Thursday, January 12, 2017

Talking about Sustainability

Find the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Links at www.susbiz.biz

It's Friday, 13 January but don't worry, there isn't another Friday the 13th until October. And where will we be by then? Well if you believe the followers of Guy McPherson https://guymcpherson.com/ then we will be facing the Apocalypse, but call me reckless and I'm sure many of his followers would, I just don't think things will be quite as bad as that by then. There's no doubt that 2017 will be a challenging year, particularly on the political front. Everything we do depends on a political framework so we can't ignore Brexit or Donald Trump or the lack of a credible opposition in the UK Parliament. But before I get on my hobbyhorse let's look at some things that I've picked up on the sustainability front this week.

You've heard of carbon capture and storage and you've probably heard that no one has yet made it work on a commercial scale, but have you heard of carbon capture and utilisation? Maybe that's the future. If you want to get away from it all, how about a VW camper? Yes I know they stopped making them in 2013, but they’ve just brought a new one out. Looks the same, but very different. Could be just what you’ve been waiting for, Clive. There’s good news from Swansea Bay, and I'll talk about the Green Investment Bank, which may not be green or a bank for much longer. I'll admit that I've given in to temptation and written to the local paper. I’ll tell you why and what I said, and if you want to save energy and be warmer at home you should have listened to me on Talk Radio on New Year's Eve. Missed it? Don't worry–here’s your second chance. I was talking to Martin Roberts.

[Talk Radio interview]

Swansea Bay

More on energy. This week sees the publication of a report which recommends that the government should go ahead with the development of the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. This is excellent news, because when the report was set up it was seen as a device to kick the project into the long grass where it would lie and be forgotten. I reported on Swansea Bay back in November. Tidal Lagoon Power plans to build a barrier across Swansea Bay in South Wales to hold back the tide and release the water through turbines to generate electricity. Predictable power twice a day, no carbon emissions and no fuel costs. The government made the construction of the Swansea Bay lagoon a manifesto commitment  at the last election.
The project will cost £1.3bn, most of it spent in Wales and the rest of the UK. That’s less than a tenth of the cost of Hinkley C, the planned nuclear power station just across the Bristol Channel. The output would of course be very much lower than Hinkley C which is planned to produce 8% of the nation’s electricity. However, with similar lagoons at Cardiff and Newport and in Cumbria and Somerset the total output could be the same. The cost of construction would be significantly lower, there would be no emissions, no hazardous waste to dispose of and the life of the plant would be very much longer.

The key obstruction to progress seemed to be the negotiation of the strike price. This is the guaranteed price for the electricity produced by scheme. Initially it was estimated at £168 per megawatt, which is very much higher than the figure of £90 agreed for Hinkley C, which itself is at least twice the current wholesale price. However, the report takes into account the longer life of Swansea Bay, around 120 years, which cuts the figure to a comparable £89.90. A spokesman for Tidal Lagoon Power told the BBC’s File on Four programme that building the Cardiff Bay tidal lagoon as well could bring the cost down to £60. Of course subsidies would be involved, estimated at 30p on a bill, but what price energy security? Let’s hope the government acts on the report.

Power of the Press

Yes, I’ve been writing to the local paper. There are some people with very fixed opinions who write every week and I bite my tongue because I often disagree. Anyway I picked up my pen last month and this is what I said:

“We learn from Philip Roe's letter that it is a fact that global warming has little to do with man or his flatulent cows. Could he perhaps share his evidence for this “fact”?"

Mr Roe came straight back:

“Anthony Day asks me to share my evidence that man has little to do with global warming. Even the most ardent tree huggers have got to admit that planet Earth is pretty huge. Man's gas input (carbon dioxide to methane) from road vehicles to flatulent cattle affecting the climate of this planet is of no real consequence. In all probability earth is getting warmer, but this is purely cyclic. Britain, in the Carboniferous period, was tropical yet there was no man around to affect that climate. Ice ages have come and gone over the last 2.5 million years. Cyclic changes which happen about every 100,000 years. CO2 (carbon dioxide) allegedly produced by man, is being blamed as the main cause of “global warming” but what about volcanoes Mr Day? Many volcanoes, both on the surface and subsea, pour thousands of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere day in, day out. Man-made, and naturally occurring, CO2 have a little to do with the earth's climate. The Greens would love to say we are the cause of climate change. Climate changes are cyclic and man can do nothing to alter that fact.”

I felt he’d been misinformed, so I sent off a response.

