Friday, October 28, 2016

Climate Change, Transport and Energy

Available as a podcast at  

I took this picture from a moving car (I wasn't driving) on
the M62 motorway near Hull in East Yorkshire. Is it a
tornado? It certainly didn't touch down anywhere.
Hello this is Anthony Day with your latest Sustainable Futures Report. This week there's been a lot in the news about climate change, about transport and, as always, about energy. We’ll look at the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, talk about decarbonising the transport fleet with connected cars, self-driving cars, BEVs, PHEVs and ULEVs. And if you’re prepared to let someone else drive, how far can Clare Gilmartin take you? What’s the future for tidal power in Swansea Bay and is there any point in protesting at Drax? 

Decarbonising the Transport Sector

All right, a BEV is a battery electric vehicle, a PHEV is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and a ULEV is an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle. These all featured in this week’s webinar by the Climate Action Programme - (That’s programme with two Ms and an E.) Climate Action works in a unique, contractual partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It establishes and builds partnerships between business, government and public bodies to accelerate international sustainable development and advance the ‘green economy’.

Speakers on the webinar, entitled “Electric Mobility - decarbonising the transport sector” were Dr Daniel Sperling, University of California, Davis; Dr. Thomas Becker, Vice President Governmental and External Affairs, BMW Group, and Andy Eastlake, Managing Director, Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership - a public-private partnership that exists to accelerate a sustainable shift to lower carbon vehicles and fuels and create opportunities for UK business.

There is rapid growth in the sales of electric vehicles, but they still represent less than 1% of total global sales. Battery costs are dropping sharply and the increased range which this can deliver will make electric vehicles more attractive. By a combination of regulations and incentives, California is planning that 15% of sales will be represented by Zero emission vehicles by 2025. There are three major challenges to the spread of electric vehicles. First, the policy challenge. The market signals are out of line with the regulations. In other words, what the regulators want is not necessarily what the consumer wants. Regulations can make vehicles too expensive and undesirable. Secondly the expansion of low emission vehicles is held up by the lack of an infrastructure of charging stations. This applies to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as much as to electric vehicles. In the early stages there is no business case for anyone to set up such a refuelling stations. The third challenge, to carmakers, governments and planners is assessing the impact of new mobility options. First is the electric vehicle. Then there is the self driving vehicle. And then there is the concept of the shared vehicle, which can mean several people sharing a vehicle to make a single journey, or a single vehicle used by different people at different times. 

Carmakers have to conform with the regulations which are currently focused on CO2 and emissions targets but must also be aware of the opportunities and risks from rapidly developing technology. They are already on track to double fuel efficiency between 2010 and 2025, and we'll talk later about connected mobility and autonomous driving. The success of vehicle development depends on government support and on consistent policies from country to country. The European Union, (soon to be irrelevant to Britain we’re told), is an example of this, but there is fragmentation in many markets across the world. This means that carmakers must develop different  models or different versions of models for different markets, which reduces economies of scale and raises prices. 

BMW is already in the carshare market with its ReachNow app. For the moment it operates only in Seattle and Portland in the US. The website - - tells us:


 “ReachNow is a new premium car sharing service that makes it easy (and fun) to get from A to B. Our cars are readily available on-street in most neighbourhoods.”


“When you want it and for how long you want it. Your BMW or MINI is yours for just 41 cents a minute (promotional). Let an afternoon drive turn into a weekend, we won’t bother you.”


“When finished, just park it at any legal space within our Home Area and walk away.”

BMW is also active in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, a fleet of 400 BMW i3 EVs is available to anyone with a travel card. This allows them to take the bus, train, metro, or waterbus and complete their journey by car. They can drive the vehicle anywhere in Greater Copenhagen.

Andy Eastlake of the Low Carbon Vehicle Programme reminded us that decarbonisation applies not just to cars but also to buses and trucks and commercial vehicles as well. They already have an electric double-decker bus and trials are in progress with autonomous vehicles. The integration of these vehicles with conventional vehicles will be a challenge. In the UK, ultra low emission vehicles– battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles–have 1 1/2% of the new car market. The major growth is in the plug-in hybrid sector as a result of grant structures and the company car tax regime. Consistency of regulation is key, both over time and between countries. The market will decide how quickly low emission vehicles will be adopted. Whatever technology delivers must be convenient and attractive to the consumer. For purely electric vehicles, range and charge time will be crucial factors. Consumers need to have confidence that the information they receive about the benefits of different types or vehicle or methods of ownership  is reliable. They haven’t forgotten the VW diesel emissions scandal. I think it has a higher profile in the US where VW owners are getting their cars repaired, receiving compensation and/or selling their cars back. Fines on the company have provided a substantial pot of money for developing the infrastructure for ULEVs. 

Air Quality

 An important driver of consumer acceptance will be urban air quality. The UK already has serious problems with this. As we saw last week the government  is even being taken to court for ignoring the Supreme Court's instructions to do something about it. 

By the mid 2030s a dramatic fall is predicted in the UK population of conventional cars so that by 2040 the vast majority will be low emission vehicles. At least that’s the ideal. By 2050 the national fleet will be divided more or less equally between battery electric cars, plug in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In other countries where it is more difficult to establish a viable infrastructure the change-over may take longer.


