Archives for category: Renewable energy

Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including London, Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters, using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

In Birmingham? As David Bailey tweeted whilst working in Venice:

MBNA are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their boats currently using diesel fuel. Change is on its way:

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

Will the council and/or a Birmingham entrepreneur see the potential of waterway transport from the Soho Loop development?

Artist’s impression

Will Soho Loop’s new canal-side community be able to travel from their ‘variety of energy efficient homes’ to work or visit the city centre a mile away, by a cleaner quieter form of transport? 






Local author Christine Parkinson, who will be speaking about the United Nations’ role in addressing climate change, is a biologist who worked in medical research before coming to this city where she has co-founded regeneration projects, the most well-known being the Jericho Employment Project based in Balsall Heath.

Her latest book: “Three Generations Left? Human Activity and the Destruction of the Planet”, outlines how so-called progress has combined with a host of other factors, including free trade, a market economy, population increase and the development of a super-rich minority owning most of the wealth of the planet, to bring about global warming and climate change which could lead to a loss of many species and mass human extinction before the end of this century.

Her target audience is aged 15-18 and any adult new to the subject.

It is quite constructive, despite its title and her positive recommendations for change were recently posted on an economic and political website and the West Midlands New Economics Blog.

A former deputy head’s response was: “I sat and read for the whole afternoon. All the time saying how much I agree with this and how it should be reading matter for every sixth former in the land!”

A UNA reviewer called her book a wake-up call, continuing: “A succession of well-researched and wide-ranging facts substantiate its warning. She addresses readers who are likely to remain sceptical of her predictions, piling fact upon fact, ending with the entreaty, “Look at the evidence”, and adding:

“However sceptical the reader may be, a close consideration of the evidence set out by Dr Parkinson must surely cause such a reader to reconsider his or her opinion”.

“Three generations Left” can be ordered direct from the publishers, using this link. Any profits from the sale of this book will be used to fund the work of Dr Parkinson’s son Ben, amongst slum children in Uganda.  Last year was a difficult one for this project (Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network), due to the devaluation of the pound post-Brexit.





BFOE’s community share offer closes on June 2nd

Birmingham Friends of the Earth own The Warehouse in Digbeth, operating it as a not-for-profit business whilst campaigning for the improvement of the local environment. They want to raise investment capital to refurbish their building, which will lead to an increase in the financial, social and environmental value of that space:

  • there will be more space to let that is of a higher quality; this will allow them to increase the amount of space they provide and to maintain or increase the amount they charge per square foot for that space;
  • they will be looking to exceed the legal requirements (Building Regulations Part L) for conserving energy in their building by installing more insulation and more efficient glazing;
  • and they will be more accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility and offer more community meeting facilities. The work will also allow them to reduce administration costs and focus more on meeting their social goals.

See the video and read the well-produced share offer summary complete with plans. Then:

  1. Invest! If you are able to please invest whatever you can between £250 and £10,000. If you have some money in an ISA earning 0.5% interest it could be doing a lot of good. If you know you are going to invest, please do so as soon as possible as this helps them to demonstrate it’s a viable prospect with gathering momentum
  2. Tell everybody you can about it – when you’re campaigning and in your everyday life. Friends, relatives, colleagues, rich uncles – there are a lot of people that would like the chance to make an ethical investment, the challenge they have is getting the word out to enough people. It’s not a donation so they’re not asking people to give them their money, it’s an investment
  3. Support the social media campaignshare, like, retweet anything you see about the share offer – this will help them to reach as many people as possible.




David Lowe (Commercial Boat Operators Association) sends news of a noteworthy event, which preceded the ‘Hydrogen and Fuel Cells into the Mainstream’ Conference, covered on this site in February.

The programme brought together 11 European micro FC-CHP manufacturers into a common analysis framework to deliver trials across all of the available fuel cell CHP technologies. Fuel cell micro-CHP trials will be installed and actively monitored in dwellings across the range of European domestic heating markets, dwelling types and climatic zones, which will lead to an invaluable dataset on domestic energy consumption and micro-CHP applicability across Europe.