“Philip Roe (ThePress 23rd December) is mistaken in thinking that our contributions to methane emissions are negligible. In fact human activity, including agriculture and flatulent cows, produces 55% of the 558 million annual tonnes of this highly potent greenhouse gas.(Environmental Research Letters 12/12/16) He is right in saying that volcanoes emit tonnes of carbon dioxide, (CO2) day in, day out, but their 200 million tonnes are equal to less than 1% of the 24 billion tonnes emitted by human activity. (US Geological Survey) 
While climate change is cyclical over the very long term, it is clear that we are accelerating that dangerous cycle. Recognising the urgency of the situation, some 195 nations, including the US, the UK and China, have made a commitment to radically cut emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible. The good news is that efficient use of energy reduces emissions, so a well-insulated home and a high-mpg car will save you money and help save the planet as well. And Dutch scientists are developing a special grass which stops cows from burping as much methane.”

Mr Roe hasn’t come back on this. He’s turned his attention to letters urging the government to get on with Brexit just as quickly as possible. But then we heard from Alan Robinson.

“I am grateful to Anthony Day for correcting Philip Roe’s untenable assertion that mankind's contribution to greenhouse gases is insignificant. But Anthony only got it nearly right. He described cows first as “flatulent” and later as “burping”. It may come as a bit of a surprise but in fact methane emissions from ruminants arise mostly from fermentation of the cud before it enters the true stomach. The gas emerges from the front-end, not the rear. So “burping” is correct. Sadly it also means putting gas bags on bovine bottoms isn't much use. Eating kangaroo is better, because kangaroo burps are far less methane laden.”

So that’s me told. Actually I did know that it was burping and not flatulence that caused the methane (as careful listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report will well know.) Didn’t know about the kangaroos, though.

The Baking Powder Solution

So that’s methane. What about carbon dioxide?

Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals in India, which runs a conventional power plant, plans to turn 60,000 tonnes of CO2 a year into soda ash – or baking powder. It will do this using a new technology which captures the emissions from the plant boiler’s chimney and mixes them with rock salt to make soda ash – a chemical that forms a key ingredient in glass, sweeteners, detergents and paper products, as well as food. The firm’s managing director, Ramachandran Gopalan, told BBC Radio 4: “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.” The company states that the plant is now running with virtually no emissions seeping into air or water. Globally the technique could be used to absorb 5-10% of man-made CO2 emissions.

The method has been developed by two chemists from India who set up a company called Carbonclean, which is now based in Paddington in London. They relocated there from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur after failing to find finance in India – but later secured £3.6 million from the UK government. Imperial College London and Leeds and Sheffield Universities helped Carbonclean develop the technology. Nice to hear that the UK government is supporting at least some green initiatives.

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/environment/new-technology-turns-co2-baking-powder/

Roger Harrabin presented Climate Change: The Trump Card on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on 3 January. (iPlayer) He also talks about the environment post Trump and about the biggest solar farm in the world. 

Green Wheels

Volkswagen has revealed a new camper van concept, the I.D. Buzz, at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.
It looks a bit like the iconic VW Microbus made famous by the 1960s hippie movement, but it boasts eight seats and an all-electric drivetrain with a range of 600km or 370 miles. The I.D. Buzz has full integration with futuristic self-driving technology. The steering wheel is only needed some of the time – with a "gentle push" it retracts back into the dash, allowing the car's occupants to chat among themselves. Its quoted 0-62mph time is five seconds and it has a limited top speed of 160kmh – just shy of 100mph. 0-60 in 5 seconds? That’s not a hippie car.

There’s some discussion over whether VW will ever put the I.D. Buzz it into production. In any case it’s not expected to hit the road before 2020 at the earliest. Nevertheless, like other manufacturers VW has announced that it will be involved in setting up a network of charging points to make electric driving convenient, and it has many other electric vehicles under development. A logical move, given that the outlook for the diesel market is extremely black. VW is also reported to be developing a self-drive taxi fleet to rival Uber. The 8-seater ID Buzz could be the vehicle of choice.


Green Investment Bank

Do you remember the Green Investment Bank? it was set up by the UK’s coalition government to support new, emerging and green technologies, and according to a report in the Guardian Newspaper it has been quite successful, with projected returns of around 10%. Of course the whole Green idea was completely unattractive to former Chancellor George Osborne who took the opportunity to change the bank’s constitution so that it could invest in a much wider range of projects. The next stage was to sell the whole thing off. And Theresa May's government planned to do just that. The rumour is that the buyer is Macquarie, an Australian investment group which until recently at least had a major stake in Thames Water. Based on their past record, what they could do is simply buy the bank, sell off all its investments and close it down. Macquarie could then invest the proceeds elsewhere, with no guarantee that this would be in the UK or in green technology. Hence my earlier comment that it would no longer be green or a bank. As I write this I learn that Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, has forced a debate in parliament, claiming that Macquarie has a dismal and terrible environmental record, [and] also has an appalling track record of asset-stripping.  MPs of all parties have raised concerns over the sale, but the government has refused to comment in detail or even to identify the bidder, saying that the whole thing is “commercially sensitive”. Watch this space. We'll wait and see.

