Thursday, September 30, 2010

alex salmond's renewable coal

Last week Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, announced that Scotland's target of generating 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 has been upped to 80%.

This week he went one better, suggesting it could be 100% by 2025.

This is interesting, given the plans for a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston, already dubbed by activists the 'new Kingsnorth'. The new power station would run for many decades, burning coal far beyond 2025. It's not only opposed by Scotland's kickass anti-coal activists, but also such rabid revolutionaries as the RSPBChristian Aid, WWF, the World Development Movement and the Church of Scotland.


Salmond's government aims to fast track the Hunterston proposal by using a new streamlined planning process, bypassing the often lengthy and expensive public-consultation rules that normally apply.

In 2007 Salmond said

Coal is king ... If you can use clean-coal technology, coal has a dynamic future. It means coal, far from being environmentally unacceptable, is becoming environmentally attractive.

The Scottish government will only oblige Hunterston to have 300 megawatts (MW) of production with carbon capture and storage. The station is planned to be 1600MW, in other words over 80% without carbon capture. This makes it more carbon intensive than any other way of generating electricity, except for unabated coal.

The Scottish government has also granted the massive Longannet coal power station an life extension so it can keep burning well past its 2015 sell-by date.

Anyone can set targets, especially ones that are mere suggestions for a time fifteen years hence. Just as every warmongering aggressor talks about peace and self-defence, so every fossil burner talks about the importance of aiming for sustainability.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

red ed

the coalition is losing the argument about its central programme of cuts, even before it has announced them, let alone started carrying them out. The latest Populus polling shows three-quarters of the public oppose both the scale and speed of the planned cuts.

So said Seumas Milne two weeks ago. A Leader of the Opposition who was interested in popular support might see an opportunity to place themselves as a determined, stoic, principled opposer of the cuts. But no, because garnering the support of the majority is not as important as ensuring the wealthy few don't become alienated.

The only red thing about Red Ed Miliband is his tongue, red raw from slurping the collective anii of capitalist scumpigs. He manages to pretend to have been anti-war just because he wasn't an MP when the Iraq vote took place. How we all remember his ceaseless tirades exhorting the prime minister to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan that resounded through the Commons since he was elected in 2005, though. Oh, no, hang on a minute....

He boldly comes forth with his red agenda, replacing Trident and no plans to nationalise anything, not even the railways that 70% of us want renationalised. Instead he says he'll go along with many of the cuts, specifically including the attacks on benefit claimants.

The Tory press has made much of Miliband's support from union votes, implying that this is some sort of con, with additionally strong overtones that unions are something underhand, malevolent and dangerously extremist. Since when did union membership – something a quarter of British employees engage in – become something antisocial?

Mark Steel notes the anti-union element of Miliband's coverage

as if the unions aren’t made up of millions of people but are a pair of illegal bookies and a drug-dealer who, because of a quirk of history, make up 30 per cent of the electoral college. You might as well say the only reason the Tories won the election was they sneaked in with the votes of Tory voters.

But the Sheer Fucking Gall Of The Day Award goes to Baroness Warsi for saying

Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of his MPs, wasn’t the choice of Labour party members but was put in to power by union votes.

Miliband was elected to leader of the Labour Party by many thousands of entitled voters. As opposed to Warsi, a failed parliamentary candidate who is nonetheless in Cabinet despite having been elected by nobody at all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

hydrogen zombies from murdoch hell

For those of us who generally spend too much time on news sites, it was curious to see Rupert Murdoch decide to put his papers behind a paywall. Whilst it's cut The Times' website traffic by 90%, there are those who reckon it's nonetheless increased the revenue.

But it's also stopped most of us having anything to do with The Times. Chicken Yoghurt notes the clear air and cheers on the process.

Isn’t the world a nicer place with The Times behind its paywall? If nothing else now only a few thousand hardcore masochists are having their mornings spoiled (either directly or indirectly) by David Aaronovitch’s brainfaeces. Once Rupert Murdoch finishes shovelling the rest of his offal behind the paywall we can get on with finally founding Utopia.

I had occasion to buy a paper copy of The Times the other week. It wasn't for me, it was for a friend. Really it was.

