Tag Archives: united kingdom

Electric bikes outstrip electric car sales in the UK in 2020

Credit: Pixabay.

Advances in Li-ion battery technology have not only propelled the electric car industry but also new markets such as e-bikes. Although the first patent for an electric bike can be traced to 1895, it’s only recently that this niche industry boomed. They’re particularly popular in the UK where sales during the first year of the pandemic surged. According to an annual market review by the Bicycle Association in the UK, e-bike sales far outstripped those of electric cars.

The review notes that 160,000 electric bikes were sold in 2020, or almost one e-bike every three minutes, whereas electric cars garnered 108,000 sales.

The comparison may sound unfair considering the much higher cost of an electric car. However, it’s worth noting that e-bikes are not eligible for hefty subsidies, unlike electric car buyers who receive discounts worth thousands of pounds from the government.

In any event, the fact that both segments are growing rapidly is good news as the UK struggles to transition to more environmentally friendly transportation. By 2035, the sale of all fossil fuel cars will be banned under the country’s green recovery plan.

The Bicycle Association claims that the e-bike market was worth  £2.3 billion in 2020, up 45% year-on-year. Around 64,000 jobs are directly attributed to the segment in the UK. This trend is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years.

Deloitte projected a bull market for e-bikes in late 2019, predicting “that tens of billions of additional bicycle trips per year will take place in 2022 over 2019 levels. This increase in bicycling will double the number of regular bicycle users in many major cities around the world where cycling to work is still uncommon.”

Between 2020 and 2023, 130 million e-bikes will likely be sold, Deloitte found. These predictions were made before the pandemic which has greatly accelerated interest and sales in e-bikes. More and more people are now recognizing the need for recreation, fitness, and commuting as an alternative to car-based trips and crowded public transit.

E-bikes appeal to a wide swath of people because they combine the best of both worlds thanks to an electric motor that assists pedaling. You can ride an e-bike in three distinct modes: purely under human power, purely under electric power, or a combination of motor-assisted pedaling for easier work and higher speeds (50% higher speed on average).

They’re eco-friendly, compact, and help you stay in shape. When you run out of breath, you can also switch to electric mode and let the battery do all the hard work. They’re also great for making off road trips together with people who otherwise couldn’t have kept up with a bike climb up mountain passes or across lengthy and rough terrain.

For commuters, e-bikes can sometimes be faster than either cars or the subway depending on the urban environment. The motor-assisted mode allows commuters to go to the office without fear that sweat might stain their clothes. And unlike electric cars that require special charging stations, the lightweight e-bike can be charged virtually anywhere you can find a plug.

The e-bike has come a long way since the trusty ‘moped’ that first successfully combined a bicycle with a motor scooter ages ago. Now, e-bikes are poised to go mainstream so don’t act surprised if they take over.

Renewable energy expands in the UK, leads to lower emissions, lower costs

Renewable energy is expanding fast in the United Kingdom, slashing carbon emissions and electricity costs across the board, according to recently published government figures.

Credit p2-r2. Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Carbon emissions from UK electricity production dropped by more than a third during the coronavirus lockdown, as the expansion of renewables continues. The carbon intensity of the energy grid reached 21 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour in May, according to a report by Imperial College London.

The report, issued for Drax, UK’s largest power generator, found that lockdown measures caused the electricity demand in the United Kingdom to fall by 13% in the second quarter (compared to the same months last year), which helped the share of renewables grow by a third to 40% of the energy mix.

The data on renewables included electricity generated by solar farms, wind turbines, hydropower projects, and biomass. The carbon intensity of the electricity system dropped by a fifth to 153 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour, while prices fell by more than 40% during the lockdown, the report showed.

Dr. Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, lead author of the energy report, told The Guardian that the past few months have “given the country a glimpse into the future for our power system, with higher levels of renewable energy and lower demand make for a difficult balancing act”.

Dropping costs

Recent UK government figures showed that electricity generated from wind and solar is between 30% and 50% cheaper than previously thought. The government published the levelized cost of energy, a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation, which showed this lower price.

