Author Archive


Wendy Pillar says:
What the frack are they thinking?

Category: Climate Change, Fracking, Renewable Energy

I read an article on a prototype hydrogen-powered car developed by BMW. It used a modified diesel engine to run on hydrogen produced by passing an electric current through seawater. The electric current was created by a solar photovoltaic panel, and it broke the H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen was burned in the engine, it recombined with oxygen in the air to produce steam – the only emission. What a marvellous breakthrough in technology, a portable fuel that is entirely clean and renewable!

This particular article appeared in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, about twenty years ago now. There were technical issues around storing and refuelling the hydrogen, but why were they never solved? What happened to this amazing prototype?

Also in the same journal, around the same time, appeared a cartoon. It depicted a meeting of large, wealthy-looking gentlemen, in Arab dress, although nowadays they would probably be Russian. They were saying, ‘We have lots of oil, oil is good. Gas? We control the gas, gas is good. What about nuclear? We control the uranium supply, nuclear energy is an excellent idea. Solar power? We control … it’ll never work!’

And there we have it in a nutshell. Instead of developing hydrogen power, we have stuck with petrol and diesel. Instead of being offered clean solar, wind and hydro power, we are having a ‘dash for gas’, nuclear and fracking pushed onto us.

Fracking is a particularly good example of how the fixation of those in power with fossil fuels produces bizarre ‘solutions’ to the energy problem. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has come about because remaining gas reserves are in ever smaller pockets rather than in the huge reservoirs of old, or in rocks that are not porous enough for gas to flow through them and accumulate.

Fracking involves injecting a fluid, a slurry of water and chemical additives, at very high pressure, into cracks in the rock to extend them and open them up to release gas, along with sand or something similar to hold the cracks open. Despite the usual condescending assurances from the industry that it is ‘quite safe’ and that experts are fully in control, fracking has a couple of major problems that make it an unpredictable process. The first is that the chemical fracking fluid can escape along cracks – sometimes a very large proportion of it has been lost, with little control or prediction on where it will go. It can end up in the groundwater, and pollute drinking water far into the future. It may contain salt, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, disinfectant, isopropanol or other chemicals, or even radioactive elements flushed out of the rock. The second problem is that the liberation of the gas cannot be entirely controlled either, and it may escape, not along the intended cracks, but in an unpredictable way, causing air pollution and explosion risk. Fracking has also caused small earthquakes in the USA.

While fracking has mostly been carried out in the USA, applications are beginning to be made here, including one in the Mendips (see, and the fossil fuel lobby is applying pressure to the government. What makes it a really crazy idea is that methane could be produced far more efficiently using waste or specifically grown crops, using anaerobic digestion. If we want the government to adopt sensible, long-term policies concerning energy, we are going to have to make our voices heard. Fracking is not some distant threat, but coming soon to an area near you, so be prepared to protest!

To speak out against fracking – read Paul’s recent blog post about the Fracking Opposition Meeting which is TOMORROW on Tuesday 15th January from 7.00pm in Dorchester

For more information on fracking visit the ‘Dangers of Fracking’ website on which clearly and visually explains what goes in and out of Hydraulic Fracturing (also known as ‘fracking’).


Wendy Pillar says:
Green Energy Our Way at Wendy Pillar’s Home!

Category: Biomass Energy, Solar Energy, Sustainable Living

When we moved to our house, it was very much with a green lifestyle in mind. It had a good deal going for it, such as enough land to grow most of our own food, and a rainwater harvesting system. It also had two-foot-thick walls and thus excellent insulation, but the heating was a real weak point. There was an old Franco-Belge range that had been DIY converted to run on oil. It was so thirsty that we could barely afford to turn it on, and we shivered through the first couple of winters with lukewarm showers and cold radiators.

A biomass boiler would have been ideal, but it was beyond our budget. The range could be put back to running on wood, but we didn’t want to rely only on that. Our temporary house had been heated only with a wood-burning stove, and getting up to a cold house on a winter’s morning or coming home to the cold after being out all day was not fun. We are not fans of the hair-shirt approach to green living, and I still shiver at the memory of ice on the inside of my childhood bedroom window in the morning!

