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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Flytipping rises after seven years of decline

“Councils point finger at householders for 20% rise in illegal dumping of rubbish” runs a headline in the Guardian today.

The rise in flytipping does not surprise me but to blame householders borders on the disingenuous. Look at this screen grab from a Google search for “recycling centre closures” I made this morning:

Screen grab from Google search for "Recycling centre closures".

Screen grab from Google search for “Recycling centre closures”.

All around the country local dumps have been closed by councils trying to cut costs. They must have known this could result in an increase in flytipping. It is one of the consequences of which they have been regularly warned by communities campaigning against such cuts. The surprise is that it has not come earlier.

In truth the situation is not nearly as bad as that 20% figure suggests. It might just be a blip in a downward trend which has seen fly tipping incidents in England fall from 2,500,000 in 2005-06 to 700,000 in 2012-13.

In the past year they rose to 85,000 incidents, an increase of 15,000. Eight years ago a 20% increase would have been 500,000 incidents. Seeing a percentage figure always prompts the question: “Per cent of what?”

Poor pay 11% of income on fuel: the average is 4%

More evidence of the increasing divide between the rich and poor in the United Kingdom came yesterday figures released yesterday by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The average household spending on domestic energy has dropped from around 5% in the early 1980s to a little under 4% in 2012.

But the poorest 20% of homes have not shared in the benefit: they are now spending 11% of disposable income on energy. That is nearly three times the average.

These startling figures come from the The Carbon Brief blog whites mined the data from DECC to produce Seven unexpected graphs about the UK’s energy sector. The cost of electricity, gas and other fuels has been rising since it bottomed-out in 2004. Between 2002 and 2012 energy bills increased by 55 per cent, after accounting for inflation.

It seems the lower average spend is, in part, a result of gas prices. UK consumers pay the second lowest prices in Europe, with only people in Luxembourg charged less. But because we use more gas than most countries we are seventh from the bottom in the table of expenditure on gas.

Another factor in energy spending as a proportion of household budgets  over the 30 year period appears to have been improved insulation of houses, more efficient boilers and increased wealth.

It would be interesting to see more figures on oil and electricity prices. In rural areas like the one where I live there is no gas and that deprives people of those relatively lower prices for gas. A high proportion houses are also hard to insulate.

Two maps of Suffolk at Rural Fuel Poverty go a long way to explaining why we face so many problems. One shows homes connected to gas and the other the proportion of solid walled (hard to insulate) houses. In many parts of the county three-quarters of homes are solid walled and only small areas (albeit the more densely populated ones) have gas.


This is the house that generates enough surplus energy to run the car

A new house in Norway goes beyond the dreams running a house without importing energy — the ZEB (Zero Emission Buildings) pilot house in Larvik meets all its energy needs and produces a surplus, enough to run an electric car all year round.

The zero emissions house in Larvik, Norway: The roof slope maximises solar generation. Picture: Snøhetta, architects

The zero emissions house in Larvik, Norway: The roof slope maximises solar generation. Picture: Snøhetta, architects

The designers, Snøhetta, say:

To achieve ZEB-OM classification the project is required to document and verify a minimum of 100% CO2 offsetting. Renewable energy production via photovoltaic and solar-thermal panels integrated in the building envelope enables offsetting of carbon emissions generated by the burning of fossil fuels in power stations. By offsetting in this manner we reduce emission of other greenhouse gasses simultaneously. Focus on carbon emissions associated with building materials represents a new direction in the vital drive toward a sustainable construction industry.

The new building is designed as a family house but is a research project to demonstrate and develop technologies for “plus houses” which generate more than they use. See this Wikipedia article on “plus houses”.

Naturally, the Larvik house used a lot of eco technology but also traditional solutions such as utilising thermal mass.


Image: Snøhetta

The house is a collaboration between research bodies and industry. ZEB, the research centre on zero emission building says its vision is to “eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings”.

Social enterprise makes long bench from 120,000 recycled drinks bottles

An Ipswich-based social enterprise that makes outdoor furniture from recycled materials has made a 115 feet long bench from 120,000 used drinks bottles.

Realise Futures’s eco furniture division made the bench for a special needs school in Berkshire so that children have somewhere to wait under cover until they are picked up at the end of the school day, the East Anglian Daily Times reports.

The business makes a range of outdoor furniture including play structures and brightly coloured items at its factory in Ipswich.

