Thursday, August 31, 2006

more ski

Found a bit more about Les Gets and their solar powered lifts. They claim to have a number of envi9ronmentally friendly policies, frmo the elimination of cars to managing water supplies more effectively. Here is their website.

Cynics might say that the ski resorts are jumping on the environmental bandwagon and duping 'rich' punters into staying somewhere the wouldn't otherwise stay. Every little helps though, and it would be nice to go boarding in a mountain that doesn't smell of diesel...

That's another pet peeve of mine - why is skiing seen as a rich man's sport in the UK, whereas in countries with mountains it's just what people do in the winter to keep themselves amused ? I blame the british ski club...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Greenpeace looses its taste for juice pt2

Here is the reply from Greenpeace

Hello Colin,

Thank you for your enquiry regarding Greenpeace's relationship
with Juice and npower.

As you know, for the past five years we have been working with
npower to promote Juice, a green electricity scheme linked to
offshore wind. Partly as a result of Juice the UK's first offshore
wind farm was built at North Hoyle off North Wales. The green
electricity market has also been transformed and now several
non-premium tariffs are available. So we can be pleased with
what we have achieved in campaign terms through the relationship
with npower.

Offshore wind is now on the way to becoming established as an
energy source in the UK. Npower have plans to build a second
farm next to North Hoyle and a third, much bigger one, in the
area over the next few years. Gaining public support for
offshore wind through Juice greatly helped to get the first wind
farm under way, however such campaigning and our involvement
should not be necessary in order to get the subsequent projects

In addition, we learned recently from npower that they have
decided to join with other electricity generators to take the]
UK Government to court to try to secure an increase in their
emissions allocation under the European Emissions Trading System.
In other words, they want to be allowed to emit more carbon than
the Government wants to allow them. At a time when the UK is
off course o meet its carbon targets, and when scientific news
on climate change is becoming ever more alarming, we do
not think that this decision by npower is justifiable.

In the light of this court case we have now decided to end our
formal partnership with npower and, therefore, our pro-active
promotion of Juice. We have given npower notice of termination
of contract. This does not mean that Juice has suddenly become
a bad product. We continue to believe that it is the best non
price premium green electricity scheme on the market, and will
continue to recommend it to people contacting us to enquire
about green energy. I personally get my electricity at home
from Juice, as does our Executive Director, and we have no plans
to switch suppliers.

I hope that helps,

Lisa Weatherley
Supporter Services, Greenpeace UK

Monday, August 21, 2006

Truly fantastic news

I know many of you come to this blog because of your concern for the environment and how our growing need for energy has become a threat to the world we live on. Tonight I want you to sleep soundly in your beds. We have no need to concern ourselves with the petty ideas of domestic solar panels or wind turbines. Biodiesel and biogas plants are redundent. Fossil fuels and nuclear power can be placed in the dustbin of history. Rejoice brothers and sisters for the holy grail of energy is in the hands of man at last.

A company called Steorn have produced a limitless energy supply with no impact on the environment and an effective efficiency greater than 100% !!!!!! They do not explain how it works or what it looks like and they have not had it verified by any scientist whatsoever. They also undertsndibly claim that their idea "represents a significant challenge to our current understanding of the universe".

I am confident that within the next five years the worlds energy problems will be solved giving us time to abolish war, famine and disease as well as invent jetpacks and meals in pill form.

Learn more here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Greenpeace looses its taste for juice

I received a letter today from NPower Juice saying that they are aiming to increase their capacity to allow a further 50,000 homes to join. Juice accounts for a third of all green energy homes in the UK. This move would increase the total green energy homes in the UK by 30%.

The letter also says that Greenpeace are ending their partnership with NPower and no longer formally endorse Juice (although they still recommend it). I have emailed Greenpeace to find out their reason for this decision and will post their reply when it arrives.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ski holidays

Mid august - time to start thinking about a ski trip. Found this on ; I've not checked it yet but if true it's a fab idea - ski resorts get lots of high-energy UV radiation so should be ideal for solar power :

"Thumbs up to Les Gets for taking steps to reduce the huge environmental impact skiing has by replacing its diesel generators with solar panels to power the ski lifts." ( from )

Monday, August 14, 2006

Simple solutions to major problems.

I studied engineering at university and now work in the IT industry. Some people might think that this would make me a fan of advanced technology. In all fairness they would be correct, I have a very fast PC, a mobile phone, MP3 player and even a GPS. However I am also a fan of appropriate technology. By this I mean technical solutions that are no more advanced than they need to be. This philosophy can best be summed up by two well known sayings: -

      1. The right tool for the right job.

      2. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Why put nails in a piece of wood with the nail-o-matic ultra 4000 when a hammer is cheaper, simpler, doesn't require batteries and if properly cared for can last a lifetime? I suppose this does tie in with my time studying engineering. Engineers like to solve problems and they usually like their solutions to be simple and elegant.

It is when market forces come into play that technology is driven forward further than is really required. I want a phone that can make calls, send text messages and has a decent battery life. As a consumer, phone manufacturers want me to be able to stream TV clips over 3G networks because if I don't they won't be able to sell me their new phone. These market forces have given us a population desperate to buy gadgets that will only have 5% of their features used.

