Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Wednesday 07/01/09

Frozen pipes in the caravan again. We’d even put the Calor gas fire on at 2am to ensure some heat to prevent the pipes icing up – but to no avail.

The disruption of Russian gas supplies to Europe is somewhat alarming. Given that fossil fuels are either fast dwindling, bad for the environment or in the hands of despotic governments, there’s an urgent need to do something pro-active. We have three choices – massive investment in clean renewable energy, going nuclear in a big way, or a massive reduction in consumption, or possibly a combination of all three.

The boffins say that if we keep using power the way we are, then given the current state of technology there will never be enough wind, wave or solar power to provide anywhere near all of industry’s needs. That means that the renewable power option must come at the price of dramatic reductions in demand, which I can’t see happening unless power is priced astronomically high. The upshot is that renewable power can only ever be a sticking plaster till we can find a better alternative, which in my mind is can only be nuclear (we’re quite lucky in the Bristol area as we have 3 Magnox reactors in the area). However, we could all have a go at going off-grid, being the terminology for reducing reliance on the state for power to an absolute minimum by becoming as self-sufficient as possible.

I’m currently reading a book called How To Live Off-Grid by Nick Rosen. While generally a good handbook on the practicalities of going off-grid, it does get bogged down a bit by leading you up blind alleys and Rosen tending to dwell on irrelevant detail of his travels. He does, however, talk to real off-griders about their experiences, the lessons they learned and their tips.

Given we heat the caravan with a wood burner and use bottled Calor gas for cooking and heating water, the next step would be to go to paraffin lamps and candles for lighting. The final step would be some kind of generator for stuff that has a reasonably high or sustained electricity consumption – such as the fridge, kettle, TV, laptops, etc. I suppose we could get a gas fridge and boil water in an old fashioned kettle on the cooker, which leaves only the TV, Hi-Fi and satellite systems. The laptop can be charged at work and I could limit my home use to 1 battery charge in the evening. Ditching the laptop at home completely would be impossible though – there’s going off-grid and then there’s going Stone Age.

The perennial problems with power, however, are:

  • What’s cheap and reasonably sustainable (i.e. wood) is more polluting than coal or oil and will not remain sustainable if everyone decides to utilise it,
  • What’s really renewable and sustainable (wave, wind and solar) is hideously inefficient with the current state of technology and could never produce enough power on its own.

Domestic scale wind and solar power is only suitable for emergency use or trickle-charging batteries. Unless you happen to live in a water mill, there’s no real alternative to a good old fossil fuel infernal combustion engine driving a generator.

On the boat I could use the boat’s engine to drive an alternator which provided 240V AC when running, or charged a large bank of batteries, which in turn produced 12V for the lighting system and developed a decent 240V AC supply through an inverter. However, most of the time I was hooked up to the shore AC connection at an average cost of £20 a month. Calor gas for the cooker cost me about £15 every couple of months and diesel for the central heating was about £90 a month in winter.

Being as self-sufficient as possible in terms of power is something Hay and I are going to build into the house design – finances permitting. The only problem is that the technology is both expensive and (as previously mentioned) relatively inefficient. Luckily Hay’s work involves her having access to all the latest research and cutting edge developments in sustainable energy production and conservation.

One disadvantage we have in Old Sodbury is that we’re not connected to the national gas supply, so the standard form of heating is oil. One idea Hay came up with is planting the field with birch and willow and coppicing it every few years for a sustainable supply of wood which could then be used in a wood-chip boiler. There are grants available for coppicing in this manner. Another technology we quite like is burying pipes in the field to generate geothermal heating. The list is endless – boreholes for our own water supply, self composting toilets, water recycling, etc. I guess the priority has to be being able to comfortably survive winter power cuts, which I fear are soon to become the norm in the not too distant future. Even oil heating can’t survive a power cut without a generator to drive the various pumps, so wood burners are the only viable self-contained solution.

Next we’ll be buying an arsenal of guns, wearing camouflage combats and stock-piling food for the 3rd Dark Age. We could always start up the Popular Front for the Liberation of Old Sodbury and have a go at those bastards in the Sodbury Old People’s Front?

The situation in Gaza is rather desperate. The Israelis are accused of using disproportionate force in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israeli territory, but when a wasp is incessantly buzzing around you and occasionally stinging, the temptation to swat it out of existence is entirely understandable. I don’t personally believe that proportionality in war is a valid concept. You set out to achieve your objectives by any means possible – or risk losing.

I find it impossible to feel any sympathy for Hamas when its publicly avowed intent is turning Israel into dust. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the initial setting up of the Israeli state, we are where we are and the arrow of time goes only in one direction.

Unfortunately Hamas has no qualms in hiding behind civilians in order to carry out its rocket attacks and then cry ‘foul’ when hit back. There’s no denying the most recent cause of conflict; Hamas publicly stating they were not renewing the ceasefire and then launching of over 70 rockets into Israeli territory. Hardly surprising then that Jehova is smiting the Philistines for all He’s worth. I was listening to some strident female in the Syrian government condemning ‘Israeli aggression’. Since when was hitting someone around the head for aiming rockets at you interpreted as aggression? The woman is completely divorced from reality if she thinks anyone would accept rocket attacks as polite calling cards.

Yes I feel sorry for the Palestinian civilians, but this is what happens when you vote terrorists into government - it’s one of the drawbacks of democracy. All the hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to change Hamas – it merely plays into their hands. It seems Hamas have attended the Robert Mugabe School of Truth and Logic.

It’s rather strange though that humanitarian aid is not getting into Gaza, but weapons seem to be getting in across the Egyptian border without any trouble whatsoever. It’s also strange that the PLO has over $50bn in investments around the world, but it doesn’t seem to feed through to where it’s needed for creating jobs.

It’s ironic when you consider that Hamas was at one time sponsored by Mossad to provide a counterbalance to the PLO. It has now come home to bite Israel in the bum big time. When you look at the organisations that comprise the membership of the PLO you can’t help but think of that memorable scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

  • The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
  • The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)
  • The Palestinian People's Party (PPP)
  • The Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)
  • The Arab Liberation Front (ALF)
  • The Palestine Democratic Union (Fida)
  • The Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF)
  • The Palestinian Arab Front (PAF)

I wonder whether anything can be learned from Northern Ireland and applied to Gaza? Perhaps Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley should be parachuted in.

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