The Severn Estuary tidal power project awakens…?

An exciting past-project gets a flicker of life from the latest PM. The Severn Estuary tidal power project is now back on the agenda which is good news for renewable energy production.

The first thing to look at are the costs involved. The barrage would cost at least £30Billion and generate 6.5 GW of energy per year, equal to maybe 4 gas-fired power stations.

According to the article, it would have a lifetime over 120 years, compared with 30-40 years for a conventional gas, coal or nuclear power station, or 20 years for a wind turbine.

6.5GW per year for 120 years = 780GW over lifetime of barrage. This compared to a 2GW gas power station operating for 30 years (costing £2 Billion) = 60GW over lifetime of power station. How do you compare the two? We need to find out the total £ per GW produced (total cost / total GW), as follows.

Barrage = £30B / 780GW = £0.038B (£38 Million)

Conventional = £2B / 60GW = £0.033B (£33.3 Million)

So the conventional power station energy costs less than the barrage energy to produce, but there are many other factors to consider. Added to this are the potential cost over-runs which are likely, unknowns with project, environmental damage to existing fauna in the estuary.

But, positives include huge job creation, a massive and on-going renewable source of energy (how much non-renewable power generation could this project replace?),  environmental protection from rising sea levels, privately funded not paid for by public money and finally the potential new road link between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare.

Just based on the cost of the energy produced, this doesn’t make economic sense, but this is the same argument used against renewables – the overall ‘cost’ of using fossil fuel-based sources of energy is more when all factors are taken into account. So, based on all the potential advantages of the barrage project, I would have to consider it in principle at least something to look into in more detail. The potential for 30,000 jobs and 6.5GW per year of renewable energy is really exciting.

Also, given how long these projects take to plan, build and operate, this would be a realistic source of jobs for both my boys, if they decide to become engineers one day : )



The Obama boost…

Amazing news on two key Obama social policies on healthcare and the environment…


US court upholds EPA’s greenhouse gas rules

A US appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever US-proposed rules governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, clearing a path for sweeping regulations affecting vehicles, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Handing a setback to industry and a victory to the Obama administration, the US court of appeals for the district of Columbia unanimously ruled theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were “neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

“These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources,” said David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

It’s truly amazing the level of industry sponsored political opposition to the environmental movement and a huge series of legal hoops needed to just set pollution limits. Pollution… bad for your health, surely not!

Health care

A significant ruling by the Supreme Court on health care.

The US supreme court has upheld Barack Obama‘s landmark healthcare reform law, delivering the president a major victory going into November’s election campaign but also setting up a fresh political battle over the legislation’s future.

In an historic, and in some quarters unexpected, ruling, the supreme court upheld the legislation on the grounds that its central provision – the requirement for almost all Americans to buy health insurance known as the individual mandate – is legal because the measure amounts to a tax.

Obama is counting on Americans growing to like the reforms as they kick in and people benefit from a law that extends insurance coverage to 50 million Americans who were priced out of the market and ending a slew of immoral practices that led to people losing their homes to pay medical bills after their insurance was cut off.

There must have been a huge debate about the reasoning to impose the need to buy health care insurance on every citizen, but the result will be the same as in the UK, where essentially all medical care is covered without the need for extra payments. This may even add up to the same amount of outgoings if the UK’s higher tax is taken into account.

Things seem to finally be going in the right direction and it feels good to be able to write a post about these things!


Organic v Non-organic food…

We’ve had a inclination to buy organic food for years now and all the work we’re doing on the allotment is going towards our ‘good life’, but there have been times when the price of organic food compared with non-organic has meant we’ve gone back to the other side.

After all our experiences with organic food and our knowledge of nutrition, I still didn’t know what the actual nutritional difference was between the two types of foods – was it really worth paying more for? Is organic not just better for the environment but more nutritionally rich?

Well, an interesting table below…

Another very useful article here.

