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Exit from Lockdown: Take Back Control.
Hove at recent weekend. Looks busy, but nearly ever group is properly distant from the next. (BBC photo)

Summary: The draconian British lockdown rules may have worked but several are arbitrary and unnecessary. Some can easily be adjusted without any increased risk to the rate of infection. That would help to retain the confidence of the general public. Responsibility must be passed increasingly to the individual and away from central authorities. Limits on outside activities are unnecessary provided social distancing rules are obeyed, as they now are largely. We can also move towards easing restrictions on many businesses by requiring much wider use of facemasks provided social distancing rules can be met at all times.

The Covid–19 Lockdown in the UK has been broadly successful. We are all told to stay at home and go out only for necessities such as food, medicine and exercise. Those at higher risk of serious infection are told not even to go out. Unfortunately the route for the UK to exit from lockdown has not been articulated by the UK government. Other countries have established panels to look at what might be done but, as with every other aspect of this pandemic in the UK, we are lagging behind, presumably hoping that something might turn up.

It seems likely that the current lockdown will work and the infection rate decline dramatically. The vast majority of people are following the rules pretty well. Threats to impose even stricter rules are likely to create too much resentment. The “stay at home” advice is much less onerous for those setting these rules who have large houses with multiple rooms and gardens. Those living in cramped conditions with no garden, possibly with shared bathrooms and kitchens and often with several children, already find the rules very onerous.

General acceptance of the rules is essential if we are to get through this terrifying pandemic. Any easing of these restrictions would encourage people to feel progress was being made. Indeed any suggestion that current restrictions are unnecessarily strict will worsen adherence significantly.

We are told that we need to follow “social distancing” by making sure that we are at least 2 m (6 feet) from those outside our household. The choice of 2 m is distinctly arbitrary. It is claimed that this is all that is needed to protect us from coughing and sneezing although I know from personal experience as a hayfever sufferer that I can happily sneeze much further than 2 m. Nobody mentions simply speaking which is one of the best ways of spreading the disease and probably how much of it is actually transmitted. Most people spit to a greater or lesser degree when talking, though they may not realise it. The 2 m limit was chosen once it was decided that using facemasks is pointless. That is clearly preposterous. In clinical settings they are used routinely and not just because they look good on television. It is inconceivable that any facemask use will make things worse. The basic paper ones are probably not much use, but simple fitted ones with an integrated filter must give a significant level of protection to the wearer and their contacts.

If we were encouraged to use facemasks routinely, cross infection between individuals can only be improved. As a minimum it stops an individual from touching their face as we all do repeatedly. Wearing facemasks would give everyone much greater confidence that a 2 m social distance might actually work. However social distancing must be maintained, probably longer than most other restrictions. Wearing a face mask makes it clear the individual is engaging seriously in our shared project to conquer this pandemic.

The current restrictions on visiting parks, beaches, countryside and other recreational areas are important only if there is a risk that the crowds become so great that social distancing cannot be maintained. In that case those parks should indeed be closed. However, pictures of lots of people on Primrose Hill and most other locations over this last weekend showed that on the whole people are well separated from others outside their own family group. Images of police cars chasing family groups sitting well away from others on the grass in the sunshine are just silly and widely recognised as such. If some of the rules that are being imposed are clearly ridiculous we will be less likely to follow the others. Provided social distancing rules are being observed there really isn’t any point in restricting people from being outside.

The same arguments apply to leisure travel. Family groups driving to another location for pleasure are simply not going to increase the risks of increased infection. It’s what you do outside the car both at home and wherever you’re going that matters. The rules must be followed but travelling for pleasure is a ban that is difficult to justify. People need to be discouraged from going to very popular areas such as Snowdonia and the Peak District. However population densities in the more remote parts of the country are very different from those in the Capital. The rules must allow differences where appropriate.

Similarly, restricting exercise to once per day might make sense if you are a middle-aged cabinet minister but if you have a family with energetic children there really is no possible justification provided you and members of your family can maintain the social distance rules properly. Even a short trip out of the house can ease the pressures that so many feel by being trapped at home, young and old. With children there are always problems of them being inclined to play with others and parents must make sure they are safe.

