Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 - how was it for you?

Published as a podcast at on Friday 23rd December. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Yes, here it is! Episode 38 of the Sustainable Futures Report for 2016. I know it’s not quite Christmas but you can open it now. Go on - you know you want to. And who’s that over there with the white beard? Ho ho ho. It’s me, Anthony Day.

Right, now you’ve unwrapped it you’re going to have to put it together. No batteries required. 


But before we get down to that, a few seasonal sustainabilities, (or not). This week the nation’s waste will be 30% higher than normal. Only 30%? Still, nice to see some growth in the economy. One billion Christmas cards could end up in landfill instead of being recycled. I hope they won’t be yours.

17.2 million Brussels sprouts are thrown away each year along with 2 million turkeys. We throw away 6 million Christmas trees and 74 million mince pies. Around 300,000 tonnes, yes that’s tonnes of card packaging is used at Christmas - enough to cover Big Ben almost 260,000 times, and most of it unnecessary. Thanks to the i newspaper for these vital statistics. Did you know that 43% of all statistics are made up on the spot?

You’ve probably read that Santa Claus needs to travel at 6,200,000 miles an hour in order to complete his round on Christmas Eve. I'm not quite sure what carbon footprint is associated with that journey or the extent of damage caused by the multiple sonic booms.

For some more prosaic statistics:

On Christmas Day last year the pound/dollar rate was quoted at $1.49. This week it’s trading about $1.24

Last January petrol cost 102p/litre with diesel the same. Latest figures from the AA show that in November it was 117p and 119p for diesel.

The oil price started the year around $30/barrel, dipped below it and recovered to around $54 this week.

The Norwegian EV association has announced that there are now more than 100,000 electric vehicles on the roads of Norway. According to that’s 24% of Norway’s total vehicles. According to Statistics Norway that’s 2.6% of Norway’s total vehicles. See note on statistics above. 

Favourite App of the year - Drake Landing. More about that in a moment.

Favourite TED Talk - Joe Smith on how to use a paper towel (just one)  Dates from 2012, but still worth watching.

Post truth of the year: Solomon Dugbo was jailed for defrauding the electrical waste industry of £2.2m. He claimed that one of his vehicles had made a journey carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges. Further investigation revealed that this vehicle did exist, but it was a moped.


And now, over to you. This year I’ve written 37 episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report averaging 3,000 words each. That’s well over 100,000 words. Maybe I should write a novel. No, no time. I’m too busy writing podcasts. Anyway, here’s an overview of the topics covered. You can go back to the ones you missed or the ones you’d like to hear again.

Start at where you’ll find links to each recording and a brief summary of the topics covered. For the full text go to where I’ve included links to my sources.


I interviewed three guests during the year. I have more lined up for 2017.

In January Simone Hindmarch-Bye of the Commercial Group told us about how sustainability was embedded in her organisation and how employees were engaged in the whole concept of sustainability.

Manda Scott is the author of some 14 historical novels. She’s currently taking a sabbatical and is reading for a Masters in Economics for the Transition at Schumacher College. Her interview went out in November.

In December I spoke to Tim Balcon, CEO of IEMA, about sustainability from a professional perspective.

My main themes during the year were:

Energy Generation and Storage
Air Quality
Waste and Recycling
Interesting Facts and Political Opinions

Energy Generation and Storage

Hinkley C was a recurring issue throughout the year, appearing in February, March, April, May and October. You’ll remember that it’s a planned nuclear power station in Somerset and there have been doubts over the technology - an unproven design, over the financial strength of EDF who are going to build it, over the time it will take to get it into production - already 10 years late, and over the cost of the electricity it will produce. One of Theresa May’s first actions as prime minister was to put the project on hold. After all, it was one of George Osborne’s favourites. Shortly afterwards she decided to give it the go-ahead. When you write Hinkley you have to remember that there’s no C in Hinkley. Maybe that’s significant.

Other sources of energy covered included wind power, in February, June and December. In April I talked about solar energy in Saudi, and in Washington University they are planning to harvest electricity from the air. They intend to use energy from all the wifi, TV and radio signals swirling around us to power sensors and monitors which need very small amounts of power but at the moment have to rely on batteries - which of course need changing from time to time. At the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre in the UK, research continues into a unique form of renewable energy. Scientists have developed a microbial fuel cell which generates electricity from urine. Oxfam sees possibilities in the Third World. (22/4) 

Ceres (November) have developed a steel fuel cell and claim significant advances in the price/performance ratio.

They are harvesting energy at Drake Landing in Canada. This housing estate has a barrage of solar panels which heat water and the heat is transferred to an underground thermal store, which is little more than holes in the ground. But this store holds enough heat to heat all the houses on the estate for over 95% of the time. There’s an app which shows in real time how much heat is being generated, how much is being used and the temperature in the thermal store. I find it fascinating. The only drawback is that it doesn’t always load real-time data.

