Thursday, November 24, 2016

Beavering away!

Published as a podcast at on Friday 25th November.

The Sustainable Futures Report is a member of the Better World Podcast Collective at    

Hello and welcome to another Sustainable Futures Report. Yes it’s Friday 25th November and this is Anthony Day. Only four more pods until Christmas and the episode for 23rd December will have to keep you going until 6th January. In the last report for the year I’ll be looking back at the topics covered in 2016’s 37 episodes.

In the meantime, though, the message from Marrakech; Trump, the climate and the moon; is this wet week the time to look at natural flood defences, even bringing in beavers to dam the flow, or should we get a new roof from Elon Musk? Here in the UK the chancellor has just delivered his autumn financial statement - was there anything in it for sustainability? The question on everyone’s lips this week has been “Can you trust the news?” When it comes from the Sustainable Futures Report of course you can! And some bright spark has the answer to storing electricity.

Trump, Climate Change and COP22

As you know, President-elect Donald Trump is a climate change sceptic and has said that he would repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris Agreement to limit climate change. The question was whether this would lead to the collapse of the agreement if the USA, the world’s second biggest polluter, decided not to take part. Last week I suggested that China and India and the rest of the world would still go ahead and it seems I was right. The news from COP22 in Marrakech, the latest UN ClimateChange conference, is good. China said that the global trend was irreversible while Russia committed to respect the treaty regardless of what others decided. No major country disagreed and the German State Secretary at the Environment Ministry announced that the whole of Germany would be fully renewable by 2050. Well, I say the news was good, but not everyone was happy. Campaign organisations including Oxfam were disappointed at the lack of financial commitment. Part of the Paris Agreement committed the richer nations to provide $100bn to help developing nations meet their climate targets, but campaigners complained that any excuse was made to delay, reduce or defer the payments. 

COP22 saw the launch of a new initiative, the “2050 pathways platform”. According to the UN Climate Change Newsroom, “The 2050 pathways platform will support countries… seeking to develop long-term deep decarbonisation strategies, including through the sharing of resources (including finance, capacity building), knowledge and experiences. It will also build a broader constellation of cities, states, and companies engaged in long-term low-emissions planning of their own, and in support of the national strategies. Essentially, it will be a space for collective problem-solving.”

Already, 22 countries, including both the US (for the moment) and the UK, have started or are about to start the process of preparing a 2050 pathway. 15 cities, 17 states, and 196 businesses have joined the 2050 pathways platform. Many others are expected to join. Let’s hope these financial commitments are met. 

So will the world go ahead without Trump’s America, or will he row back on his commitment to get out of COP21? He is very unlikely to release funds to help developing countries with climate change. He can block the Paris Agreement by cutting environmental  legislation like the Clean Power Plan, which he’s already committed to do. He has put a coal industry executive in charge of the energy department and he plans to lift restrictions on coal and to allow drilling to take place almost anywhere, both onshore and offshore. One saving grace is that at present natural gas is cheaper in the States than coal, so price will not drive generators to use more coal. Even so, a major nation which persists with fossil fuels will add a significant amount to atmospheric CO2, making it more difficult for the other nations to reduce the global total.

On the other hand more than 360 businesses have written an open letter this week to Donald Trump, President Obama, members of Congress and all the delegates to COP22, calling on them to continue U.S. participation in the Paris agreement. The signatories include DuPont, eBay, Nike, Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co. and Hilton as well as Starbucks, General Mills and Hewlett Packard. But not Amazon, Google, General Motors or Ford. Or any coal companies that I could spot.

The letter says: “We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy”

We call on our elected US leaders to strongly support:

  • Continuation of low-carbon policies…
  • Investment in the low carbon economy… 
  • Continued US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement…

“Implementing the Paris Agreement,” they say, “will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.”

Is Donald Trump determined to remain the only head of state in the entire world to reject the scientific consensus that mankind is driving climate change? I hope he doesn’t ask his friend Nigel, because I believe he’s a climate denier as well. And one of Donald’s advisors has suggested that any money earmarked for environmental programmes should be spent on travelling to the moon instead.

Find the full text of the letter at 

But hang on! Apparently Donald Trump has just said, in a conversation with journalists from the New York Times, that he’s rethought the matter. Asked if he thought human activity was linked to climate change he responded: “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.” He also said he would keep an open mind on whether he would pull the US out of the Paris climate change deal. Of course that doesn’t change the fact that he’s packed his administration with climate-change deniers.

Flooded Out

Here comes winter! Not many frosts so far in the UK but a lot of rain. Too much rain. People waking up to find their cars under water and water seeping into their homes. Trains cancelled because the ballast has been washed away from under the tracks. This time it wasn’t so much the North of England that got the floods, it was the South and South West. Even London got a lot of rain, so it really made the headlines! By the way, many of the people flooded out in the North last Christmas are still not back in their homes. Floodwater comes up and down in a few days, but the consequences take months to sort out.

