Thursday, 31 March 2011

Smart meters save just £23

So-called smart meters, digital devices which will be installed in all households and businesses, are designed to end unreliable estimated gas and electricity bills and stop the need for companies to send out meter inspectors. Instead, information about how much energy consumers have used will be sent electronically to their suppliers.

However, documents published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) have confirmed that households will have to pay for the £11.3 billion roll out, and that they will only save £23 a year by 2020.

That saving equates to just 2 per cent of the current average household energy bill of £1,132 and does not take into account forecasts that gas and electricity bills will climb substantially over the next decade. Ofgem, the industry regulator, has predicted that bills are likely to rise by between £168 and £700 a year by 2016 because of the need by the energy companies to invest vast sums in new power stations.
Various green measures are likely to increase household bills even further. Tom Lyon, energy expert at, the price comparison site, said:“The average household energy bill is already £1,132 a year with £84 of that made up by hidden taxes. Policies launched under the previous Government are expected to add a further 6 per cent or £72 in levies over the next decade – this means that the hidden taxes on our energy bills will add up to £156 a year, far outweighing the potential £23 net saving offered through smart metering.”

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Warm front contract extension for Eaga

Energy efficiency firm Eaga has negotiated an extension of its contract with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to deliver the department’s Warm Front Scheme across England.

The scheme will now run to 31 March 2013 on commercial terms in line with previous expectations.

Total funding allocated to the Warm Front scheme across the period to March 2013 is in the region of £210m.

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Safe nuclear does exist

This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.
“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.

“They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”

Thorium is a silvery metal named after the Norse god of thunder. The metal has its own “issues” but no thorium reactor could easily spin out of control in the manner of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or now Fukushima.

Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University said thorium must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the fission process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam. There are not enough neutrons for it continue of its own accord,” he said.
Dr Cywinski, who anchors a UK-wide thorium team, said the residual heat left behind in a crisis would be “orders of magnitude less” than in a uranium reactor.

The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.
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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Safety concerns are only one big reason wind and solar better

The powerful earthquake and tsunami that caused reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant to shut down - releasing radiation and endangering workers and evacuees - have many Americans asking whether nuclear energy is worth the investment and risk.

I say not. In fact, it should not have taken a disaster of this kind to move us decisively away from nuclear and toward safe, clean, renewable energy.

First, consider the meltdown. The risk of such a catastrophe is not trivial. In fact, the five reactor meltdowns in history represent more than 1% of the more than 440 nuclear reactors on Earth. Meltdowns can be caused not only by human error and natural disasters, but also by a terrorist with a large plane.

This scary possibility, though, is dwarfed by the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, as evidenced by the attempted or actual development of weapons capabilities in Pakistan, India, Iran and to some extent North Korea secretly under the cover of nuclear energy facilities.

If the world's energy needs were converted to electricity for all purposes - and nuclear supplied such energy - 15,800 large nuclear reactors, one installed every day for the next 43 years, would be needed. The installation of even 5% of these would nearly double the current number of reactors, giving many more countries the potential to develop weapons. If only one weapon were used in a city, it could kill 1 to 16 million people.


Why do we need nuclear energy when we have safer, cleaner options that can provide greater power for a much longer period and at lower cost to society? These better options are called WWS, for "wind, water and sunlight." The chance of catastrophe caused by nature or terrorists acting on wind or solar, in particular, is zero.

During their lifetimes, WWS technologies emit no pollution - whereas nuclear does, since continuous energy is needed to mine, transport and refine uranium, and reactors require much longer to permit and install than do WWS technologies. Overall, nuclear emits 9 to 25 times more air pollution and carbon dioxide than does wind per unit energy generated.


Some argue that nuclear is more reliable than WWS systems. This is not true. A nuclear reactor affects a larger fraction of the grid when it fails than does a wind turbine. The average maintenance downtime of modern wind turbines on land is 2%. That of France’s 59 reactors is 21.5%, with about half due to scheduled maintenance.

What about matching energy supply with demand? Nuclear power plants most efficiently provide constant power when they are on. But power demand varies continuously. Some WWS options (such as geothermal and tidal) also provide constant output. However others (wind, solar, wave) are variable, and hydroelectricity can be turned on and off quickly. It has been shown with data that combining WWS technologies as a single commodity allows power demand to be supplied hour by hour with virtually no backup.

What about resources and space? Solar power in sunny locations can power the entire world for all purposes 30 times over; wind in windy locations on or near land can power the world 6 to 15 times over. Only 0.4% more of the entire planet’s physical land would be needed to power everyone, everywhere with WWS.

What about cost? Despite what you may have heard, on-land wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power are cost-competitive with conventional energy. Solar costs are higher but decreasing.

Policy makers who have begun leaning toward nuclear should consider the health and safety of the United States and the scientific method, instead of the trail of lobbyists, when deciding the future of this country.

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Saturday, 12 March 2011

72 days that broke hearts

THIS year nature is trying to tell us we are only here on sufferance.

We have had floods, cyclones, more floods, a massive earthquake and now an even bigger earthquake.

And we are not even halfway through March.

The death tolls from this year of natural disaster will probably never be known - at least 550 people died in mudslides in Rio de Janeiro in January, more than two dozen are dead and missing in Queensland, two more died in our floods in Victoria.

Next there were more than 160 killed in Christchurch. And now Japan, where authorities estimate at least 1000 people died.

If there is a god up there, he doesn't seem very pleased with us this year.

The footage from Toowoomba's inland tsunami might have seemed graphic when we saw it in January but after Friday's display of natural power, it would be hard not to argue that we got off lightly.

