Sir Simon Jenkins has criticised wind power as being the “least efficient” of all renewable technologies. However, there is no substitute for sustainability. Alex Blackburne discovers the National Trust’s official standpoint.
Sir Simon Jenkins rattled a few cages over the weekend, when he called wind power the “least efficient” form of renewable energy.
His comments were duly lapped up by the notoriously anti-wind newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, in an article entitled “National Trust comes out against ‘public menace’ of wind farms”.
The negative nature of the story undermines the positive work that the Trust does by using a badly researched blanket argument. Sir Simon uses questions over the efficiency of wind energy to mask his views on the turbines blighting England’s green hills.
“We are doing masses of renewables but wind is probably the least efficient and wrecks the countryside and the National Trust is about preserving the countryside”, he said.
The real argument then is not really about inefficiency, but how wind farms may damage the view from a stately home or stretch of countryside. Interestingly, there is no mention of the damage that non-renewable energy sources cause to the environment and future. Taking a longer term view, if we carry on using up fossil fuels at the current rate, there may not be any countryside to preserve. And if there is will it instead be blighted by open cast coal mines and cooling towers?
Whatever the typical turbine efficiency, wind is arguably the most readily available form of renewable energy in the UK and offers a wholly sustainable solution.
“Discussing the efficiency of renewable resources is nearly meaningless“, said Dr Matthias Fripp, NextEra Energy Resources research fellow in renewable energy at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.
“What matters is the cost per unit of electricity produced, the times when electricity is produced and the environmental impacts of each power source“.
Notably, the National Trust’s official line is more carefully tempered. Peter Nixon, director of conservation, said, “We have a duty to protect beautiful places, and believe that any wind energy proposals should be located, designed and on a scale that avoids compromising these”.
A simple solution to the Trust’s mantra is offshore wind farms. In fact, harnessing just 29% of the UK’s offshore wind capability would meet all of our energy needs. No more pollution, no more waste – just 100% clean energy.
Unlike the seemingly brash views of Sir Simon, the National Trust does actually include wind technology in its future energy mix.
“We believe strongly in the need to grow renewable energy generation and wean ourselves off fossil fuels”, Dixon added.
“We have a target to generate 50% of our own energy from renewables by 2020, including wind where it is not too large [sic] for its setting.
“We’re trying to show how this can be done without putting at risk our beautiful natural and built heritage.”
Sir Simon’s “not in my backyard” attitude to wind is thankfully not a widely held view, but is often echoed by the misleadingly-named Renewable Energy Foundation. Originally chaired by TV celebrity and anti-wind farm campaigner Noel Edmonds, REF is a registered charity claiming to promote sustainable development with a thinly veiled hidden agenda.
New energy secretary Ed Davey fully supports the sector.
“Britain has a lot to be proud of in our growing offshore wind sector”, he said at the opening of the world’s biggest offshore wind farm off the Cumbrian coast last week.
“Our island’s tremendous natural resource, our research base and a proud history of engineering make this the number one destination for investment in offshore wind.”
To the naysayers, ugly or inefficient seem inappropriate words to describe an innovatively designed piece of machinery that constantly produce clean energy in a wholly sustainable fashion. Efficiency is something that can be improved upon with engineering improvements and support from investors. The question should be how sustainable our energy sources, not how efficient.
If you share Blue & Green Tomorrow’s view, then do something to help out the environment. Get in touch with Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable electricity provider, who can assist you in making your home green.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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