Too Much and Too Little

Many people have died recently as a result of exceptionally heavy monsoon rains in Burma, Vietnam and south eastern India. The rains have caused landslides, polluted water courses and even though there is water everywhere it is undrinkable.  Continue reading

The World’s Largest Solar PV Array

While the United Kingdom’s renewable energy sector is losing business, due to uncertainty about government policy and the administration’s poor understanding of renewable energy the renewable energy sector in India looks as though it will become increasing prosperous and increasing important to the economic development of India. Continue reading

An Indian Space Rocket to Mars

In two days from now, on 5th November 2013, when people in the United Kingdom will be sending fireworks and rockets into the evening sky and when millions of Hindus will be treating themselves to fireworks displays, including the sending of rockets into the sky to celebrate the festival of Diwali, the Republic of India will be aiming a rocket at the planet Mars.  So far Russia (when it was part of the Soviet Union) the USA, Japan China and the European Union have all tried to explore Mars with unmanned devices. The USA has been the most successful; its probe is still orbiting Mars.

India is spending far less on its Mars mission than other Mars explorers have spend but is still meeting criticism about having a space programme at all. Some think that with all the problems in India, of poverty, ill health and corruption the Indians must have better things upon which to spend their hard earned taxes. Some point to the large amounts of “aid” that India receives from the world. The UK sends £280 million a year, which India has described a a “peanut” in comparison to the £70 billion a year it spends on development programmes. The UK will stop send “aid” to India in 2015. After all,, the UK points out, there is no UK space programme to explore Mars.

I think that there are two points to make about this “aid” – I have used the inverted commas deliberately. Much of the aid “spent” on India by the UK ends up in the hands of UK companies and enterprises  who supply UK goods and services out the the UK’s aid budget. This is the normal process of foreign aid; the nation that supplies the aid supplies its own manufactured equipment which is bought with the aid, and no doubt no bought at bargain basement prices.

The second point to make about the aid is an issue of justice. A hundred years ago India was part of the British Empire, a state of affairs which lasted until 1947. in 1913 the population of India was merely 300 million souls, including the nations that are now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Those 300 millions were controlled and managed by a hundred thousand British. Laws were enacted which sucked any prosperity and value out of the Indian economy and into the British economy. In fact the exploitation of India by the British was thought by some whom are now revered as a crime against humanity.

It certainly was; the colonial administrators lives like princes in palaces, enjoying servants who would relieve them of most of their worldly tasks. They administered justice based on beliefs that are unconscionable. Gandhi wrote “Englishmen will never see the truth as long as they permit their vision to be blinded by arrogant assumption of superiority or ignorant assumptions of infallibility”.

So it is merely just and fitting that the United Kingdom, having benefited from its exploitation of India for more than two hundred years, keeping the Mill owners rich and the mill workers employed, should pay something back, whether it is by means of so called economic aid or by providing a home and some means of economic improvements to a small number of Indians and others from the sub continent who settle in the United Kingdom.

In the historical context, an Indian space rocket to Mars is an interesting development and perhaps a sign that the former colony will soon outgrow and outshine its former colonial master. I wish India well in its space project.

Climate Change – Suspending your Disbelief

Let us all for the purposes of argument accept the view that climate change is human induced. For many that seems to be a big thing to accept. I find it odd that many people refuse to accept the advice of the majority of specialists in this field, which is that climate change is induced by human behaviour and activity. However, if you are one of those who refuse to believe the advice of experts in this matter, then please try to suspend your disbelief for the purposes of this essay.

If you have suspended your disbelief then let us see where, following the expert’s advice, takes us.

Climate change is a threat. The extent of the threat and the damage that it will produce depends upon two things. The first thing is just how much the climate will change. A warming across the world of three or four degrees Celsius will provide conditions which will seriously damage the ability of much of the world’s population to live in many places on this planet.

The second threat is the time factor; how long that human induced climate change will last is a great potential problem. If we could reverse climate change after a few decades then climate change would fall into one of those categories of things that Malthus thought were events which acted as a way of reducing human population growth. Like war, famine, drought and pestilence, climate change would wipe out a few billion people, leaving those who survived the ability to live within the resources that the earth provides, after the climate had settled into the status quo ante. Mr Scrooge was unkind when talking of removing the surplus population, but that is what nature seems to do, from time to time.

Let us imagine (your disbelief still suspended) that we all reached the conclusion that not only is the world a spherical object but that climate change is human induced by large emissions of carbon dioxide, and we actually stopped emitting carbon dioxide in a few decades time. By then the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would be more than 450 parts per million. It may be as high as 600 parts per million depending on how quickly nations like China and India are able to grow economically. If ninety per cent of the population of those countries live in the same way as ninety per cent of the population of the developed world live, then atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide will be very high.