On the divide between energy generation and storage we have the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. It generates electricity as the tide rises and again as the tide falls. Well it will when it’s built. Together with other barriers around the Bristol Channel and the coasts of Wales and Cumbria it can generate as much power as Hinkley C, will produce power at the same price or cheaper, uses relatively simple technology, will probably be quicker to build and will last for at least 100 years. Governments have been promising a decision for many months and it was hoped that a final decision would have been announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Not a word. 

Looking at energy storage batteries have held the headlines. Lithium ion is the most popular because of its energy density - the amount of energy held in a given volume. The problem is that cramming lots of energy into a small space means that when things go wrong there can be fires or even explosions. Samsung has had to withdraw one of its smartphones because of this as I’m sure you know. Still, because of their energy density lithium-ion batteries are the batteries of choice for small electronics and for electric cars. This year Elon Musk of Tesla opened his mega-factory to make them. Tesla also offers a domestic battery unit which you can charge from your solar panels and run most of your appliances after dark. Scientists are working on a lithium-air battery which will have four times the capacity of lithium-ion. The problem is that air has lots of debris and impurities which clog up the system and stop it working, so it’s not ready for commercialisation yet.

Dyson, the vacuum cleaner manufacturer, is rumoured to be working on a ceramic battery which will exceed the energy density of lithium ion. There are also rumours they they may be planning to build electric cars. Another method of storage is to link a battery with a capacitor. Capacitors can only store small amounts of charge, but they charge and discharge very rapidly. In tandem with a battery they can protect it from surges and respond quickly to sudden demand. If you need to store a lot of electricity you could use pump storage. There’s nothing new about pumping water to the top of a mountain when demand is low and letting it flow back down through a turbine to generate electricity. Ideal for smoothing demand peaks on the grid, but expensive and not an option if you live in Norfolk or the Netherlands. (They’re very flat) In the US they’re using a train. A very heavy train on an inclined track. It’s driven up the track with surplus energy when demand is low; it runs down the track when demand is high, its wheels turning a generator. Details in May.

Before leaving energy I’ll comment on the Winter Outlook - the forecast of whether we’ll see blackouts this winter. We have some elderly coal plants on standby which means that we should be secure even in a cold snap, as long as it doesn’t last too long. France, which usually supplies the UK with electricity at peak times has its own problems, mainly that much of its nuclear fleet has to be taken offline for extended maintenance.

Methane? Gets everywhere!

Methane is an issue because it has 23 times the effect of CO2 and methane levels are rising. Much comes from livestock although Dutch scientists are working on a type of grass which reduces the emissions from cows which eat it. On the other hand the Royal Society B reported in June that the dung from cattle treated with antibiotics, commonly used to enhance growth, emits 1.8 times as much methane.


The episode which generated most comment this year was the one in December about electric cars, hydrogen cars and self-drive cars. Self-drive lorries, or at least electronically controlled convoys with a single driver in the front vehicle, are likely to be trialled on UK motorways in 2017. I also found the electric bus which recharges itself in only 15 seconds. And then there’s HS2. I’m not in favour of HS2 because it will be of limited benefit to anyone outside London. It will make it easier to go from cities in the North to London than to neighbouring Northern cities. What’s needed is a Hull to Liverpool link via Leeds and Manchester. Nothing new, just an upgrade to the existing line to the standard of say the East Coast main line. More in the episode for 10th June called Blowing in the Wind.

And if we’re talking about transport what about the third runway at Heathrow? Well I don’t agree with that, either. More pollution and emissions from aircraft. More pollution and emissions and congestion from more cars trying to get to Heathrow. The M25 in that area is already 14 lanes wide.

And then there’s that new cruise liner launched this year. The fuel it uses, in common with many merchant vessels, is so dirty that it cannot burn any while in port. On the high seas it just chucks all its pollution and emissions into the atmosphere. Does it chuck rubbish overboard, or does it hang on to it until it gets back to port and pays for it to be sent to landfill?

Did somebody say Bah, Humbug?

And there's more...!

This year I’ve written about air quality, waste and recycling; about schoolchildren suing the US government for allowing fossil fuel use to threaten the planet, about floods and flood prevention, about LED lighting, about water conservation in Israel and its lessons for the rest of us; about the Paris Agreement and the Queen Street Mill. The Queen Street Mill was the last working steam-powered mill in the world. With government cuts there was no money to keep it going. It’s now permanently closed. Bah, Humbug.

Search through  or You’ll find coal mines in China and new coal mines planned for the UK, a solar road in France, Brexit, floating solar panels, plastic microbes, Peak Stuff and Peak Car. I’ve also spoken about the oil price, wild fires, solar impulse 2 - the electric aircraft - and Sir David Mackay. We lost Sir David Mackay, scientist and author of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, at the age of only 49. What would he have said about Global Temperatures, Fracking, Marine pollution and Underwater kites for generating electricity? And what do you think about helium, tar sands, HFCs and Donald Trump? About geoengineering, geothermal, grass mills and the sale of the National Grid?

It’s all there and more.

The next Sustainable Futures Report is scheduled for Friday 6th January, so nothing more in 2016. This gives you plenty of time to mull over what I’ve published this year. In 2017 I have interviews with Clive Wilson on the Sustainable Development Goals and with Martin Baxter on the impact of Brexit on environmental regulations. Following the success of the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange I’m planning an event for 2017 on Smart Cities. I’m also going to review the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group idea.

