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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dreaded Droughts, Furious Floods, the Humble Home and You.

In the UK we have largely ignored the drought warnings until they affect us directly. In an era where global warming was starting to gain more recognition in the 1970’s and 1980’s – when fear of drought hitting many countries in the richer northern hemisphere when in fact we have been hit by quite the reverse and suffered some terrible floods, nationally and internationally, with serious repercussions of many deaths, billions (currency) in damages and communities decimated.
Many people feel helpless and therefore ignore the potential flooding problems. Many people have no faith or trust that something can be done about floods and droughts. This is only natural human reaction in this day and age, as we feel microscopic in the face of 7 billion inhabitants. So perhaps a different perspective is offered through voluntary efforts, building control and planning initiatives. Small steps do have significant knock on effect and we can make strong steps individually and as a nationwide collective.
For all the problems we suffer in UK with flooding – make no mistake they could have been significantly worse. Due to the past efforts of thousands of people planting trees (We all know that symbiosis between trees and soils helps reduce flooding) and installing rain (water collection) butts the flooding risks have been reduced somewhat. We can all take this further forward! In hte UK there are over 200 000 homes who are at risk of not being able to get house/flood insurance due to being in high risk flood areas. With a national policy of water containment/re-use implemented we can help all these people and their homes.
The majority of UK, on a domestic level, do make a concerted effort to turn dripping taps off, have showers instead of baths, many believe their dishwashers use less water than cleaning dishes in the sink. Yet as opposed to just ‘water-saving’ perhaps we should additionally look at ‘water retention’.
Just to go slightly off topic …. Regardless of heating source – hot water will remain in the pipes until it is demanded again. If ALL hot water pipes in industry and domestic were super lagged/insulated – we would save millions of litres of water and millions of Megawatts of energy for heating, as there would be less time waiting for the water to heat up (the still water in the pipes having lost its heat as it has permeated through the un-insulated pipes) the taps are run continually before it is an acceptable warmth level to the end user.
This is very evident of people who rely upon older combi-boilers which heat up the water when you turn the taps on….. it does take a long time for the water to heat up, so when you are waiting for water to get hotter for sinks or showers – on a national scale (the 30-60 seconds we are waiting for the water to heat up) this results in millions of litres of water being utterly wasted. New regulations have demanded improvements in new combi-boiler efficiencies – so that is a positive step forward.
High demand households such as shared accommodation, offices, kitchens etc. prefer the combi-boiler performance to guarantee heat demands so it would be a prudent measure to be able to access high demand immediate heated water technologies. Are wood burners or micro-generation our best options for more sustainable heating systems?
Back onto the main topic of water retention: The media will relay to the public when impending droughts will result in lower reservoir levels, the expected hosepipe bans – thus reporting to us the impact upon agriculture and therefore the impact upon us insuccessive years, yet too many times we feel helpless and do nothing.
As we are driven towards becoming more innovative in our own households, an interest in allotments has grown again since the turn of the century. People are finding ways of saving home resources and money to become less reliant upon the existing system in these times of really bad economic times.
This is not just about drought, there is the other extreme of flooding – we have nothing, then there is too much. Many believe flooding occurs as a result of poor land management where so many thousands of trees, hedgerows have been removed, thus the soil loses its properties and nutrients to retain water and distribute evenly.
Supporting organisations like the woodland trust, or organic farms will go some way to reinvigorating soil properties and reducing flooding problems. Yet a national scale of policy implementation will be required to really support and re-establish natural ecological processes that have naturally dealt with minimizing flooding and drought.
What we can do though is relatively easy. Please consider this small step and it’s massive collective positive impact. Use any search engine and it will tell you we have approximately 30 millionhouses in the UK. Basic statistics state that in England and Wales we have 22.5 million houses Scotland and Northern Ireland easily take us past 30 million in housing stock numbers.
So what?
30 million houses with a 40 litre Rainwater butt will collect: 1 200 000 000 (1.2 billion) litres of water.

