Category Archives: Transport

Tesla & Energy Innovation


Tesla’s new solar roof tiles.

Elon Musk and his Tesla company are making multi-billion dollar investments in a number of mutually reinforcing technologies, which taken together point to a very different energy future. His $5bn gigafactory is being built near the appropriately named settlement of Sparks, Nevada. When completed in 2020 it will be the biggest building in the world and will be churning out electric cars and batteries on a prodigious scale. It will be powered entirely by its own on-site solar, wind and geothermal energy, with no doubt plenty of battery storage!

Tesla has just unveiled solar photovoltaic roofing tiles that look great and are cheaper and more durable than building a traditional roof and then retro fitting ordinary solar panels. I see this as the future for solar roofs on new houses, and on many retrofits. Simultaneously Tesla is in the process of buying SolarCity for $2.6 bn, which will give them a huge entrance into the solar roof market. Tesla has also recently unveiled the new Powerwall 2, a higher capacity, more energy dense battery for domestic households. Many Californian households will be able to generate all their household and motoring energy from their own roofs, and store it to match domestic supply and demand. They might also use the battery to buy cheap grid electricity at times of oversupply on the grid and sell it back at times of peak demand, so making money in the process, and helping the grid level out fluctuating supply and demand.

A few weeks ago Tesla signed a contract with Southern California Edison to supply 80MWh of their Powerpack grid scale energy storage batteries. These grid scale batteries and the domestic batteries, combined with various other storage technologies, are changing the nature of the electricity industry. Couple this with falling demand as a result of ever increasing energy efficiency, and the results are profound. Baseload becomes an obsolete concept. Pacific Gas & Electric have just announced that they plan to shut down the huge 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 2025, many years earlier than planned, simply because it is too costly and inflexible to operate. It is old technology. Diablo Canyon is the last nuclear power plant in California. Coal has pretty much ended as a part of the Californian energy mix but its place has largely been taken by gas, but that too will diminish as efficiency plus renewables plus storage become ever more important. It is a moot point which should be phased out first, gas with its carbon emissions or nuclear with its risks (and Diablo is very close to geological fault!). Either way, California is heading toward a 100% renewable energy future. It will be fascinating to see how Tesla develops over the next decade and what contribution it makes to that 100% renewables goal.

Heathrow expansion

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

The government has announced expansion plans for Heathrow, despite Teresa May, David Cameron and the Conservative manifesto all being against it back in the day when it was a Labour policy. Jeremy Williams covers the tortured history of the issue very well in his blog and Greenpeace have published ten good reasons why it is a bad idea. There will be huge opposition, Judicial Review, Zac Goldsmith has resigned and forced a by-election. Naturally I think it is a terrible idea. Put simply airport expansion should be opposed anywhere until such time as we can fly in ways that do not have such awful consequences for climate change, noise pollution, air quality and therefore human health.

Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a frequent flyer levy, which sounds a sensible idea, designed to dampen demand. I’d also like to see aircraft fuel taxed and increased investment in rail. Perhaps most importantly, and certainly least debated in Parliament or the media is putting very much greater resources into developing alternative, very much less polluting and quieter aircraft. I’ve blogged about Solar Impulse, the solar powered plane, and the helium filled airship Airlander. Within the next decade or so, given the right support, I’m pretty sure something like the Airlander could have a large photovoltaic array and batteries built into its design. It might incorporate hydrogen fuel cells. It would then have zero emissions, be quiet and not need a huge runway. An airport designed specifically for such aircraft would not need runways anything like Heathrow and would generate very much less opposition and could therefore be built very much more quickly.

Post Brexit this government wants to portray itself as a modern can-do government, open for business. However the policies it backs are all rather old fashioned, polluting technologies reflecting last century thinking: Trident, Hinkley, Fracking and Heathrow. All decisions we’ll come to regret. If humanity is to have a better future it will be socially inclusive, economically egalitarian, pollution minimizing and fuelled by renewable energy. Innovative Cleantec infrastructure investment decisions will need to be made. Tragically this government seem incapable of understanding any of this.


