Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Keep on Keeping Left

Published as a podcast on Friday 3rd February on iTunes, Stitcher and via

In the sustainable news this week: a virtual power station, Ireland divests and how your business can achieve zero to landfill. The oil price is up and so is petrol at the pump. You can save fuel by just turning left. Well, it seems to work for UPS. Al Gore’s saving the climate and he’s also saving a climate change conference. How green is your wood-burner? As green as your 4x4? Reduce, re-use, but before you recycle we investigate the Restart Project and the Edinburgh Remakery. And when he comes to visit, what should you give the Trump who has everything? A ladybird?

Hello, this is  Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 3rd February.

Welcome to listeners in over 40 countries across five continents. I was interested to see that last week’s episode was listened to by more people in China than anywhere else. 


In the Guardian newspaper this week: an article about batteries. In this case an estate of 40 bungalows in Oxspring, South Yorkshire where a battery will be installed in each house by Moixa Energy Ltd. This is part of a trial to see if home-owners can save money by storing energy. 

It helps the grid as well. Our electricity grid was based on massive central power stations and never designed for local generation. In some areas there isn’t enough capacity to receive the power generated by solar panels and wind turbines. Batteries can act as a buffer. 

Thirty of the houses in Oxspring have solar panels; the other 10 do not. They can store electricity from the grid. Homeowners save money in two ways. If they have solar panels they can store electricity that they generate but don’t need and then use it later on instead of buying electricity from the grid. The other way they can make money is based on the Moixa battery technology. It’s a smart battery - part of the internet of things - connected to the internet so the user can monitor performance on tablet or smartphone. But the clever bit is that these batteries can be controlled remotely and commanded to discharge into the grid at times of peak demand. These peaks may only last minutes, but the batteries can deliver enough to help smooth the peaks and reduce the need for standby power stations. Moixa already has some 600 batteries installed across the country. They call it their virtual power station, and claim that the smoothing operation uses only a small proportion of the charge in each battery. Whatever is delivered of course leads to a payment to the householder.

The key question in all this is whether the battery system will pay for itself. There are more and more domestic batteries coming on to the market. The highest profile is probably the Tesla Powerwall. You know, Tesla, the electric car company. The electric car that will see off most Formula 1 cars.Tesla launches Version 2 of its Powerwall in the UK in March at around £6,350. This looks like a lot more than Moixa’s £2,500, but to that you have to add installation and VAT - included in the Tesla figure - bringing the Moixa cost up to nearly £4,000. The Tesla unit holds 14 kWh. The Moixa unit holds 3kWh, so the cost per kW is £1,320 for Moixa, but only £450 for Tesla. Do you really need 14kWh? Maybe yes in the US when you could be running air conditioning throughout the hours of darkness. But 3kWh could be adequate for UK evenings, as long as you don’t use the oven, the dishwasher and washing machine all at the same time. 

Will the savings pay for the battery? If you can fully charge your Moixa unit from your solar panels and fully use it you will avoid buying 3kWh of electricity from the grid, saving about 50p. Doing this every day for a whole year (which is not totally realistic) saves £182.50 (or £183 in a leap year.) Moixa calculate that exporting electricity to smooth peaks on the grid can yield an annual payment of £50 - total = £232.50. Dividing this into a battery cost of £4,000 gives a payback period of some 17 years, and that’s without the cost of borrowing the money. And will it last for 17 years?

