I’m releaved and delighted to tell you I passed my driving test today, first time.
I didn’t think I stood a chance of passing as I made stupid errors throughout and my nerves had got the better of me. I had a spliting headache from the unseasonal sun pounding down while I drove up, down, and around hilly Hastings, where I took intensive lessons for a week and the practical test, but luckily I held it together long enough to pass with twelve faults.
I spent the morning focusing on my breathing and trying to relax which I think really helped bring about a positive state of mind. My warm up lesson went really well because I was feeling calm which would have boosted my confidence for the test.
Hastings is really hilly and I had to do a lot of hill starts in the test; not something I usually struggle with but one time I tried to pull off while I was in neutral and couldn’t figure out what was wrong when I didn’t feel the bite! Once I told myself to relax I worked it out and got moving. Incredibly, I didn’t get any test faults for this.
I got a lot of luck on the day too: I got to drive through the town centre (which is more like the London driving I’m used to) and around residential suburban streets where I didn’t meet too much traffic.
When I passed the examiner gave me an eco driving leaflet. One of the ways the government aims to cut emissions from transport is through the promotion of eco safe driving, a strategy I criticized as being a cop-out in the Sustainable Transport podcast because I doubted whether the majority of people are interested in or capable of driving as efficiently as necessary in order to achieve meaningful emissions reductions and because by merely ‘promoting’ eco safe driving the government isn’t really doing all that much.
While I recognise eco safe driving techniques lead to more efficient use of fuel, I still wonder if such techniques ask too much of the typical driver, whose concern is merely to get from A to B as quickly and safely as possible. Any driver would want to use fuel more economically, but as petrol is paid for at the pump and not by a meter as in a cab, money-saving eco driving techniques may not be at the forefront of most drivers’ minds.
My most recent instructor was very up on eco driving techniques and helped me to get a better idea of what driving more efficiently involves. He was always pushing me to improve my road awareness by planning ahead (so as to respond without hard acceleration or breaking) and was also rather frugal with changing down the gears – e.g. I was to change straight down from fourth to second, and I was to make turns second or third if safe.
If the UK driving test is to get more difficult as reported by the BBC I predict that eco safe driving techniques will carry more weight in the future practical exam. If drivers are taught from the outset how to use eco safe driving, then perhaps these skills will become habitual. There are already questions about eco safe driving in the theory test and as I noticed today, a section on the exam sheet for the examiner to tick when having given out the leaflet to a newly passed driver in the test debrief. These are signs of the push for eco safe driving.
My currnet plan is to drive when I get the chance taking my time and continuing to learn and hopefully developing as an eco safe driver.
Have you any eco safe driving tips for a newly qualified driver? Do you think the next generation of drivers has more potential to be eco safe if the driving test is made more difficult?
Good Energy is the only energy supplier in the UK to offer tariffs of 100% renewable energy. They offer electricity sourced from a network of independent small-to-medium-sized renewable installations (wind, solar, wave, biomass) by making use of the Feed In Tariff scheme. This is how it works:
Imagine you own a factory and have three wind turbines on the premises. Good Energy will purchase surplus energy from you to pass on to its customers. Sometimes you will not generate enough electricity for your needs (obviously, wind power is unreliable). When this happens, Good Energy will sell the factory energy that has been procured from other renewable sources. By this means, if you are an renewable energy producer, you will have a two-way relationship with Good Energy; you’re both a supplier and consumer.
If you don’t have your own renewable energy facility, it is still possible to be a Good Energy customer, you just sign up to a tariff, much the same as with other electricity suppliers. The major difference being that you accept you will pay a little more for you electricity (around 75p per family per week) but gain from it the environmental piece of mind that the electricity you have used has come from carbon neutral sources. In the same way that we make consumer choices based on our environmental ideals (for example, I will choose to pay more for groceries if I can avoid plastic waste), Good Energy offers consumers who are concerned about the UK’s energy mix and/or its dependence on foreign suppliers a real alternative to the major utility companies.
I recently met Good Energy’s impressive founder Juliet Davenport (find out more here) and took the opportunity to find out about the profile of Good Energy’s customer base. She said her customers (it may surprise you) are from a broad, diverse base and include people from ‘all walks of life’. Insightfully, according to their data, Good Energy customers consume 10-15% less energy than the average, which brings the cost of bills down to roughly the equivalent of an energy bill with a major utility company. It would seem, then, that Good Energy customers tend to be more energy aware and potentially less wasteful than the national average. Their customer base tends to grow through customer referrals, and if they do advertise, they do it selectively in trade journals and lifestyle magazines.