We mentioned connectivity. This week the Economist Intelligence Unit, published a report entitled “Driving to the future - The development of connected cars” It’s a free download. 
Many of our cars are already connected, directly or indirectly, to the radio, to the satnav satellites, to the mobile phone network and to 3G or 4G for data transfer. Already the average car has the computing power 20 laptops and runs 100m lines of code. As technology develops, and as carmakers adopt it, the functionality of vehicle connectivity expands. Telematics is already feeding data to insurance companies about driving styles and distances, allowing them to tailor policies to individual drivers. The next step could be analysing accidents, to see exactly how the car was being driven immediately beforehand and giving some indication of who was to blame. The potential is there to gather vast amounts of data - not just about driving styles but about favourite routes and journeys, and how many people are in the car. This data - big data - creates opportunities for cross-marketing, so the driver can receive recommendations for a restaurant or other business in the area. All this raises the question of privacy and security versus benefits, but if the consumer values the benefits he or she will usually accept the invasion of privacy. After all, we all accept the Terms and Conditions unread when we load a new piece of software because we know that the terms are non-negotiable and if you don’t accept them you don’t get the product.

The next stage of connectivity will be a link to home automation. Controlling lights, locks, curtains and heating from the console in the car. Beyond that, connectivity can offer self driving and autonomous vehicles. A vehicle that drives itself saves the driver, or non-driver, time effort and stress. It can save fuel, free up road space and cut accidents. The non-driver can sleep, work, read or watch television. The non-driver could even be drunk or under 18. Tesla announced this week that all its cars would be delivered in future with self-driving hardware already fitted. 
The self-driving software is still under development, but it shows that Tesla sees the day of autonomous vehicles coming very soon. Tesla’s Autopilot option on the Model S is available now and will move the car from lane to lane when requested by the driver, checking that there is sufficient space, keep the car in lane automatically and park the car at the end of the journey. It’s not infallible, but 90% of fatal accidents are calculated by Google as due to human error. Computer control will be very much safer.

The transition, before cars are self-driving - will be the most difficult period as more and more tech is loaded into cars, all bidding for the driver’s attention. We know that mobile phones take a driver’s attention from the road. Even hands-free phones are distracting. It’s been calculated that interacting with tech can delay a driver’s reactions by 25%. In the US in 2014 more than 3,000 people died in accidents caused by distracted drivers and 431,000 were injured. There are no clear or universal standards or regulations on what sort of technology is permissible in a car in view of the driver. Something which needs urgent attention!

Other applications of connectivity relate to commercial vehicles. “Platooning” means using connectivity to run two or three HGVs close together - speed and distance automatically controlled. The next stage is to have a driver only in the leading vehicle. The stage after that is to have no drivers at all. All this is in the future of course, but from where I’m standing the future is closing in fast!

Just a thought on HS2. The plan seems to be to make this new railway line capable of carrying trains at up to 400kph, that’s about 250mph. To do this the lines need to be as straight as possible, which means that they may not go directly into the towns and cities that they are intended to serve, they will go to new out-of-town parkway stations on the motorway or bypass. Time between stations will be short, but time from stations to start point or destination will be longer. Autonomous cars will travel much more slowly, but they will go direct from door to door. Journey times may not be much longer.

Just a thought.

Science Daily 

reports that the globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event. This was reported in the World Meteorological Organization's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. 
CO2 levels had previously reached the 400 ppm barrier for certain months of the year and in certain locations but never before on a global average basis for the entire year. The longest-established greenhouse gas monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, predicts that CO2 concentrations will stay above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and not dip below that level for many generations.
The growth spurt in CO2 was fuelled by the El Niño event, which started in 2015 and had a strong impact well into 2016. This triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of "sinks" like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2. These sinks currently absorb about half of CO2 emissions but there is a risk that they may become saturated, which would increase the fraction of emitted carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere, according to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
Between 1990 and 2015 there was a 37% increase in radiative forcing -- the warming effect on our climate -- because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) from industrial, agricultural and domestic activities.
"The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not."


You probably know David Mitchell as a comedian and panel game and chat-show host. He also writes a regular column for The Observer, the British Sunday paper. This week he asked, “Is climate change still happening?”  “It must still be happening”, he goes on, “because if it'd stopped you would definitely have heard … A sudden halt in global warming would be an unmissable opportunity for climate change deniers to crow, for dark souled petrol salesman to denounce the scientific community as a bunch of delusional tree huggers, for the scum of the earth to lay into the Friends of the Earth.” The WMO certainly thinks it’s still happening, David. David Mitchell’s point is that if we accept as scientific truth that carbon emissions cause climate change which threatens the continued existence of life on this planet, why will we expand Heathrow? It’s already one of the most polluted sites in Europe, and incidentally expanding Heathrow is expected to create more pollution than an extra runway at Gatwick, which is the alternative option. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently, of a man in a desolate landscape explaining things to his children. “Yes, I know,” he says, “that we’ve trashed the planet. But for several years shareholder value was simply awesome.” The worrying thing is that these things are just too serious to joke about.