This has been the Sustainable Futures Report, with me, Anthony Day and brought to you as always without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. That’s Anthony Day and you can find me via

I’m off for my Christmas Break. Have a good one. See you next year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How Safe is your Data?

Published as a podcast at

Hello, it’s Friday again. 

It’s the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 16th December and I’m Anthony Day.

This week I bring you information about smart cities and cybercrime, (How safe is your data?) about Britain in a spat with the EU - no, nothing to do with Brexit - grass mills from Ecotricity, the sale of the National Grid to foreign stakeholders (well, part of it, anyway), new terrorists on the block, how the contribution of wind to reducing carbon emissions has been underestimated in England and how the growth of methane emissions is worrying climate scientists.

But first, there’s been a lot of feedback to last week’s item about electric, hydrogen and self-drive cars. Opinion was quite widely divided. Phil Durrant joined many others in pointing out that hydrogen is highly flammable and explosive with very low ignition energy. Someone even said that if there was a hydrogen leak in your garage a static spark from your pullover would be enough to set it off and the explosion would take out your house and the ones either side. Phil also said that mining for rare earth metals is a highly polluting process, and rare earth metals are essential for wind turbines and for high-performance electric motors in electric - and hydrogen - cars. Michael J says he still doesn’t get the idea of self-drive cars but others loved the idea and said they couldn’t wait. David Abbot came up with a number of points.

“A driverless car doesn’t even need a passenger. You can imagine manufacturers providing remote access via something like an app so that you can call your car if it is parked somewhere else or send your car to a family member.

If that’s true, what does it mean for long term airport parking? It would be cheaper to simply send the car home to park in the drive, and tell it to come and meet you at a predetermined time.

Also, what does it mean for city centre parking and congestion? It will be cheaper to simply tell the car to go round the block a few times until you are ready to use it again, but if all currently parked cars start circulating on the roads it will create a lot of congestion. Of course this problem goes away if people rent car time instead of owning cars, but I bet a lot of people don’t want to give up on the idea of ownership.”

Thanks for all your ideas. Please keep your feedback coming, to

Smart Cities 

I recently attended a presentation on Smart Cities organised by Women in Sustainable Construction and Property,,  supported by IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment,, and hosted by aql,,  a communications company which seeks to enable smart cities by powering a connected society. 
Speaker Brian Ablett, one of the few Chartered Surveyors working on smart cities, explained how the concept could be seen 5,000 years ago. Sumerian cities of that time contained up to 50,000 people, and the successful management of such communities would have depended on the successful management of information and data. It would have needed writing. The sophistication of that society was evidenced by the highly accurate astronomical observations that were made. Evidence has shown that a similarly advanced society could have existed on Orkney at the same time.

Much more recently the British Empire managed data with its network of undersea cables connecting its furthest outposts. An early example of disruptive innovation as messages which had to be sent to Australia by sea and took 12 weeks could now be sent by cable in six hours.

Today, the digital revolution (excuse my cliché) represents a step change (another cliché) in how we handle data. Robotics and digitisation help us to respond specifically to need, investing resources where they are most required. Network Rail (if it continues to exist after last week’s announcements) plans to implement a data-led approach which will increase capacity by 40%. Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is offering grants for installing satellite capability into farm tractors. Why? Because topsoil is one of our most precious and endangered resources. (Some say that we have a capacity for only another 60 harvests before it’s all gone, but that’s another story.) In the meantime, accurately tracking the position of the tractor and sampling the soil every metre or so means that each part of the field can receive exactly the amount of fertiliser or soil conditioner it needs to maximise yield and minimise waste. Brian talked about transponders in cows. Well, we already have chips in pets. A chip in a cow identifies the cow as it enters the milking parlour, monitors its milk yield and adjusts its diet accordingly. It can record how many calves it’s had and keep its complete medical history.

The Internet of Things is a popular concept though possibly not well understood. More and more things have an internet presence, from CCTV cameras to photocopiers to smart watches to smart meters to smart thermostats to connected cars and now even cows. Networking becomes ubiquitous, but Brian asks, “for whom?” There is no code of ethics on the internet. We need to urgently address the question, “who’s exploiting whom?”  

Incidentally, the ethics question has been highlighted this week by reports that far-right organisations are gaming Google’s algorithms to get front-page listing. Of course, everyone’s been doing search engine optimisation for years. However, if you type in “Did the Holocaust…” the top result is “Top10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen” and there are several similar results on the front page. The world’s most popular, and arguably most influential, research tool is being manipulated to present misleading data with undue prominence.


At first sight I didn’t see the relevance of cyber-crime to smart cities but when an entity is dependent on the management of data the security of that data against loss, theft, corruption or misuse is crucial. 

Stuart Hyde of the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP) and Helen Gibson of the Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC) filled in the detail.

Apparently one in three users don’t bother with a password on their phone, and you probably already know that the most popular computer password is ‘password’, closely followed by 12345678. Globally last year 348m identities were exposed and 594m people were affected by cybercrime. There are a million web attacks each day and ransomware has grown by 35%. Ransomware? That’s when you suddenly get a message that all the files on your system, including any on media attached to USB ports, have been encrypted. You are then invited to pay for a password to unlock them. Apparently several NHS Trusts have been attacked in this way. You have to wonder about people, don’t you?

We have already seen that the Internet of Things is rapidly moving towards the Internet of Everything. Only last week you may have read about the new Amazon grocery store. You go in and as you take things off the shelves the system recognises what they are and as you leave the store payment is taken automatically via the phone in your pocket. No human intervention, no double handling of goods at the checkout. There is no checkout. Not one you can see, anyway. I also heard about rugby players with wearable tech. The sensors in their kit record how fast they’ve run, how far they’ve run and how hard they’ve collided with other players. Could be great for personal liability lawyers!

Stuart told us that we are rapidly approaching a level of six smart devices per person. Anything, he said, that could be connected to the internet could be hacked. Every connected item creates a vulnerability. Denial of Service attacks cause targeted websites to collapse by overwhelming them with data or requests. Many computers, perhaps even yours, have a programme running in the background which users know nothing about. It’s usually installed when the user clicks on a link in a spam email, though they don’t realise that it’s happened. The app is controlled remotely and instructs the computer to contact a target site over and over again. Multiply this by the thousands of infected machines and the volume of data is soon more than the target can cope with. Every item on the Internet of Things sends data back to its host. These devices - including photocopiers, CCTV cameras, presumably even connected cows - can be hacked and commanded to send data to the target site as well, reinforcing the attack. Such devices may have passwords, but all too often they are left at the factory default.

Other weaknesses rely on the human element. So much data is shared on social media that makes it easy for identity to be stolen or for people to build friendships for dishonest purposes. Befriend - engage - gain confidence - request - request fulfilled - person disappears, usually with a large chunk of your money. In other cases people are led to defraud their organisations and threatened with exposure unless they do it again and again to pay off what’s effectively blackmail.

The cost of internet fraud has been estimated at $388bn. Of course the biggest hits are taken by the corporates and there are many rumours that the banks and other organisations never admit the full extent of their losses because they cannot afford the damage to their reputations or to lose the confidence of consumers. Only this week Yahoo admitted that it had been hacked back in 2013. Stuart told us that not enough organisations are testing and running exercises to close loopholes and limit damage if cyber attacks occur. He quoted TalkTalk, the phone company, which was fined £400,000 in October for losing 156,000 customer records to hackers. They were clearly not ready to respond to the attack, and their PR and attempts to restore customer confidence were remarkably weak. Do you remember the interviews on the news? TalkTalk’s profits were cut in half, although CEO Dido Harding’s total income rose to £2.8 million in 2015, up from just over £1 million the year before. There must be some logic there somewhere.

Fortunately we’re not alone. Stuart told us about the National Cyber Security Centre, with its aim to defend, deter and develop ever stronger defences. It runs the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP). “CiSP is a joint industry and government initiative set up to exchange cyber threat information in real time, in a secure, confidential and dynamic environment, increasing situational awareness and reducing the impact on UK business.” Any organisation can join CiSP, which provides: 
engagement with industry and government counterparts in a secure environment
early warning of cyber threats
ability to learn from experiences, mistakes, successes of other users and seek advice
an improved ability to protect their company network
access to free network monitoring reports tailored to your organisations’ requirements

There’s also a wealth of information, for both personal and corporate users, at

Clean Air

And now, some more about clean air. Sky News 
reports that the UK is at odds with the EU, and this is because like six other member states the UK has not taken action against VW for falsifying the results of emissions tests on its cars.

The UK is bringing in "real world tests" for emissions next year because laboratory procedures fail to give an on-the-road measure of fuel economy and exhaust levels.

The Department for Transport said in April that none of the 37 top-selling diesel vehicles met legal limits when tested on the road.

It’s not clear why the government is not taking any action over this, especially as it has recently been directed by the courts to take action to improve air quality. Surely getting compensation for consumers from a foreign car manufacturer must be a vote-winner, if nothing else. Nevertheless, while tougher laws in the US have so far secured financial commitments from VW topping $15bn, the company has consistently refused to pay compensation to owners in the EU - 1.2 million of them in the UK alone.
It has promised fixes for all vehicles by late next year, but consumer groups argue that is pitiful when re-sell valuations and other factors are taken into account.

It also makes me wonder about the very narrow perspective that government advisors, or perhaps ministers, must have - and this is an international problem, not limited at all to the UK. For example, CFCs were found to be damaging the ozone layer so they were banned and replaced with HFCs. HFCs are now banned because it’s been recognised that while they don’t damage the ozone layer they are thousands of times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Why didn’t anybody spot that? Diesel cars were promoted, by governments as much as manufacturers, because they can produce less CO2 than petrol cars. But it was well known that they produce nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, and PM10s, microscopic soot particles which cause lung damage. I can’t see any logic in these oversights.

Let’s step away from diesel into the world of clean energy. 


Ecotricity announces its intention to build a national network of Grassmills.

