Sunday, July 29

Moronic British spectators watching Olympics cycling road races

I was getting agitated yesterday watching the Olympics road cycling on TV as moronic British spectators were standing in the road just a few metres ahead of the cycling competitors, trying to take photos. Why are Brits so dumb and stupid??
They only had to trip up whilst stepping back to the pavement/verge and they could have had dozens of cyclists crash into them.

Today the Swiss cyclist who crashed into the barrier, tweeted and asked spectators to move back. I am surprised that more competitors havenb't said something about this and I think the Olympic officials should also do more to stop the inconsiderate behaviour.

Basically as a spectator, yes it is great that it is taking place in the UK, but you have a responsibility to allow the cyclists to get on with the race without interfering with their performance and tactics.

Tuesday, July 24

Cyclepath Signs

Sometimes there is some confusion about cyclepaths. In particular some motorists seem to think that it is compulsory for cyclists to use cycle paths. I think such attitudes are in some cases based on prejudice and self centred attitudes, but not always. Hence getting cyclists off the road maybe a political goal for them.

The reality is that there is no legal requirement at all for cyclists to use cycle paths. The quality of cyclepaths in the UK is often not high enough to be used other than for short journeys or short sections of longer journeys. Like car users, cyclists want to get from A to B in the shortest time or distance and of course cyclists have every right to want this. So it is impractical to always use cyclepaths.

Two signs are quite common along cyclepaths, they are not instructions or demands, they are put up for information purposes.

This sign indicates that a path can be used by both pedestrians and cyclists.
This type of path in particular can cause confusion. Unless you have seen the sign at the start or at the end of the path, it will look like an ordinary pedestrian path. I am also sure that some pedestrians and motorists probably believe cyclists are breaking the law when they see them using the path.
Who could blame them, if the path is not clearly marked, accept at the start and end?

The sign is usually used on paths that are wide enough for pedestrians and
cyclists to avoid each other.

This sign indicates a segregated path. A line will be marked on the ground all the way along the path showing that pedestrians and cyclists should use different parts of the path.

This is less confusing because if you join the path between the signs, it is clear that the section is for dual use.

Saturday, July 21

Decoding Special Offers...

I always find it annoying when I am confrinted with special offers that sound so good. So I thought I would write a guide to what they really mean. Here goes:

3 for 2

At first this sounds fantastic. You buy two products and you get one free!
But with all these discounts, you need to translate it into a monetary value of a single item. You then find out what you are really getting. In this case imagine that the 3 products are containers and two are filled to the top with a liquid, where the liquid is the cost of the 3 for 2 offer. To understand how much you are paying you need to take liquid from the two full containers to fill the third, untill all three have equal amounts.

Say each product is £1 then the cost per product is (£1 + £1)/3 = 2/3 = 66p each
So the discount is 33%

BOGOF (Buy one get one free)

Same principle applies as the 3 for 2 offer.
Say each is £1 then the cost  per product is 1/2 = 50p each
The discount is 50%
A bit obvious really but like the 3 for 2 deal, it's easy to forget exactly what you are getting.
When they say you are getting a whole one free, psychologically it sounds better than getting 50% or half off the price. What you have to remember is that it isn't just the amount of goods that is important, the money you pay per item is the real info of interest.

5 products for £3 (products normally cost 79P each)

This is an example I came across this week.
Sometimes they use a different tactic and this sort of thing can require mental arithmetic that can be difficult on the spur of the moment. I'm not brilliant with mental maths standing in a shop staring at the prices!
I cracked this one by first assuming the deal was 5 for £1. That would mean each was 20p.
So then to crank it up to 5 for £3, we just multiply 20p by 3, which gives 60p each.
So in this case the discount is 24%

All of this of course assumes that the special deals are genuine. That the manufacturer hasn't changed the product for the period of the deal, to make the product cheaper, or that the retailer hadn't for a short period increased the price (legally) only to reduce it to the 'normal' price for the special deal offer.

Often the only time you can be sure of a good deal is when a product is an 'end of line' product or the 'use by' and 'sale by' dates are coming up.

