What We’ve Lost, What We Will Lose

Here in the UK, 2016 was considered to be one of the ‘worst’ years in living memory.

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This was a year when cultural icons such as David Bowie and Gene Wilder passed away.

A year when Donald Trump, a man who had been ridiculed for decades, who struggled to maintain relevance by hosting a reality television show, became President of the United States. Closer to home, us Brits felt the sharp sting of regret as we discovered that, despite our previous thoughts, we were in fact a nation divided.

Brexit might well have been the choice for over half of those who voted, but it soon became clear that those voters might not have been crossing their ballot slips with the right intentions, let alone the correct facts.

The country began to slowly tear itself apart, but the lines of division were not drawn on the streets in the form of riots or protest. The anger and vitriol that would previously have poured it’s way into the streets of our towns and cities instead found it’s home in the forums and social media feeds of our phones.

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Instead of taking valid action, this new generation of mobile opinion drivers found it easier to complain and argue bitterly amongst themselves than take any affirmative action.

Blinded by the artificial conflict on their phones, they were firm in the belief that what they were doing mattered – that as long as their immediate social group were aware of what their opinion was, that was enough for them to carry on.

All this time, whilst we loudly proclaimed to each other how politically active we all were and how we hated everything that was happening – we forgot about our planet.

The environment has ceased to be something that people talk about.

Despite the recent high-profile release of Al Gore’s sequel to the Inconvenient Truth and dozens of celebrities putting their best foot forward to raise awareness of the troubles that our Earth is facing, the simple truth of the matter is that the modern Westerner now feels that they have too much on their plate to deal with it.

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Caring for the environment?

That was so last decade. Besides, it goes without saying. Of course I recycle. Yes – I’m a vegan, but I don’t talk about it, because that’s not the done thing. I think emissions are awful of course, but it’s not like I can stop flying, how on Earth am I meant to go on holiday? And give up buying imported foods? No – we don’t grow avocados here, besides I need vibrant fruits for my Instagram feed – how else will my followers understand how healthy and cool I am?

Therein lies the problem.

10 years ago, Al Gore had the chance to capture the world’s imagination and really show them about what was wrong with the world. Today, people already know. They understand that the environment is dying. They know that millions of people in Africa die needlessly every day. They know that eating an avocado every day only adds to the demand, causing more to be imported and more carbon emissions flooding the atmosphere.

They know and they think that knowing is enough. Asking them to care is asking them to take time away from their virtual worlds, which are controllable, and attempting to salvage the physical world – which they feel is far beyond their capabilities.

So what can we do?

Renewable Human Energy?

There’s no time to waste.

Global warming is in full effect. The ice caps are melting. The polar bears are drowning.

10 years ago Al Gore, with the help of Leonoardo Di Caprio, helped wake the world up to the damage we are causing our Planet – our only planet.

An Inconvenient Truth was a cultural touchstone that ignited a passion for conservation and recycling, around the world. The modern day environmentalist was born. A socially active and politically vocal individual, empowered by Gore’s politics and using the internet as a soap box.

However, ten years on, its worth asking the question: do people still care about the environment?

With the engagement and proliferation of social networks – more and more social action groups are jostling for attention in front of the world’s media.

Every conceivable problem with the world, every injustice and crime, has its own Facebook Group and for every Group its own competing Group with slightly different morals – and for each one of them, an opposing Group vehemently gesticulating with upraised fists and crudely formed Memes.

gore di caprioWith all of these thousands upon thousands of people, vying for attention and worth – how can a single issue make it through the noise?

The issue, unfortunately for Gore and Di Caprio, needs to be an emotional one.

Our planet, despite the billions of individuals inhabiting it, has no single face. So when our dwindling fossil fuels are used to burn up the forests of our trees, there is no single victim we can immortalise in Gif form.

A Cincinnati zoo keeper shoots a Gorilla in captivity. Suddenly the world is aflame with fury and righteous indignation – in equal measure.

harambe-meme-2The anger is most palpable amongst the young. They have time to circle around the primate – relishing the fresh rage and indignation that they suddenly find so enlivening.

Some of them talk about candlelight vigils, others whisper conspiratorially about protests. A few act on their plans, taking their discussions to the streets – demanding a response from the general public.

Most feel the passion and rage inside of them – then choose to ‘share’ a poignant video, ‘like’ a pointed comment or post a status decrying the wrongdoers.

The deeds are done. But, before the dust is allowed to settle on Harambe’s warm corpse, a levee has broken and drowned a batch of baby turtles. Someone is to blame – the detectives of the internet will find out who.

Most importantly, however, everyone has forgotten about Harambe.

Global warming is still in full effect. The ice caps are still melting. The polar bears have resigned themselves to their fate and slide headfirst into the lukewarm waters of the Arctic Ocean.

