A wind energy de-obfuscator, i hope

Posted in Uncategorized, renewable energy on January 29th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

A simple wind energy tool. Originally posted and described on the Brook Lyndhurst site. It is an attempt to make wind energy a little clearer, particularly for understanding what the numbers mean. They can be a little confusing.

Good behaviour

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

Charles Dickens, as described in Benjamin Hoff’s Te of Piglet, witnessed first-hand the horrendous nature of children’s homes in England. Rather than putting pen to paper in a polemical fashion, he wrote a novel in which the conditions he had found so shocking were detailed in dramatic fashion, and which had an optimistic ending. The result was a popular book which led to the reform of children’s homes.
Around one hundred years later, in the context of a bewildering array of communications techniques applied to the problem of the environment, sustainability and climate change, the film WALL-E emerged. Using charm and humour, the movie gently introduces essential themes of waste, environmental devastation and the atrophying of human bodies, ambition and emotions. What is most to be admired is the total absence of sanctimony and indeed guilt-inducing messaging of any kind. That machines take on the role of re-teaching humanity about love and value is a wonderful device, just as the ease with which it is awakened in a barely sentient race is reassuring.

A slightly less subtle approach, although which still manages to retain a degree of innocent playfulness, can be found in the antics of two activists operating under the banner of ‘everything is ok’. Theirs is variety of ‘subversive positivism’, as the American branch describe it, where the absurdities of modern life, and unthinking consumerism, are shown up in all their incoherent glory merely by the stating out loud of their principles, albeit in a highly parodied form. Thus shoppers are urged through a megaphone to hurry along with their shopping, to consume as much as possible, to get on with their work and to carry on subscribing to the unhealthy imperatives of capitalist society. The duo manage to bring humour to their public appearances, remaining by a whisker on the right side of causing offence and, for the most part, avoiding arrest. When detention at the pleasure of the force does come, the charges come across as nebulous and unreasonable.

The approach of the ‘everything is ok’ group has a certain resonance with the band Radiohead, particularly in their computer-spoken word track ‘Fitter Happier’ from the OK Computer album more than ten years ago. Radiohead produced a stream of consciousness which detailed a life clearly meant to be a middle-of-the-road nightmare, an existence determined by utter failure of the imagination, limited ambition, rat-race day to day living and manufactured dreams. The monotony of every life is a reoccurring theme in the work of Radiohead, particularly at that time, as they set out to expose our modern lives with a lightness of touch which doesn’t turn us away, even as we identify elements of ourselves in their critiques.

All these approaches have a tangential approach to them, as they tread the thin line between making us shy away as we are uncomfortably made to face our own contradictory natures, and endearing themselves to us as we feel resonances with our own rebelliousness. More importantly, and in particular with Dickens and WALL-E, it is possible to reach audiences that would generally be hostile or deaf to the arguments behinds the scenes. As anyone knows who has taken on board issues of environmentally damaging practices, the unsustainable nature of modern life and the dangers of climate change, the challenge of influencing the behaviour of others – even ourselves – and generally communicating the issues without being counterproductive is as difficult a task as it is important.

the trillion dollar challenge

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

Carbon-counting obsessive behaviour crashes to an adrenaline-soaked conclusion in what amounts to a doomsday clock for humanity. With admirably few words, the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics have used a short series of panic-inducing counters to indicate the imminent collapse of the world as we know it with their trillionth tonne counter. As average global temperatures soar and carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rise ever higher, humankind squirms and wriggles with the uncomfortable notion of a dramatic reconfiguration of life on earth. To clearly present the hoary truth and initiate change is the mission of the age. To demonstrate that the changes can be positive, and that we could all be better off than ever before, is the trillion dollar challenge.
(Blog appeared first, in a shortened version, here.)

david mackay – sustainable energy without the hot air

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23rd, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

On 21 Oct 09 I went to a talk at Oxford Brookes.