Realise Futures operates across East Anglia with several divisions aiming to, “help people find the right job for them, promote choice and independence for people with disabilities and disadvantages in the workplace and provide activities and training enabling people to realise their potential in a work environment”.

Besides furniture it is involved in horticulture, catering and careers advice.




Government attacked over rejection of wind farm plans

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist and regular attacker of everything Tory, today makes a scathing attack on the government “effectively abolishing” on-shore wind energy.

She writes:

Just as onshore wind becomes the cheapest renewable energy source, the Conservatives have committed to effectively abolishing it: their manifesto will pledge to remove subsidies, jeopardising future investment and rural jobs. Small local nimby groups find Pickles ever-eager to block windfarms in their back yards. That’s despite overwhelming public support, where poll after poll finds two thirds are in favour of onshore windfarms, including in their own districts, surprisingly resistant to the vigorous climate-change denial and anti-windfarm campaign by the Conservatives and their press.

Her ire is directed in particular at the refusal of permission for Ecotricity (I wrote about their involvement in wave energy yesterday) for a small wind farm close to the motorway north of Bridgwater, Somerset.

Cameron was once a supporter of wind energy. Toynbee believes the great game changer has been the arrival of UKIP. I suspect they would have done the same thing all on their own with a little pushing from some “countryside” campaigners.

I think she is right that opposition, even in the countryside, is limited. I have heard little complaint about the four large turbines that have gone up at Eye airfield industrial estate not far from where I live. When I drive north I see them in the same view as the medieval church tower: it remains a lovely view.

Would the people who are now opposing wind farms have objected to corn mills and fenland wind pumps in the past? There is little logic in their thinking. The countryside is and always has been an industrial landscape changing to produce the food that was required by towns, the wood to fuel fires and tallow for candles to light homes.

Wind turbines are simply a new way in which the countryside continues to do its traditional job. And I think they look good too.

Later: Wind farms generated more electricity than nuclear plants yesterday according to a BBC report.



Green energy company announces new approach to harnessing power of sea

Woodbridge tide mill in Suffolk.

Woodbridge tide mill first recorded in 1170.
Wikipedia/public domain

Getting energy from the sea is not new. A tide mill at Woodbridge, Suffolk, was first recorded in 1170 and the current mill on the same site continues to grind wheat flour. But large-scale electricity production has been elusive, although the La Rance Barrage in Brittany has been operating since 1966 and produces 600 GWh a year. The cost per unit is 1.8c per KWh compared with 2.5c for nuclear.

In the UK The huge Severn Barrage scheme has never got underway and promoters of the Wyre Barrage plan in Lancashire have been campaigning since 1991.

The other route is wave energy and again the UK has a lot of potential but the technical problems have proved difficult to overcome. Today the green energy company Ecotricity said a new system it is backing  overcomes two of the biggest hurdles in the deployment of renewable energy on a scale that fulfils Britain’s future electricity needs – cost and variable output.

Their Searaser system from inventor Alvin Smith has successfully undergone tests in Plymouth University’s wave tank. Unlike other techniques it does not attempt to generate electricity at sea but wave operated pistons pump high pressure water to hydro-electric turbines on land. It could also pump water into reservoirs for use when needed.

Pumped storage is well established and the Ffestiniog power station in Wales has been working since 1963.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said:

Our vision is for Britain’s electricity needs to be met entirely from our big three renewable energy sources – the Wind, the Sun and the Sea. Out of these three energy sources, generating electricity from the sea is by far the most difficult due to the hostile ocean environment – it’s also the least advanced of the three technologies but it has enormous potential. We believe these Seamills have the potential to produce a significant amount of the electricity that Britain needs, from a clean indigenous source and in a more controllable manner than currently possible.

He plans to have a full scale prototype working with 12 months.

Note: Ecotricity is our supplier at Ridgeway.

Angus cuts electricity costs for street lighting by a third

Angus council in Scotland has cut its spending on electricity for street lighting from £1,266,000 million to a shade over £830,000.

The Dundee-based Courier newspaper quotes a council report saying:

The roads business unit have undertaken significant street lighting infrastructure improvement works recently, which have resulted in the replacement of inefficient lamps with new energy-efficient units, which results in significantly reduced energy consumption.

They have also negotiated a new electricity contract at a lower price.

This report provides a footnote to yesterday’s post about the “rebound effect” on savings from energy efficient lighting.