The Greater London Assembly has been enthusiastic about hydrogen vehicles despite the fact that they make no sense in terms of economics or climate impact. Even the Green members support it. So it was no surprise to see Kit Malthouse, Tory member of the Greater London Assembly, trotting out an article for the Times extolling the virtues of hydrogen cars.

Times subscribers can read it here, but you don't have to fork out a quid if you don't want to. Any pro-hydrogen article will have the same old twaddle, zombie arguments long disproven yet still they walk among us.

Fantastic news: by 2015 you will be able to buy a reasonably priced family car that runs entirely on hydrogen

Mmm-hmm. The magic switchover to hydrogen cars has been five years away for about twenty years now. Mr Donkey, meet Mr Carrot.

Nasty 19th-century internal combustion will be out; pure 21st century electrochemistry will be in.

Sexy! Shiny! Space-age! Actually, not. The hydrogen fuel cell is 19th century technology, invented by Sir William Grove in the late 1830s.

Electric propulsion is, of course, the solution. But there is a divide about how to store and release the power: battery or hydrogen?

With a battery, you charge it up and off you go. Perfect for town, where short, frequent journeys are the norm. But there is a teeny problem: instant refuelling... electric cars take between six and ten hours to charge.

No they don't - their batteries take that time to charge. If you have ready-charged batteries waiting at filling stations, swapping your empty one for a full one takes the same time as filling up with petrol, or indeed hydrogen.

That requires new infrastructure at filling stations, but not as much as hydrogen. Additionally, you can recharge your car yourself at home overnight on cheap electricity when you have got hours spare. For convenience and availability, electricity wins because it's everywhere, whereas hydrogen is available nowhere.

Malthouse deftly avoids any mention of hydrogen's cost. There's a reason the protoypes have only been available on lease instead of to buy. As Shell Hydrogen’s CEO Don Huberts bluntly conceded

‘at the end of the day, hydrogen and other alternative fuels will be three to four times as expensive as oil based products, and if no one wants to pay for that, we can't make those fuels’(1).

Or, to compare, Ulf Bossel of the European Fuel Cell Forum said,

The daily drive to work in a hydrogen fuel cell car will cost four times more than in an electric or hybrid vehicle. 

Still, at least Malthouse does mention some other drawbacks.

Don't get me wrong, there are problems with hydrogen too. The main one is that it is pretty inefficient - it takes more energy to produce than it produces as a fuel.

And the understatement of the year award goes to...

In a recent post I mentioned the way the word 'recyclable' is used to imply that a product has no environmental impact so we can just use as much as we feel like, throw it away and get more. This also applies to 'renewable electricity'; it apparently has no impact to manufacture, install and maintain generating equipment, and is freely available in infinite quantity. Kit Malthouse certainly thinks so, and it lets him off the eye-watering inefficiency of hydrogen.

But if we use renewable energy to make the hydrogen in the first place, is this still an issue?

In a word, yes.

To replace our vehicle fuels with hydrogen would take as much electricity as we presently use for everything else combined (2). Do we think we can double electricity generation whilst doing away with fossil burning? Or is renewable-electricity hydrogen a non-starter?

Meanwhile, the Tory market values championed by the likes of Malthouse will see to it that we don't actually use renewable electricity. It is, by a huge margin, far cheaper to make hydrogen from natural gas than any other source. Renewable electricity, conversely, is by far the most expensive. Unless we have a stringent big-government regulatory regime, gas will be the raw material.

Making hydrogen from gas then using it in a fuel cell emits about 90g of CO2 for every kilometre you drive, about the same as a modern efficient petrol car (3). So when Kit Malthouse says that hydrogen cars

emit only water

it's true in the sense of what comes out of the exhaust pipe, but that's because the carbon emissions have happened at the hydrogen factory. The climate, of course, doesn't care where you emit the carbon, only that you do it at all. This use of gas as the raw material means that hydrogen is just another fossil fuel.

Perhaps the maddest scenario we could head towards is shifting from oil to another fossil fuel that's just as carbon-intensive and just as scarce, which then runs out after a couple of decades, leaving us with all this hydrogen infrastructure, making us squander our electricity on making hydrogen instead of the more efficient battery vehicles.

Bank-busting, ash-spewing Iceland has started to harness all that free geothermal power, aiming to be the hydrogen Saudi Arabia by 2060.

This is hardly, as Malthouse wants to imply, a reason for the UK to compete. Exporting hydrogen is very unlikely to happen on any major scale, as it contains a fraction of the energy of oil.

