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Letters to the editor: volume 16, number 6

As of the July 2021 E&T issue, letters from readers on the challenges of high-volume electric vehicle charging, digital ID, domestic hot water storage and more.

Refueling for the cars of the future

 

As I queued at a local gas station, waiting for a gas station to become free, I wondered how the process would work if most cars were rechargeable. In cities, millions of cars are parked on the street overnight, often in areas where it can take some time to find a free spot.

Obviously, most of the on-street parking in residential properties will have to be wired to charge at a huge cost of capital. For long drives, gas stations on highways and major roads will require large areas to accommodate cars that take hours to recharge.

Even if space is available, it means concreting over green fields. In plain terms, this is all crazy! There are certainly two practical solutions, both of which would keep the conventional gas station philosophy:

either switching to hydrogen or using replaceable battery packs. The latter would require a standard leased battery pack design, with a mechanized handling system that would slide the pack into the vehicle from one side and eject the discharged pack from the other.

Of course, this would require automakers to agree on the standard design, which is arguably the biggest challenge of all.

 

Dave Neale MIET

Truro

Climate change realism

 

Alongside the Covid pandemic, the issue of climate change has become endemic in the UK’s media, often with the ‘Every little bit helps’ sentiment on everything from making your own compost to installing an expensive heat pump.

No reference is ever made to the true cost-benefit ratio of these ideas, as we have now reached a position where anything that can be linked, however weakly, to combating climate change is uncritically viewed as a very good thing.

It is vital that we maintain a sense of proportion and realism about the very limited role the UK can play in the fight against climate change at a global level. The crucial statistic, which is rarely mentioned, is that the UK contributes only a minuscule 1 percent of all global emissions, while America and China together account for a whopping 45 percent.

Obviously, our efforts in the UK will always be insignificant, even if we were able to reduce emissions to zero. A more realistic and measurable objective would be to focus on directly improving air quality in the country.

It is outrageous that there are far too many areas where this is consistently below safe levels and causes health problems for thousands of people. Any climate change benefits that come from this could be an added bonus, but always a very vague one.

Otherwise, we will continue to be misled by those with vested interests into approving large-scale ‘green energy’ projects, which are hugely expensive and contribute very little to the problem of climate change, but lead to the loss of tracts of farmland and destruction of our precious rural environment.

 

Roy W Sach CEng MIET

Great Totham, Essex

Don’t rush into digital ID solutions

 

As a long-time participant in the biometric and identification technologies sector, my attention was drawn to the story ‘EU-wide digital wallet and ID to be unveiled this week’ on the E&T website.

The need for digital identity and verifying the connection to an individual in a variety of use cases has of course grown in popularity during the current pandemic. I look forward to the consultation on technical standards for this initiative.

The rush to embrace digital identity risks building its foundations on sand as we increasingly separate the virtual from the physical. Today’s citizen ID infrastructure still relies on physical documents, many of which can be easily forged and compromised due to the priority of cost over security and integrity.

ID fraud is already a massive and growing business, and careful thought must be given to ensure that our newly emerging digital ID infrastructures do not contain an entirely new ID fraud Trojan.

 

Martin George MIET

By email

Networking with big ideas

As a retired IET member looking for a home for what I have been told is a valid ‘big idea’ for climate change, it seems to me that given the exceptional expertise of members and fellows, it is likely that others will cherish similar ideas, but not the time/money/resources/connections to make them a reality.

Those same obstacles have undoubtedly led to many inventions dying over the centuries without ever seeing the light of day, and we can only wonder what progress has been lost.

Today, for the first time, we are faced with truly existential challenges and we must certainly seek solutions wherever they are. It strikes me as what would be a fantastic application of the extraordinary position of the IET, to offer ‘matchmaking’ capable of linking members’ ideas to commercial operators that can realize them.

The IET has a fantastic network and such an initiative is a real opportunity to use that network for a greater good. I am proud to be a member of this great institution, and it would mean a lot if the IET saw the light of day for otherwise stifled innovation. What do other members think?

 

Mark Everson CEng MIET

By email

Who needs hot water storage?

 

Jonathan Barker (Letters, June 2021) asks where to store hot water in homes that still use a gas-fired boiler. In September 2019 we bought a three storey townhouse with a recently installed gas boiler with approximately six years left of warranty but still with the original 25 year old indirectly heated sealed water tank on the top floor.

Sure enough, after about three months, the tank developed an internal leak in the heating coil, causing the boiler circuit to lose pressure and have to be topped up daily.

The obvious solution to replace the tank was expensive, but then we thought ‘why do we need a storage tank?’ We already had an electric shower on the ground floor which we preferred to use over the bath and mixing shower on the top floor; I also knew about instant electric hot water taps that can supply hot water up to about 50°C and of course cold water.

These faucets are significantly cheaper than boiling water faucets. We had the faulty hot water tank removed and all pipes shut off, giving us some extra storage space which is very useful as we don’t have an attic.

All washbasin/basin mixers were replaced with instant hot water taps and the bath with its taps and mixer shower was removed and replaced with a shower cubicle with an electric shower. The boiler is now only used for heating; Last summer there were months when we didn’t use any gas at all.

We have never looked back. Admittedly, it costs more to heat water with electricity than with gas, but we only need to heat the water that we actually use, not filling a long pipe between the tank and the tap/shower with hot water that is allowed to get cold.

It takes between one and two units of electricity to shower and our water consumption for two people is only slightly above that of a single household. Our combined electricity and gas bill will also be reduced. So, I say again, who needs hot water storage?

 

Denis Sharp CEng MIET

Littlehampton

More vertical benefits

One thing not mentioned in the story in your June 2021 issue of the increased efficiency of vertical axis wind turbines is the advantage that the gearbox, generator, etc. are at sea level, not on tall – and increasingly taller – pylons. This should significantly reduce the cost and difficulty of maintenance.

 

Tony Meacock CEng MIET

By email

Competition or co-operation?

The commentary article in the April 2021 issue of E&T about developing a ventilator against the start of the Covid pandemic was a great example of what can be achieved in needs-driven projects when people/businesses work together.

It asked the question: why can’t we always work like this? Perhaps it is because our societies are based on economic competition and we are conditioned to this once we start formal education.

In addressing the looming great problem of our time, environmental disaster, should we consider whether we are better served by a culture of economic competition or community co-operation?

 

Rainer Hurricks MIET

By email

Time to replace GDP

Your interview with Ehsan Masood about his book ‘GDP: The World’s Most Powerful Formula And Why It Must Now Change’ (June 2021) is welcome, but not provocative enough. Other excellently readable works, most notably by Tim Jackson, Jason Hickel, and Kate Raworth, will leave readers little doubt about the damage that comes from the general addiction to growth.

Rather than tinker with the GDP formula (admittedly as a long-awaited nod to environmental concerns), it’s certainly time to replace the primary statistic with one aimed at tracking reductions in planetary abuse.

 

David Brunnen MIET

By email

What’s the plan for EV batteries?

What worries me about the increasing number of electric vehicles on our roads is what happens to the batteries after their eight-year lifespan. I understand that there will be no possibility of fully recycling them in the near future, and we can expect that the number that are scrapped annually will exceed 0.2 billion worldwide.

Most countries will allow the batteries to be dumped as plastic bags. However, plastic bags do not wash out, because they decay, the extremely toxic lithium and cobalt in the groundwater and the sea. Nuclear waste is in small quantities, but is safe after thousands of years; lithium and cobalt last forever.

 

JA Greengrass

By email