I can’t see that batteries are financially viable at present, but I can see two reasons why they will become very attractive very soon. First, energy prices will go up. If we move to electric cars then demand will rise. If political pressure drives up the cost of imported energy - oil and gas - then people may turn to electricity. This will require significant infrastructure investment and will have to be paid for via electricity bills. In 10 years’ time that annual £232.50 saving could double. The second reason relates to smart meters and time-of-day tariffs. Many commercial users have half-hourly meters and all commercial users will have to have them from 1st April this year. A half-hourly meter monitors consumption in 30-minute segments, making the data available to the consumer and to the supplier. Time-of-day tariffs mean that the user pays more or pays less depending on the time of use. Once we have domestic smart meters, this pricing will apply to households. If you have a battery you will be able to charge it from the grid at the time of lowest demand and lowest price and then either use it or sell it back to the grid at peak times and peak prices. Savings and grid income will be greater than at present, and it will all be controlled automatically to maximise your income. Logically, electric cars will become part of the virtual power station. While they are on charge a small portion of the battery could be discharged into the grid to meet peak demand.
Oh, and there’s a third reason why batteries will make sense. With mass production and continuing research they should get cheaper.

I contacted Moixa to ask about the financial viability of their batteries. They promised to phone me back but nobody did. 

Ireland Divests

The Independent newspaper reports 
that Ireland has voted to be the world’s first country to fully divest public money from fossil fuels.

The Irish Parliament passed the historic legislation in a 90 to 53 vote in favour of dropping coal, oil and gas investments from the €8bn (£6.8bn) Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, part of the Republic’s National Treasury Management Agency.
“This principle of ethical financing is a signal to these global corporations that their continual manipulation of climate science, denial of the existence of climate change and their controversial lobbying practices of politicians around the world is no longer tolerated,” said Deputy Thomas Pringle, who introduced the Bill.
“We cannot accept their actions while millions of poor people in underdeveloped nations bear the brunt of climate change forces as they experience famine, mass emigration and civil unrest as a result.”

Following the same theme, Deutsche Bank, the biggest bank in Germany, announced this week that it would stop financing coal projects as part of its commitments under the Paris agreement to tackle global warming. It’s also another step towards cleaner air.

Air Quality

The debate goes on about air quality and diesel cars. Governments are embarrassed to put restrictions on them because they encouraged diesel cars a decade ago because they emitted less GHG. The problem is particulates, microscopic particles of soot, which lodge in the lungs and cause health problems particularly in children. As I’ve said in previous episodes, we’ve known about diesel particulates since long before diesel cars became popular. Sounds like a lack of joined-up thinking, and now the diesel drivers and urban residents are paying the price. And then there are diesel lorries, buses and taxis…

There’s a new scare story out this week. Wood-burning stoves, popular in the posh parts of London, are being blamed for the recent air quality black alert in the metropolis. The truth is that wood-burners do emit CO2 and can emit other gases and particulates as well. Some units are better than others and can convert nearly everything to ash, but even this can float up the chimney. Wood for burning must be seasoned. Green is not the answer here. Green wood makes much more dirty smoke. Contrary to popular belief, wood is not a green fuel. It emits CO2 like coal, and while the theory is that new trees will grow and absorb the CO2, it’s a very long slow process. Given the deforestation of the Amazon and other regions you could argue that we are never going to grow enough trees to compensate for emitting extra CO2. With their particulates and gases, wood burners do contribute to urban air pollution, but only in a minor way compared to the diesel engine.

Reduce, re-use and then what?

Reduce, re-use and then restart or remake before you recycle.
I’ve come across two social enterprises focussed on doing just this. The Restart Project specialises in electronics - helping people to repair their laptops, smartphones or games consoles and so on. Based in London, but with some activities across the country they run Restart Parties where people can bring their equipment and get advice on what parts may be needed and how to mend it. A Restart Party is a free drop-in event, but the project also offers in-house clinics to corporate clients. The idea is to boost employee engagement, emphasise the organisation’s green credentials and cut down electric and electronic waste.

Sophie Unwin, director of Remade in Edinburgh,
won the 2016 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The business model is different from Restart. At the Edinburgh Remakery they teach people skills in upholstery, leatherwork, computer hardware and software and woodwork. They also run a free weekly drop-in repair surgery. They hire out workbenches by the hour for woodwork and workstations for sewing or computer repairs, and they have refurbished computers and furniture for sale. There’s a plan to create a network of remakeries across the whole of the UK.