By learning the practicalities of installing and supporting a fleet of fuel cells with real customers, ene.field partners will take the final step before they can begin commercial roll-out. An increase in volume deployment for the manufacturers involved will stimulate cost reduction of the technology by enabling a move from hand-built products towards serial production and tooling.

The ene.field project brings together over 30 utilities, housing providers and municipalities to bring the products to market explore different business models for micro-CHP deployment.

It is the largest European demonstration project of the latest smart energy solution for private homes, micro-CHP. Up to 1,000 households across Europe will be able to experience the benefits of this new energy solution. The five-year project uses modern fuel cell technology to produce heat and electricity in households and empowers them in their electricity and heat choices. It is co-funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking  and brings together 27 partners, including 10 European manufacturers who will make the products available across 11 European countries.

“A step change in the volume of fuel cell micro-CHP deployment in Europe and a meaningful step towards commercialisation of the technology”.




npw-coverAllan Leighton, Chair of the Canal & River Trust, in his foreword to the C&RT’s Northern Powerhouse Waterways prospectus (cover, left), outlines the potential of the region’s waterways as a resource for all to use, a contribution to competitive, resilient and congenial cities and routes to sustainable growth.

There are proposals to provide an alternative to road freight by upgrading fifty miles of commercial waterways to the EuroClass II standard and developing the inland Port of Leeds to create a corridor from the Humber to Leeds.

With relatively low levels of investment our waterways could be brought back into use as an essential part of our freight transport network.

CRT also recognises that waterways have a significant role to play in building energy and environmental resilience and supporting the transition to low carbon economies.

Waterways can contribute to the low carbon economy. The water flowing through the City Regions via the Northern Powerhouse Waterways contains enough thermal energy to produce around 200MW of energy. This energy can be extracted using water-sourced heat pumps to provide an incredibly efficient form of heating and cooling, reducing electricity demand and balancing electricity supply.


A number of businesses now use this low carbon energy source to heat and cool their buildings. The Hepworth, Wakefield (above), on the waterfront of a length of the Calder which has been ‘canalised’, is using this energy source to heat and cool its art gallery building.

Waterways provide an important wildlife route and mitigate habitat loss, also assisting the genetic exchange of plants.

With careful design waterways can provide sustainable options for drainage from future developments that would otherwise not be viable due to flood risk concerns. The managed nature of canal water levels, and the ability of waterways to accept surface water run-off, could also assist flood mitigation measures.

Will the Midlands Engine work with C&RT to Increase the use of our waterways for commercial purposes by waterborne freight and of our towpaths and riverside paths for recreation or travelling to work? Such a partnership could make a valuable contribution to improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions – a key consideration as air quality in Birmingham is exceeding legal limits, causing chronic ill-health, loss of productivity and substantially increasing the NHS’ workload.




Professor Leslie Jesch set up a solar energy laboratory at Birmingham University which attracted PhD students from all over the world

Leslie Jesch

Ed: revisiting the ‘Solar Pioneers of Bournville’ page, in order to insert information received from a local resident, I noticed a rise in the numbers of viewers in August and that the Guardian search engine accounted for many of these. The link led to an obituary for Professor Jesch, who had made such a contribution to the pioneering work of the Bournville Village Trust. So many had asked whether he was still with us and I could only say that no record of his death had been found. To avoid breaching copyright only a few paragraphs about his time in Birmingham are reproduced or summarised on this website, but the article may be read in full here:

Judith Jesch: Tuesday 2 August 2016 

After an MSc from the University of Pennsylvania (1962), Leslie did a PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Leeds (1970), which brought about a change of both career and country when he took up a lectureship in mechanical engineering at the University of Birmingham.

At Birmingham, Leslie developed his expertise in solar energy and set up a solar energy laboratory, which thrived and attracted PhD students from all over the world. Realising its potential, Leslie became active in the International Solar Energy Society, becoming its vice-president and receiving a special service award from the UK branch in 1999.