As expected the government announced this week that Heathrow expansion would go ahead, although it will not be without opposition. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has denounced the plan and Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond, which is under the flight path, has resigned his seat and will stand as an independent in the resulting by-election. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that members of her government may canvass against the decision though may not directly oppose the government. Subtle. It surely indicates splits below the surface of the party. The Richmond by-election may also be a problem. In the Witney by-election which took place last week, following the resignation of former prime minister David Cameron, the Conservative ruling party saw its majority cut by some 80% as the Liberal Democrats resurfaced as a credible political party. In Richmond the by-election may be seen as an opportunity to pass judgement not only on the airport plans but also on the government's handling of Brexit and on the performance of the Prime Minister herself. Given that in this constituency 70% were in favour of remaining in Europe, the government could well have a fight on its hands. The Lib-Dems are certainly pouring in all resources.

Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, joined the debate and re-iterated that in a week where the WMO said we were entering a new climate change reality the decision was a disaster - and in conflict with Theresa May’s own announcement that the UK was the second best country in the world for tackling climate change. It is suggested that while there is no way of avoiding increased emissions from air traffic, the government will offset this by reducing emissions from homes and the transport fleet. So far they are well behind their targets on this.
It appears that the expanded airport will handle 250,000 extra flights each year; that’s some 800 flights per day. Many of the passengers will be transit passengers and therefore of no direct benefit to the UK, although maybe of benefit to Heathrow’s airport shops. British Airways is against expansion. It believes that the costs will be loaded on to airport charges with no perceptible benefit to the passenger. There is a decline in business flights, so aviation growth is driven by holidaymakers and by airfreight. Why does airfreight all have to go from Heathrow? Why do holidaymakers from across the country have to travel from Heathrow, when it will frequently mean a long journey from home, maybe an overnight stay and additional travel time eating into holiday time? A number of businesses in the regions have expressed support, but what is the journey to the airport actually going to be like? The M25 motorway in that area is already up to 14 lanes wide and frequently snarled up and solid. The passengers and airfreight for those 800 extra daily flights will only make congestion worse, so it will not only be impossible to get to the airport, but impossible to get to places to the South and Southwest of London.
While the government has approved the plan to expand Heathrow, this has not yet been voted on by Parliament. This is not expected to happen for at least a year. Then the new runway will take 10 years to build. The inhabitants of Harmondsworth and neighbouring villages, whose homes are scheduled for demolition, will just have to sit and wait. We’re told, however, that the decision to expand Heathrow demonstrates that a post-Brexit Britain is open for business. Except to the biggest economic bloc in the world, perhaps. But that’s another story.

Ticket to Ride

Clare Gilmartin, chief executive of Trainline, the world’s largest independent online rail ticket retailer, says that only 20% of rail tickets globally are bought online. That means that 80% of rail journeys involve people queuing in stations.” Her mission is to change all that. Trainline sells 100,000 tickets every day, one every three seconds, for 44 train companies across 24 European countries, although it has less than 2% of the market. E-tickets are available for 50% of journeys in the UK and the plan is to make them available for 100% of journeys by 2018.

So if the airport is just too much hassle and you can’t face a car-share, just click on your phone and buy an e-ticket to ride.

Protesting at Drax

The first climate change camp at Drax was in 2006, when protestors tried in vain to close the plant down. Drax, near Selby in Yorkshire, was the country’s largest coal-fired power station, delivering up to 8% of the nation’s electricity. Now, nearly half its power is generated from wood chips: biomass. Last weekend the protesters were at the gate again. This time they had no intention of disrupting the plant, but they wanted to draw attention to a £470m subsidy which they claim Drax receives for being green. Biomass is renewable. If you burn wood but plant trees, these new trees absorb the CO2 that is released when the biomass is burnt. The trouble is that the CO2 is released here in the UK - some say more CO2 than if the plant was burning coal - but the trees are growing in the United States. That’s right, the biomass is mainly imported from the US. They had to build chipping plants over there. They had to redevelop a port to handle biomass. They either built or converted bulk carriers - cargo vessels - to carry the wood across the Atlantic. They built new trains to carry the wood chips from the port to the power station and they built new storage silos as wood chip has to be carefully handled to avoid premature combustion. Constructing every part of that supply chain had a carbon footprint. Operating every part of that supply chain has a carbon footprint. The protestors claim that there are nowhere near enough new trees to absorb all that CO2 and they describe the whole process as greenwash and a carbon con.

Should the subsidy be withdrawn to force the plant to close? In practical terms there is absolutely no chance of that as Drax is such a major power supplier and successive governments have dithered to the point that there is little to spare in the nation’s generating capacity. At least the protesters have made us aware of grave doubts about whether Drax is truly sustainable. I admire Drax as a triumph of 1960s engineering which has been retrofitted and upgraded as technology advances and regulations bite deeper. At heart though, it’s still a 1960s project. A bit like Concorde. And that stopped flying in 2003.

And that's it...

I’ve had to hold over Tidal power in Swansea Bay to a future episode. If you’re anxious to learn more now go over to the BBC iPlayer and look for File on Four for the 18th October.

Yes, that’s it for yet another week and this is Anthony Day thanking you for listening. You can find out more and access other podcasts on sustainability and other topics at the Better World Podcast Collective site. You can find it at

Your feedback to is always eagerly received. In the meantime have a very Happy Halloween and I’ll be here next Friday.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Clearing the Air (again)

Text of the Sustainable Futures Report podcast at

Hello again. It's Anthony Day, it's Friday and it's the Sustainable Futures Report. In the course of preparing this episode I lost 1300 words. I wasn’t pleased. I’ve just had to write them all again.