Both these organisations are helping us to get the maximum utility from the labour, materials and energy which originally went into producing the items they repair. One of their objectives is zero waste to landfill.

Zero Waste to Landfill

How are you doing on that, by the way? The Carbon Trust has produced a booklet called “Good riddance to bad rubbish: How to achieve zero waste to landfill” Aiming principally at businesses, it says, “Putting waste into landfill is not only irresponsible, but it's expensive; the amount of money that we spend on landfill tax is rising, currently at a huge £82.60 per tonne. To protect your pocket, and your brand, zero waste to landfill is the only recycling goal that makes sense. In today's progressive business context, brand is everything, and green is in this year.”

“This white paper details how to make a smooth transition to zero waste to landfill in five simple steps, including how to choose your waste contractor and how to engage your employees in the initiative.”

I got my copy via a link on an email from Business Green. Strangely I couldn’t find any reference to it on the Carbon Trust’s own website, but I’m sure they’ll send you a link if you ask.

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,Your house is on fire and your children are gone…

That’s a warning for a ladybird. Ladybird Books, on the other hand, have just published the first volume in their new Expert series. It’s a warning about Climate Change, co-authored by HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh. It’s been peer-reviewed by a panel of experts, so although it’s a brief guide to the subject it’s an authoritative document. Now when Donald Trump makes his state visit to the UK what better than for Charles to give him a signed copy? Actually there are reports in the press that President Trump has already made it clear that when he comes he does not want to meet the prince. He doesn’t want Charles to have an opportunity to lecture him on climate change. 

Others who are sensitive to the president’s feelings about climate change include the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Washington Post reports
that it abruptly cancelled its long-planned Climate and Health Summit, in a move seen to be a “strategic retreat” in the face of the climate skepticism of the incoming Trump administration. Emails sent to participants and scheduled speakers did not explain the reason behind the decision, nor did the agency offer an explanation in response to a request for comment.

Al Gore to the Rescue!

Al Gore and his Climate Reality Project have ridden to the rescue. 
Together with non-governmental sponsors including the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Turner Foundation they will run an alternative event on Feb. 16th. Still in Atlanta, it will take place outside of any government circles. Organisers say they are aiming to attract as many as 200 attendees from around the country to talk about the mounting risks to human health posed by climate change. The message will not be silenced. 

Al Gore said, “They tried to cancel this conference but it is going forward anyway. Today we face a challenging political climate, but climate shouldn’t be a political issue. Health professionals urgently need the very best science in order to protect the public, and climate science has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work. With more and more hot days, which exacerbate the proliferation of the Zika virus and other public health threats, we cannot afford to waste any time.”

Keeping Left

And finally, why will turning left help you save energy? Let’s try anything now that petrol is up to £1.20/litre and diesel even more.
I saw an article this week by Graham Kendall, professor of computer science at the University of Nottingham. 
In it he describes how UPS, the parcel delivery company, has set up its route planning software to choose the most effective routes for its vans, which are not necessarily the shortest routes. Fundamental to this is avoiding right turns, across the oncoming traffic, or left turns in Europe. The idea is that there is an increased risk of an accident when crossing the oncoming traffic, and waiting at junctions wastes time and wastes fuel. Does it work? UPS claim to have saved 10 million gallons of fuel, emitted 20,000 less tonnes of CO2 while delivering 350,000 more packages in 1,100 fewer vehicles and driving 28.5 million fewer miles.  As Professor Kendall says, if UPS can save 10 million gallons, how much could a whole country save? It all depends on persuading everyone to follow the rules, and that will no doubt be the biggest challenge. 

Until Next Time

Well that’s it for now. I’m off to drive round in circles and when I get back it will be time to think about next week’s episode. Don’t miss it.

It’s the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m Anthony Day. Oh, and if you need a keynote speaker for your conference, a host for your awards ceremony, a webinar facilitator or a conference chair just contact me at 

This is Anthony Day 

That was the Sustainable Futures Report

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