Electric aircraft

Flea Hop HB-SIA - Solar Impulse.jpg

One thing we thought as impossible when we wrote our book was the idea of electric aircraft.  This was for one very good reason.  The weight of the batteries would preclude (with a conventional aircraft design) anyone getting in the aircraft as well as the batteries.  After all kerosene has a much higher energy density than batteries.  Up until now the only electric aircraft has been the solar impulse.  This aircraft can hardly be described as a future passenger aircraft design.  Its really a solar demonstrator.  However it really looks like this might be about to change (or at least start changing).

Battery technology is currently dominated by Lithium ion technology.  This type of battery is found in all the devices you probably use, plus electric cars.  This technology is rapidly improving but suffers from a couple of problems.  The first is that the energy density is relatively low.  The second is the electrolyte is flammable (hence the problem with certain phone manufacturers phones blowing up).  This second problem need not preclude Li ion batteries being used on aircraft (after all kerosene is highly flammable) but the first drawback does.

To have true electric aircraft you would need a lighter more energy dense battery.  There is a contender, Lithium sulpher.  These currently have about 3 x the energy per unit weight compared to their Li ion cousins, but could be 10 x as high.  This apparently makes the problem less insuperable and one airline is saying they could have electric short haul aircraft flying within a decade.  This still raises some issues for me.   Firstly electrifying all the economy is in one way easy.  All the infrastructure already exists.  Or almost all of it.  The electricity still has to come from somewhere.  The second is that aircraft cause nuisance to those who lave around airports, although much of this nuisance is noise which presumably would not be a problem with electric aircraft.


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One thing we have learnt this week – clean energy growth strategy

0008So much energy related news this week but the most important appears to be the UK’s clean energy growth strategy.  Today there has been movement on the on-off energy price cap.  This probably won’t work but if it did the danger it would allow users to use more energy.  The only way to get the users to use less energy unfortunately is to make it more expensive.  The obvious answer of course is conservation then the struggling householders use less energy in the first place.  This to a certain extent has been happening its reckoned the average bill would be hundreds of pounds bigger without the efficiency measures that have taken place.  At the same time as the energy price cap the government has announced an overarching climate change strategy.

The main points are;

  • Money for research into new ways of conserving heat in buildings.
  • An ambition to insulate 1 million buildings a year up to grade C by 2030.
  • Encourage electric vehicles with charging points and subsidies.
  • Turn off coal power by 2025 (technically renouncement).
  • A lot more off shore wind power.
  • Work towards our ambition for zero avoidable waste by 2050
  • Plant 11 million trees in England and utilise more in construction.
  • No mention of fracking (so the government is not relying on this).

What I like about the clean energy growth strategy.

A realisation that a prosperous economy and tackling climate change and energy security go together.  No mention of fracking or carbon capture and storage.

What I don’t like about it.

The ridiculous nuclear power chimera.  Ignoring on shore wind (very cheap) and tidal power which would do base load.  Its very expensive at the moment but way off shore wind costa have fallen make me think that with support this could rapidly change.  A lot of the stuff are re-announcements and getting people to do energy efficiency at home and work is very difficult.

The full strategy can be seen here.


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Psalm 104

beech treesLast week my homegroup did an SU harvest activity based around Psalm 104.  We have done this before. I cut flowers from the garden (almost at the end of the season) and picked up some faller apples and got people to make a display.  In doing so I learnt something about flower arranging.  I also learnt something about Psalm 104.

This psalm is a worship psalm but also praises God for his creation.   Psalm 104 also reminds us that God not only created our world but also nurtures and sustains it.  It has astounding turns of phrase for example

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment” v2


“He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.” v13.

pumpkinsMost of all Psalm 104 reminds people in the developed world to both be grateful for what we have and recognise our reliance on the natural world (and thereby God since he sustains the natural world according to this psalm).  We have lost touch with nature.  For Christians in the developing world in mainly agrarian societies that are only too aware of the above.  We are not.  If there is a crop failure the supermarkets we use simply switch to another supply.  The price may rise but we don’t starve.  Its not like that when you are relying on your crops for both income and food.  Crop failures (increasingly common due to climate change) mean literally life and death.  Maybe we in the West need to simplify our lifestyles a bit and be grateful for what we have.  This psalm is a good reminder.


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One thing we have learnt this week- solar power stormin

954838_204501379701698_1765426126_nSolar power is stormin.  So say  the international energy agency this week.  Its now the fastest growing energy source.

  • Its growth will be the fastest of any energy source up until 2022.
  • Recent growth of solar power has been faster than that of coal (even in the US).
  • China is the worlds largest market.  But India is set to double its capacity over the next 5 years overtaking the EU.
  • On price it and other renewables are comparable to conventional forms of generation but could soon be cheaper.
  • Growth of solar power will be twice as fast as gas and coal combined over the next 5 years.

The IEA warn that integrating renewables will be a challenge and requires careful management and storage such as batteries.  Soon you will be able to get paid for using your car as a grid battery it was announced this week.  (The two companies may have found a way out of the drive/sell power to the grid conundrum).  So it looks like the energy storage issue is on its way out.

They also point out that even if solar power is competitive that people may not invest in it.  It depends on a range of factors.

However it increasingly looks like the future is solar and there is little anyone that doesn’t like that can do about it.


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harvest festival

Bramley apples from Neil's tree

Bramley apples from Neil’s tree

“The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Its so long ago that we had a harvest festival service at my church I almost cannot remember it.  The origins of harvest festivals probably go back to pre-Christian times in the British Isles, but the church I grew up in always had one and I seem to remember we had them at primary school too. Over the last decade or so the idea has died a death, as everyone has become more and more cut off from the land.

The harvest festival was officially at the early more liturgical service, but at all three services food was being collected for food banks.   I have some concerns about these. These are not the ones in the article from the newspaper I love about the fact that its Christians who run food-banks. My concerns are that welfare state is being superseded by ad hoc volunteering. This may surprise US readers, but I, along with many of my fellow citizens regard a welfare state as a mark of a civilised society. [We had a US type system before the second world war and it didn’t work.] In either case there is a danger of dependency. As one person put it once food banks are established you cannot get rid of them- in one sense it doesn’t matter who hands you the can. Another concern I have is that the food is not fresh or necessarily healthy (although the reasons for that are perfectly valid). What has really surprised me is who the recipients of the food are. UK’s Channel4 news has run some reports on this and in many of the households receiving food at least one person is working and many are middle class. People have been squeezed by the recession, benefit cuts and falling wages but also rising energy and food prices. This is going to get worse. It may be even more problematic than the previous link suggests since I’m not sure the report on which the article is based assumes energy and food prices are going to rise. Despite my qualms about food-banks we donated some food. As Douglas Alexander (shadow foreign secretary) put it at Greenbelt 2012 when challenged about helping a church in his constituency get a food-bank off the ground, if there is a need we should help meet it.

There has to be a better long term solution to this. We need to raise wages for the lowest paid, create meaningful employment (I know I’m trying to find a job and failing) and we will need some method to allow people to cope with much higher and continually rising energy prices. I am certain we will have to introduce TEQ’s. We need to encourage people to grow their own food when at all possible (there was a great example of this in the transition film 2.0 film from the US).

This week I passed a local evangelical church and saw people carrying in food suggesting they were having a harvest festival service, the weekly service on BBC radio 4 was a harvest festival service and Radio 4 thought for the day was based around this idea.  However I still think this important remembrance is falling out favour.

Growing enough food in a post oil, climate damaged world with more people in is going to be tough, there is an estimate we need to double food production by 2030. Over the next decade we really will learn to appreciate our harvests and harvest festivals.


Basically a repost with some updating.

