Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Missing the obvious - why electricity is cheaper at night

I've just been reading David King's book again and realised something obvious. Electricity is cheaper at night because it is more efficient to produce it at night when the demand is flat.

Power companies have 2 kinds of turbine - base loaders and peakers.

Base loaders are turbines that run all the time at consistent RPM and are pretty efficient. We know that our cars are the most efficient when we drive at a steady 56mph, well, base loaders are like this. You can't turn these machines off at night and this energy needs to be used. You might not turn them off for years.

Peaking units operate more dynamically revving up or slowing down to met peaks in demand as they occur. In the old days, when we had 3 TV channels, electricity would peak during the advert break of big TV shows as the nation switched on their electric kettles. Now TV has so many channels I don't think these peaks are quite so consistent. Anyway, peaking units are now more common and, for various reasons, the way electricity is now traded is part of what caused it. These peaking units are less efficient in the same way that accelerating hard and braking hard in a car makes your fuel consumption horrible.

So, at night, the base loaders trundle on and demand is low and pretty flat and peakers aren't needed. You have to do something with this energy you're generating which is partly why electric companies offer special dual-pricing schemes to let people buy cheap electricity at night (it's 3 times cheaper for me).

Bottom line - run your washing machine and dish washer after 12.30 and before 7 am to save the planet. I've even started charging my laptop at night and using it from the battery during the day but that's not very successful yet.

PS With the washing machine, try washing at 30 degrees C - this uses 40% less energy than at 40 degrees C! You might also like to try using half the amount of soap recommended and see if it makes any difference - I can't tell the difference! Or even explore these eco balls which work for 1,000 washes.

Britain wins 9 gold medals in cycling world championships!

Hoy extends GB gold haul to nine.

Nice work team GB!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The best day of the year for motorcycling

The nice thing about riding a motorcycle through the winter is the way you notice that magical first day of the summer season. After lots of rain and wind over the last few days today the sun came out. Heavy rain is great for cleaning up the road (light rain can leave the road quite slippery) and with some wind and sun it was soon dry leaving conditions perfect - you could even feel a little warmth from the sun.

I got my summer gloves out and wore leathers without a rain coat for the first time this year. Perfect. Lots of bikes out.

It's not very eco but I do get 40mpg+ and the motorcycle is such a perfect machine it's sad to think that a lot of people go through life without ever riding one.

The Stock Market

I keep reading articles on the stock market. There is clearly an ongoing debate about whether now is a good time to buy shares or whether the market has further to fall. Surely though, the authors always imply, if you take the long view, shares always bounce back. I wonder if they really will this time.

I'm reading a very good book at the moment by Sir David King, the former scientific adviser to the uk government and a professor of chemistry at Cambridge. I'm inclined to trust the science in the book and like that it is optimistic. A few points stand out though. They point out that the world's target for temperature increase is 2 degrees C and that this figure has been arrived at from multiple sources and multiple scientists and it's somewhat odd, though convenient, that they agree. This is the temperature increase above which we must not get if we are to avoid the worst affects of climate change. The book explains that, even with a positive outlook we are unlikely to keep the temperature increase below 3 degrees C even if we do everything right. So, we are going to have to be making some adjustments to the way we live. In Europe in 2003, 35,000 people died in a heatwave. It seems now that we hardly noticed it!

10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1995.

David King makes the point that we can tolerate different temperature ranges as long as we adapt our behaviour. For example, by not going out in the warmest part of the day or by drinking water before going out.

I wonder to what extent the stock market has factored in a 3 degree C rise in global temperature. I wonder how the stock market reckons with the fact that, if we maintain 3% growth, over the next 24 years we will use more resources than the whole of human history has every used.

