One thing we have learnt this week – Gaza

00001Is the war in Gaza not about terrorism but control of energy?  This idea was raised this week in the Guardian (other links in this article).  A few years ago it was announced that a very large gas field had been found of the coast of Gaza/Israel (Leviathan @18 trillion cubic feet).  When I read this my heart sank, but I’d almost forgotten about it until this week.  Some other fields have also been found as far back as 2000.  Part of the issue is that Israel does not show up under the gas heading as an individual country in the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, i.e. little if any of this gas has made it ashore (one field Tamar started producing gas last year).  Maybe it will show up next year.   British Gas have tried to reach an agreement to bring the gas ashore from the field found in 2000 first with the Palestinian authority but in 2001 with another uprising Israel put a stop to that.  Then Hamas came to power…  Its reckoned that in the Eastern end of the Med there is 122 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.6 billion barrels of oil.  But these waters are disputed by Cyprus/Lebanon/Turkey/Palestinians/Israel etc.

Israel thinks its set-up with gas for a very long time (although this is disputed), but its certainly true that it has struggled with energy security for decades.  It was hit by the 70′s energy crisis’s very hard and its Arab neighbours were obviously not going to sell it oil.  Solar hot water collectors were made mandatory and despite being surrounded by hostile countries Israel built nuclear reactors (although this might have more to do with development of nuclear weapons).  Electricity is expensive and solar PV is taking off.

Its difficult living in a peaceful country to put yourself in mindset of those living in either Gaza or Israel, but lets try.  If you live in Gaza you have been squeezed into a small area (one of the highest populations densities in the world).  Your economy has been severely damaged by the Israelis and the Egyptians and is very dependent on foreign aid for its present high rate of growth1.  There is a maximum of 12 hours a day of electricity and a shortage of medicines at the best of times and you are ruled by Hamas which lives and breathes confrontation with Israel.  Much of what you need is smuggled in through tunnels (along with missiles).  Many Palestinians work in Israel2.  If you live in Israel you are surrounded by former and current enemies (the former just about tolerate you).  Every few years Hamas smuggles in enough rockets to launch attacks you on some pretext.  (We should remember why this particular repeat episode kicked off.  Hamas supporters brutally murdered three teenage boys.  Israel did some very heavy handed police work looking for the suspects who have not to my knowledge been found, killing other people in the process.  Some idiot(s)* in Israel (caught on CCTV) kidnapped a Palestinian teenager, burning him alive.  Hamas decided to check their rocket inventory…)

Most rockets from Gaza fail to get through and you respond, there is eventually a truce brokered by Egypt but huge destruction in Gaza follows and many more mainly civilian deaths.  A few years later the cycle repeats.  Things look bad enough to the outside observer but throw into the fact that the entire eastern Med is floating on gas reserves of which may have peaked globally then you have a recipe for conflict for decades to come.

It seems to me that the current situation is getting neither party anywhere fast.  Israel is not getting the security it deserves and the Palestinians have no life much less a state.  Both sides need to get back to basics.

  • At the moment its obvious neither side wants a permanent peace.  This has to change.  It was chilling on the TV to see the exiled head of Hamas smile when he said Israel was killing women and children.  Hamas has to stop launching its weapons from civilian areas.  We know they are doing it- we’ve seen it on the news.  The UN said they had rockets in one of its compounds. On the other side Israel’s military policy is not working.  I understand the reasoning behind it.  Hamas will eventually develop a rocket you don’t just launch on the general direction of your enemy, but one that can be targeted.  But riddle me this if the current strategy is so successful, why does the problem keep recurring?  I cannot see the current strategy stopping Hamas gaining better missile technology anyway.
  • There is no doubt that Israel is trying to if not destroy Gaza’s economy then its trying to stifle it.  Again I can see the logic.  If the economy of Gaza is doing well then the money rather than being spent on schools and hospitals will find its way to fund rocket development and pay the widows of suicide bombers, so the argument goes.  But again the current policy is not working.  We pay through our foreign aid budget for Gaza to be periodically rebuilt as a humanitarian gesture.  Wealthy neighbours generally won’t fight.  If the economy of Gaza was self supporting and prosperous its people would in all likelyhood lose interest in destroying Israel.  Its worth a try anyway since the current policy plainly isn’t working.
  • Perhaps in the words of a Jew who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago Israel should try turning the other cheek (Mathew 5v38-40).  We are in a cycle of revenge that we saw in Ireland, but that situation shows although its not easy, it is possible to break it. Just say Israel had not responded this week with drones and F16′s but had done nothing except shoot down incoming missiles. Where would worldwide sympathy lie, with Hamas?  Would Israel really look weak (we know they could do what they are doing).  More Israeli citizens would be alive since only a few of the deaths are down to rockets (which would regrettably still have happened since no missile shield is infallible).  Most Israeli deaths have happened since the IDF started fighting on the ground in Gaza.