He stimulated many European collaborations through ISES-Europe, of which he became president. He set up the Franklin Company, which provided consultancy in solar energy systems, and edited and published several solar journals, notably Sun at Work in Europe, giving work and a launch pad to many of his students. Leslie also wrote a monograph (Solar Energy Today, 1981) and a range of technical papers.

In Birmingham, my parents lived in Rowheath Solar Village in Bournville, which he had helped to design. In retirement, they pursued their lifelong interests in theatre, concerts and travelling, and their garden parties were legendary. Leslie is survived by my mother Katherine, who like him anglicised her name when in the US, and myself.

Endnote from  the TES obituary:

Ljubomir Jankovic, professor of zero carbon design at Birmingham City University, recalls “join[ing] the Solar Energy Lab at Birmingham University” in 1984 to start a PhD on the project, “where my PhD supervisor, Leslie Jesch, had designed passive and active solar systems. This development was the largest of [its] kind in northern Europe and the houses were affordable for first-time buyers.”

It was from Dr Jesch, Professor Jankovic went on, that he acquired “a strong passion for improving building performance through capturing solar energy” and learned the value of sheer hard work – carrying out “computational experiments and data analysis all day and all night” – in “striving to make a better world”.

Dr Jesch was eminent in this field, becoming Director and Vice President of the UK-Section of the International Solar Energy Society and Editor of Sunworld. See eleven references in a history of the first 30 years of UK-ISES here.



jc brighton 2

As over 6000 people flock to Corbyn’s Leeds meeting and Brighton saw a full house yesterday, we reflect on a message from a Hall Green reader, who writes: David Blanchflower is now turning on Corbyn. Murphy did earlier.

Blanchflower: bow to the markets, “the bond and equity markets would eat JC for lunch”.

David Blanchflower was never really ‘on board’. He writes: “I was not a Corbynista. the new Labour leaders are not economists and are going to have to learn fast: and in cororate=pleasing vein: “They will have to accept the realities of capitalism and modern markets, like it or not.”

Ethics? Principles? Election is the only thing that matters

He continued saying that three-quarters of Corbyn’s MPs, who doubt his leadership qualities, rightly passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence against him: “He should have quit. He doesn’t have enough MPs who support him to be able to form a complete shadow cabinet. Incidentally, if there were even the slightest prospect that he could become prime minister, the bond and equity markets would eat him for lunch”.

Is the lobbyist for Pfizer and Amgen (clouded reputations) a better candidate?

Blanchflower, with the markets’ blessing, thinks so: “This is why I am supporting Owen Smith as the only leader who can prevent a disaster. He has the support of enough MPs to form a credible opposition”.

Richard Murphy: leaving with grace and truthno obeisance to market forces here

“Whatever Labour’s pragmatic need might be it must be infused with a new sense of idealism. If not it is wasting its time and those fighting its internal wars will end up with the prize of perpetual irrelevance . . .

“In whatever the roles that I have, as economist, tax campaigner, chartered accountant or dad, it was clear that Labour offered “austerity light” at that 2015 election . . .

“And no wonder so many who were seeking real difference rallied to support Corbyn and his distinctly different approach to politics. It’s not clause IV socialism. But nor is it the pro-market fundamentalism coupled to the myth of choice that had dominated the offerings of both parties for decades. Corbyn seemed like a breath of fresh air to many.

“Labour has to be an opposition. It must have a substantially different approach to the Conservatives. It must embrace the counter-cyclical investment that is so desperately needed at present . . .

“In the process it would put finance and big business in its proper place, where it is treated as very significant, but not the real power in the land.

“It must say that it welcomes migration if those who come are willing to embrace the UK as their home. Learning English, offering a skill and being willing to work where work is needed can be and should be the conditions of seeking to live in this country. Migration would be a contract, not a right, refugees and asylum status apart. Norway has done this; so should we.

