Running on Sunshine

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctric...

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctrica por tecnología de torre, la primera en el mundo explotada comercialmente. Solucar PS10 is the first solar thermal power plant based on tower in the world that generate electricity in a commercial way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am interested in cars, nice cars.  I’d particularly like a new Jaguar F-Type, an orange one, if anyone’s feeling generous.  I’m telling you this in case you think this post is in some way biased.

I’ve just read yet another article about another designer with “eco” credentials planning a zero-emission or in this case emission-free car.  This one was a hydrogen powered car but others have been fully electric.  I have a little issue with the idea that these cars have zero-emissions.  It’s a case of semantics.  Petrol, diesel and hybrid cars have a pipe at the back that makes you cough like you have a forty-a-day habit if you wrap your lips around it, electric and hydrogen cars don’t, hydrogen cars even put water back into the environment, combining the hydrogen with oxygen in the power production process.

All good yes?  Well, apart from indirect emissions.  Electric cars are charged from the mains which at the moment requires mostly fossil-fuel powered generation.  Hydrogen, although common in the universe has to be extracted here on Earth and that takes…  electricity, fossil-fuel, etc.

I’m discounting the environmental impacts of building the cars in the first place as even the advocates of these technologies don’t deny that.

The thing is that cars won’t be truly zero-emission until we can generate power widely without emissions.  Some nations are fortunate to have abundant geothermal or hydroelectric power resources but for the rest of us we need to look elsewhere.  Nuclear power is still controversial, though the technology is still being refined to be safer in the long-term and new thorium reactors can even use previously created waste plutonium.  Personally, for cars at least, I think hydrogen is the way forward and another emerging technology is the way to make it.  In hotter countries such as Spain large solar power stations (see above) have been built that focus the sun’s immense power onto arrays of receivers which can be used to heat water to drive generators and generate electricity.  If you use that electricity to power a plant that creates hydrogen then the power created from the Sun’s energy is portable beyond the locality of the power station.

To places like this where we’re enjoying our couple of weeks of sunshine.

The Sound of Silence

English: BMW Mini E (electric vehicle) at the ...

English: BMW Mini E (electric vehicle) at the 2010 Washington Auto Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Electric cars are becoming more popular, widespread and cheaper but safety campaigners feel that they’re too quiet for pedestrians to hear approaching – which therefore should be true too of cyclists, and rickshaws.  They have suggested that electric vehicles should make a noise to alert people to their presence, some kind of siren has been suggested, a beeping noise, verbal warnings.

The obvious thing to do, if they must make a sound, is to follow the lead of digital cameras’ reassuring shutter sound and the way cash machines whir while preparing your cash and perhaps, and this is out-there I know, they could make a noise like a car.  You could even download different engine sounds to make your family hatchback sound like a Ferrari.

That would be popular with the lads who currently put noisy exhausts on their Citroen Saxos.

Blog on the Landscape – 21st Century Windmills

English: Modern wind energy plant in rural sce...

English: Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery. Français : Une éolienne moderne dans un paysage rural. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In front of me is a window with  a view of a slice of countryside beyond the river.  At the right side of that slice, at the edge of a low hill appeared, last week, a white mast and eventually the three, apparently delicate feather-like blades of a compact wind turbine.

It’s one of three that have been put up locally this year and all are individual turbines, not wind-farms, and all appear to have the purpose of supplying farms with power in a modern analogue of the many windmills that farms had centuries ago to grind their corn and often power machinery.

I’m certain that there will be people around here who will have written angry letters to the council complaining about them being blots on the landscape and I wonder whether similar arguments happened when farmers started building windmills (despite their admitedly lower altitude).

While I admit that the larger wind-farms are not attractive and there are certain landscapes in this country that would be ruined by even a single blade sticking up into the view smaller individual turbines like the one I can see now are not ugly in my opinion and their gracefully turning blades can add a certain modernist beauty to relatively featureless landscapes, a blending of the old and the new to remind us that we do live in the 21st century and times move on as they did when the revolutionary new wind powered milling wheels ground their first corn.