Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pret A Manger will no longer be selling tuna

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009
Co-founder removes tuna and cucumber sandwiches from stores after being shocked by environmental film The End of the Line

The tuna fish sandwich will disappear from the shelves of a high street food outlet because the chain’s boss was horrified by a film outlining the dangers of intensive fishing methods.
Pret A Manger’s co-founder Julian Metcalfe has removed tuna and cucumber sandwiches from the 190 Pret stores across the UK.
The entrepreneur, who launched the sandwich chain 23 years ago, is making the protest after seeing the hard-hitting environmental documentary The End of the Line. Inspired by a book written by the journalist Charles Clover, the film charts the plight of the bluefin tuna and describes how modern fishing is destroying the oceans’ ecosystems.
Metcalfe told the film’s producers: “Much as a result of your film, we took tuna out of Pret sushi entirely. No tuna in the box at all . . . so more in the sea, where they belong.”
He added: “We no longer sell the tuna and cucumber sandwiches at Pret. We do sell the Alaskan salmon, which is sustainable.”
Pret prides itself on an enlightened image. The chain actively helps homeless charities by distributing unsold food to the needy, supports social centres for underprivileged youth and concentrates
on selling sustainable ingredients.
Sales of bluefin tuna, a fish which conservationists claim is now as endangered as the panda and the tiger, have landed celebrity restaurant Nobu in trouble with its upmarket clientele.
The campaign against the London restaurant’s refusal to remove the endangered species from its menu has attracted widespread celebrity support. Greta Scacchi, star of White Mischief, is one of several stars who have posed naked with fish. She said: “I had my photograph taken with a dead cod. The point I was making is that it came from sustainable stocks.”

Bottle vs tap grudge match hots up

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009

Sick of being accused of harming the environment, the bottled-water companies are fighting back with campaigns attacking tap water

Danny Fortson

Hildon is one of the poshest bottled waters. Captured at its source under the chalk hills of Hampshire, it isn’t sold in supermarkets, only at upmarket venues such as the Savoy, Royal Opera House and the House of Commons.
Yet last month Hildon lost its cool and took a 20-page trade magazine advertisement attacking tap water. On one page under the headline “Is it safe?” it wrote: “Cancer drugs found in tap water”, adding further down: “Is there anything else they are not telling us?”
Some thought is was over the top. Sue Pennison at the Drinking Water Inspectorate described the ad as “scare-mongering”. “If they have concerns, they should bring them to us,” she said.
Hildon’s outburst may have been extreme but it is not isolated – the bottled-water industry is under siege. Environmentalists have been saying for years that the £1.5 billion-a-year business is an eco-catastrophe, creating millions of tonnes of emissions and plastic to contain, transport and sell something that flows freely out of the tap. Phil Woolas, a former environment minister, has labelled it “immoral”.