“The party also has to say that outside the EU it would have the ability to create a long-term vision for a sustainable future, using (if necessary) the power of the Bank of England to create money to invest for the long term at a time when interest rates are (and are likely to remain) exceptionally low – invest in housing, business, sustainable energy and (perhaps most of all) people, who should have a right to debt-free education”.

On 25th-26th May 2016, Millennium Point, Birmingham, UK, the University of Birmingham will be hosting a technical conference on the progress of fuel cell & hydrogen. The conference will showcase the latest fuel cell & hydrogen research and new developments, trends and deployment issues. It is the only UK technical platform and showcase for academia and industry to interact and present new trends and results to each other.

2016 will be the 3rd annual FCH2 Technical Conference hosted by the National EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Fuel Cells and their Fuels (CDT) – a collaboration between University of Birmingham, University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, University College London and Imperial College London. The conference will host themes covered by industry and academia, such as:

  • fuel cells – materials and processes
  • hydrogen production, storage and infrastructure
  • socio-economics, marketing and strategy
  • current fuel cell related projects
  • public outreach and engagement

It is also a collaboration between the CDT and H2FC Supergen Hub, a national research council funded hub that evaluates and demonstrates the role of hydrogen and fuel cell research in the UK energy landscape and links this to the wider landscape internationally in addition to studying and exploiting the impact of hydrogen and fuel cells in low carbon energy systems.

There will be opportunities for brokerage, partnering and networking with others in the industry, researchers and academia, concerning new developments, trends and issues of technological deployment.

Registered delegates are welcome to attend the industry brokerage and partnering event and the conference dinner on the afternoon and evening 25th May 2016, respectively.

Register here.




So said one of Birmingham’s most active, well-informed and caring citizens last night.  For the environment and so much more . . .

barrow cadbury blog2 logoHe is referred to the Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Economic Justice Programme which is “keen to build learning to strengthen local economies and to share best practice between a range of sectors, but particularly across local authorities”.

barrow cadbury blog graphic3 KL

The economic and social references above do not even refer to the undeniable environmental benefits of vastly reduced transport of goods and to people in this area beset by premature deaths attributed to illegal levels of air pollution. To read the whole article go to the Barrow Cadbury Trust blog.

Localisation is a ‘solutions multiplier’ with political implications, reducing CO2 emissions, energy use and all kinds of waste, creating meaningful and secure employment and rebuilding the connections between people – and between people and their local environment by:

  • local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains,
  • linking local needs to local resources,
  • developing community and local capacity,
  • providing services tailored to meet local needs
  • and decentralising appropriate democratic and economic power

A few of the localising initiatives outlined:

Finance – where 7600 credit unions are outperforming the big banks. Business – where 30,000 small businesses in 130 American cities have formed alliances, some becoming part of larger networks, such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Alliances (BALLE). And food – where, in the ‘supermarket economy’, the farmer gets 10% of what we pay, or less, but gets 50% in the local food co-op and 100% in the farmers’ market.

In the vitally important but vastly neglected agriculture sector, studies have shown that ten times more food per acre is produced on small diversified farms and, by shortening the distance to the buyer, waste of food, refrigeration, preservatives, packaging, energy, irradiation and advertising is reduced or eliminated, the farmer earns more and the customer pays less.

the resilience imperative coverA co-founder of Localise West Midlands, Pat Conaty, makes the case for replacing the paradigm of limitless economic growth with a more decentralized, cooperative, steady-state economy in The Resilience Economy, which promotes:

  • Energy sufficiency
  • Local food systems
  • Low-cost financing
  • Affordable housing and land reform
  • Democratic ownership and sustainability

Karen Leach, co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands writes:

“This extreme vulnerability of the global economy to trade developments illustrates clearly the perils of an entirely globalised system that removes local economies’ resilience in meeting their own needs.”

