Friday, July 28, 2006

Of waste and calamity

London has been hit by some rather disruptive power cuts during the last 24 hours - the kind of thing we expect more in wintertime that at the height of summer. It also shows how inept the government is at controlling the management of the nation's energy infrastructure on the eve of the decline in world resources.

The electric supply should arguably have priority. We can live with out powered transport for a while. We can live without domestic gas supplies for a while. We cannot live without water or electricity - but we can limit its use. With drought threats, we have a ban on using hosepipes. Why then, with power-cut threats is there no ban on using air-conditioners and other non-essential energy-hungry devices?

Without electric power we are deprived some creature comforts, but more crucially we are deprived of most information and communication systems. No TV, no Radio, no Web access, no eMail and in some cases no simple telephony either. Suffer a power-cut and one can't even find out about it. I would rather be asked to put off the washing, the cooking and hot baths for a while than be subjected to a total loss of power. Sadly, in their quest for profits, it seems the energy companies are allowed to encourage us to use maximum product with no thought as to what might happen when the system overloads.

Britain has been hot - very hot! But we can survive it despite the tiredness and irritability. There is no excuse for draining limited resources with vanity equipment like air-conditioners.

This also relates to something else that has been on my mind a while. As we look toward sustainable energy supplies, little attention seems to be being paid to integration. Electric companies contribute to what we call the "National Grid" but water and gas supply run separate systems. They may not need to be re-nationalised (that would mean the even worse incompetence of beaurocrats) but they should be obliged to work together.

Imagine a resevior. How many of them integrate hydro-electric power generators to utilise the outgoing water supply? How many of them host wind turbines or solar-panel arrays as part of their architecture? So too with gas and oil sources - how much of the immense pressure release available in the extraction of these resources is simultaneously harnessed to create direct electric current?

Global warming is affecting our weather. The heat the another day attracted some major electrical storms. We worry about being struck by lightning - maybe we should be directing our attention toward building devices that would deliberately attract lightning and then store the vast amount of nature's power they provide.

Britain is fortunate in that it is surrounded by water. The opportunities for hyro-electric power would seem almost unlimited. More importantly, we should be building a network of de-salination plants which can convert sea water into normal fresh water for a future where rainfall may not suffice. The areas where we are under threat from rising sea levels might be a good place to start.

I'm no expert on this of course. But everywhere one looks there are vast sites and infrastructure projects that seem to be concerned with their own individual use. Nobody in government seems to be paying any attention to making such places and schemes multi-functional.

Before we learning to make, and abuse, petroleum, we built a network of waterways for transport. The canels are still there. They may not be fit for the demands of today's industry, but surely they could provide the basis for a "National Grid" of freshwater supply. They might even provide of renaissance in the transport of local goods. Why too, is is legal to consume petroleum and pollute the environment just to take produce from one end of the country for packaging only to transport it back again to its source for sale.

30 miles off the coast of Cornwall are the Scilly Isles which illustrate the best and worst of this. All their water comes from a desalination plant run by the local council instead of a private company. On the other hand, they are a fishing economy and locals can't even buy part of the catch - that is shipped off to the mainland, transported across country and packaged in a great pool - a small part of which may find its way back to the islands a considerably, "unfreash" time later. The chain of waste in this process will also have resulted in an absurd price inflation all in the pursuit of "profit".

Before this becomes an extended essay, I'll stop. You'll get the idea.


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