Notes and further reading

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73 Waves are generated whenever the wind speed is greater than about 0.5m/s. The wave crests move at about the speed of the wind that creates them. The simplest theory of wave-production (Faber, 1995, p. 337) suggests that (for small waves) the wave crests move at about half the speed of the wind that creates them. It's found empirically however that, the longer the wind blows for, the longer the wavelength of the dominant waves present, and the greater their velocity. The characteristic speed of fully-developed seas is almost exactly equal to the wind-speed 20 metres above the sea surface (Mollison, 1986).

- The waves on the east coast of the British Isles are usually much smaller. Whereas the wave power at Lewis (Atlantic) is 42 kW/ m, the powers at the east-coast sites are: Peterhead: 4kW/m; Scarborough: 8kW/m; Cromer: 5kW/m. Source: Sinden (2005). Sinden says: "The North Sea Region experiences a very low energy wave environment."

74 Atlantic wave power is 40kW per metre of exposed coastline.

(Chapter F explains how we can estimate this power using a few facts about waves.) This number has a firm basis in the literature on Atlantic wave power (Mollison et al., 1976; Mollison, 1986,1991). From Mollison (1986), for example: "the large scale resource of the NE Atlantic, from Iceland to North Portugal, has a net resource of 40-50 MW/km, of which 20-30 MW/km is potentially economically extractable." At any point in the open ocean, three powers per unit length can be distinguished: the total power passing through that point in all directions (63kW/m on average at the Isles of Scilly and 67kW/m off Uist); the net power intercepted by a directional collecting device oriented in the optimal direction (47kW/m and 45kW/m respectively); and the power per unit coastline, which takes into account the misalignment between the optimal orientation of a directional collector and the coastline (for example in Portugal the optimal orientation faces northwest and the coastline faces west).

- Practical systems won't manage to extract all the power, and some of the power will inevitably be lost during conversion from mechanical energy to electricity. The UK's first grid-connected wave machine, the Limpet on Islay, provides a striking example of these losses. When it was designed its conversion efficiency from wave power to grid power was estimated to be 48%, and the average power output was predicted to be 200 kW. However losses in the capture system, flywheels and electrical components mean the actual average output is 21 kW - just 5% of the predicted output (Wavegen, 2002).

Photo by Terry Cavner.
100 km

13 Food and farming

Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food.

Albert Bartlett

We've already discussed in Chapter 6 how much sustainable power could be produced through greenery; in this chapter we discuss how much power is currently consumed in giving us our daily bread.

A moderately active person with a weight of 65 kg consumes food with a chemical energy content of about 2600 "Calories" per day. A "Calorie," in food circles, is actually 1000 chemist's calories (1 kcal). 2600 "Calories" per day is about 3 kWh per day. Most of this energy eventually escapes from the body as heat, so one function of a typical person is to act as a space heater with an output of a little over 100 W, a medium-power lightbulb. Put 10 people in a small cold room, and you can switch off the 1 kW convection heater.

How much energy do we actually consume in order to get our 3 kWh per day? If we enlarge our viewpoint to include the inevitable upstream costs of food production, then we may find that our energy footprint is substantially bigger. It depends if we are vegan, vegetarian or carnivore.

The vegan has the smallest inevitable footprint: 3 kWh per day of energy from the plants he eats.

Figure 13.1. A salad Niçoise.

Minimum: 3 kWh/d

Figure 13.2. Minimum energy requirement of one person.

The energy cost of drinking milk

I love milk. If I drinka-pinta-milka-day, what energy does that require? A typical dairy cow produces 16 litres of milk per day. So my one pint per day (half a litre per day) requires that I employ 1/32 of a cow. Oh, hang on - I love cheese too. And to make 1 kg of Irish Cheddar takes about 9 kg of milk. So consuming 50 g of cheese per day requires the production of an extra 450 g of milk. OK: my milk and cheese habit requires that I employ 1/16 of a cow. And how much power does it take to run a cow? Well, if a cow weighing 450 kg has similar energy requirements per kilogram to a human (whose 65 kg burns 3 kWh per day) then the cow must be using about 21 kWh/d. Does this extrapolation from human to cow make you uneasy? Let's check these numbers: says that a suckling cow of weight 450 kg needs 85MJ/d, which is 24 kWh/d. Great, our guess wasn't far off! So my 1/16 share of a cow has an energy consumption of about 1.5 kWh per day. This figure ignores other energy costs involved in persuading the cow to make milk and the milk to turn to cheese, and of getting the milk and cheese to travel from her to me. We'll cover some of these costs when we discuss freight and supermarkets in Chapter 15.

