Tag Archives: Energy saving

What will the High Street be like in 2050?

This is a milestone week for human stupidity. We commemorate the end of World War One, a dreadful waste of life which could have been avoided by an agreement in 1914. To demonstrate that we have learned nothing, one hundred years later we are about to drift into another disaster. Scientists have been warning of the dangers of global warming for over 20 years. Their latest report predicts long term consequences that are even worse than the First World War. Those effects can be reduced by an agreement in 2015 and rapid action thereafter. If not, things will get out of control. Will we learn the lessons of history?

As my contribution I show a low carbon High Street in 2050, to demonstrate that the changes  we need to make are really are not that difficult!

A High Street in 2050
A High Street in 2050

What’s the difference? The Café looks normal. There are cars parked. The shops are busy. The changes are inside the shops.

The shop beside the café provides home services. Tax on carbon emissions (see QTax) provides the bulk of government revenue. As a result employment taxes have disappeared except for the very wealthy. It is now relatively cheap to get cleaning, decorating, washing and home repairs done by specialists. See this for how employment patterns will change.

The second shop hires out tools. Many people enjoy gardening, or doing other work at home. This shop stocks many tools and can get hold of specialist tools from a network. This saves the emissions resulting from manufacturing new tools that sit around in people’s garages doing nothing . The shop also provides face to face advice. Customers can collect tools or they can be delivered to their homes from the back of the shop using relatively little energy (see robobike).

The third is a clothing shop. Clothes in 2050 are of the highest quality and tailored to individual needs. Customers can come here, get personal fashion advice, and use the latest technology to see themselves in various fashions before they buy. The clothes are then made at a city 10 miles away and delivered to the shop later in the same week. This system avoids the material waste that comes with cheap mass produced throw away clothing.

The food shop is busy, though most people have food delivered, many eat out, and many use the robo-bikes to deliver it cooked. Food tastes have changed because of personal health monitoring systems, and there is much less waste.  (see waste). There is also much more fresh local produce.

The e-assist shop helps people with their personal e-assistants. These devices make everyday life far easier. Their software is developing very rapidly. This shop helps with problems and carries out updates when required. Update and repair have become relatively low cost compared with buying a complete new device.

The pub at the end is thriving too. People can enjoy a range of local beers. Tonight the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid will attract a full house. Advanced technology will make the experience  compelling. The crowd noise will be awesome, the camera angles stunning, the shared experience unforgettable. Many will also have a meal. Low employment taxes mean that the cost of beer and food is relatively low. Sharing the video experience is more enjoyable than watching alone at home, and avoids the need to manufacture individual entertainment systems.

The cars in the street are driverless electric taxis. They are recharging from loops buried in the road. Shoppers will use their phones to say when they want to go home and the system will tell them which taxi to take. Shared journeys will be normal, though a rapid individual transport option will be available at extra cost. Energy requirements for transport will be less than 25% of current levels. People with disabilities will have a better life, given independence and safety by these new vehicles.

The street does not need parking space for personal cars, though they remain an option and many people keep old cars for use on special occasions. For normal life cars are seen as a nuisance, always needing recharge, hard to park, and costly because they are underused assets with a significant carbon input required to build them. Another benefit is that accident rates in 2050 will be very low because driverless taxis are safer than human drivers.

The electric taxis generally carry multiple passengers so that there are fewer vehicles on the road. They travel steadily, their computers rarely making driver errors. This means that the roads are safe for cyclists. Those who live on hills simply use electric bikes, requiring a fraction of the energy needed by a car.

The street thrives because money is not being wasted on energy. There is no great flow of money out of the local economy to fossil fuel companies. Everyone can earn a decent living because they have access to great education through the internet and because technology permits a better work-life balance, especially for women. People therefore have money to spend on the High Street.

