Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 - how was it for you?

Published as a podcast at 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. 


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 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)  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.


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 where you’ll find links to each recording and a brief summary of the topics covered. For the full text go to where I’ve included links to my sources.


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
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.


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  or 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

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