Saturday, 28 March 2009

Wind-powered car breaks record

A British engineer from Hampshire has broken the world land speed record for a wind-powered vehicle.
Richard Jenkins reached 126.1mph (202.9km/h) in his Greenbird car on the dry plains of Ivanpah Lake in Nevada.
Mr Jenkins told the BBC that it had taken him 10 years of "hard work" to break the record and that, on the day, "things couldn't have been better".
American Bob Schumacher set the previous record of 116 mph in 1999, driving his Iron Duck vehicle.
"It's great, it's one of those things that you spend so long trying to do and when it actually happens, it's almost too easy," Mr Jenkins told the BBC.
The Greenbird is a carbon fibre composite vehicle that uses wind (and nothing else) for power. The only metalwork used is for the wing bearings and the wheel unit.
Sail away
The designers describe it as a "very high performance sailboat" but one that uses a solid wing, rather than a sail, to generate movement.
Mr Jenkins, from Lymington, spent 10 years designing the vehicle, with Greenbird the fifth vehicle he has built to try to break the record.Due to the shape of the craft, especially at such high speeds, the wings also provide lift; a useful trait for an aircraft, but very hazardous for a car. To compensate for this, the designers have added small wings to "stick" the car to the ground, in the same way Formula 1 cars do.
"Greenbird weighs 600kg when it's standing still," said Mr Jenkins. "But at speed, the effect of the wings make her weigh just over a tonne."
full article

World cities begin big switch-off

Millions of people worldwide are being urged to switch off lights for an hour, in what is described as the biggest climate change protest ever attempted.
The initiative, Earth Hour, was begun in Sydney two years ago by green campaigners keen to cut energy use.
Correspondents say the aim is to create a huge wave of public pressure to influence a meeting in Copenhagen later this year to seek a new climate treaty.
Critics describe the event as a symbolic and meaningless gesture.
The switch-off is expected to take place in more than 3,400 towns and cities across 88 countries, at 2030 in each local time zone.
Earth Hour was launched in 2007 as a solo event in Sydney, Australia, with more than two million people involved. Last year's event claimed the participation of 370 cities.
Organisers say they want to demonstrate what people can do to reduce their carbon footprint and save energy, thus drawing attention to the problem of climate change.

full article

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Energy suppliers 'overcharging eight million customers'

Energy suppliers are still taking unnecessarily high direct debit payments from millions of customers each month.

A survey by Which? the consumer group, found that 65 per cent of respondents are in credit with their energy supplier but are still being overcharged. A quarter were owed at least £100 – despite the research taking place in winter, when energy use is normally higher.

Around 12 million households pay for their energy with direct debit, according to Ofgem, suggesting as many as 7.8 million people could be paying too much. Which? says that suppliers are using their customers’ money as “interest-free loans.”

Martyn Hocking of Which? Money said: “It seems incredible that energy companies can take hundreds of pounds more than they need to from their customers, and profit from the interest that this money will earn at our expense.
Which?’s survey also found that energy suppliers are one of the worst industries at delivering customer satisfaction. Npower was deemed the worst energy provider, with a satisfaction score of only 30 per cent. Utility Warehouse achieved the highest customer satisfaction score of 83 per cent.
full article

Monday, 23 March 2009

The World's Cheapest Car

India's Tata Motors has launched Nano, the world's cheapest car. Hormazd Sorabjee, one of the first journalists to test drive the car, says it feels more expensive than it is.

I have to admit I had a nagging fear that the Tata Nano wouldn't live up to the media frenzy that's been surrounding it.

It's been the most awaited car in the world and the delay in putting it on the road - due to the relocation of its production facilities - only increased the sense of anticipation. There's been an apprehension that Tata's self-imposed price target of 100,000 rupees ($1,979, £1,366) would make the Nano an apology of a car and sceptics expected a glorified golf cart.

However, after driving the Nano in the western Indian city of Pune - home to Tata Motors - on the highway and rural back roads, it's turned out to be quite the opposite.

