Category Archives: Environment

Kenya’s government invests in geothermal energy

Kenya is the first African country to develop geothermal energy. It is  diversifying from hydropower, which currently provides most of Kenya’s electricity, because its capacity has been seriously reduced by the worst drought since the 2011 – and further droughts are anticipated.

Geothermal energy comes from a mixture of water and steam under pressure drawn from nearly 2 km beneath the earth, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley (above). It is providing reliable, cost-competitive, baseload power with a small carbon footprint.

Only 10% of Kenya’s population has electricity for their homes, so this project will help more people to have a better lifestyle. The energy is going to be used for household needs such as heated water and electricity.

There are concerns about the adverse effects of installing the pipeline infrastructure on vegetation, wildlife and the nomadic way of life

But as an employee of Kenya Electricity Generating Company said: “It is a clean energy, or green, because its carbon footprint on the environment is minimal”.

This is a state conceived and managed achievement – now part of

which focusses on reforms and development across 10 key sectors. 

The state’s role is possibly deplored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network , an alliance of organisations headed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a powerful accountancy firm (one of the Big 4) with a chequered history. They conducted a study which found that Kenya has ‘put little focus’ on involving the private sector in risk mitigation – insurance? – and flows of significant private sector finance.

Long may it be so.

 

 

 

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Readers from the Cotswolds to London could help London Waterkeeper

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London Waterkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global federation campaigning for fishable, drinkable and swimmable water.

London Waterkeeper defends rivers and challenges polluters. All of London’s rivers are failing – damaged by road run-off and sewage. London Waterkeeper seeks to use the law to target polluters, highlight pollution where it happens and outline the solutions needed to make rivers healthy.

      The 15th anniversary video featuring London Waterkeeper is here.

The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) has worked with London Waterkeeper (LW) since it was first approached for assistance in 2016. LW recently launched a campaign to persuade Thames Water to notify the public when its sewers spill into the Thames – from the Cotswolds to London. Thames Water is subject to the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004 which require such bodies to make environmental information they hold available to the public by electronic means.

Currently very little information about Thames’ pollution is publicly available. The river is used by people for rowing, kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming but they don’t know when they risk coming into contact with sewage. Information about any form of pollution from the Cotswolds to the capital should be sent to A Thames Fit To Swim.

London Waterkeeper has asked Thames Water to tell them when its sewers overflow but they also need public input via this link to help to make the Thames swimmable one day.

Hogsmill Sewage Works (Kingston-on-Thames) – an incident due to misconnection 

London Waterkeeper’s aims:

  • to acquire information in order to see where greater investment is needed to protect the river,
  • to encourage Thames Water to put information about all pollution incidents on its website ‘as is expected in the 21st Century’.

                        Copenhagen Harbour Bath

Information helped Copenhagen to make its waters ‘swimmable’. Read an inspiring account here. They created urban beaches and harbour swimming pools which are now the most popular open spaces. Read another account in the Ecologist.

 

 

 

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Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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Fintech startups – Bethnal Green Ventures: Paul Miller

Our attention has been drawn to  a recent article by Paul Miller, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

He recalls that in the midst of the financial turmoil of 2008 BGV decided to try something new. They brought together technologists and engineers with people who worked at the sharp end of social and environmental problems in ‘social innovation camps’.

The fintech startup scene had yet to emerge and whole swathes of society, low-income households, people dependent on care, former prisoners, migrant workers, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers had been poorly served by traditional financial institutions.

In a report, Access to Financial Services in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority painted a bleak picture of how well the existing financial services companies are rising to the challenge. Paul says: “Fast forward almost ten years and a lot has changed. Now there is a huge startup scene in the UK and the tech for good community has mushroomed with thousands of people putting their technology skills to use, solving problems in health, education, the environment and democracy”.

The FT reports that Bethnal Green Ventures is another early stage UK investor backing tech innovators addressing social problems.

