One thing we have learnt this week – women won’t cycle

2015-11-25 10.42.02Women won’t cycle.  Or women women won’t cycle enough, that is the finding from a sustrans survey this week.  The survey was carried out in a number of British cites including Edinburgh.  12% 0f women cycle at least once compared to 24% of men.  As it happens I know a a number of these women and I’m married to one and the father of another!  Funnily enough two of them turned up to our church homegroup on bikes last night.  One had fallen off the day before as well.

The reasons why women don’t cycle are very obvious.  Safety.  From cars rather than attacks.  These latter incidents are rare I’ve been chased three times in 30 years (once by another cyclist since I overtook him – he clearly had mental problems).  All three times I easily outpaced my pursuers.

No the real problems are cars not people per say.  Its not hair although there was a tendency a few years ago for most female cyclists I saw not to wear helmets, which I think must be the hair issue.  This has changed and fortunately almost all cyclists in Edinburgh wear helmets (including all the ones I know).  When I cycled to Paris for the Climate Conference a good proportion of us were female and they knew what they were doing and did not need any help from us men, which is as it should be.

Day 2 006 smallIts clear if we have more segregated cycle lanes more people will cycle including more women.


Posted in Cycling, One thing we have learnt this week, Practical low carbon living | Leave a comment

Green Lemons

Green lemonOne of the big supermarkets in the UK has decided to sell green lemons.  These are exactly the same as yellow lemons apparently, but we expect them to be yellow.  Or the supermarkets think we expect them to be yellow?  Is this just a silly season story as there is nothing else going on in the world today – right?  Or is there a serious point about expectations and food waste.  The supermarkets have decided that we only want perfect veg and fruit since we want it.  Who decided this is unclear – us or them.  However the realities of climate change are starting to bite and the supermarkets are having to adjust their policies.  In addition they are coming under pressure to cut food waste.

In recent years they have started to sell wonky veg.  In fact we bought a cardboard box of this earlier this year.  There was nothing wrong with it apart that it was a bit misshapen.  Farmers (anonymously) swear that they are made to throw perfectly good fruit and veg away since it does meet colour/shape criteria.  Up until now most reports of this are when the supermarkets seem to be forced to do it due to supplies.  Hopefully they will soon learn that we don’t care about perfection but about safety and taste.  But this latter point is a whole different subject….

Posted in climate change, Food, Practical low carbon living, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

One thing we have learnt this week – an act of nuclear folly

In an act of nuclear folly the UK government has indicated that they will take a stake in the Horizon reactor project on the Isle of Anglesey.  There have been rumours of this in the press for a while.  Its currently slightly unclear as to whether this is a real material change over Hinkley C where the government has given a loan guarantee.

If it is though it marks a real significant change.  Governments worldwide with the possible exception of China have retreated from funding nuclear.  Its rightly regarded as a financial dustbin in which money is poured as if it was a bottomless pit.  There are a number of fundamental reasons why the government should not have anything to do with it.  Nuclear construction costs always go over budget and renewables are now cheaper.  Even if we need a lot more capacity (which we will) renewables will always be cheaper.  It also has worrying implications for Hinkley C.  When things go wrong (which people say they already have) will they ask for the government for cash?

Of course governments do still subsidise nuclear power.  They underwrite the insurance and pay the waste disposal (to which there is still no guaranteed solution), but to stump up the cash is a guaranteed way to waste more taxpayers money.  This act of nuclear folly in in my view has more to do with maintaining Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent than energy security or action on climate change.  Nevertheless if the government wants construction to go ahead then it will have to provide the cash with all the risks that involves.


Posted in Nuclear, One thing we have learnt this week, Renewables | Tagged | Leave a comment

Eco rage

bikes parked in Amsterdam

bikes parked in Amsterdam

Eco rage seems to have broken out in Holland.  As I have blogged on before the Dutch have always seemed a civilised lot and I put this down to the high percentage of their population cycling.  However there have been a couple of stories recently that have shown another side to the Dutch and raised doubts.  The first is a story on reducing car parking places in the Hague.  The council decided to reduce parking places by offering residents a chance to swap their parking permit for a free space they could do what they liked with.  A lawn, a sunspace, somewhere to grow something…  In return their car would be parked for free in a multi story carpark.  Cue a furious reaction that has shown even in cycling mad Holland people are very attached to their cars with angry comments and an angry public meeting.

The second bit of eco rage was over a recycling scheme.  If you did not recycle properly you got a yellow card.  If you continued you got a red card and your waste was not collected.  As you can imagine the reaction in a town ironically called Best has not been good.  Death threats have been made against the collectors and even their children.  Whilst the scheme does seem a bit extreme the reaction has been more so.