Iceland may produce its own hydrogen some time in future, but that is for several reasons that don't apply anywhere else. It is not only sat on more renewable energy than it can use (a few huge hydroelectric plants and a hell of a lot of geothermal energy); it is also little more than a city state. It has a population the size of Bradford and two-thirds of them live in one city.

Even then, its trumpeted 'hydrogen economy' has been and gone several times. In 2000 Iceland was to be the Bahrain of the North and the big breakthrough was five to ten years away. In 2002 it was touted as the Kuwait of The North with hydrogen cars to be on the roads in 2005. Shell put three hydrogen buses into action in Reykjavik in 2005. Two years later, two were scrapped and the third put in a museum.

The hydrogen vehicles are a gimmick, fluttered about by oil companies so we think the breakthrough is around the corner and therefore we can carry on with our cars. The wonder is that we're fooled by it over and over.

The electric vehicle may be more efficient, but the batteries take a lot of minerals and energy to manufacture. It too is being hyped as a decoy, just the way hydrogen has been.

To think there is an easy and renewable alternative to fossil fuels is a fundamental misunderstanding of what fossil fuels are; millions of years of stored energy. We have to stop thinking every individual can have the energy needed to carry a ton of metal and glass with them everywhere they go.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

1 . Looking Ahead: Fuel Producers Weigh in on Hydrogen’s Fit in Cleaner Energy Production, Fuel Cell Industry Report, January 2003.

2.Decarbonising the UK – Energy for a Climate Conscious Future, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005, p74.

3. Well-to-Wheels analysis of future automotive fuels and powertrains in the European context, Version 1b, European Commission Joint Research Centre, January 2004, p50, Figure 8.4.1b.

Friday, September 17, 2010

road to nowhere

'Reform' is a word that has shifted meaning in the last twenty years. Like 'modernise', in the mouth of a politician 'reform' now means 'privatise' or 'cut'.

George Osborne told us last week

We are going to reform out-of-work benefits so there's a strong incentive for people who can work to get work.

This ignores the central fact that there are many people who can work, but there is no work for them to get.

There are 2,467,000 people unemployed. There are 467,000 job vacancies. So there are exactly two million people for whom there is no work. And that's before we start kicking people off sickness benefits and out of public sector jobs.

Given the government's plan to cut Housing Benefit for people unemployed for more than a year - leading to debt and eviction for a great many of them - it's also pertinent to know that there are 797,000 people who have been unemployed for over 12 months. So even if every vacancy in the country went to long-term unemployed people, we'd still have 330,000 people long-term unemployed being punished with homelessness for not getting a job that doesn't exist.

Osborne continued;

People who think that it's a lifestyle choice just to stay on out-of-work benefits, that lifestyle choice is going to come to an end.

'Lifestyle choice' implies a preference. It baldly says unemployed people choose their situation. With the unemployed outnumbering vacancies 5:1, unless we start a jobs-for-six-months rota, the only way people will get out of unemployment and into work is by clambering over the heads of others and pushing them back down into the increasingly inhumane and threadbare benefits system.

Nick Clegg defended the cuts, saying

A fair society is not one in which money is simply transferred by the central state from one group to another

One word: bankers.

It also makes me wonder whether this means Clegg opposes taxation in all its forms. He goes on;

Welfare needs to become an engine of mobility, changing people's lives for the better, rather than a giant cheque written by the state to compensate the poor for their predicament.

£65 a week Job Seekers Allowance is hardly giant. But whatever the price, you can only be mobile if there is somewhere to move to. For the overwhelming majority of unemployed people, there is no road out. As they are poor by no fault of their own, it is barbaric and cruel to punish them. A fair society would indeed compensate such people for their predicament.

As unemployment is, if we're honest, a permanent feature of our society, we should see if anyone out there actually does want it as a lifestyle choice. If they can find a way to lead happy, fulfilled lives on £65 a week then good luck to them. Automating their payments would, as Child Benefit has proven, take down the cost of administration. This would free up the job-finding help for those who do want it. Same number of unemployed, lower cost, far greater happiness.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

like a war zone without the dead people

I went to Reading Festival once, nearly 20 years ago. It has none of the character of Glastonbury, none of the quirks and charm of smaller festivals. What it does have is a vast range of top rock bands playing blisteringly loud to massive beery audiences. For some people that's not enough to entice them but for others, like me in 1991, it's a definition of heaven.

