Improving Sustainability

Windfarm – photo credit Jamie Hagan, Unsplash

Dr Andrew Wright offers some thoughts on ways that the UK could improve sustainability.

I expect all of us have used lockdown to reflect and review life, the universe and the changes thrust upon us.

Thinking of life today we are in many circumstances far removed from the reality of life. Water and power are delivered direct to the door; no need to use a well or cut logs, etc.  As a result we don’t directly face the ethical issues that arise.

The companies  and organisations that provide for us are often set in their ways and whilst updating practices over time they do so usually under pressure rather than proactively; though the IT industry is one exception.

So these are some of the things that have challenged me recently.

What proportion of drinking water descending from the hillside reservoirs passes through a hydro-electric plant to provide electricity?

Conversely what proportion of hydro-electric water is used at the outfall as a feedstock for the water industry?

There appears to be a need to add small hydro stations to the delivery water mains as they carry water to local service reservoirs..

Our local water supplier never had to impose a hosepipe ban, but in November the reservoirs and aquifiers it controls were only 47% full.

Years ago the Keilder Reservoir was to be connected by pipeline and river flow from Northumberland across the Tyne, Wear, Tees and the north Yorkshire rivers to York, thence to the Sheffield area. There was talk of using the canal system to spread the water further into the Midlands and the dry South East of the country. How far did this progress? As far as York yes, onto Sheffield and beyond I don’t know.

A small financial input would help to alleviate drought in the South.

I live in an area devoid of wind farms. Yet I used to live in central Scotland where large wind farms existed on upland grazing land. But also there were midi, mini and micro windmills all over the place. One hedgerow near the M9 had a row of ‘telegraph’ poles in it each with a small windmill on top, hardly an intrusive spectacle. In Lanarkshire one farm has two similar windmills as ‘guardians’ on the approach to thhe farm and just a couple of miles away are 15m amd 20 m windmills. Why do local authorities oppose small size windmills, or do English farmers lack vision?

We get sentimental over ‘quaint’ wooden windmills from the 18th  and 19th centuries but modern equivalents are deemed an eyesore. Why?

Solar farms seem sterile. I have yet to see a solar farm where there are sheep grazing the grass between the panels. I was told that sheep chew anything and ‘test’ fences so it’s not worth making the solar panels sheep proof.  Is this a self fulfilling prophecy?

The railway system has many miles of viaducts running through our urban areas. The arches below house a multitude of small busineses. But the walls are not generally used to mount solar panels. Nor are they used to grow salad crops for the locality using the green wall systems.

Moreover we have acres of trainshed roofs at major stations and most suburban stations have canopies and roofs, most of which of which could be covered in solar panels. The railway is a major user of electricity and is trying to decarbonise traction on the railways, but station lighting could be powered by local solar panels and a decent storage battery.

If we can fund HS2 and provide support for the Ukraine we can surely fund these updatings of our essential infrastructure to improve our sustainability credentials

Dr Andrew Wright is a former president of JRI