Yet for decades sales rose, providing billions in revenue for the drinks industry. Now that has gone into reverse. At the end of March bottled-water sales in the UK were down 12% on the year, according to TNS Worldpanel, the research firm. Since 2006, sales have fallen more than 18%.
This has stirred the industry into action. Last autumn, Britain’s biggest water bottlers launched the clinical-sounding Natural Hydration Council (NHC). Backed by Highland Spring, Danone UK, Evian, Buxton and NestlĂ© among others – but not Hildon – the NHC was created to give a “dedicated voice to the bottled-water industry”, according to director Jeremy Clarke.
“There has been a lot of criticism and chatter that has been unchallenged. The debate is misguided, emotive, subjective and misses the point,” he said.
So how does he propose to rehabilitate an industry that is sliding? By “reshaping the debate”, he said.
When criticism first arose, companies lashed out at tap water. They pointed out that, unlike their pure water from natural sources, tap water is loaded with chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals to make it drinkable. There were mentions of septic tanks and the tap-water industry’s poor record on leakage. Indeed, it loses more water through leaky pipes in one day than the bottlers produce in a year.
But bottled water seems to have lost that battle. Sales have continued to fall. Part of it is economic. A litre of bottled water, about £1 or so, costs about 500 times more than water from the tap. That’s a hard sell in tough times.
So Clarke is attempting to pull off a heroic rebranding. Bottled water and tap water are, he said, entirely different. Instead of looking at its merits relative to tap water, bottled water should be compared with fizzy drinks and juices. “This is the comparator group. In that context bottled water is the greenest, healthiest drink on the shelf,” he said. “It’s wrong to compare bottled water with tap water.”
The NHC recently launched a nationwide ad campaign to spread the message. It portrays bottled water as everything from an aid to dental hygiene and antiobesity elixir to an aid to brain function – “Your brain is about 85% water, so it’s not surprising that it’s one of the parts of your body that’s most sensitive to dehydration,” said one ad.
Jane Griffin, former nutritionist to the British Olympic Association, has been drafted in to cajole us into more “natural hydration”.
Clarke needs to be careful when attacking sugary drinks. Nestlé and Danone, after all, make many of the sugary drinks the NHC blames for rising obesity and bad teeth.
Reed Paget at Belu Water, a nonprofit bottled-water group, said the industry was merely tinkering round the edges when what was necessary was a fundamental shake-up.
“It’s like the oil industry saying there is no climate change and hiring PR agencies to confuse the public. What we need is a concerted effort to invest in better practices.”
It is true that bottled water generates a fraction of the emissions that come from juices or fizzy drinks. A litre of bottled water leads to the creation of about 165g of greenhouse gases. That’s about a third of those created for a bottle of fizzy drinks and an eighth of those from juice. Yet compared with tap water, bottled water produces nearly 400 times more carbon dioxide per litre.
And of the 13 billion plastic bottles of all types sold in Britain last year, only about a third were recycled. This means that billions of new ones, made primarily from petroleum feedstocks, are made each year and then dumped in landfill sites or incinerated.
Clarke argues that there simply aren’t enough recycled bottles to provide for the bottled-water industry. “We would like to get to 100% recycling but there is just not the security of supply. It’s something we need to get better at,” he said.
Belu has come up with a compostable bottle derived from corn. Paget said that if the bottled-water industry was serious about going green it should follow suit. “They cost more, which is why they haven’t been introduced.”
Safety is another concern.
Hildon, in its ad in Caterer and Hotelkeeper, the hospitality industry’s trade magazine, highlighted a case last year in which Anglian Water imposed a “boil water notice” after 22 people fell ill in Northamptonshire due to traces in tap water of cryptosporidium, a parasite that can cause gastroenteritis.
Pennison at the Drinking Water Inspectorate said Britain’s water system was among the best in the world and that 99.96% of drinking water supplies met minimum standards. Most of the other 0.04% was down to aesthetics, she said, where a burst main might cause some discoloration. Nobody has died from drinking bad water in Britain in modern times, she said.
Ironically, one winner from the spat appears to be the fizzy-drinks industry. Supermarket sales of colas have risen 4.5% in the past year, according to TNS.
Clarke said: “With obesity at the levels they are, that can’t be good. Drinking water is a good thing and people are not doing enough of it.”
What is certain is that with so much money at stake, there is plenty more PR spin and mud-slinging to come. Hildon ended its ad by calling for an “open and fair discussion”. It declined several requests to comment.

Higher oil price gives renewables a boost

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009
Danny Fortson

AFTER a year of swings, the oil price is moving toward a stable middle ground that will benefit not just the oil industry but the struggling renewables sector as well, experts say.
Brent crude closed at $67.82 a barrel last week - nearly double the $35 it plumbed in February but still less than half the record $146 a barrel it touched last summer.
Barclays Capital predicts it is now heading toward the $75 to $85 “Goldilocks” range - not so high that governments aggressively seek alternatives but enough for oil-producing nations to make a comfortable return on more exotic endeavours such as deep-sea drilling and tar sands.
After a year of extremes the market will welcome some stability. There are several reasons for the recovery. One is that fears about the recession deepening have subsided. Few are willing to call the bottom, but there is a growing consensus that the prospects for the world’s biggest customers, America and China, are not as dire as predicted.

