Monday, May 05, 2008


I get quite a lot of interesting correspondence about the subjects in this blog of which the letter posted following my reply, next, is a fine example.

Dear David,

many thanks for your interesting and supportive message! The blog is just me thinking out-loud really, and trying to find some solutions to the energy-crunch, but also to recognise the scale of the problem and the relative impact that can be made by e.g. biofuels etc. and the likelihood (or not) of the hydrogen economy etc.

I have also tried to keep optimistic rather than a "Kunstler" scenario where we disappear into the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel or the wild-West as he is an American.

When I talk about a relocalisation of society I am not thinking of this scenario but a focus on local production of food etc. as far as possible to take pressure off transportation which must become a problem with the escalating price of oil and its inevitable scarcity.

I am reading quite an uplifting (if a bit idealistic) book called "The geography of hope" by Chris Turner, which does indeed focus on the "local" and also in the sense of revamping inner-city areas turning problems into positive outcomes.The "clever" Danes get quite a lot of coverage in this, and he focusses on their many ingenious and holistic energy solutions where one process or the waste from it feeds another - there is one lovely example where due to its geometry it is impossible to mow the grass around a power station using machinery... the solution: to graze a flock of sheep there who have no trouble at all getting to the grass!

I think that the sum total of many "solutions" made acting at the community level may go some considerable way to providing sustainable solutions. We can each of us do something and as there are getting on for 7 billion of us, maybe our number, which is thought of as the major source of the problems we face as a human species, might go some way to mitigating the worst aspects of them.

Turner is highly critical of architecture especially the grid-layout of most US cities, which he points-out is divisive, by which I mean in one place there is just accommodation, no shops, no other businesses or other amenities, and a necessity to drive everywhere. He cites European models, e.g Heidelberg (or Caversham where I live, for that matter) where everything is integrated. So we have houses within 5 minutes walk of all else that is required.

In the latter aspect, Kustler and Turner are in agreement, and indeed, in Caversham, beyond the village, are large "developments" with nothing there other than houses and so everyone has to drive down in to the village or into town (Reading) to buy what they need, go to leisure-centres etc. etc.

Thanks very much for your information which I think will make (unattributed or attributed as you wish) a useful article.

Kind regards,


On 4 May 2008 at 14:40, wrote:

Dear Mr. Rhodes,

I have been reading quiet a few of your articles and have quite enjoyed them. Some of the stuff is nothing more than rehashed from more than 30-40 years ago. The barrage across the Bristol Channel was on the drawing boards then. I think it got the Bums rush because it wasn't environmentally friendly silting up of Swansea harbour was one of the complaints if I remember correctly. It didn't stop the French though from going along with the Rance barrage which came on stream at about the same time if I remember correctly.

Here are a couple of other things to think about which might be of interest too you. During the oil crisis, I was living in Denmark and the oil shock got the wily Danes doing some heavy thinking. They have always been dependent on imported energy there was some small deposits of Brown coal over near Herning in Jutland, but they were worked out during the 40s and 50s. One of the things they did was to make the production of electricity tie in with the production of hot water to heat towns. Copenhagen has been for decades heated by two electrical generating stations Svanmollen and H.C. Osteds verks. The hot water generated during the production of electricity was pumped through insulated pipes round the city and tapped off to heat building complexes. The Danes also contemplated shipping hot water from Iceland where they have a surplus in the large tankers that were being then mothballed in the Norwegian fjords mooring them by the large coastal town and then pumping around the towns to keep them warm in winter.

What the Danes did do which has benefited them ever since was to set very high building standards with high insulation norms and also set in motion a large government research project in windmill technology of all places in the grounds of their Atomic research centre at Riso near Roskilde. This has continued uninterrupted supported by what ever party was in power and has given the Danes a lead in Alternative energy production. Denmark now accounts for 50% of all installed wind energy around the planet they are opening new factories around the world to take advantage of the boom and there expertise. This unfortunately is causing some complaining by the people around the factories as the transport of the large loads round the clock to the Docks is causing congestion on the the motorways. They now produce 20% of there electricity from wind power. They are very lucky as they can off load any excess onto Germany at one point during a storm several months ago they generated I think 70% of there electricity from wind. Not bad for a country without any resources apart from a stiff breeze.

We the Brits who live on an island made of coal and surrounded by a sea of oil and gas and a government obsessed with the concept that the market knows best, have to import most of our coal from Australia and fair amount of our oil from the middle east.

It doesn't take much or cost much to have an energy plan for self sufficiency. The trouble is that it usually tend to end up as a political football in Britain. I worked in the mines in northern
England and I watched while Attila the Hen [sic. Margaret Thatcher!] and her minions, who should be in prison as traitors. Wilfully destroy the energy base of the British Isles and don't believe the shit that they tell you that they can open the mines up quickly again. They can't, they can clear the shafts easily enough, but you can bet your life that the roads have filled up with water and most will have closed up under any circumstances. Let me just give you an example which you have certainly not thought about. Lots of coal seams have clay floors. These tend to throw, they well up and bow in the middle you can drive a road through solid ground make it twelve feet tall and in the space of a couple of months it has closed up to six feet by the clay welling up leave it a year and it is completely closed.

I worked on a coal face , we drove it not more than a mile before we had to close it down because the roads kept closing in, we had to abandon most of the equipment. Most of the coal that is left is several miles from the pit bottom and if the road have to made anew this will mainly have to be done by hand as it is difficult to automate. That will make it expensive and slow plus the price of building new infrastructure on the surface will be expensive if not prohibitive. The site of the old pit where I worked and know that there is 40 years of coal left in 3 unworked seams underground was sold off and is now what you call a logistical centre for some large firm, plus several small factories.

I would also like to thank you for your interesting articles. I tend to agree with what you have to say and only disagree in the detail but I think that the real solution to the energy problem will be even more esoteric than even blacklightpower and there are a few that are bobbing about just below the radar at this very moment.

Deep Regards...


No comments: