our cat loves the wood-burner!

District heating is a good thing right?  In the UK its still relatively uncommon but in Scandinavian countries very common and in some such as Sweden the most common form of heating.  (By district heating I mean a heating system common to a building, a street or even a district or entire city.)

Heating is a real problem as far low carbon energy is concerned.  By contrast de-carbonising electricity or even transport is actually easy (believe it or not).  This is because renewable heating systems are low temperature systems.  Such systems are disruptive to fit and also require very well insulated buildings.  For more details see our book.  This helps to explain why in the UK the renewable heat incentive has been low on the uptake and not cut by the government.

District heating systems are very expensive and disruptive to build (with lots of digging up roads and burying pipes).  However as far as the householder is concerned district heating systems have one huge advantage, they work with existing heating technology.

So what’s the problem?  There have been increasing numbers of complaints on consumer programmes and advice columns about them.  These fall into three areas.  First, the energy costs for the householder are not cheap.  Second, the householder is not allowed to fit any micro-generation such as solar hot water.  Lastly they seem to unreliable and repairs are not being done in anything like the guaranteed timescale.

These problems need sorting out fast.  I doubt if the second issue would stand up in court and its only a matter of time before someone takes legal action over the last problem.  One drawback is that these systems are exempt from the energy regulation system.  However with all new developments in London requiring such systems to get planning permission the above complaints look set to grow until something is done.


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Ink from air

2015-09-22 14.12.40Ink from air?  Particulate pollution produced by cars and power stations is one of the biggest problems in the world today.  This blog has covered this issue many times.  What if you could capture the microscopic particles and turn them into something useful?  Say ink?  This is what a company has done in the far east.  Singapore?

They fit a kind of particulate filter to vehicles capture the soot.  Remove the heavy metals and make ink from air.  Presumably black ink.  This ink seems to be more for art use rather than  printers.

Is this a solution to the problem of particulates?  Possibly.  The first thing to say is that fitting some kind of capture filter to the vehicle will lower its efficiency so fuel economy will be hit especially when it fills up.  The second drawback is that unless every car is fitted with such devices the impact will be minor.  The third drawback is you have to collect the collecting containers.  The secret would be to make the collectors easy to swap so that you could do it at filling stations.  To make this a practical solution to the particulates problem then other uses have to be found for soot particles since there is only so much ink we need.  Any ideas?


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One thing we have learnt this week – greens shortage

DSC_2305The UK is suffering a greens shortage.  This has been so far a bit of a middle class crisis and no more.  First the news was full of a shortage of courgettes (zucchini) but since has expanded to lettuce.  The reasons for this are simple.  Most of the UK’s winter veg comes from southern Spain.  There have been years of drought but suddenly this winter there has been both snow and rain with floods.

There are several points to make here.  First farming in the UK is in a state of uncertainty due to brexit.  Will subsidies continue?  The idea of food security has long been laughed at in this country.  This greens shortage “crisis” should give us pause for thought.  Will we always be able to buy the food we want?  Especially with the other problem, climate change.  This will lead to increasingly problematic growing conditions and associated crop failure.  This greens shortage could be symptomatic of other crops and food stuffs.  Long supply lines could be increasingly unstable and we have to be able to pay for this stuff anyway.

The solutions are not simple and straightforward but we have got used to eating almost anything all the year round (I saw blackberries from central America in the supermarket last week).  This surely has to change as does the lack of growing stuff at home.


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Flying cars and other stuff

Moller_Skycar_M400I heard an article on flying cars on the news yesterday morning.  It started off with a news report from 1949 so the concept has been around since at least then.  I’m not an engineer or physicist but they spoke to someone who was.  There are a number of problems with this concept I’m glad to say.