We live in angry times.  Many of the mass shootings that take place in the US and family revenge killings in the UK seem to me not to be people who have mental problems (at least not largely) but people with anger issues who snap.  There was a rather unconvincing article in the Guardian the other week suggesting anger goes in 50 year cycles (for this to work at least one world war had to be ignored).  I don’t know whether we are more angry or just think in the age of the internet we can express it anonymously.  I do think we need to calm down.  Difficult decisions need to made by our leaders but such reactions do not help.


Posted in Practical low carbon living, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A tail of two energy storage systems

1024px-Flat_Holm_PV_solar_array_near_FarmhouseA tail of two energy storage systems at different scales.  This week a 22MWp battery system has been switched on at Wales’s largest onshore wind farm.  Second at the small scale Nissan is launching its home battery and PV system business.

When National grid launched its bidding process for 200MWp of enhanced frequency response energy storage systems there was an overwhelming response with 1.5GWp of bids.  This new system is part of that bidding process.  It can deliver its full output for ½ an hour which doesn’t seem very much to me compared with a pumped storage scheme.  Nevertheless its a start and replicated over a very large scale would make a huge contribution to ironing variable renewable output.

At the other end of the scale is the personal battery storage system.  Arguably this has the bigger long term implications.  Nissan clearly see a synergy between their car batteries, cars and energy storage.  Possibly using second hand batteries from their cars (the site is non-specific in this regard).  Its difficult to say how many of these systems there are already in the UK but estimates say about 10,000 already.  This summer peak demand is expected to hit a record low. At the moment this is due to decentralised energy rather than energy storage systems but in the future its possible to see demand in summer for centralised energy almost disappearing completely.


Posted in Energy storage, Renewables | Tagged , | Leave a comment

One thing we have learnt this week – wind overtakes nuclear

wind turbine in France from below bladesWind overtakes nuclear, that’s the headline this week.  The UK has had one of the harshest winters for many years but our increasingly renewably based electricity system has coped very well.  Wind overtakes nuclear increasingly often but this is the first quarter that it happened.  In Q1 2018 wind produced 18.8% of all electricity.  On the 17th March after dark wind produced almost half.  In this period as you can imagine solar did not make much of a contribution.  On March 1st wind managed up to 13.8GWh but solar only 200MW.  Presumably since the solar panels were covered in snow.  Demand rose with heating and was a three year record (generally peak demand has been falling).  Prices have risen and the price of gas has soared meaning some coal use was economic.  The fact that wind overtook nuclear was helped by the fact that 3 reactors were off line.  Two more maintenance and one had a blockage due to seaweed!

The direction of travel is clear though.  Soon renewables will overtake nuclear permanently.  As I write this solar is producing more power than nuclear.  This is probably going to be helped by accelerated closures due to cracked graphite control mechanisms.  The only question is when will this occur.


Posted in Nuclear, One thing we have learnt this week, Renewables | Leave a comment

Green gas


winter summer heat and electricity use

Green gas has been in the news recently.  As this site has blogged on a number of times decarbonisation of electricity is relatively easy.  Decarbonisation of heat is not. Renewable heat by contrast is as we covered in our book is a highly disruptive technology with less options and common underlying drawbacks.  One solution is to use green gas.  There are two options one of which is hydrogen which is what the report the Oxford institute for energy studies report concentrates on.  They assume that the methane will be converted to hydrogen and CO2 which will be captured and stored.  They point out a number of advantages the UK has which in regard to using hydrogen  as well as the drawbacks of other technologies. These drawbacks are covered in the blog post above and our book.  The advantages they say are that existing pipes can be used.  I’m surprised about this since hydrogen being a small molecule compared to methane is more likely to leak through nano sized holes.  My understanding was that special pipes would be needed (which if true is highly critical).  The distribution network was also (largely) built for town gas.  Made from coal this contained hydrogen and carbon monoxide, so makes a switch easier.  The UK is also very dense population wise as well.  They reckon that the cost could be as little as 8p/unit although this as they admit is very hard to determine.

However there are number of disadvantages to “green gas”.  First the energy embodied in hydrogen is too low (see heat is not. Renewable heat by contrast is as we covered in our here).  Second they understate the disruption in switching on all burners using natural gas.  This had to be done in the early 70’s in switching from town gas to natural gas.  Many more people have central heating than then, although more people probably use electric cookers.  Carbon capture and storage is untested at scale using combustion (as they admit).  It will also take energy to pump the CO2 underground and the long term geological effects are unknown.

All this makes be believe this is a non starter.  Personally I think we should go for biogas (methane).  This allows for full use of existing infrastructure.  The problem is we could meet only about 25% of UK needs and it relies on food waste which we are rightly keen to cut down.