Compared with 2014, this street:

  1. Allows everyone to continue their lives, generally with some improvements.
  2. Uses less than half, perhaps only 25% of the current energy input. This is important because without action world energy requirements will fourfold over the next hundred years due to population growth and spreading prosperity. This street could hold global energy requirements near current levels, giving us a fighting chance of supplying the world from low carbon energy sources.

Why can’t this happen now? There is no reason at all why some of the reduction in emissions shown here cannot be achieved by 2020. Some of the technology requires development but given intense work it could be available within a few years, so this High Street could in fact be reality by 2030.

Why isn’t it happening? Much of the change depends on the tax regime. World governments seem totally unable to grasp the importance of taxing carbon pollution. Taxation is an effective way to change habits quickly. We must raise the price of those activities that produce carbon emissions, and reduce the price of less polluting options.

International action is needed to ensure tax is fair, and to set levels for taxation of international trade. Countries that take action need to be able to tax imports from highly polluting countries. Without such a tax countries with cheap coal energy will prosper and attract industry from virtuous countries –  a bad outcome. 

Rather than impose a proper cost for carbon pollution, and allowing the market to sort out how to respond, the nations fiddle in the market, imposing whatever solutions politicians find attractive. They make promises to cut emissions, then find some way round them when it becomes politically unpopular. The result is ineffective chaos. Carbon emissions continue to rise.

Nations also seem unable or unwilling to focus research activities into radical technologies such as those highlighted in Sketchfifty. Research money is going into those areas that are profitable now – health, small improvements in efficiency for cars, new ways of extracting fossil fuels, and traditional types of renewable energy. That is because companies understand those areas, whereas genuinely new technologies involve high risks and long development times. We need the most intensive research into any technologies that could possible make a major contribution, so that these options are available to our successors. They include desert solar power, nuclear power, robo-bikes, and new transport technologies such as SWIFT and bus-trains

We also need non-technical research into how to make systems like the QTax work, and to define the best approach and how to implement it. Any change will be unfair to some people so tax changes need to be carefully designed and explained.

What can you do to make the required changes? If you live in a democracy, get in touch with those who represent you. At present they think you care more about other things. It was probably just the same in 1914.

What is an individual’s fair share of the earth’s resources?

This post looks at the role of religious leaders in protecting the planet.

The Archbishop's funeral

Jim looks at his screen. It is the funeral of Archbishop Inuga, who lived from 1970 to 2050. Her coffin lies covered in flowers while the world’s leaders look on. She was a leader in the environmental movement, the person who drove through the new ethics on which so much subsequent political action was based. She insisted that religious leaders should turn their attention away from the past and instead focus on the issues of the 21st century.

Her first great contribution was to state that it is wrong to destroy the planet for our successors. Few people opposed this general statement, but she gave it greater force by consistently restating it. She said that if we produce children we have an absolute moral obligation to ensure that they have the means to live. They have a right to a habitable planet.

Then she took her argument a stage further. She asked how that general obligation should be translated into personal action. What were the moral responsibilities of each individual?

She quoted “Love your neighbour as yourself” and the story of the Good Samaritan which explains that everyone is a neighbour, irrespective of race or religion. She said that it was therefore morally wrong for any individual to take an unsustainable share of the earth’s resources and thus damage the lives of future generations. Her thinking helped to provide a firm ethical foundation for action on climate change.

She angered many people. The rich saw her as a threat to their lifestyles. She pointed out that they were welcome to retain their motor yachts and other toys provided that they were built and powered sustainably. She pointed out that the rich had the money to develop the required technology. Major companies feared the effects on their business. She pointed out that they could adapt (and in due course most of them did). She had powerful enemies but her position provided her with both protection and a platform for her views.

She said that her church members should lead the way by living sustainable lives and provided firm and sensible guidance on what that would involve. She gained the support of rich and powerful church members who used their influence to gather public and political support. Politicians picked up the argument. Other faith groups registered their support. Public opinion swung in favour of action and the lifestyle changes that would be involved.

