July 29, 2008

Carbon calculators

Writing about web page http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk

I was bored the other day, and thought I’d try out the government’s “Act on CO2” carbon calculator. I mostly put in just details about my own life, only adding in an extra car at 5,000 miles a year to see how much this would affect my carbon footprint. If you haven’t had a go at the calculator already, it asks you quite a few questions about your lifestyle – number of TV’s and how long they’re on, how many loads of washing you do a week and at what temperature etc. So I was expecting this to come out as pretty accurate.

I was surprised to find that my CO2 footprint (for my household, of 2) was 17.63 tonnes/year, compared to a national average of 10.2 tonnes/year (which I thought was per household by the way it’s presented, but I have a feeling is per person). Given that I live in a modern flat, which is very cheap to run, I was rather surprised by this figure (before anyone points the figure at my driving, my houshold came at just over 10 tonnes compared to transport of 7.4 tonnes). So I did some digging around…

Despite the claims that the calculator doesn’t double count, I’m pretty convinced it does. Having asked you what your bills are for gas and electricity (which surely is the sum of your carbon footprint, unless you add in water costs which it doesn’t ask you about), it then asks you lots of detailed questions about your appliances. I therefore dug around the web for 15 minutes, and calculated my own carbon footprint against the calculator’s. My results were:

2.9 tonnes Gas
0.7 tonnes Electricity
Total home: 3.6 tonnes

2.7 tonnes Petrol car
4.9 tonnes diesel car
Total transport: 7.6 tonnes

Total footprint: 11.2 tonnes
Total/person: 5.6 tonnes

This is based on my consuming 1500m3/yr gas, 3000kWh/yr electricity, 20,000 miles/yr of my diesel car (at 50MPG) and 5,000 miles/yr of a hypothetical fun petrol car (at 20MPG). Data used for calculation:

Natural gas 1.94kg/m3
Electricity 0.238kg/kWh
Petrol 10.68kg/UK gal
Diesel 12.22kg/UK gal

The table from the Carbon calculator, on the other hand, looked like this:

Total Footprint for Home 8.54
Heating & Hot Water 8.32
Lighting 0.22
Total Footprint for Appliances 1.67
Kitchen 0.62
Entertainment 0.42
Study 0.4
Other 0.23
Total Footprint for Travel 7.42
Vehicle 7.42
Flights 0
Total Carbon Footprint 17.63

The transport figures are in pretty good agreement, but the home section is pitiful. The heating and hot water (which is only gas) is about 3 times too high, and the electrical footprint is over twice as much as what I calculated.

The carbon calculator is a nice idea, but I think they need to do a bit more work a) Not double counting things b) Not disregarding what you give as your total household consumption and c) More clearly presenting per person and per household figures.

July 14, 2008

Interesting development in environmental motoring

Writing about web page http://www.theengineer.co.uk/Articles/306687/Exhaust+to+biofuel.htm

Ok, so I’m a month or so behind the curve on this one (I found out about it whilst reading a mate’s car mag), but the link is to a technology that anybody interested in motoring or climate change should take an interest in – vehicle based carbon capture.

From what I can glean (specifics on this at the moment are very hard to come by), the principle is for the fitment of a filtration system into an internal combustion engine exhaust. The filters can be removed and then the CO2 extracted by bubbling it through an algae generator, which can then be used to make biofuel. There are a number of significant questions unanswered about this:

  • To what extent does the increase in exhaust back-pressure affect engine performance – horsepower, fuel consumption etc
  • How intrusive will the system be in terms of space and weight.
    Each cartrige holds 8kg of CO2, which will give a range of about 50 miles before it needs changing on a standard car. Apparently two cannisters can be used together to double range. Longer journeys, or higher emission cars, would therefore either require frequent stops to change cartriges or a larger storage capacity. I would imagine this would add a fair amount of weight and take up a lot of space
  • The practicalities of growing biofuels from algae on a large scale. There would obviously need to be some energy input into the algal growth, probably from sunlight. In order to grow algae rapidly a large area for the generator would presumably be required
  • Development costs and time

If you read the linked article, you’ll quickly see that the above queries have yet to really be answered in the press releases so far, and I suspect the technology is a fair way off of being fitted to every car given how new this is on the scene. A good dose of scepticism is therefore heavily advised on at the moment, and I have my doubts given the above points. However, it’s an intriguing concept which I really think might have some merit and it’s definitely one to watch progress of.