In the end, we did convert the range back, re-using what you have always being a good green option. This was a labour of love, as it had been thoroughly butchered. A couple of parts had to be remade by the manufacturer in France, apparently when the wind was in the right direction and the planets correctly aligned, judging by the length of time it took. It now heats the hot water, as well as the ground floor and a radiator on each of the other two floors, and so far has run entirely on wood produced from our own hedge-laying and coppiced trees. I am still working out how to be able to use it for cooking, but it is theoretically feasible.

The range is backed up with a modern, efficient oil boiler. It is a simple system. The central heating comes on for an hour in the morning and on a timer late afternoon – if the house is already warm from the range, it doesn’t fire up at all or does so for only a short time. If we’ve been out, though, and the fire has not been lit, the central heating comes on fully so we come home to a warm house.

The hot water cylinder has a third coil ready for solar thermal, which will heat the water in the summer months, meaning that the hot water switch on the boiler should be permanently off. At the time the budget didn’t run to the solar thermal, but it is now booked to be done for the spring. This should cut our oil bill further, to less than 500 litres per year, and if oil ever became prohibitively expensive, we could manage entirely without it.

It’s not the kind of high-tech system that Kevin McCloud would be interested in for Grand Designs, but it is simple, user-friendly and was not too expensive. It reduces our consumption of heating oil by about two-thirds, reducing our carbon footprint accordingly, while giving a lovely warm house and ample hot water, which is very welcome now in the depths of winter!

To find out more about your Wood Energy options see: and for more information on Solar Energy see:


Wendy Pillar says:
Solar thermal rapidly spreading over Dorset rooftops!

Category: Solar Energy
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Photovoltaic solar panels, which generate electricity, have been rapidly spreading over Dorset rooftops in the last couple of years. Solar thermal systems seem less popular for some reason, but make perfect energy and financial sense if you have a south- or near-south-facing roof.

Solar thermal is like having a radiator on the roof that works in reverse – instead of taking heat from the hot water cylinder and distributing it into the internal space of the house, it takes heat from the sun on the roof and concentrates it into the hot water cylinder. In fact, you can make a DIY version with an old radiator painted black and placed in a sunny spot. There are some technicial issues with this, and it’s nowhere near as efficient as a modern purpose-built system, but on the other hand it is nearly free! (By the same token, you can make a solar shower with just a very long hosepipe and a shower head, but that’s a different story!)

A well-installed system should provide 60–70% of annual domestic hot water requirements. Simpler to install than photovoltaics, the installer drills the fixings through the slates or tiles into the rafters, sealing the holes afterwards. Inside the house there is a pump, temperature sensors and a controller that stops heat being removed from the cylinder when it is cold outside. You will probably also need a new hot water cylinder with an extra coil inside. It is important to calculate the size of the installation correctly – larger isn’t necessarily better, as the system may overheat if it generates more heat than can be absorbed by the water in the cylinder. For this reason, it is important to pick an experienced local installer. Once installed, your hot water is effectively free for about eight months of the year for at least 20 years into the future. You can turn your boiler off altogether over the summer months, making major savings on gas or heating oil.

The Renewable Heat Incentive currently provides a grant of £300 towards solar thermal installation costs, and a new grant is likely to be announced in the next few months that, similar to the feed-in tariff, will make payments for the heat generated, paying back the cost of installation in around 7 years.

So, with the cost of heating oil, gas and electricity steadily climbing, solar thermal makes sense on financial as well as environmental grounds, and there is plenty of time to get it installed before the sun finally returns in the spring.

For more information and the options available see our section on Solar Energy.


Wendy Pillar says:
The Renewable Energy Future Is Here!