Since 2012, the company has helped launch more than 90 “tech for good” ventures through a twice-yearly accelerator programme. Funded by Nesta and Nominet Trust — the company’s founding partners — as well as the UK Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, these three-month programmes offer start-ups a £20,000 investment as well as mentoring in return for 6% equity.

Investments include Dr Doctor’s appointment management service, which claims to save the NHS more than £1.2m a year by reducing the number of patients failing to attend medical appointments, and Open Utility, which plans to allow people to buy excess solar power from their neighbours instead of power stations.

Bethnal Green Ventures holds meetings every few months for nearly 6,000 members, many of them working at banks or advertising agencies, but with an interest in donating their time to social projects at the weekend. Paul Miller, chief executive of Bethnal Green Ventures, says it has so far doubled the estimated market value of its investments.

Paul continues: “At Bethnal Green Ventures we want to invest in these new ventures tackling financial inclusion and income inequality. We’re interested in ideas that could:

  • Enable excluded people to gain access to a bank account in the first place. There are an estimated 1.5 million ‘unbanked’ people in the UK and evidence suggests that some groups of people are more likely to experience difficulties proving their identity and/or their address in order to open an account. There’s no need to change the know your customer rules but new services are needed to help people identify themselves in a way that is realistic in their circumstances.
  • Provide fair access to credit. We’re interested in new business models that help reduce risk (both real and perceived) in lending to groups that have found it hard to get loans in the past.
  • Create high quality financial advice extended to previously excluded groups. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be offered financial planning advice, augmenting the assets of those who are already financially secure. There’s an opportunity to provide financial education and advice into new markets at low cost.
  • Provide access to benefits and insurance that are relevant to the modern world of work. With the rise of the gig economy and changing patterns of work people need new ways of protecting themselves for when things go wrong or their circumstances change”.

He ends: “If the fintech sector is to avoid the social pariah fate of the financial services sector following the 2008 crisis, it needs to take creating a positive social impact seriously. It’s not just about ‘doing good’, we believe that it presents a brilliant business opportunity as well”.

Entrepreneurs want to tackle air pollution, easing pressure on congested roads and crowded public transport  

Adam Forrest reports that some entrepreneurs are realising the untapped potential of rivers in major cities. They envisage passenger vessels becoming a daily means of travel for residents. This would ease the pressure on congested roads and crowded public transport and help to tackle air pollution.

‘Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters (above), using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

Far lower emissions than road vehicles and aiming to reduce them still further

MBNA claims its retrofitted catamarans have cut particulate emissions by 50% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 40% – but the boats are still powered by diesel.

Forrest adds: “Boat operators face some major challenges. They have to be able to scale up their services to carry larger numbers of passengers, as well as trying to reduce the environmental impact of boats dependent on high-polluting diesel fuel”.

Change is on its way

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

As David Bailey, who forwarded the link to Forrest’s article, tweeted whilst working in Venice:

https://twitter.com/dgbailey/status/855495899115638784/photo/1

A minute percentage of passengers and freight are currently carried by water – but as Atkins Global (see their project ‘showcase’) asked earlier: with the rising cost and environmental burden of road transport, could UK businesses (and we add, public transport) follow Europe’s example and turn back to the water?

 

 

 

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‘Daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of rivers in Sheffield

After blogging about Sheffield residents – and many in Mumbai – protesting against the felling of urban trees by Amey, better news comes from David Bailey (right). He draws attention to an article by David Cox, about ‘daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of urban rivers – the source of much of the following information.

Simon Ogden, chair of the Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group, recalls that the city’s rivers were used originally for water power, then for steelworking and waste disposal and finally built over and turned into sewers, commenting “That’s about as low as a river can get.”

Sheffield rivers, the Porter, Sheaf and Don rivers spend most of their urban life underground. The Porter flows between buildings, in culverts and below the surface in tunnels. It sometimes surfaces on its way to the Ponds area and, as it approaches Sheffield Railway Station (left), joins the River Sheaf under the station.