So we then would have very high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and would have stopped emitting more carbon dioxide, having seen the effects of the emissions that we have already created. The carbon dioxide gradually reduces in the atmosphere but the climate does not return to how it was because another factor comes into play. There would be a slower loss of heat to the ocean, which has become warmer, which would keep atmospheric temperatures high for at least another one thousand years, according to studies of the processes which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  That is simply the way the chemistry works. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/6/1704.full?sid=669208dd-ab62-4928-bfcb-84dab5548f65

The are other factors which delay the reversing of climate change, the most significant is probably the rainfall changes which will come with climate change. It is easy to spoil something but hard to repair the damage. You may now stop suspending your disbelief and I how that you will ask yourself “I believe that climate change is not human induced…but what if I am wrong?”

Record Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy in 2010

The big news of the month of May came at its very end. The International Energy Agency estimates that carbon dioxide emissions due to energy – heat and electricity – rose to a record level in 2010. In 2009 emissions from these sources fell, due to the financial crisis, but since the recovery emissions are on the rise and were 5% higher than the previous record year in 2008. These are records of shame, recording the first steps of our descent into self destruction. Continue reading

Coal Reserves – and the future of coal

Is coal the new oil? There are various grades of coal but a medium grade in North West Europe cost $29 a tonne in 1999, and today costs $149 a tonne. Most grades of coal have increased in price between three fold and four fold in the past nine years. Coal (if counted in terms of energy) is more plentiful than natural gas, oil or uranium. Fortunes will be made in coal, as humans seek more and more energy self gratification, and as their numbers multiply. Continue reading

The Minister for Energy and Climate Changes speaks

“The rich world must act first, but that won’t stop dangerous climate change unless we help the poorest countries to act too.” This was what Mr Ed Miliband said last week. You will remember that Mr Miliband, a gentleman who studied politics, economics and philosophy at university and has spent his working life in politics (apart from a brief early foray in journalism), is the Minister in Charge of the Department of Energy & Climate Change. Continue reading

Increasing energy prices – why they will rise and rise and what we can do about it

Natural gas and electricity prices will get higher. British Gas increased electricity and gas bills by an average of 15% this January and is now signalling further large price increases. It claims that its profits have been hit by a 92% increase in the wholesale price of gas in the past twelve months and therefore it will need to increase its prices to ensure that it does not lose money.

All of the energy supply companies in the UK are in the same position as British Gas. Electricity and gas are still cheap for consumers in the UK. Heating oil is now around 60p a litre, which in kWh terms must be the most expensive ever. Continue reading

Tata Nano and the new car owning population in Asia

India’s population is not only growing but prospering. The Indian economy is booming, and jobs are better paid than they ever where, and there are better paid jobs than ever. In these circumstances it is not surprising that more Indians can afford cars and that one Indian car manufacturer, Tata Motors, will be introducing a very cheap car for the mass and popular marker, which they have called “the Nano”.  

The car will reach the market in three years time, when it is expected to be sold for $2,000, or just over £1,000. The makers expect to reach these costs by using less metal and more plastic on the car (avoiding expensive welding and gluing the plastic together instead), and by selling direct to the public, eliminating the dealer’s margins.

The car will have a small engine and fuel efficient, providing over 50 miles per gallon, it is expected, with a two-cylinder 623cc petrol engine and an electronic engine management system.  The fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon is roughly the same as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, which are both much larger cars with hybrid engines. I guess that the average new car in Britain operates at over 30 miles a gallon. 

Tata already make a car that they sell for about three times the cost of the Nano, but the Nano will be priced at levels which will enable millions of families in India to buy cars for the first time. Although this vehicle it is claimed will pollute less than the two and three wheelers being made in India at present there is no doubt that the prospect of hundreds of millions more of Asians owning and driving cars, such ownership now being affordable, will have an impact on climate change and on oil prices. 

We should not be surprised about a car being sold in India for around £1,000. The market knows that there is a demand for such cars and Mr Tata’s company is simply logically trying to fill the demand. No doubt we shall see similar developments in China and in other parts of Asia as prosperity increases. 

There are reports of environmentalists being “dismayed” and “horrified” at the prospect of hundreds of millions more cars on the roads of the planet. Of course, in developed nations we have been driving cars in millions for fifty or more years, and for most of that time the cars we drove were highly polluting, emitting not only carbon dioxide but also carbon monoxide and lead and particulates into the atmosphere.

