The nuclear debate: Monbiot v Simon…


Probably the most interesting 5,000 words i’ve read for many years. If you are into energy production, the environment or sustainability, this small exchange between George Monbiot and Theo Simon will really bring the issue of nuclear power into focus.

The article in full: Theo Simon response to George Monbiot

The two issues which really do need to be investigated are the ‘need’ for new nuclear power (can renewables fill that gap and quickly enough to prevent runaway climate change?) and the issue of what happens to the nuclear waste?

As things stand, i’m in favour of a new generation of nuclear waste-processing power stations, not power stations which will create the next waste legacy for generations to come. I’m also very interested in exactly how renewables will fill the gap, but fear that coal and gas will inevitably fill the gap instead, as is happening already in Germany and Japan.


Solar: Feed-in Tariffs…

Slightly old news now, but here it is none the less… the expected but still harsh cut to the single biggest motivator of renewable solar technology in the UK – Feed In Tariffs.

In my humble opinion, the solar renewable energy industry has not had time to grow and sustain itself – the level of FITs need to be in place for a number of years first (as in the 11 years in Germany). Halving the rate is going to take the free panels schemes out of the residential market, as there will be very little incentive for private companies to provide them.

‘On Thursday, Germany, the world’s biggest solar panel market, said it will also cut subsidies for solar photovoltaic power. Rates will be reduced 15% from January 2012, the Bundesnetzagentur, the federal grid regulator, announced. Power from panels will earn between €0.18 and €0.24 per kWh, depending on size and location.’

‘Deep cuts to the popular tariff have been overseen in recent years, with the German government arguing that economies of scale and improvements in technology are resulting in rapid reductions in the cost of the sector, meaning the industry no longer needs such a high-level of state aid. Since Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) was introduced 11 years ago, providers are guaranteed fixed prices for the electricity they feed into the grid. Like the UK scheme it is paid for by consumers, adding €0.036 per kWh on energy bills or, according to calculations by the Rheinish-Westphalian Institute for Economic Research (RWI), €85.4bn for the solar built between 2000 and 2010 and ensuing payments.’

‘The Bundesnetzagentur revises the tariff regularly. A 9% reduction every year is given by law, but it can be higher depending on actual new installations.’

Johns told the Guardian that the cuts would be a “disaster”. “If they go ahead with this, the tariff is way too low, and all the social housing and free solar schemes – which make the feed-in tariffs exciting in terms of fuel poverty – will be destroyed.” He added that this was the third government review into solar subsidies this year, saying: “We’ve invested business in PV [solar photovoltaic panels] and had it sliced up three times in a year. They [the government] have no credibility on this any more.”

Germany, as ever, provides the case study to follow here. They have built up a strong dominance in the solar market (certainly in Europe) by providing a stable and incentivised solar market. They didn’t slash their FIT rate after 1 year, rather they steadily reduced it over a period of 11 years, with the full knowledge of all involved.

The cut to the UK tariff is so severe that it will take out a large proportion of the whole market in one blow. Yes the 43.3 pence per KWh tariff is unsustainable, but this is needed to get technologies off the ground and to establish markets. Just as this was starting to happen, it all changes dramatically. Very annoying and a shameful lack of support for our renewables industry.


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.


Film: ‘No Impact Man’…

Last night we also watched ‘No Impact Man’, by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein.

What an inspiring documentary! A consumer-driven New York couple and their young daughter went on a year long mission to reduce their impact and produce no NET environmental impact.

You have to see this film. There were some hard decisions to be made but they dealt with them all really well and at the end, they were stronger, more resilient and their impact on the planet was far less. They were also stronger as a family and had to rely on each other and their community more, rather than letting technology do the work for them. Their health improved, as they were walking, cycling etc more and they learnt loads about how things work and what you have to do to solve problems presented by day to day issues.

This has led to us thinking more about what else we can do to change our own lifestyle.

We’ve already done things like installing solar panels on the roof and insulating render to the outside walls, insulated the inside walls & floors, taken out the gas central heating and just use gas for water heating, bought only the most efficient appliances, use a wood-burner for space heating the main living space, got rid of the car & walk to work, become vegetarian, don’t use planes and buy absolute minimum air freight goods + have started an allotment to grow more of our own fruit and veg.

What we could do…

– Get rid of our old B-rated electric oven. At the moment, the grid is fairly carbon-heavy, due to all the coal, oil and gas power stations, so getting off the grid is good. Our solar panels are the best option but they only work when the sun is out, so cooking an evening meal in the oven uses the grid, not the panels.

– Switching off more lights in the evening and using candles. Not a massive one but could make a difference.

There’s probably loads more stuff we could do and the film was really inspiring.


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.


Time to ditch the car…?

We’re getting very excited about the new Gloucester car club, which has just recently been opened, after years of contributions from developments in the city. Section 106 planning funds have been brought together to fund the provision of 5 car club cars, all positioned around the city centre, and all within roughly 20 minutes walk from our house!

So, the scheme is being run by commonwheels car club, and the cars are all Nissan Notes, all brand new and which seem a good size. We went on a mini hunt while coming back from the shops yesterday and Claire jumped out and had a look inside one of them!