So, here we go. This week: burping cows, HFCs, and Client Earth suing the government for failing to provide clean air. We’ll look at what said that the advertising standards agency (ASA) said about Friends of the Earth, and what the ASA says that it said. National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report is out and Client Earth pops up again to urge the government to revive the climate change act. The Lords are studying the environmental impact of Brexit. We’ll also have a brief look at the future with ABB and their wireless trolley bus.

I’ve put links to my sources at the end of the document.

This week we are talking about air quality. About the quality of air that makes it good to breathe as well as atmospheric pollution which can damage the ozone layer and accelerate global warming. Greenhouse gases are constantly in the news because they are the cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide is the most popular culprit and we think of cars, factories and aircraft all contributing to this invisible poisonous cloud. What is often overlooked is the role of cows. Cows eat grass. They digest it and a byproduct of that digestion is methane. This is called enteric fermentation. It’s not just cows that do this, it’s sheep as well (and camels). Altogether they account for about 30% of anthropomorphic  methane emissions. Though methane is emitted into the atmosphere in smaller quantities than CO2, its global warming potential (GWP or the ability of the gas to trap heat in the atmosphere) is 25 times as great. As a result, methane emissions currently contribute more than one third of today’s anthropogenic warming. In other words, warming caused by human activity.

According to estimates, around 90 million metric tonnes  of methane gas are released into the atmosphere every year due to the belching of cattle. Scientists in Denmark are now developing a strain of grass which will not only improve the diet of cattle but also significantly reduce the methane that they produce. This will reduce their effect on global warming, but there is still a long way to go. According to the Global Methane Initiative, 29% of anthropogenic methane emissions come from enteric fermentation, 20% from oil and gas, 11% from landfill, 10% from rice cultivation and 9% from waste water. There’s more at

HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons have been in the news this week. They have been used in air conditioning and refrigeration systems since CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons were phased out by the Montreal Protocol in 1989. The reason for this was that CFCs were found to be a major cause of the hole in the ozone layer.

As we said, the global warming potential of methane is 25 times that of CO2. Of nitrous oxide it is 298 times. There are two types of hydrofluorocarbons in use: HFC 32 which has 675 times the GWP of CO2 and HFC 23 with 14,800 times the global warming effect. Pity they didn’t spot that in 1989, but now nearly 200 nations have agreed to a legally binding deal to cut back on HFCs.

The deal was struck during talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali late on Friday evening, and announced on Saturday.
Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the United States, commit to reducing their use of the gases, starting with a 10 per cent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 per cent by 2036. Scientific research has shown that otherwise the growing use of HFCs threatens to undermine the Paris Agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was “a monumental step forward” in the fight against climate change, and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, said: “Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise.”

Unlike the Paris agreement, the Kigali deal is legally binding, has very specific timetables and involves the agreement by rich countries to help poor countries adapt their technology.

Refrigerant gases like HFCs and CFCs are mainly used in a closed system, so they only cause problems when they leak, which could happen during maintenance or at end-of-life disposal. For this reason the disposal of fridges, including domestic units, has been closely controlled for some years in the UK and Europe. The other issue is the insulation within fridges and freezers. This is usually polyurethane foam, and the foam is created using a blowing agent which can be HFCs for this application. Disposal of fridges, freezers and chillers without releasing this gas is therefore critical, difficult and expensive.

It’s not clear what will replace HFCs. Some UK supermarkets have said that they will use CO2. That sounds counterintuitive, but they point out that it has no effect on the ozone layer and its GWP is much lower than HFCs. The problem only occurs when the refrigerant gas escapes and we can be sure that the supermarkets will take great care to make sure that it doesn’t. It’s a regulatory obligation and a reputational issue.

It occurs to me that most cars these days come with air conditioning and presumably up till now they have contained HFCs. What happens when your car reaches the end of the road and arrives at the breaker’s yard. Is the refrigerant carefully extracted from the system or is the whole car just chucked into the crusher?

Client Earth (
“We are activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet.”
Client Earth is a charity which calls the government to account to meet its legal obligations towards environmental issues. They say: “Clean air is essential for a healthy life. More than 400,000 early deaths are caused each year by air pollution in Europe. We are all affected but some, especially children and older people, are more vulnerable than others. We are fighting for everybody’s right to breathe clean air.” And they’ve taken the UK government to court over this. I quote from the Client Earth website:

“The government chose an arbitrary date of 2020 to comply with tough pollution laws because it was thought that would be the earliest it would be fined by the European Commission.

The revelation came in a High Court hearing today, [18th October] where environmental lawyers ClientEarth are back in court against the government over its failure to tackle the pollution crisis across the UK.

ClientEarth’s barrister, Nathalie Lieven QC, told the court that 2020 was an arbitrary date rather than one which would bring the UK into compliance with EU air quality rules “as soon as possible.”

The High Court was told that the Secretary of State’s “entire approach was driven by cost.”
The Supreme Court ordered the government to draw up a new Air Quality plan in April last year but ClientEarth argues that it was woefully inadequate and wants the High Court to order new measures to deal with pollution. The organisation’s QC said that there was “at the minimum, a heated debate going on in government” at the time about compliance dates.

