Letters to the editor: volume 16, issue 6
Image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash
From the July 2021 issue of E&T, readers’ letters covering the challenges of charging large numbers of electric vehicles, digital ID, domestic hot water storage and more.
Refuelling the cars of the future
As I queued at a local filling station, waiting for a petrol pump to become free, I pondered how the process will work when most cars are rechargeable. In cities, millions of cars are parked on the streets overnight, often in areas where it may take some time to find a free space. Clearly, the majority of residential street parking will have to be wired for recharging at huge capital cost.
For long journeys, motorway and trunk road filling stations will require large areas to accommodate cars taking hours to recharge. Even if space is available, it will mean concreting over green fields. In plain terms, this is all crazy!
Surely, there are two practical solutions, both of which would retain the conventional filling station philosophy: either switching to hydrogen, or using replaceable battery packs. The latter would require a standard design of leased battery pack, with a mechanised handling system which would slide the pack into the vehicle from the one side, ejecting the discharged pack from the other.
Of course, this would require car manufacturers to agree the standard design, which may be the biggest challenge of all.
Dave Neale MIET
Climate change realism
Alongside the Covid pandemic, the issue of climate change has become endemic across the media of the UK, often with the sentiment ‘Every little helps’, covering everything from making your own compost to installing an expensive heat pump. Very little reference is ever made to the actual cost-benefit of these ideas because we have now reached a position where anything that can be linked, however tenuously, to combatting climate change is uncritically viewed as a Very Good Thing.
It is vital that we keep a sense of proportion and realism about the very limited role that the UK can play in the battle against climate change on a global level. The crucial statistic, which is seldom mentioned, is that the UK contributes only a minuscule 1 per cent of all global emissions while America and China together account for a massive 45 per cent. It is obvious that our efforts in the UK will always be insignificant, even if we were able to reduce emissions to zero.
A more realistic and measurable objective would be to concentrate on directly improving the nation’s air quality. It is scandalous that there are far too many areas where this is consistently below safe levels and creating health problems for thousands of people. Any benefits to climate change resulting from this might be an added bonus, but always a very nebulous one. Otherwise we shall continue to be misled, by those with vested interests, into approving large-scale ‘green energy’ projects, which are massively expensive and contribute very little to the problem of climate change but lead to the loss of swathes of agricultural land and destruction of our precious rural environment.
Roy W Sach CEng MIET
Great Totham, Essex
Don’t rush into digital ID solutions
As a long-time participant in the biometrics and identification technologies sector, my attention was caught by the story ‘EU-wide digital wallet and ID to be unveiled this week’ on the E&T website. The need for digital identity and verifying its binding to an individual in all kinds of use cases has, of course, gained massive traction during the current pandemic. I look forward to seeing the consultation on technical standards for this initiative. The rush to embrace digital identity risks building its foundations on sand, as we increasingly divorce the virtual from the physical.
Today’s citizen ID infrastructures are still reliant on physical documents, many of which are easily counterfeited and compromised due to the priority of cost over security and integrity. ID fraud is already a massive and growing enterprise, and careful thinking is needed to ensure our newly emerging digital ID infrastructures don’t enshrine a whole new ID fraud trojan horse.
Martin George MIET
Networking with big ideas
As a retired IET member seeking a home for what I’m told is a valid climate change ‘big idea’, it occurs to me that given the exceptional expertise of members and fellows it is likely that others will find themselves nursing similar ideas but lacking the time/money/resources/connections to make them reality.
Those same obstacles have surely caused many inventions to die over the centuries without ever seeing the light of day, and we can but wonder what progress was lost. Today, for the first time, we face truly existential challenges and must surely seek solutions wherever they are. It occurs to me what a fantastic application of the IET’s extraordinary position it would be, to offer ‘matchmaking’ able to link members’ ideas with commercial operators who could make them reality. The IET has a fantastic network, and such an initiative is a real opportunity to leverage that network for greater good.
I’m proud to be a member of this great institution, and it would mean a lot to see the IET enabling otherwise-stifled innovation to see daylight. What do other members think?
Mark Everson CEng MIET
Who needs hot water storage?
Jonathan Barker (Letters, June 2021) asks where hot water storage will be fitted into homes that currently use gas-fired boilers. In September 2019 we bought a three-storey town house that had a recently installed gas boiler with about six years left on its warranty, but still had the original 25-year-old indirectly heated sealed water tank on the top floor. Sure enough, after about three months the tank developed an internal leak in the heating coil so the boiler circuit lost pressure and had to be topped up daily.
The obvious solution of replacing the tank was expensive but then we thought 'why do we need a storage tank?' We already had an electric shower on the ground floor which we used in preference to the bath and mixer shower on the top floor; also, I knew about instant electric hot water taps that can provide hot water up to about 50°C and, of course, cold water. These taps are considerably cheaper than boiling water taps.
We had the faulty hot water tank removed and all the pipes capped off, giving us some extra storage space that’s extremely useful because we don’t have an attic. All the basin/sink mixer taps were replaced by instant hot water taps and the bath with its taps and mixer shower was removed and replaced by a shower cubicle with an electric shower. The boiler is now only used for heating; last summer there were some months when we didn’t use any gas at all. We have never looked back.
Admittedly it costs more to heat water with electricity than it does with gas, but we only have to heat the water we actually use, not fill a long pipe between the tank and the tap/shower with hot water that is then allowed to go cold. It takes between one and two units of electricity to get a shower and our water consumption for two people is only slightly above that for a single-person household. Our combined electricity and gas bill is also reduced. So, I say again, who needs hot water storage?
Denis Sharp CEng MIET
More vertical benefits
One thing not mentioned in the story in your June 2021 issue concerning the greater efficiency of vertical-axis wind turbines is the advantage that the gear box, generator etc are located at sea level, not up tall – and getting taller – masts. This must significantly reduce the cost and difficulty of maintenance.
Tony Meacock CEng MIET
Competition or co-operation?
The Comment article in the April 2021 issue of E&T about developing a ventilator towards the beginning of the Covid pandemic was a great example of what can be achieved in needs-driven projects when people/companies work together. It posed the question – why can’t we work like this all the time?
Perhaps it is because our societies are based on economic competition and we are conditioned to this as soon as we start formal education. In addressing the looming major issue of our time, environmental disaster, we should consider if we would be better served by a culture of economic competition, or community co-operation?
Rainer Hurricks MIET
Time to replace GDP
Your interview with Ehsan Masood about his book ‘GDP: The World’s Most Powerful Formula And Why It Must Now Change’ (June 2021) is welcome, but insufficiently provocative. Other eminently readable works, notably by Tim Jackson, Jason Hickel and Kate Raworth, will leave readers in little doubt of the damage flowing from the general addiction to growth. Rather than tinkering with GDP’s formula (admittedly as a long-overdue nod towards ecological concerns), it is surely time to replace the primary metric to one aimed at tracking reductions in planet abuse.
David Brunnen MIET
What’s the plan for EV batteries?
What worries me about the increasing number of electric vehicles on our roads is what happens to the batteries after their eight years of useful life.
I understand that in the foreseeable future there is no possibility of fully recycling them, and we can expect the number scrapped every year to be more than 0.2 billion worldwide. Most countries will allow the batteries to be dumped like plastic bags. Plastic bags don’t, however, as they decay, leach the extremely poisonous lithium and cobalt into the groundwater and sea. Nuclear waste is in small quantities but after thousands of years is safe; lithium and cobalt last for ever.
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