Posted in Renewable heat, Renewables, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

One thing we have learnt this week – oil prices

Hormuz Island coast, Persian Gulf - panoramio.jpg

Oil prices are moving up again.  They have been increasing slowly and steadily for the last 6 months but of course have surged in the last week.  The reasons for the recent increase are fairly self explanatory.  Rising tensions between Iran, the US and Israel.  The Straight of Hormuz runs past Iran’s coast and would be relatively easy for them to disrupt.  20% of the worlds oil moves through this waterway.  In a straight fight between Western Aircraft carriers and Iranian forces they would lose but they have midget subs, missiles and fast motor boats.  There is more to this issue than that.  An attack on Iran would disrupt not just this but also potentially the oil production itself.  Hopefully calm heads will prevail.  The international agreement with Iran although not perfect should be respected by the US.  You cannot just tear-up international agreements.  After all if try to negotiate new ones in the future who will believe you?

The rise raises a number of issues.

First, the middle east is still very important to the oil supplies and will continue to be so for many years (for all the talk of US fracking).  Saudi Arabia has an enormous renewables program.  Some of us think this is to reduce their dependence on their gas production (which overlays their oil), allowing them to cut production and force prices up.

Second.  If high oil prices persist it will be interesting to see what happens.  Will US fracking take off again?  Fracking in the US probably has about 5 years before production peaks.

Third.  Why have oil prices been moving up over the last 6 months? There is no real answer.   Stocks were said to be high.  Many of the global trends are against oil use.  It could be because of rising tensions over this time.

Last.  If these high oil prices are maintained for any length of time what does it mean for energy prices, renewables and electric vehicles.  In principle it should accelerate development of all these.  At the moment there are many questions but few answers….


Posted in energy costs, One thing we have learnt this week, Peak oil | Leave a comment

The right to repair

The right to repair has been on the news to today.  Coincidentally I earlier passed the Edinburgh Remakery on my way to get some lime for my wall.  The news reporter visited the same type of organisation in Leicester.  There is increasing pressure for the right to repair since so many products seem to be made with built in obsolescence in mind.  The EU is passing a law which would this make it easier (what Brexit will mean for this is anybodies guess).  There are essentially two related issues which the news covered.  The first is whether the product is designed with repair in mind.  The second is whether the product manufacturer will allow third party repairers access to information that will allow them to repair the product.  In some cases consumers don’t have the right to repair the product without invalidating the warranty.

The Remakery and other places that work on the same principle offer tools, space and advice for a fee. They also do surgeries where you bring along products.  Volunteers will repair your product for a donation.  Examples given on a programme include irons where the only problem is the lead is damaged at the iron end (had this).  By replacing the lead the iron is as good as new.

There have been bills passed in various US states giving consumers more rights to repair but there has been pushback by manufacturers.  When I was young you could get anything repaired.  There was a culture of repair which has vanished.  Its this that needs to be rediscovered especially as we need to move to a circular economy.


Posted in brexit, Practical low carbon living, recycling, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

One thing we have learnt this week – shipping emissions

Shipping emissions account for about 2% of global carbon.  This is the same as flying.  Most ships now are powered by vast diesel engines and the particulate emissions are high, which is a problem in ports.  Under the Paris climate agreement shipping emissions were left to the International maritime organisation.  They have just made a pledge to cut shipping emissions by 50% by 2050.  This is a large but a relatively lax pledge compared to other sectors.  The question is how?  There are number of surprising low tech or easy ways to cut down.  Looking at low hanging fruit for existing ships first of all.

  • Steaming more slowly.  Maersk found you cut emissions by cutting speed by 30%.  This is not totally surprising when you consider driving speeds.
  • Fitting ships with a bulbous bit of metal below the water line.  2-7%.  Who would have thought of it?
  • Even more weird.  Pump a blanket of air bubbles around the ship.  3%.  Works by reducing drag (friction).  Makes some sense when you think about it.
  • Following on this friction idea.  Paint the ship with low friction paint.
  • Rotate the propellers in opposite directions (both going forwards).  This cuts a surprising 8-15% by cutting slipstream effects.
  • Lastly it occurs to me what goes on on the deck itself could also help.  Wind resistance will surely add to fuel consumption.

So all this looks like a 50%ish cut in shipping emissions.  One could be very cynical and say this is no coincidence.

More significant cuts depend on complete ship redesign.  Again there are number of ideas around.

  • Build slimmer ships.  This apparently cuts up to 25% at speeds and about half at low speeds.  Presumably this cuts drag (see above).
  • Switch to LNG.   A partial solution.  Use biofuels? not really sustainable.
  •  Go back to sail.  We are not talking about sailors singing shanties and pulling on ropes here (only if things get really bad).  These are high tech ships possibly combining sails with solar panels.  A 70% cut.  Would still need some kind of backup power.

There is no doubt that cutting shipping emissions is easier than cutting aircraft emissions.  However to get the really deep cuts new ships are needed which the agreement does not force until 2030.  In 2008 there was a lot of thought about this but the drop in oil prices put it on a back burner.  Its difficult as things stand to see international trade at the same levels with out oil.


Posted in climate change, Practical low carbon living, Transport, Uncategorized | Leave a comment