Jim joined millions of others, of all religions and none, in signifying his respect by contributing to her chosen charity. He recognised that without her, and the many others who had supported her and taken her ideas further, the earth would be a far less hopeful place in 2050.

Why can’t this happen? Obviously it can. I illustrated this with a fictitious Christian leader, but it could equally have been led by another faith, an international politician, an academic, or a celebrity. What I am sure of is that there is a need for moral leadership to come from somewhere.

Can Bikes be cool?

This post is about electric bikes. They work by helping with the effort of pedalling. Hills are no longer a problem because little effort is required. They can play a big part in a green future. I apologise for the picture. It seems very hard to draw a bike and rider, and I don’t think I’ve found the best way of colouring it using PAINT.net. Any advice is welcome.

Cycling from the shops
Cycling from the shops

It is 2050. Pete is a young professional who lives at the top of a hill. The local town, including the shops, the railway, and the restaurants are at the bottom. After shopping in the town he loads his beer into the panniers, and cycles easily home up the hill. When he gets home he isn’t even sweating.

He isn’t sweating because the electric bike helped him up the hill, but it didn’t need much energy to do that. The energy used to go uphill depends on the weight of a vehicle. His body, bike and groceries weigh under 100 kg. A car weighs over 10 times as much. His round trip therefore consumed less than a tenth of the energy used by a car, and since that small amount of energy can be easily obtained from carbon free sources his carbon emissions are effectively zero.

Pete knows all this and so do his friends. He cycles because they would look down on him if he didn’t.  It is uncool to emit carbon without good reason.  He loves being seen around on his bike.

Pete also uses the bike because it is quicker. He lives a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the shops. His bike will do that distance in around 5 minutes. A car would do the actual journey a little quicker, but he would have to mess around finding a car parking space and might have to park away from the shops.

Isn’t it cool to bike now? Only with the right gear and with a carbon fibre bike. That sort of thing is fine as recreation but not if you are cycling with a purpose – to go to the shops, to the pub, or the gym. The time required to put the kit on is too great, the kit looks odd in a supermarket, and the  bike is too costly to leave around.

We need to make it cool to just get on a simple bike and go, wearing normal clothes.  The bike needs space to carry stuff. The gear needs to be practical. It shouldn’t be necessary to have a shower when you get home. The coolness needs to attach to the fact that such a journey protects the planet and is less hazardous to others than a car.

There are some other factors to overcome if bike use is to spread, notably fear of traffic. Councils can therefore help. 20 mph limits are bike friendly because cars overtake less often and more slowly. Junctions need to be designed to be safe for bikes. Road layouts need to ensure that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians can exist in harmony.

Most of all maybe we need a publicity campaign. Celebrities need to be seen cycling on ordinary bikes in everyday clothes. Adverts need to show people how to use an everyday bike – how to carry shopping, how to make sure the bike isn’t stolen. Most of all we need people to understand how much carbon is emitted by cars, and that it is socially unacceptable for a healthy person to use a car when there are low energy alternatives.


Will Future Cities be Linear (Issue 2)

Some time ago I produced some pictures of a linear city. It looked rather like a huge greenhouse and attracted some criticism. These pictures show a modified city with separate buildings, town centres and rather more variety. I hope they are self-explanatory.

Just like the earlier version this city copies Manhattan. It is only 2 miles wide but it is as long as required.

The aim is to house millions of people but ensure that none are more than a mile from open countryside. Public transport is provided in the form of trams and trains. Cycleways are built into the city from the outset. Housing density is high so that distances are short. Energy consumption on travel and home heating will be less than 20% of current UK average levels. At that level renewable energy could meet the need, making the city effectively zero carbon.

The Central Street
The Central Street


City Plan
City Plan
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
How roads would be organised
How roads would be organised



The Edge of the City
The Edge of the City
The Centre of a Local Town
The Centre of a Local Town

Can we make Bus travel more energy efficient?