There are, however, many situations where it is simply not possible to follow social distance rules. Particularly in London and the other metropolitan areas public transport is inevitably crowded. This is a situation where much is to be gained and nothing lost by requiring all public transport users to wear a face mask.

Many businesses have been closed simply because they are deemed non-essential. In many cases with appropriate crowd and staff management, social distancing rules can be maintained. Organisations will need to make adjustments to how they operate to make this possible. Only if they can be confident that this has been achieved should they be allowed to open. It is highly likely that social distancing will have to become the norm until we have a vaccine for Covid 19. That is likely to be nearly a year away and we have to find a way of getting our economy back and functioning again. It is essential that we start to move towards achieving that. Every day that goes by more and more damage is being done.

The main responsibility has to be transferred away from government dictat to relying on accepted social pressures on the individual to do the right thing.  Each of us must be engaged in doing everything to maintain the correct social distance. Individuals must also do everything to insist that wherever they are that social distancing must observed by others at all times. It is the only way we will get out of this.

In conclusion there are things that can be done safely, without compromising all that has been achieved already for those who are symptom-free and have been symptom-free for at least seven days:

1.         Remove all restrictions on being out of the house provided social distancing rules can be maintained at all times.

2.         Require everyone to routinely wear facemasks whenever there is a risk of others being closer than this social distance. Public transport use should be required to wear facemasks under all circumstances.

3.         All businesses should be able to operate provided they are able to ensure  social distancing rules can be followed by all customers and all staff. All customers and all staff entering any premises should be required to wear facemasks at all times.

These simple changes will be easy to communicate, should have little negative consequence if any and would allow the public to feel that progress was being made and that they can look forward to a time when normal life might actually resume.

Electric Vehicles: Too Much Hype?
Renault all-electric 2020 Twingo Z.E.

Summary: The importance of achieving zero carbon is accepted to be critical.  One area where we can see how to achieve that is by eliminating fossil fuels from transportation.  Unfortunately the reality is very different from what government and particularly manufacturers are planning.  There is widespread unreality about what has to happen and the timescales and costs of achieving the necessary goals.  The move to electric vehicles, and hybrids must not count, will happen far too slowly with present plans and the emphasis on large heavy SUV type electric vehicles completely misses the point.  The approach to battery charging also needs to change since most people will not have access to charging points in high-density housing areas.  Only by restricting the use of heavy vehicles in urban areas can we hope to move in the right direction.

Electric vehicle sales are booming in the UK.  The government has announced that internal combustion vehicles (ICV’s) will no longer be sold in the UK after 2035 and possibly not after 2032.  Within a few years all vehicles on our roads will be electric.  Job done!  Unfortunately it’s a little bit more complicated.

Let’s start with affordability.  At present the cheapest ICVs cost under £10,000.  The cheapest all electric vehicles cost about £25,000 even with the government grant.  Prices of EV’s are high as manufacturers cater to the demand for SUVs rather than city cars.  Keeping the prices high helps while demand outstrips manufacturing capacity.  An electric car is dramatically simpler than ICV.  You don’t need to have any of an exhaust system, petroleum delivery, internal combustion engine, radiator and cooling system, gearbox, petrol tank etc. You need a battery and you need an electric motor and brakes but not much more.  The 100% premium is clearly good for the manufacturers if not for the public and certainly not if you want to go green.

Headline sales of electric vehicles are dominated by plug-in hybrids, the great majority of which are run solely on petrol or diesel.  Garages report that at their first service most hybrids have their charging cable pack unopened in the boot.  Pure electric vehicles only account for 2.3% of car sales. Hybrids are even less efficient than ICVs being heavier and more expensive to build and worse polluters than their purer ICV cousins.  If you really care about the environment the only choice is pure electric.

The average car in the UK is over 8 years old, and new ICVs are dramatically more reliable than they were.  Indeed a recent Which?  report remarked that the least reliable cars in that report were more reliable than the most reliable cars 10 years earlier.  We must expect current new-car purchases to last long after the 2035 deadline. 