These latest floods have been caused by exceptionally heavy rain. When it falls all at once, rivers, watercourses and drains cannot cope. The water builds up, spreads out and invades streets and all types of buildings. We’ve seen in the past that it can overwhelm electricity substations and telephone exchanges with widespread consequences. What’s to be done? “Dredging!” shout the correspondents to the popular press. That’s not really the answer. If the flow is 10 times normal, do we make the river 10 times as deep? Either you wouldn’t see it for most of the year, or the sea would flood in and fill it all up. And then it would silt up again. Flood barriers have an effect, but a major effect is to speed the water to flood someone else further downstream. They can also look unsightly and block the view of the river. Much of the solution to flooding depends on the management of the catchment area of each river. If the water in the tributaries can be slowed done so it takes longer to reach the main stream, then the size of the maximum flow further down can be reduced. Ideally the water should be held back at source for as long as possible before it enters any part of the watercourse. This can be achieved with natural flood control. Both Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, and Floods Minister, Thérèse Coffey, have both recently supported the approach, but the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently told Friends of the Earth (FoE) that “there is no funding earmarked specifically for natural flood management”.

Pickering in North Yorkshire suffered perennial floods until natural flood management was introduced. Now it’s a whole lot drier. The scheme consists of a range of land management measures way beyond the town up towards the sources of Pickering Beck and the River Seven. First, bunds have been built to hold back flood water in slow-release ponds. Trees have been planted along river banks and in flood plains. Rough dams of tree branches have been installed to slow the water but let it gradually percolate through. These are the sort of dams that beavers build and I read that beavers are being introduced into England, though not as far as I know into Yorkshire yet. A significant contribution to river flow has been from channels dug to drain moorland. Many of these have been blocked which cuts off the water but also re-wets the peat. This is important because peat is a major long-term store of CO2, and if it dries out it crumbles and just blows away. Controlled burning is an established method of managing moorland and in future landowners will avoid burning right up to river banks, because water runs straight off burnt areas with no vegetation to hold it back.

Natural flood management can protect urban areas from flooding rivers, but with intense rainfall floods can be generated locally. Cities are full of flat surfaces - roofs, streets, carparks and so on which do nothing to hold back the water. A downpour can overwhelm the drains and cause localised flooding. What to do? If every building had a water-butt, the time taken to fill it would buffer the flow. The problem is making sure it’s empty before each storm. You could encourage the installation of green roofs - roofs covered with plants which trap the rain and also insulate the building below. The trouble is that you can’t have both a green roof and solar panels. Another solution is catchment ponds, but the problem in urban areas is finding space to put them. 

New Roof? Outlook Sunny

Whatever happens, make sure your roof is watertight. From next year, in the US at least, you’ll be able to buy roof tiles from Tesla, the electric car and storage battery company. CEO Elon Musk told the Tesla directors that these new tiles, which incorporate solar panels, would be cheaper than conventional tiles even without taking the value of the electricity generated into account. 
In the US asphalt tiles are commonly used and these will be many times cheaper than Tesla tiles. Tesla tiles will be cheaper than slates or clay tiles, and like them will last much longer than asphalt. And they will generate electricity.

And when you have generated your electricity, what do you do with it? Well you could store it in a Tesla Powerwall, a domestic battery unit available in the UK from February 2017. Although it could make you close to self-sufficient in electricity, it’s not cheap at over £6,000 for the basic 14kWh unit. You would have to put a high price on energy security to make it worthwhile. And you might want to wait for the next development in battery technology.

Changing the Battery

An article in New Scientist magazine for 12th November explains how batteries could move forward. At present, electric cars, phones, cameras and other portable gadgets generally use lithium ion batteries. This is because they have a high energy capacity in relation to volume, which is crucial as demand rises and electronic devices get smaller. The problem is that concentrating energy in a small space needs to be very carefully done to prevent it all leaking out at once and causing a fire or explosion. Battery fires have occurred in electric cars, electric buses, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 and even Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft. Incidentally, the word is that Apple iPhones have suffered similar problems to the Note 7. The batteries are of similar design and manufactured by the same subcontractors. Maybe the American press are less keen to report on problems with American products. All I can say is that my previous iPhone occasionally got very hot indeed for no apparent reason. Fortunately it never exploded.

Another way of storing electricity is to use a capacitor. Capacitors charge and discharge far more rapidly than batteries. It’s a capacitor that powers the flash on your camera. The problem with them is that for a given size a lithium-ion battery holds 1,000 times as much energy as a traditional capacitor. Now researchers using carbon nanotubes are developing ultra-capacitors. Still not big enough - and far too expensive - to replace batteries, they could work in tandem helping to meet short term peak demand and smoothing the demand on the batteries. Smoothing demand extends battery life and using a capacitor in tandem means that a smaller battery would be needed for a given peak output. Important for electric vehicles. Working with batteries, capacitors could smooth the output from renewables, which notoriously fluctuates. The whole area of energy storage is rapidly developing, which can only be good news for renewable energy and a low carbon future.