The report represents the UK’s first public admission of the significant reductions in renewable costs in recent years. The government had previously carried out internal updates to its cost estimates in 2018 and 2019 but these were never published despite repeated requests in parliament.

Back in 2013, the UK estimated that an offshore wind farm operating in 2025 would generate electricity at $186 per megawatt. The estimation was revised down by 24% in 2016 to $142. Now, the latest estimate in the report set the cost at $76, corresponding to a 47% reduction from 2016.

Similar dramatic reductions can be seen for onshore wind and solar, with energy costs for energy plants operating in 2025 estimated at 50% lower than previously. In contrast, the report didn’t review previous estimates for the cost of nuclear power, noting that nuclear should achieve a 30% cost reduction by 2030.

This reduction in the price of renewable energy is driven by advancing technology, with more efficient and larger manufacturing plants for solar panels and wind turbines. This adds up with lower operating costs, longer project lifetimes, and more operational experience running renewable projects.

Auctions for UK government contracts have recently reflected the drop in costs. The government awarded contracts for offshore wind farms, due to start operating in the mid-2020s, at prices below the costs of existing gas-fired power stations, making the windfarms subsidy-free.

The estimates included in the report showed that wind and solar will continue to get cheaper over time. Offshore wind will become cheaper than onshore by the mid-2030s, mainly due to larger turbine sizes, which will move from the current 9MW to a record of 20 MW by 2040.

Increased ambition

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) recently suggested that the UK government increase its renewable electricity target from 50% to 65% by 2030, arguing that the lower costs mean the country should ramp up its ambition for a low-carbon electricity system.

The commission called for shifts in government policy to support more renewable electricity schemes and encourage private investment to drive innovation. It recommended the deployment of new auctions to accelerate offshore and onshore wind as well as solar power projects.

“The government should be credited for recent steps to encourage quicker deployment of renewables, and for setting up successful mechanisms for encouraging private sector investment,” said NIC chair John Armitt in a statement. “These latest projections suggest we can afford to go further, faster without hitting consumers in the pocket.”

Potentially fatal tick-borne brain disease found in the UK for first time

Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) has been found in the UK for the first time. The virus has been discovered as part of ongoing research by Public Health England and the Emerging and Zoonotic Infections National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit at the University of Liverpool.

Experts described the risk of infection as “very low,” but called on members of the public to be aware of ticks, small parasitic arachnids that are related to spiders and mites.

Front. Immunol., 26 September 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02174

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus is an infection that causes no symptoms in most people. However, within one or two weeks of being bitten, some may complain of flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever, fatigue and joint pain. In approximately one in ten cases, encephalitis or meningitis may follow, leading to severe headaches, light sensitivity, and dizziness, as well as problems with concentration, speech and walking. In rare cases, the virus can cause paralysis in the arms and legs and even death.

The infection is endemic in Scandinavia, mainland Europe, and parts of China and Japan. Ticks live in forests and grassy areas. It has now been detected in Thetford Forest, in eastern England, and the border between the southern counties of Hampshire and Dorset.

Earlier this year a European visitor became ill after being bitten by a tick in the New Forest area. This is a highly probable case of TBE. The patient, who was reported to PHE through the European Early Warning and Response System has since made a full recovery. No further cases in the UK have been identified. In 2017, there were 3,079 reported cases of TBE in Europe, including 9 associated fatalities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhWlHsQnncw

The number of infections is increasing in Europe due to climate change and an increase in outdoor leisure pursuits, according to PHE. It is also possible that migratory birds introduced TBE-infected ticks to the UK, or they could have arrived along with pets traveling from endemic countries in Europe to the UK, according to PHE.

“Ticks carry a number of infections including Lyme disease, so we are reminding people to be ‘tick aware’ and take tick precautions, particularly when visiting or working in areas with long grass such as woodlands, moorlands and parks,” said Nick Phin of PHE.

Ticks are most active from May to October, although in some parts of Europe tick season could start as early as February if temperatures rise above 8 degrees Celsius. 

Experts recommend a TBE vaccine if you’re visiting a country where the infection is common and you’re planning to do outdoor activities when you get there. Two injections of the vaccine can protect you for about a year. A third injection can protect you for about 3 years. The first injection should be given at least 1 month before traveling.