ClientEarth’s skeleton argument notes that Defra officials said they had “used projected exceedances in 2020 as the basis for defining the worst areas…based on our understanding that 2020 is likely to be the earliest the EU will move to fines.”

But Nathalie Lieven told the first day of a two day Judicial Review hearing that the obvious year to choose for “as soon as possible” compliance would have been 2018 or 2019.
She also said that modelling undertaken by Defra didn’t even consider earlier dates. “There is simply no evidence to support the proposition that no more could have been done,” she said.
“The Secretary of State chose to use a model which…she knew was highly optimistic…in order to justify minimal measures.”

Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at London’s Queen Mary University, said: “Every day that passes, air pollution is damaging the lungs of children across the UK. It is therefore not acceptable to hope that air pollution will fall at some point in the distant future.
“The government must act now to protect this generation of children.”

The following day, last Wednesday 19th October, the judge presiding over ClientEarth’s case against the UK government for breaching EU air pollution laws said cost was the crux of the case.

Client Earth made this statement: ClientEarth has argued since the start of its legal action several years ago that cost has affected the government’s progress on compliance.
Mr Justice Garnham’s remarks on day two of the Judicial Review follows evidence in ClientEarth’s argument heard yesterday which revealed that former Chancellor George Osborne had blocked more ambitious plans to reduce UK pollution on cost grounds.
In exchanges with Defra’s barrister, the judge said cost was “the nub of this case; how much cost played a part in the decisions taken.”
ClientEarth argues that the government failed to take action to comply with legal air pollution limits “as soon as possible” and was focused on cost over compliance.
Defra has set out its defence today. Its QC said Defra has “always accepted” it was in breach of EU pollution limits and “did not resile” from its duty to reduce NO2.
She added: “This does not mean that the question of cost and proportionality do not come into consideration.”
Defra argues that: “The Air Quality Plan contains proportionate, feasible and effective measures to address the anticipated non-compliant nitrogen dioxide levels in particular zones.”
In later exchanges, the judge suggested that proportionate action “achieves the objective with minimal innocent casualties,” but said the government seemed to consider what was proportionate “in regard to the rest of government business.”
He concluded: “You mean by that, cost.”
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “It is patently obvious from the evidence we have heard so far in this case that cost has been the primary and overriding factor in the government’s lack of action on air pollution.
“The judge is correct that cost does appear to be the nub of this case – and at the heart of government’s failure to protect our health by complying with the law. Time spent balancing cost against projected effectiveness is time when thousands continue to die and be made seriously ill by air pollution.
“Health is more important than Treasury bean-counting and ministers should, urgently, put health first.
“We all – children and adults alike – have the right to breathe clean air.”
The two-day hearing has now concluded. Judgment has been reserved. ClientEarth hopes for a ruling in the coming weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Let’s turn briefly to the fracking debate.

In an article on about the Labour Party Conference, Dan Lewis of the Institute of Directors stated that “the Advertising Standards Authority [had] comprehensively rejected misleading statements on the health risks [of fracking] from Friends of the Earth.”
I went to the Advertising Standards Authority’s website for more, but found nothing. So I wrote to them. Here’s the reply from Matt Wilson, Press Officer at the ASA: 

I’m afraid that the article you’ve referred to and other reports around this have jumped the gun. We haven’t rejected arguments against fracking by Friends of the Earth (FoE) in its advertising. We are currently investigating complaints about FoE’s advertising claims but no decision has been reached.

We will publish our findings in due course.

“…it’s perhaps worth me mentioning that what has been reported on was a ‘draft ASA decision’ that appears to have been leaked. But the ‘draft’ bit is key, we haven’t made a final decision. A draft decision can change.

Draft decisions ultimately are passed to ASA Council, the body responsible for making the final ruling. So, at this stage, no decision has been reached and the investigation is ongoing.”

As of 19th October the ruling is still awaited.

In my opinion (and it’s me now, not the press officer talking) the clear lesson is “don’t believe everything you read”. Even if it’s written by the Institute of Directors. And it shows that those promoting fracking will use any means to discredit the opposition.

Winter Outlook Report

The National Grid’s Winter Outlook Report was published at the end of last week. National Grid is responsible for the supply of electricity and gas and is the crucial interface between domestic and commercial consumers and the energy suppliers. Last winter was one of the mildest winters in 60 years, but the Outlook is prepared for winter 2016/17 to be harsh. National Grid predicts a safety margin of 6.6% for electricity, which is well within its legal obligation. This is a better picture than at the start of the year, when several power stations were closed or taken offline. 

Management of the grid is immensely complicated and needs to be monitored second by second. Major increases in demand which could result from a cold winter are handled by manipulating both demand and supply. Major industrial users have interruptible contracts and agree to cut their energy usage for short periods when demand peaks. Eggborough power station which was closed at the start of the year will be available on standby. The interconnector cables which export electricity to Ireland are running at reduced capacity and therefore that demand will be lower this winter than last. There are interconnectors between the UK and the continent, allowing electricity to flow in each direction. Given the hour’s difference between the UK and the near continent, peak demand comes at different times. The interconnectors can balance this out. 

UK electricity is generated from coal, from gas, from nuclear and increasingly from renewables. Despite my dire warnings in earlier episodes, it looks as though our lights will stay on this winter. I always have great respect for the people in the control rooms managing the energy of the nation.