Figure 13.3. Milk and cheese.


A "layer" (a chicken that lays eggs) eats about 110 g of chicken feed per day. Assuming that chicken feed has a metabolizable energy content of 3.3 kWh per kg, that's a power consumption of 0.4 kWh per day per chicken. Layers yield on average 290 eggs per year. So eating two eggs a day requires a power of 1 kWh per day. Each egg itself contains 80 kcal, which is about 0.1 kWh. So from an energy point of view, egg production is 20% efficient.

Figure 13.4. Two eggs per day.

The energy cost of eating meat

Let's say an enthusiastic meat-eater eats about half a pound a day (227g). (This is the average meat consumption of Americans.) To work out the power required to maintain the meat-eater's animals as they mature and wait for the chop, we need to know for how long the animals are around, consuming energy. Chicken, pork, or beef?

Chicken, sir? Every chicken you eat was clucking around being a chicken for roughly 50 days. So the steady consumption of half a pound a day of chicken requires about 25 pounds of chicken to be alive, preparing to be eaten. And those 25 pounds of chicken consume energy.

Pork, madam? Pigs are around for longer - maybe 400 days from birth to bacon - so the steady consumption of half a pound a day of pork requires about 200 pounds of pork to be alive, preparing to be eaten.

Cow? Beef production involves the longest lead times. It takes about 1000 days of cow-time to create a steak. So the steady consumption of half a pound a day of beef requires about 500 pounds of beef to be alive, preparing to be eaten.

To condense all these ideas down to a single number, let's assume you eat half a pound (227g) per day of meat, made up of equal quantities of chicken, pork, and beef. This meat habit requires the perpetual sustenance of 8 pounds of chicken meat, 70 pounds of pork meat, and 170 pounds of cow meat. That's a total of 110 kg of meat, or 170 kg of animal (since about two thirds of the animal gets turned into meat). And if the 170 kg of animal has similar power requirements to a human (whose 65 kg burns 3 kWh/d) then the power required to fuel the meat habit is

170 kg x

I've again taken the physiological liberty of assuming "animals are like humans;" a more accurate estimate of the energy to make chicken is in this chapter's endnotes. No matter, I only want a ballpark estimate, and here it is. The power required to make the food for a typical consumer of vegetables, dairy, eggs, and meat is 1.5 + 1.5 + 1 + 8 = 12 kWh per day. (The daily calorific balance of this rough diet is 1.5 kWh from vegetables;

Carnivory: 8 kWh/d

Figure 13.5. Eating meat requires extra power because we have to feed the queue of animals lining up to be eaten by the human.

0.7 kWh from dairy; 0.2 kWh from eggs; and 0.5 kWh from meat - a total of 2.9 kWh per day.)

This number does not include any of the power costs associated with farming, fertilizing, processing, refrigerating, and transporting the food. We'll estimate some of those costs below, and some in Chapter 15.

Do these calculations give an argument in favour of vegetarianism, on the grounds of lower energy consumption? It depends on where the animals feed. Take the steep hills and mountains of Wales, for example. Could the land be used for anything other than grazing? Either these rocky pas-turelands are used to sustain sheep, or they are not used to help feed humans. You can think of these natural green slopes as maintenance-free biofuel plantations, and the sheep as automated self-replicating biofuel-harvesting machines. The energy losses between sunlight and mutton are substantial, but there is probably no better way of capturing solar power in such places. (I'm not sure whether this argument for sheep-farming in Wales actually adds up: during the worst weather, Welsh sheep are moved to lower fields where their diet is supplemented with soya feed and other food grown with the help of energy-intensive fertilizers; what's the true energy cost? I don't know.) Similar arguments can be made in favour of carnivory for places such as the scrublands of Africa and the grasslands of Australia; and in favour of dairy consumption in India, where millions of cows are fed on by-products of rice and maize farming.

On the other hand, where animals are reared in cages and fed grain that humans could have eaten, there's no question that it would be more energy-efficient to cut out the middlehen or middlesow, and feed the grain directly to humans.

Figure 13.6. Will harvest energy crops for food.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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