‘Daylighting’ rivers can be a more practical and cost-effective alternative to many of the UK’s Victorian-era culverts that are difficult to maintain. Last year, in central Sheffield, a culvert over the River Porter collapsed, causing part of a car park to completely cave in.

In a once-neglected corner of Sheffield’s cultural industries quarter, where music, film and science-based businesses flourish, there is now a green oasis – a “pocket park”- among housing blocks and a derelict industrial site A small amphitheatre slopes down to the banks of the river Porter, where wild trout spawn in spring and students from the technical college picnic and paddle.

Two years ago, the park did not exist. There was just a crumbling car park with the River Porter seen briefly before it disappeared into a culvert.

Simon Ogden describes the long-standing ambition of the WSG to reconnect the city centre with its waterways – the canal, Rivers Don Porter and Sheaf.

One proposal – called ‘Putting the Sheaf back into Sheffield’, featured on the BBC’s One Show – involves taking the roof off an underground culvert and bringing the waterway back into the open, surrounded by grass, flowers, trees. The bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was not successful but ‘pocket’ parks are being created through the council’s’ City Centre Breathing Spaces programme’, using money contributed under planning rules by developers.

Climate change has been one of the major driving factors for large-scale investment in river daylighting projects

Planners hope to utilise the passive cooling provided by rivers to help combat the urban heat island effect, and most of all, increase flood protection. Funding the ‘daylighting’ of the Porter in Matilda Street and Nursery Street has been combined with the Environment Agency Local Levy which aims to cover the cost of flood defences.

“We’ve been experiencing more flash floods in recent years,” says Ogden from Sheffield council. “So we need to keep the water in the river and make more space for it. Culverts act as a kind of choke on the river, so any blockages or sudden increased rainfall forces the water out onto the streets.” He continues:

“A culvert was removed over a stretch of the brook hidden beneath a car park, and riverbed material was redistributed and stabilised using boulders and reclaimed wood. Habitats have been created for fish with help from the Trout in the Town organisation, walls made of gritstone slowly release rainwater into the brook and the park has been designed to flood in extreme weather”.

News of a Rochdale project follows.

Cox’s article also has references to work in Auckland, to Seoul’s artificial waterway that joined up with the underground river at formed 3.6 mile-long water corridor now acts as a major flood-relief channel, transforming an area of Seoul previously renowned for crime and to Zurich, where urban river restoration has been common practice and daylighting – known as the “Bachkonzept” or the “stream concept”, is has been ‘enshrined in law’  

 

 

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‘Daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of the River Roch in Rochdale

Last year, Rochdale successfully restored the River Roch for the first time in 100 years by daylighting it through the main high street – see a stunning account in the Daily Mail – if only they would confine themselves to this genre.

Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, writes: Hidden underneath concrete for almost 100 years, when tram lines were extended to the town at the turn of the century, was the borough’s workhorse, a packhorse bridge and river over which scores of Rochdale folk transported wool from Yorkshire to be finished in Rochdale’s mills.

Above: the bridge believed to have been built in about 1324 when Edward II ruled England. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-36520198

And the river re-opening also has an even more tangible benefit. It reduced flood risk for 40 properties in our town centre; that’s 40 businesses whose livelihoods depend on being able to stay open all year round, 40 businesses who bring money into the local economy and employ local residents.

The town’s ‘old workhorse’ swung into action again on Boxing Day last year, preventing flood water reaching the Grade I listed town hall and many businesses in its vicinity when heavy rain wreaked havoc across the north of England. Over 160 businesses in the borough were affected by the floods and the shocking sight of Rochdale town centre under water will stay with me for a long time to come. For a borough which is investing heavily to build a great future after difficult times, it felt like the last thing we needed.

Penny Stevenson, a resident of Rochdale said: “Shortly after they finished opening the river up, we had another flood event – but whereas before the excess water didn’t have anywhere to go because of the culvert, this time it was able to drain away naturally, and didn’t swamp the town centre.”

 

 

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