National Grid is also confident that gas supply will meet demand. Again, there’s a range of sources: storage and pipelines from the North Sea and from the continent. There are interruptible contracts for gas as well. When I last looked we didn’t get a significant proportion of our gas from Russia, which may be a good thing given current political tensions. Of course, if Russia decided to restrict supplies to its European markets, particularly Germany, that might have a knock-on effect on our supplies from the continent. It would be a very serious decision for Russia to take. It might help it make political points, but economically it would be painful. Russia is already suffering from the low oil price, still just above $50. Would it forgo revenues from selling gas?

I think we can sleep easy this winter - and warm.

Client Earth have popped up again. “UK Climate Change Act isn’t working and must be revived”, they say.
“Robust policies to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets must be brought forward urgently.”
This is the conclusion of their new report, “Mind the Gap - Reviving the Climate Change Act” .

“ClientEarth analysis finds that the persisting fourth carbon budget ‘policy gap’ – the difference between the emissions reductions needed to hit the fourth carbon budget emissions target, and the actual reductions current policies will produce – is a legal failure and a clear breach of the Act.
“The environmental law group says that the government must use its new Carbon Plan, due later this year, to breathe new life into the Climate Change Act. But how the government implements the CCA needs to be reset too, before it is too late.
“ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church said: “A policy and reporting reset is essential if we are to hit emissions targets. We can’t afford to drift for the next five years – as we have done for the last five years – without proper climate policies and progress.
“With its new Carbon Plan, the government has the chance to make the Act a living law and put the UK on the path to a clean, green energy future.”
“Five years ago, the Government admitted its policies would miss emissions targets by 187 megatons of CO2 – equivalent to Vietnam’s emissions in a whole year. Since then, it has not corrected its course.”

So it’s not just schoolchildren in America suing governments for mishandling climate change. We must wait and see whether all this litigation does any good.
Here’s a press release:

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee is conducting a short inquiry exploring the future of environment and climate change policy following the vote to leave the European Union.
In this inquiry the Committee is seeking to:
  • identify the United Kingdom's key interests in environment and climate change policy after the UK leaves the EU, domestically and internationally
  • explore what opportunities arise from Brexit and what challenges lie ahead in the area of environment and climate change policy, in particular relating to environmental protection
  • understand what the governance and accountability framework could look like outside the EU
  • consider the extent to which the UK could, or should, continue to co-operate with the EU in these policy areas.
The Committee will be taking oral evidence in October and November, and plans to publish a report in early 2017.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Wireless Trolley Bus

Engineering company ABB has been running a number of press ads recently. One that caught my eye was about an electric bus that doesn’t need overhead wires and doesn’t need to spend hours recharging. It’s not just an idea; these buses are already running in Geneva. It’s a bendy bus which will carry 133 people. The route has 50 stops and at 13 of these there are charging points. When the bus stops to drop or pick up passengers an overhead arm automatically connects with a charging point on the roof of the bus and gives the battery a 15-second boost. These boosts are enough to keep the vehicle running, and it means a smaller battery is needed so there’s more room for passengers. Find out more at (There’s a more specific link on the podcast).

And that’s it for this week. This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening and inviting you to send your comments and ideas to me at There will be another podcast next week. Who knows what will have happened by then?

As I mentioned last time, The Sustainable Futures Report has recently been invited to join the Better World Podcast Collective. You can find it at There you’ll find a number of podcasts on sustainability and related issues.

That's it or the moment.  I’m off to think up some more ideas. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mixed Bag

Find this as a podcast at from 14th October

Hello this is Anthony Day, it's Friday 14th October and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. It's a bit of a mixed bag this time. I started this week thinking there was no news and now it's a question of what to leave out. Anyway, this time we have blackouts in Australia, protests about fracking and other fossil fuels in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and North Dakota, a report from the World Energy Council meeting in Istanbul, problems with incinerators in Cardiff and Derby and fog harvesting in Morocco. 

Up in Smoke?
In this week’s blog Jeremy Leggett  talks about recycling, renewables, (of course) and the circular economy. I was going to talk about recycling because there is a worrying article in the Private Eye magazine for 13th October. An organisation called Viridor operates an incinerator at Splott near Cardiff. Yes it really is called that. It's a combined heat and power plant designed to produce energy from waste - enough to provide hot water for 50,000 homes. Unfortunately, in its two years of operation it has failed to reach the target. Viridor secured a £110m loan from the EU to set up the plant and if it doesn't meet its target it will not be considered to be a low carbon solution but merely a waste disposal facility. As such it would breach the terms of the loan. To overcome this, the plan is to increase throughput by 20% but Wales has a high level of recycling so has no more spare waste. Rubbish will be trucked in from 100 miles away- ideally plenty of plastic and cardboard because these have the high calorific value needed to raise efficiency levels. Of course such materials are ideal for recycling, but needs must. Forget the consequences of the extra transport mileage and the loss of materials which could have been reused. 
Private Eye reports a similar sort of problem in Derby where the council has signed an incineration contract and is committed to supplying the operator with 150,000 tonnes a year of high calorific value waste. It finds that it won’t have enough of this waste after recycling. Solution? Charge residents for brown bin organic waste collection and abandon recycling collections altogether in some parts of the city. Private Eye claims that as a result recycling rates in Derby have fallen from 50% to 34%. But in these straitened times no council can risk financial penalties. 