Perhaps I am looking for a justification for my own behaviour. My lodger moved out this week and threw a ton of stuff in the regular dustbin (garbage) so I picked through it all and rescued or recycled things - I even ate some of it. Many things I rescued were brand new, electronics, in working order in their packaging; material that was new; serviceable shoes. Well, needless to say I now have a couple of boxes of great stuff for the second hand shops around here. I haven't really thought it through but it seems as though, if I can avoid consuming stuff, even scavenge food, I'm minimising my contribution to this growth thing. I'm not really there yet with thinking this through but it seems right. I share a car and various tools with my neighbour. Today I rummaged in the garage and built a desk from an old one I had 15 years ago, rather than buy a new one. I really must step up my freecycling and reduce my hoarding.

I do wonder at what point the stock market will get to grips with global warming and this problem we have with chasing growth.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wilkins Ice Sheet Breaking Off


"The Wilkins ice shelf covers an area of about 5,282 square miles and satellite images taken at the end of February revealed that the rapid disintegration began after an iceberg the size of the Isle of Man broke away from its western edge."

I wonder what the skeptics will make of this.

He's got a Tikit I think he's gonna use it....

Last weekend I shook open my folding bike (a Bike Friday Tikit) - in about 5 seconds flat - and headed off for London. Things did not go completely to plan. On arrival in London I couldn't change gear. A quick inspection revealed that the gear shifter mechanism had shorn off. Not great on my first big trip out. With a little fiddling I could get it to stay in one gear, and since London is pretty flat, I headed off with my new single speed Tikit.

Cycling in London has improved, well, it had for me since I had a set of red Ken's new TFL cycling maps.

Coming back from near Heathrow today I had a couple of choices. I could have folded my bike (in 5 seconds) and jumped on a tube train to Kings Cross or I could cycle to Kings Cross. It was raining and I had a bad hangover so I decided to cycle to Kings Cross. I'd been looking at cycle maps for a while before I realised it was far too much to remember in one go so I just hopped on the Tikit and weaved vaguely northwards following cycle routes on my map.

My plan was to head north about 3 or 4 miles and join the Grand Union Canal and then head east for 10 miles and pick up the Regent's canal to see how close I could get to King's Cross. It was a surprising route in a lot of ways. It was really quiet for a start. I saw some very unusual ducks and even sea gulls. There were narrow boats and house boats all along the route. It was very strange to be in the centre of London and have a peaceful cycle route all to myself. At times you have to get off the canal and hit the road for a bit but it was very well signposted and it was much less of an issue than I expected. I ended up popping out less than a quarter of a mile from Kings Cross station. It seems from the map that I cycled about 15 miles on my silly folding bike in the rain stuck in one gear!!! Pretty comfortable for a folding bike. I can see I'll be able to ride this one on long trips once it is sorted out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Climate change - CAFOD - A bit of a cheek!

I have an email today from CAFOD's Climate change campaign and it feels all wrong.

How can an organisation that opposes the use of condoms have a climate change campaign? HIV is killing thousands of people and human population is heading to 9 billion. Both problems can begin to be tackled by promoting the use of condoms and giving up on the CAFOD alternative, a plea for restraint.

I think it is time for the CAFOD folks to get their own house in order before trying to contribute to a debate on climate change.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tesco flourescent light bulbs 1p

Tescos are currently selling compact fluorescent light bulbs for 1p each and you can buy 4 of them. This is a real steal. How much money do you think they will save you?

I used this power running cost calculator to help me with some sums.

Running cost of 4x 60w incandescent bulbs per month = £2.88 per month
(assumes 120 hours in use per month, cost of a kw/h unit is 10p)

Running cost for 4x 9w fluorescent bulbs per month = £0.432
(assumes 120 hours in use per month, cost of a kw/h unit is 10p)

So, replacing 4 bulbs with these fluorescents will cost 4p and will save you £2.44 per month. I reckon the payback period for thee bulbs is about half a day.

Go buy some!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Late valentines day - 7 new lightbulbs!

At the weekend I gave Yolanda her valentines day present, a bit late. I bought her a selection of lightbulbs for her kitchen.

One of the bulbs I took out was a 50W halogen downlight. Oddly enough, the photo (left) is of any old halogen downlight so you can see the style I'm talking about. I've just noticed that this specific picture (which I got from a google image search) is from an eco website claiming that 20W halogens are environmental!