Nissans product brochure: Nissan Note

The scheme involves a £25 one-off joining fee and £4.25 per hour to hire the car, with a 0.19p per mile fuel charge. There is also a £5 minimum monthly spend + a £15 one-off additional member fee for the smart card.

When this is compared to the £2,000 a year cost of running our car at the moment, it could really save a lot of money and hassle. If you consider the tax, petrol, MOT and servicing, and the time it takes to organise things, the ease of just booking the car club car then just leaving it would be amazing. It cost us roughly £170 per month at the moment to run the car and this is one of our biggest costs. This month we have paid £85 in petrol!

In terms of sustainability, we would be using the car less (as it wouldn’t be parked right outside the house) and also sharing the cars with everyone else in the centre. There would be less CO2 being emitted as most of the processing associated with the running of the car would be shared.

Another part of the process is to use the money we would save to buy bikes for Claire and I + a pull along shopping carrier buggy, which we could load up for trips to the supermarket etc. They can also be used to carry a child, but we’re not sure about this yet!


Planning applications without plans? – just say yes…!

It’s not often I feel moved to blog about Planning, but this is ridiculous. A new Ministerial Statement on planning and growth has just been released, in which Mr. Greg Clark (Minister of State for Decentralisation), puts forward some truly bonkers (technical term!) statements.

I got to the bottom of the third paragraph, after becoming increasingly concerned with this country’s obsession with growth, to find a classic statement.

‘The Chancellor has today set out further detail on our commitment to introduce a strong presumption in favour of sustainable development in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework, which will expect local planning authorities to plan positively for new development; to deal promptly and favourably with applications that comply with up-to-date plans and national planning policies; and wherever possible to approve applications where plans are absent, out of date, silent or indeterminate.

Hold on a minute. Did I read that right? Yes. Does he know what he’s talking about? Ummmm…..

The other hot issue coming out of the Budget is the sustainable development approach. ‘The Chancellor has announced the Government will implement a presumption in favour of sustainable development, as recommended by the environmental audit committee.’

So, a two pronged attack on planning legislation, designed to increase the amount of sustainable development and to make it easier for any development to gain permission. The problem with the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is that 1) the term ‘sustainable’ is not defined in terms of the building industry, and 2) this approach effectively removes or reduces the most important function of planners, in that they are there to control development and in a lot of cases stop inappropriate development. If their power to do this is reduced, the overall quality of developments will be reduced.

A developer will be able to submit a ‘sustianable’ scheme and the presumption will be in favour of granting permission. This removes controls on the appearance of the development, the scale, massing and overall design. I’m a massive advocate of sustainability in general, but it is only one of mnay factors which should be considered in the determination of a planning application.

The Uk already has some of the tightest and controlled Building Regulations laws in the world, with yearly improvements. This is a simple ploy to get any kind of development going, while hiding behind the sustainability argument, which most will not be able to argue against.


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.’


The Gloucester incinerator…

The future Gloucester incinerator. Good news or very bad news?

This late-night angry rant (before I watch Liverpool getting spanked by Blackpool (!!) on MOTD2), was inspired by Baz Kirby’s Blog post about it. Thanks to him for getting me to re-look at this. It’s an important issue which needs more attention.

There is no definitive conclusion, given the different weights which each person will place on each aspect of the debate, but, sometimes you just have to jump off the fence and put your flag in the ground!

There are a number of positive aspects, otherwise it wouldn’t even be an issue. Just to get these out of the way first, there is a very short term cost saving, in that little or no waste will be dumped in land fill, therefore saving most, if not all, of the landfill taxes. The electricity produced by the system can also be used or sold to the grid.

Ok, that’s about it.

Here are the negatives:

More new material has to be manufactured to replace that being incinerated, whereas this material could be recycled, therefore massively reducing the energy and raw materials needed.

In terms of the waste hierarchy, there are a number of important steps before this stage which should be developed and put to use. These are prevention (not using the material in the first place), minimisation (using less of it), reuse (repair the thing or put it to a different use) and finally recycle (use the various elements which make up the product in other products).There are many different types of pollutants found in the waste ash + there is the waste emissions from the chimneys.

Fine dust particles and dioxins are a real medical issue. Fine particles are repeatedly correlated to infant mortality.

The very existence of a large incinerator encourages more waste production and less recycling, given that these large incinerators need to be fed rubbish constantly.

Waste materials from the incineration process will end up in landfill, which costs a lot of money, in terms of management, land take and taxes.

The waste fly Ash needs specialist toxic waste landfill disposal elsewhere, also leading to further transport miles.

Long contract periods needed in order to recover initial investment costs, causing a long-term lock-in (operational lifetime is roughly 20-30 years). Even if better and more sustainable alternatives are chosen in the short or medium term, the incinerator will remain operational.

There already are better alternatives and this issue will become more and more pronounced as time goes on, with better technologies being developed. One example is the MBT method – Mechanical Biological Treatment, which can produce a fuel source or recovery of individual components, such as plastic, glass and metals. The biological treatment part of this is currently in use via Gloucester’s brown bin collection system and gets sent to a farm which processes the food waste in huge anaerobic digestion containers. The product is fertiliser, used in farming.

Incinerators can produce electricity but there are many other cleaner ways to produce electricity that doesn’t involve incineration – tidal, hydro-electric, wave, solar, wind etc.

Visually undesirable, with prominent chimney stacks and associated industrial structures.