The climate crisis has forced us to look at reaching net zero in short order. New technologies are emerging that can address some of this, however, without radical behavioural change by everyone, the future of our ecosystem is under severe threat. Dr David Cliff explores some of the challenges ahead.
A few years ago, climate scientists were subject to sceptics who were able to refute what has now turned out to be quite conservative predictions about climate change. Even in the wake of Cop 26, we are unlikely to see governments who are prepared to countenance the investments and organisational change needed to address an era described in history as the “Anthropocene”, where homo-sapiens materially affect their ecosystem and species we share it with by virtue of their expansion, territorial incursion and polluting technologies.
Because human lives are short, markets volatile and most Western cultures celebrate libertarianism and egocentrism, the inexorable effects on the planet that can accumulate over hundreds of years not seen by previous generations, until this one. Even now, we are subject to deniers and those who view short term gain, profit, power and the creation of their place in history as more important than this delicate habitat upon which we are all dependent.
To try to recreate the days of yore fostered by Peter the Great, for example, Vladimir Putin is suspected to have sabotaged gas pipelines (allegedly), a geopolitical ploy to place pressure upon energy markets as “special operations”, appear to be failing! The bigger picture is the amount of methane liberated into the atmosphere and its greenhouse effect being somewhat greater than produced by Germany, is lost on this short-term goal.
Closer to home, the rush by developers to cut turf on their property developments before the July cut-off (where they had to go for heat pumps in preference to gas central heating) was little short of an unethical scramble.
Then there are the short term aims of government, who interminably mess with tariffs, grants, creating short term rapid growth in parts of the renewable sector, many of which are ‘here today and gone tomorrow’. This often leaves consumers striving to be responsible stewards of the planet exposed to risk, limited protection and low supplier accountability.
Then there are the problems of technological thought paradigms. Government policy now supports heat pumps, but new technologies have come around that eclipse these. In true governmental style, once the box is ticked, ministerial attention ends and looks at the next electoral risk. We also have the foundations of elites who cannot countenance wind power on England’s green and pleasant land whilst offshore is fair game. We wouldn’t want the turbines to be caught by shotgun pellets during the grouse season!
People’s minds deal with an issue and then move on. We’ve seen this with Covid despite current statistics saying that we still have a problem for many. This often means an early adopted first solutions become the norm and seen for many years as ‘the new’. This leaves little space for ‘the newer’ that often spends years in obscurity before ultimately becoming seen as the better solution.
A classic example was adding lead to petrol to stop the phenomenon of “pinking”, damaging engine components. Within months of this being adopted in the early part of the 20th century, safer solutions were produced but were not adopted with the consequence that people have been breathing atomised lead fumes with toxic consequences over many decades. “Sink” investments often have this effect on innovation. This came to mind when I was approached by NexGen heating. As a product, it appears to be a “no-brainer”. Paper thin electrical heating film based on graphene and powered from direct current produce infrared heating. It heats people and things, not the air around them, creating environment that warm within 10 minutes or less (as opposed to 1° per hour with a heat pump). It involves no water, no maintenance, no radiators and can be built into the fabric of buildings on a new build or retrofit basis. Emitting thermal radiation close to sunlight itself has health benefits, simultaneously kills mould spores whilst leaving people with a feeling of well-being. My first exposure to their product sold it to me, as it seems to with many people and yet the company has experienced resistance from lacklustre civil servants to amend regulations to encompass the product as well as cautious local authorities and developers who are just getting their head around ‘new’ but complex heat pump technology.
Talking with Michael Beveridge, the North-East and Scotland’s technical adviser for NexGen is an education in terms of the possibilities ahead. “People find it hard to believe there is a better alternative to heat pump technology. Sometimes it’s hard to describe it without people actually experiencing it’s radiant warmth. A key challenge was sitting on a game changer that delivers a sunshine feel subtle heat people find very calming. NexGen is a graphene nano-technology which produces low resistance, low carbon heating with many benefits which include it’s low operating costs. The actual technology is a trade secret formula that is as well protected as the Coca-Cola mix. Its efficiency is peerless, it can be incorporated and hidden away in walls, ceilings and floors as a primary or secondary heating source which can be powered by solar pv, wind or battery storage. Its applications have few limitations including those of geographical location or property type”.
Without doubt, to address the planetary challenges ahead, people need to start to stop thinking ‘new’ and start thinking ‘newer’ still. Investors, politicians, bureaucrats alike are going to have to get with some of the progress of the negotiations that are around, hiding in plain sight. We have to see innovation where it occurs and fast track it. Equally, we have to have energy policies that are intelligently integrated, not just ‘one size fits all’. It’s preposterous for example to promote micro-nuclear reactors when there is no coherent policy on domestic house insulation, it’s a bit like leaded petrol really…