Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts

12 January 2015

Ecotricity is growing - fast!

Good news for Ecotricity; bad news for the Big Six. And it's well-deserved news; people are voting with their electricity bills.

An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
An Ecotricty Wind Turbine
Ecotricity is one of the smaller British electricity and gas suppliers. At the beginning of 2014 they had some 85 000 customers, at the beginning of 2015 they have... wait for it... 150 000! Will they make it 300 000 by the end of this year? It's possible.

The Big Six (Britain's six largest suppliers) have lost 2 million customers in the same period. People are moving to Ecotricity and to the other smaller suppliers because they are fed up with poor service, high prices, complex pricing plans, and paying extra for pay-as-you-go schemes. Government regulation has levelled the playing field a bit, but Ecotricity goes well beyond the guidelines and has done better than any other supplier.

This innovative and plucky little company ploughs its profits into building more wind and solar generating capacity. It has kept its prices unchanged for the last two years, and scores record low figures for customer complaints. Add to that the fact that the electricity is completly green and the company is founded and run by a rather cool dude, and it all adds up to the best and greenest way to buy energy in the UK. I've been with them since September 2006 - and I'm still more than happy with the quick and friendly service.

03 March 2013

Ecotricity - greener, greener, green

Ecotricity builds wind and solar generating systems. They also supply green energy to commercial and domestic customers in the UK. Starting from small beginnings they have made a significant impact in the market and continue to grow rapidly in capacity and popularity.

Turbine blades transported by road
Ecotricity was started by Dale Vince who built a small windmill generator from reclaimed components for his own use.

Friends asked him to build similar generators and eventually he made a much larger one for a local farmer.

He then wanted to build something even larger to connect to the grid, but hit all kinds of difficulties and additional costs imposed by the larger companies and distributors.

Through persistent effort he managed to negotiate a deal and since then Ecotricity, the world's first green electricity company, has built many more large wind turbines and wind farms.

Innovation - Dale has had many interesting and innovative business ideas and has never been willing to take 'no' for an answer. He raises extra finance by issuing bonds, his company also sells wind and solar generated power to end users and offers (at slightly higher cost) a 100% renewable deal.

They have a policy of not having shareholders; instead, profits are ploughed back into building additional generating capacity. The company encourages new customers to sign up so as to use their power bills wisely, in other words to help build additional capacity. Their customer service is exceptionally good, polite and helpful.

More recently Ecotricity has also developed a green gas plant, generating methane by biodigestion of waste. Dale has built record breaking electric vehicles, both a motorcycle and a high performance car that recently set a new world land speed record for electric vehicles.

Caring for the planet - Surely we have a duty to care for the planet on which we live? Dale Vince is certainly doing his part to reduce environmental damage. If you live in the UK you could help simply by changing your electricity and/or gas supplier to Ecotricity.

In other parts of the world you may be able to help in other ways. We can all do our part by reducing our use of energy, by walking or cycling instead of driving, by flying less often, by taking the train, insulating our homes, turning down the thermostat, showering more quickly - the list is long.

But many small actions by large numbers of people add up to a significant difference.

Making the switch - You can switch to Ecotricity online (if you use this link I'll get a partner contribution from the company). If you prefer to speak to them by phone call 08000 302 302 and quote 'SCI1' and I'll still receive the contribution.

Questions:

  • Have you heard of Ecotricity before?
  • Are you doing all you can to reduce your household and business energy use?
  • Are you using green sources of energy where available?

See also:

22 January 2013

From the beginning to atoms

The universe, Part 4
< In the beginningSeries index | Penzias, Wilson and some noise >

The universe grows larger, cooler and more complex at astonishing speed until it's a few minutes old. Further change is much slower and less dramatic. Fundamental forces and particles are generated, hydrogen and helium are formed and light is released.

The cosmic microwave background radiation
The first few minutes of the universe's existence see a huge increase in volume and a dramatic reduction in temperature. Gravity, light, and atomic forces separate from one another. And finally matter comes into existence in the form of hydrogen and helium nuclei and electrons.

More fundamentally we could say that the universe evolves from a simple, evenly distributed beginning and generates greater and greater complexities confined to smaller and smaller volumes as it expands. We'll explore this concept in a later post.

In Part 3 we discussed the beginning but also understood that we can't directly understand or observe it. A good theory of quantum gravity might help, but we don't have one yet.

So how near the beginning can we claim to have any real understanding? The answer is back to 10-43 of a second. If you want to see that as an ordinary fraction you would need to write 1 at the top with 1 followed by 43 zeroes at the bottom. So we understand the universe (in some sense) back to a very, very tiny part of a second.

What exactly do we know from that very early time?

Gravity and inflation - For one thing, gravity and the other fundamental forces may have all been of equal strength at first, with gravity separating out at 10-43 seconds. There is theoretical support for this. After gravity separated to become the very mild force it is today, the universe entered a time of extremely rapid expansion known as inflation.

This is not just something scientists have dreamed up; the observed properties of the universe can only be explained by such a rapid inflation during which it became unimaginably larger in a tiny, tiny fraction of a second. Before inflation the universe was smaller than a sub atomic particle. Inflation ended between 10-33 and 10-32 seconds, but by this time the universe was spacious (perhaps as large as a football) and packed with elementary particles that still exist in our own time - quarks, antiquarks and gluons.

