Food glorious food.

The UK produces somewhere in the region of 67% of the food we buy. The agricultural industry is often ‘up against it’ as far as viable business goes, with a multitude of issues to contend with. It appears however that globally, we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050, so perhaps it’s not a bad sector to be in longer term, because increased consumption could be the key to economic growth, and if statistics on waste are to be believed, even if we don’t eat it or need it, we’ll still be buying it.

What a waste!

After the Second World War ended in 1945, there were several years of food shortages resulting in food rationing in the UK. That’s why our older generations perhaps appreciate the food on their plate and in their refrigerators, more so than those who have grown up with a more relaxed view of what gets thrown away – influenced no doubt by retail trends of buy 1 get 1 free, 50% extra free and so on. It comes as no surprise then, that globally, we throw away more food than packaging, and that growing and transporting food around the world, accounts for somewhere in the region of 3 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas.  Shockingly 40% of food in developing countries is lost through either environmental or logistical reasons but yes… there are still starving children in the world.

And at home?

It’s not just that we buy 7 million tonnes of food and throw it away – in the UK this waste equates to about £700 annually for a family of four – our retailers are equally guilty. One of the larger supermarkets admitted that they had 28,500 tonnes of ‘waste’ disposed of in the first 6 months of last year due to the ‘sell by date’ system. There are disadvantaged people who try to make use of the surplus by taking from food from skips (known as ‘skippers) and those who do it on a point of principle to highlight the cause for action. Either way, in the UK you can be prosecuted for taking food from a bin under the 1824 Vagrancy Act. Let’s not forget hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other food providers who along with the rest of us, contribute to the 30% annual food waste. Apart from the moral issues surrounding this whilst people go hungry, and the economic impact on our pockets, there are also massive environmental implications in the disposal of it, with costs often passed on to consumers in higher prices and through local taxes for landfill.

household food waste

Food Poverty

It’s real and it’s here! A recent study commissioned by DEFRA and carried out by the University of Warwick, found that food insecurity is difficult to track in the UK as many households adopt a range of tactics to avoid asking for help – it appears there is a stigma attached regardless of the often very genuine and unavoidable reasons for it. Asking for help can be a last resort – so it’s not just the homeless we might find ‘skipping’ outside supermarkets.

On a positive note…

There are people of good sense and conscience who are trying to tackle these issues by taking excess food and redistributing it through proper channels. Organisations such as Food Cycle who since 2009 have reclaimed 97,000 kg of surplus food saving 388,000 kg of CO2 emissions and importantly, feeding people at risk of food poverty and social isolation. Or FareShare where up to 51,000 people a day benefit from food provided by them through various distribution schemes – again preventing waste, reducing carbon emissions and fighting food poverty right here in the UK.  It appears  we are getting better with a reduction in food waste of over 1 million tonnes in the last few years – that’s 23 million wheelie bins worth.

So the next time you’re food shopping and tempted by that ‘offer’ for something you don’t really need or when you ‘re putting enough food on the table to feed an army, when in fact you ‘re only feeding four – remember that 1 billion people somewhere in the world are going hungry.

save energy, save money, save our world

 

We can’t control the weather?

You might be surprised…

As an island nation, you can be anywhere in the UK and not be more than just over 70 miles from the coast (Grid Reference SK 257144 if it really matters to you.) We’re surrounded by water – fact! Recent months though, have had us not just surrounded by, but dealing with water inland and on land. Whilst our sympathy has been with all those who have and are still suffering, we know you can’t control the weather –  or can we?

Changes to the weather

The Jet Stream

The main culprit in our ever more unpredictable weather, with longer, wetter winters, is the Jet Stream. In simple terms hot air meets cold air over or around the UK. Travelling between 11 and 17 km above the earth, somewhere in the lower part of the atmosphere and at about 100 mph, there are two main jets – the polar jet and the sub-tropical jet. The direction and angle of the jet stream determines the type of weather we get over the UK. It’s affected by land mass and the influences of landmasses which interrupt the flow through friction and difference in temperature. As we said, in simple terms… and something we can’t control… or is it?

Cloud Seeding

Apparently back in the 1980s and the days of Soviet Russia, cloud seeding was used to ensure that important state holidays remained dry and to reduce snowfall. Flares containing silver iodide, a salt or dry ice pellets can be dispensed through combustion from a plane into clouds to induce rain ‘to order’ ensuring that it was dispensed with before important events. It’s still used today in the United Arab Emirates, America and no doubt many other countries. Discovered by General Electric (GE) labs in Schenectady, New York in 1946, it has been used since by agricultural organisations for crop irrigation with interest from hydroelectric utility companies for enhanced stream flow.  Weather modification…

HAARP

That’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research to you and me and was a project funded by the US Airforce through the Defence Advanced Research Project and the University of Alaska. Its purpose was to determine how the ionosphere (upper layer of the atmosphere) affected radio signals using fire pulsed, directed energy beams to temporarily ‘excite a limited area of the ionosphere.’