There are various studies out there but this is a good way of getting the info across. From a personal point of view, i’m particularly interested in the iron content of foods. Iron maintains energy levels, prevents anaemia, is vital in enzyme reactions and is a major component of the blood. Just looking at the frankly massive differences in iron levels between the organic and non-organic vegetables is shocking. All these minerals are essential for the body and mind and it seems standard food just doesn’t provide what’s needed.*

*It’s weird that only in the last 50 years has ‘standard’ come to mean non-organic, while organic is the non-standard approach, even though since way before the last ice age, all our food would have been ‘organic’, i.e. no pesticides etc.

This just makes the whole issue a non-issue. The one and only factor limiting our complete conversion to organic (for fruit, vegetables and dairy) is the extra cost. For example, we can just go to our market or greengrocer and buy a large bag of non-organic apples for a Pound (£). Still good value and the boys love apples. But 6 of the same organic apples from the supermarket will cost maybe £2 (half the apples for double the price). Over the month or year, this can really add up – particularly as Jamie is addicted to them!

The same goes for cheese. A 240g medium organic cheddar would roughly £2.50, but the standard version would be roughly £1.90 (20% less). The thing is, if you feel the environmental, nutritional and taste benefits don’t outweigh the extra cost, that’s fair enough but we’re all about finding ways of getting everything we eat and grow into the organic section.


Global warming ‘confirmed’…

So, another study which finds that global warming is real. I wonder how many of these studies we’ll need in order to shift people’s perceptions of this issue? The study (according to their website, uses 1.6 Billion measurements in the analysis!

All it takes for the media and people in general to jump on the denier bandwagon is for two mistakes to made in a published paper, a reference to be misplaced or not properly confirmed or for some emails or data to not be properly dispensed. Two mistakes out of a paper containing more than 10,000 references? The scientific process must be absolutely transparent for there to be no chance of misinterpretation, as we have learned from the ‘climategate’ event in connection with the University of East Anglia.

So, that latest study by so called ‘sceptical’ scientists, confirms many previous study findings in that global warming is happening and that humans are responsible. The data matches the range and pattern of previous studies very closely.

One thing to mention is that scientists should be sceptical, they should put out ideas and hypotheses to be challenged and attempted to be broken down, they should always question the data and findings and never take things for granted.

The study by a group of (mostly) physicists (including Saul Perlmutter – Nobel Prize winner for physics this year), confirmed that previous findings based on data from weather stations was accurate and that Earth’s global surface temperature was indeed rising.

The graph shows the pattern of small rises and falls of CO2 in the atmosphere on a cycle every year and the overall upward direction in the temperature. The readings for this graph were taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

I went there with my family when I was maybe 7 years old. I walked above the clouds on Mauna Loa, which is the 3rd tallest structure in the known solar system (it’s height is mostly below the surface of the ocean given it is a volcano and not a mountain), only surpassed by Olympus and Aquias Mons on Mars. Unbelievable experience. I’ve stood within 100 metres of the station which took the measurements. This experience has given me a sort of higher perspective (literally).

The ‘it’ll all be ok’ approach to climate change is so far away from what we need to be doing it’s unreal. The scientists are confirming (again) what is happening and it’s up to the politicians and people to take this seriously and act on the results.


A response to Monbiot’s nuclear questions…


There has recently been some fallout (certainly no pun intended) from the Fukushima meltdown, in the form of various on-going debates and arguments between prominent journalists and researchers. This has certainly helped expand my understanding of the subject of energy … Continue reading

Response to my email on teaching climate change…

Following the email I sent via the People and Planet website, an automatic response has been delivered…

Unravelling current confusions around the national curriculum and the school curriculum

‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

(Native American Proverb)

Thank you for your enquiry on this very important matter.

Very few people read past the headline of the Guardian article of 13th June (Climate change should go from school syllabus). Many people have missed the point. For example: websites are saying ‘Keep climate change in the school curriculum’. This is a confusion. It confuses the National Curriculum with the School Curriculum. If we desire our National Curriculum to be robust, enduring and not overbearing, then we need to have some strong principles about what is in and what is not.