Lyme disease remains a far more prevalent tick-borne health risk and health officials recommend that hikers walk on clearly defined paths and avoid brushing against vegetation where ticks may be present. Avoiding deep vegetation and sticking to paths will reduce the risk of tick bites, as will covering your skin and using insect repellants.

In 2018, a US congressional advisory committee said tick-related illnesses had become “a serious and growing threat to public health” and in July the US House of Representatives ordered an investigation into whether the Department of Defense had experimented with ticks and other insects as biological weapons.

UK wildlife is in decline with no sign of improving

Driven mainly by climate change and the expansion of farming, many species are declining across the world, with the UK not being the exception – the nation’s population of the most important wildlife has plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The State of Nature report, the most comprehensive analysis to date, has found that the area occupied by more than 6,500 species has shrunk by 5%. Of the species there are more detailed data on, nearly 700 saw their numbers fall by 13%. The declines have left 15% of species facing extinction.

“We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen,” said Daniel Hayhow of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the lead author of the report. “We need to respond more urgently across the board.”

Among those more threatened, hedgehogs, hares and bats rank high on the list, as well as many birds such as the willow tit and the turtle dove, and insects such as the high brown fritillary butterfly. Losses to all animals, plants and marine life show no sign of letting up, despite some successes in protecting individual species

The report also warned on the destruction of nature extends offshore. The seafloor was scoured or disturbed by fishing gear in more than half of all UK waters between 2010 and 2015, while half of all commercial fisheries are overexploited. Plastic pollution is rising too, with 93% of beached northern fulmar seabirds have eaten plastic.

The biggest driver for change is the intensification of farming, followed by climate change. Public funding for nature conservation has also been hit hard, falling by 42% as a percentage of GDP between 2008 and 2018. Cuts mean public spending on biodiversity is now at £456 million a year.

The report also notes that the UK will miss most of its biodiversity targets for 2020, which will be assessed at a landmark summit in China next year. Only five of the 20 targets will be met, according to the UK government, and the State of Nature partnership disagrees on whether those five will really be achieved.

“As we lose nature, we lose a huge part of what makes us happy and healthy. UK ministers and businesses persist in planning and funding disastrous projects and practices, often with public money,” Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth said. Repeated declarations by the government to halt and reverse the decline of nature have not been followed by matching action, he added.

The findings come ahead of protests next week in London by environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, which wants the government to declare an “ecological emergency” and stop biodiversity loss. UK’s Environment secretary Theresa Villers welcomed the report, saying: “It is critical that we continue to act now, both internationally and at home.”

Britain powered itself for a day without coal — the first time since the industrial revolution

UK’s National Grid hailed a lofty milestone as it reported that Friday, 21st of April, was the first day since the Industrial Revolution that the country powered itself without coal.

Coal power is a significant part of the UK’s historical identity. Image credits: Acombmate2114.

A world built on coal

In the 19th century, Britain was leading the planet through the Industrial Revolution, and nothing would never be the same again. The shift from hand production methods to machines affected every aspect of human life. For the first time in history, the standard of life started to exhibit a solid, sustained growth, and this was clearly visible for everybody: average income and population grew wildly. It’s estimated that the world population in the early 1800s was just around 1 billion people, but the rate of increase after that was staggering. It took several centuries for the population to double from 500 million (around the year 1500) to 1 billion – yet after just one century, the population reached two billion in the 20th century, and here we are now at over 7 billion.

Coal energy powered the world through the Industrial Revolution. Image via Wiki Commons / US Gov.

All that was possible largely due to coal and other fossil fuels (oil & natural gas), which provided the necessary energy. But aside from the population growth and the increase in standard of living, the Industrial Revolution brought in another, more insidious effect: climate change. As Britain and subsequently the world became industrialized, greenhouse gas emissions started to increase and accumulate in the atmosphere. In the mid 20th century, concerns started to grow about our impact on global climate, and by the turn of the century, the situation became pretty clear: man-made emissions were having a significant, detrimental impact on the global climate. If we wanted to change that, reducing our emissions was the way to go.