The Nano feels significantly more expensive than it is and a car you certainly won't be ashamed to sit in. It thrilled me with its "proper car" feel and I also learnt to forgive it for its shortcomings. I can live with the ridiculously small 15-litre fuel tank because the car's phenomenal efficiency (18-20 kilometres to a litre) would give it decent range.
full article

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Why low-energy lamps are such a bright idea

With energy bills having rocketed in recent years, more households are using energy-saving light bulbs as a way to cut their electricity costs. As energy-saving bulbs have grown in popularity, so too has the range of bulbs on offer – making it that much harder to know which ones to go for when you're out in the shops.

"The sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs is being phased out as part of the Government's plans to reduce CO2 emissions, so we'll all have to switch to energy-saving versions in the next few years," says Martyn Hocking, the editor of the consumer magazine Which?. "The good news is that, as well as being better for the environment, energy-saving bulbs are better for your wallet. Although they may be more expensive to buy than traditional bulbs, they work out cheaper in the long run because they use less electricity and don't have to be replaced as often."

Although most people associate energy-saving bulbs with a poorer quality of light and slow start-up, standards in these areas have improved enormously over the past few years. Nevertheless, quality still varies from bulb to bulb, as do prices. While it's now possible to pick up energy-saving bulbs for as little as 50p, you can spend up to £9 on a single bulb. But, as ever, the best bulbs are not always the ones that cost the most.

When the consumer group Which? recently tested 16 different bulbs, it was Ikea's Sparsam stick (pictured), priced at £3.25 a bulb, which ranked top – scoring 75 out of 100. It was way ahead of the rest of the field, and was one of few bulbs to perform well in cold as well as in warmer temperatures. It lasts for an impressive 10,000 hours – but there is a slightly green hue to the light it emits.

Two of the 16 bulbs Which? tested cost a rather steep £9 – including the bottom-ranked Omicron Dimmable Multi-tube (pictured). Although this bulb starts up relatively quickly and, as the name suggests, is usable with a dimmer, it has a lifespan of just 8,000 hours and performed very poorly in colder temperatures. Overall, it scored only 59 per cent in the Which? tests.
full article

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Eco-Bulb Of The Future

LED lighting was discussed in the House of Commons, the UK’s legislative chamber, on March 5 as part of a debate on energy and climate change.

Joan Ruddock, Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was asked if there had been discussions between her department and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the effect on electricity consumption and CO2 emissions of the installation and use of LED lighting.

Ruddock replied that “the Government certainly recognize the potential energy savings that ultra-efficient lighting technologies such as LEDs can offer. We continue to work to stimulate development and take-up, and officials in the two Departments have worked, and will continue to work, together on this issue.” Member of Parliament Philip Hollobone then asked, “LED lighting is super-efficient. It uses just 5 percent of the wattage of a conventional light bulb; it generates very little heat, which means that it reduces fire risk in applications; and it contains no mercury, which means that it is safer to dispose of. May I urge the Minister to have discussions with DEFRA on this issue? Can she also advise the House what the low-carbon business innovation unit within her Department is doing to promote this technology?

Ruddock said that the government agrees on the “huge potential benefits” of LED lighting. “That is why we have put some LED products on to our energy technology product list and why we have made those specific types of lighting available to benefit from the enhanced capital allowance scheme, which has delivered approximately £550 million in tax relief to those who have purchased products on the Carbon Trust’s energy technology list,” she said. “The potential for the makers and retailers of LEDs is considerable, and I shall pursue the points that [the questioner] has made. As I have indicated, I am sure that our officials will continue those important discussions.”

National Geographic

An article in National Geographic compared lighting technologies, and described the LED as looking like the “eco-bulb of the future.” However, said the article, the price is high and reviews are mixed.

“LED illumination can range from warm to what technology analyst Michael Kanellos calls ‘alien autopsy’…the bulb casts its light in only one direction, which is fine for recessed lights and for spotlighting a specific area but could be a drawback in lamps or globes,” said the article.