This is their special name for anaerobic digesters. The plan is to feed these units with grass grown on marginal land, land formerly used for livestock, or grown as part of a crop rotation. They produce methane which can be fed into the gas grid and used like any other natural gas. The residue from the digestion process is returned to the land as a soil conditioner. Ecotricity claim that by 2035 they could produce enough green gas to meet 66% of the nation’s domestic and commercial demand for gas.

Unsurprisingly, the organisation is not in favour of fracking. Among other sites, it has applied for permission to build Grassmills at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in Lancashire, sites where the government has approved fracking in spite of strong local opposition. It will be very interesting to see whether the locals support the Grassmills, or whether they are simply opposed to any sort of industrialisation near their homes.

Ecotricity has launched a petition to the Prime Minister, asking her to support green gas over fracking. If you want to add your voice go to or find the campaign for green gas on the Ecotricity website. 

The Methane Problem

It’s often difficult to remember that CO2, carbon dioxide, is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane, for example has 23 times the warming effect of CO2. In this month’s Environmental Research Letters, the authors report that unlike CO2, atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than at any time in the past two decades and, since 2014, are now approaching the most greenhouse-gas-intensive scenarios. The reasons for this renewed growth are still unclear, primarily because of uncertainties in the global methane budget. New analysis suggests that the recent rapid rise in global methane concentrations is predominantly biogenic-most likely from agriculture-with smaller contributions from fossil fuel use and possibly wetlands. Additional attention is urgently needed, they say, to quantify and reduce methane emissions. Methane mitigation offers rapid climate benefits and economic, health and agricultural co-benefits that are highly complementary to CO2 mitigation.

There’s a summary of the paper on the website with an excellent graphic from the Global Carbon Project of Future Earth. It shows how agriculture and waste are the largest man-made sources of methane emissions and account for 34% of total emissions. A very significant component of agricultural emissions is methane from burping cows and sheep, as mentioned in a previous episode. As I reported, Dutch scientists are working on a new type of grass to reduce flatulence and apparently linseed oil added to the diet has a good effect as well. The other major source of agricultural emissions is paddy fields. Given the vast numbers of people who like to eat rice and the others who enjoy consuming meat and dairy products, changing things looks like a challenge, but according to the graphic, methane emissions exceed methane absorption by less than 2%. Some people say that while methane has 23 times the effect of CO2 it’s not that bad because it only lasts in the atmosphere for about 10 years, whereas CO2 can persist for centuries. 

Yes, but we need to turn things round in a lot less than 10 years!  

Gates Champions Clean Energy

Bill Gates is in the news this week, leading a consortium to develop clean energy. He’s joined by Jeff Bezos, George Soros, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan and a dozen or so other entrepreneurs and investors. Together they have set up  
Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1billion fund working with the University of California and others to develop new energy technologies. “Our goal,” says Gates, “is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.”

The investment approach of the new venture is meant to be both broad and scientific and it will last for 20 years, helping start-ups in the earliest stages of development as well as companies already at the commercialisation stage, across energy sectors including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial system use, agriculture, and energy system efficiency. This could be seen to be a bold move, given the strong climate-sceptic noises coming out of the Trump transition team. Still, if it didn’t make sense, and above all business sense, these entrepreneurs would not be involved. My only question is, will $1billion be enough?

More at (Yes, it’s one of those new domains.)

Wind Power

They’re getting the wind up about renewables at Edinburgh University. They are concerned that the contribution of wind power in terms of both energy and carbon savings has not been accurately reported. Over the  6 years from 2008 to 2014, energy generated from wind in the UK has saved some 36m tonnes of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to taking 2.3m cars off the road. Engineers from the University have suggested that government estimates have been underestimating the carbon savings of wind farms in Britain by more than 3m tonnes over the period. Using real output figures from the National Grid, the researchers believe that they have created a comprehensive picture of energy demand from various sources.

They suggested that the data should lead to greater investment into wind energy, to enable the Scottish and UK Governments to meet carbon emission reduction targets. Scotland has been leading the charge on this front, with wind farms managing to generate 100% of the country’s energy demand for two full days in September this year.

Currently, the UK is not even halfway towards achieving the target of 12% of energy needs for heat generation coming from renewable sources, while the proportion of renewable energy used in transport has fallen, from 4.9% to 4.2% over the past year.

Selling Off the Grid

Some people are not altogether happy that the UK’s infrastructure should be in private hands. They believe that critical services like electricity and gas, water, the railways and of course the National Health Service, should always be in public ownership. They will therefore be less than delighted to learn this week that a 61% stake - a controlling interest - of the UK Gas Distribution business of National Grid, has been sold to a consortium. A consortium led by Macquarie, the Australian investment bank and the China Investment Corporation.

Fracking as Terrorism

And finally, are you a terrorist? You are if you protest against fracking. Especially if you protest in Yorkshire, because this week City of York Council named campaigners on a list of "key risks to York" alongside Islamic terrorists and right-wing activists. The BBC reported: ‘According to to council documents: "The Counter Terrorism Local Profile for York and North Yorkshire highlights the key risks to York as evidence of activity relating to Syria, presence of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), Anti Israeli/pro Palestinian activity, Hunt saboteurs, animal rights, anti-fracking and extreme right wing activity.”’ 

However anti-fracking protesters "are not seen as a terrorist threat", according to North Yorkshire Police.

So that’s all right then. Or is it? In fact, according to the i newspaper, other councils, schools and a police force have listed anti-fracking campaigns in documents about the Prevent programme, which is part of the national counter-terrorism strategy.

Read more at:

The government’s Prevent Strategy states:

“…It is [therefore] vital that our counter-terrorism strategy contains a plan to prevent radicalisation and stop would-be terrorists from committing mass murder. Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the threat from Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism is not.” 

It sets out three objectives:

respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it; 
prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and 
  • work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation which we need to address. 

All in all, nothing whatever to do with fracking or for that matter with hunting. Sounds like an excuse for stifling free speech, and the government is already facing a legal challenge on that point. Fortunately the Home Office has issued a statement: “Prevent is about safeguarding people at risk of being drawn into terrorism – support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability.”

That's it!

That’s it for the penultimate Sustainable Futures Report of 2016. Next time  there will be a review of the 38 episodes and 100,000 words that I’ve published this year.
Yes, this is Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report, part of the Better World Podcast Collective and brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and you can find me via

For now, until next week’s Sustainable Futures Report, have a good week, get all that Christmas shopping done, and goodbye.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hydrogen Futures?

Find the podcast at from Friday 9th December

A special welcome to listeners in the US, and to the increasing number of listeners in France, Canada, Australia and Mexico. 

This week, a detailed look at the future of transport and sustainable transport in particular. News from OPEC and will they really drive the price of oil up? And while they are all pumping out the black stuff - less of it than before - the Chinese are digging out more of their black stuff - coal. The winter outlook for electricity supplies, is it as rosy as we thought? Some commentators predict that the UK and France could be in for a shock if it gets really cold in January. 

The Question 

First, sustainable transport. A friend of mine - let’s call him Michael J for the sake of argument - recently posted the following on social media and raised a lot of important questions.

“I believe I'm reasonably intelligent,” he says, “but there are two related issues that are troubling me.

“I'm a car driver, I love driving simply for the pleasure of driving and I love my cars - hence my classic Sunbeam Alpine. But I don't understand the following:

“First. I don't get driverless cars. I love the thrill of driving and the freedom to go where I want. If I want to be driven I either ask my partner to drive, use a coach or use the train. So why are we investing so much money in something that already exists namely the bus, the coach or the train? Those who think it is the future aren't real drivers.

“Second. Why are we investing so much in one future technology and not another? I mean electric cars and not hydrogen fuelled. Both cut emissions but one is environmentally unfriendly in the production of the batteries. Plus you can get a couple of hundred miles and then wait hours to recharge the batteries. The other is environmentally friendly…and you can refill in a few minutes and be on your way.
“The first is getting billions of government support and manufacturers’ investment whilst the second is getting relatively nothing. We all know Betamax was better quality then VHS but still the wrong one won out. 
“This is a far bigger matter and I hope we don't get this one wrong.
“Just wondering!”

Driverless Cars

Let’s look first at driverless cars, or Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), Michael. The big difference from buses, coaches and trains is that driverless cars will take you from door to door, not just from a station or stop somewhere near your start point to a station fairly near your destination. HS2, the planned high speed line from London to the Midlands and the North, is likely to be built in long straight lines to permit very high speeds. In some places this means that the stations will be built away from the cities they serve, so the time saved on the train will be offset by the need to change to another mode of transport to complete the journey to the final destination. I’ve even heard it suggested that AVs will make HS2 obsolete. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would certainly expect them to offer stiff competition to conventional buses, trains and coaches.

There are many other aspects to AVs, in terms of safety, availability, efficiency and privacy. I don’t think it will be long before AVs will be the only vehicles permitted into urban areas. People who live out in the country will either have to change vehicles at the edge of the city or to use cars with a dual driver/driverless capability. Driverless mode will be automatically switched on in urban areas. All new Tesla cars are now fitted with the hardware needed for driverless operation. Safety is a major advantage of AVs. Over 90% of accidents are currently caused by human error. With AVs the number of accidents is expected to fall by over 90%, and insurance premiums will drop dramatically as well. There is a current press campaign to increase the sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving or by using their mobile phones while driving. With AVs there will be no more boy racers in the wrong place and no more police pursuits. It will be perfectly acceptable to use the phone, play games, watch TV or just doze off on the way to work.  

AV availability means that you could use the car even after a heavy night out with lots to drink. It will just take you home. An AV could be used for the school run, carrying unaccompanied children. Of course there would need to be some contact with a control room for safety’s sake and some people will have a problem with the idea that someone will always know where you are and where you’ve been. However, with automatic numberplate recognition and more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other country in the world, we’re already well down that road in the UK.

Another aspect of availability raises the question of whether you need to own a car at all. In Europe the average car is parked and idle for over 90% of its life. A single car in a car club can meet the needs of 60 people. Yes, but if you join a car club do you want to walk in the rain to a collection point instead of stepping into your own car just outside your front door? But taxi firm Uber is investing heavily in robotics research. In the age of the driverless car you’ll just call up a vehicle on your smartphone and it will roll up at your door like a taxi, but without the taxi driver. And when you get to your destination you won’t have to park it. In cities a significant amount of congestion (and pollution) is caused by cars trying to find a parking space.

AVs will be efficient. They will all be part of a network and will all accelerate and slow down together with no risk of collision. Avoiding harsh braking and acceleration will reduce energy consumption and wear on tyres and brakes. Traffic lights will be unnecessary, because every car will “know” where every other car is going.

The driverless future is exciting - and total anathema for petrolheads. Invest in racetracks.

Electric or Hydrogen?

The other point that Michael raised was why electric cars and not hydrogen cars? Incidentally I don’t think it’s the government, certainly not the UK government, that’s funding research into either of these.

Several companies already have hydrogen fuel cell cars - including the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell, Honda FCX Clarity, Hyundai ix35 FCEV and Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell. In the UK you can buy a Toyota Mirai. It’s about the size of a Ford Mondeo, has a range of over 300 miles and can be refuelled in 5 minutes. Like all electric cars, because the hydrogen fuel cell drives an electric motor, maximum torque is available from rest, so its acceleration beats almost anything else on the road. In operation it is totally clean. The only emission is pure water. 

At the moment there are only eight hydrogen filling stations in the UK and if you run out of fuel you can’t top up from a jerrycan at the side of the road. The tank has to be filled at high pressure. The Toyota Mirai costs £66,000. Yes, of course this would come down if the car were mass produced, but there are a number of other problems with Hydrogen.

First, 95% of hydrogen is currently manufactured from methane, natural gas. The principal by-product is carbon dioxide, so while the process is cleaner than a diesel car it’s about as polluting as a petrol car. Hydrogen can be created by electrolysis, by passing a current through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. It’s a very clean process but not very efficient as a significant proportion of the energy goes into waste heat. This is not a problem if you are using surplus electricity from a wind farm or solar array. Hydrogen is seen as a useful medium for storing renewable energy, and the inefficiency of the process doesn’t matter given that wind and sunshine are free. On the other hand, using electricity from coal-fired or gas-fired power stations for electrolysis makes the hydrogen expensive and creates CO2 emissions at the power station.

Hydrogen can be transported from the point of generation to filling stations by road or by pipeline. The pipelines typically need to be 50% larger than natural gas pipelines to allow an equivalent calorific value of the gas to be transported at safe pressure. Road tankers for hydrogen are also very different from oil tankers because of the high pressure involved. An alternative under consideration is for each filling station to produce its own hydrogen locally, from natural gas, petrol or some other hydrocarbon. This means that the source chemical - methane or petrol or whatever - will have to be delivered to each site, together with enough energy to power the conversion process. And what about the carbon dioxide (CO2) byproduct? Will that be stored on site and then collected and taken away? Carbon capture and storage has been promised for years but no-one has yet made it work on a commercial scale. If you take all these issues into account it makes sense to consider the alternatives.

Michael is very dismissive of electric cars because for one thing he says that they are “environmentally unfriendly in the production of batteries.” I’ll give you that one, Michael, until I have time to research the life-cycle of batteries. Don’t forget that hydrogen cars also have batteries - presumably smaller than electric cars but about the same as petrol hybrids. They are used to store the energy from regenerative braking and freewheeling. They also cope with the varying demand for power as the car is driving around, as the fuel cell will produce electricity at a constant rate. 

“You can get a couple of hundred miles [with an electric car] and then wait hours to recharge the batteries,” he says, "hydrogen is environmentally friendly…and you can refill in a few minutes and be on your way.”  Actually most electric cars still struggle to give you much over 100 miles. The BMW i3 is even available with an optional range extender, a motor-bike engine in the back to charge up the battery if you run out. However, although it will take all night to recharge an electric car from a domestic socket, electric car drivers tell me that fast chargers put back 80% in about 20 minutes. The Tesla Model S has a range of over 300 miles and its new compact model will have a range of over 200 miles. This won’t be enough for everyone, but even a 100-mile range is enough for the vast majority of daily commutes. And yes, a hydrogen car is environmentally friendly in use, but as we’ve seen, hydrogen production has the carbon footprint.

BBC Top Gear reports: “Four car industry giants, BMW, Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen Group, have confirmed that they are joining forces to deliver a fast-charging network for electric vehicles across Europe.
“The quartet is forming a joint venture to build a network said to total around 1,000 charging points, sited on major routes all across Europe. The statement talks of power levels ‘up to 350 kW’, which is significantly faster than anything currently available. Around 400 ultra-fast charging sites are planned initially, and the network will be based on the Combined Charging System (CCS), which suggests that this solution will become the industry standard going forward.

“The goal is to enable long-distance travel through open-network charging stations along highways and major thoroughfares, which has not been feasible for most BEV (battery electric vehicles) to date,” the jointly issued statement says. “The charging experience is expected to evolve to be as convenient as refuelling at conventional gas stations.”

Daimler has announced it will be building a €500 million battery factory in Germany, and I’ve heard that it will be marketing a domestic storage battery in the US. Sounds like it’s running to catch up with Elon Musk and Tesla.

Both BMW and Daimler have hydrogen vehicles, but maybe deep down they really believe that the future is electric.

Clean Air

Anything other than diesel, anyway, to improve our air quality. Greenpeace is on the case with a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May. 

Air pollution isn’t just dirty,” they say. “It is poisonous. Diesel cars produce Nitrogen Dioxide, one of the most toxic air pollutants in cities.
“4 out of 5 new diesel cars will be pumping out dangerous levels of Nitrogen Dioxide - some 15 times over the legal limit.
“UK’s High Court found the government guilty of underestimating how much diesel cars will worsen the pollution in our air.
“Alarming levels of toxicity in the air in the UK causes 40,000 deaths each year. Yet, the government continues to support dirty diesel despite the fact that safer and greener technologies are available.
“Sign the petition to tell Theresa May to cut diesel emissions - ban any new diesel cars from coming onto our roads and accelerate the shift to cleaner, greener road transport.”

Go to if you’d like to sign.

Ford doesn’t make cars in the UK any more, but it does build diesel engines. Bad news for Dagenham.

In addition to Barcelona that I mentioned the other day, now four more cities, meeting at the C40 Conference of Mayors in Mexico, have announced restrictions on diesel cars. Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City will all exclude diesel vehicles by 2025.

In the UK NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, has just opened a consultation on air quality. They urge drivers to drive as smoothly as possible and even recommend that speed bumps should be removed to make this easier. Bad air kills 25,000 people prematurely in England (the Greenpeace 40,000 figure was for the UK) and people should avoid sitting in rooms close to busy roads. If you would like to take part in the consultation go to 

Outlook for oil - and coal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC are still pumping oil, although less of it than before. For months they have been keeping production up in an attempt to keep the oil price down. They wanted to push it down to bankrupt the US shale oil producers and protect their own market share. It’s not really worked, and the low price has reduced their revenues. Saudi is particularly embarrassed and has had to spend from reserves. It’s a one-product state and without oil  revenues has virtually nothing. OPEC agreed last week, supported by non-OPEC producer Russia, to cut production. Cutting production is designed to push prices back up, hopefully to at least $60/barrel, and as of 8th December Brent Crude was trading around $53. The one-year forecast is $57. The key question is whether the OPEC agreement will hold. The temptation is for one or more of the 13 OPEC partners to increase production at the high price to try and boost revenues. If too many do this the price will fall back. Industry insiders believe that this is indeed what will happen. 

While OPEC produces oil, China is digging coal. Last week China was praised for holding to its commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement in the face of scepticism from the new US administration. This week the Seattle Times reports that 

China is scrambling to mine and burn more coal.

A lack of stockpiles and worries about electricity blackouts are spurring Chinese officials to reverse curbs that once helped reduce coal production. Mines are reopening. Miners are being lured back with larger paychecks - up as much as 50% this year. But maybe even that won’t be enough after last Saturday’s disaster which killed 32 miners. That’s in addition to the 21 who died in another mine last Tuesday and the 33 who died in yet another mine on 31st October. Disregard for safety standards appears to be widespread across Chinese industry. It’s the Chinese, of course, who will be building the UK’s next generation of nuclear power stations.

China’s response to coal scarcity shows how hard it will be to wean the country off coal. That makes it harder for China and the world to meet emissions targets, as Chinese coal is the world’s largest single source of carbon emissions from human activities.

Winter Outlook

Talking of electricity blackouts, there’s an update on the Winter Outlook. The latest report comes from ENTSOE, The European network of transmission system operators for electricity. They warn that while Europe in general is in a secure position, both the UK and France will be vulnerable to cold weather in December and January. According to Bloomberg,, temperatures falling to 1.5℃ on 8th December would be critical for the UK. Although we had frosts earlier in the week, 8th December saw an unseasonable 14℃ and temperatures were not expected to fall below 12℃ overnight. Still plenty of time for a cold snap before the end of January. The UK relies on imported electricity to deal with short-term winter peaks, much of it coming via the interconnector under the Channel from France. France has its own problems. I’ve mentioned the proposed Hinkley C nuclear station many times over the last year, and the station under construction at Flamanville in Normandy which uses the same design. Construction is held up there while the French Nuclear Inspectorate examines the integrity of the castings of the reactor vessel. Since they were made by the same foundry, there are also doubts about the integrity of the reactor vessels in many of France’s operational nuclear stations. They are being taken off line for extended maintenance, reducing the nation’s generating capacity and reducing the surplus available for export to the UK. France will make up its shortfall by importing electricity from neighbouring countries and will be able to pass some on to the UK. ETSOE believes that in normal and severe conditions Europe should be able to cover demand. Short-term wholesale electricity prices are nevertheless reaching record levels.

That’s it for this week. We’re already up to 22 minutes, so I’ve had to hold over the item on Smart Cities and cybercrime but I’ll cover that next time. I’m off now to interview Clive Wilson about the Sustainable Development Goals.

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