Airlander 10 on maiden voyage over Bedfordshire

Airlander 10 on maiden voyage over Bedfordshire

A few weeks ago I blogged about Solar Impulse and speculated about the possibility of radically more sustainable air flight based on lighter than air airships. Little did I realise at the time that such craft were actually being developed and were pretty much ready to go. A few days ago the Airlander 10 took its maiden voyage over a field in Bedfordshire. This Airlander 10 is very impressive. It is huge: 92 m long and 43.5 m wide, a vast helium balloon encased in high-tech Vectran material. It is has been designed and built by Hybrid Air Vehicles and is a true hybrid, its lighter than air main body is like an Airship, its aerodynamic body and small fixed wings are more like an airplane and its multidirectional engines give it much of the functionality of a helicopter. It can land anywhere, on water, in fields, in deserts or on ice-sheets. This will give it tremendous advantages in delivering goods or people to remote locations, and also opens the possibility for smaller quieter city airports. It can travel at up to 100 mph and stay airborne for weeks at a time. The Airlander 10 comes with a £25 m price-tag, very much cheaper than an Airbus A380 at £287m. They expect to have one hundred of these craft operating within 5 years. The Airlander 10 can carry a payload of 10 tonnes, and plans are afoot to build an Airlander 50 to carry 50 tonnes, with much larger future possibilities, of anything up to 1000 tonne versions.

The Airlander already creates less environmental damage than other planes, but this might well be further improved by incorporating solar cells and batteries as pioneered by Solar Impulse. I wonder whether the two teams have been in touch, it might be of great mutual benefit. Together they hint towards a future with very much more sustainable air travel. Bring it on!

Solar Impulse & Air Travel

Solar Impulse

Today Solar Impulse completes historic round the World trip. Seen here flying over the PS10 solar power station, Seville. Two symbols of ‘The Solar Age’

I’ve been blogging for six and a half years and have posted 210 blogs and not one of them has focused on air transport. For decades environmentalists have opposed airport expansion, and a few committed individuals vowed never to fly again. However the numbers of people flying continues to rise. Globally many people can afford to travel who previously could not, and many businesses require international travel. International air transport is not about to end any time soon. Air travel represents one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions. Current aircraft technology is highly polluting. Slight gains in efficiency are more than offset by increased numbers of people flying, so pollution from aircraft continues to get worse.

Many MPs, led by Grant Shapps, are lobbying for an immediate decision to build a third runway at Heathrow. Other airports want to expand. However with existing technology this will only make pollution worse.

Meanwhile this week two eccentric round the world flights have taken place. The Russian balloonist Fyodor Konyukhov has just knocked two days off the fastest round the world balloon record with a hybrid helium and hot air balloon. Solar Impulse has just landed in Abu Dhabi, so completing the first round the world flight using just photovoltaic power from the sun. The question is do these two achievements have anything to contribute to the mainstream development of aviation? I think they have, given the right market encouragement. So taxing polluting aircraft fuels would help, not building new infrastructure for this current polluting technology and putting more money into less polluting alternatives would all be steps in the right direction.

Bertrand Piccard, one of the two pilots and entrepreneurs behind the Solar Impulse has said “I make the bet that in 10 years we will have electric aeroplanes flying with 50 passengers for short to medium-haul flights”. That for me is one of the most encouraging statements about the future of air travel I’ve ever heard.

Might we also see lighter than air, zeppelin type craft being developed which may include helium for lift and photovoltaic cells for power? Such aircraft would be virtually free of carbon emissions, particulates or noise pollution, and might be able to land on very much smaller inner city airports. Perhaps air travel may yet become ecologically sustainable, but it has a long way to go and needs the support of governments to achieve this important objective. Today thanks go to Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, and to Fyodor Konyukhov, for helping us think differently about the possibilities of flight.

Air Quality & Cars

Riversimple unveil the Rasa

Riversimple unveil the Rasa

I have frequently written on this blog about air pollution and the need to curb the use of diesel engines. I have also frequently written about the advantages of electric or hydrogen fuel cell technologies and a particular favourite of mine the Riversimple car.

