Friday, July 27, 2018

Extra! Extra!

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I know, I know. I said the Sustainable Futures Report would be monthly from now on but there's just so much going on so this is Anthony Day with a third episode of the Sustainable Futures Report for July 2018. It’s Friday 27th.
On the energy front there are reports from the National Grid, from the National Infrastructure Commission and from the Climate Change Committee in the UK, and in Canada there is a report from the Federal Government
On the climate change front we have been enjoying an unprecedented heatwave here in the UK, although by the time you hear this it will probably be raining. As the grass turns yellow we need to take action so I've included an update from Cape Town, the city that was going to run out of water in April. At the other extreme of extreme weather torrential rain has caused floods in Nepal, Japan and China. Some 200 people have died as a result in Japan.
UK supermarket Morrisons have turned retail on its head with reverse vending machines. Remember I featured them a while ago? I'll remind you what they are later on. And finally, are you in the loop? That's the hyperloop, developed by Elon Musk and eagerly supported by Richard Branson of Virgin. More on that later as well.
Before all that I have a new patron. Welcome to Mark Rutherford and many thanks to all my other patrons who contribute a small amount to help me pay for the hosting of the Sustainable Futures Report. If you'd like to join their number just hop across to  where you'll find all the details.
Here’s a press release.
Britain has a “golden opportunity” to switch to greener ways of providing energy to homes and businesses without increasing bills – but only if Ministers act now to make the most of it.That’s a key finding from this month’s National Infrastructure Assessment – the first ever for the UK – published by the National Infrastructure Commission. 
The Commission was set up in 2015 as an executive agency of HM Treasury by George Osborne (remember him?)
The National Infrastructure Assessment looks at the United Kingdom’s future economic infrastructure needs up to 2050 and makes key recommendations for how to deliver new transport, low carbon energy and digital networks, how to recycle more and waste less, and how future infrastructure should be paid for. It aims to ensure the UK is fully prepared for the technological advances that could transform how the country operates.
According to the report, “The UK must take decisive action to have world-class infrastructure” 
I imagine a prerequisite for that would be a decisive government. ‘Nuff said.
The report’s core proposals include:
  • nationwide full fibre broadband by 2033
  • half of the UK’s power provided by renewables by 2030
  • three quarters of plastic packaging recycled by 2030
  • £43 billion of stable long term transport funding for regional cities
  • preparing for 100 per cent electric vehicle sales by 2030 (that’s at odds with the present policy of permitting petrol and diesel car sales right through until 2040)
  • ensuring resilience to extreme drought through additional supply and demand reduction
  • a national standard of flood resilience for all communities by 2050.
It also highlights the most important future challenges.
Heating must no longer be provided by natural gas, a fossil fuel. 
That’s very interesting because earlier this month I was at the Energy Efficiency Awards where I was strongly advised by people on my table to replace my gas boiler with an air source heat pump. They said I could power it from my solar panels or from energy stored in a battery. If there was no sun I could charge my battery overnight using the cheap rate Economy 7 tariff and use the power during the day when electricity direct from the grid is at its most expensive.

The UK must prepare for connected and autonomous vehicles. These need more time for evidence or technology to develop. The Assessment sets out the actions needed to enable robust decisions to be taken in future.

Is the government listening? At the moment, no, because it’s consumed with infighting over Brexit. There is a serious chance that it will have fallen by the end of the year and the national squabble will continue. Did someone say fiddling while Rome burns?
Future Energy Scenarios
In the UK the National Grid has just published its Future Energy Scenarios. These scenarios outline different credible pathways for the future of energy for the next 30 years and beyond. They consider how much energy we might need and where it could come from. They look at what the changes might mean for the industry, customers and consumers. 
It’s interesting that on the very front page it says that “gas will remain crucial for both heating and electricity generation in all scenarios for the coming decades.” It does talk about decarbonisation and it does talk about hydrogen - a clean gas, at least at the point of use - but many people believe that natural gas use must be minimised as soon as possible. Using it as a “bridge” fuel will prolong its use and inhibit the development of renewables. Admittedly, that’s my initial reaction to the executive summary. The scenarios cover a set of detailed documents and deserve closer reading.
Of the four scenarios described, two achieve the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction targets and two do not. Main points highlighted: 
  • We are entering a new world of energy. The expected growth of low carbon and decentralised generation means the electricity system will need to change. 
  • Electric vehicle growth goes hand in hand with electricity decarbonisation. Smart charging and vehicle-to-grid can actively support the decarbonisation of electricity. 
  • Action on heat is essential and needs to gather pace in the 2020s to meet carbon reduction targets. A mix of low carbon heating solutions and better thermal efficiency of buildings is needed. 
  • Gas will play a role in providing reliable, flexible energy supplies for the foreseeable future. New technologies and sources of low carbon gas can decarbonise the whole energy sector. 
The Executive Summary is designed as a 5-minute read. I recommend you have a look at it. Find the link on the blog.

And here’s another report. 
This one’s from the Committee on Climate Change.
“Apply the lessons of the past decade,” it says, “or risk a poor deal for the public in the next.”
It continues:
“Ten years after the Climate Change Act came into force, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the Government must learn the lessons of the last decade if it is to meet legally-binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s and 2030s. Unless action is taken now, the public faces an unnecessarily expensive deal to make the shift to a low-carbon economy.
“Scientific evidence of a changing climate continues to mount. Recent observations have catalogued evolving changes to the climate in the UK and around the world, highlighting the urgent need for further measures to reduce harmful emissions.”