I put in 7 new lights. 2 were 1.8W LEDs, 2 were 7w compact flourescent replacements to the downlights (a bit brighter and more diffuse light than the LEDs), 2 were 9W flourescents for another spot in the kitchen - spotlights; and one was for the fridge (15w incandescent).

1.8w x 2 = 3.6w
7w x 2 = 14w
9w x 2 = 18w
15w x 1 = 15w

Total = 50.6W

So, I got 7 bulbs installed in the kitchen using exactly the same power as just one of the old bulbs.

If Yolanda's original light fittings had all the bulbs in it, we'd have seen:
50w low voltage lights x 4 = 200W
60w spot lights x 2 = 120W
15w fridge light = 15w

Total = 335W

Remember in the old days when we had one long strip light in the kitchen for all the light? They used to be 55W. What happened? Did we just get greedy?

Buy LED lights now!!!! They cost about 5 quid from QVS

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sport Relief - Ran 2 miles - 13.06

My mate Rod at GE set up a lunchtime running race today. 2 laps of Midsummer Common in Cambridge. On paper I looked likely to be the second fastest with Adam WAY out in front. As it turned out, Dave overtook me near the start and was 10 seconds ahead of me for most of the race. Towards the last half a mile I had narrowed the gap to about 5 seconds. As we came up to the finishing line I sped up a bit and then, a bit more. As I drew level I was carrying too much speed for Dave to respond so I pipped him on the line. That's my fastest ever 2 miles but it isn't very impressive really. I should be able to run faster than that.

Good fun though and nice to see so many people out!


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How much CO2 emission to grow 1kg of Tomatoes in the UK?

I have taken to attending lectures in Cambridge Universities Sustainable Development Series. Tonight's was about carbon footprints. I learned a few interesting points from Adisa, the prof from Manchester University giving the talk:

- 1kg of Tomatoes grown in the UK causes 9kg of CO2 emission to grow them; the same tomatoes grown in The Netherlands uses 4kg of CO2 (waste heat and CO2 from Power Stations in The Netherlands is pumped into greenhouses there to grow tomatoes) and the same in Spain uses less than 1kg (they use the sun!);

- short haul flights cause 3 times more CO2 emmissions per mile than long haul flights (the simple message here is to use the train);

Well there were lots of interesting points, these ones stood out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Electric cars - have they come of age?

Welcome to the lightning
0-60mph in 5 seconds
250 miles on one 10 minute charge
2.2p per mile (compared with 26.4p a mile for a petrol car)

You know, it might just do the job!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Wood Shed

Fred and Mum (and Hector the dog) came over again. The wood shed is nearly complete. It has a roof now and one side is panelled. Now it just wants the other side to be panelled and it will be time for the tree to get chopped down. Thanks Fred and Mum (especially for the food Mum!).

Bottled Water - Pointless (or worse) and bad for the planet

My friend Paul sent me an article from Reader's Digest about Bottled Water. It's shocking to be reminded that bottled water is often drawn from the same source as tap water, and indeed, when from other sources it can be lower quality than tap water.

These statistics are pretty shocking too...

Bottled Water’s Environmental Toll
Eco Footprint
• The energy used each year making the bottles needed to meet the demand for bottled water in the United States is equivalent to more than 17 million barrels of oil. That's enough to fuel over 1 million cars for a year.

• If water and soft drink bottlers had used 10% recycled materials in their plastic bottles in 2004, they would have saved the equivalent of 72 million gallons of gasoline. If they had used 25%, they would have saved enough energy to electrify more than 680,000 homes for a year.

• In 2003, the California Department of Conservation estimated that roughly three million water bottles are trashed every day in that state. At this rate, by 2013 the amount of unrecycled bottles will be enough to create a two-lane highway that stretches the state’s entire coast.

• In 2004 the recycling rate for all beverage containers was 33.5 percent. If it reached 80 percent, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of removing 2.4 million cars from the road for a year.

• That bottle that takes just three minutes to drink can take up to a thousand years to biodegrade.

Sources: Earth Policy Institute, As You Sow, Container Recycling Institute.