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I would like to thank E&T for the excellent array of articles in the June and July issues on some engineering aspects of the First World War. Both my partner, who is a civil engineer, and I read them with great interest. The general public understand little of the complexities of engineering and perhaps this is one area where our profession can contribute to the wider knowledge bank during commemorative activities.
Diane Davy IEng FIET, Crewe
The articles about engineering and technology in the First World War in the July 2014 issue of E&T were poignant and interesting from the human, fiscal and technological aspects of that dreadful confrontation. However, a crucial supporter of the war effort was not covered.
Clearly the conflict was only possible in the way it played out by the use of horse power – technology for transportation being inadequate for the movement of weapons, food to supply troops, transport of wounded and the material to construct trenches for example. Several million horses were killed, a million on the Western Front.
‘Putting a Lid on it’ shows the important role of the helmet. Horses didn’t have this level of protection or ability to shelter like their human comrades.
Colin C Smith CEng MIET, by email
Being out of copyright, the ‘Michelin Tour Guide to Ypres and the Battle of Ypres’ that Vitali Vitaliev writes about in ‘Relics of the Great War’ (July 2014) is available as a free download from Project Gutenberg. The before and after pictures are amazing, as is the thought that Michelin would have commissioned such a guide so soon after the end of hostilities.
Terry Donohue, by email
Sea power not so straightforward
Never a day goes by without my regretting that successive UK governments have not seen fit to promote tidal power with the enthusiasm they lavish on wind power. Both propositions are governed by the same energy equations but the sea resource – tidal power in particular – wins hands-down because it is utterly predictable. Either resource could produce some 10 to 20 per cent of the UK’s needs.
Bernard W Hancock (Letters, July 2014) asks: why are we not developing this form of power? Well, we are; there are a few firms trying to develop feasible propositions. These are in the fast-flowing waters of Belfast Loch, Alderney Race, Pentland Firth and the very suspect Severn Barrier scheme. They might work, but do not address the question of providing large amounts of power. Only open tidal waters can do this, using multiple power generators in a similar way to wind turbines.
My own designs use the ancient waterwheel principle lying horizontally along the seabed, unseen and out of the way of storms and traffic, but finance is the stumbling block. Government support is available, but only if one has an existing company with fairly large investment capital available. Even then the level of initial government support is only 20 per cent of the project costs.
While I could finance the early prototype stage for a few thousand pounds, there would be no way forward when some millions of pounds are needed for the expensive sea trial and production phases. Attracting institutional finance is almost impossible since any worthwhile finance house needs to see a 100 per cent chance of return on investment within a short timescale. In reality there is no point in an engineer with a super idea proceeding anywhere unless they can see a way to complete a project of this magnitude.
If I gave this idea to a team of budding young engineers they would quickly turn it into a world-beating design. They would probably dream up a totally different principle of creating electrical power. But how do I give them the chance?
GD Cutler CEng MIET, Weymouth
At present millions of pounds are spent on landfill, coastal erosion and energy supply. If the landfill was made into a concrete mash (the technology is already being used) and the material was used to build coastal protection, and at the same time have tidal generators installed, three problems could be solved.
I appreciate that to build these schemes would incur large-scale civil engineering costs, but then we are already spending millions on landfill and coastal erosion.
Paul Brinklow, CEng, MIET, by email
Bernard Hancock does not take into account the possible impact on marine life by tidal forces. I understand it was this factor that contributed to the shelving of the Severn Estuary barrage scheme, the ideal location from the aspect of effective power generation.
Richard Pender IEng MIET, by email
Bernard Hancock acknowledges that tides are reversible but implies that such reversals are instantaneous and at full flow. At intervals of just over six hours the tide alternates between high and low states; at these extremes there is no tidal flow and the conditions are known as ‘slack water’.
Starting from low water the tide begins to flow causing the sea level to rise, the rate of flow gradually increasing to a peak after about three hours. The rate then diminishes to zero as the high-tide point is reached and once again slack water prevails before the tide begins to ebb, the rate of flow following a similar pattern to the incoming tide.