The lack of significant growth in personal income means that the average car age in the UK is likely to increase and by 2035 may well be in excess of 10 years.  This means the average car in 2035 will have been manufactured in 2025 and with present growth rates that will be a very small fraction of the total car sales in the car sales in the UK. With 31.5 million cars (82.5%), 4 million vans (10.5%) and 0.5 million heavy goods vehicles (1.3%) in the UK, by 2035 we must expect the vast majority of vehicles not to be electric and the 120 million tonnes of CO2 per annum generated now to be only somewhat reduced.

Current EVs are expensive but above all big and heavy.  Basic physics shows that cars driven identically in terms of speed and acceleration etc. have double the energy consumption of a vehicle half that wait, irrespective of the fuel, petrol or electric.  Great strides have been made in the efficiency of ICV’s in recent years but that has now been largely lost by the move towards bigger and heavier vehicles.  Many British villages, towns and cities with their origins in the Middle Ages have narrow streets made narrower by car parking.  The move to SUVs is difficult to justify for the vast majority of users and causes increased congestion, increased pollution including from tyre wear and tear and reduced parking space because of their size.  Again, if you really care about the environment, the only choice is smaller, lighter cars and always pure electric, not the great electric juggernauts favoured by the relatively wealthy who can afford them.

Anyone thinking about going electric will worry about battery charging.  If you are relatively wealthy or live out-of-town then you are much more likely to have a garage or at least a driveway to park your car and charge it.  A great number of British houses however are terraced or multi-storey flats.  Reserved parking for your car is out of the question.  If you can’t park near a charger you’re done for.  Despite the hype about high-speed charging, most vehicles need to be charged for a time comparable with the time they are driven between charges.  Five minutes filling up your ICV now makes an EV much less appealing.  Fast charging points are expensive, and the risk of running out of power away from home is a serious disincentive if you drive a good distance at all regularly.

One interesting approach which does not appear to have been taken seriously by manufacturers is designing an electric vehicle to have easily replaceable batteries.  Garages could offer pre-charged batteries which could be slotted in in just a few minutes with the right design of car.  The batteries are heavy, up to half a ton, and the cost to the motorist would be a combination of the electric charge plus a daily rental rate for the battery.  Batteries should last at least 10 years and cost several thousand pounds each, depending on their size.  Cars with rapid-replacement batteries could use smaller ones if that was all that was needed and that was all that was available.  Such an arrangement would allow a car to have an effective recharge time of only a few minutes.  This would also provide a  role for garages otherwise  facing redundancy as the 2035-2050 window  approaches.  The nearest to this ideal was Renault who offered their Zoe vehicle with a battery rental, but that approach has been removed at the end of 2019.  The Zoe did not have a rapid exchange battery design but the principle was there.

Going green properly  will only really get going once manufacturers reduce the price of their vehicles,  and concentrate on smaller lighter vehicles. They must  become dramatically easier to recharge, probably by having rapid replacement batteries supported by garages.  In the meantime we have to appreciate that progress is currently very slow and not all of it moving in the right direction.  Hybrids need to be discouraged now as do large and heavy vehicles of all sorts.  Only then can we honestly hope to reduce our energy demands for personal transport.

Small Really Is Beautiful.

2-seat all electric Renault TWIZY, under 0.5 ton.

4-seat all electric Mitsubishi_i-MiEV, about 1 ton.

Restricting the use of large heavy internal combustion vehicles on our roads can have a dramatic effect on our consumption of fossil fuels and the generation of both CO2 and a range of damaging pollutants in the urban environment. 

There is broad agreement among scientists that climate change and rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are linked.  Only by reducing CO2 generation might we stabilise and hopefully reverse some of the effects we associate with climate change.  Governments across the world set targets but it is absolutely essential that we do as much as we can sooner we can and not wait for “the authorities” to actually do anything.  It’s just too important.

In the UK a major part of our energy consumption is the petrol and diesel fuel used for transport.  Climate change activists insist there should be wholesale movement away from private cars to walking, cycling and public transport.  Walking and cycling is fine for those who are young, fit and healthy and preferably live in a flat city.  Make sure you don’t have small children or a lot of shopping to carry and certainly don’t live in a country with often pretty ghastly weather.  Public transport is often little better than taking us from somewhere we are not to a place we don’t want to be at a time that is inconvenient.  For many, these aspirations are a bit like St Augustine’s famous words “Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate-but not yet”.  Many activists are happy to encourage others to make changes but are somewhat slower with their own responses.  Few have the dedication of Greta Thunberg!