The last few weeks have seen interesting developments. The evidence of the damage caused by diesel engines and the media interest in this is steadily growing. Client Earth and the European Union are thankfully still pressing ahead with legal action against our government for their lack of action on improving air quality.

Riversimple has at last unveiled the Rasa. Being a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle its only tailpipe emission is a little water. For 15 years they’ve been developing a car that seeks systematically to eliminate the unsustainability of personal transport. The key is to make every component as light weight as possible, so the overall weight of the car is only 580 kg. This year they plan to make 20 cars and trail them in one, as yet undisclosed, locality based around a hydrogen re-fuelling facility. By 2018 they hope to be in larger batch production, and by then hydrogen re-fuelling stations should be very much more common. The Rasa is a two-seater version and it is envisaged that larger cars will follow.

I think in many ways my transport requirements are typical of many people. Most days I don’t need a car. I work from home a lot and live in an urban setting where pretty much everything I need is within walking or cycling distance. I use a shopping trolley for heavy shopping. I use public transport when I travel to other towns and cities or to go on holiday. A few times each month a car is very useful. Often a small two-seater car like the Riversimple Rasa would be ideal. Maybe once a month a bigger car is useful for when a group of us go out for the day, or to transport bulky items. Owning a car hampers flexibility. Often people drive a car weighing a tonne to get just themselves to work, or to go shopping, when such a car is simply too big for the purpose. Or the car sits unused for long periods. Either way this seems a waste of resources and curiously old fashioned. The more efficient and modern way is to give up the ownership of vehicles and utilize more diverse methods of transport best suited to each individual trip. Shared ownership is key to this, and car sharing clubs, improved provision of public transport options and of cycle lanes are all part of a more sustainable future, as is the change from petrol and diesel to electric and hydrogen vehicles.

Many cities seem to have passed ‘peak car’, and now have growing populations, living increasingly densely together with rapidly declining car use. So far no city has completely banned the use of petrol and diesel cars, but it is only a matter of time before one does. Which will be first?

References:- BBC on diesel pollution here and legal action on air pollution here More on the Rasa here and on the declining role of cars in cities here


Trams in Addis Ababa

Trams in Addis Ababa

Per capita carbon emissions in Ethiopia are a miniscule 0.1 tonnes, yet Ethiopia is planning rapid cuts in emissions. It is one of the most dynamic economies on Earth, with double digit growth rates. Most of its population still lack many basic services, including electricity. Demand for electricity is exponentially growing. Ethiopia is investing very heavily in new infrastructure, especially in renewable energy of many kinds.

The highly controversial 6,000MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is currently under construction on the Blue Nile, close to the Sudanese border. It is the largest in a whole series of large scale hydro projects across the country. There are inevitably social and environmental consequences, some of which will be negative, some positive. Many other forms of renewables have considerably less downsides; however this large hydro will form an important part of an expanding portfolio of renewables.

A few months ago the 153 MW Adama wind farm opened and is currently the largest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa. More wind farms are rapidly being built, and as it tends to be windiest during the dry season when the hydro is producing less power they together make a good mix. Solar photovoltaics are also rapidly expanding, and are proving especially useful in remote off-grid locations where they can be used in local micro-grids and for directly charging batteries for phones and lights. Over the next few months a couple of 500MW geothermal projects are due to come on stream, which will mean Ethiopia leaps from nowhere to being one of the leading geothermal nations. Ethiopia has plans not just to supply its entire population with renewable electricity but to export large surpluses to neighbouring countries.

Addis Ababa is growing rapidly and old diesel buses and cars are a major source of pollution and congestion. However these problems are being addressed with the opening of the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit System, a modern electric tram system involving both underground and above ground sections. Also this year a new electric railway has opened, linking landlocked Ethiopia with the port of Djibouti, reducing the numbers of trucks making their way across mountains and deserts to the coast.

Ethiopia has many challenges. Climate change and droughts threaten the country and this year being an el Niño year they are currently suffering. The population of Ethiopia passed the 100 million mark sometime in the last few months, up from under 20 million back in 1955, and 40 million at the time of the great famine of 1983-85. The rate of increase is now slowing. Ethiopia is not the best of democracies, but it has set itself some worthwhile goals in terms of achieving the sustainable development goals and rapidly rolling out renewable energy.