Friday, July 13

June rainfall map

Contains public sector information licensed
under the Open Government Licence v1.0
The Met Office has released the latest rainfall stats for the whole of the UK. The map shows the rainfall anomalies for June 2012.

The rainfall for June was greater than 200% above the 1971-2000 average. Probably not unusual if it were in specific areas, but it certainly isn't normal for the whole nation.

I suspect July isn't going to be any better.

The reason for the weather is because the shifting of the jet stream south. This instability is likely to be a result of increasing temperatures in the Arctic, as sea ice melts and the region gets warmer.

We should know in for certain over the coming months and years. One thing is certain, such instability in the weather is likely to increase.

Thursday, July 12

Urban noise - increases bird mortality rate

Previous research has shown that traffic noise has an impact on birds lives. It now appears general urban noise has an impact on birds nesting in such areas. Some chicks are dying because their parents can't hear their cries to be fed.

So yet again Havant Borough Councils plans to develop our green spaces will have a negative impact on our resources. This is on top of the problems to human health caused by increasing urbanisation.

Wednesday, July 11

Why Chris Heaton-Harris is Wrong about Wind Farms

Chris Heaton-Harris is a British MP representing Daventry, UK. He has recently been conducting a campaign against onshore wind farms across the UK. Caroline Dineage the local MP representing Gosport has been backing Chris Heaton and his campaign. During a radio broadcast on BBC Radio 4, The Today Programme (5th July 2012), Heaton made a number of statements about UK energy use and policy that were incorrect.

The statements are listed below (in italics) and were transcribed from the show. Each claim is addressed individually:

  1. We will hit our (UK) 2020 targets later this year (2012).

The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive set a target of 15% for the amount of renewable energy that should be in use in the UK by 2020. This is a huge challenge and it should be pointed out that this target is for all energy, excluding transport. So where has Heaton gone wrong?

Well if we look at the latest statistics for UK energy we find that renewables account for 11.1% of electricity used in Q1 of 2012. However this figure does not include other energy uses, such as gas used for heating. This of course is where Heaton is misleading, because the EU directive includes all energy used not just electricity. In order to prove his point Heaton has only used part of the data, once other energy sources are included, then renewables represent a smaller proportion (3.8% in 2011) of final energy consumption. In fact it is likely that renewable electricity generation will probably need to be about 30% of electricity in order to fulfil the 15% overall target.

It should be pointed out that because we are dealing with climate change and carbon emissions, not aspirations for renewable energy, the targets set by the EU for 2020 are just a start. So it would be wrong to imply that once the 2020 target is reached, that the UK would never have to do more with the energy supply. The impression Mr Heaton gives is that the target is all there is.

  1. DECC have set 13GW (wind energy capacity), we have 5GW built, 6GW through the planning ‘gate’, 8GW going through planning at the moment. Which proves the level of subsidy is way to high.

During this part of the discussion neither Mr Heaton nor the interviewer made it clear that the figures discussed included offshore wind energy targets. These targets are generally greater than the onshore wind energy targets.

One of Mr Heatons objections to wind energy is that it is too expensive, but given offshore wind is more expensive, his objection would suggest he doesn’t like offshore wind energy either. The logical conclusion from this is that he doesn’t want the renewables targets to be met at all, since realistically offshore wind must be installed to meet the 2020 UK target.

DECC figures for 2011 are:

Offshore wind = 1.83GW
Onshore wind = 4.65GW
Total = 6.48GW

So roughly speaking Heaton is correct. However the vast majority of planned additional capacity is for offshore wind, which is where most future wind projects will be. Because his first claim is incorrect (that we have nearly met EU targets), the level of subsidy is not to high at all if we are going to achieve 15%. Reducing Renewable Obligation levels for onshore wind farms drastically now would mean we would struggle to meet the 15% even with more offshore projects coming online.