How do we know all this? There are three important things that constrain what is possible.

  • Theory - Based on what we know of the later universe, theory rules out most hypotheses about the earliest eras. Only an early universe similar to what is described above could have resulted in what we see today.
  • Cosmology - Observations suggest a great deal. The cosmic background radiation (shown above) and the distribution of galaxy clusters, for example, can only be explained by inflation.
  • High energy physics experiments - By creating high energies in particle accelerators we can observe the properties and behaviour of particles in a similar state to these early phases of the universe.

Here's one more thing about inflation. If, as many think, our universe began as a quantum fluctuation, then without inflation it would have been the most transient of fluctuations and the universe would have been snuffed out almost immediately while it was still very tiny.

The electroweak epoch - The next stage in the evolution of the universe involved the strong nuclear force separating from the remaining two fundamental forces. Like the earlier events, this too happened at a very early time, around 10-34 seconds. More particles were able to condense out of the soup of energy at this stage, W bosons, Z bosons and Higgs Bosons became common. These are particles that can be generated in our most powerful accelerators today, so we are able to study them and understand them reasonably well.

The universe continued to expand and cool so that by 10-12 seconds bosons could no longer be created. 10-12 seconds is also called a picosecond (one quadrillionth of a second). Lasers with pulses as short as a picosecond are used for cutting and shaping materials, in medicine, and for removing tatoos. It's still a very brief time, but meaningful enough for real life use. Light travels just 0.3 mm in this time.

The quark, hadron and lepton epochs - The universe continued to expand and cool. After it was a picosecond old the electromagnetic and weak forces separated and the universe at this time was full of a dense quark-gluon plasma.

By the end of this epoch at around a microsecond old (one millionth of a second), the universe was cool enough that the quarks could combine to form protons, neutrons and their anti-particles. At an age of about one second the universe was cool enough for particles and anti-particles to annihilate, leaving a small excess of protons and neutrons.

As the universe expanded and cooled further and aged to about ten seconds, electrons and other leptons were also able to annihilate with their anti-particles leaving a small excess of mostly protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons.

Over the next few minutes conditions cooled to a point where atomic nuclei could form, mostly deuterium and helium with a little lithium. At this point the universe contained these nuclei, protons, electrons, and photons. After a further 380 000 years of cooling and expansion the protons and other nuclei combined with the electrons to form hydrogen and helium atoms (and some lithium atoms). This allowed the photons to move freely (the cosmic microwave background radiation), space became transparent and the earliest structures formed. These structures were simply volumes of slightly varying density and temperature. They are the first things we can 'see' directly and are shown in the illustration at the top of the article.

From this point on the universe becomes more and more recognisable to us, albeit still far hotter and denser than today. We will be able to see the rest of the story much more in terms of astronomy.


Questions: 
  • Are you surprised at the amount of change that took place in the first second?
  • Is the creation of the universe more complex than you had imagined?
  • How do you feel about a universe that started this way?

See also: 


< In the beginning | Series index | Penzias, Wilson and some noise >

07 January 2011

TECHNOLOGY - Electric vehicles with a difference

Better Place have been beavering away for some years, agreeing deals with nations and states around the world, developing the technology, making the case for their approach to electric vehicles, running demonstrations.

The Renault FluenceFinally they are ready and are buying 115 000 Renault Fluence cars for the Israeli and Danish markets. They are also installing charge points and battery swap stations in Israel and Denmark and demonstrating taxis in some other countries.

A recent news article provides plenty of information about the current situation and is well worth a look.

You can read the background in earlier articles here on AAJ (scroll down after clicking the link).

Well done to Shai Agassi and his team. Lateral thinking of this kind is what the world needs right now if we are to make any impact on fossil fuel use.

Another example of the same sort (albeit much smaller) is the story of Dale Vince and Ecotricity. Articles in The Sunday Times and BMI Voyager cover that story well.

10 May 2010

Biology and the economy

Humanity has become nothing less than a plague on the earth. The Bible calls us to be stewards of this planet, A crowd scene in Hong Kongbut instead we are well on the way to wrecking it.

A BBC News item today reports that loss of habitat and species will soon begin to have a major impact on the world economy. There is so far little evidence that governments have grasped the size of the problems or their urgency, perhaps we are paralysed like a child who has thrown a ball and broken a window. Denial is easier than taking responsibility, owning up, and attempting to make amends. This is in addition to anthropogenic climate change and other issues (pollution, overuse of water resources, dwindling mineral stocks etc).

What we face is little short of catastrophe, but we are doing so little about it. We talk about more efficient agriculture, power generation from wind, sunshine, tides, and waves, recycling of waste, but we don't yet realise that we are merely tinkering. The greatest problem is rarely discussed because it is so difficult - there are simply far too many of us sharing the surface of our small planet.

One good sign is that greater affluence is resulting in falling birthrates in the developed world. In Europe, North America, Australasia, and the developed parts of Asia, birth rates are close to or even below replacement levels. But the less developed areas of Asia and Africa and to a lesser degreee South America still have burgeoning populations.

We must do what we can to reduce the world's population. If we do not - and quickly - the world will do the job for us through steadily increasing starvation and disease. This is likely to be widespread through the developed world as well as less privileged regions.

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