As I  wrote this a UN compound (school), 15 children were killed.  Both sides are probably guilty of war crimes since they are launching ordnance in the general direction of civilians.  But both Hamas and Israel will ultimately have learn to live with each other.  This will involve compromise from both.  Hamas recognising Israel’s right to exist and Israel allowing truly independent viable Palestinian state(s).  I suppose the only good news for once is whilst all this is going on the fossil fuels will stay firmly in the ground.

* other words exist but I’m too polite and yes whilst not proven it was a revenge attack, its very naive to believe it was not.

1) see that well known liberal organisation, for full details.



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CAT is 40

CAT is 40, CAT being the Centre for Alternative Technology.  Last year the BBC interviewed some of the earliest members in the Radio 4 programme “The Reunion”.  Started by aristocrat Gerard Morgan-Grenville in 1973 its now Europe’s premier eco centre and attracts around 65,000 visitors a year.  I went with the Scouts in 1976.  In those days it was a few hippy types in a bare quarry standing around a wind turbine with blades made of sails and a single solar hot water panel.  Nevertheless I was impressed and so were our Scout leaders.  Even my grandparents went to visit and came away with surprisingly positive comments.CAT solar roof

On the “The Reunion” the former members of the community remembered a pretty grime time.  Very primitive living conditions without proper sanitation and roofs with mice running around everywhere.  The locals had a pretty low opinion of the place too.  When people turned up wanting advice they thought perhaps they had better open it up to visitors, which was pretty difficult at first.  They also brought out a report on a sustainable UK which is amazingly accurate considering its age.  They have published two more recent ones called Zerocarbonbritain which we have mentioned in our book.

I returned in 2005 for a course and found the place transformed as you see from these pictures I took when I returned with my family twice when we were on holiday nearby in Wales.  The quarry is a wonderful garden with lots of educational exhibits on all aspects of greenliving and energy for all gardens

00061What can the fact that CAT is 40 teach us?  The people interviewed I thought were surprisingly modest about their achievements.  Most of what seemed weird and experimental then seems mainstream now.  Recycling has mushroomed.  From no on grid wind there is 320GWp worldwide, solar PV has gone from astronomically expensive to just over £1/watt with 130GWp installed worldwide.  There are as  the programme covered many challenges left for CAT over its next 40 years.  Our fossil fuel dependency has not dropped and global temperatures continue to rise inexorably.  Visit it and get inspired.


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One thing we have learnt this week – organic food quality

Isweeds growing in rye field in Wales organic food quality better than non-organic food quality, other than the lack of pesticides?  This question has been raised recently as part of a debate that has raged for years about the health benefits of organic food.  Past studies have suggested little statistical difference, at least in terms of nutrients such as antioxidants, especially for meat1. A recent study does however has claimed to have found statistically significant differences in the levels of antioxidants in plants2. There is some scientific logic to this since the antioxidants tend to protect plants against insect attack. Organic plants had a lower nitrogen content (not surprising since they are grown without fertilizers), but a higher phosphorous content and lower concentrations of the heavy metal cadmium1/2. It should be added that climate change itself maybe affecting the nutrient content of plants. Studies have shown that in some grains, nitrogen iron and zinc content is reduced with higher CO2 levels. Is organic food quality better? It would be nice to think so. We think there are good reasons to eat organic food, but this is not one of them and the science maybe overstated.



3) “Advancing Global Food Security In The Face Of A Changing Climate” the Chicago Council. 2014.


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The traditional sources

In my last look at the BP Statistical Review of World Energy data I will have a look at the traditional sources of energy (if you can call them that).  These are hydro and coal but we will also have a look at a new kid on the block, wind.

Coal the grubby founding energy father of the industrial revolution makes up 30% of global energy use according to BP.  With the highest CO2 output of any fuel its use is very controversial.  In our book we had a look at the coal supply going forward and noted the data from BP showed reserves had plunged in recent years (there is also a great uncertainty over this data).  It also the case that reserves to production ratio – snapshot look at how much we have left by how much are using overstates how much is left.  This is because production of minerals in the ground doesn’t go at full tilt until they run out, they tend to decline in a bellcurve shaped manner. Surprisingly the coal reserve data has shown a small increase in the last year (graph below).

coal dataIts nevertheless still the case that in just over ten years the coal reserves have halved and relying on clean coal or dirty coal doesn’t look incredibly sensible.