Category: Dorset Energized News, Renewable Energy

It would be easy to think that the renewable energy movement has lost momentum, particularly with some of the messages coming from government. However, there is strong grass-roots support for renewables, and many people are prepared to put their money where their principles are. This means that the capacity of renewable energy projects is actually growing very rapidly. The latest progress report from RegenSW shows that there are now 55,506 renewable electricity installations in the South West, producing a huge 525 MW. Of these, 8867 are in Dorset.

The majority of these projects are solar photovoltaic, 8820 of them in fact in Dorset, generating 26 MW of power. There are also 32 onshore wind installations in Dorset, two projects using gas from sewage and four using gas from landfills, one that produces energy from waste, five hydro projects generating electricity from water and three anaerobic digesters. With many more projects in the pipelines, these figures are set to climb steeply in the next few years.

In addition to electricity generation, there were over 5000 renewable heat projects in the South West, with 425 in Dorset. These include anaerobic digesters, biomass and solar thermal installations. In all, they have a capacity of 118 MW heat.

Renewable energy in the South West more than doubled in 2011/2012, bringing tens of millions of pounds of investment, and 10,000 jobs, an increase of over 5000 in just two years in very difficult times. The positive effect of renewable energy on the economy is no longer a future projection, but is happening now. The target is to create over 30,000 jobs in the sector in the South West by 2020.

The kind of microgeneration that these projects represent may not be the most efficient way of building renewable energy capacity – it would cost less overall for the government to build one huge offshore wind farm. However, the capacity can be installed so much more quickly than a large-scale project needing government-level decision-making and finance and, as can be seen from these figures, these projects together make a substantial contribution. Basically, without having to wait around for the government to make its mind up, we can get on with solving the problem ourselves. An added benefit is that the huge collection of diverse micro- and medium-sized installations will never be owned by a foreign multinational.

For the full figures from the Renewable Energy Progress Report and Annual Survey go to:

For more information about the renewable energy revolution just check out Dorset Energized’s Renewable Technology Options.


Wendy Pillar says:
Green Bananas

Category: Climate Change, Sustainable Living
Tags: , , ,

When thinking about our carbon footprint, our attention naturally goes to transport, holidays, heating – all things that clearly use oil. However, for most households, their weekly food shop makes up a greater proportion of their carbon footprint than transport. Unlike driving your car, though, it is not immediately obvious where you are clocking up the carbon, or how you can reduce it.

It’s not all about food miles. More important is how the food travels those miles. Bananas and oranges, for example, travel huge distances, but do so by boat because they store well and are naturally well-packaged, and so their carbon footprint is modest. On the other hand, those out-of-season luxuries grown in Africa or South America and air-freighted to the UK, like asparagus, blueberries and mange tout, have a colossal footprint. To put some figures on it, a kilo of bananas has a carbon-equivalent footprint of 480 g; that of a kilo of air-freighted asparagus is 14 kg, that’s nearly 30 times as much!

Another major factor is how food is grown. Again, bananas are grown in the tropics with no input of heat and light – it definitely wouldn’t be ‘green’ to grow them locally! Major offenders in this respect are the salad and mediterranean vegetables grown in artificially heated and lit Dutch greenhouses and trucked to the UK. It actually uses less carbon to grow them naturally in Africa and air-freight them, but neither option makes any sense. Tomatoes grown in artificial conditions in winter can have a carbon footprint of up to 50 kg per kilo, compared with 0.4 kg when grown in unheated greenhouses locally in summer.

The third main factor in your food carbon footprint is whether it is animal or plant based. When you feed soya or grain to animals instead of directly to humans, they use most of the calories to walk around, keep warm and generally do their thing, and little to actually make meat or milk. Beef has a carbon footprint of around 16 kg per kilo, compared with less than 1 kg for wheat. Chicken and pork have a far smaller footprint than red meat, because they are ready to eat at a much younger age and they don’t produce methane in digesting their food.

All of these figures are obviously approximate, but they make it easy to see the difference between different kinds of food. Cutting down on winter tomatoes or having a meat-free day once a week will have a major impact on your food carbon footprint, as will sticking to the UK season for asparagus, but its not worth depriving yourself by cutting out bananas and oranges.