So it came to be that much like the rule of the British Empire over the world had faded, the grip that coal had on humanity was starting to wane.

A day without coal

It was a clear sign of coal’s dropping power when the control room of the National Grid tweeted this on Friday:

https://twitter.com/NGControlRoom/status/855544665172529156

Coal has seen a strong and steady decline in the UK, coming down from 30% in the early 2010s to less than 10% in 2016. To their merit, the UK has invested greatly in renewable facilities, although they’ve done so out of economic reasons rather than a desire to reduce emissions. Still, Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, called the first coal-free working day “a significant milestone in our march towards the green economic revolution”.

“Getting rid of coal from our energy mix is exciting and hugely important. But it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – we haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport. Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors.” Redmond-King said.

In recent years, renewable energy has surged in Great Britain, with wind covering some 12% of the country’s electricity needs, and solar also pitching in (to a lesser extent, this is rainy Britain after all). Nuclear is also solid in the UK as a low-carbon energy source, contributing to about 20%, a figure that has remained more or less constant for many years now. But it wasn’t all low-carbon sources that compensated for coal — natural gas also stepped into the picture, and natural gas also shows a steady growth in recent years across the country. So it’s not like it’s all renewables replacing coal — a big chunk of that is replaced by natural gas, which while still an improvement, is still not the best way to go.

Getting rid of coal

Scotland’s wind energy helped a lot. Image credits: Gordon Proven.

Worldwide, coal is still used on a massive scale, especially in developing economies such as China and India. While this is an encouraging milestone for the European country, we still have a lot to go before we can say we’re on the right track. Scientists have warned time and time again that despite the Paris Agreement, the world is not doing enough to maintain a healthy track. As for the UK itself, the country seems too caught in its political woes to truly worry about the environment.

After the Brits decided they want to leave the European Union, the government just announced new general elections and that’s pretty much covering all the headlines. The country’s ongoing air crisis is largely ignored as action was delayed yet again, despite the government actually losing a trial due to this. It seems that the sheer inertia of and economic rentability of renewable energy is carrying the UK on its back — and for now, we’ll just have to settle for that.

UK slaps massive 800% tax increase for rooftop solar panels

The US isn’t the only developed country backtracking on environmental development: the UK recently announced a new law that will bring a devastating tax increase on solar energy. As it has become so common in recent months, the government said it’s a good thing which will help development, but provided no explanation as to how it will help anything.

A row of houses sporting solar houses. Image credits: Christine Westerback.

Although it is still a leader in European solar power generation, the UK is making huge strides in the opposite direction. The country’s solar industry already lost 12,000 jobs last year and there has been an 85 percent reduction in the deployment of rooftop solar schemes, largely due to political intervention: the government drastically cut incentives for householders to fit solar panels and ended subsidies for large-scale “solar farms”. Now, they’re taking things even further, announcing that schools and businesses who haven’t been paying taxes for solar energy will now have to pay, and those who have been paying will pay 8 times more. To make things even peachier, the tax increase doesn’t apply to private schools, for a reason that has not been disclosed.

Needless to say, reactions have been highly critical of this move. The speech of Chancellor Philip Hammond on the 2017 budget barely even mentioned renewable energy, although he did emphasize a promise to help the oil and gas industry “maximise exploitation” of the remaining reserves in the North Sea.

“This is slightly less than helpful for the British solar industry,” the Solar Trade Association’s Leonie Greene told The Independent, in a very British fashion. “It’s absurd. Energy tax policy is going in the opposite direction to how we know energy needs to change and how it’s changing. What he is doing is advantaging old technology and disadvantaging new ones. It’s nonsensical.”

Despite pleas from the industry, schools, businesses, and the public sector, the government refused to back down on this. They specifically mentioned that this will be beneficial for schools but again, did not mention how. A petition with over 200,000 signatures from a school in London will be delivered to England’s Treasury Department today, but expectations are minimal

This is extremely ironic because according to the government’s own figures, solar is expected to become the cheapest form of electricity generation sometime in the 2020s. It’s like the UK just decided to shoot itself in the leg — and this won’t only affect the businesses (especially small businesses), schools, and farms with solar panels, it will also affect average consumers, driving the price of electricity up by a notch. Leonie Greene adds:

“That is crazy because it is the cheapest and most popular source of energy. What that means is consumers are paying more. We are taking away the competitive pressure solar has put on other technologies. We need something to change for the solar industry. We are just trying to get a level playing field with fossil fuels.”