Environmental commentators have talked a lot about contraction and convergence, where all the reductions in emissions would be made by the industrialized rich world and the poorer countries would be assumed to be able to increase emissions, at least temporarily. Ethiopia proves that even those countries with the very lowest emissions can further reduce them and in the process develop modern profitable Cleantec economies. That is a lesson for many other countries to follow.


Wind renewables geothermal solar

Rail and



Air Conditioning & Refrigeration

air conditioning in China

air conditioning units in China

Cooling is one of the fastest growing uses of energy. Domestic refrigerators and air conditioning systems are selling very quickly as incomes rise in China, India and other parts of the world. Heavy industry, data centres and food storage, processing, distribution and retailing all use a growing amount of energy intensive cooling. Many of the chemicals used as refrigerant coolants are themselves powerful greenhouse gases. All this represents a very serious problem from a climate change point of view. What could be done?

Well designed and insulated buildings can reduce demand for cooling just as they can for heating. Passive house style housing is beginning to take off in countries like Germany and Austria where the main requirement is for heating. High thermal mass, good insulation, breeze capturing windows and towers and well situated shading have all been used in the past to provide comfortable buildings in hot climates and could all be developed and incorporated into more modern urban contexts. Where this kind of design is applied the need for air conditioning will be very much less.

Solid Solar are a pioneering Austrian company designing and installing large scale solar thermal heating and cooling systems. A few weeks ago they installed a 5,000 square metre solar thermal roof to provide air conditioning at the Desert Mountain High School in Arizona. Where air conditioning is necessary this seems to me to be the best way to do it.

In many tropical countries huge amounts of food are wasted due to lack of cold storage and transport, and so naturally more refrigerated trucks are being used in, for example, India. Refrigerated trucks are doubly polluting, using diesel both for movement and cooling. Again, what could be done?

Peter Dearman is the British inventor of the Dearman engine, which uses liquid nitrogen as a fuel for power and cooling. The Croydon based company is expanding with a particular focus on refrigerated trucks especially in rapidly expanding markets such as India. The basic technology could have many other uses where both power and coolness are required at the same location, for example in data centres or supermarkets. This is very exciting and might well be my technology of the year!




National Infrastructure Commission

Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis, head of the new National Infrastructure Commission

What’s going on with British energy and climate policy? Amber Rudd remains a minister at Department for Energy and Climate Change, but since the last election George Osborne has been micro-managing her department and now he has handed the energy side of things over to the new National Infrastructure Commission led by the ex-Labour peer Lord Adonis. Adonis appears not to have responsibility for Climate Change policy, yet deciding the infrastructure investment priorities is an absolutely critical aspect any meaningful action on Climate Change. The idea of a National Infrastructure Commission has been around for a while and in a previous version included major housing developments, which has not been included in Adonis’s brief: he is to focus on energy and transport. This may have the short term objective of the government being able to drop expensive and unpopular decisions, like Hinkley C or HS2, without losing face politically.

Meanwhile Lisa Nandy, the Labour shadow minister for energy and climate has come out in favour of decentralised and democratic energy policies, exactly as I advocated in a blog posting on 3rd September. Does she read this blog!?

Many European countries have long term and consistent energy and infrastructure policies. The National Infrastructure Commission may help Britain achieve this very useful objective. Here is my advice to Lord Adonis, just in case he happens to read this blog!!!

Britain needs an energy demand reduction strategy to promote efficiency across all sectors; house design and construction, energy generation and distribution, domestic appliances and goods of all sorts. Full end of life re-use and recycling needs to be established to create a circular economy, requiring less primary inputs of energy and resources.

100% renewable energy for electricity, heating and transport as a policy objective: promote renewables at all scales, include a much more gradual reduction in feed-in tariffs, a special focus on promoting municipal and cooperative forms of ownership, open up the market so that local generators of energy can sell it locally rather than only to the national grid, support the rapid innovation and entrepreneurial activity that already exists.

