The 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.
I 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.
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.
Does 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.
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.
A 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.
Lithium 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.
Its common to make some new years predictions at this time of year so whilst its a bit late here goes.
1) the big story of the year will be (apart from Trump) automation. Trump wants to effectively to end globalisation and bring back jobs. This in itself will be very difficult to achieve but apart from globalisation automation is making this harder. By automation I mean not just robots but also “intelligent” algorithms. An insurance company sacked 10 people the other week and replaced them with a computer which interacts with customers to offer them the best deal. Expect more of this moving up the income scale with a lot of concerned talk about it this year.
2) Following and heavily related to this are driverless cars and drones, expect to hear a lot more about this in 2017. A boon or a menace? Driverless vehicles will certainly will lay off millions of drivers in the long term if they succeed. As a cyclist I can hardly wait to start sharing the road with these. Will Amazon get its delivery drones in the air this year? This is an incredibly stupid idea and will end up killing people.
All of the automation relies on the idea of cheap limitless energy. Even if you assume that robots use less energy and laid off staff no longer commute, the unemployed workers are not going to use zero energy sitting at home watching daytime TV. Does a delivery drone use less energy than a van delivering multiple parcels in one round? I don’t know but I doubt if there is much in it.
3) The next of my new years predictions is we will hear a lot more about the idea of the universal basic income this year. Trials are going ahead in Finland and Holland with small scale trails moated in Scotland. Whilst I am a firm supporter I do not think like many of its proponents this is a solution to automation (unless you tax robots which seems to defeat the point of them). The reason I support it are multiple, but one reason is the current social security system is not fit for purpose.
4) Solar PV installation will continue to soar worldwide. There is no stopping renewables now its mainstream. This will be despite Trump trying to sabotage the Paris agreement and bring back coal and fracking. Renewable energy is becoming cheap nothing can stop it.
5) Politics will continue in its unpredictable and much more extreme form. As a push back against much of the above voters will go in large numbers for extreme nationalist parties pedalling simplistic lies. As the annual richfest starts at Davos the global elite* claim to get this but don’t.
6) Christians by and large will continue to ignore the environment and the global warming crisis. (Safest prediction of the lot).
*I would like to point out in brexit terms the elite campaigned on both sides and I voted remain. See the end of the sentence before this.
Last week a small energy supplier was in the news for offering its customers variable rate electricity. In one way there is nothing new about all this. People who used (or use) a lot of electricity at night (mostly those like my grandparents who had storage heaters*) had a system of variable rate electricity that involved two meters (economy 7 or economy 10). This was complicated to install but relatively simple on the maths calculations. The power at night was about a fifth of daytime and the system was a means of using some electricity at night in the days when power stations had to be left on all the time (or at least a lot more often). Now of course we have variable supply (renewables) and increasingly variable demand. People rarely sit down on mass to watch a particular TV programme.
One way to match supply and demand is said to be variable pricing and this is what the energy company is offering via a smart meter (so simpler to install). The electricity under this scheme is at its most expansive between 4 and 7pm when peak demand is highest and cheapest at night with at least another daytime rate.
Whilst this is the way we are going with smart meters there are some issues of concern. The first is if you are cooking using an electric cooker then this offer is not for you for obvious reasons. Second, following on from this point switching your consumption to cheaper times may not be possible. Third the whole idea works on the premise that you switch heavy usage to night. This is a concern for a number of reasons. Using washing machines and dryers at night is not recommended there have been a number of fires recently. Another problem is that their use could be antisocial affecting neighbours. Lastly working out how much your energy use is costing you and lowering its cost will involve a considerable amount of time and effort.
As this is the way we are going we are going we are going to have to live with it. It could be wider societal changes such as multiple TV channels, a more 24 lifestyle and electric cars will even out power consumption.
*actually thinking about this my Grandparents house was heated by a bizarre mixture of heating methods. Depending on which bit you were in a coal fired boiler, night storage heaters and a coal fired stove in the lounge. The house was freezing – at least upstairs.
Is there a link between dementia and pollution? A new study in Canada has suggested that people who live near main roads are more likely to suffer dementia. For those living within 50m of a main road its a 7% increase in risk. The risk drops off very steeply with distance. Of course correlation is not the same as causation and dementia is a complex condition with a number of causes and as they put it on the news last night the chief risk factor is age.
This blog has covered other pollution health stories before. One was the extraordinary theory the developed world’s postwar crime wave was caused by lead in petrol. Although that paper was said be convincing there was one huge flaw in its argument I could see. That was, the drop in crime that has occurred started immediately as the lead was removed from petrol. Since lead in the body cannot be removed (that’s part of its problem) it seems unlikely lead was the cause. However this study on dementia and pollution does need to be taken seriously. For starters the team looked at the health of everyone on Ontario for over a decade. This was 6.6 million people. The drop with distance also matches what we know about particulate pollution which is levels fall off with distance very rapidly. From the biological perspective we know particulates contain microscopic quantities of transition metals such as iron and copper. These react with hydrogen peroxide which is produced as a by product of respiration forming free radicals which damage almost all molecules in the body they come in contact with. Free radical and metals have been implicated as a cause of Alzheimers disease.
Particulates have been cited as one of the causes of a host of diseases, these include strokes, heart disease and asthma. Surely it is time for a more radical look at transport? To move much more to cycling and walking. This is one problem that electric cars cannot totally solve since according to George Monbiot up to 50% of a car’s pollution is not due to what comes out of the exhaust but other interactions such as the tyres with the road.
In the meanwhile on thing that is said to help dementia is walking and cycling so get going! Happy new year.