The second of the traditional sources of energy is hydro.  William Armstrong the industrialist had the first hydro electricity plant built on his estate in Northumberland in 1878.  Hydro-power grew rapidly from this point on and in the early days of electricity provided a very high proportion of electric power.  However, for the last sixty years the construction of huge dams is very controversial.  Loss of habitat, visual intrusion, forced movement of people and most recently methane emissions from dams in the tropics make this renewable source of energy not the greenest ever in many peoples view.   Nevertheless the BP data which shows power output suggests a healthy increase in hydro capacity (left hand graph) and hydro produces nearly 7% of the world’s energy, although it was below trend due to output falls in Scandinavia and Brazil.  There is also more scope for more eco friendly hydro power in the shape of small (>10MWp), micro (>100kWp) and pico (5kWp).   These smaller schemes generally don’t use dams (or only small ones) and can built to be fish friendly.  Whether the data below shows only the large capacity hydro or includes the smaller schemes is impossible to say.

hydro and windFinally wind capacity grew by over 12% over the last year but unlike hydro the growth rate is slowing, the most recent years growth fall is blamed on the US, but the trend is down over the last four years.  Is this a backlash against onshore wind or some other reason such as competition from PV?  Onshore wind is the cheapest renewable and almost competes with natural gas in Europe so this slowdown is surprising.


Previous posts in this series can be seen here and here.

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One thing we have learnt this week- what electric car owners do while we sleep.

2014-06-28 11.42.29What electric car owners do while we sleep could have profound implications for the grid and our energy use patterns and the practicability of electric cars.  We covered electric vehicles in our book and its fair to say we have our doubts, not only since it would be nice to have less cars on the road but also due to the amount of extra generating capacity that might be required to feed the cars (amongst other concerns).  One thing we did not consider except in passing was when people would charge their cars.  This what an energy information company in the US has done with data from Tesla sports car owners.  There are not a huge number of electric cars on the road but there are sufficient now to draw some tentative conclusions on how it might change our patterns of energy use if they do break through.

  • The first is what electric car owners do while we sleep is use a lot more electricity than the rest of us to charge their cars.  This is because they can get cheap rate electricity to do so.
  • The second finding is that they are more likely to have solar PV.
  • The third is that they use more electricity even during the day than other users who do not own electric cars. (They are more wealthy than those without so this might explain some of this difference).

The first and last findings are worrying.  Its pretty obvious why people are charging their cars at night even if they have solar PV.  Having spent a large amount on a car they are using it to drive to work (you can see their point).  The author of the blog linked to above thinks this night time demand is not an issue, I beg to differ.  The usage is much higher than for those without and the biggest peak of the Tesla owners day.  In a traditional grid in which some capacity (such as nuclear) has to be keep running constantly.  Some night time demand is therefore useful and in the UK is used for heating (night storage heaters) and to refill pumped storage schemes.  But we are heading for a new type of grid with a large amount of renewables when their may or may not be excess power (these supply differences can be ironed out by energy storage but that is another issue).  The problem is that based on the data given here if electric cars really take off, night time will become the time of peak electricity demand.   This may or may not be manageable but its very different from the moment when we have a peak at breakfast time and the biggest peak in the evening (5pm) -at least in the UK.  We could end up  with three very large peaks in demand.  The third slightly inexplicable finding was also worrying, could electric car use push up demand for electricity at other times?  If this is true we would need even more grid capacity.

What electric car owners do while we sleep could be an issue for us all in the years to come as numbers increase.  More research on energy use is urgently needed with electric car owners in different countries and different brands to see if the findings above are replicated.


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latest global energy data

In a previous post I had a look at the latest global energy data from the BP statistical review of world energy 2014.  This revealed disappointingly that most energy was still coming from the four traditional energy sources.  The renewable energy output was still a small component of the stacked bar, although solar does now show up in its own right if you zoom in and look closely.

However when you look at the renewables within that latest global energy data its more encouraging.  Looking at the total installed solar PV capacity worldwide its obvious solar is in experiencing exponential growth, which is the fit I have made in this first graph below.

pv capacity global 2014

Picking out some of the individual countries with the most rapid growth provided further encouragement (second graph).

pv capacity in selected countries 2014 Apart from the main one (Germany), other countries stand out.  The US is undergoing strong growth.  Since the nuclear shutdown in Japan in 2011 this country has over doubled its capacity.  For all the talk of China being the world’s largest polluter its making huge strides in renewables and is now the worlds largest PV market.  The performance of some of the smaller countries is very impressive with Belgium and the Czech Republic having enormous installed capacity for their size.  My country has also has done very well.  In fact the data for the first quarter of this year (not included in the graphs) there was record PV installation. Renewable electricity output reached a record in both the UK and Germany (in May almost 8% of the UK’s electricity was coming from PV one day).  The latest global energy data shows a along way to go, but does offer some encouragement.