And finally...

And finally, who is that Guy McPherson I mentioned at the start of all this? Well, go to Guy McPherson https://guymcpherson.com/ and you’ll find out all about him. I wouldn’t bother, if I were you. It’s too depressing. Guy is an American academic who predicts near-term human extinction - that’s well within the next 10 years. It’s hardly surprising that there’s a headline on his home page which asks, “Contemplating suicide?” I don’t want to be flippant about this, and there’s no doubt that humanity is taking exceptional liberties with the planet and we urgently need to do more about it, but 2017 can’t be that bad. And, if you’ll forgive another cliché: while there’s life there’s hope.

Still, no time to sit around and wait for things to happen. Many a mickle maks a muckle. Get that aerated shower head on your shopping list for Saturday and check whether your local council is still doing free loft insulation. And a new boiler will really save you money if you haven’t got a condensing one already.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next week with another Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day. Thanks for your comments, ideas and suggestions. I’m always ready for more. Just send them to mail@anthony-day.com

Till next time!

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 - how was it for you?

Published as a podcast at www.susbiz.biz on Friday 23rd December. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.


Yes, here it is! Episode 38 of the Sustainable Futures Report for 2016. I know it’s not quite Christmas but you can open it now. Go on - you know you want to. And who’s that over there with the white beard? Ho ho ho. It’s me, Anthony Day.

Right, now you’ve unwrapped it you’re going to have to put it together. No batteries required. 

Numbers

But before we get down to that, a few seasonal sustainabilities, (or not). This week the nation’s waste will be 30% higher than normal. Only 30%? Still, nice to see some growth in the economy. One billion Christmas cards could end up in landfill instead of being recycled. I hope they won’t be yours.

17.2 million Brussels sprouts are thrown away each year along with 2 million turkeys. We throw away 6 million Christmas trees and 74 million mince pies. Around 300,000 tonnes, yes that’s tonnes of card packaging is used at Christmas - enough to cover Big Ben almost 260,000 times, and most of it unnecessary. Thanks to the i newspaper for these vital statistics. Did you know that 43% of all statistics are made up on the spot?

You’ve probably read that Santa Claus needs to travel at 6,200,000 miles an hour in order to complete his round on Christmas Eve. I'm not quite sure what carbon footprint is associated with that journey or the extent of damage caused by the multiple sonic booms.

For some more prosaic statistics:

On Christmas Day last year the pound/dollar rate was quoted at $1.49. This week it’s trading about $1.24

Last January petrol cost 102p/litre with diesel the same. Latest figures from the AA show that in November it was 117p and 119p for diesel.

The oil price started the year around $30/barrel, dipped below it and recovered to around $54 this week.

The Norwegian EV association has announced that there are now more than 100,000 electric vehicles on the roads of Norway. According to http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/news/norway_hits_electric_car_milestone that’s 24% of Norway’s total vehicles. According to Statistics Norway that’s 2.6% of Norway’s total vehicles. See note on statistics above. 

Favourite App of the year - Drake Landing. More about that in a moment.

Favourite TED Talk - Joe Smith on how to use a paper towel (just one) http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_smith_how_to_use_a_paper_towel?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread  Dates from 2012, but still worth watching.

Post truth of the year: Solomon Dugbo was jailed for defrauding the electrical waste industry of £2.2m. He claimed that one of his vehicles had made a journey carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges. Further investigation revealed that this vehicle did exist, but it was a moped.

Overview

And now, over to you. This year I’ve written 37 episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report averaging 3,000 words each. That’s well over 100,000 words. Maybe I should write a novel. No, no time. I’m too busy writing podcasts. Anyway, here’s an overview of the topics covered. You can go back to the ones you missed or the ones you’d like to hear again.

Start at susbiz.biz where you’ll find links to each recording and a brief summary of the topics covered. For the full text go to anthonyday.blogspot.com where I’ve included links to my sources.

Interviews

I interviewed three guests during the year. I have more lined up for 2017.

In January Simone Hindmarch-Bye of the Commercial Group told us about how sustainability was embedded in her organisation and how employees were engaged in the whole concept of sustainability.

Manda Scott is the author of some 14 historical novels. She’s currently taking a sabbatical and is reading for a Masters in Economics for the Transition at Schumacher College. Her interview went out in November.

In December I spoke to Tim Balcon, CEO of IEMA, about sustainability from a professional perspective.