Buses 2050
Buses 2050


Jim has a beer in the centre of his town. The beer is local, brewed the same way for 200 years. The buses also look fairly conventional, but the truth is that they are 5 times more efficient than buses in the old days – for example in 2014.

Some of that improvement comes from their engineering. Most of it however comes from how they are operated. In 2014 buses simply drove around to a schedule and people waited at bus stops. Sometimes the bus was full, and people got annoyed. Mostly the buses operated nearly empty. In 2050 all that has changed.

Jim will need a bus home. He reckons it will take him 15 minutes to finish his beer and mentions it to Pat, his electronic assistant. Pat comes back in 30 seconds and tells him the bus will arrive in 19 minutes and he has seat 25. The bus comes as predicted.

The main reason that the bus is so energy efficient is that it is nearly full. In 2014 buses in the UK operated with only 9 passengers on average. Most countries operated with similarly inefficient bus systems. Buses were more efficient than cars in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre, but the difference was not huge. In 2050 buses carry 30 passengers on average. The bulk of the efficiency improvement comes from that fact alone.

How is it done? Everyone signals the journeys that they want to make. Buses are sent when there is demand. Sometimes two or three buses must be used. They link together where routes intersect, and people transfer as in the picture above.

The bus company computer controls the buses. The roads are much less congested because far fewer journeys are made by car, so bus arrival times are predictable. There is much heavier demand for buses so they can operate frequently.

What if Jim needs to leave urgently and there is insufficient demand for a bus right now? Pat will scan the options and come up with the best. Jim may have to pay more, and incur greater environmental damage perhaps by using an electric taxi for part of the journey. If so he will pay extra Q tax. But that an unlikely event. Public transport can normally get Jim everywhere he needs to go, at the time he needs to travel.

Shouldn’t the buses be streamlined? These are slow buses for use in town only. I’ll show long distance buses soon.

p.s I apologise for not posting for a few weeks, I had some projects to complete. Note also that even in 2014 it makes environmental sense to use a bus. It will run whether you use it or not, and if you use it the extra fuel burned will be negligible. In contrast if you take the car, however efficient it is, significant extra fuel will certainly be used.






Can we make a better transport system?

Today Jim is visiting a friend who lives in a town 20 miles (30km) away. He walks to his local Swift station. The Swift system has been steadily developed since 2030 and it now covers much of the country. Swift stations are spaced so that most people in towns live within half a mile of a station. Those who live further away tend to use bikes or electric cars to reach the Swift.

At the station - travelling backwards!
At the station – travelling backwards!

He walks straight in a ground level and goes to Platform 1, since he is travelling alone and that platform has standard pods. A Swiftpod has just arrived and the attendant waves him across. Everyone sits in the Swift facing backwards, which takes a little getting used to but means that there is no need for seat belts. If there is a problem and the pod brakes heavily he will simply sink into the seat. Jim swipes his card and touches the screen for his destination.

The pod is moved up to the overhead rail, which runs above the streets. It sets off and soon it is in open countryside. It runs at a steady 60mph (100kph), never needing to stop for intersections.

High speed between towns
High speed between towns

After around 20 minutes the pod approaches his destination. It flies above the streets, missing all the traffic.

Gliding over the streets
Gliding over the streets

Soon Jim hears the handling system lowering the pod into the station. He gets out and walks to see his friend. No hassle, no licence needed, no parking, no insurance, faster than the car, and low energy use (low Q).

Swift brings lots of benefits:

  1. It is lightweight, slender and streamlined to use much less energy than a road car.
  2. It is electrically powered so that it is zero emission if powered from a carbon free source.
  3. It doesn’t take up much surface space, so it can get to the centre of towns.
  4. Everyone can use it, not just those who can get a driving licence. This is because it is fully automatic. (There are special vehicles for the disabled, or for larger families, or for outsize goods).
  5. Unlike the car, it doesn’t kill drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The reduction in car journeys makes it safer for people to walk and cycle, saving further carbon emissions.
  6. It can transport goods without needing a driver, with vehicles sized to match the load.
  7. It doesn’t need to stop at road junctions because all intersections are flyovers. It doesn’t need to stop to pick up or set down other passengers. This saves energy in accelerating and braking, and it also means that point to point journey times are much faster than a bus and, for many journeys, faster than a road car.