The author said that in a few years we should expect “a cheaper, more versatile LED” and that experts currently recommend compact fluorescents (CFLs) for most home uses…although the mercury content remains a problem.

full article

Friday, 6 March 2009

Top five recycling, bidding and stuff for free websites

The top five recycling, bidding and stuff for free websites are:
The Freecycle Network is a grassroots movement that started in the US and now runs in 85 countries worldwide. It enables local people to contact each other with stuff they want to give away for free, finding good homes for serviceable items that would otherwise clog up landfill sites. 'Ideal for decluttering,' says my friend Mandi.
Gumtree started in March 2000 as a local London classified ads and community site. There are items for sale, for free (from pianos to tropical fish tanks) and to swap. One recent entry said, 'Large model ship to swap for whatever you have interesting.'
Preloved - "the joy of secondhand" - was set up in 1998 by Ian and Louise Buzer from Woodbridge in Suffolk. It's free to sellers, but buyers pay an annual fee of £5 if they want to snap up bargains by seeing the ads as soon as they come online. You can narrow a search down to your local area. Bestsellers include antique furniture, prams and pushchairs, cars and wedding dresses - and you'll even find the odd horse.
What did we do before eBay? As my friend Hannah says, 'We've bought all sorts of things - a fireplace, a violin, a tent, even a fairy castle.' All the excitement of an auction at bargain prices.
A website that enables independent school parents to advertise items for sale - from holiday homes to musical instruments. Free to users. There are sister sites for primary schools, secondary schools and universities.

full article

Britain returns to thrifty domesticity

A revival of 1950s style domesticity has swept Britain due to the economic downturn. Consumers are applying a do-it-yourself attitude to all areas of daily life by making clothes, growing vegetables and dying their own hair.Sales of knitting and dressmaking equipment are powering ahead - knitting needles are up by 7 per cent and sewing machines by 34 per cent according to the department store chain John Lewis.

Meanwhile garden centres are reporting strong demand for fruit bushes - up 68 per cent last year - and hardware stores have brought out budget gardening tool ranges. Although the motivation for the return to the thrifty, homely appears to be money, the new habits may stay once the economic good times return, at least according to one expert.

"When the economy starts to recover people will have adopted old domestic skills which they will continue to use. The focus will be on sustainability; people will be more self sufficient," predicted Reshema White, of St Andrews University. One of the easiest ways for people to save money is to colour their hair at home rather than at the hairdresser.

Sales of hair-dying kits are up 17 per cent rise at Superdrug, while Sainsbury's is selling a third more hair dyes. "For the cost of one salon hair treatment you can colour your hair at home for an entire year - and still have change for hairspray," said Daniel Hadley, Superdrug's hair dye buyer.

A new generation of twenty and thirty- somethings are taking up hearth-side social activities such as knitting instead of going out. Knitting clubs are opening across the country, attracting young professionals who are keen to save cash. I Knit London have begun to run three times as many knitting classes for beginners as last year due to a sharp rise in demand.
full article

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

GM reveals Vauxhall electric car

Vauxhall has revealed the first image of its version of the electrically-powered Chevrolet Volt, which will be shown at the Geneva motor show in March.

Known as the Ampera, the five-seat, four-door hatchback will go on sale in 2011 in right-hand-drive form shortly after the Opel - also part of General Motors - version appears in Europe. The car is based on the Vauxhall Astra, with a 400lb, T-shaped lithium-ion battery positioned under the body floor. The Ampere shares the same battery/electric hybrid driveline as the Volt, which General Motors terms an extended-range electric vehicle. The advanced 16kWh lithium-ion battery can be charged via mains electricity to provide a 40-mile range with zero tailpipe emissions. When the battery is exhausted, the specially-modified 1.4-litre petrol engine will generate electricity to supply power to the 111kW electric drive motor and provide a similar range to that of a conventional Vauxhall Astra. The car recycles about half its battery capacity and the recharging time, using a household 240 volt supply, is claimed to be about three hours.
GM says that 80 per cent of European motorists drive no more than 31 miles a day, so in most cases the Ampera's petrol engine will never need to be started

full article