We have in many western countries not just the one car family (to which Indians presently aspire) but two and three car families. If you project Asian prosperity and assume, quite reasonably that they will want to live like we live when they become as wealthy as we are you end up with some frightening projects of emissions and pollution. But none of this should be surprising in any way. 

This is the heart of the problem with climate change it lies in the hands of the devloping world. Of course, if the half a billion people in the developed world all agreed to limit the size of their car engines to 632cc and to only manufacture highly fuel efficient cars we might be able to criticise the developing world.  

The Tata Nano is still three years away from being available to buy. I wonder what proportion of the developed world’s cars will have small engines doing more than 50 miles per gallon will be in the developed world in three years time. This is an area where we can make a difference.

I do not think that being able to run a car that uses huge amounts of petrol or that is designed to travel from zero to fifty in six seconds, or has a top speed vastly in excess of the lawful speed limit is a matter of right or choice, except in so far as it is everyone’s right not to be poisoned. 

 It is therefore important that we continue not only improving fuel efficiency in cars but also start a process of limiting their size, the size of their engines and the pollution they create, so at least when we see the Tata Nano selling in millions, we will can reduce some of the carbon emissions that India will create by our own behaviour in the developed world.     

New nuclear power stations and Gordon Brown making tough decisions

There has been a lot of news in the past day. The race for presidential candidates in the United States has got very interesting, particularly with Mrs Clinton making a strong showing to win New Hampshire. In the United Kingdom there are new measures that will be introduced in an effort to halt or slow down the worrying amount of people infected in hospital where they go to get better.

Somehow, amidst all this news the announcement that the Cabinet had unanimously agreed to approve new nuclear power generators has gone relatively unnoticed, although in the longer term it is probably the most important piece of news this week. 

Gordon Brown claims that this decision is a “fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for the new world”, but has refused to answer questions about the detail of what will happen. It is nice to see Mr Brown is concerned about preparing Britain for the new world, but his rhetoric is empty. I have news for him; the “new world” that he seeks to prepare us for already exists. His party has been in office for ten years and have in that time neglected the issue of energy and in particularly neglected to secure any long term energy independence for us in a world where nations are competing for limited supplies of fuel. 

Apparently this decision will be announced not by the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks but by the Business Minister, John Hutton tomorrow; odd, that, to announce the decision twice – once to the media and once to Parliament. They can save a lot of time by only announcing it once; I am sure that Parliament follows what is in the media and that the media follows what is said in Parliament. This double announcing seems a gross waste of energy. 

The decision to build new nuclear power stations is incompetent, dishonest and dangerous. It is incompetent because nuclear fuel is a finite resource which will probably last no more than seventy years, and possibly less as China and India build new nuclear power stations that will draw on the world’s supply of uranium. In these circumstances by the time the power stations are built we will have only secured some electricity for a limited period. Nuclear power will only secure electrical energy supplies, and although electricity can be used to create heat that is a very expensive way to use it. 

It is dishonest because the decision will be dressed up as an environmental decision, and all kinds of claims will be made that nuclear energy (when they mean nuclear electricity) does not emit carbon dioxide. The process itself does not; the nuclear fission provides heat which drives turbines which generate electricity but mining the uranium is a carbon intensive process, particularly in places like India where when they mine uranium and then process it the overall carbon foot print is as big as an oil burning power station. It is also dishonest because decommissioning will involve building huge underground concrete bunkers to store the waste fuel which in itself is a very carbon intensive programme. 

It is dangerous because the new generation of nuclear power stations will be over twice the size of existing power stations and will contain a great deal of dangerous material. It is also dangerous that we are going to build more nuclear power stations without having invented a process for disposing of the waste safely, other than by burying it for tens of thousands of years. 

This decision is being dressed up as the government making a tough long term decision. Balderdash. It is an easy option – the only tough part about the decision is the need to explain it to a sceptical public and trying to figure out how we can pretend that the decommissioning costs will actually be paid by the plant operating companies when in reality they will be paid by the public purse. 

A tough long term decision would be to require every home to have some form of microgeneration from a non carbon or a low carbon source, now. A tough long term decision would be to build a tidal power station in the Severn Estuary. A tough decision would be to require all new homes built to have solar water heating. A tough decision would be to tax the people that use the most energy by having progressive energy price bands. A tough decision would be to ban car engines above a certain size. Gordon Brown is not making any tough decisions about these and a host of other measures relating to energy. 

So when you hear the spin that the government will put on this decision ask them why they are making easy short decisions not tough long term ones. And also ask them why, if the nuclear power stations that they will be building will be so safe why they won’t site them next to the Houses of Parliament, so that they may deliver the electricity that they produce quickly to high population centres without suffering the low transmission losses, and use the surplus heat generated to provide people nearby with a district heating scheme.