Swift links suburbs and towns to each other and to train stations. It is important because it reduces the use of private cars, which are not energy efficient.  A linked page covers why cars can never be as efficient as a system like Swift.

Why aren’t we developing this type of system? Well, to a limited extent we are. Google have put money into the Schweeb, a pedal powered system – See video. This is currently installed at an adventure park but the principles look exciting. The commentator on the video calls Schweeb hard work, but hard work for a human means a power level which is of the order of 1% of the power required by a car. An electric Schweeb would be very efficient.

There is also a  Polish system called MISTER which has not yet been put into full service but looks very good. There is an excellent video on the MISTER website that shows how these systems operate.

There is a UK version called ULTRA which runs on a track, rather than being suspended beneath a rail. ULTRA is in service at Heathrow Terminal 5 to connect with a car park. More ULTRA systems are planned. Systems like ULTRA and MISTER are called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems, and they have a long history of slow development. There is currently an increased level of interest that will hopefully lead to further orders for these systems..

So while there is some encouraging news, the overall investment in this technology remains too small. The objectives of development also need reconsideration – there is a current focus on PRTs for cities. Such systems would be useful, but the biggest problem we face is transport outside the city. City systems do not need to be very streamlined because they only need to travel at 30 mph (50kph).

The safety and accessibility regulations for PRTs are often read across from taxis, cars and trains. Not surprisingly this sometimes produces a vehicle with similar size and shape to a taxi. If so it is unlikely to have a drastically reduced energy requirement.

New regulations are needed, consistent with the need to reduce energy use. They need to recognise developments in control and monitoring technology that will make crashes very rare and therefore reduce some safety requirements. However the development of  unified safety regulations is a long process. Considerable experience of operation is required so that the regulations can be well designed. 

I made my passengers face backwards to illustrate the possible effects of safety issues. Rear facing passengers survive crashes better, especially if safety belts are not used. They also fit better into the streamlined shape. Safety regulations would not just cover passenger protection from accidents but also issues such as emergency evacuation and health problems during the journey, how close together vehicles could travel, and maximum braking and cornering loads.

Accessibility is another key regulatory issue. A flat floor, for example, provides good accessibility for a tram or bus without any serious penalty, but is not consistent with the best aerodynamic shape in these systems. Would regulators accept that an able bodied solo rider can use a slim, light, easily driven vehicle, or would they insist that all vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs? We need regulation that recognises the seriousness of the energy issue.

A general problem is that governments expect industry to lead with ideas and to co-fund development. The business case for  systems like Swift is currently marginal, because the car is so convenient, and its extravagant energy use is affordable. Of course things may change in future, but who knows? The fact that the  regulatory system is uncertain may also be a problem for investors –  the system shown in the sketch may never be permitted. There are technical uncertainties. The timescales are also too long for commercial investment.

We will be very lucky to get a major commercial lead on a system like this. Direct international action, driven and funded by governments, will be needed to make this type of system available when needed.


Can Better Taxation help to save the Planet?

It is the weekend and Jim is out in the local market. He enjoys buying fresh ingredients himself when he has time.

Jim buying apples in the market
Jim buying apples in the market

Every item in the market has two prices – one in local currency, and one in Q. If he buys the goods, both are automatically recorded to his account. The Q cost is a measure of the planetary damage resulting from the purchase.

There are two types of apple on display. The first have been grown in the South, in an area where apples grow well and wages are low, so their money cost is low. Their Q cost reflects the use of artificial fertiliser, mechanised agriculture, and long distance transport, and is relatively high. The calculation is realistic because every business involved in the supply must pass on the Q of the items or services that it supplies.

