Does tourism trump energy needs?

Whilst driving around in my van this week, I was enjoying BBC Scotland’s reporting of Donald Trump making a fuss about off-shore windfarms being built within view of his swanky new golf course near Aberdeen. It is always amusing to hear the whining of people who think that their money gives them the right to do whatever they like. However, it did get me wondering about the balance between an area’s natural beauty and it’s industrial needs.

To kick things off, it’s important to draw a distinction between myself (a genuine appreciator of natural beauty) and someone like Mr. Trump who when he sees a beautiful landscape only sees the dollars (note-that’s dollars, not pounds) that he can rake in from it. It was after all the great man himself who has greatly compromised the natural beauty of the Aberdeenshire coast in order to build his precious golf course in the first place! Natural beauty is worth preserving for its own sake and not because of potential tourism revenues.

This debate has been going on though since the Industrial Revolution when William Blake’s ‘Satanic mills’ changed the landscape of this country for ever. The Industrial Revolution was the harbinger of modern capitalism and the rise of the modern city. These factors have changed the world forever and made many people’s lives a lot better and many people’s lives a lot worse. The Industrial Revolution swallowed up a lot of countryside through the growth of cities and the Renewable Energy Revolution requires large parts of the countryside to change.

So, where does the answer lie. Do we cover the countryside with windfarms and not worry too much about what it looks like at the end. The thing is that this question of beauty is one of perception. Personally, I think a country that makes use of its natural resources is a beautiful thing. This doesn’t mean that we just pour concrete over the countryside to our hearts’ content. Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty hard to get anything like a windfarm built anyway with all the checks and balances. Just this week, a friend of mine who works for the RSPB literally sat and watched a proposed windfarm site to see if it was in the flightpath of any bird species. Now that is commitment to the environment!

So let’s not worry too much about foreign investors who think they own the place. Scotland has an unprecedented opportunity to be at the front of something that will change the world forever. Let’s not waste that opportunity because tourists might not like it.

Icelandic Energy

I was interested to hear this week that GB is considering importing geothermal energy from Iceland to top up our own energy supplies. Iceland sits on the edge of a continental plate (hence all the volcanoes which regular European flyers will know all about). This means that heat from the earth’s crust is readily accessible and can be used to generate electricity.

With a few reservations I think that this is a great idea. All that energy being wasted on about a million Icelanders and a few sheep can’t be right. Let’s get it across here to power our tellies! Also, a lovely big construction project installing all the cabling that will be required. Admittedly, its not like the off-shore industry is particularly struggling at the moment, but another reason to get people trained up and working is good in my book.

This idea is a step in the right direction towards energy importing and exporting. Plans for a European and Middle East super-grid have been whispered for a long time and in the early part of this century it makes total sense. Solar farms in North Africa, hydro dams in Norway and yes, geothermal plants in Iceland amongst others could all contribute and brilliantly, at different times of the day. This means that the energy use hot-spots could be provided for in a sustainable manner without tonnes of coal being used. Even better, most of these energy producing resources are out of the way and not going to bother too many nimbys.

One note of warning. In my experience, governments love an easy option. By all means, let’s use Iceland’s surplus, but let’s not forget that the UK has some of the best renewable energy potential in the world, particularly in wave and hydro technology. Let’s not assume we’ve got it cracked if we do this, but let’s be inspired by Iceland’s example to do our bit feeding onto the European supergrid.

Heat Pumps-suitable for you?

Everyone knows how solar photovoltaic works; wind and wave are just as obvious and wood burners/biomass burners are just a more modern take on the oldest energy system known to man. However, heat pumps are a bit of a mystery in the renewables world, so I hope to add a bit of clarity. You might even fancy getting one yourself!

I’ll confess at the start that I am a huge heat pump fan. They are possibly the cleverest thing that mankind has thought up to efficiently manipulate a natural process for a useful purpose. First thing to learn, heat pumps DO NOT use geothermal energy. Geothermal heat comes up from the earth’s crust but is only practically accessible in countries that lie on the edges of continental plates like Iceland or Indonesia. Heat pumps use solar energy. That is, energy from the sun is beaming down on the ground all day long and the ground is absorbing the solar energy and converting it into heat energy. Now this is low-grade heat energy and you can’t o much with that so it just sits in the ground.

Now this is the clever bit. A solution with a low boiling point is pumped through the ground and absorbs this low-grade heat energy. This then boils and heats water which is used to heat your home. And to be honest, that’s pretty much it. Genius!

Running your own business

Whatever it is you do for a living, you have probably thought to yourself at some point “I could do this for myself”. Whether it would be doing a similar job but keeping all the profits for yourself, or something that is more of an interest or hobby and making some money out of it, there is something incredibly attractive about the idea of saying “I’ve had enough of doing it your way-I’m going to do it my way!”

This is a thought that I have had pretty much since I did my first shift working for my local milkman, Ron when I was but a boy of 14. Last year my wife and I decided that the time was right to take the plunge and seeing as I was working in oil and gas, it seemed natural to stay in the energy industry. Renewable technology was something that had really caught my attention and I was aware it was working for others, so I thought “Why not?”

I love running my own business. The thing that I really enjoy is the feeling that I am shaping something which could be a great success. The thing that I really hate is the feeling that I am shaping something which could be a total disaster!!!

That’s the thing about taking responsibility in running your own business, or any walk of life, really. The buck stops with you. The greater the responsibility, the greater the rewards and satisfaction of success…and the greater the repercussions of failure.

So what are some of the good things? Well, in my line of work, when I win a job it feels like a big personal victory. Someone has chosen little old me to do the job for them. Getting paid is great. You know that when the job’s done, and the customer is willing to part with his cash, that you’ve done a great job. Also, its sometimes just the little things. I love riding along in my big white van and when people notice it and look at my logo and the stuff that I do, it gives me a bit of a buzz! Sad, aren’t I?

If you’re thinking of starting up a business, think it through very carefully. Can you afford to live off a pittance for a year or more? Is there a market for the service/product you would provide? Can you live with the pressure of not knowing where your next pay-cheque is coming from?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then go for it! I don’t say that as some Alan Sugar type sitting in his ivory towers, knowing that he’s done it already. I’m very much starting up, and it could yet all go pear-shaped. Even if it does though, I won’t regret doing my own thing because there is nothing in life really worth doing unless there is at least the possibility of failure. Fail or succeed, I’ll be a better man for it, and I suppose that’s really what it’s all about.