The first is that flying cars would have to take off vertically to be practical (otherwise they will be confined to airports which limits their usefulness).  This take-off would be extremely noisy so our expert said, somewhere between the noise levels of a harrier jump jet and a helicopter.  Unacceptable in urban areas.  The second problem is that this vertical take would take a lot of fuel.  Then there are safety concerns although the expert thought they would not have to learn to fly, I do due to emergencies (this also raises issues with driverless cars in the long term)

This got me thinking about delivery drones.  These will obviously have to take off and land vertically.  One of the questions I have raised about delivery drones is will vans worth of drones delivering individual items be more energy efficient than a van going around with the same number of items?  I am more confident it would not be and that is one more reason to oppose this stupidity.


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One thing we have learnt this week – Fukushima radiation levels hit new high

Fukushima radiation levels have hit a new high this week and boy is it a new high.  The problem with radiation level measurements are there are so many different units.  Some measure the physical dose of radiation an others the effective biological dose.  To make it more confusing units have changed over the years to SI (systeme internationale) units.  As someone who has done radiation training even I find it confusing.

The usual accepted dose unit is the sievert.  This is a measure of the effective biological dose.  Usually its expressed in millisieverts (mSv) since the sievert is regarded as too large.  1 mSv is an energy dose delivered to 1 gramme of living tissue.  The annual average dose is 2.4mSv from natural sources but over 6 from one computed tomography (CT) scan.  In the US workers are allowed a dose of 50mSv a year, conveniently measured using badges with film inside (I’ve worn one of these).  At Fukushima the limit was raised to 250mSv for workers.  To put this in perspective 1sievert (1000mSv) is enough to cause sickness 5 and 10sieverts are enough to kill you although over different time periods (months and weeks respectively).  

The measured dose at the plant this week was 530sieverts.  I’ll leave it to readers imagination about the speed that these radiation levels will kill you but suffice to say it does a robot in within 2 hours.  This week there was also some “good news” from the plant in that melted fuel had been located.  This is good news since they know where it is.  The problem is with such high levels of radiation cleanup is going to be much much harder.  Costs of cleanup are running at £150 billion pounds but looks like a considerable underestimate.


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Does peak oil mean peak supply or demand?

BP overview 2017Does peak oil mean peak supply or demand?  This is the question raised by the latest BP energy outlook.  BP see oil demand still growing in 2035 despite an enormous increase in the numbers of electric cars.  BP have a reputation for being pessimistic and have consistently understated the rise of renewables.  Other predictions they make are that the rise in energy demand and demand for oil will rise more slowly than historically (although looking at the graphs above this requires a little imagination).  Gas demand will grow faster than oil and coal demand will collapse.  Carbon emissions will slow but still grow.  This is different to what has happened over the last two or three years where despite growth in the world economy emissions have flatlined.  Renewables installation will grow rapidly far faster than all the above.  Other companies involved in the oil and gas industry see peak demand within 5 years (Shell) or “well before 2035″ (Wood Mckenzie).

The question is does peak oil mean peak supply or demand?  If BP are right then Peak oil as a concept in the traditional sense has not gone away but is just sleeping.  BP state that supply will grow by 13Mbd by 2035 most of which comes from OPEC.   They seem to see supply as abundant.  The question is is all this supply all economic and can OPEC really supply all this extra oil making up for reserves which must start declining over the next decade or so?  If the others are right peak oil means peak demand falling before we get to running out of oil and gas.

Of course one big elephant in the room is Trump.  If his mixture of protectionism, relaxation of fuel standards on US built cars and all out support for oil/gas/coal goes full ahead then fossil fuel demand will soar along with prices and we could be back to 2008.


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One thing we have learnt this week – ocean plastics recycled


As has been mentioned on this blog before ocean plastics are a real problem.  Marine animals can be killed when they swallow them and by doing so chemicals in them enter the food chain.  In at least one place in the Pacific there is a huge conglomeration of plastic.  These chemicals are “gender benders” and can cause cancer and have other biological effects on sexual health.   The main solutions up until now with ocean plastics are to try and reduce usage of plastic (plastic bag taxes) and collect them, although this latter solution is still at the experimental stage.  As is the fact that at least some bacteria have been found that degrade some types of plastics.    However plastic use is set to soar over the next 20 years and there could even be more plastics by weight than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Now Proctor and Gamble have come up with the beginnings of a solution*.  The company has found a way of recycling the plastic and is making a limited run of shampoo bottles (you know the brand name).  Up until now one major problem with ocean plastics is that they have been exposed to UV light.  This with the weather makes them degrade (at least into tiny ultimately microscopic pieces).  The company have found a way around that problem.  They have not found a way round around the other problem though.  How to collect the waste.  This is being doing by volunteers on beaches who then hand it over to a recycling company.