  1. Lot’s of these companies are not interested in renewable energy; they are interested in harvesting a subsidy.

Heaton is making an assumption here. Many of the companies he is possibly referring to, started in the renewable energy business before subsidies were available. The whole point of the subsidies is to achieve carbon emission reductions, they wouldn’t be installing wind farms if the farms didn’t reduced carbon emissions and there is plenty of research that shows renewable energy reduces carbon emissions. Heaton is also stating an obvious fact here and making it sound bad.  Renewable Obligations are financial incentives to install renewables so does it matter if a company ‘believes’ in the installation of renewables?
The primary outcome is emissions reductions, the morals of the companies isn’t a factor in achieving a target. Although if they were more interested in installing renewables one would assume they would install more turbines (like Ecotricity), not less. So logically the companies that are allegedly after subsidies and aren’t interested in renewable energy are probably installing fewer turbines!

  1. The subsidy doesn’t change until April 2013 and if they (wind farm applications) are through the planning gate they can get constructed very quickly.

(The implication being that if they (6GW of turbines) are constructed and connected to the grid before April 2013, they will get the current subsidy)

This is just an extension to the Heaton fallacy - that we will meet our renewables targets in a few months. As stated previously his assumption only takes into account electricity, as soon as you include other energy sources (a requirement of the 2009 directive and embedded in UK law), we see we have a long way to go yet to achieve 15% renewables.

  1. We have picked the wrong technology, wind is intermittent, and if it’s not blowing it’s not going to achieve anything.

Well the rain is intermittent; does Mr Heaton suggest that we should not drink water or use it to wash?
Plants seem to be quite successful at utilising the wind yet apparently us humans are just not brainy enough??
The fact is, Mr Heaton is discussing an engineering problem and we wouldn’t have the economy we have today without a whole string of engineers across history solving the unsolvable. Heaton is relegating human ingenuity to the rubbish heap and such attitudes are typical of the ‘conservative’ business types wanting to avoid risk.

  1. Two Decembers ago we had our coldest December on record and we had a massive anti-cyclone above us and the wind didn’t blow and the lovely turbines didn’t turn and no energy was produced.

Even if the wind didn’t blow, carbon emissions over a 12-month period drop because wind farms replace high carbon energy sources when the wind does blow! The issue of no wind or intermittent wind just means that the grid has to cope with this new situation.

It is an engineering issue; there are plenty of issues like this related to fault tolerance that have been solved over many decades, so adding a new one doesn’t mean we need to give up. Why should we give up, if previous great engineers didn’t also give up with similar problems?

Heaton is kicking the teeth of the engineering and systems professions, by believing that they are not competent to devise methods of dealing with such scenarios.

As well as the idea of smart grids, various companies are developing new methods to store energy so that when there is plenty of wind, some of the energy can be stored and used when the wind isn’t blowing so hard. For example, Isentropic have developed a system that is as cheap and efficient as hydroelectric pumped storage systems. The first Isentropic system is to be installed soon at a Midlands substation.

  1. Wind energy doesn’t help energy security.

You have to question if there ever has been energy security!
Fossil fuels are not secure because they are a finite resource and governments need to plan for the time when we have none left. Nuclear (fission) energy isn’t secure in the UK because the fuel has to be imported and there is always a risk of an accident.

It should also be pointed out that large power stations are at more risk of attack than distributed renewables such as wind turbines.

Which is easier to bomb?
A large power station in the middle of the countryside?
Or tens of thousands of wind turbines, solar panels and other systems, evenly distributed across the nation?

Basically Heaton doesn’t understand security and it is no coincidence that the military have a new interest in renewables in combat zones, because they reduce the dependency on potentially long supply lines for energy. The same principle applies to wind energy and other renewables, producing energy locally reduces dependency on our supply lines from foreign nations.

  1. What the subsidy does is provide £500 million to rich land owners, the big six energy companies to produce expensive energy. This reduces the chances of growth and pushes thousands of people into fuel poverty.

Energy is getting more expensive and it will continue to get more expensive over long time scales no matter what false economics and spin you use regarding market prices and the anti-science called economics. However the costs of wind energy are coming down all the time and again engineering is giving us cost effective ways in other areas of development.
Can todays economic problems be blamed on wind turbines?
Sounds like a scape goat to me for failed ecomomics and politics practiced by the main political parties. More investment in green tech would boost long term growth, rather than endanger it. Plus of course current flooding and attrocious weather in the UK is an indicator of massive costs to home owners and businesses if we do not cut carbon emissions.