Financial News

This week’s Autumn Financial Statement 
from the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer (that’s finance minister to those of you listening in a country without a history) had few surprises. Time was when the merest details were strictly embargoed until the chancellor rose to speak. This time the details have been steadily leaked since last weekend. The word “sustainable” appears in the official document three times; each time in the context of sustainable finances. Not much detail on energy and low carbon.
  The carbon price floor has been frozen at £18/tonne (rising with inflation in 2020/21).

A Shale Wealth Fund has been set up to provide £1 billion to communities local to shale gas projects.

The statement promised to simplify the reporting process and reduce the administrative costs of the Petroleum Revenue Tax for oil and gas companies in order to aid the North Sea industry.

Yes of course, we need more fossil fuels.

I had hoped that the infrastructure section would contain a commitment to the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, but not a word. He did promise to upgrade east-west rail links, but in the south, not the north. Is it really more important to link Oxford to Cambridge (via Milton Keynes!) than to upgrade the line from Hull to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool? Fuel duty is still frozen, to the greatest benefit of those who drive the biggest, thirstiest cars. Surely he should have started increasing duty on diesel at least, in preparation for banning diesel vehicles from city centres in an attempt to improve air quality. The city of Barcelona has already published plans to ban a million cars from its streets by 2020. 
No change to former chancellor Osborne’s realignment of company car tax, which means that from next year cars with high emissions will be treated much the same as low-emission vehicles. Short-termism and shortsightedness. No change there then.

All the news, whether fit to print or not.

“Can you trust the news?” You’ve probably heard this story already as it’s been widely reported. Americans agonising over why Hillary didn’t win are blaming Facebook and the rest of social media. False claims, like “Pope Backs Trump”, were posted and apparently many people read the headline and shared the article without reading the text or stopping to think whether it might be untrue. As a result much false information, including spoof headlines from satirical sites, went viral and was accepted by many as truth. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, dismissed the notion that Facebook could actually influence anyone’s behaviour. But as many commentators have pointed out, if that’s true why would anyone want to advertise on Facebook?

In compiling the Sustainable Futures Report I do my best to verify the information I provide. Where possible I include links to sources in the text, which you can find at

And Finally...

And finally, September was not the hottest on record. Why is that newsworthy? Well the previous 16 consecutive months were all the hottest months on record. Even without a scorching September, 2016 will be the hottest year on record, hotter even than 2015 which was hotter than 2014 and so back for 15 consecutive hottest years. 

This is Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report. Next week I shall be interviewing Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. Provided the edit goes well I’ll bring that to you next Friday 2nd December.

Until then have a good week and I’ll talk to you again next week.

Bye for now!

An Interview with Manda Scott

Hello, this is Anthony Day with the latest Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 18th November. This episode is mainly devoted to an interview with author Manda Scott, but before we go into that here’s a couple of items of news. 

You’ll remember that there’s a group of American children
alleging in court that the Federal Government is violating their constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels. The government and the fossil fuel industry urged the court to dismiss the case but the judge refused so the appeal went to the next level. Last Thursday District Court Judge Ann Aiken rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs' constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Dr. James Hansen said, "This is a critical step toward solution of the climate problem and none to soon as climate change is accelerating.”

Like the recent ruling on Article 50 and Brexit by the High Court in London, this is a legal decision, not a political decision. Therefore, in spite of President-elect Trump’s denialism, there is probably not much he can do about it.

Nonetheless, Trump has appointed a prominent climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead his transition team at EPA. Ebell, who leads the Center for Energy and Environment at the right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, has warned against climate "alarmism" and called the agency's Clean Power Plan, issued in August 2015, “illegal." Oilman Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, has been  named as a potential candidate to lead the department of energy.

We can only stand and watch.

And so to the interview. This was recorded on 4th November, before the result of the American presidential election was known. Manda Scott studied to be a vet, has become a successful historical novelist and is now taking time out to study economics for the transition. In a wide-ranging interview we spoke about compulsory voting, where the money comes from, better selection of lawmakers, reframing ideas, the end of TINA and GDP growth, political tribalism, regenerative farming, subsidising fossil fuels, the sixth mass extinction, climate change denial and supply chains.

Unfortunately there is no transcript of Manda's interview but you can listen to it at

Oh, and after the main interview she gave me a sneak preview of what her next book will be about.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

All Change

This is the text of the podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher and at 

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 11th November 2016. This is Anthony Day, and yes, the clip I played you last week was indeed of the next president of the United States. [“It’ll get a little cooler, a little warmer, like it always has for millions of years. It’ll get cooler, it will get warmer–it's called weather.”] 

This Week

This week, are we on the threshold of the greatest shake-up of environmental regulation we’ve ever seen? Last December COP21 resulted in the Paris Agreement. The United Nations now say that enough nations have ratified the agreement to make it legally binding. Legally binding on whom? Maybe we’ll learn more at COP22, which is now running in Marrakech. How are we actually going to achieve the emissions reductions that the Paris Treaty requires? Lord Stern says we’ll need net zero emissions. Does that imply geo-engineering? We’ll have a look at that. 