30 million houses with a 100 litre Rainwater butt will collect 3 000 000 000 (3 billion) litre of water.
A couple of billion litres of flood water, left uncollected, could wreak enough havoc in any town/city – enough to warrant attention to further flood reductions methods. How unrealistic is this? If every building in UK could hold an additional 100 litres of [rain] water in storage – this would drastically reduce flooding AND offer us a free water resource in periods of severe drought like the UK suffered in April 2011.
A 100 litre capacity water butt or water container would be approximately 2 metres high and half a metre wide in diameter – so could comfortably be placed on the back wall of majority of houses adjacent to the guttering.
The balance is assured. With such a national combined prolific level of water storage, the UK could be better prepared for further droughts and floods to come.
What can you do?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Recession doom and gloom – or a reinvention of humanity?

Although the year has ended with a strong element of doom and gloom there may be a strong opportunity for the reinvention of humanity in economics, social and environmental terms. It does not necessitate being radical or revolutionary more just getting back onto the right pathway after a half a century of unjustified materialism?

More and more people are standing up to themselves, the media, the neurotic social assumptions that drive us (in the 1950’s in the Western World we searched out communist – in the 1970’s we awaited nuclear annihilation – in the 2000’s we searched out paedophiles) and ask themselves how much have we been bamboozled and brain washed by everything around us. Things may be bad politically and economically – yet in your own individualism there are opportunities for a happier and better quality of healthy living and outlook on life.

There are concerns that an increased suicide rate will hit many countries over this season, as many people give up due to being trapped in impossible situations of a rock and hard place during economic collapse. Things are very desperate for many out there - the majority of us recognise this.
However, there is a reason that all people have not turned to alcoholism or drug addiction, just break down, become insular and prematurely end their lives. The main reason is because as individuals we can tolerate more pressure, pain and challenges than we could possibly credit ourselves with. Humanity is spiritually stronger than it believes – this will be our trump card!
The current recession is unpredictable, many ‘sources’ believe it will last for decades, others believe it can be resolved with by 2020. Different political/economic/academic/Think Tank groups will have their own respective differing opinions. Yet if the greatest minds in industry hesitate to even guess where the Internet will be progressing in the next 3-4 years, there is little wonder many do not wish to guess where the economy will be in an equal amount of time.
One thing is assured though in any recession and that is our human creativity is quickly evolved/forced, we become more innovative and efficient with very limited resources. Self-sufficiency is constantly percolating in the background as individuals/families/communities attempt to:
·         Produce their own food, support local Farmers markets
·         Produce their own energy, or join energy co-operatives
·         Provide their own education and skills improvement 
·         Improve our homes and workplaces to make for more efficient living/working activities.
A new drive towards community ownership of local renewable energy systems, local food growing partnerships and locally owned building co-operatives are becoming evident.
The Christmas 2011 season has been a very underplayed affair this year as multiple cut backs hit virtually everyone. Even children and teenagers have been found quoting “it doesn’t feel like Christmas this year!” yet this is not said in misery yet rather rational recognition – from all ages.
This may be a sign of us moving away from our materialism and towards a more social/spiritual/holistic pathway which could overall improve our quality of life. Lets face it the materialism angle has not exactly helped us as the global economies have consistently ran through boom and bust for the last few centuries.
A great opportunity lies ahead of humanity now. Many of the world’s problems could be alleviated within one generation – a mere three decades. Empowerment, transparency, confidence in fairness and ethics, community/society engagement, trust and professional conduct are just some issues humanity comprehends can deliver us to a greater quality of life. Yet as many selfish individuals (often in higher positions in life) will not adhere to these conventions, thus progress is stunted. How we get there is up to you. Every community will have a somewhat unique dynamic that can focus on bringing about social/economic/environmental improvements.
Are you willing to share what you have found? What can you do to improve local (and the knock on effect to possible improve national and international) quality of life? We have the tools to communicate globally with the Internet and we have human resolve that drives us. So where do we go from here?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Electric cars on the UK roads.

After decades of empty promises ZEV’s [Zero Emission Vehicles] such as Electric Cars, Hydrogen Cars, Hybrid Cars etc. are slowly beginning to ply our roads. This short entry will focus mostly upon EV’s – Electric Cars and how they teeter on the edge of public acceptability.