Wendy Pillar says:
Rare earth elements in renewable energy

Category: Electric Transport, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Living
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I have heard it said that electric cars and other renewable energy technology use rare earth elements and that this is a reason why they are not really ‘green’. But is this true?

Dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium are all extremely rare and are vital in renewable energy and electric cars, especially in batteries. The economic crisis has meant that the super-rich have a shortage of profitable outlets for their billions, with a sluggish stock market and a worldwide depression in consumption. One of the few areas that is booming is renewable energy, and the rarity of these elements has led to a modern ‘goldrush’. While much of the production comes from countries like Australia, there are also cases of land being ‘grabbed’ from indigenous people, and open cast mining in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Amazon. It is perfectly obvious to most of us that destroying rainforest to make a ‘green’ car makes no sense, but not it seems to big business.

So is this a reason not to buy renewable energy products? No. It is the same issue of regulating multinational corporations and preventing them from exploiting poor countries and the environment in their short-term grab for profits that is largely what got us into this mess in the first place, both financially and environmentally! The same problems occur for elements in the screens of your laptop and mobile phone, components in conventional cars, and even something as common as aluminium, not to mention coal for conventional power generation.

One thing we can do about it is to always recycle electrical products by taking them to the recycling centre, rather than letting them go to landfill in the domestic rubbish. The more components are recycled, the less has to come out of the ground. We can also help by placing our financial business with ethical funds or an ethical bank, since many of these environmental crimes are committed with the collective money from our pension funds and savings.

The issue also highlights that merely switching to another kind of consumption is not the whole answer. Buying an electric car instead of a conventional car is good, but so is doing half as many miles in your existing car and making it last twice as long, or waiting until your mobile breaks, instead of until it goes out of fashion, before replacing it.

Check out our pages on Energy Efficiency on: and Sustainable Living:

We can all also support the work of charities such as Greenpeace, Christian Aid and Oxfam in fighting ‘land grabbing’.


Wendy Pillar says:
The renewable energy goldrush

Category: Renewable Energy
Tags: , ,

You know when something is worthwhile and profitable when high-pressure sales types attempt to cash in. Such is the case with renewable energy.

The other day I received a cold call from a call centre in Scotland, in which a young woman told me that the government had just introduced a new grant called the Feed in Tariff, from which I could benefit. I only had to agree for a free visit from an energy advisor. I agreed to be put through to the next young person to talk about this, interested in what they were going to say. This young man talked a lot, at high speed, about how much I could make from photovotaic panels and the ‘new’ government ‘grant’, and very little about the fact that I would have to pay for the panels up front, receiving payments from the Feed in Tarrif over the next few years. The patter was all about getting the advisor/salesman in through the front door. I was not even asked which direction my roof faced, or whether it was shaded, which might even have saved the ‘advisor’ a visit.

Now I’m not saying that this company sold a bad product, or were doing anything more dubious than normal advertising ‘puff’, although their script was misleading. However, it is unnecessary to do business with this kind of company. There are good, local businesses who have much experience in installing renewable energy, and care about getting exactly the right product for your property. For a large project, there is plenty of advice and information available for you to organize the installation yourself, and maximise the income from the project.

PV panels are still an excellent investment, despite the falling Feed in Tariff – if they weren’t, there would not be so many salesmen interested in selling them to you!

For impartial advice you can contact our team at Dorset Energized and check out our renewable energy pages on:


Wendy Pillar says:
90% of North Dorset want to generate renewable energy

Category: Community Energy, Dorset Energized News, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy, Water Power, Wind Power
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Energize Stur Valley recently carried out a survey of North Dorset residents on their views on renewable energy. Enthusiasts on the subject that we are, even we were surprised at just how positive they all are about renewable energy.

Some 90% of people questioned felt positive towards renewable energy projects, and 90% also felt that Dorset should generate more if its own electricity, since it currently generates a tiny 0.0001% of the electricity that it uses.

The most popular idea for generating renewable energy was photovoltaic panels on industrial and agricultural buildings, with 93% of those questioned in favour. These are frequently very suitable for PV owing to their large roof areas that are not overshadowed, as long as they face south.

