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The Burning Answer - all done!


Its amazing what can be achieved given the benefit of a quiet weekend. The Burning Answer is finished, and a jolly good read it was, too.

And perhaps it was appropriate to have been  reading it at the same time as watching the Tour de France; the first half being like the ascent of Col du Tourmalet -  gasping with the effort of it all , but the second half has been a glorious sweeping descent into a familiar, sun-kissed, landscape.

Once all the science stuff is done, the book reverts to the familiar green polemic of earlier years, and very much in the mould of E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’. But Keith Barnham still has important stuff to say; this isn't green hand-wringing of the "what’s to be done" variety - this man has a clear understanding of what's needed; forget all this nuclear madness;  create a community mindset from which the global energy companies can be challenged - and invest deeply and positively in the broadest possible way in solar energy. And do it NOW.

As a scientist, Barnham presents s strong case for a 100% solar solution and is happy to give us his reasons why funding and support for non-renewable energy research needs to stop.

Fracking? If you want to drill a deep hole, use it for the benefits that geothermal energy can provide us. And if it’s the gas that you're after, then make room for anaerobic digesters. (a brief aside here: we have an anaerobic digester on the outskirts of Dorchester, taking food, agricultural waste and silage. Its just down the road from Poundbury and Maiden Castle – but you wouldn’t know about it if you’re driving along the A35 – which is kind of the point.. Its producing sufficient biomethane to heat 3000 homes)

Barnham admits that not all the answers are in place; ther's still a lot of work to do. Buthe trusts the science sufficiently to call on governments to stop faffing and fawning, and let the renewables industry roll up its greensleeves and do the business.

The UK is lagging seriously behind other countries in its take-up of solar energy, due in large part to our Government not getting behind a sensible renewable strategy, preferring to listen instead to a handful of chaps in sharp suits who have the money and the resources to make sure that their redundant and ultimately failing industries can be kept at the forefront of UK energy usage for the foreseeable future. And it doesn't help that we have a nimby culture that enjoys all of the benefits of a reliable electricity supply, but gets annoyed when it has to see how its generated (I've always thought that nimbyism is a bit like never accepting the need to evacuate your bowels because its a messy business - and that's not a healthy place to keep your head!)  And I suppose it’s easier if you’re a government minister, with a penchant for knowing what’s right to ensure that everyone does what you want, rather than getting behind the people who voted for you and promote a localised/community agenda where energy provision is devolved to the regions, cities and townships – and national politicians get out of the way.
Anyway – enough of that.

I’m going to have a whinge about a couple of things:
1. like so many other energy commentators, Keith Barnham assumes that we’re not capable of reducing our energy footprints. There’s a comment about flying less, but overall, this is a book about REPLACEMENT of energy resource, not reducing our energy demands. I don’t think that’s good enough. I’d like someone to be big enough and bold enough to say that we need to be drawing less from the global energy account, regardless of its source.
2. Barnham falls into the middle-class trap of assuming that everyone lives in a semi-detached house with a garage; the electric car in the garage and the PV on the roof to keep it topped up. Idyllic, yes; realistic, no. Millions of people, let’s call them city-dwellers, don’t have access to garages and their cars live out on the streets. So its not about self-contained energy generation from the comfort of your own home, its about a community-based facility that provides hook-ups on demand – and that’s a different picture altogether.

Everyone who works with LIGHT would benefit from reading this book if only to bask in the knowledge that we’re working with the very thing that can save future generations from the disasters that we’re stock-piling for them. Huzzah for the PHOTON!

Details: 'The Burning Answer' is written by Keith Barnham and published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson: ISBN: 978 0 297 86963 4

RIBA CPD in 2015

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