House

At some point after being born you need to find a place to live. Often, for the lucky, upon birth the woman who birth’d you and (maybe) the man who provided the seed (or maybe the man, or maybe some other people) will take you into some sort of structure, some sort of abode, which may (in the English speaking world) be called a ‘house’. Often, though by no means always, you will remain in this house under the protection of your parents for an amount of years from 16 to more than 16 depending on some balance between the society you live in, the poverty of your parents and your development as a person. During this time it is traditional for your parents to feed you and attempt to develop you into a person who has some of the skills you will require to live in the world once you leave this house. These skills will hopefully be relevant to the society you live in. They will also give you the various emotional and social handicaps and scars you will carry for the rest of your life.

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Once you have grown to the point where you are expected to leave the structure under which you have so far lived you will need to find another structure to live in. You now have to make a house of your own. Maybe you will pay a little money periodically to stay in someone else’s house. Maybe you will pay to own a house that has already been built. Maybe you will buy a space of the earth and build your own house. Maybe you will build the foundations and the walls, get a roof on there. Build some doors and some stair, get some flooring in there. Probably get some kitchen appliances and a bed. Get a shower and a bread bin. Get a garden hose and a door mat. Get a sofa and a key hanging thing. Get a wardrobe and a set of kitchen knives. Get a house. And maybe if you are lucky, get a home. I am told.

The Conservative majority and renewable energy. Doom or disaster?

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Mr Cameron is willing to wear overalls, but is he willing to maintain the UKs commitment to renewable energy?

Campaigners and leaders within the renewable energy movement and industry are warning that the newly elected Conservative government are going to spell a significant and dangerous set back to the development of green and renewable energy in the UK at a incredibly important time for our attempts to move away from fossil fuels. It is certainly clear that this was the result all supporters of green and renewable energy were having nightmares about in the run up to the election. Whilst Labour, the Lib Dems and, obviously, the green party all did much to talk up their green credentials before the election, the conservatives stayed distinctly silent whilst reiterating to their core support that their views on certain issue swung away from any even vaguely green consensus that may have been growing in UK politics over the past decade. Whilst campaigners steel for a fight, many are fearing that with a full majority behind them the conservative front bench will be able to scupper the hard fought for plans for renewable energy in the UK, plans that were barely adequate in the first place. The green cause has gone from bemoaning the scraps it is given at the table of power, to fighting for them.

 

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The landscape of british politics has shifted, the battle for the landscape of the countryside has begun.

Cameron has said in the past that people are ‘fed up’ with the development of on shore wind farms, and that “enough is enough”. But many people are not so anti on shore wind farms, which have become our cheapest chance for renewable energy in the future. Cameron however would much rather turn toward shale gas and fracking, the much maligned method of drawing on gas reserves in the ground around the country. There is much debate surrounding fracking, what is certainly clear is that we cannot be sure what the effets of such a process are, and how far reaching and dangerous those effects might be. Whilst there is loud and regular support from those with in the fracking industry and supported by it campaigners insist that this process can have all sorts of effects, from poisoning water supplies to destroying the fertility of farm land. Cameron has in the past attached the “religiosity” of frackng critics in the past, asking for a more even handed and evidence lead approach of the issue. Most campaigners ask for much the same thing, but would never trust the Conservative government to undertake such a task considering they have already clearly stated their support for the idea of fracking in the uk with the Prime Minister claiming he would be “very happy” for fracking to take place in his Oxfordshire constituency.

download (1) Mr Cameron at home in Oxfordshire. There are no current plans to frack in Whitney. The soil is said to be rich, but perhaps too rich, and ultimately lacking in substance and integrity. No gas deposits have been located, though there is a lot of hot air.

 

Cameron’s climate catastrophe?

The Liberal Democrats blocked tory attempts to scupper wind farms through out the last parliament, but they have been jettisoned from government by a public who perhaps didn’t realise the worth of a good lead when containing a rabid dog. Without them the conservatives definitely well thought out ‘best for Britain’ plan will be put into action. The tory manifesto promised to “halt the spread of onshore wind farms”, and the house of lords can’t vote down a manifesto pledge, so it seems thats exactly what they’ll do. Tom Burke, former director of Friends of the earth, has said that “There is nothing good for green energy about the Tories’ election… They are certainly going to show a lot of hostility to renewables and Britain is going to get left behind.”

 

 

Green Crap.

In 2013 Cameron reportedly said that he wanted to get rid of all that ‘green crap’ meaning the subsides granted to the renewable energy industry. Very well, Mr Cameron, but perhaps you’ll be getting rid of all that ‘green crap’ meaning the green, green grass of home, the rolling hills and flush forests of the UK, that you were so happy to put in your adverts, that you’re so happy to romanticise for votes, that you’re so happy to have your country retreat in, your second home funded by the taxpayer, but are so unwilling to help save.

