Metal thefts

There was time before the crash in 2008 and even beyond when metal thefts were common.  The price of allsorts of different types of metals had soared.  You name it thieves were stealing it if it wasn’t nailed down and even if it was.  Henry Moore statues!  These things were huge bronze things that couldn’t be removed without some kind of lifting equipment.  I’m not a fan but even so.  My parents church had so many attempts (successful) at stealing the lead off their church hall roof they paid a venture scout to sit up the church tower all night.  The thieves came calling.  He phoned the police, who turned up on mass and cornered the men on the roof with police dogs.  At the time it was reckoned all the metals were going to China.  Anyway the government tightened the rules for scrapyards and the whole metal thefts story went quiet.


Now it seems to have come to life again.  The headline was about criminals stealing catalytic convertors, particularly from hybrids.  Hybrids have large quantities of rhodium and Palladium.  These metals are very expensive and comparatively rare.  Cars that have a high wheelbase are especially vulnerable, but for other cars they jack the car up and cut the cat off.

Apparently metal thefts of other more common metals such as copper and lead for church roofs have started up again too.  Worried about your cat?  You can buy an alarm to fit to it.  The whole thing is ridiculous, if only these people would put their efforts into legit businesses.  Anyway you have been warned.


PS the cat is number 5 on diagram above.

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One thing we have learnt this week – climate strikes

I’ve just returned from one of the global climate strikes on the Edinburgh meadows.  I almost burst into tears when I got there.   I was in an age minority.  The majority of people there were still at school or were university students.  So many people turned up that the march took an hour to get going.  As the primary schools closed for the day their pupils and parents started turning up.  I’ve been banging on about climate change for over 20 years and at last there seems to be some hope at the 11th hour.

Its always been important to get the young involved since its more their future than ours.  As one sad placard stated “you’ll die of old age-  I’ll die of climate change”.   But its not been easy to get them interested until Greta sat down and refused to go to school until something was done about it.  That, extinction rebellion and the heatwaves in the US and Europe in 2018 seem to mean that some kind of Rubicon has been crossed.

There’s still a long way to go of course but the climate strikes do seem be cutting through and should give permission to Governments to move faster.  Lets hope and pray so anyway.

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One thing we have learnt this week – waste heat

IMG_0761Could waste heat be the solution to our heating needs?  One of the biggest problems we face in decarbonising the economy is what to do about how we heat our homes.  At the moment we are highly dependent on natural gas.  This is a finite resource.  Various alternatives are frequently cited.  These include hydrogen, which I regard as a complete waste of space and heat pumps which have very significant drawbacks.  Search this site for blogs on these alternatives, take a read and see what you think.

Could one solution be waste heat?  There is the beginnings of a quiet revolution in district heating taking place across the UK with some government money as seed corn.  In London this week it was announced that the waste heat from the tube is to be used  to heat further 450 homes joining 700 odd on an existing network.  Anyone who has been on the tube know how hot it is.  Its also getting hotter with climate change.  There is therefore an increasing incentive for Transport for London to cool it. Rather than pump the heat out into the atmosphere why not collect it?   The scheme is going to use high efficiency heat exchangers to raise the temperature to 80°C from 18-28°C.   There is possibility that almost 40% of London’s heating needs could be met this way.  On big advantage of the scheme is that its the sort of temperatures that gas boilers work at.  This means you could use existing radiators and levels of insulation.  Of course we need to insulate our houses better, but in the short term this could be very costly and in some cases almost impossible.

There are other schemes being mooted in Greenwich and using waste heat from Wembley stadium in London.  Stoke on Trent seems to be working on a scheme using natural occurring hot water and there is a very interesting scheme closer to home in Edinburgh.  I’ve not been able to find many details on this at all, but it seems to involve pumping waste heat during summer into a very large disused mine, then using it in winter.  This scheme would be linked with combined heat and power.

There is one huge problem with district heating.  That is it involves digging up the streets on a huge scale.  This is not cheap or easy.  But for many of us it may be the only solution before the gas runs out and a climate crisis strikes.


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red phone repurposing

red phonebox repurposingIn today’s paper there have been two separate articles on repurposing.  The first was on women repurposing their wedding dresses.  One example was a woman who became a minister making hers into a stoal.  My wife borrowed her dress off a friend.  Enough said on that one.

The other repurposing article was on the use of the old fashioned but classic British red phone box.   This was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930’s and was voted the greatest British design ever in 2015.  Lets not exaggerate.  They were not very practical.  The doors were heavy and they were frequently used as toilets (see a number of “Not the Nine O’clock News” sketches for reference.  Nevertheless whilst there are a surprising 10,000 left, they are under threat and its good to see that people are coming up with alternative uses.  BT allow people to adopt them and people are doing just that.  The one above was one I came across on the Isle of Man.  A bookswap.  But many other uses have been found.

Other uses include, a place for defibrillators, libraries, kiosk shops, repair shops, art galleries, museums, pubs and nightclubs.  Just about any use you can think of.  Repurposing them stands against the current mania for throwing something away as does reusing your bridal dress.


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One thing we have learnt this week – Dutch build multistory bike park

DSC_2346Dutch build multistory bike park in Utrecht.  You’ve heard of multistory car parks, indeed most of us have used them.  The Dutch have gone one stage further and built one for bikes.  12,500 of them and not just ordinary bikes but also the cargo bikes that are so popular there.  The Dutch railway service is building the multistory bike park.

The reason is future proofing and a big national drive to improve cycling infrastructure.  Cycling use already historically high is exploding in the Netherlands where 25% of all trips to work are made by bike.  However 60% of all journeys are made by car though and the aim is to cut this.

On my two trips to the Netherlands I was very impressed by the cycling infrastructure.  There is such a strong cycling culture.  Unlike here you’d see an entire school worth of pupils cycling rather than just the odd brave soul.  Young and old all cycle and bikes are for hire everywhere.

Of course the country is very flat, the weathers pretty good.   But there is another factor in the Dutch success.  The segregated cycle lane.  The Dutch have had these since the 1880’s.  There is clearly more to it than segregation though.  Stevenage built a network of Dutch style cycling lanes and cycling hasn’t taken off there.  Livingston also has a comprehensive network too and I saw little evidence the few times I’ve been there.  There’s something else going on.  So much so that the Dutch have decided to add cycling to its  inventory of intangible heritage.



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One thing we have learnt this week – power outage

DSC_4304A week ago today there was a major power outage.  Large scale power cuts are very rare.  There have only been three on the UK grid since 1990.  The 2003 power outage was confined to parts of London.  The cause was a transformer that had not been maintained properly.  The 2008 outage as I remember it was confined largely to SE England.  Sizewell B nuclear power station went down at almost the same time as Longannet coal fired power station in Fife, Scotland.  (This latter plant has since closed.)

In the most recent one a gas fired power station and an off shore wind farm went off line.  There was widespread disruption in England especially to the transport networks.  Of course once anyone hears that a wind farm is involved, you get the anti renewables mob coming out.  The Hornsea wind farm didn’t fail for lack of wind, there was some other reason.  I note however it still seems to be under construction.

This is a complicated area but I’ll attempt to explain it as far as I can.  The grids frequency is regarded as its heartbeat and has traditionally been set at the speed of rotation of generators.  In the UK this is 50HZ±1%.  When there is loads of power then the frequency rises as does the voltage (in crude terms this is the pressure).  If there is too little in the way of capacity then the opposite happens.  Too much capacity is slightly easier to deal with.  You simply switch stuff off.  (With the rider that if you shed too much you’ll cause the other problems.*)  With a lot of renewables on the grid taking stuff off line is an economic issue.  Also as far as I can gather high voltages less damaging.  This I assume is because the there is less current (P=IV).  The opposite seems to be true for low voltages.  Low frequency also apparently affects any motors since they run in synchronicity with the frequency.

So what can learn from the last two power outages?  One big challenge for the grid is that now there are millions of generation systems that are either not setting their frequency physically or are not in the same way as a gas or steam turbine.  These systems such as my PV installation mimic exactly what is on the grid, within set limits.  Outside these limits then then my inverter (DC to AC conversion device) shuts down.  In 2004 when my system was installed this happened quite a lot.  I complained and the installer made a special trip up to sort the problem out.  My system was set up under embedded generation connection standard G59/2.  (Embedded generation is small scale stuff that feeds in the low voltage distribution network. Not huge power stations that feed into the transmission network.)  This meant that at times of high demand/low capacity when there was a low voltage my inverter shut down.  The solution was simple, to set it to the new standard G83/1 using a powerline modem.  This newer standard has wider ± voltage limits.

In the 2008 power outage a lot of small generation systems tripped out because they had not yet been reprogrammed from an even older standard G59.  This of course made the problem worse.  They did this not because the voltage/frequency was low but because of the rate of drop of the frequency.

What exactly happened in the recent power outage is unclear, but lots of embedded generation did shut down which of course is a positive feed back loop.  This must again have been due to the rate of frequency drop, rather than the frequency itself which seems to be set at 47Hz.)  National grid carried out load shedding.  That is they cut power off to large users.  This included hospitals (where at least one emergency generation system failed to start) and traffic lights and railway signalling systems.  That’s why you had the slightly bizarre situation where traffic lights were working and other things around them weren’t.

So what is to be done?  The first thing to say is that managing the grid is more of a challenge with lots of renewables.  Apart from variability in output thermal plant has some inertia i.e. when it goes down the turbines spin to a halt slowly.  But clearly since the amount of renewable capacity has gone up about 3 fold since 2008 its far from impossible.  As I write this almost 40% of the UK’s electricity demand is coming from wind and everything is fine.

There are two solutions that immediately come to mind.  The first dynamic demand management.  Not everything needs to be on all the time.  One example has been in the news this week.  A supermarket chain will switch its fridges and freezers off at time of high demand.

The second obvious solution is to add more storage capacity.  Batteries yes, but other technologies such as air or flywheels.  In my opinion we need to revisit the Dartmoor pumped storage scheme as well and others.

The last thing to do is to work why so much embedded generation shut down and perhaps set the rate of frequency change settings differently.  There is so much embedded generation on the grid now that it shutting down in tandem makes things far worse.


* This is a problem with lots of embedded generation of one type.  The Germans have worried about this.  They have so much PV output in summer, that in principle if the voltage and frequency went above limits then the whole lot could shut down leading to a power outage.  Remember there is no central control over millions of domestic systems.  They came up with a neat idea from the control point of view, though less good for individual PV owners.  They decided to set voltage limits differently in different parts of the country.  So in sunny parts with higher insolation the limits would be narrower and visa versa.

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No beef with Goldsmiths

last subsistance lunchGoldsmith’s college part the University of London has decided there will be no beef with any of their meals served in the student refectory any more.  Of course the right wing press got hold of it and painted it as a bunch of liberal snowflakes banning stuff.

There are several important points to make about this story though.  The first is that its not just about banning some kinds of meat, or serving no beef with meals.  The change is one part of a number of eco measures.  These include switching to renewable electricity, installing onsite renewables, ditching as much plastic as is humanly possible and divesting from fossil fuel investments.

The second point to make is that it sends a signal that we have to cut our meat consumption and that beef does indeed have very high carbon emissions.  The last point to make is that lots of small changes can add up to whole lot.  This is something the environmental movement used to poo poo saying that government needed to take action.  I used to think so too.  The problem of climate change and resource depletion seems so large that small changes in and of themselves were pointless.  In actual fact they are not.   If millions of people do so they add up to a lot.  In addition they create markets for products and give permission for people to think in a certain way and lastly they drive governments to make changes.  So I say well done Goldsmiths for setting an example.



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abuse of land

wheatOne of the big environmental problems at the moment is abuse of land.  Climate change is making it harder to grow food.  (In a small amateur way, I experience this.)  But also abuse of land makes climate change worse.  Then you have got the problem of increasing population and how to feed them and the use of land for other stuff like biofuels.

Its a really major conundrum.  There isn’t much good news except perhaps on population.  There are increasing indications that birth rates are plunging globally.  There are some exceptions, like most of Africa, but in the last few week we’ve learnt that UK birth rates are way below replacement level.  Up until now migrant groups have had birth rates which has meant the UK population is set to increase, but now rates in this group have plunged as well.  The global population is set to increase until 2050 though, so its still a challenge.

On the land use problem there is not such good news.  UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been looking for some solutions.

They believe we need to:

  • Protect as much forest as we can, particularly tropical rainforest.
  • Eat less red meat and more vegetables.
  • Safeguard peatlands and restore them where possible.
  • Grow plants and trees to produce energy, but only on a small local scale.
  • Do more agro-forestry, where food crops are mixed in with trees.
  • Improve crop varieties to cope with climate change/increased diseases.

There is also a debate going on about whether its best to try and do the above on a large scale or grow food and other stuff in an intensive climate unfriendly manner on a smaller area but effectively rewild unused land to soak up CO2.  Neither option is an easy one.  Both will be challenging.  For example switching from one form of vegetable cultivation to another may make soil erosion worse.

As a general point I would say we need to eat more vegetables grown as closely as possible to our plate.  Plant as many trees as possible (whilst protecting those we have), after all there are a recent report stated many places where the land is is too poor for growing food and cut down on meat eating.


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One thing we have learnt this week – Greta Thunberg is to sail across the Atlantic

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Greta Thunberg is to sail across the Atlantic to a UN climate conferences in the US and Chile.  The yacht is owned by a German property developer, Gerhard Senft and built for the Vendée Global race.  Greta will not be travelling in any kind of luxury.  The boat doesn’t even have a toilet.  There is some kind of bucket apparently.  There is no shower and the eight PV modules and turbine on the hull purely power the ship electronics, so no internet.  There is no fridge and a basic camping cooker.  Greta her father and the others going with her will have to crew.  Apparently they do not have much sailing experience.  The trip will take about 2 weeks.  She has still to work out how she will get to Chile.

I’m surprised the boat is quite so basic, the boat above which belongs to a friend has a shower and a toilet along with a fridge and built in cooker.  The small wind turbine keeps the batteries charged the great majority of the time although it does have a diesel engine.  I can only assume the Malizia is purely built for speed and all the above is purely regarded as something that slows it down.

News Corp’s Andrew Bolt in Australia has attacked both Greta and the decision to sail to America.  But hey if you cannot win the argument attack the messenger…

Of course all this does raise a big issue.  In a post oil world intercontinental travel is going to be very very difficult and time consuming.   Greta considered all sorts of other options but decided cruise ships had too higher emissions.  I assume she thought freighters which often do allow a limited number of passengers the same.  Greta Thunberg is to sail across the Atlantic to a heroines welcome from various campaigners and I’m really jealous I would love to sail across to America.


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New nuclear to be paid for up front?

New nuclear to be paid for up front by consumers?  The UK government’s determination to build new nuclear against all the facts never ceases to amaze me.  It seems implicitly that the government accepts that Hinkley Point C was a bad deal in which the consumer is going to pay dearly during its lifetime and I would argue footing the bill for the cleanup and waste.  But far from giving up the government is pressing on trying to get the rest of the so far failed schemes off the the ground.

The latest wheeze out for doing this is the so-called “regulated asset base”, or RAB model.  This model is being used to construct the super sewer under London and has been criticised for giving excessive money to shareholders whilst landing the consumer with higher water bills.

How does it work?  Well get your head around this.  The consumer pays in chunks for the construction up front.  Sounds alright doesn’t it?  But there’s more so read on.   The next question is what happens when as always does costs of nuclear construction soar?  No problem, at least not if your EDF!  The government i.e the taxpayer underwrites the extra costs!   OK so the next question that would be on most peoples minds is of course….  costs soar so much that the new plant becomes untenable.  What then?  That’s easy, you’ve guessed it.  We the taxpayer pay compensation to EDF or whoever it is to withdraw.  What could possibly go wrong?

The National Infrastructure Commission a quango set up by the government to advise on big infrastructure project think the whole idea is a disaster.  In fact they seem to have changed their tune on nuclear and think that renewables are so much cheaper we shouldn’t bother with it.  What’s in it for the developer?  We pay the construction costs, they make the profits.  We, or our great-grandchildren will have to sort out the waste issue and supposedly we get cheaper electricity than would otherwise be the case.

New nuclear to be paid for up front?  No thanks.  There is a consultation here if you are interested.


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