Wednesday, 15 February 2017

No, smart meters will not make you ill

I was recently invited to sign a 38 degrees petition against smart meters primarily on health and safety grounds. This made all sorts of spurious claims about the health impacts of radio waves used to propagate smart meter data. A friend who also got the same invite wasn't sure what to believe and another acquaintance seems to be convinced that the government and utility companies are conspiring to make us all ill with smart meters. This is ridiculous.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

What difference will electric cars make to our electricity demand

Our UK electricity generation capacity margin is getting thinner and thinner and I frequently hear of PV projects cancelled or curtailed for lack of grid capacity. Will electric cars, promoted as being kind to the planet, tip us over the edge? In this post I have done some simple calculation as to the impact on electricity demand as we progressively switch over to electric cars.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Sustainable travel for Cambridge - we have the technology, not so sure about the will

Cambridge has a massive problem with traffic congestion and it is going to get worse as more houses are built - another 20,000 more homes in the area are planned [1]. Persuading more people to use public transport instead of cars would relieve congestion and lower carbon emissions too. Currently our public transport is unreliable, slow and expensive but it does not have to be like this. Other cities have much better public transport than we do - with sensible routing, integrated electronic ticketing, real time updates, wide and/or multiple doors for fast boarding, real time updates on schedules. Above all we need to make sure buses have priority on the road so they can sail past the fuming car drivers! The new devolved administration for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will have the powers to make this happen - but we have to ensure they are used.

Bicycles, buses and taxis on a busy street in Cambridge

Friday, 13 January 2017

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon - do we really need it?

I have been reading the Hendry report on Tidal Lagoon technology [1]. Should we go ahead with a 'pathfinder' project like Swansea Bay or not? I say yes - but not because it is good value for money or has the potential to meet a large portion of our electricity needs - in fact the potential is quite limited. What swings it for me is that tidal lagoon technology has the potential to provide useful energy storage.

The overall UK potential for power generation from tidal lagoons is quite small. Hendry puts the likely limit at about 18 GW capacity providing a total 30 TWh per year. This compares to 14 GW capacity of onshore and offshore wind installed now - providing 40 TWh in 2015 [2]. So the maximum generation from all the tidal lagoons we are ever likely to build (in the UK) will supply less energy than the wind turbines we already have. On the other hand, we only have 2.4 GW pumped storage and tidal lagoons could, theoretically improve on this substantially.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

How much difference can we make if we change our diets?

Our food choices make a big difference to carbon emissions. In particular the amount of meat and animal products we eat is important. How much do we need to change to make a difference? I have been looking at data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey [1] to see what we eat and where the carbon impact is. I have also derived an alternative diet which is not meat free but still saves a third of a tonne per year in greenhouse gas emissions.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

What would a smart time of day tariff do for me?

Green Energy UK has just announced a new electricity tariff called TIDE which varies by the time of day [1]. For many people this will save money because the tariff is cheap at weekends. The time to avoid is 4-7pm on weekdays when electricity costs are higher. It is hard to know what this would mean for your particular household unless you have detailed knowledge of your electricity use. If you have a smart meter this information ought to be available but your in house display probably is not clever enough to give it to you - you need more advanced viewing tools. In this post I use electricity use profiles from a detailed study of different kinds of households to see what the costs would be.

Monday, 2 January 2017

What do animals think of electricity pylons?

Britain's beauty spots are continually threatened by the prospect of strings of electricity pylons 'scarring a cherished landscape steeped in history'. The National Grid has agreed to spend £460 million on burying cables that would cross the Lake District National Park [1] - that is about £15 per household that we will pay through our electricity bills for just this one case. If this is a purely aesthetic consideration, I think it is rather expensive. However our national parks aren't just for our pleasure they are for wildlife and biodiversity too. So, what do the birds and the deer think of electricity pylons and wires crossing the landscape? We know they see these things in a different light - literally! Also they don't like places that are noisy. Perhaps 2017 is a good time to think about how we can make our technology more friendly from the point of view of the species with which we share our planet.
You may think these pylons ugly but what do animals think?