The same goes for the destruction wreaked on Christchurch last month.

It's as though nature was saying to us, "you think a 6.3-magnitude earthquake is bad? Have a look at what 8.9 on the Richter scale looks like!"

While we stare appalled at the damage nature has done in Japan, it is sobering to reflect that as high as the death toll is likely to be, it would have been much, much higher anywhere else.

Japan is a rich country with a long history of earthquake preparation.

Most of its major population centres were rebuilt after 1945 to withstand earthquakes. It also has the world's most sophisticated tsunami warning system.

To get an idea what might have happened in a poorer country without Japan's strict earthquake building codes, one only has to look at what happened last time a major earthquake struck Tokyo in 1923. The 7.9 quake was almost 10 times less powerful than the one that struck on Friday but it was estimated to have killed between 100,000 and 150,000 people - mostly from the fires that engulfed the densely crowded slums.

Any way you look at it, 2011 has been an extraordinary year for natural disasters and it's only 72 days old.

The records are mind boggling - the worst cyclone to hit Australia in a century, the worst earthquake to hit Japan, and the deadliest natural disaster to hit Brazil in four decades.

When you add the floods in Sri Lanka, which killed 27 and left 900,000 people homeless, the 40 dead and 1.3 million displaced in the Philippines as well as the two dead and 3000 displaced in Thailand, you could be mistaken for thinking we are living in biblical times.

All we need now is a plague of locusts. Come to think of it, we've got that too in Victoria.

Given such a large number of extreme events, it would be natural to ask if they are connected.

In the case of earthquakes, if there is a connection between them, science has yet to discover it. About 100 earthquakes the size of the one that hit Christchurch occur each year around the world.

Most happen in places where they do no damage.

Quakes the size of the one that struck on Friday are much rarer - one happens about once a year.

Incidentally, if you think a major earthquake can't happen here, think again.

While the Newcastle earthquake that killed 13 people in 1988 is the best remembered and deadliest recorded in Australia - at 5.6 on the Richter scale - it was not even close to the biggest.

In 1988, Tennant Creek was hit by three earthquakes in a day - the biggest of which was measured at 6.7.

But the biggest earthquake recorded on land in Australia was the 7.3 whopper that struck Meeberrie in Western Australia in 1941.

While there may be no link between earthquakes, experts say the floods that have plagued the world this year are all connected to the La Nina weather system.

La Nina is the periodic weather event in which strong South American trade winds drive warm waters, moisture and rain across the Pacific towards Australia for at least 12 months. It is associated with above average rainfall here and elsewhere and increased cyclone activity.

Experts say the current La Nina is the second-strongest in the 130 years of meteorological records.

Whether it is the result of man-made global warming is a matter of dispute.

The idea that we are responsible for causing natural disasters is in some ways comforting because we tend to think that if we created something, then we should by rights be able to fix it.

In the past, when people thought about their responsibility for natural disasters, it was in moral terms.

Thus, when a massive earthquake struck Lisbon on All Saints Day in 1755, destroying almost the whole city and most of its churches, it was taken by many as proof the people needed chastening.

Perhaps that is not so different to those who were quick to attribute this year's floods to global warming.

The alternative view of natural disasters - that they are random acts of violence committed by a pitiless natural world - is a much more unsettling idea.

But even if we accept that, from time to time, nature will show its teeth, we still like to believe that we live in a benign physical world.

A string of natural disasters challenges that comforting belief.

What if there is no end to the destruction?

Tsunamis, just like the bushfires here two years ago, show us that we can be blown away like dust from the pages of a book.

And it's still only March.
full article

Global Warming Natural Disasters

Hours after a massive earthquake rattled Japan, environmental advocates connected the natural disaster to global warming. The president of the European Economic and Social Committee, Staffan Nilsson, issued a statement calling for solidarity in tackling the global warming problem.

“Some islands affected by climate change have been hit,” said Nilsson. “Has not the time come to demonstrate on solidarity — not least solidarity in combating and adapting to climate change and global warming?”

“Mother Nature has again given us a sign that that is what we need to do,” he added.

Global warming enthusiasts have also taken to Twitter to raise awareness of the need to respond to the earthquake by finally acting on climate change. And the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Lee Doren compiled some of the best ones.

Some examples:

AliceTMBFan said “2 hours of geography earlier talking about Japan has left me thinking…maybe global warming is way more serious then we thought…”

Arbiterofwords tweeted “I’m worried that Japan earthquake, on top of other recent natural ‘disasters’, is a sign we’ve passed point of no return for climate change.”

MrVikas said “Events like the #Japan #earthquake and #tsunami MUST keep #climate change at forefront of policy thought:
Tayyclayy noted her frustration by tweeting “An earthquake with an 8.9 magnitude struck Japan.. And some say climate change isn’t real?!”

DanFranklin postulated “Never really believed all this global warming talk, but after the earthquake in NZ and today in Japan. Maybe we’ve ruined the world.”

And TeamIanHarding tweeted “While Japan witnessed an earthquake we were talking about the problems that global warming leads to in school. Think. Pray. And change.”

Do they have a point?

“Global warming alarmists will exploit any natural disaster to promote their anti-fossil fuel agenda,” Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project told The Daily Caller, adding that the climate change reaction is a result of the “global warming spin machine.”

“First it’s global warming, then it’s climate change, now it’s probably tectonic instability — no doubt all caused by man,” he said.

When contacted by TheDC, Dan Weiss, Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress, also expressed skepticism at the link between global warming and the earthquake in Japan.

“I am not a scientist,” said Weiss, “but I have never heard of a link between global warming and earthquakes.”

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