Deep blue sea

The readers of e4engineering leap to the defence of Dave Wilson and speak up in favour of his latest Eco-friendly editorial while condemning his publisher as ‘unreasonable’.

Einstein’s theory of relativity: Grab hold of a hot pan, a second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second. It’s all relative. – from the film ‘Deep Blue Sea’.

Last week’s newsletter editorial <a href=’http://www.e4engineering.com/item.asp?id=48966′>Fairies at the bottom of the garden</a> caused a bit of a furore. In it, I launched into a bit of a rant on the benefits of wind over nuclear power. Lot’s of readers got upset. Philip Hayter wrote to say that I had selected statistics and applied them like ‘kneejerk pebbledash’ with little technical or practical application. Jason Ford, my editorial colleague, called me a hack writer. And my publisher Dan King told me I’d be looking for a real job if I didn’t write something more sensible.

OK, maybe I did get a tad carried away. Maybe, as Philip Hayter wrote in to tell me, proposing to build 20,000 windmills in the UK today without facilities for baseload isn’t such a clever idea. Especially, as they do indeed appear to be ‘unreliable’. Shawn Mills wrote in to tell us that, although the Ecotech windmill at Swaffham in Norfolk has a capacity of 1.5MW, for example, in the first two years of generation, it averaged only 400kW. And on the day that Shawn visited it, the load was swinging between 200 kW and 400 kW. Clearly, on a system like the grid where excess energy can not be stored, this is unacceptable.

But I still believe that there’s a better solution than going down the nuclear route.

And Shawn knew of quite a few alternatives that he thought deserved favourable mention in this week’s dispatches. There is a power station near Ely in Cambridgeshire, for example, that uses bales of straw as its fuel. Small by power station standards, it is on a small industrial estate, yet produces a reliable 40 MW of power (the equivalent of 80 Swaffam windmills) round the clock.

There is also a 12.5 MW power station in Eye, Suffolk that burns chicken litter and soiled woodchips from Newmarket racecourse. Both these waste products would pollute the land it they were sent to landfill.

There is significant research going on with wave power, too. Wavegen has a 2MW prototype working in the Scottish islands. Shawn thought that if wave booms were to take the energy out of the waves before they reached the shore there would be less coastal erosion. And this, he said, would be a bonus around the coast of East Anglia where houses are being washed into the sea!

The total power of waves breaking on the world’s coastlines is estimated at 2 to 3 million MW. So wavepower sounds like a very cool way to make power. But when I asked David Langston, the Business Development Manager at Wavegen to estimate how much power waves will be generating by 2010, he simply said that it ‘was very subjective and will be effected by other issues such as the value of ROCs, value of electricity, planning restrictions, grid access, political commitment, funding and so on’. That probably won’t be close to even half a million Megawatts, then.

Maybe we could all do a little bit to help out though. If each house in the country reduced its electrical consumption by using a few kilowatts of solar energy to heat water, it would mean that a power station could be closed down. But, as Shawn Mills pointed out, there seems to be a resistance to accepting these sort of environmentally positive ideas. I couldn’t agree more. Years ago, I used to live next to a couple that had a solar panel on their roof. Unfortunately, they were regarded as hippy goofballs rather than positive neighbourhood role models.

So good environmental policy might not be a contest between nuclear generation and windmills as I had previously believed. Maybe though, it is a contest between nuclear generation and every single other type of environmentally friendly type of power generation that’s out there.

Sir:

I thought I would write in support of your ‘rants’.

I once had a Dan King who worked for me who was unreasonable and made rash statements which bordered on constructive dismissal. Maybe it is one and the same.

If you had not written the article asking the ‘questions’, many engineers would not have suggested the ‘answers’. Maybe from this article someone will come up with the next generation of green energy.

If only for my amusement, please continue to write such articles and make me think.

Stuart Griffiths

Sir:

In this week’s (more realistic) editorial, you mention various forms of renewable energy, and at one point refer to the need for ‘political commitment’. It is interesting to compare the situation in the UK with that of France, where they have (I believe) a much higher proportion of nuclear generated electricity than we do.

You tend to see many more wind turbines as you drive along the motorway there (even though they don’t always seem to be working), and there is a national plan for the exploitation of wind power. On top of that, the domestic use of solar power and renewable fuels is supported by subsidies direct to the householder.

Richard Hann

Sir:

Firstly, thanks for the forthright comments in your column – don’t be ground down by those who do not display the courage of their convictions. (That’ll be that Dan King fella again, then! – Ed.)

I would like to point out that other countries have been doing wind power for over 20 years, as anybody that has visited Denmark will tell you.

Take a look at the <a href=’http://www.windpower.org/en/core.htm’>The Danish Wind Industry Association</a> site.

The current payback period for a modern wind turbine is less than 3 months – what technology can beat that?

Why are we so arrogant (or should that be ignorant) that we can’t look beyond our shores for solutions to our (and the world’s) problems?

Peter Middleton

Sir:

Nice to see you’ve stirred things up on the Eco front!

I thought you made some good points in both articles. Where did you say those old neighbours with the solar heaters lived? Perhaps I should move next to them – they sound like my kind of people. Hell, my neighbours don’t speak to me any way! I’m the man who spends £100 on a PLC to control his central heating system to save £10 per year.

And this is the crux of the matter – cost. Everyone uses cost as the yardstick to measure the effectiveness of Eco solutions – like your man from Wavegen.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there seems no way to ‘cost’ the longevity of life on this planet. But from an individuals point of view, it seems that few people see the win+win formula of reducing energy consumption, reduced energy costs in the home and helping to reduce the worlds energy requirements (with the side effects of reducing spending on power station construction, reduced CO2, etc.).

If they decided to put a wind turbine at the end of my garden, it would be OK with me – I find the swoosh-swoosh quite calming – but then I regard myself as eccentric anyway!

But enough of my ramblings – must get back to my biomass experiment!

Ian Viner