July 08, 2008

Return to the blogsphere

I haven’t written a post since last November. How time flies! A combination of a heavy workload at work and moving into my first home has somewhat taken its toll on my free time. A brief update of what I’ve been up to:

  • Bought a flat in mid-December. I’m now living just south of the centre in Bristol, which is a bit more convenient for work (although I’m now working on-site at Oldbury so still driving every day…). I appear to have timed my first foray into the property market quite well – please don’t ever say the words “negative equity” to my face.
  • Sold my ST in February. After owning from new, the moment was fast approaching where I would face horrendous depreciation, and as much as I didn’t want to sell it, I’m too much of a tightwad for a hatchback to lose me £500 a month. It’s been replaced by a Mondeo Ghia X TDci
  • Got an allotment. It’s just out the back of my flat, and has been sapping a lot of my time of late. It was a total mess when we got it, and I’m not expecting any crop to speak of this year; hopefully all the digging will pay off next year.
  • Had a three week holiday recently to go farming. Decided I fancied a change this year and worked for a grassland contractor near to where I grew up. Got a shiny new Fendt 718 to drive which was a lot of fun, if a tad complicated!
  • Got promoted at work in April – am now a senior engineer.
  • Jenny properly moved into my flat recently, so we’re now living together.

Self-indulgent life update over, normal service will be resumed shortly.

November 02, 2007

Fun day at work

Most days at work, I end up just going into the office, doing some Finite Element Analysis, write some reports, send some e-mails and have a few phone conversations. Today however, I got to look around, stand on top of, and touch, a nuclear reactor operating at full power (700MWth). It was a long time in coming, but man what a day! I think I can safely say that was one of the most fun/awesome tours ever. Maybe I was meant to be an engineer and not a farmer after all.

October 04, 2007

Farewell to a trusty friend

Today is an important and slightly sad day for me, as I have now sold my second car. I picked up my trusty Escort on 14th February 2002; an R-reg 1.6 Finesse with 64,200 miles on the clock, from Runcorn near Manchester. I kept her with me through the rest of uni, first when I was living in Tile Hill, then Bishops Itchington in my third year (where I had an awesome 18 mile drive in each day along country roads) and then when I moved back on campus in my 4th year. Since graduating I’ve mainly used her for running up and down the M5 to work every day (about a 100 mile round trip), but as I’m looking to move nearer Bristol now I think it’s the right time to let her go. In the just under 3 years 8 months I’ve had her, I’ve driven nearly 62,000 miles, with the only breakdown happening when I went to go out for the evening in my 4th year to discover a dead battery (it was the one that came with the car, so had lasted nearly 9 years – not a bad innings). We’ve shared some good times, and some bad ones too. From the highs of early morning blasts into uni (such as one very memorable one I had at the end of my 4th year when I was going into one of my last exams at about 7AM) to the lows of dull commuting. So I’m back down to just the one car now. Farewell old friend, I hope you serve your next owner as well as you have me.

September 16, 2007

A sad day

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/6997270.stm

Yesterday motorsport lost one of the great names of a generation. McRae lit up the world of the World Rally Championship and brought it to the fore, with a combination of a likeable prankster in his character and amazingly balls-out commitment in his driving. When on form on gravel, no-one could hold a candle to him, and though he threw the car off the course time and time again he never reigned in his instinct to race at, and often beyond, the limit of what the car was capable of. When leaving his home territory of Rallying, other motorsport arenas showed that his talent was supremely flexible, with creditable performances not just in similar off-roading evens such as the Paris-Dakar Rally buy also circuit racing events, most famously perhaps at Le Mans. For over a decade his name has been synonymous with Rallying and Motorsport, and he will be sorely missed by his millions of fans.