On the energy front, Lord Turner says that ultra-low-cost renewables are at hand and Iceland is digging deeper into its geothermal reserves.

Meanwhile the British government has responded to the court’s demand that it should do something about air quality (not quite so bad as in India) and DIF16, the latest Disruptive Innovation Festival is in progress. Finally, hear about the amazing expanding moped.

Yes, it's Trump

Yes, on the 20th of January 2017 the United States will inaugurate President Donald Trump. And what will he do then? He has already said that he will have a raft of presidential decrees which he will sign on his first day in office. There is a limit to what he can do it by presidential decree, although he can reverse decrees signed by his predecessor. Much of what he wants to do will be subject to approval by the House and the Senate, but both of those now have a Republican majority. We’ve heard that he’s a climate sceptic. We know that he plans to cut regulations on the coal industry and there’s no doubt that the House and Senate will support him on that. The United Nations announced that countries representing more than 55% of global emissions had ratified the Paris Agreement and therefore the agreement was now legally binding. It is difficult to see how this agreement will legally bind the new president of the United States. He’s said he will repudiate the Paris Agreement. He will not introduce legislation to reduce carbon emissions and he certainly will not contribute funds to poorer countries to help them meet their own climate change targets. Will China, India and the rest respect the Paris Agreement if the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases turns its back on it? Actually I think they will. Beijing’s smogs are legendary, but this week the Indian government closed schools for three days in Delhi. They closed a coal-fired power station and they told drivers to stay out of the city on alternate days, depending on whether their vehicle registration number was even or odd. They did this because the city was shrouded in thick smog which cut visibility and air pollution had reached 800 times safe levels. Action to overcome this is crucial. It is a serious health issue, particularly for young children who may never fully recover from its effects. It will take more than closing a power station for a few days or halving the level of traffic to achieve this, but whatever they do will cut down their greenhouse gas emissions.


The focus of COP22, currently in session in Marrakech, is on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. [COP22 is the 22nd Conference of the Parties within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] The objective of the Agreement was to reduce emissions to a level which would hold global temperature increases to no more than 2℃, but ideally 1.5℃. The actual commitments which delegate countries made in Paris was calculated to be insufficient, implying a rise of over 3℃ with dramatic consequences for the world.  

Negative Emissions?

Lord Stern produced his report on the economic consequences of climate change some 10 years ago. Speaking recently at the Royal Society he outlined his views on what the world should do now, starting from where it now is. Climate Change News reported the speech with the headline: “Lord Stern: we need negative emissions to avoid 2C warming”. If you read the speech in detail - and I strongly recommend that you do - you’ll find that while he did mention negative emissions he promoted zero emissions as a more realistic target. Read more here in Climate Change News: 

Here are some quotes from the speech that caught my eye:

“… if we go beyond warming of 2°C, to 3°C or more, we will create a climate that has not occurred on Earth for millions of years.
“That is far beyond the evolutionary experience of modern Homo sapiens, which has only been around for less than 250,000 years.
“Warming of 4°C or 5°C would likely be enormously destructive.”

And again,

“The milestone events of 2015 have set a new global agenda focused on three simultaneous challenges: re-igniting global growth, delivering the sustainable development goals, and driving strong action on climate change.
“At the centre of all three of these challenges lies sustainable infrastructure.
“Well-designed infrastructure can be pro-growth, pro-poor, and pro-climate.
“But it must be delivered with much greater urgency and scale.
“Delay is dangerous.”

He goes on:

“Sustainable growth requires strong investment.
If policy-makers provide clear direction for new investments, they can realise many significant benefits.
They can create new sources of economic growth, and lay the foundation for sustainable growth in the long term.
They can make our cities more resilient, more efficient, less polluted, and less congested.
They can make economic growth more inclusive growth, with for instance better access to jobs in more mobile urban populations, and more communities connected to decentralised power generation.
They can protect forests, land, ecosystems, water sources and biodiversity.”

And a telling statistic:

“The damages caused by air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels are immense, and of the order of US$3-4 trillion every year, according to an analysis published by the International Monetary Fund last year.”

There’s a lot more. Go to Climate Change News .com and read the whole thing.


Lord Stern may not have specifically promoted negative emissions, but according to Bloomberg the United Nations is actively considering geo-engineering to achieve this. 
Geo-engineering includes a range of technologies from carbon capture and storage (CCS) to mirrors in space. CCS would suck CO2 from the atmosphere, compress it and inject it into depleted oil wells where the theory is it would stay indefinitely. Mirrors in space could reflect back sunlight to reduce warming, sulphates in the upper atmosphere could generate clouds which would shade the earth and iron ore sprinkled across the oceans could stimulate organisms to grow and multiply and absorb CO2 in the process. The problem is that no-one knows with any certainty how any of these techniques will work, and what might happen if they went wrong. 