It’s been a week of protests.
There were protests in Lancashire last week against fracking and protests in other parts of the country as well. This follows the decision by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to allow drilling at Preston New Road in Fylde, as I reported in the last Sustainable Futures Report.

A detailed report from a planning inspector was carried out on another potential fracking site in Lancashire, at Roseacre Wood. The report found that the threat to road safety caused by heavy vehicles moving to and from the site was so serious as to outweigh any benefits from fracking and the the inspector recommended that permission should be refused. The Secretary of State said that he would authorise the operation provided that the concerns about road safety could be dealt with. He said that fracking would support  64,000 jobs. Who can oppose something that will support 64,000 jobs? Makes a great headline, but can it be substantiated? How do you actually get to 64,000 jobs? How long will they be supported for? Just the construction phase, the production phase or for ever? And is this the result of the one well, or does it depend on drilling multiple wells? And are these Britsh jobs for British people? Who cares - it's the headline that counts.

Meanwhile in Nottinghamshire would-be frackers are frustrated by a covenant which has been discovered to restrict what can be done on their chosen site. Nuisance, noise and noxious activities are all prohibited and at least part of the site is an SSSI Site of Special Scientific Interest and wildlife reserve. Formerly a Ministry of Defence (MOD) missile base, when it was sold off in 1969 this covenant was placed on future owners of the land. The lawyers are sorting it out.

Across the pond US actress Shailene Woodley has been arrested  during a protest in North Dakota against a huge oil pipeline project that will cross four states. The Dakota Access pipeline project has drawn huge protests.
Native Americans have halted its construction in North Dakota, saying it will desecrate sacred land and damage the environment.
The Divergent star was arrested at a construction site as she was broadcasting the protest, which involved about 200 people, on Facebook,. Police say she was one of 27 people arrested on charges of criminal trespass and engaging in a riot.

In the Facebook Live footage, Shailene said she had been walking peacefully back to her vehicle when "they grabbed me by my jacket and said that I wasn't allowed to continue... and they have giant guns and batons and zip ties and they are not letting me go”. She handed her phone to her mother who continued filming. As she was led away with her hands cuffed, she said she had been singled out from hundreds of other protesters "because I'm well known, because I have 40,000 people watching”.

Protest is nothing new and sadly it's rarely effective. One exception of course is the poll tax riots which led to the end of the poll tax and the end of Margaret Thatcher. But there’s a long way to go and in any case the US government is preoccupied with an election and the UK government is preoccupied with Brexit, whatever that means. Oh of course, it means Brexit.

In Australia, the state of South Australia lost all electrical power on 28th September and it took up to 24 hours for it to be restored to all consumers. The reasons for the the outage are still under review, although some have pointed fingers at the large proportion of renewables in the generating mix, principally wind. It’s not as simple as that. The state gets 40% of its power from wind and all coal-fired generation has been mothballed. How green. The rest comes from a mix of gas-fired power and two interconnectors that link it to Victoria’s brown coal-fired power plants. Not so green. The problem with the wind power is its intermittency and the fact that other sources of power have to be manipulated, in order to stabilise the supply. This is complicated by the fact that the transmission grid was built long before wind and other renewables were ever thought of, and it has to cope with a very high level of domestic solar installations as well.

The trigger for the problem was a storm which crossed the state causing damage and blowing down 22 transmission pylons. Six wind farms shut down, the interconnector to Victoria became overloaded and tripped and the rest of the network collapsed. The problem came when they attempted to restart the system.  According to a report from ABC news  on 5th October there was difficulty in getting sufficient power to restart the power station at Torrens Island and to restore the interconnector. Now I’m no engineer, but I don’t understand this. The plant at Torrens Island is a thermal power station which means it burns natural gas to raise steam and drive conventional turbines which drive generators. Surely you only need to light the boiler, raise steam and off you go. I’d be really interested in an expert view on this. The article also mentions a gas turbine power station at Pelican Point near Adelaide. Apparently this had been off-line at the time of the blackout because up till then there had been a supply of cheaper wind-generated power. After the blackout the message came from Pelican Point that it would take four hours for the station to come back on line. I thought that gas turbine stations were flexible and responded rapidly to changes in demand. Why four hours? An aircraft jet engine, which is also a gas turbine, starts up in a matter of minutes. The station uses combined cycle gas turbines, which means that the hot exhaust gases are used to raise steam which drives steam turbines. Maybe this complexity is what makes the plant slow to start. Expert advice, please.

I’ve heard it said by those that know that if the UK grid ever blacked out it would be very challenging to restart it. It’s never been done before, and you certainly can’t practise by turning it off to see what happens when you try and get it going again. The National Grid promises to publish its annual Winter Outlook Report later this month, which will forecast how much spare capacity or safety margin there will be in the event of a hard winter. I’ll keep you posted.