September 07, 2007

More green nonsense on the Nuclear issue

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6982884.stm

Hands up who saw this one coming? Environmentalist groups have pulled out from the government’s nuclear power consultation, claiming an unfair and incomplete debate on the issue. As I understand it, their concerns relate specifically to the issue of nuclear waste and the ‘misrepresentation’ that it is an issue that has been dealt with. Well as far as I’m aware it has been. The vitrification plant has been open at Sellafield since 1991, which uses a proven technique of sealing high level wastes into a glass block, and then cooling the blocks until activity has died down. Many radioactive materials generated in the nuclear industry have much shorter half-lives than most people think, with in excess of 99% of activity decaying within 40 years of a reactor shutdown. Low level and intermediate level wastes, which make up over 95% of nuclear waste, are simple to deal with via direct shallow burial, or in some cases where medium wastes are active over longer periods by deeper burial.

High level waste, which is really only generated in the civil industry by reprocessing activities, represents less than 3% by mass of nuclear wastes (but over 95% of activity); a typical power station producing about 3 cubic metres of high level waste a year (after reprocessing and vitrification). There is space capacity in current facilities for over 100,000 tonnes of HLW, with around 12,000 tonnes a year generated by current activities; storage is currently therefore not an urgent issue. After a cooling off period of a few decades, HLW can then be transferred into secure long term underground storage facilities. Sweden is advanced in this area, with the KBS-3 geological disposal process designed to secure wastes for over 100,000 years, after which the wastes are no more radioactive than the ore from which they were mined. Natural fission reactors that occured millions of years ago demonstrate the security of nuclear reaction products even in rock formations that we would deem unsuitable and with extensive ground water present and no man-made containment around the wastes. The French are also investigating transmutation of wastes in their Phenix reactor.

In conclusion then, the technologies and processes for dealing with nuclear wastes are in fact highly developed and have in most cases been around for some years, and are well proven. This is unsurprising for an industry that has been operating and generating waste for over 50 years. An issue not dealt with? I highly doubt that.

Mr Hutton said the government had made a preliminary view about the nuclear issue but did not have a “closed mind”.

In reality, the closed mind belongs not to the government and the industry, but to those who oppose it.

September 03, 2007

Green taxes too high?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6972759.stm

Well I’ve been arguing this for some time – see previous comments and posts on the excessive cost of fuel duty vs the cost to the environment for example – but a report out today claims to back up my view that green taxes are already too high. According to the report, in 2005 the UK’s total impact on the environment was valued at about £11.7bn damage against a green tax cost of £21.9bn. In the same day, George Osborne has come out with an outline of Conservative taxation policy that would see Labour’s high rates of public spending met, and taxation shifted from an income-basis to an environmental impact-basis. I used to enjoy following politics with interest, but since Cameron’s leadership began I’m more of the opinion that everyone in Westminster is in a race to prove they’re more insane than everyone else there. Pathetic.

August 23, 2007

Political disillusionment of the centre right

I originally scribbled down the first half of this blog entry whilst I was on holiday following an interview on You and Yours with a wife of a Tory candidate who failed to be selected for his constituency, but I haven’t had the time to upload it. A month later, and after some ideas for additional material last week and my inability to sleep tonight, I’ve finally gotten around to typing it up. Here goes…

An interview on Radio 4 recently with a wife of a Conservative candidate got me thinking about what I think is wrong with the politics of the centre right, in particular since the Tory party has been led by David Cameron. In the selection process, the traditional Conservative candidate – a middle-aged, wealthy, middle class self-made gentleman was beaten by the more in-vogue choice of a single parent etc etc in the name of becoming more representative (my apologies for not recalling the individuals or the contest which would I admit make this section of this post a lot more useful). This example highlights the truth for the middle classes looking to move into politics – traditional conservative candidates are no longer viewed as electable by selection committees because of a need to pander to minorities.