Amrita Sen, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said: “There are signs that the worst is probably behind us so the market is less focused on demand as a factor. Now it has begun looking at supply, and it doesn’t look great on the nonOpec front.”
Part of the reason the oil price reached $147 last year was the worry that oil producers would not be able to meet rising demand. But when the world economy slumped, so did the oil price. Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia, reacted by slashing production by about 3.5m barrels a day, equal to about 4% of the total global consumption of 85m barrels.
Between them Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates control about 85% of the world’s spare capacity - fields that are lying dormant but can be turned on if need be. To a large degree, they control where the price goes from here.
“Saudi Arabia has maintained throughout that $70-$80 a barrel is a sustainable level for them,” said Sen.
At that level many of the oil prospects that were becoming unviable when the price sank now look better. Andy Cox, energy partner at KPMG, said: “The oil companies are breathing a sigh of relief.”
The rise is also helpful for the renewables sector, where clean-energy projects already dependent on subsidies looked even more questionable next to a low oil price.
Cox said: “When the price collapsed real questions were asked about the economics for renewable versus conventional power.” The rising carbon price gives a further boost.

Weeds damage homes as the climate warms

Paul Kelbie
The Observer, Sunday 7 June 2009

A combination of a warmer climate, increased rainfall and a ban on the use of chemicals has created an epidemic of weeds causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to homes and public buildings.
Homeowners are facing large bills due to weeds damaging pipes and buildings as climate change produces an explosion in plant life.
According to Peter Brownless, horticulturalist at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, long periods of warm and wet weather combined with increasing volumes of detritus in gutters and drains is encouraging plants to grow out of control at a faster rate than ever before.
"A recent change in European legislation means there are far less herbicides available for local authorities and home gardeners to use to control weeds," he said.
According to Brownless many problems are caused by alien species which are thriving in Scotland's increasingly mild climate. "One plant that's causing quite a bit of concern at the moment is the New Zealand waterweed which established itself on Duddingston Loch in Edinburgh a few years ago and has out-competed many of the native plants.
"It only takes a few more degrees of warmth for some plants to self-seed and survive through the winter."
Michael Dymock, who works for Dyno-Rod drain services in Glasgow, said: "A lot of the damage can't be seen until it's too late. In the west of Scotland particularly there are thousands of miles of old clay and cast-iron pipes underground.
"These old, often Victorian, pipes are now starting to break as the roots of trees and plants find their way into the cracks and cause major blockages which result in waste water and sewage backing up into houses."

Could the Sahara’s sun save us?

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009

David MacKay examines the possibilities of Britain importing the clean energy that it needs

Our present lifestyle cannot be sustained on Britain’s own renewable energy resources unless we are prepared to cover huge areas of land and sea with wind turbines, tidal farms or solar cells.
So what are our options if we wish to wean ourselves off fossil fuels? We can balance the energy budget either by reducing demand or by increasing supply, or both.
And these reductions in demand and increases in supply must be big. Don’t be distracted by the myth that “every little helps”. If everyone does a little, we will achieve only a little. We must do a lot.
“But surely,” people say, “if 60m people all do a little, it will add up to a lot?” No. This “if everyone does it” concept is just a way of making something small sound big.