It was overwhelmingly populated by teenagers wearing band T-shirts who enjoyed making campfires out of plastic. As I understand it, that is still the case, and their techniques and targets have evolved and expanded. Stories from a few years ago about lines of burning portaloos are truly the stuff of nightmares.

The festival is now so popular that it's held at two sites, Leeds and Reading, with the same acts on alternating nights. This year I helped with the salvage; teams of volunteers get a couple of days after the festival to pick up any decent tat left by punters.

There were people gathering camping tat like SolAIDarity collecting for the camps of migrants at Calais, others for displaced victims of the Pakistani floods, and scouting groups. Other charity collectors like Everything's Possible were looking for stuff to clean and sell as fundraisers.

The waste seems largely to be a product of the mindset of the punters rather than the infrastructure. During the festival, if you bring in a sack of empty cans and/or plastic bottles for recycling, you get a token for a beer. Yet I saw hundreds of full cans of beer lying around, let alone the uncountable thousands of empties.

There are camping gear drop-off points for people who don't want to take stuff home. Yet I would estimate that at least one tent in four was left behind where it was pitched.

This is a spliced together panorama. Bear in mind this is one corner of one empty field, everyone's gone home. There were acres of this.

Almost all the abandoned tents had stuff inside them. Many had just been walked out of, leaving sleeping bags, rollmats, clothes, cosmetics and food. Possessions were seen as disposable, not just by a few who were irredeemably irresponsible or acutely hungover, but as a culture among festival-goers.

Many of the tents and camping gear were clearly new, bought for the weekend, regarded as being as ephemeral as the beer. That was the good bit.  Finding otherwise decent tents slashed, or burned out, or shat in was much worse.


One thing that caught my eye was the vast number of 'Green Tents'.

The words 'green' and 'eco' are, as we well know, meaningless. Vauxhall's new Ecoflex range of cars are eco, even though they emit over 130g of CO2 per kilometre, more than a third as much again as some normal cars already on the road. 'Recyclable' is used as if this means the virgin materials have less impact, and as if the recycling process has no impact at all.

Leeds Festival big up their partnership with Green Tent Company, telling us that buying their gear will

help us to reduce our carbon footprint, thus SAVING THE PLANET

They really do use capitals.

So go on then, what's green about a plastic tent? The makers explain

Traditionally a tent is made up of many different components such as fibreglass poles, metal eyelets and pegs, polyester material and nylon zips etc… which make them uneconomical to separate for recycling. This results in the vast majority of the tents being sent directly to landfill... until now !

The Green Tent Company are the first company in the world to design and manufacture a stylish competitively priced range of tents that are made solely of one product. That product is... polyester.

As if to equal Leeds Festival's jarring emphasis of nonsense, they really do put a three dotted drumroll before telling us their green material is the same non-degradable oil product all the other tents are made of.

Should any of our tents, camping mats or sleeping bags be left behind after a festival ends they do not have to be sent to landfill, instead they can be sent for recycling

They can be sent for recycling. They do not have to be sent to landfill. But, in the main, they are.

A two person Green Tent is £12.99. A full kit of tent, two rollmats and two sleeping bags is £30. You can order online and pick up at the festival, encouraging the throwaway attitude. Why waste precious beer space with camping gear when for £15 each you can get it disposably at the festival, and do the same next year?

The wastefulness is seriously exacerbated - and any potential generosity one may feel toward the company dissolved - by the manufacturer's shoddy quality of work. Some of the material is not fit for repeated use (there's a reason other tents don't use polyester pegs), the rest of it is scrappy single-skin stuff that is barely showerproof. The makers acknowledge this when they boast

If our tents have been well looked after AND fully dried out before being packed away, they could be used SEVERAL times

My tent - reasonable quality, still going strong, and I assure you really not that well looked after - has been to at least 80 festivals.

Put another way, had I bought Green Tent Company tents instead, I would have sent fifty or so to landfill already, or to recycling if I could find where to do it.

How would the eventual landfilling of my solitary tent compare to the energy use and waste of making and recycling a hundred Green Tents? Let alone, as would be more likely, to landfilling a hundred of them?