Being the start of a new year, perhaps it is time to make some resolutions as a society. I’ll leave the reader to make up their own resolutions but here are some articles that could focus the collective minds.
One of the greatest untapped sources of new, reliable and fully renewable energy is the sea. A recent report by the Royal Society in their Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society journal highlights the potential that tidal power could offer, but also the fact that the industry is just starting to develop. It is estimated that tidal power could account for more than 20% of the UK’s energy needs. There are two types of technology that can be utilised: tidal barrages and underwater turbines that generate power as the tidal flow passes through. The latter would capture the kinetic energy as the tide moves water on a huge scale through the generators. Tidal barrages need some significant engineering work and have a high construction cost.
The report highlights some recent deployments of single tidal devices at megawatt scale and shows that real progress has been achieved in a very short period of time. This is why the technology is often referred to as “emerging technology“. This potential growth and harnessing of the tide could benefit society relatively quickly. Generation of power from a reliable and renewable source with zero emissions should be pursued and developed. There are many competing turbine designs that are still being built, developed and tested. These are gradually being scaled up to prove the designs will deliver good returns. There are several trial sites around the country. The Cornwall Wave Hub is one example of a test rig that can be used to try different designs whilst generating power. Other schemes exist in Northern Ireland (Strangford Lough where SeaGen generates 1.2 megawatts, enough power for around 1500 homes) and Scotland. A new scheme in Caithness, by Meygen, could generate 398MW, powered purely by the tide, the equivalent electricity to power 40,000 homes by 2020. This project aims to gradually build up to the large outputs through a research and development phase. The project is still in the planning phase.
With the large scale installation of the offshore wind farms requiring some large structures to be built at sea, adding underwater turbines could be a sensible solution. The wind turbines are getting larger and designing in an underwater component could reduce costs and provide a more reliable electricity supply at the same time. This would need some re-engineering but seams a logical way to recover the large capital costs.
2013 is the year to start to apply and develop these ideas and move the tidal industry on to bigger developments. There will be a boost to jobs in the marine engineering sector and other spins offs that will benefit the economy.
Road Finally Reopens
After the December floods (see last month’s entry South West Cut Off) a road finally opens again. The A361 finally reopened almost a month after the flooding. This area of Somerset is very low lying and there have been moves to pump water off the land. Easier said than done when the rivers are already too full to add more water into, and when the pumps cannot cope with the huge volumes of water. It will take a lot longer, possibly months, to properly drain this area again. News of the re-opened road came from the BBC web site.
Extreme weather events such as this may well become the norm over the next decade. We will need a more resilient approach to our infrastructure.
“2012 was amongst the top 10 warmest years on record”. Statements such as this seem, to me, to be the norm now. A report from NASA scientists claim the year was the ninth warmest on record since 1880. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that the average temperature for 2012 was 0.57C above average for the twentieth century. All the 12 years of the 21st Century rank among the 14 warmest over a 133-year period of record keeping. NOAA has produced this infographic about the climate impacts from around the world. Highlights include a hurricane season in the Atlantic ocean with above average activity. This includes hurricane Sandy which hit the US. More extreme typhoons in the Pacific: notably Typhoon Sanba and Bopha. Sanba had wind speeds of 280km/h and affected thousands of people whilst the Bopha typhoon hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao killing over 1000 people. Russia and Western Australia have seen record high temperatures and droughts respectively. The UK had its second wettest year on record. The wettest year was 2000. Further information can be found on this NOAA link.
The trends are clear: we will now have to live with the planet getting warmer and with all the consequences that will come with a warmer world.
Beijing Air Quality
In mid-January, the pollution in Beijing, China, was particularly bad. There was smog and the air quality is reported to be the worst in the world. A BBC image montage shows some pictures of the city. The air quality is described as a hazard. The US Embassy has previously published its own air quality reports as the Chinese government has not admitted the scale of the pollution. The city has seen much economic growth but the resultant pollution is affecting people’s health when weather conditions don’t blow the smog away. The artist Ai Weiwei, often in trouble with the government, posted a photo of himself in a gas mask. Economic growth has transformed China and there is a point where the question has to be asked: but at what cost?
The west may view the Chinese economy growth percentages with envy but there is another side to this “miracle” of growth. It is not just air pollution, but also water and other pollution.