The National Curriculum lays down, in law, the fundamentals which all children should be taught. It should be lean and precise, describing the essentials of human knowledge and understanding. The National Curriculum is part of, but not the totality, of the School Curriculum.

The School Curriculum should be broad and balanced, consisting of rich learning programmes devised by teachers who understand which topics and issues would most motivate and engage their pupils.

The national and international evidence scrutinised by the Expert Panel giving advice on the National Curriculum suggests that this is a vital distinction which we, in our education system, have lost.

The National Curriculum should provide a clear statement of the essential elements of learning which underpin – and form part of – a broad and balanced School Curriculum for children from 5 to 16.

A slimmed-down National Curriculum is intended to be a positive development, empowering teachers and schools. It increases the ‘professional space’ in schools, giving the opportunity for teachers carefully to select themes and issues which will maximise learners’ motivation and engagement.

It’s precisely BECAUSE the environment is so important that we need children to engage with these complex issues with comprehensive and incisive scientific understanding. The National Curriculum should focus with great intensity on what this understanding comprises. We want increasing attainment and understanding amongst those taking science and related subjects in Higher Education; we need all children to be prepared well for engagement in ALL of the vital issues which confront our society.

As the Chair of the Expert Panel, providing advice to the Secretary of State on the content of a new, more robust National Curriculum, I am seeking to assert the distinction between the National Curriculum and the School Curriculum, precisely because we want issues such as climate change to be discussed in such a way that the right actions will be taken by the next generation, and generations to come.

Once again, thank you for your comments on these vital matters.

 Tim Oates

Cambridge, June 2011

After reading this and the attached letter, I sent the following response…

Good afternoon,
I read with interest and concern the automatic response to my email regarding climate change as part of the National Curriculum. The thrust of your response seems to be to slim down the national curriculum and put forward only the essential knowledge in key subjects.
I agree with this, but not having climate change in there is a regressive move, considering what has been proven to be one of the most serious threats to human civilisation, ever faced by humans. Evidence put forward from a range of sources is unequivocal, in that humans are having a profound influence on the way in which our planet functions. I’m not sure what the criteria is upon which anyone can make the decision that this isn’t a critically important subject, given that it affects every single living organism on the planet.
One of the headlines regarding this subject was ‘putting science back into science’. How is science not part of the study of climate change? The study of climate change is grounded in hard data, collected over hundreds of years. The study of climate change is connected to multiple subjects and can be used as a practical means of introducing the learning concepts to students.
By all means give teachers flexibility and freedom in how they put across the information, but this subject has to be included.
I hope this response will be taken into consideration.

Car death…!

The car is now officially off the road.

We got back from my Mum’s place in Bristol, having just been to Westonbirt and pulled up alongside the space at the front of our house. Claire tried to put it reverse gear but it just wouldn’t go in! On the journey back, she had been saying that 1st and 3rd gears were also getting harder to shift. So, we went around the block and went in to the space front first, then I pushed the car back into the space!

I tried to get it into reverse and managed it, but not before some serious grinding and difficulty. The clutch has officially died. Maybe also the gear box.

On leaving Mum’s, she had said good-bye to the car (having been the previous owner) and we had been talking about giving it up within the next few days on the journey home. So between reversing at Mum’s place and arriving at home, the reverse gear failed. I think there’s some kind or Herbie thing going on!

It’ll be 1 less car on the road, lots of positives for the environment and £170+ per month savings. The 1994 Nissan Sunny had done 81,000 miles and is 17 years old. I’ve been driving that car since I was 17 (on and off) and we’ve owned the car outright for the last 2.5 years.


Planeat (film)…

Just read an inspiring article on non-meat eating..

A new film called planeat is released in the UK on 20th May. I’ve got to see this, as it partly stars T Colin Campbell, author of ‘The China Study’. A great book about the effects of a non-plant based diet on health. The film should be interesting as it makes the case in a number of significant ways.

