One thing we have learnt this week – is battery energy storage here?

5240237605_a2ce66a6e0_bThe first grid scale battery energy storage is here in the UK.  A Tesla system (who else) has been connected to the grid at a 500KWp solar farm in Somerset. One of the major problems is the sun does not always shine and the wind blow etc.  This is less of a problem than it might seem but nevertheless with a power system you have to plan for the worst case scenario.  Various solutions are covered in our book although the traditional solution has been pumped storage.  This is hugely expensive and disruptive.  What if you could store the power where its generated in a distributed way?   This is what Tesla are aiming for.  There is an obvious synergy between batteries in cars and for grid electricity.  The biggest cost in an electric car is the battery.  If you could expand the market you could bring the price of the batteries down.  This is what is happening.

There is one thing that puzzles me about all this.  This is a commercial venture apparently without public subsidy.  The economics for home PV (or other technologies) system users will be a no brainer when the cost of batteries falls.  This is simply because in the UK the export price is so low.  Its best to use all the electricity yourself but this is impossible.  But a grid system in a field just gets one price and that’s it.  You just send it to the grid and get paid for it.  The price is better but there no economic reason to store the electricity.  I think national grid must be involved in some way.  The company involved say Tesla’s system is modular can be installed very fast and is very easy to install.  They have another 100MWp in the pipeline and that is just this one installation company.  There could be one major problem with all this.  The technology is lithium based and relies on there being enough lithium as well as it being mined in a responsible way.


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Earthrise from the moon what does it mean?

nasa-apollo8-dec24-earthriseAt our church last Sunday this photo of earthrise from the moon was shown.  We are doing a sermon series on worship and this was used as a pointer to get us to think about Psalm 8 by what did this image mean to us?

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Its a wonderful psalm that uses the natural world to get us to worship.  Many of us find this very helpful to get us to think about God.  It also shows us that as individuals we are precious and loved by God and I would say also reminds us we are responsible stewards of God’s creation.

Back to the original question which was when we look at Earthrise what doe it mean to us?  I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days.

First, it cannot be divorced from the fact that many people think the picture launched the modern environmental movement.  This is because the world looks small and fragile hanging in space, especially compared to the moon’s bleakness.  Its also since its one of the first (and the best up till then) of images taken from space showing our home.  Other thing it makes me think of is the atmosphere is not visible in the image, showing its relative thinness compared to the Earth.  An atmosphere that is being damaged by us with dramatic consequences.  Lastly it makes me think its the only place we have got.  Whilst there are other exoplanets being discovered almost every week, there may be alien lifeforms, they are totally unreachable with current (any?) technology.  This is our home, all we have and we need to look after it.


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One thing we have learnt this week – councils generating energy

800px-Shelby_Farms_Solar_Farm_Memphis_TN_2013-02-02_008Councils generating energy was covered in “You and Yours”.   I have blogged before on how councils are trying to combat high energy prices by setting up energy companies to sell energy to their voters.  This week “You and Yours” had a report on them going further and covered two examples of councils generating energy.  I had never heard of this before.  Two councils are covered one has installed a huge “solar farm” (Forest Heath) and the other Bristol (no surprises there), has put up two wind turbines.  Both expect payback in 13 and 8 years respectively and neither is doing this primarily for environmental reasons.  Its a means of creating income to counter government grant cuts.

Whilst this has passed me by (almost), this story goes back to 2010.  Ed Milliband (remember him) when he was secretary of state for energy and climate change decided to overturn a law that banned councils from generating energy.  This was put into law when the energy companies were privatised by Mrs Thatcher to cut down on competition.  Labour were kicked out of power before this could be done, but Chris Huhne (remember him!?) in the coalition government changed the law.   There is a long history of councils in the UK owning energy companies going back to Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham.  He set up a gas company to provide money for social projects (and he was no lefty).  Anaerobic digestion is one obvious target for technologies since councils have responsibility for waste disposal.

Obviously all grants have been cut, but there is still talk on the programme of councils going ahead without them as the cost of solar falls.  Wind is more difficult due to planning changes at least in England and Wales.


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Mission to the stars -anyone got a spare 100GWp?

sol_view_from_alpcena1This blog likes to keep its feet firmly on the the ground and not up in the stars.  However on Sunday I happened to chance on the “Sky at Night” which was talking about a mission to the stars.  This is something I had heard about in the news, Professor Stephen Hawking is involved as are a load of tech billionaires.  The idea is to shoot micro probes to the nearest star or nearby stars at up to 20% of the speed of light.  At this speed getting to Proxima Centauri and even a peak at the newly discovered planet orbiting it.

The idea is to launch some very small probes (lots of them) in orbit.  They would unfurl a microspically thin solar sail.  LASERs on earth would blast the sail with light accelerating them rapidly towards the speed of light.  There are a number of technical problems with this.  How to communicate with the probes at such speeds, what to make the sail out of so it survives space and high powered LASER blasts and where the power is going to come from?