Also extremely popular was the idea of putting PV panels on the roofs of public buildings, such as schools, with 90% in favour. Again, these buildings tend to have large, accessible roof areas. PV panels at ground level were far less popular, with only 52% in favour, it being often remarked that it is better to grow food in fields where possible.

The latest large wind turbines are by far the most efficient way to generate electricity in our climate. However, they do have a significant impact on the landscape, and not everyone considers them things of beauty. This was reflected in the survey, with 48% in favour of the large wind turbines and 59% in favour of the smaller 20-metre-high models.

Both hydropower and anaerobic digesters were highly popular, both with 86% in favour. Anaerobic digesters can be a good option on farms producing animal waste, such as indoor poultry and pig units. They can also use collected food waste from catering outlets and food processing businesses.

Finally, 65% of those questioned thought that it was a good idea to set up community investment funds, whereby local people can invest in local renewable energy projects with a relatively small investment, thereby keeping the income generated within the community. We have taken this on board, and are looking into how this can be done.

The survey gave a fascinating insight into what North Dorset people really think about renewable energy, and we plan to repeat it in the future to see how views change as renewable energy projects come into production. Watch this space!

There is still just about time to get new PV projects installed before the Feed in Tariff goes down in October 2012 – find out more on our webpage:

3Comments | Post your own comment

  • Caz comments:
    "Dont think the locals would complain if you put quiet, low PV panels in the Milborne area.
    What I want to know is if this is a survey of North Dorset residents where and how was it carried out because as a North Dorset resident no one has asked me to fill out a survey? And how many surveys were returned as unless you had a return rate of 75% of North Dorset residents it’s not a true reflection of the area! This site needs to clarify the data it uses! Otherwise its just a sales pitch. May be trading standards should look in to it! "

    October 13, 2012 a 11:19 am

  • Richard Howman comments:
    "Regarding the “Survey” of North Dorset Residents to which Ms Pillar refers, can she, in the interests of transparency, please advise:- a. The total sample size
    b. The sampling methodology (Nb ‘Internet’ is not a valid sampling technique)
    c. The sample demographic Thank you
    Richard Howman "

    October 12, 2012 a 6:39 pm

  • HJL comments:
    "There is no doubt that sources of renewable energy should be a primary consideration for all. But lessons should be learned about the impact of wind turbine sites from those areas with insight and knowledge. A review of the literature (and Court settlements) reveals that dwellings DO suffer noise disturbance (planning councils in Scotland are advised not to grant planning permission within 2 km of residential dwellings), ‘flicker’ causes distraction to drivers on nearby roads and tourism is detrimentally affected. These three issues convince me that the proposed Milborne Wind Farm (sited close to dwellings, adjacent to A35 and in an area where many residents run B&B businesses) must be strongly opposed. "
    October 2, 2012 a 9:05 pm


Wendy Pillar says:
Windmills – The New North Sea Oil for Dorset

Category: Wind Power
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Windmills (or wind turbines) can produce very polarized reactions – they are ugly, inefficient white elephants ruining the landscape, or beautiful and practical solutions to the energy crisis. However, the information in circulation about them can sometimes be out of date.

Windmills are an ancient technology, having been in use since Biblical times. However, new technology has made them increasingly relevant. The UK is the windiest country in Europe. The wind is our largest natural resource, with the possible exception of rain! It is the new North Sea oil – except that it will never run out. There is enough wind power available in the UK to supply all of our electrical power needs many times over, enabling us to maintain our prosperity into the far future. Even at this early stage of their development, the UK’s windmills prevent the emission of nearly 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Wind energy is financially competitive with new clean coal-fired power stations and cheaper than new nuclear power, without the drawbacks of either.