David MacKay is a physics person from Univ. Cambridge, and recently appointed advisor to DECC.
Writer of ‘Sustainable Energy – without the hot air’, also available free online.

So, the diagram here shows how much energy could be generated from each source (in green), based on a very considerable commitment (eg for offshore wind, he talks of 30% of all available locations), and consumption (in pink).

And here’s what he said.

The talk is about visualising life without fossil fuels, the use of which he refers to as an addiction state and which is not sustainable. His three main reasons for this:
- Peak oil
- Climate change
- Security of supply (energy from abroad)

He warms up with some examples
- Offset schemes, eg BP’s ‘target neutral’, where people pay £20/year. If it was this easy, the chancellor would simply pay for us all and we’d be sorted. Obviously nonsense.
- Green energy, eg e.on, who invite people to sign up to green energy on their website. But they change nothing as people sign up, and even when he presented in e.on office there were no objections to his objections
- Journalists, eg writing ‘industry has done its bit, we just have to buy’, referring to marginally more efficient technology (eg BMW saving ‘up to 12%’ fuel, the new A380 aeroplane which uses 12% less than a 747. Good, but not the 90% reduction that we need. So basically useless)
- Guardian ecostore – ridiculous items to salve the conscience, often enough
- Polarising emotions – eg Greenpeace ‘love wind, hate fossil fuel’ poster campaign. Also not helpful he feels. Nuclear/wind debate, as in personalities fighting, eg Michael Meacher vs Dr. Ingham.

His thing is that we need numbers, and not adjectives. No point saying ‘there is huge power available from wind’, since it is more or less meaningless. He also wishes to avoid ‘millions, billions and trillions’ which don’t mean very much to non-technical people, even though, he says, there is a rather significant difference between then.

With the goal of communicating a little better, he reduces everything to kWh/day/person.

This means that we can all get our heads around the numbers. Eg:
One lightbulb on all day is 1 kWh/day
20 mins kettle boiling is 1 kWh
Food we eat is about 1 kWh/day equivalent
1l petrol is about 10 kWh
Al can manufacture is 0.6 kWh

Human scale units, in other words.

The rest of the talk is best seen diagrammatically, probably. But essentially he goes through supply and demand side issues. He alternates in the talk, which makes it more digestible.

The main point is that for any of the available renewable technologies, economic, social and environmental aspects aside, we have to decide how much of the countryside/seashore/sea/farms we are prepared to see put to use for energy generation.

It is sobering stuff, where considering that we use on average 125 kWh/day/person in the UK, we need rather a lot of energy.

- Hard to live on renewables as we currently live
- We’ve assumed no economic/social/environmental issues in the modelling (ie most of the renewables calculations are associated with unacceptable intrusion/land use/cost etc.
- We haven’t included industry/embodied energy from overseas manufacture on our behalf etc.
- Renewables would have to be country sized to have much effect (ie have to cover a huge amount of the country)
- We could produce all of our electricity (not the other things) with renewables, as we currently live (but the implication is that we couldn’t provide the extra things, like gas, transport, industry, embodied energy etc)
- If we went with renewables in a big way, this is entirely possible, but is in the order of scale of, eg, WWII in terms of huge manufacturing plan and use of raw materials.
- Lifestyle change, efficiency in technology (eg sealing houses and using heat pumps is good, probably better than CHP etc.) is desirable

Final, big, conclusion:

We must have some or all of:
- Country sized renewables
- Renewable energy from other peoples’ countries
- Lots of nuclear power

What should we do now?
- Read our meters, often, like every month, and pay attention to what they say
- Insulate, use thermostats, double glazing
- Heat pumps? Probably better than condensing boilers which lock us into fossil fuel, which is what we are trying to avoid in the first place
- Decide what mix of energy we want to have (a question for the nation)

It isn’t possible to be anti everything, we have to be led by the data in all cases. The problem is that most people don’t know the numbers, so can’t be led by the data as we currently stand. He is strong on the fact that we are at the moment anti everything, but it necessary to choose something.