Leaving aside moral and cost concerns (the project is really only the same cost as the large Hadron Collider), a 100GW is a lot of juice.  There seems to be some question as to whether all this is needed at once, the projects website is very vague.  However, this amount of energy is not trivial.  This got me thinking would we need world wide power grid.  Maybe useful for a number of reasons, but technically probably be impossible with current transmission technology.  Also linking continents wouldn’t be worth it with the levels of transmission power that current interconnectors have.  Next it got me thinking about total spare capacity at night.  The obvious place to start is the US.  It has a 1000GWp capacity.  Obviously not all this is available all the time but in principle the US might be able to provide the power at night time.  This is today though and not in 20 years time when the starshot is being talked about. Then patterns of energy use such as electric cars and changes in capacity might make this far more difficult.

The wikipedia page is better than the official project website.


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One thing we have learnt this week-Moroccan mosques are going green

391px-tin_mal_mosque5_jsA large number of mosques are going green.  Last week I was enthusing that some churches in the UK were switching to green energy suppliers (see here).  This is a far more ambitious energy project.   Some 15,000 Mosques across the country are planning to install solar PV, solar hot water as well as heat pumps and energy efficiency measures.  They are hoping for a 40% energy reduction and that the kit is invisible to the ordinary worshipper.

That Moroccan mosques are going green has to be seen in a wider context.  The Moroccan king has been taking his country in a green direction mimicking Germany.  Except that for the most part the solar power is not PV but very large installations of concentrating solar power placed in the desert.  These installations are set to use molten salt.  By doing so they work even after dark providing pretty much 24/7 solar power.  Something that is only possible in hot countries of course.

In these days of Islamic extremism and terrorism and with real doctrinal disagreement between our faiths its nice to have areas where we can cooperate and agree and this area of the environment is surely one of them.  There are also lessons for historic churches, many Mosques are beautiful historic buildings.  Come on Christians become a bit more ambitious!


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Particulates and Alzheimer’s disease

boilerThere could be a link between particulates and Alzheimer’s disease.  This is according to a study just released which has found particulates in the brains of people who have died from this disease.  This adds to the list of problems that particulates cause such as lung disease and strokes.  Alzheimer’s disease is of course complex and a number of agents have been implicated as its cause.  Also just just because there is correlation does not mean there is causation.  These particles contain small amounts of metals (magnetite).

There is some logic to this scientifically.  In Alzheimer’s disease a protein amyloid-β forms abnormal filaments in the brain.  These aggregate and damage the brain’s neural pathways.  The expression of the amyloid-β is partially controlled by metals such as iron, zinc and copper.  In addition iron and copper can undergo a series of oxidation and reduction reactions with hydrogen peroxide.  Hydrogen peroxide is produced by the body as a natural product of metabolism.  When it reacts with these metals it forms free radicals which are molecules with a single unpaired electron.  Chemically this is highly unstable and such groups can react very rapidly with almost any molecules in the body causing great damage.  Living organisms that are aerobic have evolved a series of enzymes that break the peroxide down very rapidly.  The problem is if large amounts of metals become embedded then this system is likely to be overwhelmed.

A large number of other factors have been implicated in this terrible disease such as genetic factors and processes related to ageing.  Nevertheless there is a a lesson here that we should cut the causes of particulates which includes all combustion processes down for our own good, the worst offenders being cars and coal fired power stations.

Link to the paper here.


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One thing we have learnt this week – churches ditching fossil fuels

church roofThousands of churches in the UK are ditching fossil fuels according to data released yesterday.  The majority of Salvation Army, about a third of Quakers and a lot of Catholic churches (2000) have switched to renewable suppliers.  This sounds a lot however this is still a minority of churches ditching fossil fuels.

Churches are often in listed buildings so installing renewable kit can be difficult (my church looked into this) although its got easier since then with some churches managing it.  Switching to a green energy supplier is obviously much easier.

A couple of points need to be made.  Firstly by switching exactly the same electrons are coming down the wire.  The point by doing so is to encourage for renewables investment.  Second and following on form this a change does not preclude energy efficiency.  My church has not switched, we are holding a “Stir up Supper” in December and this may give us the space to talk about this.  However we are starting a wholesale move to LED’s and have put in insulation in our roof (and its amazing how many churches that could do this have not).

The big Church switch website is here and as a last point remember.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Ps24v1


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Borders railway reopened

borders railwayLast year the Borders railway reopened and last Sunday I took my first trip on it.  Its always nice when a Beeching cut is undone.  The line which originally connected to Carlisle was closed in 1969.  Police had to guard the last train such was the anger and the young MP at the time, one David Steel had to calm things down.  Last year 30 miles of this route was reopened.  I’m glad to say its been a huge success with passenger numbers are much higher than envisaged.  Longer trains have had to be put in service after complaints of overcrowding.  I took a trip on it last Sunday and whilst the train was not full it certainly was busy.