Fear of acquiring a ZEV still rides in the British psyche. These are just some of the expressions I have recorded off normal everyday people in the last five years alone ….. (yet equally have heard the same terms reiterated through the last three decades from many different people.)

“I don’t want one – I’d be ridiculed!” (Technological unfounded prejudice)
“Bloody milk float!” (Poor design and socially unacceptable vehicle appearance)
“I don’t want to run out of juice in the middle of nowhere!” (Dead battery syndrome)
“It’s took expensive!” (maybe!)

For most it is basely assumption based on no real empirical evidence. People need to have access to ZEV’s in order to understand their durability. BMW’s testing stage of the Mini-E is such a demonstration project that allows selected members of the public to gain acceptance of the EV’s.

There are some incentives to drive electric: Free parking and low car tax? This may be available now – yet with more EV’s on the road prices inevitably will creep up – yet not just yet; maybe 2020 onwards.
Running costs:
Petrol per mile costs Versus Electric per mile costs – the main issue. In 2011 the 40 litre (relatively small tank) petrol/diesel capacity costs almost £60 to fill up to cover 300-360 miles per tank. An electric charged up car would cost Less than £1 with a 150 mile capacity (this takes into consideration domestic electric charge increases) … people can easily understand the savings.
So what holds us back? An electric car will cost between £20,000 to £100,000 which at present the average family cannot afford. Celebrities, trend setters or industry are the only ones at present to really get their hands on electric cars the last few years. They all set the example though and inevitably prices will fall giving wider access to the rest of us.
Will the UK Governments £5000 incentive to purchase a new ZEV help more of us to buy electric?
Will the insurance cause us concern or detract us from going EV?
Recharging / Refuelling:
The main issue is charging – be it domestic/in-house or on-street charging points. It will have some potential issues to rise before all is harmonious. People who live with on-street parking may suffer charging issues (people pulling cables out for tomfoolery) when trying to juice up their EV.
Many homes can be designed with garages in mind. Safer security, lower premiums on charging and peace of mind as you can charge your car from the home sockets in a locked safe environment. By using common sense design we will overcome all these issues. More research needs to be done – perhaps a small incentive for all EV purchases to undertake several surveys over 2-3 years of ownership where they can feedback in all [positive and negative] issues raised.
Recharging points are becoming a reality as the megacities around the world are embracing on-street charging to keep our national fleets of ZEV/EV’s juiced up and running. Charging can be done (trickle style) overnight of 4-8 hours or quickly a 30 minute burst which would charge 50-80% … enough to get you home !
Many will complain that in the UK our electricity sourcing is from fossil fuels, which if we all suddenly own electric cars and start charging up overnight we will throw emissions up a hundred fold (thousand fold?) ….. yet there are opportunities ahead.
Yet nocturnally we have mild over production of electricity in night generation (we can’t just switch off the coal/gas power stations) this could easily feed our overnight charge without necessarily increasing emissions.
The potential of the Off-Shore Wind Farms adding another 2-3 GW capacity over the next few years would easily meet our ZEV demands for the next decade of evening chargers – so we’d not be reliant on coal, oil or gas electricity generation whatsoever.
Could it be things are actually falling into place as a large minority of us become electric car users over this new decade?
The UK is gradually getting there. Since electric cars were being discussed and experimented on in the mid-20th century (some functional models in the early 1900’s too!) with occasional viable models like the GM Impact (1990) which became the doomed GM EV-1 – things have progressed further.
It’s not just about technical fixes and good innovation; it’s about human behaviour, responsibility and rational contemplation. It is a new era and now many will become EV owners how do we ensure it won’t be another crash and burn EV-1 episode again?
We are optimistic the stumbling blocks are lessening and getting further apart. What can you do?
The following list is not comprehensive – we actively encourage the public and industry to research further the options available to us.
Nissan Leaf:
Tesla motors:

Toyota Hybrids:
Synergy -
Auris -
Prius -

Electric 7.5 tonne Lorries/Trucks:

Government incentives:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Installing domestic renewable systems (Post RIP of FiT's)

With so many companies and organisations reporting the reduction of the FiT’s [Feed in Tariff] incentives many fear that renewable energy generation on the domestic front will come to a grinding halt. Basically explained the FiT incentives were a Government initiative to pay people to sell their domestically installed renewable electricity to the national grid. What you don’t use – you sell and get an agreeable premium for. Sounds great eh?
As one brushes through the journals from 12-18 months ago of blogs, adverts and circulars of AECB, CAT, FFF etc. you will see and read a prolific amount of adverts selling small scale renewable energy systems like PV [electric solar panels] or a small Wind Turbine on your roof. The real selling point was the virtues of FiT’s [Feed in Tariffs] and why now is the ripe time to install PV [Photovoltaic] REF cells on ones’ roof. Perhaps we should have all paid more attention in 2010 to investing and installing …. As now it would seem the party is over now and the carpet ripped out from under our feet.

The Davius groups immediate reaction to the impending December 2012 FiT’s cut’s were “what will be cut in December 2012/2013/2014 etc to the point that FiT’s would be so miniscule and worthlessly ineffective” however if you read the various articles some anticipate further cuts, others believe it will stabilise on a lower rate of incentive support no matter what promises are on the table for now. Has the UK PV industry become so dependent upon this support mechanism that did not even exists when the first PV roofs, or other domestic renewable energy systems were being installed 1990-2009, Pre-FiT?

Although thousands of keen sustainable orientated professionals and enthusiasts may have had their hopes dashed – there is a still potential area’s for growth and development. We do need incentives; indeed the nuclear industry could not have got anywhere without subsidy – nor would much of UK and global industry got anywhere without a few decades of subsidy and incentive support…..

So where do we progress now …. ? To be blunt we [Davius business] are partially relieved that FiT’s were slashed for 2012/13 as it will stop some developments from running out of control and beating the smaller scale regular house owner to the pip of claiming incentives.

·         Free solar roofing – These mass installers who just whack a PV array on your roof ‘for free’ will be minimised now – this probably is for the best as you don’t actually use the ‘free solar energy’ unless you are actually in the house (and most people are at work during the day and obviously the PV cells are not producing energy for consumption at night!) so they can sell the majority of the product / clean energy to the grid whilst you are out the house and get paid handsomely for it. The reduced FiT may reduce such mass scale PV butchers now.

·        Solar Farms? This is a contentious issue which we would have embraced in 1970’s yet now in the 2010’s/2020’s when land becomes an increasing premium in price and much needed space for agriculture, nature or building we should encourage the PV panels to be kept on roofs to make efficient use of our designed space – not just put on land on a low level structure when the land really should be used for something more important – OR integrated alongside with the PV based electricity production.

These may be negative points to raise – yet what about potential positives? There is still great potential to expand PV/Solar roofing throughout UK and the world without necessary, or albeit incredibly reduced incentives or subsidies.

·        Solar Clubs – a social phenomenon that has been around since the turn of the century which encourages communities to band and save together and get several installations in one go. This leads to reduced costs, engages people to work together and has been successful to install both solar (water heating) and PV (electricity production)

·        Why have PV skyscrapers not become prolific in our mega cities? The scale of PV installed would have made a significant contribution to building performance with or without any support/FiT incentives. If industry came forward and offered a large scale PV installation programme, the PV modules would inevitably reduce in costs by larger scale and encourage their neighbouring skyscrapers to adopt such an approach which would look good on their business good practice and CSR profiles.

·       Perhaps if Vertical Farming finally takes off after fifty years of design or practicality proposals, with land costs increasing; if we cannot grow outwards – we can grow food upwards in a building multi-layered style. Covering the side of a five-ten storey building/farm with PV modules would bring costs down and facilitate more on-site good energy management.

Adhering to the Schumacher Colleges philosophy of “Small is beautiful” sustainable clean energy should be initiated, like any sustainable methodologies on a small entry level scale of domestic housing. Not massive overpriced demonstration platforms.

If there’s a will – then we all know there’s a way forward. PV installations (and many other sustainable methodologies) can still go ahead and if everything starts at home – on low costs, on practicality, on pure guts and determination. Truly then sustainability will branch out to every other aspect of our lives in profession, in community, in our humanity.

The FiT tariffs may be going through a slow death, yet we should not be so dependent upon them. Renewables and housing integration will have to find another way forward …. What can you do?