HAARP was seemingly developed as part of an Anglo-American partnership that included British Aerospace Systems (BAES). A great deal of speculation over the years has suggested that this programme was intended for the development of electromagnetic weapons – capable of  blasting enemy missiles out of the sky, destroying electronic systems in seconds and all manner of other unpleasant warfare defences. Other claims suggest that HAARP could be used for weather modification that could cause tsunamis and earthquakes which again, could be used as weapons of warfare. We understand that as of last year this programme was closed down.

And finally…

Geoengineering

Going back to the ever present theme of climate change, Geoengineering around the world has come up with some fairly interesting ideas to reduce carbon in the atmosphere which links, somewhat tenuously, with all things weather as they would almost certainly alter weather patterns. These are some of our favourites…

  • Reflective roofs and pavements to lower the earth’s temperature
  • Algae Units on buildings acting as photo bioreactors to remove carbon from the air
  • A space sunshade filtering the amount of sunlight reaching the earth
  • Millions of small mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight away from the earth
  • A giant mirror on the moon reflecting sunlight from space
  • Artificial trees to capture carbon

And what to do with the captured carbon… store it underground in unused oil wells because we’ll have a lot of them one day!

So the next time it rains…geoengineering

Tidal Power

Tidal Lagoon

With so much flood water still around this may be the last thing that many people want to consider but… the UK could possibly be the world’s first site for energy generated from a Tidal Lagoon. The plot has been identified in Swansea and a building application submitted. The six-mile-long U-shaped seawall will be constructed to run from Swansea docks through to a site close to Swansea University’s new Fabian Way campus. It would be a 2 year build with the potential for 1,850 construction jobs. In addition there is an anticipated 60 long-term operational jobs with the possibility of approximately 90 more linked to visitor spending.swansea lagoon

Investment – £850m

The company in question Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd (TLP) suggests that the 9.5kilometre site would capture renewable energy sufficient for powering 120,00 homes for the next 120 years. It could also save 216,000 tonnes of carbon a year. As part of the project, TLP state that this would provide spending locally, of 65% of its expenditure. They also have ambitious plans to expand their business across the UK to eventually supply 10% of our domestic electricity over the next 10 years. The project also includes the reintroduction of the native oyster to Swansea Bay, an oyster-shaped offshore visitor centre and national triathlon and water sports facilities.

Tidal Range

In the UK we have the second highest tidal range in the world – we wouldn’t doubt it given the last few months – harnessing energy from this type of resource sounds like good economic sense, is great environmentally and, if the application is successful, could be providing power by 2018. To reach their target would require a further 4 lagoons with the scale of opportunity being compared to that provided through nuclear power – if this works then the UK investment could run into hundreds of millions of pounds for UK industry and of course, coastal communities. The time scale of 2023 also means that Tidal Lagoons would be providing energy before we see any provision from new nuclear.

How it works

The lagoon would involve an impounding ‘breakwater or seawall’ that would be capable of holding a large amount of water that would eventually be let out through turbines at high and low tide which would generate electricity. The tidal flow would bring sea water into the lagoon at high tide and back out again at low tide. The method of clean reliable energy has been around a long time and been promoted by governments and environmentalists but has only seen small scale tidal stream projects.

And the downside is?

Not sure there is one. An island nation making great use of its natural resources sounds like good sense. A water professor from Cardiff University sees this as an exciting time for Wales and suggests that the scheme could also be developed in North Wales, where massive flooding problems are going to require heavy investment in either flood defences or, perhaps more sensibly, building lagoons. He also stated that building lagoons would protect risk areas so for example, one built around Bridgewater Bay would solve the problems currently devastating the Somerset levels with the water running of the levels into the lagoon.

Cheshire Hot Spot

We like to think there are many amazing places in the county that could carry this title.  We have, after all, a champagne hot spot (Wilmslow), a racing hot spot (Chester), and a Bentley hotspot (Crewe) to name but a few. We, however, are talking geothermal hotspot and yes we mean in Cheshire.

Let’s talk energy

It’s a subject Greenovation is keen on and renewable energy sources in particular hold our interest. This week we are talking Geothermal Energy – a renewable energy source stored as heat beneath the earth’s surface. Think volcanic, molten magma chambers such as those found in Iceland and the connection to the Cheshire Basin may not be obvious, but stay with us on this… Iceland is a pioneer in using geothermal energy with 9 out of 10 households heated using this source and a total of 84% of their primary energy use coming from indigenous renewable sources, 66% of which is geothermal. Not bad for a country very much a poor nation during the 20th century that can now claim a high standard of living and a place on the world stage in terms of geothermal district heating.