My main themes during the year were:

Energy Generation and Storage
Air Quality
Transport
Waste and Recycling
Interesting Facts and Political Opinions

Energy Generation and Storage


Hinkley C was a recurring issue throughout the year, appearing in February, March, April, May and October. You’ll remember that it’s a planned nuclear power station in Somerset and there have been doubts over the technology - an unproven design, over the financial strength of EDF who are going to build it, over the time it will take to get it into production - already 10 years late, and over the cost of the electricity it will produce. One of Theresa May’s first actions as prime minister was to put the project on hold. After all, it was one of George Osborne’s favourites. Shortly afterwards she decided to give it the go-ahead. When you write Hinkley you have to remember that there’s no C in Hinkley. Maybe that’s significant.

Other sources of energy covered included wind power, in February, June and December. In April I talked about solar energy in Saudi, and in Washington University they are planning to harvest electricity from the air. They intend to use energy from all the wifi, TV and radio signals swirling around us to power sensors and monitors which need very small amounts of power but at the moment have to rely on batteries - which of course need changing from time to time. At the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre in the UK, research continues into a unique form of renewable energy. Scientists have developed a microbial fuel cell which generates electricity from urine. Oxfam sees possibilities in the Third World. (22/4) 

Ceres (November) have developed a steel fuel cell and claim significant advances in the price/performance ratio.

They are harvesting energy at Drake Landing in Canada. This housing estate has a barrage of solar panels which heat water and the heat is transferred to an underground thermal store, which is little more than holes in the ground. But this store holds enough heat to heat all the houses on the estate for over 95% of the time. There’s an app which shows in real time how much heat is being generated, how much is being used and the temperature in the thermal store. I find it fascinating. The only drawback is that it doesn’t always load real-time data.

On the divide between energy generation and storage we have the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. It generates electricity as the tide rises and again as the tide falls. Well it will when it’s built. Together with other barriers around the Bristol Channel and the coasts of Wales and Cumbria it can generate as much power as Hinkley C, will produce power at the same price or cheaper, uses relatively simple technology, will probably be quicker to build and will last for at least 100 years. Governments have been promising a decision for many months and it was hoped that a final decision would have been announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Not a word. 

Looking at energy storage batteries have held the headlines. Lithium ion is the most popular because of its energy density - the amount of energy held in a given volume. The problem is that cramming lots of energy into a small space means that when things go wrong there can be fires or even explosions. Samsung has had to withdraw one of its smartphones because of this as I’m sure you know. Still, because of their energy density lithium-ion batteries are the batteries of choice for small electronics and for electric cars. This year Elon Musk of Tesla opened his mega-factory to make them. Tesla also offers a domestic battery unit which you can charge from your solar panels and run most of your appliances after dark. Scientists are working on a lithium-air battery which will have four times the capacity of lithium-ion. The problem is that air has lots of debris and impurities which clog up the system and stop it working, so it’s not ready for commercialisation yet.

Dyson, the vacuum cleaner manufacturer, is rumoured to be working on a ceramic battery which will exceed the energy density of lithium ion. There are also rumours they they may be planning to build electric cars. Another method of storage is to link a battery with a capacitor. Capacitors can only store small amounts of charge, but they charge and discharge very rapidly. In tandem with a battery they can protect it from surges and respond quickly to sudden demand. If you need to store a lot of electricity you could use pump storage. There’s nothing new about pumping water to the top of a mountain when demand is low and letting it flow back down through a turbine to generate electricity. Ideal for smoothing demand peaks on the grid, but expensive and not an option if you live in Norfolk or the Netherlands. (They’re very flat) In the US they’re using a train. A very heavy train on an inclined track. It’s driven up the track with surplus energy when demand is low; it runs down the track when demand is high, its wheels turning a generator. Details in May.

Before leaving energy I’ll comment on the Winter Outlook - the forecast of whether we’ll see blackouts this winter. We have some elderly coal plants on standby which means that we should be secure even in a cold snap, as long as it doesn’t last too long. France, which usually supplies the UK with electricity at peak times has its own problems, mainly that much of its nuclear fleet has to be taken offline for extended maintenance.


Methane? Gets everywhere!

Methane is an issue because it has 23 times the effect of CO2 and methane levels are rising. Much comes from livestock although Dutch scientists are working on a type of grass which reduces the emissions from cows which eat it. On the other hand the Royal Society B reported in June that the dung from cattle treated with antibiotics, commonly used to enhance growth, emits 1.8 times as much methane.

Transport


The episode which generated most comment this year was the one in December about electric cars, hydrogen cars and self-drive cars. Self-drive lorries, or at least electronically controlled convoys with a single driver in the front vehicle, are likely to be trialled on UK motorways in 2017. I also found the electric bus which recharges itself in only 15 seconds. And then there’s HS2. I’m not in favour of HS2 because it will be of limited benefit to anyone outside London. It will make it easier to go from cities in the North to London than to neighbouring Northern cities. What’s needed is a Hull to Liverpool link via Leeds and Manchester. Nothing new, just an upgrade to the existing line to the standard of say the East Coast main line. More in the episode for 10th June called Blowing in the Wind.