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One thing we have learnt this week-recycled or not

00005_optWhether something is recycled or not is moving up the agenda again this week as the EU sets a 70% recycling rate. As I wrote a few weeks ago this will be a particular challenge in the UK where recycling rates have stalled. Germany and Austria are nearly at this target being in the low sixties. Something else I discovered is that much of what is recycled in the UK is returned to use as a lower quality product. So there is me thinking all the glass we recycle is used to make new glass, which seems rather obvious, but much of it is apparently used to make roads. However, some glass and plastic is used to make insulation as is plastic bottles which does not seem such a bad use.

We wrote in our book;

As we wrote in an earlier chapter, one of the biggest problems is
our dependence on oil to make ‘stuff’, principally plastics but also
chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The replacement of these products
with alternatives derived from natural materials relies on scientific
research which has (worryingly) barely started, so actions in this area
are more limited. However, as we believe we will all have to do with
less than now, there are habits to be formed.

I guess our Eurosceptic so called greenest government will be forced to go along with this EU directive, although they are resisting at the moment. One of these habits has to be to learn to use less then it does not matter so much if its recycled or not.


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Relentless rise in energy consumption

The latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy shows the world is continuing to undergo a relentless rise in energy consumption.  If anything the rate of energy consumption is increasing.  The only time in recent years this relentless rise in energy consumption has abated was in 2009 the year after the global economic crash.

bp energy data 2014The latest data also shows that depressingly most of our energy still comes from oil, gas and coal.  The consumption of coal, gas and oil is still growing, although the consumption of oil is slowing relative to the others.  The renewable sources are at the top of the graph.  But for example for all the talk of solar power its numbers are all but invisible.  The only major renewable is hydro-power which is not always climate friendly.

We have a long way to go to reach a sustainable climate friendly energy system and little time to achieve this.  How much more the global climate and stocks of fossil fuels can cope with this relentless rise in energy consumption is open to conjecture.  The BP data takes no account of rising consumption. We simply have to learn to use less energy and are finding it hard to do so.  It seems likely that this is a lesson that will be foisted on us by a crisis.  In a separate blog post I will look at the renewables data.


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One thing we have learnt this week- pesticides are risking our food supply

TFSP_infographic_artworkAccording to a new report this week pesticides are risking our food supply.  The researchers say that everything from soil bacteria to bees are being harmed by our excessive use.  We are reliant on bees for 75% of fertilisation of the worlds crops.  We rely on earthworms to improve and maintain soil structure.  Both are being put at risk say the authors since many pesticides such as neonicotinoids and fipronil are being added to seeds routinely.  This means that a variety of creatures come into contact with them, not just bees.  There is almost no data on the toxicity to wildlife of these chemicals.

Its ironic that something we think we need to produce food these pesticides are risking our food supply.  There is another problem of course, that is these chemicals are all oil derived.  We are running out of oil, in the short to medium term this means chemicals and therefore food costs will rise.  In the long term it means doing without which many claim agriculture will struggle to do.  I’ve seen the problem lack of bees can make this spring (this time weather related), with small crops of apples and broad beans on the way.  If  really pesticides are risking our food supply maybe we should start seeking alternatives to them now.

Graphic above from the group that produced the report which can be found here.


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Peak gas

Have we reached peak gas? By gas I mean natural gas, not petrol in the US parlance.  Every year in June the BP Statistical Review of World Energy is published.  For those of us interested in energy it makes fascinating reading.  Last year the shocking bit of information was that global gas reserves had fallen for the first time ever.  Something that the report produced with the data did not highlight.  So it was with great interest I downloaded the spreadsheet this year.  As the graph below shows natural gas reserve figures have risen but only a tiny amount.  To be fair its early days but this is beginning to look like peak gas.

gas reserve data 2014Source BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014

As we wrote in our book about peak gas.

Where does this leave us? It is very hard to come to definite conclusions about gas with so little data on reserves to draw on.

This has never seemed so true, after I plotted the above graph I noticed there had been a previous fall in 2008-9.  Had I missed this last year?  No when I went back to last years data I discovered it had been revised.  So looking the figure for the year 2000 this is 156.78 TCM in the 2009 data, 154.25 in the 2010 data, 168.5 in 2011, 154.3 in 2012, 139.7 in 2013 and 139.2 today.  Confused, your not the only one! and when I find out what’s going on I will let you know by the books Facebook page.

However, to go back to the main point this is beginning to look like peak gas.  Two last points, the data does take into account shale gas, the US reserves have been rising steeply.  Lastly the increase in reserves was 0.2% 2012-13 and consumption rose 1.4% in the same period.  I don’t need to emphasise to regular readers of this blog or our book how vital gas is to energy, chemicals and agriculture.


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