In the same way that wind generators become still due to lack of wind, tidal generators will also become still due to lack of water flow. The difference being that UK wind energy availability is around 30 per cent and somewhat random, while tidal energy has an availability of 42 per cent with predictable non-availability. Neither are acceptable on a standalone basis.
Lionel J White CEng MIET, by email
Cyber essentials "a good start"
The Cyber Essentials Scheme whose recent launch by the UK government you reported is a step in the right direction, but is it enough? What’s worrying is that many small businesses don’t see themselves as targets, assuming hackers will go after the big fish. The government is clearly taking steps to try and reverse this misconception and programmes like this will no doubt help raise awareness.
However, there are still some fundamental elements missing. While the scheme includes controls for boundary firewalls and Internet gateways, secure configuration, access control, malware protection, and patch management, conspicuous by its absence is continuous monitoring. While the controls included are all necessary for security, without more holistic solutions in place, they simply don’t do enough.
A robust security strategy requires 24/7 visibility into every piece of activity across the network. Not only does this allow any anomalous activity to be identified, and reacted to in real time, it also ensures there are no blind spots – as can occur with point security solutions. The Cyber Essentials Scheme is an excellent starting point for businesses to increase security, but, if it is really going to help businesses protect themselves from today’s barrage of threats, it may need some work.
Ross Brewer, VP and MD for international markets, LogRhythm, by email
Downside of smart meters
As John Spiller points out (Letters, July), the savings for the consumer associated with smart meters will be somewhat insignificant in relation to the capital outlay. That, however, disguises the true purpose of the energy industry, which is more to do with smoothing demand versus capacity.
Having to keep generating capacity on standby to suit the finishing time for ‘EastEnders’, for example, is one of the chief problems and adds to costs. And how will smart meters achieve that? By the mechanism of cost, reducing consumption at peak times by making it unaffordable.
Hence the generating capacity will be further reduced to a point where peak-time demand couldn’t be met even if we could afford it. I will not be having a smart meter!
Graham Evans CEng MIET, by email
Nature of the beast
The danger posed by the design of most British 13A plugs (Letters, July 2014) is rarely mentioned. Unplugged and left lying on the floor the three metal pins invariably end up facing upwards. I know it should not happen but, universal law being what it is, it does. In some circumstances – irons unplugged to cool down for example – it is inevitable. An ageing population making more frequent trips to the bathroom in the dark is a serious accident waiting to happen; I write from experience.
The design of German domestic plugs, with a cylindrical body, cord one end, smooth and rounded metal contacts facing the other way, makes such a danger impossible. I know German plugs left lying on the floor in the dark are still hazardous but without spear-shaped upwards-facing points are far less of a danger. It would appear that the British designers concentrated rather more on the electrical aspects (shuttered sockets etc) than the physical nature of the beast.
Michael Bacon CEng MIET, Watford
Making solar look good
Martin Cotterell (Comment, July 2014) highlights the need for rooftop photovoltaic arrays to be attractive as well as safe and efficient. I have a 2.5kW system installed on a hip roof, and it is a continuing source of disappointment to me that the ugly sawtooth outline of the 1.6m by 1.0m panels at hip ridges cannot be softened by adding triangular units – either dummy or active – because apparently no one makes them.
Another issue is that non-domestic installations panels must not lie within 1m of an “external edge of that roof”. Nick Boles, the planning minister, states that “the interpretation of the regulations is a matter for the local planning authorities”.
Many industrial properties have multiple ridges, which planning authorities regard as “external edges” despite there being more roof valleys and ridges beyond. This puts a limit on the number of panels.
This approach will make many potentially viable installations non-starters because a cost-effective installation demands optimum use of roof area. It is little surprise that we are getting PV panel farms on green-field sites instead.
JR Ball MIET, Hale
As the principal writer of the electronic article surveillance (EAS) unit within the City and Guilds 1853 modern apprenticeship qualification framework for electronic emergency and security systems, I never failed to be both amazed and amused by the wide and diverse use of tagging systems. These need not only be used for mainstream asset protection but could equally range from stopping the theft of babies in maternity hospitals to monitoring mass murderers in mental institutions.
Recently I visited a major national retail outlet and bought a small item that I scanned at the self-service checkout. Having left the shop the alarm sounded because the inbuilt ‘soft tag’ had not been ‘killed’ by the barcode reader. I entered a different retailer with the same item in my pocket and sure enough it set off their alarm.
What struck me was a new innovative use for tagging so that the general public could keep an eye on serial shoplifters and deter their criminal activities. We could tag such offenders so when they entered shopping areas they would be identified by the alarms. The technologies to put this into effect are immediately available. Certainly we do now have policies that allow us to name and shame repeat offenders. However I suspect that the hurdles presented by equal rights and harassment legislation will be rather more difficult to overcome than the technology solutions.
Gerard Honey MIET, Consett
Sign up to support hydroponics
In the absence of derisory laughter from the IET ranks about my suggestion in your letters pages that better use could be made of hydroponic technology for carbon capture, and even one supportive letter, I’ve decided to get serious.
I’ve written to the UK Energy Minister (long way that’s going to get me) and carbonneutral.com, but no reply from either after two weeks. So I’ve set up www.gas2green.org to try and muster some interest.
I’m just looking for some folk with the right connections to say “That’s a good idea, let’s get it going”. I was wondering if I could use E&T to broadcast it a bit and maybe get some traction.
Mark Everson, by email
I read Anthony Bainbridge’s comment, “Let us not pass up the opportunity to serve the budding entrepreneurs who will be paying our state pensions in the future”, (Letters, December 2013) with a degree of cynicism.
I paid my pension contributions for 35 years and when I turned 65 received my pension of £155 every four weeks. It was frozen at that figure and I am still receiving £155 at the age of 92, whereas I believe the standard UK pension is about three times that figure.
My situation applies to all expats in the former dominions of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and in South Africa where I have lived since 1956. The reason given is that there is no ‘reciprocity’ agreement between the UK and ex-dominions.
I served in the British Army for four years during the war as a captain in the REME and never missed paying my retirement contributions after I returned to civilian life. I fought for my country against the Germans and Japanese, but if I now lived in Germany or Japan I would receive the full amount. The case was taken to both Houses of Parliament and rejected by both as well as on appeal. It was then taken to Europe where it was again rejected. Where is the justice?
Dick Pope CEng, by email
Where are Britain's trolley buses?
Working in an unrelated industry sector, perhaps I’ve missed something fundamental as to why we don’t use trolley buses in the UK. The vehicle is pretty much the same as any other bus, save for an electric motor and the power-collection system, so technology, design and build costs should be competitive with conventional vehicles.
Unlike trams and like every other bus, a trolley bus can run on normal roads, so construction costs must be significantly lower and disruption minimised. The power-supply system is no more complex than the overhead tram systems and hybrid and battery technology can be employed to allow the vehicles to cross complicated junctions, travel through underpasses, under bridges and a whole host of other areas where it would be better for the vehicle to be self-powered.
Robert J Hayes, CEng, FIET, by email
I came across an article in a North Wales regional newspaper describing an event, the like of which I seem to have heard far too often recently, in which a lithium-ion battery in an electronic device overheated leading to an explosion of its contents. This happened on a bus and the user suffered burns.
I am retired and travel on buses myself, and will in future think twice before sitting next to someone using a device. I do not want to be caught up in a lithium-ion fireball. Has the industry put financial pressures ahead of rigorous lab testing of new power sources before unleashing them on the consumer market, or are these just isolated, unfortunate incidents?
Paul Bernet MIET, by email
A news story in the July 2014 issue of E&T said that a section of China’s new Lanzhou-Ürümqi railway near the Qilianshan Tunnel is the highest rail track in the world at 3,607m above sea level. As several readers have pointed out, railways across the Andes operate at heights more than 4,000m above sea level but involve zigzags and reversals that result in low operating speeds. The Chinese track is in fact the world’s highest high-speed railway.
Also in July, Enigma was not a Second World War codebreaking machine invented at Bletchley Park as suggested in ‘The First Intelligence War’, but the German enciphering and deciphering machine first produced in the 1920s whose later ciphers were broken by work at Bletchley Park.