Let me make it clear at this point that I do not believe myself to be racist, sexist or possess any other unfair biases against people. I have always argued that the best person should be put forward for the job, regardless of where they came from, what they look like etc – capability and experience should be the deciding factors every time. Instead, it would seem that in an effort to correct any wrongs of the past is in truth creating a reverse discrimination against the previous ruling elite. I appreciate that this might sound daft, given that the Tory leader is a well spoken gent from Eton and has surrounded himself with aides from a similar background, and that the middle classes are not exactly under-represented in parliament just yet. But certainly the limelight and the publicity has swung towards showing off increased numbers of female candidates, or candidates from non-white UK backgrounds. I re-iterate that I have no axe to grind about these candidates being elected, but they are being put forward essentially because of who they were born as – female/black/etc and not necessarily because of their capability. When attending functions whilst a member of Warwick Conservatives – a fairly stereotypical society I would say in light of the membership being predominantly well spoken middle class white men with ambitions of a future in various professional arenas, although there were also a fair few female members and a few people you might not have expected to be there – it was fairly evident to me that the most effort was put into enthusing the female members to consider careers in politics, and I felt almost dissuaded by the stories of capable and charismatic candidates with plenty of drive failing to be selected because they were too stereotypical.

So why the shift? Has public relations really taken such a forefront in politics these days that even the arena of governance of our country has fallen foul to the trappings of appearance over substance? The recent Brown bounce would suggest that the voting public don’t necessarily agree with appearance over competence, yet I fear Cameron may be falling too far down the slippery and fickle slope of chasing the popular vote by jumping on severely overloaded and tired-looking bandwagons left right and centre. In fact, given his performance over the recent months since Blair left, if it wasn’t for the fact that I can’t stand the views and policies of most of the members of his party or the fact that it was he who utterly annihilated the pensions system and yet seems to have gotten away with it (rant for another day) then I myself would probably be voting for Brown rather than Cameron were a general election to be called tomorrow. As it stands I don’t think I could find it within myself to really cast a vote that I believed in.

And yet… Listening to John Redwood last week on Today, it touched a part of my brain and beliefs that has lain dormant for some time. It ignited something; I found myself once more feeling passionately about the political issues being discussed. Now I’m not a devout follower of Redwood myself – his economic policies are a bit more free-market than even I’m prepared to go, a case in point being his argument for de-regulation of the mortgage markets in the week that the sub-prime US mortgage sector caused serious turmoil in the financial world, but nevertheless his arguments for cutting down red tape, reducing taxes and then reaping the proceeds of the resulting growth to pay for them reminded me of why I am a Conservative through and through. Cameron has spent nearly two years in charge telling us that he’s a true Conservative whilst at the same time telling us that it is time for us to change. I think that if he wants to keep his followers believing in him then perhaps Mr Cameron could do with a little changing himself, and that perhaps his party need to remind him of what Conservative core beliefs really are. He’ll never be a patch on William Hague, but with individuals like John Redwood around to try and steer policy we might just end up with an opposition worth voting for, something that actually has some substance and policy rather than a few green taxes and black single mums from dodgy estates to try and belatedly show the public that we’re somehow in touch with them. If you really are a true Conservative Cameron, then show us. I dare you.

August 16, 2007

Bumper stickers

I’m not usually a big fan of bumper stickers, but this week I saw a rather good one. In small writing so you had to be quite close (I hasten to add I read this whilst stationary in traffic), someone had stuck to their bumper:

I have good brakes…
Do you have good insurance?

Tres amusing. I promise to return with something of content soon…

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