In a normal world, where politicians are unbiased and simply want the best for their citizens, they should be offering great support for renewable energy — especially in the UK. The country is going through a severe pollution crisis. The situation is so bad that the UK has been taken to court twice and lost, being ordered by the supreme court to take action against climate change. Yet not only are they withdrawing subsidies and support for renewable energy, they’re actually making it harder for renewables to complete against fossil fuels. Just like in the US, the government hangs on to the oil and gas pipedream, ignoring both the environmental and economic reality: renewables are getting cheaper, and fast. Fossil fuels may be the past, they may be a big part of the present, but they’re certainly not the future. Installing new renewables is already cheaper than fossil fuels.

James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, the NGO that sued the UK and won, declared:

“Despite being ordered twice by the courts to take urgent steps to tackle the country’s air pollution crisis, it seems the Treasury has still not grasped the urgency of the situation,” he said. “We fear that Government plans [on air pollution], which are due out next month, may well fall short of what is needed.”

His fears — to say the least — seem rational. With Brexit right around the corner, the government seems set to scrape several of the EU regulations and give into the fossil fuel lobby. Although not as vocal and not as absurd as the Trump government, there are clear similarities to be drawn.

The British are slowly accepting that climate change is real

A UK poll is showing that the general public is agreeing more and more with the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. Scotland fares particularly well, better than England and Wales.

The Brits are aware of climate change and are concerned about its effects on nature. Image credits: Andrew Bennett, in Wales, UK.

The ComRes poll surveyed 2,045 British adults and found that 64% believe that man-made climate change is happening and we are causing it (or most of it), up from 57% who agreed with this view in 2014. The main concerns of British citizens are damage to nature and an increase in flooding, with 80% and 73% respectively being concerned about these issues.

“Over just three years there has been a discernible shift in public opinion towards acceptance that climate change is both happening and mainly caused by human activity,” ComRes chairman Andrew Hawkins said.

“The significance of this is that the public are becoming increasingly willing to see polluting energy sources phased out, to adopt alternative technologies and accept public policy changes to shift behaviour.”

The most interesting growth was when it came to scientists. According to the poll, 70% of all respondents agree there is a virtual scientific consensus on man-made climate change, up from a mere 16% in 2014. Sixty percent of them are also worried about food availability, which easily can be threatened as was seen in the recent ‘lettuce crisis.’

But there were also differences based on age and geography. Younger people were more likely to believe climate change is real, with 73 per cent of 18-24-year-olds backing the scientific consensus compared to just over half (54 percent) of those aged 65 or over. Interestingly, a third of the latter believes climate change is happening, but humans aren’t causing it. Just 2-5% of all people believed climate change wasn’t happening at all.

Scottish people were also more inclined to agree with the science than the Welsh and the Englishmen. However, London was the place with the largest share of the population who believes humans are causing climate change — 71 percent. The lowest figure (57 percent) was found in the North and East of England.

Professor Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, welcomed the news.

“For people who have worked on climate change for decades, the finding that people recognise the sheer weight of scientific evidence is extremely heartening,” she said.

“But as the climate system sends increasingly urgent signals of the stress it is coming under, this understanding must be turned into action to address to the problem. We have the means to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change, and create a cleaner, healthier society – all it takes is the will.”

Also, WWF-UK head of climate and energy Gareth Redmond-King said that the poll is a “wake-up call” for Government to start reducing its emissions. The people are aware of climate change and they want to address it — it’s now time for the politicians to take action.

Number of plastic bags found on UK shores almost halved after just 5p tax

I always tell my friends that the difference between almost free and free is huge. It sounds a bit strange, but while $7.95 is not that different from $8, $0 is vastly different from $0.05.