Energy storage and interconnection will need much greater investment. This includes a wide range of different energy storage technologies including pumped hydro, batteries, renewable gases etc. European grid integration is important and the planned cable linking the Norwegian grid to ours is a very useful first step, links to Iceland and to Germany would be the next logical steps.

The transport priorities should be to reduce pollution and congestion in our cities. Cycling, walking and public transport should be prioritised, and that public transport should increasingly be electric or hydrogen powered.

Ecologist article

Lisa Nandy


The hydrogen economy?

hydrogen bus in Aberdeen

hydrogen fuel cell bus in Aberdeen

The idea that hydrogen would replace fossil fuels has been around for a very long time. In 1923 J. S. B. Haldane gave a famous lecture at Cambridge predicting that wind power would be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen via electrolysis, and that hydrogen would provide storable energy, to be used as and when required to drive industry, transport and the whole economy. There have over the decades been many technological developments, and hydrogen fuel cells are used in a huge range of niche markets from fork lift truck to submarines. So far there has not been a massive switch from fossil fuels to renewably generated hydrogen for mainstream transport and power. Is that about to change?

In March this year Europe’s largest hydrogen bus refuelling station opened in Aberdeen, with 10 new hydrogen fuel cell buses. At Junction 33 on the M1 in South Yorkshire ITM Power has just opened the first publicly accessible hydrogen car refuelling station with an on-site wind turbine producing the hydrogen on-site. The same company are also opening a solar powered hydrogen refuelling station on the A13 in Essex. ITM are also now working with European Marine Energy Centre in the Orkney Islands, where they’ll be making hydrogen from tidal energy. Last October I blogged about Frankfurt installing ITM’s impressive wind to power via hydrogen technology, in August I blogged about Qingdao Sifang producing the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell tram, and several times on this blog I’ve sung the praises of the Riversimple hydrogen fuel cell cars, that should soon be in production. Globally the technology giants are moving toward hydrogen. In October the sixth World Hydrogen Technologies Convention is due to open in Sydney, Australia, where Toyota is promoting the hydrogen powered Mirai, the first mass production hydrogen fuel cell car. Lots of other developments are happening all over the World. All these are encouraging signs.

Perhaps it is too early to claim that the fossil-fuel era is over, but the indications of a better, less polluting technological basis to a new kind of economy are emerging. Renewable energy will be at the heart of these changes, and hydrogen fuel cells will be one of many important supplementary technologies.

Aberdeen hydrogen buses

ITM hydrogen via:- wind, Yorkshire and Orkney tidal and Essex solar

Mirai, Australia

Buses & Trams

World's first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tram

World’s first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tram

Modern cities need good public transport systems. As diesel buses are responsible for much air pollution they’ll need to be replaced with cleaner technologies. London has long had an electric underground, and many cities have electric trolley buses, using overhead power lines. Some British cities are building electric tram lines, emulating their European counterparts. Other options are now emerging as both hydrogen fuel cell and electric battery technologies are improving.

London has about 8,700 buses, mainly still diesel. These are increasingly being retrofitted to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. Diesel electric hybrids are increasingly common, and perhaps a dozen or so all electric single decker buses now operate in the city. In October London is due to get its first all electric double-decker bus, looking very like a Routemaster; it is being built in China by BYD. China is the world leader in battery electric bus manufacture and deployment. Various Chinese cities are forging ahead with a range of zero tailpipe emission transportation systems.

For many years there had been talk of a hydrogen fuel cell revolution, and now slowly it’s beginning to take shape. The photo above is of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell tram, built in Qingdao, China, by Qingdao Sifang.

China has very impressive plans to roll out zero emission transport systems to many of its cities. Hydrogen fuel cell trams, ordinary electric trams and battery electric buses are all set to become common sights across China in the next few years. As this is achieved the air quality in Chinese cities should rapidly improve. At the same time investments in renewable energy technology, and in energy efficiency, should ensure that the worst coal power stations can be closed, and at last the upward climb of Chinese carbon emissions can be halted, and hopefully reversed.

Electric buses and

Hydrogen tram