And meanwhile in Canada…
It’s all about energy this time. A brief follow-up to my report about the TransMountain pipeline in Canada. The federal government has just published its Generation Energy council report, which envisions a roadmap for Canada’s energy future. “For the first time ever,” says the press release, “Canada has aligned its energy vision with its commitment to tackle climate change, marking an important moment.” Merran Smith, Clean Energy Canada's executive director and co-chair of the council, said “If we follow the pathways laid out in this report, Canada can succeed in ensuring that Canadians have access to affordable, reliable, clean energy, and that we can sell our solutions to the world."
In some places Dilbert is a cartoon character. In Canada dilbit is diluted bitumen. It’s what they plan to pump through the TransMountain pipeline, and it’s far from a joke. It’s the fossil fuel they’re planning to sell to the world. Some cognitive dissonance here, I think.
Find the links on the blog.
Feel the Heat!
With this very hot weather I can't help thinking about Cape Town in South Africa which was preparing to run out of water completely back in April. In May they were even talking about towing in an iceberg from the Antarctic. Actually the city didn’t run out of water, but very strict measures were imposed to make the best of what they had. Apparently about the time when they thought they would run out there was some rain, which made an immediate difference, but the main difference was made by people drastically cutting consumption. Consumers are currently allowed 50L of water per adult per day and nothing at all for children. If they run the water in the shower until it gets hot they collect the water in a bucket and they use it to flush the loo or to water the garden. In any case they are urged to limit showers to no more than 90 seconds. 
  • Get wet. 
  • Turn it off. 
  • Apply soap. 
  • Turn it on and rinse. 
Doesn’t everyone shower like that? No baths. Hotel guests are urged to re-use towels. Report leaking taps. Use a dishwasher because it uses less water than washing up in the sink, but only run it when it’s full. Same applies to clothes washers. Householders have installed storage tanks which they will presumably fill with rainwater and use for things like washing clothes and watering the garden if they must. Lessons for us all there. Even though water is short, in the present heatwave it’s always wise to drink plenty of it. Cape Town is holding its own but as climate change and global temperatures increase things can only, surely, get worse.
Still, according to the tourist board Cape Town is no longer at risk of running out of water this year or next.
Down the Tubes
Are you old enough to remember the Lamson pneumatic tube system in department stores? You took what you wanted to buy to an assistant and handed over your money. They filled out a bill and put it with the cash into a canister about the size of a tin of beans, opened a little door in the wall and dropped it in.  You could hear a loud sucking noise and it rattled away down the tube to some distant cash desk where change was calculated, the bill was receipted and the canister was sent back. After a few minutes it popped out of a little door in the tube which slammed shut behind it and it crashed into a basket behind the counter. I often wonder how they made sure that the right canister always went back to the right counter.
Anyway, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is much the same, except that it’s somewhat bigger and the pods are designed for carrying people or goods, not just cash and bills. Hyperloop is designed to link cities. While Hyperloop depends on creating a vacuum in front of the canister as with the Lamson system, that’s by no means the whole story. The tube is evacuated to thin the air and thereby minimise the drag on the pod. The idea is to create an atmosphere as thin as the air at 200,000 feet. The pod will actually be driven by magnets. It will be a maglev train suspended in a magnetic field within the tube, and with the rarified atmosphere it will travel at around 600mph. A Hyperloop pod will take passengers from London to Edinburgh (400 miles) in just 50 minutes. 
A recent article by the Institute of Directors lists 10 reasons why the UK should take Hyperloop seriously. You can read it via the link on the blog. I’m not convinced. We’re at the very early stages of constructing HS2, a high-speed conventional railway, and some people have serious doubts about that. Hyperloop would surely make HS2 obsolete. And what will Hyperloop cost, given that in a crowded country like the UK it will have to be almost totally in deep tunnels? What about the carbon footprint of the construction process? Where will we get enough magnets to create a 400-mile maglev line? (And that’s only for phase one.) How much electricity will it take to evacuate the tube and drive the 600mph pods? Will enough people want to go to Edinburgh in less than an hour and will they be able to pay enough to make the project viable? What about those people who don’t live in London or Edinburgh? And won’t the telephone, Skype and conference calling be very much cheaper alternatives in many cases? Read the IoD article and make up your own mind. But quite apart from all that, when people can take all day waiting for buses to take them to and from the hospital or down to the shops, when commuter trains are overcrowded by a factor of 150% or more (yes, that’s 150% on top of the design capacity), when new timetables have led to through train services on some routes being suspended indefinitely and when the privatised East Coast Main Line has collapsed into public ownership for the third time in 10 years haven’t we got more important issues to consider than superfast travel for the wealthy few?
That great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel built an atmospheric railway powered by vacuum in Victorian times. It worked with speeds of up to 70mph but it failed because of rats, but that’s a story for another time.
Giving Something Back
Yes, reverse vending machines. Morrison's have installed some in a couple of locations so there may well not be one in a store near you, for the moment at least. These machines are collection points for your bottles and cans. You insert them into the machine and they are automatically sorted into glass, plastic or metal. The plastic and metal bottles are crushed and guided into separate containers. The glass bottles go into a third container (without being crushed.) Now while it is a reverse vending machine you don't actually get your money back, but you will get a voucher to spend in-store or there may be an option to donate your refund to charity. Let's hope we see more of these machines soon.
More Talking
I’ve been on Talk Radio again. “A new report claims that the human population is adapting to climate change” Well, not exactly.

[Apologies - some of the sound quality on this is not at all good.]
And that was Mike Graham on Talk Radio with The Independent Republic of Mike Graham.
That’s it!
That's it for another episode. I'm Anthony Day and thank you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report. I hope you all have a great summer and do you know what? I'm going to take August off. Yes, this is the last episode before September, so look out for the next Sustainable Futures Report on Friday 7th September.
Once again a big thank-you to all my patrons old and new for helping to make the Sustainable Futures Report  possible.
I'm Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report 

See you in September.

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