As governments cut funding for basic needs while spending billions on global infrastructure for transport trade and weapons, caring and intelligent people worldwide are finding alternatives which promote economic prosperity, social harmony and environmental sustainability.


bham 2 green commission logo Birmingham’s Green Commission reported that people from public and private sector industries,  transport policy, energy, fleet management, developers and planners attended the launch of the Council’s Blueprint for Low Carbon Fuel Infrastructure.

The Blueprint, developed by Element Energy, identifies the key priorities for the refuelling and recharging infrastructure needed to support growing fleets of low and ultra-low carbon vehicles. It covers electric, hydrogen, (bio)methane and LPG vehicles, and has been developed in close consultation with fleet operators active in the Birmingham area. Thanks to the evidence base aggregated for the Blueprint, several projects are already underway or in preparation – from LPG taxis, to gas station, and hydrogen buses. Transport for London reports that the city now has a fleet of eight hydrogen fuel buses running on route RV1 between Covent Garden and Tower Gateway. Hydrogen fuel buses emitting nothing but water into the air.

A Shirley engineer brought the work of Intelligent Energy to our attention. Their powerful hydrogen fuel cell technology is used ‘across a diverse range of applications’, providing proof in the field of how their fuel cells can be used to reduce carbon emissions while providing clean, silent, always-on power, without the need for subsidy. He pointed out that though an electric car can only go so far before needing to refuel – and charging takes hours – a hydrogen fuel cell behaves like electricity and can refuel in a few minutes at a hydrogen pump.

In the West Midlands, Coventry University is noted for its research and development in this and other automotive fields. Note its ‘spin off’ microcab business, its hydrogen car and a developing network of refuelling stations in Coventry, Birmingham, Swindon and Glamorgan.

hydrogen2 filling stations europe

Boats running on hydrogen are already used on Amsterdam’s canals, a city that is working on a hydrogen filling facility. The ever-expanding network of hydrogen filling stations in Europe was mapped in 2013 – above.

Prof Rex Harris, engineering (metallurgy, rare earths), Birmingham University, and his team, have pioneered the hydrogen-fuelled barge with their prototype, the Ross Barlow (below). See official site: and

ross barlow annotatedHydrogen vehicles are travelling by road and canal and work is ongoing in the field of rail travel – the development and design of a hydrogen-hybrid locomotive. Concerns about energy security and increasing diesel prices have prompted the railway industry to explore alternative fuel sources. Hydrogen is one of these – a promising alternative to diesel – an energy carrier which can be made from several feedstocks, and when combusted with oxygen, creates only water and heat or, if utilised in a fuel cell, also produces electrical energy.

hydrailHydrail design proposed at the 2012 International Hydrail Conference at the University of Birmingham:


In Development and design of a narrow-gauge hydrogen-hybrid locomotive, a paper published in the Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit January 2016, the authors (University of Birmingham) describe the design methodology for a prototype narrow-gauge hydrogen fuel cell locomotive in order to demonstrate a proof of the concept of using hydrogen technology for railway motive power. As far as the authors know, Hydrogen Pioneer, the Railway Challenge Team’s vehicle, is the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive. It successfully completed all the physical performance challenges or requirements set by the IMechE for any contending team through which the proof of the concept of a hydrogen-hybrid locomotive was established.

bham 2air pollution

There are serious concerns about the combustion of diesel – the primary fuel for road, canal and railway motive power – releasing emissions at the point of use. These concerns are leading to increasing regulation and possible prosecution in places such as Birmingham where the limits are regularly breached, leading to mounting ill-health and estimated thousands of premature deaths.

Air Quality News reports that opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue of UK air pollution in Parliament during PMQs (March 16).

He said that it was the “sad truth” that 500,000 people will die “because of this country’s failure to comply with international law on air pollution”, citing a recent Royal College of Physicians report that this costs economy £20 billion a year.

Mr Corbyn called on the government to act “to make us comply with international law and, above all, help the health of the people of this country”.

We hope he will support the development of hydrogen fuelled vehicles which emit nothing but water into the air.