Dr. Phil Williamson of the University of East Anglia is co-author of a study released in February that concluded geo-engineering ideas were hazardous, costly or unrealistic.
“Risks of having local imbalances of climate are quite high, we’re not quite sure how it would turn out,” he said. “If you have a climate catastrophe, a flood or storm, the accusation will be that it resulted from your action in the atmosphere.”

Ecowatch  reports that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has concluded on the basis of this study that the chances of geo-engineering reducing global warming are "highly uncertain.” Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns. One report doubted that geoengineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geoengineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.

Where does that leave us? If we intend to make radical reductions to global emissions we need to decarbonise the world’s transport fleet by converting it to electricity. Shipping and aircraft will be very difficult if not impossible to convert, and converting cars and commercial vehicles will take time and massive investment. We need to decarbonise space heating both at home and in industry. We could start reducing demand with insulation and encouraging people to accept lower temperatures. We need to decarbonise electricity generation and stop using fossil fuels - coal, gas and oil - in power stations. At the same time we’ll need to expand electricity generation to meet the new demands from transport and heating. Again, it will take time and investment. The key ingredient will be political will. There may not be much of that in the US now. There seems little sign of it in the UK. And in the rest of the world?

More about Renewables

Renewable energy is a proven path to low carbon electricity. A report commissioned by the Solar Trade Association has found that the cost of backing up solar generation and integrating it into the energy system is “negligible”. As battery technology advances in terms of storage capacity and costs fall, the problem of intermittency disappears. The combination of solar arrays with battery back-up means that supply can continue when the weather is cloudy. Of course this won’t work for extended periods of low light, but it should be able to smooth output on those days when fast-moving clouds can mean that sunshine and solar energy falling on the panels can double or treble in seconds, leading to a power surge. Equally batteries could maintain a constant supply when the sun goes back behind the clouds again. It is claimed that at sufficient scale the cost of intermittency for solar generation could be negative, meaning it would actually have a net benefit for the energy system.
Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission Lord Turner said: “[The report] confirms what an increasing number of analyses are now telling us – that we can build electricity systems with high shares of renewables such as solar and wind, using lower cost batteries, other storage technologies and demand management to deal effectively with intermittent supply.
“We should not be holding back from further renewables investment out of fear that we can’t keep the lights on.”


The Energy Transitions Commission is an international organisation funded by business and industry. Commissioners from all over the world include Al Gore and economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

Thor's Hammer

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal power stations. It stands on the juncture of two tectonic plates which causes substantial volcanic activity. Up till now geothermal power has been harvested by drilling down into hot rocks, injecting water and using the steam generated. This works at around 300℃. Thor’s Hammer, or the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), aims to drill more than 4km into the earth’s crust and into the magma or molten rock which forms volcanic lava. At this depth they expect to find temperatures of 1,000℃ and at this temperature water becomes a supercritical fluid which can contain up to 10 times more heat than normal water. The plan is to pump this water to the surface and extract the heat - a not inconsiderable engineering challenge! Still, it will be renewable energy, with no carbon emissions. The population of Iceland is only 333,000, less than half the population of Leeds. There may be scope for exporting surplus electricity - indeed, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of an interconnector cable from Iceland to the UK. I wonder if Theresa May will pick it up the idea. Maybe when she’s finished sorting out Brexit. suggests that Brexit could certainly be a delaying factor.

Air Quality

And she’s also got to sort out the UK’s air quality problems. As reported previously, following action by legal pressure group ClientEarth the High Court ordered the government to take much stronger action to clamp down on the country’s air pollution crisis.  With 37 of the UK’s 43 urban zones in breach of legal nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits it’s clear that clean air zones will need to be introduced across most of the country. It seems that there will have to be much stronger action on diesel vehicles which we now know are far dirtier than we were led to believe, by VW and others. To ban private cars would be politically impossible, but expect older buses, taxis, coaches and lorries to be charged to enter city centres.

In the UK each year 96,000 people die from smoking, 3,674 from drug use, 1,732 from road accidents and 574 people are murdered. 
40,000 die from the effects of air pollution.

Read more at:

Whatever we do to meet the challenges of the future we’re going to have to think laterally, out of the box and so on. As I said in one of my presentations a while ago, business as usual is the road to ruin. The Disruptive Innovation Festival, DIF2016, is currently in progress and runs until 25th November. DIF2016 is an online, open access event that invites thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses, makers and learners to explore the question “The economy is changing - what do I need to know, experience and do?”.

Alongside the 2016 main themes – System Reset, Regenerative Cities and The Future of Work – broader themes encompassed are; Design Innovation, Systems Thinking, Sharing Economy, Internet of Things, Regenerative Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, New Business Models, Materials and Energy and 21st Century Science. The event is coordinated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and involves organisations and universities across the world. Go to and find out more about anything from the circular economy and aspiring geeks to pioneering aquaculture and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. Find all about it at 

Swansea Bay

A quick update on Swansea Bay. South Wales Evening Post reports “A LONG-AWAITED review into tidal lagoon energy has been delayed. It is due to recommend a final decision on the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and was expected to be completed this autumn.