 

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Ah well, only five more years.

Energy-Efficient Windows

In this day and age, it’s becoming more and more important to think about how efficient your home is. Not only for environmental reasons, but for financial reasons also. One of the most effective, and often overlooked, methods of keeping your house energy efficient is the installation of energy-saving windows.

Windows are the primary source of heat escaping from your house. If you don’t already have double glazing, then getting these type of windows is the essential start. You’ll be surprised the amount of people who think that double glazing is only for reduced noise entering the house.

Double glazing works by instead of having just one pane of glass, double glazed windows have two panes of glass separated by a void usually filled with a halogen gas such as argon or neon. These windows will reduce the amount of heat lost through your windows in the winter.

 

Yearly Savings when using Double-Glazing in England & Wales

Energy rating Detached Semi detached Mid terrace Bungalow Flat
A rated £130 – £175 £90 – £120 £80 – £105 £60 – £80 £50 – £65
B rated £120 – £160 £80 – £110 £70 – £95 £50 – £70 £40 – £60
C rated £120 – £150 £80 – £105 £70 – £90 £50 – £65 £45 – £55

These savings are for typical gas-heated homes. Source: Energy Saving Trust

When choosing the frame material for your windows, there are a few options to suit your requirements.

uPVC – This plastic material is becoming more and more popular with both installers and customers due to its efficiency rating. uPVC is also durable and recyclable which makes it popular.

Wood – Wooden frames have less of an environmental impact but require periodic maintenance. They are most popular when installing windows into old buildings where a wooden frame is already present.

As British summers are tending to get hotter, the popularity of conservatories has risen over the last decade. Conservatories, if not properly sealed, can lose tremendous amounts of heat when not in use during the winter. Argon insulation is recommended by Allerton Windows, to keep heat in during the winter months.

Oil Boiler Servicing

Whether you are getting your boiler installed or serviced, for the love of god, do not do it yourself! It’s important that when it comes to oil boilers you allow a professional to do the task, and if you aren’t sure how then read on!

 

Hundreds of people risk death every year thanks to poorly maintained, unsafe appliance which can result in gas leaks, carbon monoxide poisoning and even explosions and fires. If you own an oil boiler you ought to be aware of gas safety regulations and how to get your boiler serviced appropriately – to protect you and your loved ones from any unnecessary danger.

 

To be sure that your house is gas safe, there are a few steps to follow. First of all, the boiler needs to be serviced on a regular basis. There are lots of experienced and reliable people to check on it in four key areas of gas safety. They will check:

 

  • If any harmful gas is present and getting into the house
  • If the appliance is set correctly, with a good operating pressure
  • If the safety devices are all working as they should
  • If all of your ventilation routes are clear

 

Instead of hiring engineers on a one-off basis over and over again you can set up a contract with a servicing company and have regular check-ups as well as full appliance checks, where the device is taken apart and checked thoroughly throughout. They will check things like the air vents, the flues and the pipework, and then will carry out a performance test.

 

If you see any problems on the boiler such as black stains, an increase in condensation or yellow rather than blue flames you ought to get in touch with an engineer immediately – these are all signs that things are about to go horribly wrong.

 

The best case scenario is that your boiler breaks and you’re very cold – and showerless – for a while. But it could go much worse and end up being fatal.

 

Before hiring a company to service your oil boiler, you ought to check their credibility. Ask for local references or advice from neighbours, colleagues or friends. Also check with the local Trading Standards agency who can tell you if any complaints have been lodged against a company you may want to try. You can also go and visit their office to ask for references, although they will of course only give you the best ones.

 

If you get references you should be able to get four or five, and then you’ll need to ask these previous customers about their service, and their behaviour within their house.

 

Once you’re completely happy that this is a reputable company with good experience, you can take the next step and ask for a written contract with the company. Just make sure that any services that are advertised by the company are written into the contract.

Biomass Boilers: A Buyer’s Guide

Despite the most used form of renewable energy in the UK, little is known about biomass and exactly how they work. Fortunately, here at Phase NRG, we are experts in biomass boilers and have put together a brief guide on how to tell if they can benefit your home!

Biomass can mean a lot of things, but the most used form of biomass fuel is wood, in the form of wood chippings, wood pellets and logs. Other commonly used fuels include animals, foods and occasionally industrial waste. Biomass burning is extremely eco-friendly as the release of dangerous chemicals is minimal as are the waste products.

The boilers themselves come in lots of shapes and sizes. Smaller burners are available for heating a single room and larger back boilers can provide heat and hot water for a whole house. Before you purchase a wood burner, be sure to check out the rules and regulations on biomass burning, you can also check out the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Biomass boilers tend to be large, you will need at last 6 -7 cubic metres of space for fuel storage. It is important to keep your fuel undercover, especially if you are using wood pellets, which tend to become a mush if they become too wet.