Pleasing or startling facts:
Car: 80 kWh, Bike: 1 kWh
Long haul flight: 29 kWh/day for the entire year for one return flight.
Biomass: 75% of country used for growing fuel would give 24 kWh/day/person. He compares this with growing food, transporting it, packaging it, transporting it again, wasting it and throwing it away, dumping it, then finally burning the methane, which is essentially what we do now. Biomass of this kind is still our biggest renewable in the UK.
All possible hydro: 1.5 kWh/day
Offshore wind, using 30% of all available deep water sites: 32 KWh/day. The recent deep water trials (2 turbines, I think) were in fact used to power the nearby oil rig, and were installed to delay the decommissioning date, depressingly.

It is an excellently delivered talk, by someone with an awesome grasp of the data. Rather rushed, though. And, surprisingly, not a totally packed auditorium.

Anything else, read the book, available on the website: www.withouthotair.com

TTHackney – a letter to the hub

Posted in Uncategorized on November 24th, 2008 by admin – Be the first to comment

dear all

with a momentary aside where we wondered if ‘Transition Town Hackney’ was really going to be the name or not, being concerned with automatically associating ourselves with the politics implied by that name, wondering if the whole of Hackney in one whoosh was really going to work anyway (what with a quarter of a million of us milling about), the latest meeting of, um-it’ll-do-for-now, TTHackney should definitely be considered a very positive moment.

forget, for the moment, your intricately conceived social enterprises, your detailed business plans, your dream-for-years, your established not-for-profits, and consider a bunch of people in a room in a theatre with a pretty wispy grasp of what the transition model actually is meeting for the purpose of they’re-not-quite-sure-what. all the more remarkable for it, i say. everyone present, a remarkable 35 this time, simply wanted to link themselves to a wider group of people who want the place to be better. from people with quite advanced notions of energy descent, an obvious academic knowledge of the issues of the day and so forth, to people who just want old people to be able to be involved with growing food locally. a bewildering number of local and national organisations were represented, from Growing Communities through numerous Hackney and London based groups and intiatives, to a guy running an open permaculture garden in his, er, garden, to people with PhDs in communicating ecological whatnots to people here and there.

and we talked about this and that, wondered how to coordinate ourselves, wondered what the point of the exercise really was, wondered if the transition model as such was really relevant and divided ourselves into groups to decide on at least one action to do by the next meeting, split into communiction, food, energy & waste, networks and inclusion. And the next meeting is: Wed 17 Dec 08, 7pm-9ish, Arcola Theatre, v v short mtg, + screening of some movie + beer/drinks/talking/shyly hovering/enthusically ranting/etc.

is it working, then? so far, yes, it is working. switch to personal for best effect i think. i discovered a lot of things. opportunities to join things. to get people to teach me things. put my own knowledge and actions in context. met people i’d like to talk to again. found a place to study/practice permaculture gardening. thought i might as well become one of these hackney green champion folk. definitely resolved to get my garden compost thingy finished soon. felt glad that a lot, and i really mean a lot, of other people are very very busy doing a lot of very excellent things (no new news to many of you, i daresay, but there’s things to bring and take at these things i think).

one of the best things i’d hope for from this new whatd’youcallit is that it becomes a success driven phenomenon, where successes are reported back each time we meet (or view the wonderful online forum which may or may not spring into life soon) and which inspire/shame/blugeon/tempt us all to run off and get still more successes to report back the next time. or even just con us into agreeing to do something which, although we know it’s a good idea, we really didn’t mean to because, y’know, we’re just so terribly terribly busy.

an avalanche of good stories will fuel this non-enterprise thing we have going here. it is not an attempt to replace anything. it doesn’t make redundant any other organisation. it attempts to be inclusive, although it hasn’t worked out how yet. there are no bold statements for anyone to disagree with or argue against. nothing more than a loose collection of people loosely suggesting that they have good will which may or may not be biddable at certain stages, if the right person asks.