And if we’re talking about transport what about the third runway at Heathrow? Well I don’t agree with that, either. More pollution and emissions from aircraft. More pollution and emissions and congestion from more cars trying to get to Heathrow. The M25 in that area is already 14 lanes wide.

And then there’s that new cruise liner launched this year. The fuel it uses, in common with many merchant vessels, is so dirty that it cannot burn any while in port. On the high seas it just chucks all its pollution and emissions into the atmosphere. Does it chuck rubbish overboard, or does it hang on to it until it gets back to port and pays for it to be sent to landfill?

Did somebody say Bah, Humbug?

And there's more...!

This year I’ve written about air quality, waste and recycling; about schoolchildren suing the US government for allowing fossil fuel use to threaten the planet, about floods and flood prevention, about LED lighting, about water conservation in Israel and its lessons for the rest of us; about the Paris Agreement and the Queen Street Mill. The Queen Street Mill was the last working steam-powered mill in the world. With government cuts there was no money to keep it going. It’s now permanently closed. Bah, Humbug.

Search through susbiz.biz  or anthonyday.blogspot.com. You’ll find coal mines in China and new coal mines planned for the UK, a solar road in France, Brexit, floating solar panels, plastic microbes, Peak Stuff and Peak Car. I’ve also spoken about the oil price, wild fires, solar impulse 2 - the electric aircraft - and Sir David Mackay. We lost Sir David Mackay, scientist and author of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, at the age of only 49. What would he have said about Global Temperatures, Fracking, Marine pollution and Underwater kites for generating electricity? And what do you think about helium, tar sands, HFCs and Donald Trump? About geoengineering, geothermal, grass mills and the sale of the National Grid?

It’s all there and more.

The next Sustainable Futures Report is scheduled for Friday 6th January, so nothing more in 2016. This gives you plenty of time to mull over what I’ve published this year. In 2017 I have interviews with Clive Wilson on the Sustainable Development Goals and with Martin Baxter on the impact of Brexit on environmental regulations. Following the success of the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange I’m planning an event for 2017 on Smart Cities. I’m also going to review the Sustainable Best Practice Mastermind group idea.


This has been the Sustainable Futures Report, with me, Anthony Day and brought to you as always without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. That’s Anthony Day and you can find me via mail@anthony-day.com


I’m off for my Christmas Break. Have a good one. See you next year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How Safe is your Data?

Published as a podcast at www.susbiz.biz

Hello, it’s Friday again. 

It’s the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 16th December and I’m Anthony Day.

This week I bring you information about smart cities and cybercrime, (How safe is your data?) about Britain in a spat with the EU - no, nothing to do with Brexit - grass mills from Ecotricity, the sale of the National Grid to foreign stakeholders (well, part of it, anyway), new terrorists on the block, how the contribution of wind to reducing carbon emissions has been underestimated in England and how the growth of methane emissions is worrying climate scientists.


But first, there’s been a lot of feedback to last week’s item about electric, hydrogen and self-drive cars. Opinion was quite widely divided. Phil Durrant joined many others in pointing out that hydrogen is highly flammable and explosive with very low ignition energy. Someone even said that if there was a hydrogen leak in your garage a static spark from your pullover would be enough to set it off and the explosion would take out your house and the ones either side. Phil also said that mining for rare earth metals is a highly polluting process, and rare earth metals are essential for wind turbines and for high-performance electric motors in electric - and hydrogen - cars. Michael J says he still doesn’t get the idea of self-drive cars but others loved the idea and said they couldn’t wait. David Abbot came up with a number of points.

“A driverless car doesn’t even need a passenger. You can imagine manufacturers providing remote access via something like an app so that you can call your car if it is parked somewhere else or send your car to a family member.

If that’s true, what does it mean for long term airport parking? It would be cheaper to simply send the car home to park in the drive, and tell it to come and meet you at a predetermined time.

Also, what does it mean for city centre parking and congestion? It will be cheaper to simply tell the car to go round the block a few times until you are ready to use it again, but if all currently parked cars start circulating on the roads it will create a lot of congestion. Of course this problem goes away if people rent car time instead of owning cars, but I bet a lot of people don’t want to give up on the idea of ownership.”

Thanks for all your ideas. Please keep your feedback coming, to mail@anthony-day.com

Smart Cities 

I recently attended a presentation on Smart Cities organised by Women in Sustainable Construction and Property, https://womeninsustconstruction.wordpress.com,  supported by IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, iema.net, and hosted by aql, aql.com,  a communications company which seeks to enable smart cities by powering a connected society. 
Speaker Brian Ablett, one of the few Chartered Surveyors working on smart cities, explained how the concept could be seen 5,000 years ago. Sumerian cities of that time contained up to 50,000 people, and the successful management of such communities would have depended on the successful management of information and data. It would have needed writing. The sophistication of that society was evidenced by the highly accurate astronomical observations that were made. Evidence has shown that a similarly advanced society could have existed on Orkney at the same time.