My own reasons for being vegetarian include the high cost (£) of meat, environment & sustainability issues and the sometimes serious implications for health.


Vegan cat food…!

Claire ordered a tester bag of vegan cat food for Tinks!

She seems to really like it so we might go for that! We’re trying the vegan sort because we’re trying to all be more sustainable in what we do, including being vegetarian. There’s no reason why Tinks can’t do the same. Less meat consumption is healthier and means less impact on the planet and its people (but obviously also less on the animals!).


Nuclear energy = green…?

It would be really easy to write a reactionary post about nuclear power, based on the recent and ongoing events in Japan! But this doesn’t really do justice to the subject, particularly given the present importance of nuclear as a power source for much of the developed world.

This is one of about 5 draft posts i’ve been adding to over the last few months (on various subjects, including the Israel – Palestinian conflict, fuel costs and the basis for war in Iraq) and which i’ve just not had enough time to finish! Energy production and climate change are two of my top blog interests and any post will fall short of the importance of the subject, but it’s useful to put out some thoughts.

So, what don’t I like about Nuclear or why am I a sceptic?

– takes vital funding away from research into renewable energy technology

– it’s a bridging technology, from dirty fossil fuels such as coal, to cleaner renewable technology, including wind, solar and wave

– massive financial costs associated with building and decommissioning of reactors

– uses or has used fairly scarce and sometimes hard to obtain materials as an energy source

– long-term storage of waste products which never stop being dangerous

– possible use of associated waste materials for nuclear weapons

– susceptibility of reactors to external influences, including terrorism and natural disasters

Not exactly a simple ‘TO DO’ list of issues.

It’s easy to fall into the tried and tested groove of being sceptical about nuclear power, but i’m trying here to look beyond the issues i’ve listed above and to really consider how important each of them is. Part of the problem is that each of those issues could easily take a year of research to fully investigate, so, on second thoughts, maybe not!

Each of the issues has a varying amount of importance to different groups or people, but the thing I keep coming back to is the issue of renewable energy. Renewables are by their nature sustainable.

In no way is nuclear energy production GREENGreen energy = renewable energy. Just because in some ways it is a better source of power than some of the fossil fuel sources (such as coal and oil), doesn’t mean it is green.

My main issue with the approach to nuclear power is about funding. New renewable technology requires significant levels of funding to get them to a commercial efficiency/output level. Without this start up research & design investment, the technologies never reach the level where private companies are able to invest in them, therefore vastly limiting their further development. State funding is great up to a point, but for renewable power to really take over from the fossil-fuel based sources, a greater level of start up funding is needed. If the main start up costs have been traditionally met by governments, this doesn’t bode well for the renewable technologies, given the apparent trend, both historically and at present, for large infrastructure projects, including a new generation of nuclear power stations.

One key example of the difference that governments can make is the agreement of the private power companies to pay for the Feed-In Tariff for private energy production. This is making energy production affordable to large numbers of households and will in turn drive the costs associated with this technology down. The more governments and private companies invest in nuclear, the less there will be to invest in clean, renewable power sources.

The environmental impact of nuclear is also significant. A nuclear power station may not emit much CO2 while operating, but this type of analysis always misses the massive impact of mining and transporting the source energy materials, the materials to build and run the power stations and the equally massive impact of decommissioning and waste storage. The REAL full-life environmental impact of a nuclear power plant is rarely mentioned. What is the cost of storing and maintaining the nuclear waste for the next 1000 years? This is NEVER mentioned.

What’s the power output of wind versus nuclear? A 5MW large offshore turbine v 4,696MW Fukushima Nuclear plant (which is large compared to the average). You would need 940 wind turbines to equal the output of that one power station. This is why governments love large, centrally planned power stations.

The future of nuclear? Fusion? Thorium reactors? Fusion has not been shown to generate more power than it actually uses, but Thorium is interesting. Check out this article for more… China enters race to develop nuclear energy from thorium.