But a Government under-secretary, MP Jesse Norman, told the House of Commons today that the final report was now due by the end of the year.” I’ll watch out for it.


Recycling cycling

Finally an interesting item in Environment Times reveals that environmental regulations have teeth. At Leeds Crown Court Terence Solomon Dugbo was jailed for defrauding the electrical waste industry of £2.2m. He claimed that his company had collected and recycled 19,500 tonnes of household electrical waste in 2011, and he prepared a vast database of falsified paperwork to prove it. It took the Environment Agency nearly a year to go through it all, finding that it referred to vehicles, properties and streets that didn't exist. One vehicle was recorded as having made a journey carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges. Further investigation revealed that this vehicle did exist, but it was a moped.

Mr Dugbo got seven and a half years.

Well, I hope you had a better week than he did. Mind you, if you’re in the US and you didn’t vote for Mr Trump maybe you don’t think so. But like us in the UK with Brexit, all you can do is roll with the punch.

And I’ll roll up again next week with another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. All being well it will be an interview, but no promises because although it’s recorded I haven’t edited it yet.

This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening, requesting your comments to, and wishing you a really good week. 

I’m off to a school to explain climate change to the students. See you next time!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Loose Ends and Warm Homes

Hear the podcast at

Hello, this is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 4th November.

This week we follow up on a number of stories and introduce some new ones. On the podcast you'll hear Donald Trump on Climate Change and his environmental awards. ( He has lots of environmental awards and it's not climate change it's weather like we've had for millions of years.) This time next week we’ll know exactly what he’s going to be doing with those awards. But first, Client Earth had another day in court, and Spain is set to get hotter - much hotter. On the energy front, Big Energy Saving Week had little impact, Ceres Power offers another route to a hydrogen future, we look at how Canadians are holding on to heat and what’s that out there in Swansea Bay? Finally, how well is the world doing on renewables in 2016? And sorry, Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK isn’t doing nearly as well as you’d like us to think.

Client Earth
I reported two weeks ago that Client Earth, a group of campaigning lawyers, had taken the government to court. On Thursday, yesterday, ClientEarth won its High Court case against the Government over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK.

Mr Justice Garnham agreed with ClientEarth that the Environment Secretary had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible” and said that ministers knew that over optimistic pollution modelling was being used.
The case is the second the government has lost on its failure to clean up air pollution in two years. In April 2015, ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling which ordered ministers to come up with a plan to bring air pollution down within legal limits as soon as possible. Those plans were so poor that ClientEarth took the government back to the High Court in a Judicial Review.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “I am pleased that the judge agrees with us that the government could and should be doing more to deal with air pollution and protecting people’s health. That’s why we went to court.
“I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The High Court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, Prime Minister.”

Don’t hold your breath. Oh I don’t know. That might be the safest option.

Desertification of the Mediterranean Region

A new report featured in the magazine Nature this week warns that large parts of Southern Europe and North Africa could become a desert by the end of the century. 
“Everything is moving in parallel. Shrubby vegetation will move into the deciduous forests, while the forests move to higher elevation in the mountains,” says Joel Guiot, a palaeoclimatologist at the European Centre for Geoscience Research and Education in Aix-en-Provence, France, and lead author of the study. Cities like Lisbon in Portugal and Seville in Spain will be surrounded by desert. Patrick Gonzalez, principal climate-change scientist at the US National Park Service based at the University of California, Berkeley says, “This study shows how essential it is for nations to meet their Paris commitments.”

The situation in southern Europe is similar to the US southwest, Gonzalez points out: temperature increases drive droughts. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means rising temperatures, less precipitation and then more drying that leads to desertification.
Humans may adapt. After all, northern europeans have always been travelling south to the sun. But plants and animals will find it more difficult and agricultural yields will fall and eventually fall below the level of viability. People will move. There are already tensions in Europe as migrants flee from wars in Africa and the Middle East. We could soon see migrants from much closer to home. Of course in the UK we can pull up our drawbridge  and reinforce our border controls, but is that a moral solution or even a practical solution?

And so to energy. I spoke last week about decarbonising the transport fleet and reported that some predict that by 2050 about 30% of UK vehicles will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, but that’s not all that fuel cells could be used for. 

British company Ceres Power describes itself as “a world leading developer of next generation fuel cell technology”

The company has just announced that the latest iteration of its SteelCell platform (version 4) has been released to customers on time and on budget,
Mark Selby, Chief Technology Officer at Ceres Power said:
“A year ago Ceres Power committed to delivering SteelCell version 4, and the latest advancements successfully incorporated are testament to the team’s ability to execute. The primary objective to reduce manufacturing costs was achieved through removal of over 20% of the processing steps and improved material utilisation. The performance of the platform has been further improved to deliver in excess of 50% net electrical efficiency in prime power applications.”