And the process is?

In very simple terms, the heat deep beneath the earth’s crust needs to be warm enough to turn water into steam which can then be used to power turbines to create electricity. Over the last 3 billion years the earth has been cooling but very slowly with the temperature of the mantle decreasing by a mere 300-350oC. The temperature at the base is still around 4000oC. Up to 85% of the heat comes from the decay of radioactive isotopes concentrated in the crust and mantle of the earth and this heat is the basis of Geothermal Energy.

The Cheshire Basin

Research has now shown that although the UK has no volcanic hydro geothermal, we do have permeable porous rock which is mainly found in the Mesozoic basins including the Cheshire Basin and in particular the South East bounding fault which is basically Crewe. The potential at Leighton was identified through extensive research undertaken by consultants and the Renewable Energy Association on behalf of the Council.  It offered the possibility of creating a self-sufficient energy supply and the all-important reduction in Co2 emissions.cheshire east goethermal

So what happens next?

As we understand it, Cheshire East Council has now secured the largest grant for geothermal exploration in the UK. There are 4 other Mesozoic basins but the Cheshire Hotspot has a £200,000 grant from the Department for Energy and Climate Change to be used on feasibility studies on the exploration of deep geothermal in the Leighton area of Crewe.  If successful this presents a great opportunity to use the technology for heating homes and to create electricity.

We like it… quite a lot!

Sun, Sea and……… wind!

Renewable Energy

As by now we are all aware, energy supply is very much at the forefront of debate either as a result of growing costs, reducing our carbon footprint or controversial methods of tapping into alternative types of energy. There can be no doubt that it is a subject certain to create emotive discussion. One thing we can be sure about is that we need to keep moving forward with ideas, developing long term strategic solutions to replace resources that will eventually run out.

All of the options so far presented have created issues in a variety of ways.  Solar power looked to be a popular option as far back as the 1970s when it was realised that photo cells could convert sunlight directly into electricity.  Photovoltaic cells (PV’s) can be used as roof tiles which eliminates the need for additional space, the sun is readily available (yes we know it may not seem like it at present) and the cells can produce more electricity than is needed which means it can be sold back to the grid.

Wind farms have their share of critics and Fracking is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of vast numbers of people who feel their lives and immediate environment will be under threat at merest hint of investigative work being undertaken.

The UK also has some of the best wave and tidal opportunities in the world. This means the UK has become a global focus for the development and early deployment of wave and tidal energy. Marine energy could make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s future energy needs although it has not developed as fast as the government had hoped.

The Government reports….

However in spite of all this according to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, the UK has made very good progress towards somewhat challenging targets of 2020  to deliver 15% of our energy demand from renewable sources with over 4% of the UK’s energy coming from renewable sources with overall capacity growth of 38% over the period July 2012 to June 2013 which now stands at 19.5 GW.  Since January 2010 £31 billion of investment from the private sector has been committed to renewable electricity generation. This has a hugely important impact on the creation of jobs, possibly up to 35,000 across the country.bargraph-renewables-used-2013

Renewable electricity share of total generation

Interestingly the UK is currently the world’s biggest offshore wind market with more capacity deployed than any other country. The Government has, along with industry, a joint Offshore Wind Industrial Strategy which is the long term frame work for the promotion of innovation and investment leading to growth in the UK. This includes on shore wind, solar, biomass, tidal stream and bio fuels.

As a ‘green’ kind of business we hope that the UK continues to invest in research and development and that the public recognise that this is the way forward.

Water stress – coming to a town near you?

We all know that the weather is very changeable at the moment – on Saturday last week, our local weather brought us the promise of a day of sunshine that turned into a thunderstorm with hailstones bouncing off windscreens and creating havoc on and around the Nantwich battlefield as the town celebrated Holly Holy Day.

Some parts of the country have seen the wettest January since records began and the government finally decided this week that our armed forces were needed to help tackle floods in Somerset with additional equipment and manpower just to help people go about their daily lives. Although lack of river maintenance is getting some of the blame for the current situation in the Somerset levels  (around 170,000 acres) and parts of Wales, heavy rainfall coupled with unusually high tides in some areas, has caused a lot of misery.

Muchelney in Somerset

air pressure testing staffordshire

The Department of the Environment has stated recently that flooding presents the greatest climate change risk to the UK with damage running into billions of pounds. Over the next ten years increased flooding will cost, not just financial stress as insurance premiums rise, but will impact on the mental well-being of those affected by flood damage. Farmers will be counting the cost in loss of revenue for years to come.