Much more recently the British Empire managed data with its network of undersea cables connecting its furthest outposts. An early example of disruptive innovation as messages which had to be sent to Australia by sea and took 12 weeks could now be sent by cable in six hours.

Today, the digital revolution (excuse my cliché) represents a step change (another cliché) in how we handle data. Robotics and digitisation help us to respond specifically to need, investing resources where they are most required. Network Rail (if it continues to exist after last week’s announcements) plans to implement a data-led approach which will increase capacity by 40%. Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is offering grants for installing satellite capability into farm tractors. Why? Because topsoil is one of our most precious and endangered resources. (Some say that we have a capacity for only another 60 harvests before it’s all gone, but that’s another story.) In the meantime, accurately tracking the position of the tractor and sampling the soil every metre or so means that each part of the field can receive exactly the amount of fertiliser or soil conditioner it needs to maximise yield and minimise waste. Brian talked about transponders in cows. Well, we already have chips in pets. A chip in a cow identifies the cow as it enters the milking parlour, monitors its milk yield and adjusts its diet accordingly. It can record how many calves it’s had and keep its complete medical history.

The Internet of Things is a popular concept though possibly not well understood. More and more things have an internet presence, from CCTV cameras to photocopiers to smart watches to smart meters to smart thermostats to connected cars and now even cows. Networking becomes ubiquitous, but Brian asks, “for whom?” There is no code of ethics on the internet. We need to urgently address the question, “who’s exploiting whom?”  

Incidentally, the ethics question has been highlighted this week by reports that far-right organisations are gaming Google’s algorithms to get front-page listing. Of course, everyone’s been doing search engine optimisation for years. However, if you type in “Did the Holocaust…” the top result is “Top10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen” and there are several similar results on the front page. The world’s most popular, and arguably most influential, research tool is being manipulated to present misleading data with undue prominence.

Cybercrime

At first sight I didn’t see the relevance of cyber-crime to smart cities but when an entity is dependent on the management of data the security of that data against loss, theft, corruption or misuse is crucial. 

Stuart Hyde of the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP) and Helen Gibson of the Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC) filled in the detail.

Apparently one in three users don’t bother with a password on their phone, and you probably already know that the most popular computer password is ‘password’, closely followed by 12345678. Globally last year 348m identities were exposed and 594m people were affected by cybercrime. There are a million web attacks each day and ransomware has grown by 35%. Ransomware? That’s when you suddenly get a message that all the files on your system, including any on media attached to USB ports, have been encrypted. You are then invited to pay for a password to unlock them. Apparently several NHS Trusts have been attacked in this way. You have to wonder about people, don’t you?

We have already seen that the Internet of Things is rapidly moving towards the Internet of Everything. Only last week you may have read about the new Amazon grocery store. You go in and as you take things off the shelves the system recognises what they are and as you leave the store payment is taken automatically via the phone in your pocket. No human intervention, no double handling of goods at the checkout. There is no checkout. Not one you can see, anyway. I also heard about rugby players with wearable tech. The sensors in their kit record how fast they’ve run, how far they’ve run and how hard they’ve collided with other players. Could be great for personal liability lawyers!

Stuart told us that we are rapidly approaching a level of six smart devices per person. Anything, he said, that could be connected to the internet could be hacked. Every connected item creates a vulnerability. Denial of Service attacks cause targeted websites to collapse by overwhelming them with data or requests. Many computers, perhaps even yours, have a programme running in the background which users know nothing about. It’s usually installed when the user clicks on a link in a spam email, though they don’t realise that it’s happened. The app is controlled remotely and instructs the computer to contact a target site over and over again. Multiply this by the thousands of infected machines and the volume of data is soon more than the target can cope with. Every item on the Internet of Things sends data back to its host. These devices - including photocopiers, CCTV cameras, presumably even connected cows - can be hacked and commanded to send data to the target site as well, reinforcing the attack. Such devices may have passwords, but all too often they are left at the factory default.

Other weaknesses rely on the human element. So much data is shared on social media that makes it easy for identity to be stolen or for people to build friendships for dishonest purposes. Befriend - engage - gain confidence - request - request fulfilled - person disappears, usually with a large chunk of your money. In other cases people are led to defraud their organisations and threatened with exposure unless they do it again and again to pay off what’s effectively blackmail.