We Love Our Cars!

The motorcar has given vast numbers of people the capacity to be mobile, to go where there are jobs, shops and entertainment.  It allows families to travel together and it is naïve to think that a society like ours will give up this capability quickly or easily.  It doesn’t have to but it does have to be managed.  Ultimately widespread availability of low-cost electricity from renewable sources will help greatly but in the meantime there is a lot that can be done now to accelerate these changes and deal with two major problems we have now: consumption of fossil fuels and urban pollution.

How big is the problem? There are approximately 31.5 million cars (82.5%), 4 million vans (10.5%) and 0.5 million heavy goods vehicles (1.3%) in the UK (from DoT, 2019).  In total they generate about 120 million tonnes of CO2 per annum (UK DoBEIS, 2019).  The weighted average combined fuel economy of cars and light trucks in 2016 was about 22 miles per gallon and the average vehicle travelled about 11,500 miles per year.  The fuel burned within the engine generates the heat used to propel the vehicle.  There have been significant improvements in engine efficiency in recent years but it is still the case that typically 25% of the energy actually propels the vehicle.  The remainder is heat which is dissipated through the exhaust and cooling systems of the vehicle.  Electric vehicles transfer the pollution away from the vehicle to where the power is generated.  If the source is renewable then the pollution produced is low.  The efficiency of electric motors is very high indeed and, particularly if breaking regeneration is used then electric vehicles are dramatically more energy efficient than fossil fuel.  The spin around renewable power is somewhat different from the reality.  About 30 % of electricity generation is currently renewable, but it’s only less than 12% of the energy provided by petroleum (petrol plus diesel).  Building eight times as many wind farms or solar panel farms would be an enormous investment and take many years.  However it turns out there is a great deal we could do now to halve the energy used for transport.

Motor vehicles are also responsible for another major problem, that of pollution particularly in the urban environment.  That pollution is a combination of exhaust fumes, both gas including CO2 and nitrous oxide as well as particles from diesel and from the tyres which inevitably wear away on the road surfaces.  In several British cities pollution levels regularly exceed permitted safety levels.  In addition, surveys indicate that the noise from vehicles significantly affects the quality-of-life of around 30% of people in the UK.

Heavy Vehicles Waste Far Too Much Energy

Now for a bit of physics. The energy used by a vehicle allows it to accelerate.  The energy needed to double the speed of a vehicle goes up in proportion to the square of that velocity so it takes four times as much energy for a car to reach 60 mph as it does to reach 30 mph.  Once it has reached cruising speed a significant part of the energy is dissipated to overcome wind resistance.  The kinetic energy of the vehicle is reduced whenever the brakes are applied and that energy turned into heat which is wasted.  In the UK the average length of a single trip for a vehicle is only about 8 miles.  85% of trips are less than 10 miles and 95% are less than 25 miles.  A typical trip involves several acceleration/braking cycles wasting considerable amounts of energy and therefore generating considerable amounts of CO2.

Typical cars sold in the UK now weigh up to 2.5 tons.  That weight has crept up in recent years because of the popularity of larger SUV type vehicles offering bigger load carrying capacity as well as greater levels of comfort.  Most journeys only involve a driver with possibly a single passenger contributing an almost negligible additional weight to the total.  Older readers may remember how cars became much more sluggish when laden with three or four passengers.  This is not something most drivers experience these days now that cars are bigger, heavier and more powerful.  Every additional kilogram requires additional energy to accelerate it.  Reducing the weight of the vehicle will improve its energy efficiency markedly.  A mass move from internal combustion propulsion to electric will take very many years to complete.  I will argue that motorists and city planners need to do their bit to encourage strongly the use of smaller electric vehicles.  This is something that can be done simply by banning internal combustion and bigger vehicles from inner-city regions where pollution and noise are problems.