Does it seem a good plan then, to cut the flood defence budget?

We won’t comment, but what we will say is this… back in the 1990s a scheme was put in place along the headwater of the River Severn by Welsh farmers. They had concluded that the usual hill farming strategies employed weren’t working, despite back breaking work digging drains to take the flood water and loading the land with more and bigger livestock.

What was this groundbreaking and very successful scheme?

Trees and ponds! They planted shelter belts along the contours of the land – water apparently drains under trees over 60 times faster than through grass because of the root systems. They created ponds where the land was wettest to catch water rather than letting it run off the land.  They closed the loop by using some of the wood grown by cutting and chipping it into bedding for their livestock, then recycled the used bedding as compost.

It’s not rocket science but it worked!

Unfortunately, tree planting grants in Wales have stopped and agricultural subsidy rules across the UK mean that a lot of farmers can’t adopt this practice without losing much needed government payments. So we keep pouring concrete and devising a plethora of alternative techniques that cost a fortune and may not work when in fact we could, just maybe, do something far simpler.

It seems the right hand doesn’t really want to know what the left hand could be doing!

Passive House – is this the long term aim for the construction industry?

 

Let’s begin with what exactly this terminology means.

The Passivhaus System was devised in a Swedish/German partnership (of course) and there are very specific construction standards that have to be met to comply with the criteria laid down.

The remit sounds quite simple…

Build a house with excellent thermal performance, outstanding airtightness and use mechanical ventilation. The result is a building with extremely low heat requirement – by low we mean the amount of heat generated by a heated towel rail for example. The mechanical ventilation heat recovery system (MVHR) then recovers the heat and recirculates it. In theory, and it seems, in practice, this can eliminate the need for traditional heating systems – not especially good news if you are in the sector supplying these services – but really good news for reducing energy bills, energy  use, and therefore carbon emissions. This system can be used globally in any climate and works just as well in either warm or moderate climates with the system tested from Europe to Australia and the USA (30,000 buildings to date).passivhaus Cheshire

Of course it never is quite as simple as it first looks…

The building has to be airtight and highly insulated. The windows need to be high performance therefore at least twice as good thermally compared with much of our existing glazing.  Energy use must be no more than 15kWh per square metre per year (heating and cooling) which is around 17 times less than an average house currently uses. Ideally a South Facing property works the best and there is an increased cost to the build of between 8 and 10%. However if recent reports are correct of a scheme in Oldham where super low energy houses have been built by regeneration group Keepmoat , an energy bill of just £20 a year on a 3 bedroomed property seems to suggest the idea may just catch on. And that’s just the start, Alan Higgins, director of Oldham council public health quoted recently as saying that 20,000 homes in Oldham suffer from fuel poverty. If this is remedied, it could generate savings of as much as £250 per person for the NHS as a result of improved health.

If a Passivhaus is on your wish list then the good news is that a retrofit to a suitable existing property is possible with an estimated reduction in energy consumption of 75%. Which all lends itself to helping industry achieve the 80% reduction in carbon set as a legislative target for the UK.

http://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/

Roundhead or Cavalier?

The Battle of Nantwich

Holly Holy Day which celebrates the Battle of Nantwich on Saturday 25th January, is the 370th Anniversary of the original battle in 1644. Yet again visitors to the town will witness the re-enactment of the battle courtesy of the dedicated troops of the Sealed Knot Society. This event acknowledges the lifting of the siege of Nantwich during the Civil War following a battle between the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers), to gain control of the town which was of significant strategic importance. People of the town wore Holly sprigs to celebrate the victory hence the name given. The first commemoration was in 1971.

air pressure testing crewe

There are several other events taking place including talks in the Nantwich Museum by Professor Ann Hughes and Dr Ian Atherton from the History Department at Keele University. enquiries@nantwichmuseum.org.uk

Nantwich Bookshop will also be holding an evening event with book signings and there will be the usual local market and street entertainment. Nantwich Tourist Information Centre

The re-enactment takes place on Mill Island and although we may no longer be the second most important town in the county, as usual Nantwich will be planning a great day of family entertainment so don’t miss out!

Christmas, Consumerism and Climate Change

Hopefully everyone has had a great Christmas is now back to the business of earning a living. Without wishing to embrace the ‘bah humbug’ view towards the festive season, our environmental conscience does prick a little when we look at the impact this short lived, but rather excessive period has just in the UK.  A few statistics from Recycle Now (a government sponsored organisation) might start to paint a picture of what we’re talking about…