The cost of internet fraud has been estimated at $388bn. Of course the biggest hits are taken by the corporates and there are many rumours that the banks and other organisations never admit the full extent of their losses because they cannot afford the damage to their reputations or to lose the confidence of consumers. Only this week Yahoo admitted that it had been hacked back in 2013. Stuart told us that not enough organisations are testing and running exercises to close loopholes and limit damage if cyber attacks occur. He quoted TalkTalk, the phone company, which was fined £400,000 in October for losing 156,000 customer records to hackers. They were clearly not ready to respond to the attack, and their PR and attempts to restore customer confidence were remarkably weak. Do you remember the interviews on the news? TalkTalk’s profits were cut in half, although CEO Dido Harding’s total income rose to £2.8 million in 2015, up from just over £1 million the year before. There must be some logic there somewhere.

Fortunately we’re not alone. Stuart told us about the National Cyber Security Centre, with its aim to defend, deter and develop ever stronger defences. It runs the Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP). “CiSP is a joint industry and government initiative set up to exchange cyber threat information in real time, in a secure, confidential and dynamic environment, increasing situational awareness and reducing the impact on UK business.” Any organisation can join CiSP, which provides: 
engagement with industry and government counterparts in a secure environment
early warning of cyber threats
ability to learn from experiences, mistakes, successes of other users and seek advice
an improved ability to protect their company network
access to free network monitoring reports tailored to your organisations’ requirements


There’s also a wealth of information, for both personal and corporate users, at getsafeonline.org

Clean Air

And now, some more about clean air. Sky News 
reports that the UK is at odds with the EU, and this is because like six other member states the UK has not taken action against VW for falsifying the results of emissions tests on its cars.

The UK is bringing in "real world tests" for emissions next year because laboratory procedures fail to give an on-the-road measure of fuel economy and exhaust levels.

The Department for Transport said in April that none of the 37 top-selling diesel vehicles met legal limits when tested on the road.

It’s not clear why the government is not taking any action over this, especially as it has recently been directed by the courts to take action to improve air quality. Surely getting compensation for consumers from a foreign car manufacturer must be a vote-winner, if nothing else. Nevertheless, while tougher laws in the US have so far secured financial commitments from VW topping $15bn, the company has consistently refused to pay compensation to owners in the EU - 1.2 million of them in the UK alone.
It has promised fixes for all vehicles by late next year, but consumer groups argue that is pitiful when re-sell valuations and other factors are taken into account.

It also makes me wonder about the very narrow perspective that government advisors, or perhaps ministers, must have - and this is an international problem, not limited at all to the UK. For example, CFCs were found to be damaging the ozone layer so they were banned and replaced with HFCs. HFCs are now banned because it’s been recognised that while they don’t damage the ozone layer they are thousands of times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Why didn’t anybody spot that? Diesel cars were promoted, by governments as much as manufacturers, because they can produce less CO2 than petrol cars. But it was well known that they produce nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, and PM10s, microscopic soot particles which cause lung damage. I can’t see any logic in these oversights.

Let’s step away from diesel into the world of clean energy. 

Grassmills

Ecotricity announces its intention to build a national network of Grassmills.

This is their special name for anaerobic digesters. The plan is to feed these units with grass grown on marginal land, land formerly used for livestock, or grown as part of a crop rotation. They produce methane which can be fed into the gas grid and used like any other natural gas. The residue from the digestion process is returned to the land as a soil conditioner. Ecotricity claim that by 2035 they could produce enough green gas to meet 66% of the nation’s domestic and commercial demand for gas.

Unsurprisingly, the organisation is not in favour of fracking. Among other sites, it has applied for permission to build Grassmills at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in Lancashire, sites where the government has approved fracking in spite of strong local opposition. It will be very interesting to see whether the locals support the Grassmills, or whether they are simply opposed to any sort of industrialisation near their homes.

Ecotricity has launched a petition to the Prime Minister, asking her to support green gas over fracking. If you want to add your voice go to change.org or find the campaign for green gas on the Ecotricity website. 

The Methane Problem


It’s often difficult to remember that CO2, carbon dioxide, is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane, for example has 23 times the warming effect of CO2. In this month’s Environmental Research Letters, the authors report that unlike CO2, atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than at any time in the past two decades and, since 2014, are now approaching the most greenhouse-gas-intensive scenarios. The reasons for this renewed growth are still unclear, primarily because of uncertainties in the global methane budget. New analysis suggests that the recent rapid rise in global methane concentrations is predominantly biogenic-most likely from agriculture-with smaller contributions from fossil fuel use and possibly wetlands. Additional attention is urgently needed, they say, to quantify and reduce methane emissions. Methane mitigation offers rapid climate benefits and economic, health and agricultural co-benefits that are highly complementary to CO2 mitigation.