Plastic beach litter, Hengistbury Head. Image credits: Rob Noble

In 2015, we wrote about Scotland‘s meager 5p tax for plastic bags – that’s about $0.06. However, that tiny tax worked wonders. In just one year, the number of plastic bags handed out in stores was slashed by 80% – that’s 650 million fewer bags in Scotland alone! This translates into a net saving of more than 4,000 tonnes of plastic and a reduction of 2,500 tonnes of CO2 annually. England followed suit, adding the same tax one year later for retailers with over 250 full-time employees. Now the entire United Kingdom (Wales and Northern Ireland included) has the 5p tax for plastic bags.

Back then, we were expecting the measure to do wonders, and it did. The Marine Conservation Society reported the lowest number of plastic bags found on UK shores in the past 10 years. According to their report, in 2015, there were on average 11 plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned in 2015. In 2016, there were just 7, an almost 40% reduction. Of course, it takes some time before the full effects of plastic reduction can be seen in nature.

The charity’s beach watch manager, Lauren Eyles, said:

“In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of 10 single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned. It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had.”

The numbers are expected to drop even more. In Wales, where the tax has been implemented for five years, there were just under four bags for every 100 metres cleaned. Overall, total levels of rubbish dropped by 4% on UK beaches, mostly due to the 5p tax. According to the BBC, other plastic objects found on beaches include:

  • Plastic caps and lids (204 found per 100m). Seabirds can mistake floating plastic for food.
  • Cotton buds (23 per 100m). These plastic sticks end up in the sewage instead of being recycled.
  • Wet wipes (14 per 100m). They shouldn’t be thrown in the sink or in the toilet.

Aside from the direct pollution, turtles and other wildlife often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish or other food and consume them. Often times, these items block their digestive systems, basically causing starvation. While we certainly benefit from plastic (and in some cases, depend on it) we’re drastically overusing it. Our world is full of single-use plastic, and if we want to create a sustainable future, cutting plastic will certainly be a key part of that.

UK set to miss 2020 renewable energy goals

The United Kingdom will almost certainly miss its 2020 targets for renewable energy, the National Grid has said.

The UK is extremely suitable for wind energy, but without proper policies, the country is lagging behind [Image via Green X]

After the Paris Agreement was set, it was time for the real work to begin – and renewable energy is expected to play a pivotal role. But while most of Europe is already exceeding expectations, one player is underperforming: Britain. Even in the most optimistic scenario presented by the National Grid, Britain will still fail in its target of producing 15% of total energy from renewables.

There seems to be a great deal of hypocrisy in the UK when it comes to climate change. While then Prime Minister David Cameron was announcing the country’s green ambitions, he actually raised subsidies for the oil industry, becoming the only G7 country to do so. He also scraped a fund for carbon capture technology after previously declaring it is “crucial” for the UK. Similarly, the government’s spokesman said the UK was still committed to the Paris agreement, but its advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, pointed to a huge mismatch between ministers’ aspirations and their policies.

Several scenarios were presented. Under the most pessimistic prediction, the UK will reach its goals 9 years later than expected, in 2029. Even in the best scenario, they’re still 2 years late. The only realistic way through which the country might be set on the right path is through massive government intervention – but that’s extremely unlikely to happen. A spokesman told BBC News:

“The 2050 targets are still achievable, but we need much more momentum. The government has to change the trajectory or we are going to fail. We need to learn our lessons from where things have gone wrong so far.”

This is unlikely for several reasons. First of all, the UK really doesn’t seem interested in achieving any green plans. For all the rhetoric, there has been little momentum coming from the top. Secondly, the UK recently held a referendum to exit the European Union. As a result, there is a great deal of uncertainty, a great deal of fear, the Pound is reaching historic lows and the British economy is starting to shake. In this unfavorable economic situation, the environment usually gets put at the bottom of the priority list.

Driverless Cars set to hit the UK in 2015 in Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes

We already wrote about driverless cars hitting the streets several times (California, University of Michigan) but until now, the talk was all America. Now, cars without drivers will also hit the street in the UK, in 4 selected cities: Greenwich (south-east London), Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. There will be a total of three projects, as Milton Keynes and Coventry will only develop one project. The decision was announced by the quango Innovate UK.