what more d’you want?

caution everyone!
in amongst it all, to a general sense of agreement, someone said that just by thinking about calling whatever the group ends up calling itself something with ’sustainable’ in the title or similar (you all know what i’m talking about here), not only they, but three quarters of the population of Hackney would be immediately alientated/nauseated/switched permanently off, even in the Stoke Newington eco-linguistically-robust baby-factory of sustainable legend. it’s something to bear in mind. some of you might recall whisperings/shoutings along these lines at the recent double-edged-hub-AGM.

more? you all know where to go.

wonderful windy days, all,



WISE & Transition

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22nd, 2008 by admin – Be the first to comment

(WISE Event ‘Transition Towns Comes to London’, Conway Hall, Tue 16 Sept 2008, w/ Mike Grenville, Rob Hopkins & others)

Maybe some will appreciate a word or two (!) about the recent most excellent WISE event – Transition Towns Comes To London…

First I’ll summarize the two presentations (1). Then the debate and session that followed (2). Then a quick word about what seems to be happening with the Transition network in London already (3), something that we could all be involved with, one way or another, should we so wish. Please skip the vastnesses of text as required. Congratulations in advance if you get through it all.


Mike Grenville (Changing Worlds) spoke about oil, about our scornful attitude to using energy and about the peak in oil production that seems to be around about now. He talks about the proliferation of energy intensive fantasy visions of the future mid last century coinciding with the peak in oil discovery. We hear about how small a blip the oil age has been the story of civilised humankind. There is a salutary discussion about quite how much water is required for so many of our foods. (30 litres for a tomato… and often in countries that can ill afford it. Also a shockingly high virtual (or it could be called hidden – the water does exist) water use per head per day in the UK, c4500 litres or something). He discusses the danger of military solutions for securing the ‘last hours of ancient sunlight’ [oil!] and of the Western attitude towards the Middle East and ‘how did our oil get in their sand?’
Concluded with a poem, we heard the notion that even if only a few of us build a bridge to the future, everyone can use it. Which was a nice way of putting it.

Rob Hopkins (Transition movement, author of Transition Handbook) introduced the Transition idea. It was a well presented and generally positive talk. I don’t wish to summarize what is, in effect, the opening chapters of the Transition Handbook, which is excellent by the way. And much of the talk used the principles in the Handbook as a framework. But here’s what happened in his talk:
Rob begins with comparing oil to the magic potion in the Asterix comics. The amount of energy in oil is entirely astounding when compared to human labour, and for the price of it is pretty close to magic. He suggests that instead of thinking of peak oil as a glorious rise to the peak of the curve followed sharp and painful descent into chaos, discomfort and hellishness, it is probably much better to think of it as a dive into deep dark murkiness followed by a wonderful resurfacing from the depths into glorious sunshine where we can refill our bursting lungs with sweet, fresh air. And humanity can get on with living without all this racket, filth and precariousness. Yay!
We hear him wonder why future visions in films are either techno-lands (Gattaca (my addition), I Robot etc.) or apocalyptic (Mad Max, Hardware (sorry, that’s my addition too, a bit obscure)). Why not lovely post-oil bucolic paradise instead? Except no elves (my addition too. apologies, I’ll stop now). The point was that visions of the future that inspire us to get started, that excite us are what might help the most. We hear of the power of dreaming, and the importance of trying to leave an audience feeling euphoric after these talks. He terms this Future Visions, and suggests asking people to imagine the world in 2030 using all the most positive things that they’d like to see. We can use this.
He talks about the surprising consequences of scarcity of oil. Eg for a local business it might be that staff can’t get in to work any longer. Falling at the first hurdle, in other words.
We hear about the concept of urban market gardens, and what a good idea they can be, and effective (productive!) use of urban spaces.
Rob goes into the psychology of all of this. Shocking to hear of the changes to our lifestyles, maybe. Pre-change counselling was introduced as an idea, and the idea of tapping into people’s current enthusiasms.
We hear about the various local currencies, eg the Totnes Pound, and the Lewes Pound which was launched very recently.
The heartening notion of reskilling was discussed, that we need to relearn simple skills. This should be fun and good for us generally, though. Also collective buying, eg for solar panels in a street.
The role of local government and authorities is very important, and essential that they, and we, are aware that their role is to give support, to enable, rather than to lead, initiate or, heaven forfend, manage the process.
Finally, cities in particular. Rethinking space. Seeing them as a collection of villages. The wonderful part of all of this is the imagination and adaptability that can be unleashed. We hear of how the need for alternative approaches in the past (eg needing to increase domestic food production during WWII) led to a mass of creativity. Which is quite exciting.