This initiative is to be applauded, but it can only be regarded as a very partial solution to the problem.  We need to use a lot less plastic and what we do use make sure it is properly recycled.


* there have been others who have used ocean plastics in limited ways before as the photo above implies.

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Yorkshire village with “too much” sun in battery trial selection of the residents of the Yorkshire village of Oxspring are taking part in a battery trial.  Some residents with solar panels are being given the batteries and other residents without solar panels are also being given the same battery systems.  Their use of the systems will be compared.  The trial is too find out whether those with solar panels van be persuaded to store the extra power they generate, rather than sell it to the grid.

This battery trial is highlighting a number of problems due to solars’ high UK grid penetration.  Firstly, local grid problems due to the shear number of PV systems on the grid locally.  Apparently this village is banned from having any more PV systems installed.  Storing some power would help mitigate this problem.  The second problem is that of huge amounts of solar power going onto the grid nationally at midday in the summer months.  If this power could be stored for night time use this would help this problem of electricity that no knows what to do with.

As this blog has written before the use of battery storage at the residential level will not make managing the grid any easier without the use of smart-meters.  National Grid and the big two in Scotland will simply not going where the power is going.

What is interesting is that all the battery companies operating in the UK say that this technology is quietly taking off with at least 1000 systems installed and 2017 they predict sales will soar.  If such systems become commonplace then central power demand in the summer months both day and will plummet.


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One thing we have learnt this week- lithium mining in Cornwall

Lithium_paraffinLithium mining in Cornwall looks like it could be possible this week.  As the costs of wind and solar fall below the cost of all other forms of energy on disparate parts of the planet and sales of hybrid/electric cars/laptops/phones/pads etc. continue to grow strongly the worlds’ demand for this metal is insatiable.  The old conundrum of variability of renewable output looks like being solved over the next 5 years or so with a wide variety of energy storage solutions being worked on.  The lead solution is lithium batteries however, hence the need to find new sources.

As we wrote in our book we had concerns over lithium mining and also concerns over whether there was enough of the bright shiny metal to go round.

The greatest concern may not be the issue of electricity, but that of lithium and neodymium supply. Currently all electric cars use lithium batteries and the electric motors require elements known as ‘rare earths’ (especially neodymium) to make powerful permanent magnets. There are 27 million cars in the UK and around 600
million worldwide. It seems to us that replacing all these with electric cars with lithium batteries, let alone increasing the number, may not be possible. There is also an ethical issue which Christians should be concerned about, which is where the lithium comes from and how it is mined. At the moment most lithium is mined in South America and the largest potential reserves are in high-altitude desert in Bolivia, which is a unique ecosystem. There has to be concern that we may exchange one problem of damage to the environment caused by our driving for another. Bolivia also wants a cut of the
action, that is, to add value to the supply chain by getting fairly paid for the materials it sells us and preferably making the batteries there.

Lithium mining in Cornwall has some attractions.  Firstly in a developed country higher environmental standards are likely to be enforced.  Second, there is another attraction of Lithium mining in Cornwall.  That is the lithium is present in hot brine.  The water is hot from the decay of uranium in the granite.  The mining could therefore be combined with a useful source of renewable energy by sinking boreholes.  This could make the whole process more carbon neutral.  The concern I have is that extraction process takes very large tanks (using evaporation) although the company concerned say there is a new process which takes a lot less surface area and is much more environmentally friendly.  In addition there maybe no use for hot water where the mining takes place (in rural areas) although there are now low temperature turbines capable of producing electricity.

I’d give this idea a cautious welcome.  The companies website is here but gives very few details.


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