  1. In the US as we speak energy prices are collapsing, and they are going to hit their carbon emission targets, through a game changer, shale gas.

The simple fact is that the US does not have any carbon emission targets. The only way Heaton could make such a claim is by imagining some fictional US carbon emissions target.
Plus shale gas or any gas does little to reduce carbon emissions over the longer term. It may slow things down a bit and prolong the upward trend in global temperatures by reducing the steepness of the temperature curve. But the fact is CO2 is a long lasting green house gas, so eventually we will hit the same high temperatures using gas as we would using coal and oil.

  1. I would prefer to spend the money we are spending on onshore wind on projects like installing CHP boilers in all social housing projects.

Heaton justifies his view here with the faulty belief that we will hit our renewable energy targets in the next few months, but as pointed out previously, he has cherry picked data and excluded the full range of energy sources consumed (see claim/comment 1. above). Although micro CHP in homes is useful, there is no way it is ever going to make the same impact on carbon emissions as renewable energy.

2009 Renewable Energy Directive:

2012 DECC bulletin:

Critique of the Stuart Young report:

Monday, July 2

Isentropic get £14 million investment

One of the key technology innovations that will transform our communities into low carbon energy users is the development of low cost energy storage solutions. There are many companies and organisations that are developing systems that will work on a large scale, many use some form of battery, whether the common lithium based batteries or more complex flow batteries.

The need for energy storage is connected to the variability of renewable energy sources. The scale that renewable energy is currently used and will be used in the immediate future does not really require a great deal of energy storage, however with the growth in renewables and the greater use of electricity as the primary method of distributing energy, we need a cheap way of storing electrical energy to smooth out potential peaks and troughs. This will also enable the removal from our sysem of large coal fired power stations and other fossil fuel systems.

A company a few miles from Waterlooville - probably surprising to many - is at the front of this drive to provide a solution (they are probably world leaders). Isentropic was originally based in Cambridge and about a year or two ago moved to Segensworth near Fareham to take advantage of the local aerospace engineering skills. Their technology uses cheap and common materials, such as steel, gravel and Argon gas. Argon gas may sound exotic, but after Oxygen and Nitrogen, it is the most common gas in our atmosphere, so unlike lithium and exotic metals used in other solutions, Isentropic are using basic materials already well used and developed.

So what makes Isentropic special (apart from being in Hampshire) ?

Their system takes electricity from our electricity grid and power stations and uses it to power a special engine to pump heat from one container filled with gravel to another. Argon gas is used as the transfer medium. This effectively transforms the electrical energy into a difference in temperature between the two containers. When the energy is needed, the process is reversed and the engine is driven by the difference in temperature between the two containers and the electric motor that drove the engine as a pump, now becomes a generator and returns the energy to the grid as electricity.

The system is 75% efficient and this is similar to existing pumped energy systems such as Dinorwig in Wales which are currently used to handle the peaks and troughs in demand. When electricity demand is slack Dinorwig pumps water into a lake in the mountains, when demand peaks (everyone has a cup of tea at half time in a football match) Dinorwig releases the water in the mountain lake and it is used to generate electricity. Effectively it is a huge battery.

In June Isentropic received £14 million in funding to move their system from the prototype stage to the first trial system connected to the grid. This unit will be rated at 1.5MW/6MWh and will be connected to a substation in the Midlands. Future units will be larger and rated between 12 and 24MW.

Given that there are some 5000 substations in the UK. If each one was connected to one of these units, the storage capacity would be in the range of 240 and 480GWh ( based on the larger scale units envisioned and the capacity of the trial unit). In comparison Dinorwig has a capacity of about 10.8 GWh.

So this technology has a lot of potential and is likely to be one of many energy storage solutions that will transform our lives, enabling greater use of low carbon technology.

Various news and press releases: