Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Whaling songs

We judge what is normal against our childhood experiences aparently, so I expect other people to know the music that my parents played during my childhood. But of course not many people know the whaling songs of the 19th century (why did they have that record!), the lyrics of all Gilbert and Sullivan or think the Beethoven's Archduke Trio one of the most famous piece of classical music.

My childhood music experience was shaped by a single record collection. In these days of easily available music, music collections are no longer constrained and I don't suppose children spend much time listening to their parents music anyway.

A sad loss, those whaling songs are great for getting the energy going at the end of the afternoon...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Positive Conversations

In the worlds of a childhood song, it's time to "GET OURSELVES UP...



Having been ground down by the endless pessimism about the place, I took Christmas (and most of January) off and concentrated on learning Django - the hottest new framework for website development. But meeting up with my colleagues at Cork Environmental Forum got me back in the saddle and ready to focus on having positive conversations about our future.

That does not mean ignoring the mess we are in and just saying positive things in the hope that the bad stuff will go away. (See Gerard O'Neill's excellent blog and thanks for this twitter link http://tinyurl.com/aasstf).

Positive conversations seek to understand where we are, without lingering too long on why, where we want to get to and how we are going to get there. We fear most what we don't understand and can't control and has little to do with logic. Terrorists from foreign countries and cultures are more frightening than the home brand. Being flown in a big jet which clearly shouldn't be able to fly, is more scary than flying yourself in a small one!

I'm going to get a chance to put the positive conversations idea into action at the first meeting of the Dreamstake network in London on Feb 18th 2009 where I will be facilitating a workshop and discussion around the risks and opportunities in the future. All are welcome!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Case for Wind as a safe Investment

I am not alone in believing the current safest investment would be in wind energy. The wind will keep blowing and people will keep needing electricity, although the amount will depend on the overall state of the economy amongst other things.

And, in Ireland, wind energy will always have a market because of the way the Irish market works. Since all generators must sell their electricity into a pool from which suppliers buy the electricity to sell to their customers. Wind energy will always be a price taker because it is always better to sell, regardless of how low the price. For a gas powered station, the cost of the gas gives a bottom to the price at which it is worth selling. (The calculation is actually more complex because of the cost of shutting down and restarting plant.) So your wind power will be sold ahead of other non-renewables.

Ireland desperately needs wind energy. We import nearly 90% of our energy and will be vulnerable to chaotic price changes in oil, which sets the price for gas, until we change that. There are many new renewable technologies coming on stream that may be appropriate for Ireland, but none that have over 20 years of experience of use. So wind it is in the short term, and we have plenty of wind. Ireland has set the target of 40% of electricity production from wind by 2020. If this target is to be reached that would mean building one 1MW wind turbine every day! See article in Greenmonk for the numbers.

So how might you wrap this product to make a good investment? I suggest a government backed bond with tax free returns for the first 10 years. In return no returns would be paid until the end of year 2 to allow time for construction and connection to the grid (see comment later as this is currently 5+ years). The product would be managed by a bank or financial services company who would operate the scheme on a 1% commission basis. This should not be problematical as there would be low management costs unlike other financial products.

Returns will depend on electricity prices, which in turn are a function of demand and oil price, both of which are currently uncertain. SEI projected returns before tax of 5.5% here.

So what are the risks? The main risk is that the grid will not be updated quickly enough to take an increase in wind, that demand response will not be implemented quickly ensuring that wind farms are not curtailed (turned off) when supply exceeds demand, and that longer term, high bandwidth interconnectors to europe are not built to ensure best price of electricity generated. This is why government support for this investment product to ensure that infrastructure was implemented in a timely fashion.

More about wind energy and the need for demand response here: http://pbjots.blogspot.com/2008/08/no-demand-repsonse-no-progress.html

Buy different

There is an assumption that the solution to both peak oil and climate change would be to buy less and I think this needs to be challenged. And I'm not saying I wouldn't welcome a much less frenetic consumerism!

Without doubt, a rapid reduction in Carbon (so much easier than saying greenhouse gas emissions but we must remember it includes a number of other gases) would lead to a reorganisation of the economy. When this is something the powers that be want, it is a 'good thing'. Like moving away from manufacturing to a service economy, which will increase the number of jobs in high value businesses and create growth in new areas. But when it is forced upon them it is a 'bad thing' because it will mean loss of jobs and closing businesses and unemployment. Change always causes pain for some and gain for others whether the long term result is good or bad overall.

But if we all suddenly reduced our carbon usage by not travelling, not buying stuff, not heating our homes and not using electricity the economy would suffer badly, jobs would be lost, businesses close and because we were busy not spending, there would be little to replace them.

So we need to find a way to continue spending AND reducing carbon usage by choosing more carefullly how we spend our money. Do we fly to Rome for the weekend or buy a painting? Do we buy an apple from China or a local apple? Do we buy a plasma TV or a subscription to a movie channel?

Low(er) carbon spending usually involves not buying things but experiences or services.
Instead of buying a lawn mower, pay someone to mow the lawn for you (hopefully travelling around by electric vehicle)
Think quality before quantity
Eat at local resteraunts that use local foods
Get stuff repaired

Types of Blog Posts

For me, there are three kinds of blog posts:
- spur of the minute mini posts. I think of something to post and happen to be online at the time...
- longer posts. Anything to avoid what I am really supposed to be doing...
- serious posts. Having written a draft I don't want to post it yet as I think it worthy of more attention. Never gets posted.

I'm going to have a clear out of all those posts that never got finished and delete or post!

Japan Car - The Science Museum

n c
Made one of my periodic trips to the Science Museum in London to worship the Steam Engines and see what had changed.

I think the Steam Engines - all shapes and sizes and some working - are Awesome. In every sense of the word. And never tire of looking at them, especially the early ones, where you can see a brand new idea evolving. It must have been so exciting to design and build them. And then to care for them. Some went on working for well over 100 years and got affectionate names like 'Old Bess'. We rarely get a chance to develop any kind of relationship, other than frustration, with our modern machines. They are just not around long enough.

The Japan Car exhibition includes examples of their mini-cars. A particular spec that limits the dimensions of the car and engine size to 600cc. They have a wide range of cars, including two seat drop head and a var/pickup. Also the iReal. If the segway is an advanced scooter, think of this as an advanced armchair. If we are all zipping around in these things, that take us from inside our homes, to the shops, around the shops and back again, how long will we have to spend in the gym to keep our bodies ticking over? I can see a later version having gym equipment built in to save you that hassle, and maybe even providing some charge for the battery. I really look forward to having one of these when I can no longer stride down the road, and hopefully there will be an off-road version for checking the horses in the field, I will be on equal terms with the more able bodied. But I still like the simplicity of walking. No need to check the battery is charged, just up and go!

Airships rise again

Airships sound good in theory - cheap, load carrying, flexible routing (no airport required) - but various companies have failed over the years to get beyond the small blimps used advertising and carrying TV cameras.

Here is another go and the best of luck to them.

This article makes two errors:

Dangers of hydrogen - the same stuff we are planning to put in our cars. There is a comprehensive summary of the various theories of what cause the Hindenberg crash in Wikipedia but what is rarely reported is that
Despite the violent fire, most of the crew and passengers survived. Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. Also killed was one member of the ground crew, Navy Linesman Allen Hagaman. The two dogs on board the ship also died. Most deaths were not caused directly by the fire but were from jumping from the burning ship. Those passengers who rode the ship on its descent to the ground survived. Some deaths of crew members occurred because they wanted to save people on board the ship. In comparison, almost twice as many perished when the helium-filled USS Akron crashed.[12]

Friday, January 16, 2009

Energy Payback Period

Suppose a developer looked at this row of poor constructed and poorly maintained buildings and had an idea.

I'm going to make this offer to all the property owners. I will knock this whole block and rebuild using a highly efficient pre-fab system so you can be back in your homes/shops in 2 months. I will put solar panels on the roof and a gas fired CHP plant for the whole block.

You get, at no cost other than some inconvenience, a new building that has low running costs.
I will rebuild back to a higher level and will get the additional space to rent or sell. I will also maintain and run the CHP plant and supply you with heat and electricity and take the profits from that.

So assuming you could work your way through peoples reluctance for change and the planning laws, and assuming this was a profitable deal for the developer. How long would the payback be in terms of energy and how long would it be in terms of carbon emissions (this would be sooner because the proportion of renewables would be increased)?

A lot would depend on constructions methods and how inefficient the buildings currently are. There are many options when you are building new buildings, to reduce fossil-fuel use and energy use overall. Retrofit is much much harder. Maybe we starting again in many cases. Develop a whole new 21st century style that retains some of the characteristics of earlier times, but is not trying to mimic any period of the past.

Anyone any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I can flush with impunity again!

Three days without water has not been fun and in despiration today called the plumber after trying a long list of fixes that all involved fiddling with spanners, water, compressors in a small, cold, dark shed.

So Phoebe, next time the pump stops pumping water, this is a reminder of what you learned this time.

If you can't prime the pump, 90% chance the problem is in the well, and probably the foot value. If it takes more than 5 gallons to prime it, that is a problem.
If there is a problem with the pressure tank, the pump will keep pumping, it will just keep kicking in and out.
This is a jet pump, and the top pipe going into the pump in the in, and the bottom one the out back to the foot valve.
You can prime through either the pressure reslease plug or the other plug next to it - makes no difference.
The pressure in the pressure tank should be the same as the point at which the pump cuts in, ie. the lower of the two pump pressures + a bit for luck. Pump currently set to cut in at 20 and out at 40. To repressurise the tank, turn off the pump, open a tap before pressurising with strong compressor (the little one on the jump start kit is not man enough).
Takes about 4 gallons to prime the pipes enough to run the pump - pipes are about 70ft long.
The problem in this case was an iron fitting on the foot value which had rotted in exactly, to the day, 5 years since it was fitted.

And before the next time, get the pipe from the spring fixed and the hand pump working so it not such a drama!