In the UK the average car is over 8 years old.  Worries surrounding Brexit have reduced new car sales significantly so we can expect a jump in sales once Brexit is resolved.  Anything you can do by choosing a lighter, smaller car next time or persuading others to do so will make a significant contribution towards reducing our national carbon footprint.

Small Electric Vehicles Are Increasingly Attractive

Most of the electric vehicles manufactured today are expensive and targeted at the luxury end of the market.  They are big, heavy and although electric still consume unnecessary levels of energy.  Cars used to be much smaller but would this be at all practical to move to much smaller electric vehicles? Small, efficient all electric cars are already in production.  Manufacturers greatly prefer to sell large vehicles with big engines.  Many have already produced all electric variants on their main ranges but surprisingly little effort seems to be going into making much smaller vehicles.  One exception is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV introduced 10 years ago.  This is a five door hatchback weighing only one ton.  It has a 16 kWh battery giving it a range of up to 100 miles.  The ability to go for 5 miles on one kWh can be compared to the typical level that we get on a modern car of about 1 mile/kWh. the Mitsubishi vehicle can carry four.  An even smaller all electric vehicle that can carry two and is less than half a ton in weight is the Renault Twizy, currently selling for around £7000 in the UK.  It has a range of about 60 miles with a 6kWh battery giving a consumption of around 10 miles/kWh, a tenfold improvement over a typical modern car.

Reducing the mass of our cars has a dramatic effect on our national energy consumption.  If we imagine replacing our cars with others half a ton lighter yet continuing to drive them in the same way we do now we would reduce U.K.’s energy consumption by 10%, cutting CO2 production by 40 million tonnes per year, saving each of us perhaps £800 per annum.  If we all managed to reduce the weights by a full ton it would cut option by 20%, reducing CO2 production by 80 million tonnes per year.

Persuading People to Change Their Habits.

What could be done to encourage and indeed accelerate the move towards such a reduction in energy consumption as well as effecting a substantial reduction in pollution that damages so many urban environments?  It should be clear from the above that encouraging the use of smaller and lighter vehicles would make a great difference.  Further, requiring that these smaller vehicles were either fully electric or hybrid so they could be operated without liquid fuel would be even more effective.  The most direct approach is to plan a phased tightening of the controls on vehicles entering and being driven around key urban areas.  Start by limiting larger and heavier vehicles so they cannot be driven around in the restricted urban area.  Next insist on electric/hybrid operation exclusively initially during core busy hours but eventually at all times.  The size limitations could be progressively tightened.  One of the key features must be the development of substantial pressures on automotive manufacturers to produce small light and economic city vehicles.  At present electric/hybrid vehicles are very much positioned at the top end of manufacturers range rather than at the bottom end which is where there will be most impact.

There is even more that can be done.  City cars do not need to be built to reach 80 mph (as does the Mitsubishi one above).  Having a lower overall performance allows the vehicles to be made even lighter and cheaper as well as being more reliable.  Electric motors give good silent acceleration but city cars don’t need to exceed 50 mph. The cost of these vehicles will be key to ensuring that they become generally acceptable and eventually highly desirable. There will be considerable opposition to these moves from oil companies, automotive manufacturers and parts of the public who feel their divine right to drive a vast vehicle through the centre of our ancient cities must not be violated.  However we can only deal with climate change if we genuinely start to make changes like this.  It is not a complete solution but it is a start.  Many realise that it’s just not enough to be careful with plastic waste.  All around us we can see that the motorcar is a significant part of our problems and this is how we can start to manage it in a way that will work for the UK.

Outsidethebubble lives!

Summary: Outsidethebubble.net has been silent for about 18 months. This was because there was so much other political blogging activity because of Brexit that there was simply no more space in people’s minds to cope with anything else.  There seems a chance that we might start to move on to other things and that Brexit might well get sorted over the next 3-6 months.  In the meantime there will be occasional postings on other issues and in particular what we have to do practically to reach zero net carbon consumption.

A great deal has been written which is frankly hyper-optimistic pie-in-the-sky.  I will try to look at some of the misunderstandings that need to be dealt with if we are to make any progress.

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