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One thing we have learnt this week – UK grid is the cleanest ever

1024px-Flat_Holm_PV_solar_array_near_FarmhouseUK grid is the cleanest ever.  That’s the news this week.  Thanks to massive amounts of new renewable energy this summer’s electricity had the lowest carbon intensity ever.  Records continue to be broken.  On May 31st solar power reached an all time record briefly overtaking nuclear.  On the 7th of June renewable power provided over 50% of electricity.

Since then we have reached new lows for the price generated by offshore wind and the first subsidy free solar farm.  This latter project uses battery storage to become viable now all subsidies have stopped for such projects.  (Note new solar on rooftops gets about 5p/unit with the export tariff thrown in).  This is competitive with wholesale price of electricity.  Nor are National Grid having problems so far integrating so much renewable power into the grid.  The issue is more of a problem at the local distribution level with ban in some parts of the country in getting new small scale generation connected.

Other news this week suggests greenhouse gas emissions are stalling for the third year on a row suggesting that global emissions may have peaked.  Caution is required since these figures do not include agriculture and forestry.  These two are are huge emitters, but again thanks to renewables the trajectory is in the right direction.

The fact that the UK grid is the cleanest ever is great news.   We really are on the brink of something big.


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One thing we have learnt this week – modular nuclear power

Do we need modular nuclear power?  A survey has come out this week saying most people do not want to live next to a modular nuclear power station.  The idea of modular nuclear power is that you build lots of small reactors with outputs somewhere in the order of 300-440MWp.  There are a number of supposed advantages.  By building nuclear reactors en mass then you get economies of scale.  Some people (naive in my view) think they could be flown into disaster areas (see recent news for examples) to provide emergency power.  Some designs claim to be passive and would require either less staff –  or wait for it none at all!  The last advantage and why people such as George Monbiot (and I think the British Government) support them and have provided £250 million for initial research is that they claim they could use up the nuclear waste at Sellafield.

OK now its time to get real.  The problems that nuclear power have are not going to be wiped out by modular nuclear power plants.  The same issues of cost and waste still exist. In the link above its reckoned the cost could be as low as 6p/unit by 2028 with production of 40-70 units.  However with the cutting the edge of offshore wind coming in at less than this now much less in ten years time then even with “mass production” nuclear still cannot compete on cost.

The next problem is where to put them.  When the government started looking at new nuclear they did consider new green field sites.  The public’s concern arises from the suspicion that these small reactors are going to planted in urban areas.  New non-nuclear sites such as old coal fired power stations are under consideration.

The final problem is that many of the designs, if not most are generation IV designs which are untried and untested.  The golden rule of nuclear is cost rise as delays set in.  Building small is unlikely to change this.  Renewables coupled with cheap energy storage have won the day and the sooner the nuclear dreamers realise this the better.

PS the mock up picture on the lobbying organisations website does not look that small a building anyway.


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40 years of cycling

2016-09-14-17-16-48Our local cycle lobbying group spokes is celebrating 40 years of cycling (or lobbying).  2017 being one of these years when there seem to be lots of anniversaries.  This is also coincidentally about the same time I have been cycling (a bit longer).  How time flies!

How life has changed.  I was not in Edinburgh 40 years ago but in those days there was no cycle lanes and cycling was banned in many places where its now possible.  Spokes came out of some Friends of the Earth people who wanted to improve cycling provision in Edinburgh.  Many had linked up in the unsuccessful fight against Torness.  In those days only a tiny number of people cycled.  Those who did were thought to be eccentric at most and according to one Tory councillor at the time dangerous “commies”.  He was forced to retract.  The whole attitude to cycling is much better and I (rarely) get abuse.  My boss says on the West coast abuse and even attacks are common.  By the time I arrived in Edinburgh in the 90’s there were cycle lanes (off road) and a growing number of “Sheffield cycle racks”.  The number of these has grown exponentially.  There were also by that time cycling officers employed by the council to plan and improve cycling provision.