I have sometimes pondered if the major players in the energy market prefer it that energy is not widely understood and has a intangible quality – far removed from the days we had to chop and gather up fire wood to burn our stoves. We don’t really what’s involved in order to bring it into our homes. I think they like it that people are wasteful with energy and confused about where it comes from and don’t how much it costs to do everyday things like boil a kettle, or leave a scented air freshener plugged in continuously. That’s why I think any new way of doing things that serves to build a connection between people and the energy they consume is a great thing.
If Good Energy customers use their electricity more economically or sparingly it can only be a good thing. With electricity prices forecast to rise nearly 20% this winter, you would think saving energy would be on the mainstream public agenda. However, because energy is intangible and distant, people go on consuming wastefully, and then in a couple of months, when it is too late to do anything about it, will worry and fret over paying the exorbitant bills.
By what means can we connect people with the energy they consume?
Biogas is a form of renewable energy that can help the UK deal its expensive problem of landfilled waste. It is produced by biogas plants which anaerobically digest organic waste, breaking it down into a useful fuel that can be burnt to generate electricity, and leftover matter called digestate which can be used as a soil-improver by farmers. If you’re interested to know how the process works watch this short, informative video.
Anaerobic digestion is part of the government’s low carbon electricity generation strategy which incentivises small-scale production of renewable energy through the feed-in tariff scheme. On July 9th 2011 the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced an increase in the subsidy paid to farm-scale schemes producing energy from waste (citation removed from website). By increasing the feed-in tariff for anaerobic digestion, a clear signal has been given that the government wishes to encourage the uptake of anaerobic digestion as a form renewable energy production.
UK farms are well placed to initiate their own small-scale biomass plants as they produce large volumes of organic waste on site, anything from manure to crop residues, which can be fed into the digesters (the unit processing the waste into fuel), and they can also make use of the soil-fertilising by-product to enrich their land. The biogas plants can run off of any form of organic matter, excluding wood waste, which makes it a highly versatile means of producing energy from waste.
Anaerobic digestion of municipal waste enjoys widespread support among the environmental community as it plays a part in delivering zero waste to landfill. It is also deemed to be safer and cleaner by many people than incinerating waste to produce energy. However, anaerobic digestion of municipal organic waste has yet to catch on in the UK, perhaps because collecting food waste separately requires separate food waste collections, which local authorities may presently deem too expensive. Interestingly, although London boroughs Hackney and Southwark are currently trialling food waste collection schemes, each has opted to compost its food waste (which produces more greenhouse gasses) rather than convert it to energy via anaerobic digestion. This could be a missed opportunity.
In developing countries such as Nepal, where I lived for a time, biogas plants are far more prevalent and are economically viable for different reasons. Most Nepali people are rural smallholders whose farms produce organic waste in abundance. Unlike in the UK, Nepali biogas plants are economically viable at a domestic level, and biogas is used directly as a fuel (rather than used in turn to generate electricity).
The biogas produced by a domestic anaerobic digester in Nepal can be used as a reliably cheap form of cooking fuel, which is advantageous considering the soaring cost of cooking gas while I was there in 2010. Additionally, in the winter months electricity may only be available for four hours a day, therefore biogas can be used to power lights during dark evenings. And lastly, there is no municipal garbage collection to speak of in rural communities, other than incineration by the side of the road, and anaerobic digestion usefully serves to reduce the overall bulk of waste (if it isn’t spread on the land).
Anaerobic digestion plants are not yet thought to be economically or practicably feasible in the UK at a domestic level – we may just as well compost organic matter – however, it may well be viable for large institutions producing a lot of waste, such as universities or prisons. I am extremely interested to see how the use of anaerobic digestion as a waste and energy solution develops in the UK.
Do you expect it to become more prevalent as a means of generating electricity in future years? What barriers exist to preventing wider take up of anaerobic digestion waste-to-energy plants?
Table of pros and cons of the different forms of concerting wet wastes from landfill via Anaerobic Digestion
Build your own anerobic digester via Build a Biogas Plant
More on Biogas in Nepal via Ashden Awards
Nepali Biogas image via publications Stanford University