Monthly Archives: June 2016

Blundering into Brexit

Brexit: Baffling blunders and beligerance

Brexit: Baffling blunders and belligerence

It’s now nearly a week since the Brexit vote. What the ramifications of this will be is still very unclear. Unintended consequences might be the predominant trend. Very few UKIP supporters and Leave voters want Scottish independence, but they have certainly made that a very much greater probability. Most Leave voters are not thugs and racists, but they have certainly emboldened those who are, greatly endangering peace and stability within our communities and across our continent, possibly for many decades to come. Whether this Brexit vote will trigger a general election, who will lead the Tory and the Labour parties and how quickly Britain will actually leave the EU, if indeed it actually does, all this is still being fought over.

I have been a strong supporter of the EU for decades. I see myself as European. I’ve lived and worked in various parts of the continent. The EU has been perhaps the greatest peacemaking organisation in the history of humanity. My father, grandfather and many relatives fought in European wars and expected me and my generation to have to do so to. We did not have to. The last 70 years has been the most peaceful period possibly in the entire history of the continent, in no small part due to the actions of those who built the EU. The EU has also led the world in environmental legislation, human rights and much else.

The EU certainly has its downside. The system of unelected commissioners was a deep democratic flaw. Some of its rules and regulations were pretty potty, or unnecessarily bureaucratic. However the UK has its own democratic deficit and bureaucratic muddle, entirely of its own making. I see no greater chance of improvement outside the EU than within.

Most Greens and activists for social justice campaigned to Remain in the EU, although a significant minority chose to campaign to Leave. Now Greens and social progressives are regrouping, trying to envisage where the potential to seize a better future lies in this new situation. How best to counter the undoubtedly strengthened forces of intolerance, xenophobia and racism that have been unleashed… How best to secure the socially just and ecologically sustainable future we see as so vital to all of our survival…

It feels like tectonic plates of UK politics might be about to change in complex ways, much of which is distinctly scary, but there are also positive themes. Many groups are calling for a progressive alliance, one aspect of which is an open letter from leaders of the Green Party to leaders of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. Interesting times!


The winds of change

Dr Sabrina Malpede

Dr Sabrina Malpede, chief executive of ACT Blade Ltd

I’ve blogged before about the growing size of wind farms and of individual turbines. Costs continue to fall and are projected to continue falling. Technical innovation is happening which may well increase each of these trends. The small Scottish start-up ACT Blade Ltd has developed a wind turbine blade that is lighter, stronger and cheaper than those used in existing turbines. The ACT team first developed expertise in designing racing sailing boats, and have transferred this learning to turbine blades. Instead of the usual steel blades requiring expensive moulds a carbon fibre and textile construction is used. The ACT turbine blades are, it is claimed, 50% lighter and 30% stiffer meaning that each turbine should produce 10% more energy, and that overall electricity should be produced at a cost 9% below what current turbines can deliver. Automated manufacturing and modular assembly should ensure much lower capital expenditure and faster progress from design to supply, so helping rapid establishment of the business and continued innovation.

This is an early stage start-up. They seem to have come up with some great ideas and developed the patents and done early stage trials, but as far as I can see have not yet developed any commercial scale electricity generation. I await news of this with interest, and hope to blog about it in due course.

One of the really exciting trends in cleantech innovation is demassification. We really can do more with less. Building things that use less material and energy in their construction should unlock multiple benefits. I’ve often mentioned the Riversimple hydrogen powered car which is a prime example, and this ACT wind turbine blade looks to be another. Innovation across the whole cleantech spectrum from hydrogen cars to better wind turbines, and of course, as I frequently blog about, most of all in solar energy, all point to the possibilities of a better future. (A future that is only possible if we can make the necessary innovations and improvements in our political and economic systems…but that’s for another blog!)

South African Solar


Redstone CSP with Lesedi and Jasper PV, with a combined solar capacity of 271 MW

In 2008 I published an essay called Solar Solutions that predicted the rapid rise in importance of solar power, and especially concentrating solar thermal power (CSP). Photovoltaic panels have seen exponential growth over these last few years, and now CSP is starting to take off. The early pioneering SEGS system in Southern California developed in the 1970’s and 80’s proved the technology worked. Spain made huge strides forward during the first years of this millennium, until the Rajoy government abandoned support. On this blog in February 2013 I posed the question, where next for CSP, and listed a number of countries where it was likely to be developed. Progress has been made in several countries, notably Morocco, Chile and South Africa. I’ve written before about projects in Morocco and Chile, so today I’d just like to highlight some of what is going on with CSP in South Africa.

South Africa has many problems, from corruption to unemployment. At 9.3 tonnes it has high per capita carbon emissions, especially given the low standard of living of most of its people, the lack of any electricity for many people and the frequency of power cuts for those who are connected to the grid. It has many old inefficient and polluting coal fired power stations that need to be closed down. However it has considerable renewable energy potential, and a new wave of investment. The hot arid lands of the Northern Cape Provence are seeing a cluster of half a dozen or so new CSP projects being built. It is two of these I’d like to highlight.

In March this year Bokpoort started production. It’s a 50MW parabolic trough system. What makes this system remarkable is the large thermal storage capacity, meaning it can produce electricity at full load for 9.3 hours after the sun has set. This means 24 hour per day generation is possible, but in practice it is the key evening and early morning times of high demand that will be covered, as well of course all the hours that the sun is shining.

The above picture shows Redstone, which is currently under construction. It is a 100 MW system using heliostats and a central receiver tower, and will have 12 hours of thermal storage capacity. Alongside it are the 75 MW Lesedi and 96 MW Jasper photovoltaic systems, giving the total solar park a generating capacity of 271 MW. Lesedi and Jasper photovoltaic systems will produce electricity when the sun is shining and the Redstone CSP plant can flexibly increase production to cover the early morning and evening periods. This combination of CSP and PV is proving cost effective and suitable to match energy demand, if as in these examples sufficient thermal storage capacity is added.

In both these examples, Redstone and Bokpoort, giant insulated tanks full of molten salt are heated in the day so that after the sun has set water can be converted to steam to drive turbines and so create solar electricity through the night. It is this thermal storage that gives CSP a great advantage over PV or other renewables, and why we will see very many more of these CSP with storage systems in many of the world’s hot arid lands over the coming years.