There’s a summary of the paper on the phys.org website with an excellent graphic from the Global Carbon Project of Future Earth. It shows how agriculture and waste are the largest man-made sources of methane emissions and account for 34% of total emissions. A very significant component of agricultural emissions is methane from burping cows and sheep, as mentioned in a previous episode. As I reported, Dutch scientists are working on a new type of grass to reduce flatulence and apparently linseed oil added to the diet has a good effect as well. The other major source of agricultural emissions is paddy fields. Given the vast numbers of people who like to eat rice and the others who enjoy consuming meat and dairy products, changing things looks like a challenge, but according to the graphic, methane emissions exceed methane absorption by less than 2%. Some people say that while methane has 23 times the effect of CO2 it’s not that bad because it only lasts in the atmosphere for about 10 years, whereas CO2 can persist for centuries. 

Yes, but we need to turn things round in a lot less than 10 years!  

Gates Champions Clean Energy

Bill Gates is in the news this week, leading a consortium to develop clean energy. He’s joined by Jeff Bezos, George Soros, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan and a dozen or so other entrepreneurs and investors. Together they have set up  
Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1billion fund working with the University of California and others to develop new energy technologies. “Our goal,” says Gates, “is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.”

The investment approach of the new venture is meant to be both broad and scientific and it will last for 20 years, helping start-ups in the earliest stages of development as well as companies already at the commercialisation stage, across energy sectors including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial system use, agriculture, and energy system efficiency. This could be seen to be a bold move, given the strong climate-sceptic noises coming out of the Trump transition team. Still, if it didn’t make sense, and above all business sense, these entrepreneurs would not be involved. My only question is, will $1billion be enough?

More at www.b-t.energy (Yes, it’s one of those new domains.)

Wind Power

They’re getting the wind up about renewables at Edinburgh University. They are concerned that the contribution of wind power in terms of both energy and carbon savings has not been accurately reported. Over the  6 years from 2008 to 2014, energy generated from wind in the UK has saved some 36m tonnes of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to taking 2.3m cars off the road. Engineers from the University have suggested that government estimates have been underestimating the carbon savings of wind farms in Britain by more than 3m tonnes over the period. Using real output figures from the National Grid, the researchers believe that they have created a comprehensive picture of energy demand from various sources.

They suggested that the data should lead to greater investment into wind energy, to enable the Scottish and UK Governments to meet carbon emission reduction targets. Scotland has been leading the charge on this front, with wind farms managing to generate 100% of the country’s energy demand for two full days in September this year.

Currently, the UK is not even halfway towards achieving the target of 12% of energy needs for heat generation coming from renewable sources, while the proportion of renewable energy used in transport has fallen, from 4.9% to 4.2% over the past year.


Selling Off the Grid

Some people are not altogether happy that the UK’s infrastructure should be in private hands. They believe that critical services like electricity and gas, water, the railways and of course the National Health Service, should always be in public ownership. They will therefore be less than delighted to learn this week that a 61% stake - a controlling interest - of the UK Gas Distribution business of National Grid, has been sold to a consortium. A consortium led by Macquarie, the Australian investment bank and the China Investment Corporation.

Fracking as Terrorism

And finally, are you a terrorist? You are if you protest against fracking. Especially if you protest in Yorkshire, because this week City of York Council named campaigners on a list of "key risks to York" alongside Islamic terrorists and right-wing activists. The BBC reported: ‘According to to council documents: "The Counter Terrorism Local Profile for York and North Yorkshire highlights the key risks to York as evidence of activity relating to Syria, presence of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), Anti Israeli/pro Palestinian activity, Hunt saboteurs, animal rights, anti-fracking and extreme right wing activity.”’ 

However anti-fracking protesters "are not seen as a terrorist threat", according to North Yorkshire Police.

So that’s all right then. Or is it? In fact, according to the i newspaper, other councils, schools and a police force have listed anti-fracking campaigns in documents about the Prevent programme, which is part of the national counter-terrorism strategy.

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/environment/anti-fracking-campaigners-labelled-extremists-efforts-stop-terrorists/

The government’s Prevent Strategy states:

“…It is [therefore] vital that our counter-terrorism strategy contains a plan to prevent radicalisation and stop would-be terrorists from committing mass murder. Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the threat from Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism is not.” 

It sets out three objectives:

respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it; 
prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and 
  • work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation which we need to address. 

All in all, nothing whatever to do with fracking or for that matter with hunting. Sounds like an excuse for stifling free speech, and the government is already facing a legal challenge on that point. Fortunately the Home Office has issued a statement: “Prevent is about safeguarding people at risk of being drawn into terrorism – support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability.”

That's it!

That’s it for the penultimate Sustainable Futures Report of 2016. Next time  there will be a review of the 38 episodes and 100,000 words that I’ve published this year.
Yes, this is Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report, part of the Better World Podcast Collective and brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and you can find me via mail@anthony-day.com

For now, until next week’s Sustainable Futures Report, have a good week, get all that Christmas shopping done, and goodbye.