The company claims that  its Steel Cell is unique in the fact that it operates at temperatures of 500-600 °C. This allows the use of low cost steel and abundant ceramics with cost-effective mass manufacturing, at the same time as delivering high performance. A single cell can power a low-energy light bulb. Approximately 100 cells are combined to create a stack. One stack could supply up to 90% of a home’s electricity needs and all of its hot water. The Steel Cell is completely scalable, for example 200 stacks could supply a large office, apartment block or supermarket.

Fuel cells run on hydrogen, which can be created using excess energy from wind turbines, such as when there are high winds but low demand. Cells can also use natural gas. The outputs are electricity, heat and water. 

Fuel cells are another example of a low-carbon technology which can help us meet our energy needs.

Meanwhile, in Missed Opportunity Corner…
Big Energy Saving Week is a joint initiative between Citizens Advice, the Energy Saving Trust and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. To be honest, the website - a subset of the citizens advice site - is disappointing and seems to be aimed at sponsors or partners rather than consumers who are the intended audience. Most pages have not been updated to say that BESW is now on; they talk about what will be happening and what partners can do to prepare for it. There’s a link to the Big Energy Saving Network. That has a list of events - again for organisers - which all took place in September. There are 9 events listed for consumers,  but the most recent of these was over in October. Back to the main site. There’s a link to events here, but it seems to be a page for organisers to register their events. No, wait, there’s a link marked “You can see a map of all events here.” Yes, another click and here’s a map of the UK covered in blue dots. Find your location on the map, click on a dot and there’s the information. Unfortunately the information is too wide for the window, so you have to keep scrolling from side to side. It’s not very user-friendly. And isn’t there some rule about minimising the number of clicks from the home page to the desired information?
The home page of the site has resources to help you check what you’re paying for energy and guidance on how to switch providers. And here we also have: “Simple steps for making your home more energy efficient” Ten top tips, but there’s not much new here. “If you have a timer on your central heating system…if you have a hot water tank…” What? You mean some people don’t have timers? I thought timers were obsolete anyway. Haven’t they heard of programmers which will switch the heating on and off up to six times a day with a different pattern at weekends? It’s not futuristic - I’ve had mine for nearly 10 years. Haven’t they heard of combi boilers which deliver as much hot water as you need on demand but don’t have a tank full of water which needs heating up all the time? Ditto. Don’t mention home automation! 
The most important message from the site - and this is serious - is “Did you know that approximately 33 per cent of heat is lost through the walls of your home, and 26 per cent through the roof?” If we can control these major losses we can make a dramatic difference to the nation’s energy consumption, principally gas, and improve both our balance of payments and our energy security. Previous governments tried to achieve this through the Green Deal, a scheme which had all the right ideas about installing energy saving measures but basically never worked. The problem of wasted energy has certainly not gone away. Sadly it doesn't look as though Big Energy Saving Week will do much to tackle it.

Talking of heat, they don’t waste it in Canada. Listener Eric de Kemp from Ottawa sent me a link to an article in Natural Resources Canada about the Drake Landing Solar Community.It’s at Okotoks in Alberta. which is further south on the globe than London, England, but the continental climate means that conditions are much harsher. The average low temperature is below zero for seven months of the year, and falls to an average minus 14℃ in January, but the community uses solar thermal energy and seasonal heat storage to meet over 90% of its space heating needs.

There are 52 suburban detached family homes of approximately 220m2 in the community. They have higher insulation values than Canadian standards, with low-e argon-filled windows and improved airtightness. This reduces the space heating load by some 30%. Behind each row of houses is a row of garages, and on these is mounted a row of solar collectors. They are steeper than you might expect, to maximise performance at this latitude. Alberta gets long summer evenings which means it gets more sun than Florida. The collectors heat water which is pumped into the BTES, the borehole thermal energy store. This is a circular area 35m across containing 144 boreholes 35m deep. Pipes in these boreholes transfer the heat to the soil, and in winter the process is reversed. Hot water is pumped to the houses and each house uses an air handler, which combines the space heating function with that of continuous ventilation using a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). 

This district heating system is owned by the site developers, who have built the Energy Centre which includes short-term thermal storage tanks, the pumps and an emergency back-up gas boiler. (Not used very much) The homeowners pay for their heating at a rate roughly equivalent to the cost of natural gas heating. That revenue pays for ongoing operating expenses, and Natural Resources Canada has been covering the cost of ongoing monitoring and analysis as part of a larger research project on seasonal heat storage. 
The project development team understood from the outset that the Drake Landing system was too small to be economically competitive with the extremely low cost  (some would say artificially low cost) of natural gas. However, subsequent feasibility studies show that larger systems of similar design can deliver solar energy at about half of the cost compared to Drake Landing, and additional work is underway to improve cost performance further. 