Overall the sense was that there are big changes ahead, but that not only can we see them as positive ones, but that if we do then this attitude will be infectious and we’ll save the world. Hard to argue with. Hard to do. But fun. And imperative.


Next there was a brief panel discussion. Various starters of Transition places in London took to the stage to join Mike and Rob. It was interesting, but hard to summarize.
The questions included: What are the first steps? How to deal with London-wide distributed social networks at the same as small local networks/areas? Is there an ideal size for a Transition community?
The answers included: read the book (for sale), or the primer (free to download), ideal size is the size that you can manage, if you want to start then go!
The message was that it was a learning process, that each community has ownership of their own transition, that we are all learning, that it isn’t a polished system that you simply apply to your community, but it’s a pocess, a journey, an adventure.
Hearteningly, particularly in response to the idea that it all sounds rather exhausting, and aren’t we all a bit busy anyway, and (shudder) am I going to have to do all this myself?, Rob says that the process seems to have a momentum of its own, that once started then it all hurtles utopia-wards under its own steam (well, almost).
This is a vital part of it all. It is a positive business. Future visions are constructive and up-beat. We encourage people to say what they like, what they are in favour of, what works. And not what they don’t like, what they oppose, what they are against. Campaigning for, not against, in other words. It’s convincing stuff.


Finally we were all asked to clear the hall and arrange ourselves around the place according to the part of London we lived in. Which was interesting. Then people who had Transition places already underway, started or just thought of, held up cardboard signs. I was delighted to meet the man who help up a TTHackney sign. Now, I didn’t get many details for these various initiatives, because I was talking to Hackney. But there were many. And many stories that people had to tell. At the very very least there is:

TTHackney (tthackney@gmail.com), Haringey, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Tooting, Camden, Brixton, Kingston… it went on for many more than this.
But there was much interest, and many more will probably start. The expansion of the Transition network is rapid. There are 400 Transition places already launched. 900 thinking about it (not sure if I have this right… need to check, sorry). Those launched include Bristol, Totnes, Isle of Wight, Forest of Dean, a town in Japan, many smaller places.
Many of these London ones are considering splitting themselves up into smaller bits. Which made a lot of sense. We all wondered whether these splits meant that we would isolate ourselves and not benefit from the collective enterprise. There are surely many ways to avoid that, we concluded. The atmosphere was positive, most folk very excited about all of this. Many people are clearly thinking about it already.
In addition there are other schemes, old and new, afoot which will overlap in many ways. Such as the Letts scheme. The Eco Village Hackney + e-news thing. A Lee Valley conservation and nature thing. Growing communities. All these things link in. But I don’t need to tell all of you that.

The End

It’s the beginning, so it seems. A very positive feel from the event, generally. I don’t mean to turn this into an advert, though, so I’m going to stop at a relatively unmodified account of what actually happened, and not my (endless) interpretations. And that was what happened.

Well done the WISE crowd, and Polly, and the Transitioners thus far.