Take power. We all use it. So to achieve a “big difference” in total power consumption almost everyone has to make a “big” difference to their own power consumption.
Demand for power could be reduced in three ways: by reducing our population, changing our lifestyle, or by keeping our lifestyle but reducing its energy intensity through efficiency and technology. My goal is not to pick winners but to present honest, quantitative facts about the options.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles, for one, are a disaster. Most prototypes use more energy than the fossil-fuel vehicle they are designed to replace. The BMW Hydrogen 7 uses 254kWh per 100km while the average fossil car in Britain uses 80kWh per 100km. In contrast, prototype electric vehicles use 10 times less energy: 20kWh per 100km or even 6kWh per 100km. Electric vehicles are far better than hybrid cars. Today’s hybrid cars, which are typically at best about 30% better than fossil-fuel cars, should be viewed as a brief, helpful stepping stone on the way to electric vehicles.
Decentralised combined heat and power (CHP) is another looming mistake. Yes, combined heat and power (that is, putting individual power stations in each building, generating local electricity and heat to keep the buildings warm) can be a slightly more efficient way of using fossil fuels than the standard way but they are only about 7% more efficient. And they use fossil fuels. Isn’t the goal to get off fossil fuels?
The fact is there is a much better way to generate local heat: heat pumps. These are back-to-front refrigerators. Powered by electricity, they pump heat into the building from the outside – either from the air or from the ground.
The best heat pumps, recently developed in Japan, have a coefficient of performance of 4.9. This means that using 1kWh of electricity, the pump delivers 4.9kWh of heat in the form of hot air or hot water.
This is a far more efficient way to use high-grade energy for heating than simply setting fire to high-grade chemicals, which achieves a coefficient of performance of only 0.9. Recent trials of heat pumps in Germany have confirmed that ground-source and air-source heat pumps can deliver hot air and hot water with an average coefficient of performance above 3.0.
Demand is only one side of the equation. We also need to increase supply, which could be done in three ways.
One would be investing in clean-coal technology. Oops. Coal is a fossil fuel. Well, never mind – let’s take a look at this idea. Britain is estimated to have seven billion tonnes of coal left. If we share this between 60m people, we get just over 100 tonnes a head. If we want a 1,000-year solution, this corresponds to 2.5kWh of energy per day per person.
In a power station performing carbon capture and storage, this sustainable approach to UK coal would yield 0.7kWh per day per person. For comparison, Britain’s total energy consumption today is 125kWh per day per person. Our conclusion is clear: clean coal is only a stop-gap.
We could invest in nuclear fission. The average British person consumes about 16kg of fossil fuels per day – 4kg of coal, 4kg of oil, and 8kg of gas.
That means that every single day an amount of fossil fuels with the same weight as 28 pints of milk is extracted from a hole in the ground, transported, processed and burned somewhere on your behalf.
In contrast the amount of natural uranium required to provide the same amount of energy as 16kg of fossil fuels in a standard fission reactor is two grams; and the resulting waste weighs one quarter of a gram. But the fact that the nuclear waste stream is small doesn’t mean that it’s not a problem.
The third option would be to buy, beg or steal renewable energy from other countries – bearing in mind that most will be in the same boat as Britain and will have no renewable energy to spare. If we import renewable energy from other countries to avoid building plants the size of Wales in the UK, someone will have to construct those facilities on their own land.
One idea is that “all the world’s power could be provided by a square 100km by 100km in the Sahara”. Is this true?
Concentrating solar power in deserts delivers an average power per unit land area of roughly 15 watts per square metre. So the power delivered in such a square would be 150GW. This is not even near current world electricity consumption, which is 2,000GW. Total world power consumption today is 15,000GW.
So the correct statement about power from the Sahara is that today’s consumption could be provided by a 1,000km by 1,000km square in the desert, completely filled with equipment designed to concentrate solar power. And that is four times the area of the UK.
And what area would be needed in the north Sahara to supply everyone in Europe and North Africa with an average European’s power consumption? Taking the population of Europe and North Africa to be a billion, the area required drops to 340,000 sq km, which corresponds to a square of almost 600km by 600km. This area is equal to one Germany or 1.4 UKs.
Whatever mix of technologies we choose, decarbonising Britain’s energy system requires a lot of building.
If we find dependence on Saharan sunshine unpalatable, or if we don’t like the idea of building 60 new nuclear power stations, we can revisit our attitude to big renewable facilities in Britain. For every nuclear power station we remove, we must find somewhere to put 2,000 wind turbines. We needa plan that adds up.
Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, by David MacKay, is published by UIT Cambridge, priced £19.99. Copies can be ordered for £17.99 with free postage and packing from The Sunday Times Books First on 0845 271 2135

Cool reaction to plasma power

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009
Things have not always worked out for Paris Moayedi, the former boss of Jarvis, now he wants to turn Britain’s rubbish into green energy
Tricia Holly Davis