If they can do this in Canada, think what we could do in the UK where it doesn’t get nearly as cold. Space heating is a major energy user. Solar heat is another way of achieving the comfort levels we expect, but with no greenhouse gases and no imported gas or other fuel. The cost of the infrastructure has to be counted, but the low-carbon benefits have to be counted too.

Last week I promised you an update on Swansea Bay. Tidal Lagoon Power plans to build a barrier across Swansea Bay in South Wales to hold back the tide and release the water through turbines to generate electricity. Predictable power twice a day, no carbon emissions and no fuel costs. The government made the construction of the Swansea Bay lagoon a manifesto commitment  at the last election. But now they seem less sure and they’ve asked for another value for money report.

The project will cost £1.3bn, most of it spent in Wales and the rest of the UK. That’s less than a tenth of the cost of Hinkley C, the planned nuclear power station just across the Bristol Channel. The output would of course be very much lower than Hinkley C which is planned to produce 8% of the nation’s electricity. However, with similar lagoons at Cardiff and Newport and in Cumbria and Somerset the total output could be the same. The cost of construction would be significantly lower, there would be no emissions, no hazardous waste to dispose of and the life of the plant would be very much longer.

The key obstruction to progress seems to be the negotiation of the strike price. This is the guaranteed price for the electricity produced by scheme. Initially it was estimated at £168 per megawatt, which is very much higher than the figure of £90 agreed for Hinkley C, which itself is at least twice the current wholesale price. However, if the government takes into account the longer life of Swansea Bay, expected to exceed 100 years, and offers a guaranteed price for 90 years, then the figure can be cut to a comparable £89.90. A spokesman for Tidal Lagoon Power told the BBC’s File on Four programme that building the Cardiff Bay tidal lagoon as well could bring the cost down to £60. Of course subsidies would be involved, estimated at 30p-40p on a bill, but what price energy security?

The government seems have an irrational objection to renewables. It may please Tory voters in the short term, but it seems symptomatic of the lack of a long-term energy strategy.

Renewables 2016, the latest report from REN21, looks at how nations across the world are dealing with renewable energy.

REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, is the global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects a wide range of key actors - governments, corporates, interest groups and NGOs. REN21’s goal is to facilitate knowledge exchange, policy development and joint action towards a rapid global transition to renewable energy. REN21 is an international non-profit association and is based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Paris, France. 

REN21 has just published its 2016 Global Status Report,. 

The summary of key findings covers all uses of renewable energy - power, heating and cooling and transport, and all sources from solar PV, solar thermal and wind to biomass, tides and geothermal. It describes 2015 as a remarkable year, despite hard competition from a very low oil price. The graphs throughout the document show an upward trend - in installed capacity, investment and consumption. Incidentally, Europe bucks the global trend. New investment in renewable power and fuels in Europe has declined since 2011and by 2015 had fallen by half. All other areas of the world show a steadily rising trend.

The US and China are top of most tables. The UK comes in at number 4 for investment in renewable power and fuels in 2015 and also at number 4 for solar PV capacity. It’s not placed in the top 5 on the other 23 criteria. Remember, all of this is based on 2015 data. Quite a lot has happened in the 10 months since then.

The summary report is well worth a browse.Find it at

I reported last week that Theresa May had announced that the UK was the second best country in the world for tackling climate change. That may be so, but on the renewables front the news is not so good. Each year consultancy EY, formerly Ernst & Young, publishes its Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index. 
The purpose of the index is to identify countries where investment in renewables is most likely to succeed. The index is calculated taking into account factors including government policy, availability of natural resources, infrastructure and finance, track record and project pipeline. China, the US, Germany and Japan have remained in the top 4 for the last three years. In 2014 the UK was at number 7. Last year it slipped to number 8 and in 2016 it slid down to number 14. Commenting on the UK’s slide the report states:  “Uncertainty caused by Brexit, the closure of the Department of Energy & Climate Change and the approval of Hinkley Point C all dealt a sizeable blow to the UK renewables sector. Some respite came when the Government approved 1.8GW Hornsea 2, which will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm if completed as planned.” This really only confirms what we already knew: that the British government is hostile to most forms of renewable energy.

With the approval of Heathrow expansion and defeat in the courts over clean air, is this anti-renewables policy still tenable?


“Ultra-low cost renewables are on the horizon”, says Lord Turner

“We need negative emissions to avoid 2C warming” says Lord Stern

Listen up, Theresa!

Yes, that’s it for yet another week and this is Anthony Day thanking you for listening. You can find out more and access other podcasts on sustainability and other topics at the Better World Podcast Collective site. You can find it at Find the text of this podcast at where I’ve included links to my sources.

Your feedback to is always eagerly received. 

I’ll be back next week. By then we’ll know who’s going to be the next president of the United States. We’ll know what hope there is for the Paris Agreement and for all the other measures for the safety of our planet. I’ll have news of planned interviews and news of… well I’ll let you know next week.

Until then this is Anthony Day. 

Bye for now!