Driverless cars will hit the road in 2015 in the UK. Image via Gateway.

 

The testing will run anywhere between 18 and 36 months from January 2015, after which a decision will be made regarding the public implementation of driverless cars.

“Testing driverless cars in a real-world environment will help lead to greater levels of understanding of these vehicles. It will also allow the public to accept how the vehicles will fit into everyday life”, Innovate UK wrote.

The Bristol pilot will be run by the Venturer consortium in collaboration with Formula 1 specialist Williams Advanced Engineering, University of the West of England, and University of Bristol. Transport consultant TRL will be in charge of the Greenwich project, in collaboration with oil giant Shell and Telefonica, a communications company. Coventry and Milton Keynes will host the UK Autodrive consortium, whose members include car manufacturers Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, plus Coventry council, Milton Keynes council, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and the Open University. All in all, we’re looking at expected costs of £19 m – almost $30 m. Nick Jones, lead technologist for the low carbon vehicle innovation platform at Innovate UK, said:

“Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine and at Innovate UK, we want to help the UK to lead the world in making that happen.”

Personally, I think the time is ripe to start adding driverless cars to the roads. If the technology checks out, then we’re talking about fewer accidents, more efficient driving and all in all a lot of time, energy and money saved. But is the technology up to this monumental task? Jones is optimistic.

“There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future.”

 

UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes, despite 99% public opposition

A new proposed amendment in the UK would make a mockery of existing European shale gas regulation. If the new regulation would pass, it would allow fracking companies to put “any substance” under people’s homes and property and leave it there, as part of the Infrastructure Bill. The wording of the bill would also allow storing nuclear waste.

Image credits: Rob Brooks.

Europe has much stricter regulations than the US, and the UK has long bragged that they have the best shale gas regulation in all of Europe. But apparently, the UK wants to take steps to “kickstart” shale gas exploration in the country. The government said the changes were “vital to kickstarting shale” gas exploration. However, the opposition claims that this law is preposterous and would cause massive environmental and social problems.  Simon Clydesdale, a campaigner at Greenpeace UK declared:

“Ministers are effectively trying to absolve fracking firms from responsibility for whatever mess they’ll end up leaving underground. This amendment makes a mockery of the government’s repeated claims about Britain’s world-class fracking regulations. Far from toughening up rules, ministers are bending over backwards to put the interests of shale drillers before the safety of our environment and our climate.”

[Also Read: Shale gas isn’t a ‘clean bridge fuel’, study finds]

The law permits “passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land” and gives “the right to leave deep-level land in a different condition from [that before] including by leaving any infrastructure or substance in the land”. Currently, that is viewed by British law as trespassing, and rightfully so. The UK government conducted a survey to see the public opinion on this and the results were evident. There were a total of 40,647 responses to the consultation, and 99% opposed this change. Now, it has to be said that 28,821 responses were submitted as a result of two NGO campaigns, but that still leaves us with almost 12.000 responses, 92% of which were negative. It couldn’t be any clearer – the public is against this. But apparently, that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, as the government seems adamant to push this forth. A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said:

“Shale and geothermal have the potential to bolster our energy security, create jobs and growth and provide a bridge to a greener future. These changes are vital to kick starting shale and make sure it’s not delayed by one single landowner. These new rules are all part of our robust regulatory framework [making] sure public safety is always our number one priority.”

Image via CNN.

This approach, putting the industrial needs above the needs of the individuals has been prevalent throughout the entire mandate of the British government, and has drawn much criticism. Ralph Smyth, a barrister at the Campaign to Protect Rural England is one of the many critics of the amendment:

“This seems another example in the Infrastructure Bill where the rushing to remove obstacles has led to officials making it up as they go along, without thinking through the consequences,” he said. “Powers to alter deep-level land in any way under people’s houses or ‘putting any substance’ under schools or homes is surely going too far.”

Certainly the matter is debatable on both sides, but should a government really push forth with such an unpopular decision? There’s basically a consensus among the British that this measure shouldn’t pass, and yet it seems poised to do so. Something is clearly not going the right way in the UK.