Controversy over reaction to Nobel for LED developers

A blunt response to the award of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics to three developers of LED lighting has brought angry response.

This is how two men who run a controversial think tank greeted the award in the New York Times.it would be a mistake to assume that LEDs will significantly reduce overall energy consumption,”

They are talking about the “rebound effect” which is an important consideration when evaluating energy saving technologies. If I buy a new fuel efficient car and use all or part of the savings to drive greater distances that is a very direct rebound.

The argument of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute is LED lighting will enable more people around the world to light their homes and workspaces so the use of electricity for lighting will increase.

True, but if incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs were used the the increase in electricity demand would be much greater.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus have written an extensive paper on Lighting, Electricity, Steel: Energy Efficiency Backfire in Emerging Economies. It has a lot of detailed data and they argue:

From candles to kerosene and electricity, as lighting technologies have become more efficient and more affordable, societies have been very creative in finding new ways to use them, leading to more overall energy consumption.


In the UK per capita lighting consumption from electricity jumped three orders of magnitude in 100 years, from 3,750 lumen-hours in 1900 to over 18 million lumen-hours in 2000.

They do say that in some countries lighting demand is reaching saturation. I suggest that in the UK we are starting to see reductions by measures such as switching off street lighting after midnight.

In summarising a publication, Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency. the International Energy Agency, says:

Considering multiple benefits also has important implications for unravelling one of the persistent challenges in energy efficiency – the rebound effect – revealing that it is not always negative. In fact, the rebound effect often signals a positive outcome in terms of achieving broader social and economic goals.

Inevitably, the NY Times piece has drawn responses from commentators and bloggers (Climate Progress: Confuses the facts is one). Earlier this year the Breakthrough Foundation came under attack from a writer on Harvard University’s Centre for Ethics blog:

While sometimes functioning as shadow universities, think tanks have been exposed as quasi lobbying organizations, with little funding transparency. Recent research has also pointed out that think tanks suffer from a lack of intellectual rigor. A case in point is the Breakthrough Institute run by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, which describes itself as a “progressive think tank.”

Discussions on climate change and energy efficiency are bound to be complex. We do not need people like Shellenberger and Nordhaus making simplistic statements which hamper informed debate.

Dealing 1960s concrete

They loved concrete in the 1960s. There was a lot of it around Ridgeway, including the drive: all of it rather sorry looking with cracks and weeds growing through.

Some of it we removed and crushed on site for hardcore, avoiding sending it to land fill. But we only needed so much hardcore and decided that removing the remainder could not be justified because of the energy required and cost.

The new surface disguises cracked 1960s concrete.

The new surface disguises cracked 1960s concrete.

The drive was even more cracked by the end of the project, from the weight of heavy vehicles and skips. We decided to resurface it with shingle embedded into sprayed tar. That was done yesterday and it has lifted the appearance of the house.

It would have sounded greener to remove the concrete and replace it with a water permeable surface. We are confident that we have not increased the flow of storm water on to the highway and hope we have reduced it by adjusting the levels so that more flows onto our land.

By removing quite a lot of concrete and putting a green roof on the extension we have attenuated water run-off. The bungalow was originally built with soakaways for surface water and we have added another.

Pebbles with islands of sedum hides worn concrete.

Pebbles with islands of sedum hides worn concrete.

But beside the drive quite a lot of concrete was left. A simple solution was to cover it with pebbles,  sold as Scottish. Rather more stone miles than I would like but for understandable reasons taking pebbles from fast eroding East Anglian beaches is not allowed.

We also provided channels for rain water to soak away into the earth around the edges of the concrete. The islands of sedum, left over from the green roof, add interest to this low maintenance area.

Overall, we feel we have reached a reasonable compromise between environmental and practical issues.

Our double and triple glazed windows are reminding us how efficient they are – and saying please clean us

It has come as a surprise that the windows at Ridgeway get condensation — on the outside. It probably should not because this effect on high performance windows is well documented.

The real problem is that the condensation reveals every spot of dirt and every fingermark on the window. I will have to get out there and wash them. But after an hour or so they are crystal clear again: the washing can be put off.

Pilkington, the glass maker, explains:

The choice is between some condensation now and then ...or higher heating costs, a higher environmental load and poorer indoor comfort.

It shows that not enough heat is passing from the house through the glass to prevent condensation. They are doing the job we paid for. It is also serves as a reminder to get the windows cleaned which is also a good thing.