The second type were grown locally, using organic fertiliser. The Q cost is low, but the labour involved makes their money cost higher.

Whenever Jim buys anything the Q cost is automatically recorded as part of the purchase. Electricity, food, transport, computers, kitchen equipment, each of them has involved some planetary degradation in its manufacture and the Q cost reflects that degradation.

For larger items like kitchen equipment the Q cost can be spread over many weeks, but nevertheless it needs to be paid. Jim tends to buy goods that are well designed with a long life, so that the weekly Q cost is low.

Jim buying a washing machine
Jim buying a washing machine

Items have a high Q if fossil fuels have been burned to make them, if greenhouse gases are emitted, if rainforest has been destroyed, or if the planet has been degraded in some other way. The make up of Q is adjusted each year by an international panel to try to keep activities in balance. For example the high Q of fossil fuels may cause  a swing to bio fuels, with resulting loss of rainforests. The Q value of bio fuels can be increased to avoid this.

Jim checks his weekly tax
Jim checks his weekly tax

At the end of each week Jim checks his Q account. His home spend looks high. He uses the system to find out why, then he makes a mental note to look into better home insulation and lighting.

Why does he care? The bulk of his tax is directly related to Q. If his total weekly Q is low he pays little Qtax, but as it increases the tax rates becomes steeper and steeper.

Jim's tax bands
Jim’s tax bands

Jim has choices. He can buy his electricity from a range of sources – the more he pays the greener will be his electricity and the lower his Q bill. He can eat locally grown vegetables with modest meat portions(low Q) or select imported vegetables and large servings of meat (high Q). He can travel by bike or by public transport, or by various types of car. The greater his Q spend, the steeper his tax rate, and the more sense it makes to seek green alternatives.

The Qtax system was introduced in 2025, initially just for purchases of fossil fuels, and at rates that were easily affordable. It gradually extended over the following 25 years. This gave people chance to adjust.

Why Q? It was decided at the first meeting of the International Panel for the Quantification of Planetary Impact in 2023. They didn’t show much imagination!

Jim grumbles about the system from time to time, but  he supports it because it is fair. The poor are not penalised. Their energy use is generally small enough to leave them paying little tax. There are still examples of individual extravagance but everyone knows that those responsible are paying a great deal of tax. There is a shared international obligation because countries have Q targets and set their Qtax in order to ensure those targets are achieved. The sacrifices are considered acceptable because they are shared, because technology is constantly providing new green alternatives, and because the resulting global action is proving successful.

Why can’t we do this now? The complete system described here would take a considerable amount of international negotiation to agree how Q is calculated, to agree Q targets, and to modify international trade agreements. Each country would need time to decide how to tax Q, or whether to enforce its Q limit some other way. Implementation would also need to wait until electronic payment is the norm, because it will then be easy to add on Q.

The international agreement of Q limits for each nation is important. Without that there is likely to be considerable opposition since action by an individual nation can never be effective.

Lastly people will need time to adjust. This type of system is unfair if imposed suddenly because many people are locked into a high energy lifestyle by work or family commitments. A cut down system, just looking at a small set of big purchases – for example gas for heating, car fuel, and electricity – could be introduced more rapidly and might start the slow process of producing a green economy.

What we could and should do now is to accelerate serious research into this area. There is good work underway but its funding is intermittent. There will be many practical barriers to implementation and study is needed to find the best way forward.

There is also a need for an ethical debate. The debate needs to engage key religious and moral leaders, since their endorsement will be essential to public acceptance. An important question is the extent of the obligation of this generation to those that follow.

Follow the link for more background. You could usefully fill out the poll. Best of all please comment. Taxation will be important in driving behaviour, and it is at the heart of an urgent moral question – how do we share out the limited resources of a finite planet?