One of spokes big successes in 40 years of cycling lobbying has been over getting bikes on other forms of transport.  This was a right battle when new trains started appearing in the 90’s.  At first Scotrail banned bikes!  After 4 weeks of sit down protests at Waverley station (which I regret not taking part in), Scotrail caved in.  They then said there would be a £3 fee for each journey.  This was quite a lot of money in those days.  All right for intercity but very bad news for commutes.  After further lobbying this was dropped.  The same thing happened with the trams.  Spokes lobbied at the design stage. Again we were told that its was unsafe etc.  It was pointed out European trams carried bikes.  My understanding is that you can take a bike on the trams.

Other things spokes has done over the last 40 years are produce a series of excellent cycle maps and start an annual transport survey on a key route into the city.  This suggests that cycling is rising slowly from the low level.  This is borne out by my anecdotal experience.  We have reached the 3% level where there is always a bike in front of a car.  Spokes lobbies in a patient positive manner and its been very successful but key challenges still remain.  These are as I see them.

  • The Scottish government has cut cycle spending compared to that of the previous lib/lab coalition.
  • Cycles on trains are still an issue on what could broadly speaking would be called intercity routes.  Whilst carriage is free, a booking is required.  This is difficult to manage if a further bike reservation is needed for another stage in the journey, though on Edinburgh/Glasgow there is a way round by using slower commuter routes such as the one I use where there is no need for reservations.  New or refurbished trains are arriving and promises of increased cycle spaces are being reneged on.  The rail/cycle fight is not over.
  • Segregated cycle routes; this is just beginning but we can expect push back as in London from the motoring lobby.
  • A lack of off road arterial routes in the centre of the city and almost nothing north-south.

Here’s to 40 more years.




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One thing we have learnt this week- cutting energy costs

DSCN1669In a post last week we looked at cutting energy costs for the poorest.  I was slightly despairing at the lack of any organised government action since that’s where its got to come from with this level of need.  (That is not to say that it is not going to be private companies organising and doing the work.)  In the last week two things have happened.  The first is the government has somehow levered in some private cash to stick solar PV on 800,000 homes of social housing tenants in England and Wales over the next years.   This will lead to electricity savings of £250 at no cost to the householders.  A significant saving.

The second is a report looking at the success and potential of energy efficiency at cutting energy costs.  This report reckons that up to 2015 savings on average have been about £500, i.e. without these measures bills would on average be this much higher.  Gas use has fallen 27% since 2004 and electricity by 13%.  A further 25% could be cut easily and a further 25% less easily with much more expensive measures such as heat pumps or solid wall insulation.  We just need a better way of  cutting energy costs than the green deal which was too complicated and involved borrowing money at interest rates that were too high.  We are just left with the large energy company schemes which are better than nothing.  The government has said its coming up with a replacement since it was scrapped two years ago but nothing has happened.  The potential is there to cut energy costs and in particular protect the poorest, cut carbon and improve our energy security.  We just need a strategy to get on with it.


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ode to autumn

virburnum on the change_optAutumn is upon us.  Like you can smell spring, there is a palpable change on the last days of August and beginning of September.  Whatever the days are like there is a nip in the air in the evenings and the leaves are just starting to change.  I love autumn and all the seasons.  There is a promise of of sitting around the fire on a cold dark evening.

But I love this change period as well.  Produce from the garden is at its peak.  I have been eating fresh fruit for months.  First blackcurrants and raspberries, then plums and now blackberries.  Runner and French beans are producing in profusion we have been eating potatoes and there is the promise of leeks and parsnips soon.  At a suggestion of Monty Don on “Gardners World” I have sown turnips and swedes.  The turnips should be ready in November and the swedes in the early spring.  This a complete experiment in Scotland but so far both have shot up (turnips with 48 hours).  This will maximise the use of my ground over the winter and give me low carbon vegetables (hopefully).  As this autumn takes hold why not think about what you can grow in the way of food either now or next year?


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