But what about people who can in no way be called consumers. People in the developing world are among the most vulnerable in the world. For people whose main concern is getting clean water and a steady supply of food appropriate technology can have a profound effect on their lives. It can help them solve problems such as transport, agriculture, home building, energy, water supply and purification. It can help them create successful and profitable industries. Because the technology is simple it is reliable and can easily be maintained, improved and replicated by local people using locally available materials. It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to work and it certainly never needs to be able to stream TV clips over 3G networks.

I used to walk past a bookshop on my way to work. It was called "The Intermediate Technology Bookshop". The books in the window fascinated me, they covered such topics as wind energy, water purification, solar cookers, human and animal powered transport, hut building, agriculture and international trade on a small scale. If an asteroid hit us and civilization went back to the stone age this shop would tell the lucky finder everything they needed to know to pick up the pieces and start again. The shop closed (perhaps I should have gone inside and actually bought something) to be replaced by a down-market Italian restaurant which also closed to be replaced by an empty shop.

Fortunately the shop was just one part of the Intermediate Technology Development Group who have renamed themselves to Practical Action (Their site is even more fascinating than the bookshop was). Practical Action are a charity that design and implement a range of solutions to problems faced by people in developing nations around the world. They also make many of their designs freely available online along with a host of technical information. Go on, try making some of them, I dare you. Practical Action have provided such life changing solutions as: -

      • Solar powered cookers.

      • Improved wood burning stoves that require less fuel and produce less smoke (Excess levels of cooking smoke kills 1.5 million people a year.).

      • Gravity powered rope ways in Nepal.

      • Composting toilets.

      • Wind and hand powered water pumps.

      • Bicycle trailers and bicycle ambulances.

      • Small scale electricity generation from wind, hydro, and biogas.

      • Solar water distillation.

Practical Action was founded by a guy called E.F. Schumacher, an economist who wrote a book called "small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered" The book suggested that the current economic model of profit and progress that leads to large corporations was damaging both the environment and the developing world. It is hard to watch the news without at least considering that he might have a point. Schumacher attempts to befriend tree-hugging hippies and scruffy communists alike by suggesting that a better way for man to move forward is the use of intermediate technology based on communal ownership and regional workplaces using local materials. When he published the book 33 years ago it caused a sensation and although the developed world clearly didn't pay that much attention the methods he described are being used by people through the developing world (aided by many fine NGO's) to create improved resilience, prosperity and quality of life for themselves. It can put the lives and futures of people across the world into their own hands. It can help make a better world.

btw I have bought the book and may write a short review when I have finished (or not).

Renewable Super Grid

The German government has recently commissioned a plan for a collaborative multinational electricity grid covering Europe, north Africa and some countries in the middle east. The grid would link together a range of large scale renewable energy generation plants of types most suited to the local climate. A simplified map is shown below.

As you can see the vast majority of plants on the north African coast are solar and rather than using low efficiency photo-voltaic panels they are using concentrated solar power. This method uses mirrors to direct sunlight onto fluid filled tubes which heat up and are then used to boil sea water. Many of you may remember that boiling water is often considered a good starting point for generating electricity. Boiling sea water is also a major part of de-salination so these plants would produce clean water as a by-product of generating clean electricity. The system is also able to store heat in rocks to continue production at night.

The grid is intended to use high-voltage direct current transmission and it is anticipated that it could transfer energy across 3000 miles (Morocco to mid-European latitudes) with only 15% loss. at about 4p/KWh delivered.

By adopting concentrated solar power north African countries could produce energy and fresh water, two things that are in ever growing demand in that region. 90% of the world's population lives within 3000 miles of hot desert and to supply the worlds energy needs would require 0.3% of that desert. The map below shows the potential for this method of energy production.

More about the plan can be found here and the executive report can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Ref: The Big Issue no 701

Friday, August 04, 2006

Toilet madness

We've been looking for a toilet for a while now - our current one has a leaky cistern, and uses quite a lot of water per flush. It's also 20 years old, and it's huge and ugly.

However, almost all the retailers insist on selling complete bathroom suites - it is generaly more economical to buy a loo, sink and taps (and often a bath too), and then take the bits you don't want to the dump (after all, there is no market in second hand sinks) than it is to get just a toilet on special order. We were looking at toilets that were close to £200, and complete suites for less than that. This is just a crazy situation; it's so wasteful. The sellers try and lure you in with discounts on suites just to make sure consumers waste as many resources as possible.

Luckily, the new B&Q in gillingham now sells 'Toliets to go' for £50. Yup, that's what they call them. It's a complete toilet in a box, with all the cistern fittings etc. And if you just want a cistern float valve or other spares, they'll sell you that too. Amazing - the application of a bit of common sense. Now we've got the almost-as-silly situation where we need to pay a plumber probably double the cost of the loo to install it !

Power meter readings

Laptop: 60W
PC: 120W for the CRT monitor, 90W for the base unit
Upstairs Routing hardware: 40W (cable modem, wireless router, Lex PC for linking with work)
Downstairs Routing hardware: 24W (Voip phone, hub, wireless bridge)

The question is, is my 64W x 24hr energy expenditure on homeworking equipment more than what I used to use commuting by train up to london every day ?