The line winds through some lovely country and connects with the national cycle route in at least one place.  It serves only one major town (Galashiels) although the stations near Edinburgh are in commuter range.  Its one of the few times I have been on the train when we have had to wait since we were 10 minutes early.

border railway passing placeMistakes have been made in the Borders railway reopening though.  It seems crazy not to have extended it a couple of miles further to Melrose, since by local standards its a major conurbation.  The main criticism made is that there is insufficient double track and more importantly that there is a problem in widening it to double track.  The problem is most acute at a number of new bridges where the line is single track but there is no space to put in a second track.  Neither is it electrified.  These short sighted cost savings will make it more difficult to reopen it as far as Carlisle, which would bring a whole heap of benefits.


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Aussie town planning to go off grid

1024px-TyalgumThe small town of Tyalgum is planning to go off grid.  Tyalgum is planning to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources and then unplug from the grid.  There are number of reasons why the towns’ (villages’?) inhabitants want to go off grid.  They pay a lot for their electricity and don’t feel they get much for this.  Tyalgum is at the end of the wires and the townspeople feel they pay a lot for maintaining these wires.   There is a high degree of environmental awareness and being at the end of the grid would lead to minimal disruption if they did go off grid.  There is also a very good renewable resource, mainly solar?

Its still a brave move to to actually unplug though and not a move I would personally recommend.  There does seem to be intense interest in this particularly in Oz with some suggesting a third of people might disconnect from the grid.  Of course the reason is the falling cost of energy storage (batteries).  If I was in this situation I would go 100% renewable and stay on the grid.  Apart from anything else there will be many times when you generate more power than you can use and this could be sold back to the grid.



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In praise of pulses

pulsesHaving grown up in Madagascar, I have plenty of time for pulses. You could buy a dozen varieties on the local markets, all lined up in baskets and sold by the tin-full. There was a wide range of colours and sizes, and some multi-coloured ones that were really quite beautiful. When we were small, my Mum even had a big mixed jar of them for us to tip out into a tray and play with.

So I was interested to hear this week’s edition of The Food Programme on Radio 4, which was all about pulses. Apparently we don’t eat many of them in Britain. Besides our fondness for baked beans, we really don’t eat many beans and pulses. The programme was out to change hearts and minds, as the UN has declared 2016 to the Year of the Pulse, which is the first I’ve heard of it.

We used to eat them. Pulses are a staple food in many parts of the world, and they were in Britain too in the past. As the country developed and people began to eat more meat, eating beans became associated with poverty. We ate fewer of them, and even stopped growing many traditional varieties. Hippy culture has not improved the standing of beans and lentils either.

It’s a pity, because there’s a reason why pulses are a staple in so many traditional diets. They’re low-fat, contain plenty of fiber, and they’re all round nutritious. They’re versatile and cheap, and can be served in dozens of different ways. They are also a very sustainable form of protein. Beans also fix nitrogen, playing an important role in agriculture when incorporated into crop rotation. So there are plenty of reasons to eat more of them, especially if they replace some of our meat-eating.

One of the guests on the show was Nick Saltmarsh, who used to work in food policy. He was involved in a Transition City Norwich project which concluded that pulses offered one of the best ways to make our diets more resilient and sustainable, but noted that we don’t grow many any more. The Great British Bean Project ran as a trial to try and source British grown beans and encourage people to try them. Since it was a success, Nick and some friends went on to found a company, Hodmedod’s, to take it further.

Hodmedod’s now sell British grown fava beans, quinoa, and a whole variety of beans, pulse flours, and pea and bean-based snacks. They’ve also revived some traditional varieties. We used to eat Carlin peas as a snack, and outside of a very few areas, they’re almost unknown now. The small amounts that we do grow are, strangely enough, exported to Japan as ‘maple peas’. Hodmedod’s are attempting to bring them back. I also like the look of their blue peas, and surely it wouldn’t be difficult to persuade children to eat Gog Magog beans.

I’d come across Hodmedod’s before, but I hadn’t heard the story behind the company. I like their activist origins, the rediscovery of lost food heritage, and the practical response to a sustainability issue. I will look out for them in future.

“There’s a broader awareness that we’re going to have to change our diet in some way over the next 30 or 40 years” says another of the founders, Josiah Meldrum, in this interview with Rob Hopkins. “There are pressures from population growth, pressures on land. Beans are going to play a part in that as a very low-tech solution to dietary change.”

Written by Jeremy Williams for his blog Make Wealth History and used there first and reblogged here with his permission.

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