‘Imagine how the nuclear energy debate might differ if the fuel was abundant and distributed across the world; if there was no real possibility of creating weapons-grade material as part of the process; if the waste remained toxic for hundreds rather than thousands of years; and if the power stations were small and presented no risk of massive explosions.’

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is a research project by the Chinese government which aims to produce energy at 6.8p per KWh. more…

There is also some interest in recycled plutonium, but the current estimates are £250 Million to subsidise the production of the necessary fuel from the nuclear waste.

Two comments from various articles…

‘I suspect the response to climate change will be more like ‘How Buildings Learn’ – gradual, messy, piecemeal, subject to huge mistakes, only done when necessary or financially possible and sometimes not actioned at all. I see no evidence people are acting in a way that’s different to before – the race to secure resources has already begun and geopolitical or military solutions might be more in line with nation state thinking.’

  • PaulGMorris

    3 October 2010 3:48AM

    ‘Nuclear is not the solution for three main reasons:
    1) Current nuclear nations would not permit other nations to develop nuclear to reduce their carbon emissions
    2) Nuclear produces highly radioactive pollutants that will remain dangerous for generations
    3) We would need to rely on overseas sources for the uranium, which is itself a finite resource that cannot support global energy needs.

    Energy efficiency and renewable technologies are the solution. Investing in nuclear would be investing in the wrong technology.’

  • eightball

    3 October 2010 4:16AM


    ‘You make the common assumption that Nuclear power means Uranium based reactors. The historical reason that Uranium reactors were the most popular is that part of the waste, Plutonium, is needed for the production of nuclear weapons. Now that building bombs is less of a priority we are still stuck with the same waste. But Uranium is not the only base material that can be used. Modern Chinese and Indian reactors are being built to use Thorium, which is a far more common resource. Thoriums main advantage is that the reactor produces far less radioactive waste than Uranium. Cheaper, cleaner and safer.’

Finally, solar power = the energy of future…

‘A March 2010 experimental demonstration of a design by a Caltech group which has an absorption efficiency of 85% in sunlight and 95% at certain wavelengths (it is claimed to have near perfect quantum efficiency).’


Climate change indicators / New Year resolutions…

I started this post about 4 weeks ago, thinking about trying to summarise some of the climate change indicators and (maybe totally randomly) also try and have a look at my life and what I can do differently/better, in true New Year resolution style.

So, 3 weeks late, here are some bits of information. I’ve just read so many annoying comments on the various news websites, that I felt the need to clarify a few things. I’m also getting increasingly annoyed with the new breed of James Lovelock groupies who think the whole planet is knackered (or will be quite soon), so what’s the point in trying to do something about it. That probably annoys me more than those who choose to totally ignore the massive amount of evidence and say there’s no evidence or problem!

As with most things in life, the middle road is the most logical, so rather than ignoring the evidence or just giving up, I choose to deal with the data and try and make changes in the only way I can. I’m not in the habit of giving up on things and I hope that’s not going to change ever!

So, a very good report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

Download the pdf here. bams-sotc-2009-brochure-lo-rez

So, some pretty clear graphics from the report. The speed of the warming is so fast.

The two things about these two graphics are that a) the oceans have been acting as a massive buffer for us since the Industrial Revolution and b) the potential rises in sea-levels are not in fact due to melting ice, it’s about water expanding as it warms.

Another strand is an equally clear joint statement released by the heads of the various scientific academies of many of the major world governments. This is also a very clear and concise message and well worth reading if you’ve got a few minutes.

Download the pdf here. 06072005

Lastly, but not least, a good comment on one of the recent articles on climate change and politics – why it will be very hard (but not impossible) to overcome the problems we’re facing/will face…

‘No political party will enact legislation or tax code that will see them lose the following general election. Politics has long been a most venal branch of social self-interest. I can’t seriously expect grand or noble gestures from people who until recently were fiddling their expenses, and who are so thoroughly allied to big business – and the impossible dreams of never-ending profit – that their position is constantly contradictory and compromised.’