Peak Energy
Per capita energy demand will peak before 2030, finds a new World Energy Council report launched at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul.
The report examines three scenarios and even the most optimistic is worrying. For example, by 2060 we could still be using fossil fuels for 50% of our primary energy. While the use of solar and wind energy have grown rapidly, the fossil fuel share of primary energy has changed by just 5% in the last 45 years. The implications for global warming and meeting the COP21 targets are stark. The report says that “limiting global warming to 2℃ will require an exceptional and enduring effort, far beyond already pledged commitments, and with very high carbon prices.” The best scenario sees emissions in 2060 to fall 61% below 2014 levels: the worst sees them rise by 5%. In all scenarios the global carbon budget will be exceeded within the next 30 - 40 years. This means that total all-time emissions will exceed 1,000Gt CO2, the level at which it is believed it will be impossible to stop runaway climate change. The UK government has repeated its commitment to lowering domestic emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. The UK currently accounts for around 2% of global emissions. We will need far-reaching global consensus to make a practical difference.

I'm conscious that the Sustainable Futures Report  is in danger of becoming an energy newsletter. Energy is of course a very important part of sustainability, but as I said last week, there's an awful lot more to it than that and I intend to cover a much wider range of topics.

The Human Angle
Sustainability is about ensuring that the planet is protected as a habitat for the human race, but the social issues and the maintenance of a stable and prosperous society are in my view equally part of sustainability. The refugee crisis is one of the most pressing global concerns, although some would argue that we ain’t seen nothing yet. Conflicts are already driving migration, but climate change and particularly rising sea levels are likely to displace millions more. Inevitably there is conflict between those seeking simply to survive and those who resent any encroachment on their present comfortable lifestyles, as well as those who are just surviving and fear that refugees will push them all below subsistence level. It’s probably the most serious and most difficult issue of our time, and one I will return to.

This week I chaired the HR Leadership Exchange in London and had the benefit of listening to some leading experts in the field. We were talking not about global issues but about changes in the workplace which will have profound effects on workers and consumers and could themselves destabilise society. The key issue is the nature of work, the availability of work and the distribution of rewards across society. Work gives people status in society, gives structure and purpose to their lives and gives them a right to some share in society’s wealth. At the moment, in the UK and the West, the divide between rich and poor is rapidly widening. Automation and robotics are eliminating not just low-level jobs but also more and more roles where skills and experience are traditionally required. An app on the BBC website  lets you enter your job title and it tells you how likely your job is to be replaced by technology. For example it predicts that people working as Book-keepers, payroll managers and wages clerks have a 97% chance of being replaced and so do bank and post office clerks. Assembly workers are up at 92%.  Some people will be pleased to see that traffic wardens have a 79% chance of being replaced, although some unkind people might say that they’re robots already. Even legal professionals, depending on their role, have a 66% chance of being automated out of a job. Maybe it’s best to be a career advisor with only a 24% risk, or even a conference organiser with just a 4% risk. How does your job measure up?

 There are software tools now which will examine spreadsheets in detail, identify trends, variances and black spots and after training automatically produce written reports and PowerPoint presentations for the board. No longer will workers have to sweat into the night over the figures, but they may no longer have a job. The key question is whether they will have the resources to enjoy increased leisure, or simply be stuck with endless idleness. Such people may have little interest in saving the planet or working for the good of society. The irony is that others who have profited to an enormous extent from the technological revolution also seem to have little interest in the good of society. The Apples, Starbucks, Googles, Facebooks of this world seek to minimise the taxes they pay by all legal means possible and thereby avoid paying for the upkeep of the society which facilitates their businesses, trains and supports their workers and provides the consumers without whom there would be no business. Of course some of these organisations have philanthropic foundations with ambitious and altruistic objectives. But tax isn’t optional. Not morally, anyway. And who should decide about how to invest society’s wealth? Democratic governments or unelected entrepreneurs?

Outlook Fog
Meanwhile, in Africa the Moroccans are harvesting fog  We may think that we have problems in our Western society but many parts of the world have basic concerns like the lack of clean drinking water. On the edge of Morocco’s Sahara Desert, more than 400 people from five villages will have running water in their homes. No wells or springs or new oases. Instead, their water is in constant flow from the sky. Fog harvesting uses specialised mesh, hung between poles, to trap the water droplets in fog. It’s a bit like dewdrops on a spider’s web. The wind pushes fog through the mesh, where droplets are trapped, condense, fall and amass in a container placed at the base of the unit.  Drop-by-drop, they constitute a substantial amount of water.

The project, in the village of Ait Baamrane in Southwest Morocco, includes 600 square meters of specialised  mesh netting, seven storage reservoirs, 6 solar panels and over 10,000 metres of piping. It is considered to be the largest fog harvesting installation in the world. Before the project, most women spent more than three hours a day fetching water from a distant and frequently depleted wells. 

The United Nations has awarded the project a prize under the Momentum for Change Women for Results focus area for its women-led climate adaptation initiative, providing an environmentally-friendly water source to combat the effects desertification.

“It is impressive to see so many original and creative ways to tackle climate change,” said United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) Spokesman Nick Nuttal.   “It’s also great to see a winner from Morocco, this year’s host of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.”

It’s another world. But it’s our world too. We all have responsibility for all of it.

And that's it for another week. This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report and hoping that you will listen to the next one next week. I'm always keen to have your feedback and particularly if anybody can answer those questions about why power stations take a long time to start up I'd be really interested. 
Who knows what next week will bring? I'm keeping my eyes and ears open and I hope whatever I find to be interesting and useful and informative. So until next week have a great week and I'll talk to you again next Friday. Bye for now!