Category Archives: Energy Sustainability

A Rush for Renewables

I have been using this phrase for about a year in talking to people and in newspaper comments. I want to counter that Dash for Gas. We have the possibility of a new sustainable economy where everyone can participate.

  1. Start a nation-wide project to insulate all buildings and make all new building zero-carbon. This will employ people all over the country and many people with little skill can be trained to do this work. This is really investment with a long term return in reduced power needs, better health, and a trained work force. Probably there will be a reduction in crime as well. During this process we will find people who can be trained further for ever more skilled jobs. As people in each area of the country earn more, there will be more to spend locally and new businesses will be able to grow in every town. This could start tomorrow if we made the investment. The return on investment is near immediate.
  2. I am in favour of nuclear (fission) power but this is contentious for many people and we need to regain the country’s pre-eminence in nuclear technology in order to develop new safe designs (which do exist). This is a long term project and we need to work on other zero-carbon technologies now.
    So, let’s go full ahead on solar. Solar power is clearly the future for at least the next 100 million years, after which we may need a rethink. Although people think of Britain as cloudy with short winter days, there is still enough solar energy input to power the needs of the country especially if we make energy use more effective, efficient.
  3. When solar and wind power are mentioned there are immediate objections that it is cyclical and we need power at night and in winter. This is the next issue to address. First we need to see that many things that we might want to do can also be cyclic. I cannot predict how societies will develop in the long term but, taking some evolution of how things are now, an example would be people driving to a place of work. If this used an electric car, that vehicle could be charged while parked during the day. Although there is flooding in the UK, we will also get drought and desalination of sea water could address that, being done during the daytime when solar power is at its peak. Manufacturing could be done during the day time though only in some industries. We need to be smart and flexible about how we optimize the resource just as we were before before the industrial revolution. Of course we can store energy, and that is already done for electricity to cope with surge demand by pumping water to a high reservoir and releasing it to drive a turbine generating electricity when there is a sudden peak in demand. There is a role for this mechanical storage. However, we should also be developing chemical storage as in batteries.
  4. Research and development of chemical storage technologies. This is high-tech investment. If we are to trade with other countries we need something to sell, and best to support what the world needs into the future. This research will cover hydrogen storage, fuel cells and evolution of current battery technology. I imagine that there will be a lot of distributed solar PV and therefore distributed battery storage; each building with solar PV would have its own battery storage pack. An advantage of this is that we will have a very robust and resilient power network with no big points of failure.
  5. These are not jobs that can be outsourced; insulation and solar PV installation will provide work for people in the UK for many years, and there will be ongoing maintenance and upgrades for ever. The work is distributed all over the country. We can innovate as well as anyone and make sure that there is a focus on best methods for the UK as well as looking to develop products for sustainable living globally. Each region of the world will need its own local expertise. Other new ventures will spin off from this. For example, with plentiful solar power we could do vertical farming where we grow fruits and vegetables in tall buildings using solar powered lighting in which we can make optimal use of water and control pests without pesticides. Whole new industries that we have not thought of will come into being.

The Energy of Nations

Jeremy Leggett has three threads in this book [ISBN 978-0-415-85782-2]: Peak oil, global warming and unregulated capitalism.
The text swaps from giving an overview of the development of understanding of of the three threads (that will be familiar to anyone who is concerned about climate change and our casino economics) and records of meetings he has attended with government and business leaders where climate change has been marginalized and the issue of peak oil denied.

Jeremy is geologist turned solar entrepreneur, and is a big proponent of solar power. Although I agree that we should invest in solar power and passive insulation & cooling, I am a proponent of nuclear power that he is against. Although solar photovoltaic panels seem benign (though see Solar projects placed along ‘Pacific Flyway’ major migration paths are burning wings of birds) storage may have big environmental problems.

Jeremy’s view is that there will be an oil crash that will then focus thought onto renewable energy technologies. That means a lot of suffering first.


The comments on meetings are his recollection and were not transcribed from recordings, but do follow the pattern of those we experience ourselves or read about from other commentators.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

page 114. “As we file out of Number Ten, it strikes me that watching Cameron and Osborne in action has been like reviewing a certain kind of undergraduate project. I saw many of these in my days as an academic. Bright and enthusiastic students, usually from public schools, who are good at talking, but who haven’t really done much preparation work at all.” [Meeting in November 2010]

page 213. ” … a study by a team from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley demonstrates that wind, water and solar technologies could provide 100% of the world’s energy as soon as 2030. This could be done, crucially, without mobilising any one technology any faster than technologies have already been mobilised historically”

page 214. “What is the cost of re-engineering the global energy system to low- or zero-carbon?  The first point to make is that the cost is going to be viewed through different lenses after the oil crash.  … As for energy efficiency, and its ability to force-amplify renewables and renewable fuels, the guru of that discipline Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute team were arguing compellingly that it was cheaper to save a barrel of oil than to produce it as long ago as 2004 ”

It’s sad that we can’t get on with it now. We could start immediately with building regulations for passive housing and training builders and installers, which would give worthwhile jobs for people throughout the country and the payback would start immediately in terms of lower costs, more comfort and diminishing reliance of imports for energy (not forgetting a skilled and happier workforce).



I visited the ecobuild exhibition in London last week mainly to see what firms were offering products that would clad a non-cavity wall to reduce heat loss. I found some and will be following up with quotations from them. Details will appear on my permanent page about this in a few weeks time.

I looked round the whole exhibition and noted the large number of stands for photovoltaic panels and some for heat pumps. Although the PV technology is still evolving, and I will keep checking what is on offer over the next two years, I was encouraged by the effort now be made on technologies that can reduce our CO2 emissions.

Politically the situation does not reflect this. Here are two excellent articles on global warming politics: The Attack on Climate-Change Science & The Wrong Kind of Green. Fortunately many developers and manufacturers are working to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Resource Politics

I have always thought that each region in the world should be mostly self-sufficient. Again a few benefit from unregulated globalization, but most of us don’t. I remember the rare-earths being a part of the periodic table that we did not bother with when I learned chemistry, but now they have become crucial substances. Forget oil. While people were distracted with peak oil and CO2, rare-earths sneaked in. They are not as rare as the group name suggests but we need better ways of extracting the metals both to reduce energy use in the process and to reduce the environmental mess the process has traditionally caused. Maybe there is scope for genetic engineering of bacteria to do the extraction for us.

The “good” news: Precious metals that could save the planet.

The “bad” news: Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports.

The good news: New solar-cell efficiency record set. The opening fact sets the scene: we need only a little more than 0.01% of the energy the earth receives from the sun to cover all current energy needs. I will keep arguing for solar power.