Recycling yes but not this way

Recycling yes but not this way.  That’s what I thought when I watched report on Channel4 news tonight from Idlib.  I’ve seen some terrible things in my time on the TV but especially since the Syrian war started but children scratching a living in a rubbish dump has to be the worst.  Yes- there are children doing this all over the world.  But there is something truly disturbing about this happening in Syria since you know its not about poverty per se but caused by a war that seems to be without end.  The kids that are scratching a living and yes they are recycling, are doing so because of a war.  No other reason.   They have never been to school and have only known war.  Despite all privations they seemed really happy which made it even worse.

In scratching a living they did seem to be recycling some of the commonly recycled low hanging fruit such as cans, but surely not this way.  The most disturbing thing in the film was how old they looked as well as them eating rotten food they found in the dump (which was heaving with flies.  One of the most heart rending things I’ve seen for ages.What to do?  Donate to Syrian charities.  These kids should be at school the oldest was only 14. Recycling yes but not this way.

The full video can be seen here.


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One thing we have learnt this week – ski energy plant

The   The Danes go in for lots of decentralised heat and power.  This means lots of CHP power plants in the middle of cities.   These are from what I have seen of them pretty subtle attractive looking pieces of architecture.  But a ski energy plant?!  The firm of architects BIG was given the contract to design a new one in Copenhagen.  This plant uses waste which is not the most eco friendly of ideas, except when there is no other way of disposing of it.

The idea behind the plant was clearly to have some other use other than just as an energy plant.  BIG thought about the use the wasteland they were building on was put to.  This included a watersking park! and go-karting.  However BIG realised that the for practical reasons the plant had to have one end low and the other high.  It was this that made them come up with the idea of a ski energy plant.  Its a dry artificial slope as you can see.

BIG have come up with a bright idea.  They wanted somewhere people would visit again and again and they’ve come up with something bright and innovative albeit something that does not totally get away from its industrial use.


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eco cycling holiday

the open roadPart of the reason I haven’t posted so much recently is we went on an eco cycling holiday.  This involved train and ferry travel and a private hire minibus.  The holiday?  To cycle from one end of the outer Hebrides to the other along the Hebridean cycleway.  Here are the lessons I would say we learnt.


First we had a practice.  So in May we cycled from Edinburgh to Berwick Upon Tweed.  This was invaluable.   We worked out how far we could cycle comfortably in a day and flagged up a number of other problems.  One I discovered was that the saddle that came with my bike was very uncomfortable after about 20 miles.  I cycle a maximum of 6 each way to work and it had not been a problem.  My wife decided to get a new pannier.  So lesson on don’t just jump on your bike.  But practice.  This includes fitness although neither did much extra on this count.  Before my cycle pilgrimage to the UN climate talks in Paris I did do some fitness work in the gym and running, along with some extra cycling.

The next lesson is to plan.  You need not only to book accommodation well in advance but also meals.  We didn’t camp but carried all our stuff for 10 days and ate out.  Don’t try to wing it, you’ll almost certainly go hungry (at the very least).

Be flexible.  The more the remote the area the more you are at the mercy of the elements.  We had to leave a day early to get the ferry which was brought forward due to bad weather.  We cycled extra one day and moved our accommodation due to bad weather coming in the next day.

Allow time for diversions to look at points of interest along the way.

Most of all enjoy – an eco cycling holiday is a great experience!


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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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