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The boiler will need to be serviced regularly and also be compatible with your plumbing, so it is essential that this is verified before installation. Also, you will need to find a decent fuel supplier.

So how to biomass boilers actually work? Well, burning wood fuel is by no means a new technology, but use of a biomass burner increases the efficiency dramatically and can convert up to 85% to 90% of the burnt fuel into heat energy. This is much more cost effective than a traditional log fire where most of the heat escapes up through the chimney.

In terms of fuel cost, wood chippings and pellets are definitely the cheapest form of fuel at between £0.03 and £0.04 per kWh. This is comparable to LPG at £0.08 and electricty at almost £0.15 per kWh.

A biomass boiler can be a worthy investment if you can accommodate one.

 

 

An Introduction to Renewable Energy

It is clear – the days of mass reliance on fossil fuels is coming to an end. Gas, oil, coal; all of these are finite resources, and also, of course, come with a heavy environmental toll. Most people concur that a drastic global shift to renewable energy and sustainable technology is absolutely necessary, though there are areas of disagreement over the best technologies to use and how to implement them.

Renewable energy sources are are not used up, but keep going, or replenish themselves, within a timescale useful to human beings. The areas of use for renewable energy sources include electrical generation, both on and off-grid, heating for homes and hot water systems, and fuels for cars and other vehicles.

Wind power is one of the most visible forms of renewable energy used today: most people are familiar with the wind turbines which, in some countries, are becoming a common sight in the countryside and off-shore. Wind-powered electricity generation is cheap both monetarily and in terms of impact on the environment. In spite of concerns that have been raised over the manufacturing process for the turbines, wind power has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any of the renewable power sources, and is easily scaleable for individual use, and small communities.

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Another advantage to wind power is that it is also cheap in terms of land usage. Though they do cover a lot of land, that land is not rendered useless and can still be used to grow crops. The efficacy of wild power is variable though. Of course the energy generated will depend on the strength of the wind, which fluctuates wildly. Sometimes huge amounts of power can be generated but at other times the turbines may not be generating at all. Wind turbines must be sighted correctly, and locating them is one of the main bones of contention for those who object to the widespread use of this form of power generation. Some people object to the look or sound of the turbines.

More pertinent concerns include worries over the destruction of natural habitats. The construction of a wind farm, for example, on a peat bog, would be counter productive in terms of trying to achieve carbon-neutrality, since the peat bog itself is such an effective carbon sink. Studies have shown that the best location for large wind farms is off-shore, both in terms of reducing its impact on human and animal life, and also as regards the electricity production.
Solar power is also widely used, both for electricity generation, and hot-water systems. The power of the sun is harnessed through both passive and active means. Passive solar technologies are all about maximising the gain in heat and light (usually in an architectural context) by window design and positioning, orientation of the building, and the use of materials with thermal mass, which enables the building to store heat for later, and slowly release it. Active solar technologies include the use of photovoltaic panels, or concentrated solar power plants to convert sunlight into electricity, and solar hot water heating systems. Solar power is thought by many to be a very important and vital part of the solution to the global energy crisis, both in large-scale and small-scale ventures.

Harnessing the power of water to generate power is another form of renewable energy production, and, arguably, one that is still not used to its full potential. Large hydroelectric dams can and do create huge amounts of electricity, while other systems exploit a drop in altitude to convert kinetic energy to electricity. In developing nations, small-scale micro-hydro provides power generation for isolated or remote water-rich areas – these systems are particularly useful for picking up the slack at the time of year when solar power systems are at their least effective.

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Biomass is the name given to organic materials that can be used to generate power, either directly, by burning it, or indirectly, through the use of plants as fuel. The most common biomass material is wood, though many other materials are used. Burning wood is sustainable for space heating on a small scale but, arguably, the use of biological material for large-scale energy production is not the most efficient use of our planet’s resources.

Biomass must be grown, somehow, and often, land use is heavy. It could be argued at times that the land could better be used to grow food, or other useful crops. That said, the use of by-products of other systems can and should be used as one piece of the renewables jigsaw, especially as regards the production of biofuels for automotive use.

 
Geothermal is all about harnessing the heat of the Earth. Romans used it to heat their houses, and for centuries people have bathed in hot springs, but now it is also possible to generate electricity in this way. One of the cheapest and most environmentally friendly of all renewable technologies, geothermal power generation is on the increase due to advances in the technology which means it is now also usable further from the edges of tectonic plates. This is definitely a technology that will and should be utilised more widely in the future.

 
The range of renewables and the constant advance of technologies mean that we should not feel despondent about the future, or the fact that peak oil is firmly behind us. We should instead do our best to work together towards a sustainable future for our beautiful planet.