Things have not always worked out as planned for Paris Moayedi. The former boss of Jarvis, the support-services group, gained notoriety in 2001 for telling the wife of a business rival that she resembled Boy George - a remark he later said he meant as a compliment.
About a year later came the Potters Bar train crash, which killed seven people. Jarvis, which was responsible for maintaining the track, began to crumble. Moayedi resigned as chief executive in 2003.
Now the 71-year-old Iranian-born entrepreneur is staging a comeback with a scheme to turn Britain’s rubbish into green energy. One of his fellow investors in Advanced Plasma Power (APP) is Henry Lafferty, a former Jarvis director. The venture isn’t exactly going to plan and is struggling to raise the capital to take it past the concept stage.
APP was founded in 2005 as an offshoot of Tetronics, an Oxfordshire technology firm that Moayedi had bought the year before. Tetronics specialis-es in “plasma-arc” technology. Plasma is created when a gas is heated to temperatures of 5,000C, as hot as the surface of the sun.
Moayedi’s idea was to combine the technology with a widely known waste-to-energy process called gasification, where rubbish is “roasted” in a chamber that produces a hydrogen-rich gas that can be converted into electricity and heat.
One benefit of the combined process is that, in addition to energy, it produces a glassy material that can be used as a construction aggregate.
The concept has yet to gain favour in Britain, though. Catalyst Corporate Finance, an advisory firm, estimates that Britain has 35 waste-to-energy projects in the pipeline that would provide the equivalent of 1.5% of today’s grid generating capacity by 2020 at a cost of £4.7 billion. Not one of them is using plasma. “The main concern for investors is that plasma technology is too risky,” said Mark Wilson, a partner at Catalyst.
One worry is that it is too energy-intensive. APP calculates that about 40% of the power produced from the waste would be required to operate the plant. Another criticism is that plasma technology is too expensive. Moayedi estimates it would cost £72m to build a plant that processes 150,000 tonnes of rubbish each year, producing 17MW of electricity. This is at the top end of some waste-to-energy cost scales.
Moayedi points out, however, that costs can be recouped in a number of ways, including from the sale of green electricity and the amount earned from renewable obligation certificates (Rocs).
Plasma technology qualifies for two Rocs for every mega-watt-hour (MWh) of green energy produced. The 130,000MWh plant that APP initially wants to build would earn £11m a year based on today’s Roc value.
APP would also earn money by charging £80 per tonne of rubbish collected from businesses such as supermarkets and local councils.
However, Richard Feigen, managing director of Seymour Pierce, the investment bank, said investors were wary of these types of revenue streams.
“Areas that rely on tax breaks, Rocs or carbon credits add another level of risk in investors’ eyes,” he said.
Moayedi is undeterred, saying APP will continue to seek investors and planning permission to build commercial plants, starting with one close to the Doncaster North seat of Ed Miliband, the energy and climate-change secretary.

Coastal grid ‘needs cash injection’

The Sunday Times
June 7, 2009

Ian Fraser

Offshore energy projects around Scotland’s coast risk being strangled at birth unless the Scottish and UK governments invest £2.5 billion to
£5 billion in an offshore energy grid, according to one of the sector’s leading executives.
“All the evidence suggests that there is a huge untapped energy resource off Scotland’s coast,” said William Law, the chairman of the Glasgow-based tidal power group Lunar Energy. “However, without appropriate public spending on an offshore energy grid, we’re not going to be able to meet the ambitious targets that the government has laid down.”
He added: “It is essential that the government proceeds with an offshore energy grid. It would give investors who are considering investing in offshore energy technologies much greater confidence.”

The existing grid links between the north of Scotland and south of England are too weak to cope with the output from planned onshore and offshore renewables projects in Scotland. A £5 billion offshore energy grid connecting Orkney to Norfolk has been proposed and the government intends to put this out to tender this month. However, renewables experts argue the government will need to commit public funds for the project to succeed.
The EU has already committed more than £200m towards the project, on condition it connects to the continent.
However, Law said: “There’s a lack of political will in Westminster to say we will underwrite this.
“The UK government needs to step in and underwrite this until such time as we and other offshore energy companies are ready to start producing energy and paying the transmission charges.”
The grid extension is needed so offshore projects, including those being trialled at the European Marine Energy Centre in the Pentland Firth and several proposed offshore wind arrays round the Scottish coast, can transmit their output from Scotland to large population centres in the south of England.
The proposed grid could add 60GW to the UK’s energy supply, almost double the current total of domestic consumption (33GW). The proposed Beauly-Denny transmission cable upgrade, mired in planning inquiries since 2005, would be insufficient to carry this.
Tom Murley, head of the renewables at private equity group Hg Capital, said the project’s cost could be met through a levy on electricity bills. He said: “I would recommend that all necessary grid upgrades be socialised through a charge on all electric bills levied just for grid extension. This is what Germany is doing to build an offshore grid.”