The latest windmills are quieter, cheaper and more efficient than the early models. At 300 metres, which planning rules state is the minimum distance from houses, they produce about 40 decibels, which is below average background noise and about the same as a domestic fridge. Basically, if anyone can hear it from their home, it will be refused planning permission. They produce electricity about 75% of the time, in conditions from a light breeze up to a gale, being turned off only in storm-force winds. A single windmill produces enough electricity to power up to 1000 homes, that is, the entire power needs of a large village.

Windmills repay the carbon footprint of their manufacture in around 6 months, and repay the financial investment in around 4 years, with a 25 year lifespan. At the end of that time, they can be easily decommissioned and recycled, or replaced. The cost of installing a windmill is now within the reach of a local community, with individuals investing between £250 and £20,000 and receiving shares in the sales of the electricity.

As for how they look, well beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It is often said that windmills might deter tourists, but eco-tourism is becoming big business. In the Brecon Beacons, which has many windmills, charging points for electric cars and bicycles are being installed to meet the needs of green tourists, and a MORI poll in Scotland showed that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a wind farm.

Energize Stur Valley is a voluntary group that can provide independent, expert advice to landowners and communities who are interested in setting up their own renewable energy projects.
For more information please contact Energize Stur Valley by emailing


Wendy Pillar says:
Empowering Dorset with Renewable Energy

Category: Climate Change, Community Energy, Renewable Energy
Tags: , , , , , , ,

What would a Dorset that was self-sufficient in electricity from renewables look like? Some would have you believe that it would be a forest of giant wind turbines, its historic landscapes spoiled, but that image is a long way from the truth.

An energy-independent, low-carbon-footprint Dorset would look much like it does today, with the occasional wind turbine turning on the horizon. However, you would notice that industrial estates had photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roofs of the buildings, and canopies over the car parks carrying additional panels. Since industrial units use most power during daylight hours when the PV cells are generating, this is an efficient way to generate power.

Farms would also have PV cells on the roofs of outbuildings, and possibly a sun park on an unproductive field, reducing their energy costs and gaining a new income stream. A small-scale wind turbine might also be turning near the farm yard. Farms producing animal waste may have a circular tank among the outbuildings – an anaerobic digester producing electricity from methane generated by the composting waste.

Public buildings such as schools would have PV cells on the roof, also generating income for the community. The many mills along the Stour and its tributaries may have found a new lease of life generating electricity using modern turbines, while looking the same from the outside as they have done for centuries.

On a domestic scale, many more people would be using wood to power their heating, and many more sunny roofs of houses, garages and outbuildings would wear PV and solar hot water panels.

Ideally, each town would have decided for itself how it wanted its electricity to be generated, by sun park, biogas generated from its food waste or large wind turbine. It would select the site and install and run the equipment itself – unlike conventional power generation, the technology and costs of installing renewable generation are well within the capabilities of a local community. This means that the income generated stays within the community and is not siphoned off to multinational corporations and their shareholders.

The village of Wildpoldsried in Germany has not only become self-sufficient in renewable energy, but generates a substantial income for community projects from selling the excess energy – enough so far to build a new school, gym and community hall. A similar vision of renewable prosperity is very achievable for Dorset, not at some point in the future, but starting now, with existing resources and technology.

Everyone can get involved in this exciting energy revolution. If you have premises in North Dorset suitable for installing renewables, Energize Stur Valley, part of Transition Town Sturminster Newton, can give you independent expert advice. If you don’t have the roof, the field or the capital to install your own system, you can switch suppliers to Good Energy, and your home will be powered by 100% renewable energy.

For more information please contact Energize Stur Valley by emailing

2Comments | Post your own comment

  • Wendy Pillar comments:
    "Quite so, Simon. As well as tidal power – I read about a very neat kind of water mill on a tidal river that uses the tide coming in and going out for power. "
    October 1, 2012 a 2:06 pm

  • Simon Rayson comments:
    "Don`t forget waterpower – all those water mills that once turned to mill flour could be restored and be turning to produce electricity or even Archimedes Screws doing that same thing. And then there`s the coast – wave energy harnessed for electricity, someone`s going to come up with an effective way of doing that one of these days "
    July 19, 2012 a 9:49 pm

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